Archive for ILLUME

The Agha, The Architect and The Mosque

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2011 by irydhan

I originally wrote this interview for ILLUME magazine here.  Below is the full and un-edited version of my interview with Maryam.

Maryam Eskandari, an architect at the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard and MIT, currently has a traveling exhibit on American Mosques. Her exhibit, Sacred Space: (Re) Constructing the Place of Gender in the Space of Religion is touring the nation.  ILLUME recently conducted an exclusive interview with Maryam  to get her views on the design of American Mosques and why she believes Art and Architecture are important fields for the Muslim American Community to be involved with.

How did you become interested in Architecture and why is it important to you personally?

Maryam: I was introduced to architecture through my paternal grandfather. Each summer I would spend time with him in Iran, and got acquainted with the world of construction and architecture. I loved spending time on the construction site watching him actually build something that he had designed. However, I didn’t quite understand what all the thought processes that went into the design. One summer though, I sat down with him so he could teach me how to draw in perspective. He started off with a few lessons of drawing the living room, gradually we moved towards outdoors and by the end of the summer, when he was renovating his house, he had be designing and help him redo the interior. That summer I was 15 years old. That was when I knew I wanted to be an architect.

However, I didn’t realize how important architecture and the role of architects are until a decade later when I was practicing professionally. I started to realize that we respond to the cultural demands and the needs of today’s society. We create new spaces, yet we have to be so educated in order to be able to create those new spaces. But what do we educate ourselves in? One project after another, I often find myself in many roles, the educator, the mediator, the historian, the psychologist and then the architect. As architect we listen to the needs and demands of our clients, we have to be able to absorb them and then imagine there words and needs into a physical space. In the words of Le Corbusier “I felt quite strongly that the singular and noble task of the architect is to open the soul to poetic realms, by using materials, integrity so as to make them useful”. We start to create a new language through that space, and often times we start illustrating those spaces and through refinement and execution of design, we actually start to create a new culture. However, in my case, understanding the religion of Islam, I decided to bring in the theological aspect as well, and start to revaluate the notion of religion that is ingrained in our American culture and make sure that there is analogous with the needs and demands of the future generation. I personally believe that its architecture that leaves an everlasting impression on this earth.

You recently did a study on American Mosque architecture. In your professional opinion as an Architect, what do you see are the 3 major problems with mosques in America and do you have any suggestions on how to improve them architecturally?

Maryam: Well, currently we know that there are number of issues that reside with the whole American Mosque architecture. The first one is that, through the whole “Islamaphobia” thrive that is being ignited here in the US, everyone has become so anti-mosque. So the first problem is to resolve the issue of the mosque architecture. We need to ask ourselves, what are we investing in? Is it just the mosque as a building, the community or the next generation? If it is just the mosque, then we have to reflect back and remind ourselves that the Prophet Mohammad once said that the whole world is a mosque, hence meaning that we should take care of the earth, be responsible towards it, practice sustainability, and secondly that we are able to pray anywhere as long as we are facing towards Mecca. So I am still trying to understand what is our obsession with domes and minarets, when the even the Prophets first mosque didn’t have a dome or minaret and was made out of rammed earth. Clearly later it was added all the other elements, but why? We should start creating mosques and Islamic centers that are architecturally responsible and meeting the demands and the needs of the American community. We should invest the money in creating a space that is sustainable, using local materials, creating a place that reaches out to the whole community – perhaps there are gardens that help feed the needy families. Or a soup kitchen that reaches out to the less fortunate. We should invest in pushing the boundaries and using our advance technological abilities to create a place that gives back to the earth. I remember last year at a conference when presenting, someone asked me; in Islam is it best to practice modesty, why isn’t it practiced in the architecture then? It got me thinking, they are absolutely right. A mosque needs to simple, yet beautiful. Simplicity is beautiful And as architects we know that it is easy to have an eclectic design solution just to meet the needs, but simplicity comes with discipline and refinement, it is not easy, it is what all architects strive for, and it is something that we work towards mastering. Hence, the legendary architect Louis Kahn talked about this in his “sense and simplicity” exhibit: Design is not making beauty; beauty emerges from selection, affinities, integration, and love. So let’s start disciplining ourselves to some of these elements when it comes to building and designing our community mosques.

