As mainstream media bombards its viewers with images of violence perpetrated by and against professed members of the Muslim community, Knox playwright-in-residence Jamil Khoury seeks to explore Islamophobia and address the question of what constitutes an American. The world premiere of Khoury’s play, “Mosque Alert,” will be Feb. 25 in Harbach Theatre. The show will run through Feb. 28.
Khoury is the co-founder of Silk Road Rising, a nonprofit theatre and media company based in Chicago. The emergence of the company was largely a response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which evidenced a need for self-actualized representation. Analogous to its namesake, the organization strives to precipitate interchange between different cultures, particularly through disseminating the stories of Asian and Middle Eastern Americans.
“Silk Road Rising challenges colonial and Orientalist narratives, orthodoxies of identity politics and theories purporting a ‘clash of civilizations,’” said Khoury.
“Mosque Alert” chronicles the stories of three families, two Muslim and one Christian, as they experience the trials and triumphs of the proposed building of a new Islamic library and mosque in downtown Naperville. The engineers of this proposal, a fictional group called Al Ulama, plan to present their plans at the local town meeting, but problems emerge and have a negative impact upon the perception of the proposal. The play was inspired by actual events in Naperville, Ill. and the court cases they spawned.
Khoury explains that, although the story is centered in Naperville, “Its themes of loyalty and betrayal, pluralism and prejudice, civil rights and personal fears, are themes that resonate universally.”
The inception of “Mosque Alert” was a product of Khoury’s personal journey as he investigated the trend of hostility towards the construction of new mosques. “Mosque Alert” reflects his desire to bridge the gap between Muslims and the wider American community, without debasement of either party.
The development of the play snowballed rapidly from what was originally conceived as an online civic engagement and new play development project. “What started as a series of student workshops and a somewhat discombobulated ‘collection’ of scenes I’d written, has culminated in the college world premiere of a play,” Khoury said.
Silk Road Rising is a hugely collaborative force, and this value is reflected in the development of “Mosque Alert.” Utilizing both electronic and print sources, Khoury engendered a feedback loop, which allowed his audience to become collaborators. Khoury believes that this process is reflective of the values Knox College esteems.
“Students spoke; faculty spoke; I spoke; we listened, we exchanged, argued, debated, discovered, and ultimately, created,” said Khoury.
Khoury hopes that “Mosque Alert” will stimulate dialogue and reflection about cultural identity and representation in modern America. The hope persists that evidence of extensive collaboration in the production of the play will inspire further collaboration in finding solutions to the conflicts and prejudices that persist in society.
“Today, it’s mosques that some fear. In yesteryears it was Catholic churches, Jewish synagogues, and Mormon temples. Thus continues the cycle of expanding and redefining Americanness,” Khoury said.