I was first introduced to Ridhayatullah theatre the day my brother came home excitedly declaring his part in a theatrical performance of ‘Chest of Hope’ in January 2012. Since then, the theatre has grown from a small project to a social interfaith event showcasing performances to achieve community cohesion, faith appreciation and a social integration of religious and non religious backgrounds. This inspired me to interview the founder of Ridhayatullah theatre, Br Ali Abbas Panju.
What is Ridhayatullah theatre?
Ridhayatullah theatre is the only active youth based Muslim theatre initiative in the UK focussed on interfaith dramatisation of historical events, in particular events relating to Imam Al Husain (AS), who has become a globally renowned saint and a martyr whom many people can today relate to.
How did Ridhayatullah theatre come about?
Ridhayatullah began as a nasheed group for boys of Leicester community. Whilst, I served at the managing committee of that community, I was given an opportunity to organise a ‘Husain Day,’ a day traditionally recognised as an opportunity to invite people of different faiths to partake in the message of Imam Husain. I had hoped to show a film at the event, however I thought I would break up the film into segments and have the missing parts acted by youths of the community so they may be actively involved. We called it a ‘Theatrical Film Performance’ back then, and the play itself was entitled ‘The Chest of Hope’ focussing on the story of the chest containing the holy head of Imam Al Husain that traversed a monastery, in which a Christian Monk who resided, found inspiration.
Where do your inspirations come from?
My greatest inspiration is the Holy Saint, Al Imam Al Husain (may peace and blessings be upon Him) himself, whose message, I believe, has been cocooned within the boundaries of Shia Muslim mosques and community centres. The Imam, like his father (may peace and blessings be upon Him), was an Imam of the entire creation, and in particular, to mankind, not of the Shias only.
Can you describe the immediate rewards you experienced?
My reward is the tears and enlightenment of audiences that are inspired by Husain and who are touched by the plays. I seek for this within every play and have found it in every play.
What kind of responses have you received?
We have received an overwhelming amount of good feedback. This is representative of the fact that the power of performing arts has been overlooked by Muslim communities.
What sort of feedback have you received from members of other faiths?
Other faiths have found the plays not only entertaining but also inspirational. Some have walked out with tears in their eyes. Our aim is not to convert but to inform. We insist on having a minimum of 10% of each audience to comprise of non-Muslims and every play has a strong interfaith element to it so everyone can identify with it.
Do you feel that the aim of the performances have been met?
Mostly, yes. Other aims apart from the interfaith elements are involvement and inspiration of youths, empowerment of young women, self-confidence, esteem building and revolutionising the hearts of the young performers.
Did you envision Ridhayatullah theatre inspiration awards 3 years ago when the first performance took place?
No, I did not think it would get far and indeed it was meant to be a one-off even. However, the overwhelming response lead to future plays. We have now reached in excess of 3000 live audience members (i.e. apart from those who have watched the dvds or watched on live television). The awards are now set to take place each year to recognise and reward upcoming talent.
What was key to the growth of Ridhayatullah theatre?
Sincerity of intention
What do you value most about the theatre?
Each play allows me, the researchers and the actors to look at the event of Karbala in a different light, from a new perspective. We become so engrossed into the life of the personality we are trying to portray eg Wahab, John, Fizza etc. that we begin seeing things the way they did and by acting it out we begin experiencing the whole event the way they might have. Each play brings us closer to the personality of Imam Hussain and his love for humanity.
Have you thought about going international?
We hope to go as far as Allah SWT wishes to take us. Before going international however, a lot needs to be done within our own hometowns.
Is there any way to preview the Ridhayatullah theatrical performances?
Yes, please find the links below:
JOHN AND FIZZA – THE AFRICAN SACRIFICE:
WAHAB THE CHRISTIAN MARTYR:
Can you tell us about any upcoming performances we can look forward to?
The next performance due will insha Allah be entitled ‘The Free Man.’ A story of Al Hurr ibn Yazid Al Riyahi. It will focus on interfaith values of self reflection, repentance and freedom.
Thank you for your time, Is there anything you would like to highlight about Ridhayatullah theatre to our readers?
We can be found on:
If anyone feels that they can contribute or be involved they may use any of the three social media networks above to get in touch with myself as the Director.