The other thing that we should start investing is creating flexible spaces that can be converted into multi-faceted “programmatically” functions as well as creating an equal space for the women who pray. Currently as we watch the interfaith dialogues happening, the Muslim communities needs to be able to create a space so that the next generation would be able to invite their friends of various faiths to come and have a place for dialogue. We have to start creating a pluralistic architecture and enriching that in our future generations. On the interfaith notion, well currently we see that there is a protest between the genders. Women are now demanding to have adequate space in the mosque, where they are on the same main prayers space as the men. We should start rethinking of creating spaces other than balconies, basements or separate rooms. We have to remind ourselves, that it is the women of the Muslim community who are raising the next generation. They need to have access to the Muslim community, mosque, and the imam and be involved in the Islamic education if the Muslim community plans on enriching and have future generations of Muslim.

Please tell us a little about the Agha Khan award you received and why do you think it is important for Muslims in America to be involved in the arts in general and architecture in specific.

Maryam: Established in 1979 through an endowment from His Highness the Aga Khan, The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture is dedicated to the study of Islamic architecture, urbanism, environmental and landscape design, and conservation. It prepares students for careers in research, design, and teaching and aims to enhance the understanding of Islamic architecture and urbanism in light of contemporary issues and to increase the visibility of Islamic cultural heritage in the modern world.

It is crucial for Muslims to get involved in the arts and architecture, because it is a medium that is common for all culture. Art has no political side, it isn’t determined by ethnicity, art itself is a religion on its own. And is common language that can be reached out to various people, and groups. Architecture is a type of art and just like art it is constantly changing with time. Architecture has the ability to be a symbol or an identity of our time. Just like art that is an expression, it is bounded by rules and theory that is modified and expressed to resonate in the landscape and accommodate the present and the future generation. Art becomes architecture, when a space is created in a void. Hence, in the current traveling exhibit, I took the art of photography, and laid it out through the space that was created. We took the notion of the Ka’aba, a place where the expression of equality is highlighted—deconstructed and shifted it off to create an exterior and interior space.

This generation of Muslims is at the fore front of the arts, however, we need to educate ourselves more in the humanities and understand the historical aspects of why and how certain influences happened. We need to be able to understand the notion of purity and the spirituality of the religion and start implementing them into our architecture. There is something so pure and holy with the notion of light and shadow, and often times in the Quran there are references to it, such as surah Noor, however, I believe as architects, we should be able to design is such a way that the building not only resonates in the landscape, but rather heightens our senses in order to allow and feel nature, and experience a Zen moment. Often times through the creation of THAT particular space is where we feel the connection with the Divine, where the architecture creates a space that is so sublime that we lose ourselves to the spirit.

Any final comments?

Maryam: The great Sufi Poet Hafiz, has a few verses which I try to live by.  They embody the notion that architecture and art can bring people of different faiths into one space and can help to start a dialogue of pluralism and tolerance.  He writes:

“I am in love with every church

And mosque and temple

And any kind of shrine

Because I know it is there

That people say the different names

Of the One Divine.” – 14th century Sufi Poet Hafiz Shirazi

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Pakistani-American Playhouse Breaks New Ground

Posted in Art, Books/Magazines, Islam, Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2011 by irydhan

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BY IRFAN RYDHAN for ILLUME MAGAZINE

http://www.illumemag.com/zine/articleDetail.php?Pakistani-Playhouse-Breaks-New-Ground-13490

Imran S. Javaid and Imran W. Sheikh, two young Pakistani-American Muslims, started “Parwaz Playhouse” – the first major Pakistani Theatre Company in the Fall of 2009.  ILLUME caught up with them as they prepare for their latest production – an adaption of Eugene O’Neill’s “Beyond the Horizon”, which will begin performing to audiences on Feb. 25, 2011 in New York City


How did you come up with the idea to start a Pakistani-American Theatre company, and how did you come up with the name “Parwaz Playhouse”?

We both were working on the play “The Domestic Crusaders” by Wajahat Ali, when it was running in New York in Sept of 2009.  While we were doing the rehearsals, I looked around and realized that we are all enjoying what we are doing and why can’t we keep this going and do more productions that focus on brown people like us.  I discussed it with Imran Javaid, who is also a playwright, and he agreed it was a good idea.  We also discussed it with Wajahat, who said we should go for it.  So while working on the Domestic Crusaders, every night we started planning out how to start a theater company, what type of plays we would do, etc.

