“Your fatwa does not apply here”: Muslim artists battle fundamentalism


Muslim playwrights, musicians and artists are battling for free expression — and some pay with their lives

It is a school play like none I have ever seen, not least because the girls onstage and their parents in the audience could die at any moment just for being here. At the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s Ninth Youth Performing Arts Festival, held in Lahore’s Muamar Gaddafy Stadium on November 30, 2010, I sit in the front row with the festival’s gray-pony-tailed organizer, Faizan Peerzada, and his pretty teenage daughter, Nur, who wears red tennis shoes and a jaunty cap. At least eight thousand people have died across Pakistan in fundamentalist terrorism, mostly at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban, in the previous three years. This violence hits Lahore hard: there were forty-four terror attacks here alone in 2010. The last World Performing Arts Festival the Peerzadas held in this place was bombed, producing rain of glass.

As I look at the promoter a few seats over, I wonder how much anxiety he feels, with a chorus of kids on stage in front of him, his own child beside him. They are all here because he has convened them. He told me earlier: “It is a very stressful thing. You talk more about security these days than the creativity.” I hold my breath, wondering whether they will get to the end of the show.

Faizan’s father, Nur’s grandfather—for whom the theatre company is named—was Rafi Peerzada, an anticolonial activist–turned–playwright who trained in England and Germany, where he mingled with Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. He returned to Pakistan to revolutionize its theatre with a series of plays such as “Naqab,” about the bombing of Hiroshima. At his death in 1974, Rafi Peerzada’s children took over his theatre company and renamed it in his memory. Over the years, they have staged music, dance, and puppet festivals and a wide array of plays—everything from Rafi Peerzada’s own “Raz-o-Niaz” to Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park”—in different venues. Many of their productions are geared toward children, and all have the goal of preserving Pakistan’s rich tradition of performing arts. While the end result is often dazzling, the road to get there has not been smooth.

Written By: Karima Bennoune
continue to source article at salon.com


  1. Wow. Bravery is all around, but so often to be seen and heard in the performing arts.

    All power to you…

  2. Lately there has been a lot of articles from Salon and HuffPost here on RD.net. Some avid reader is apparently sending a lot of links to this site.

  3. It’s really good to see a story that brings the diversity of views and culture in countries like Pakistan into focus.

    So sad that, even with that objective, we see a story that’s essentially about a minority bent on bullying to get people to toe a fundamentalist line.


  4. The attempt to silence a man is the greatest honour you can bestow on him. It means that
    you recognise his superiority to yourself.

    ~ Joseph Sobran 1946-02-23

  5. Its universal to all humans to dance, sing and play music – what are those extremist guys trying to prove – that they’re anti human ?
    Well done to the Pakistani theatre group for encouraging girls, dancing and joyful stuff in the face of terrifying death threats

  6. I’ve been to Lahore a couple of times in the past 3 years. Parts of it are quint left overs from the British colonial period and look quite normal, however there are other parts of it that even my (liberal) Pakistani friends would not go to.
    The whole place is a facade with a simmering undercurrent waiting to explode.
    It could be so much more and an example to other parts of the Muslim world to live and let live- but that is EXACTLY what the Taliban and their Mullahs don’t want.
    They want to squelch the few bright moments of song and dance provided by such festivals in an already miserable and downtrodden society.
    If I had my way with these sub humans, I’d hang them by the testicles in front of the court house until they dropped off and bled to death. Anything else is too kind! jcw

  7. “… The risk was worth taking to make sure her children could have memories of puppets and music. …”

    How poignant! How brave! It reminds us of what is important in life.

  8. Fascism raises its vile head once again; it’s imperative that it be fought against and contained like any deadly virus, and the one thing that will wipe it out is education.

    But it must be sound education, devoid of superstition, fallacies, myths, mendacity, wishful thinking, hypocrisies and downright lies, then, like the immune system, it will enable people to fight off fascism, which feeds on fear and ignorance, like certain other organized activities which here, on this oasis of thoughtfulness, need not to be named to be recognized.

    And on that cheery note I shall go and make a nice cup of tea.

  9. An inspiring story indeed. Not that many of those in the news nowadays so this is well appreciated.

  10. They seek to sap all joy out of life. In their view, this world is not for enjoying, but for suffering, so that you can go to heaven.
    However, if they are going to be there, I think I’ll pass.

    Hell is going to be a much better place : all the courageous people who stood up against this nonsense are going to be there.

    In reply to #5 by Light Wave:

    Its universal to all humans to dance, sing and play music – what are those extremist guys trying to prove – that they’re anti human ?
    Well done to the Pakistani theatre group for encouraging girls, dancing and joyful stuff in the face of terrifying death threats

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