In terms of the name, I have always been of fan of Rod Serling’s “Playhouse 90”, so I knew I wanted Playhouse in the name of our theater company.  Although we are both Pakistani and wanted to do stories on Pakistan and Pakistani-Americans, we didn’t want to limit ourselves with a name like “Pakistani Playhouse.”  My mother suggested the Urdu word “Parwaz” (meaning “a bird’s first flight”), because it was used a lot by Alama Iqbal (famous Pakistani poet) in many of his ghazzals (urdu poetry).


What was the reaction of your family and friends when you started a Theatre Company for Pakistani-Americans?

IWS: There was a mixed reaction, but majority was positive.  We received many wishes well in support.  Everyone knows that there is a lot of negative images of Pakistanis and Muslims out there, so we feel it is our job to try to get through the negativity and show us as human beings.  Theater is the study of the human condition.  It’s a visual media and that is a key to be able to show American society who we are.  We are giving a voice to our community and people understand that and are supporting us.

Usually there is a negative reaction when someone from our community (Pakistani) goes into a non-traditional field, something outside of medicine, engineering, etc.  But if you study most civilizations, you will see that they start off with agriculture and then once they are settled in, they start getting into the arts.  When our parents came here to this country, it was an alien landscape for them.  They had to sacrifice and basically just work, sleep and take care of the kids.  They stayed in traditional and conservative fields just to survive.  But now it is up to our generation to go into the arts – acting and also politics and other different fields.  We have the luxury to do that now, after our parents sacrificed for us.
Tell us a little about your first production called “Glass”

ISJ: Glass is a 30 minute play I wrote and directed.  We performed it at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in November 2009.  It takes place in a newsroom in a country very similar to Pakistan.  A bombing happens outside and the play is basically about the role of the newspaper during a time of violence and how an editor and star reporter work together to cover the story.  A government minister also visits the newsroom and we see the interaction between government and media.

IWS: The play was also selected for the Downtown Urban Theater Festival in April of 2010 and was one of only 3 performances to sell out to the point where people were turned away during the festival’s  two week run.

Tell us about your latest production, “Beyond the Horizon” and how you adapted it for Pakistanis

ISJ: We chose to do an adaption of “Beyond the Horizon” because it is considered to be one of the first major American tragedies and we thought it would be great as our first full length play for the first Pakistani-American Theatre company.  The original play was written in the 1910’s about a family of Irish descent that lives on a farm.  A farmer has two sons – one who wants to leave the farm and see what’s out in the world and the other who wants to stay on the farm.  And they are also both in love with the same girl.  It’s a 3 act play that shows different time periods in the family’s life and how things don’t go as planned.  It’s a tragedy, and won the Pulitzer in 1920.

Our adaption of the story takes place in 1960’s Pakistan.  We set the play in a village near Karachi.  It also deals with a family that is struggling with how to deal with some members wanting to leave the country and others wanting to stay – basically it is the story of our parent’s generation and how they left Pakistan, leaving many of their family and friends behind.  The love story is still there.  We stayed pretty close to O’Neill’s original story, though we did end up cutting out four of the ten characters so we could pare it down to about 90 minutes from 2 hours and 45 minutes.

What are some of your goals with this play and ultimately with your theatre company?

IWS: We wanted to show our parent’s experience with this story.  Give a window to the public, both Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis, so people can see who we are.  Give a voice to our community.  One of our goals is to encourage more Pakistanis to enter the arts.

ISJ: There are a lot of talented people in our community and we want to create a forum to allow all that talent to flourish.  There are set designers, costume designers, actors, etc.  Art is a great unifier which can bring all these talented people together.  We also want to make bridges to other communities.

IWS: But, at the end of the day, we’re out to produce good and entertaining theatre.  Our ultimate goal is to have an actual brick and mortar building.  But we know that is way down the road.  Right now we are honored to put our play on at Theater for the New City in New York.  They liked our work and they have supported many famous playwrights and actors over the years, so we are very honored to be able to work there.

Rizwan Manji: Taking Jobs From White America

Posted in Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2010 by irydhan

I interviewed actor Rizwan Manji from NBC’s “Outsourced” for ILLUME Magazine (www.IllumeMag.com).
He talked about what its like to be Muslim in Hollywood and the importance of  ‘good Muslim’ roles.

How did you get the part of Rajiv Gidwani on NBC’s “Outsourced” ?

I was sent the script for the Pilot and thought it was hilarious.  As an Indian, I could relate to some of the characters who share the same culture as me, and this was the first time that I have heard of a major TV sitcom about South Asian culture.  I initially was called in to audition for the role of Gupta (played by Parvesh Cheena) and did not get the role, but after the producers could not find a suitable actor for the role of Rajiv, they called me in again and I got the part.

Many people who watched the pilot episode, felt the show was filled with too many stereotypes and was not really a funny show.  How do you respond?

The pilot episode was basically a quick introduction to all the eight main characters.  We basically have 22 minutes to introduce each person and you don’t really have much time to go into that much detail of each character.  It is a pretty standard set-up as most TV sitcoms and if you have seen other shows such as Friends, etc. you will see that in the beginning they quickly introduce each character and you see how each character is on the surface (i.e. so and so is the dumb character, etc.).  The main goal of any sitcom is to entertain and establish an audience who is willing to come back to watch again.

Will the TV show go into the different religions of the characters or stay focused on the culture of India?

Currently there is one call center worker, Samina, who is a Muslim women who wears Hijab (played by a Non-Muslim) and she does interact with my character (my character is Hindu) in a future episode, but at this point in time the TV series is not focusing on religion and when references are made it is mostly the Hindu religion.

As a Muslim of South Asian descent, you are familiar with the tradition of parents limiting their children’s field of study to medicine or engineering.  How did your parents react to your decision to get into acting and were they supportive of you?

I was pretty lucky, because my family was very supportive of me.  At first my parents did not really understand why I wanted to be an actor and also how I would be able to make a living out of it, since they came from a background, like most South Asian parents, of leaving their homeland (Tanzania), going to another country (Canada) and working hard to allow their children to go to a good university so they can become a doctor or lawyer, etc.  My parents never told me no for acting, but they did encourage me to go to school and get a degree as a back-up plan.  I did go to school in Alberta for one year, but afterwards decided that I want to study acting at the “American Musical and Dramatic Academy” in the United States.  It was difficult to get in and also I didn’t have any money to pay for tuition, so I obviously had to ask my parents for help.  I thank my sister, who really was able to sit down with my parents and convince them that this is what I really wanted to do.  Now, my father is really excited about the whole acting thing and whenever he spots an opportunity for a South Asian role, he tells me to apply for it and kinda acts like my manager!

As a Muslim, do you think it is important for more Muslims to get involved with acting in TV and Films?

Definitely.  Muslims need to be involved and active.  TV is watched all over the world, especially TV which is produced here in America.  It is the most visible platform we have now.  If majority of the world sees only evil Muslim characters and roles on TV, that is detrimental to everyone, not just Muslims.  There needs to be a greater presence of Muslims on TV.

Were you offered any negative roles in terms of portrayal of Muslims and how did you respond?

Yes, I received many offers which portrayed Muslims in the stereotypical manner of just killing someone and yelling something in Arabic.  I turned down many of these roles.   But some of them I did debate whether to take them or not.  For example, I was offered several roles to be a terrorist  on the series “24”, which I turned down, but in the last season, they had several characters who were “good guy” Muslims (such as Anil Kapoor’s character).  So when I was offered a job to play a small role of a bad guy, I accepted it, since I saw that a major character was portraying a “good brown Muslim person”, so it wasn’t a one sided thing, where all the muslim characters are bad.  But I do struggle with these roles and turn down something if it makes me feel uncomfortable.

What advice do you have for young Muslims who are interested in becoming actors?

If it’s your passion, then go for it.  But don’t think that you will become rich quick.  It’s a struggle and is not easy work.  I have been working in this business for 15 years now, and had to do a lot of side jobs along the way.  There is very little money in the beginning.  But if you like it and have a passion for it, then do it!

ILLUME Media Seminar: Digital Journalism in the Age of Multi-Media Story Telling

Posted in Activism, Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2010 by irydhan

ILLUME magazine in assocation with the South Bay Islamic Association (SBIA) Media Committee, CAIR-SFBA, and the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California (ICCNC) present a special 2 -day In-Depth workshop for students of Media and Journalism as well as others who are interested in learning the art and techniques of professional story telling in the Digital Age.  The weekend seminar will take place on April 17th and 18th, 2010 in the S.F. Bay Area.  There is also a FREE panel discussion on the Importance of Local Media Activism with Several Muslim Media Professionals (see below for details) which will be held at SBIA Downtown Center on Friday April 16th from 7pm to 9pm.

Students who take the weekend seminar (April 17th-18th, 2010) will learn:

  • Understanding the different mediums: print vs broadcast vs web
  • Effective news writing & storytelling
  • Pre-production and script writing
  • Interview techniques
  • The different styles and approaches
  • The “Five Elements of News Production”
  • Basic Camera operation
  • How to Light the Perfect Interview
  • Getting the right Coverage
  • Understanding Audio
  • Selecting the correct mics
  • Hands-on DV & HDV Camera use and tips
  • How to shoot an Interview
  • DV Editing with Final Cut Pro
  • Editing techniques and styles
  • Understanding rendering and nesting using FCP
  • Exporting out of Final Cut Pro
  • How to make DVDs, Overview of DVD studio Pro Basics and iDVD
  • Entitled: “Digital Journalism in the Age of Multi-Media Story Telling” the seminar will be taught by

    Farzad W, Executive Producer of 14th Road Productions. Farzad is an Emmy award-winning director with more than 10 years of production and teaching experience.He has directed and edited more than a dozen independent videos & documentaries, and produced more than 400 interactive media applications for publishers and businesses. His scholarly works have been published internationally while his films have been screened locally and overseas. Marquis Who’s Who in America of 2010 selected Farzad Wafapoor as one of 95,000 of America’s “most noteworthy people”.Farzad earned his Master’s degree in Mass Media from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.

    Additional Instruction will also be provided by:

    Muhammad Sajid, Editor-in-Chief of ILLUME 
    Muhammad Sajid is an award-winning journalist and graphic designer. He received an Edward R. Murrow award and has been named the Society of Professional Journalist 2004 Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year. He worked as a newspaper reporter for seven years before switching to broadcast. Muhammad Sajid received a BA in Journalism and a second BA in Graphic Design from San Francisco State University. He is currently pursuing a JD.

    Anser Hassan, Executive Producer of ILLUME 
    Anser has worked both on-air and behind the scenes at several news stations across the country, including ABC, CBS, and CNN. His career began at CTV30, an award-winning cable station in the San Francisco Bay Area. There he was a reporter and news anchor, plus hosted two of his own shows. He also reported for the New York Times broadcast division at WQAD-TV. He has also reported at KRON4-TV/Channel 4 in San Francisco. Currently, he is an assignment editor at CBS5/Channel 5 in San Francisco. He was recognized as an up and coming reporter from the national branch of the Asian American Journalist Association, being featured on the “Men of AAJA DVD.” He was also the recipient of the national New York Times Reporter Trainee award and selected into the prestigious New York Times L.E.A.P. program, a company wide leadership program. Anser is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of San Francisco State University, with degrees in TV/Radio News and International Relations, with a Middle East regional concentration and an emphasis on Islamic political movements and Islamic feminism.

    The costs for the seminar is $25.00 for Students (ID Required) and $75 for Professionals before April 16th and $50 Students/$100 Professionals afterwards.

    For more information and/or to register for the class click here.

    Media Panel (FREE Admittance on Friday April 16th, 2010) Topic: “The Importance of Local Media Activism

    Panel Speakers:

    Wajahat Ali is a playwright, journalist, attorney, humorist and consultant. His play, “The Domestic Crusaders”, is one of the first major plays about the American Muslim experience originally premiering at the Thrust Stage of the Tony award winning Berkeley Repertory Theater to universal acclaim in 2005 and making its New York premiere on 9-11-09 at the world famous Nuyorican Theater.  He is a frequent contributor to the Washington Post, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Counterpunch and Chowk.

    Farzad W is an Emmy award-winning director with more than 10 years of production and teaching experience. He has directed and edited more than a dozen independent videos & documentaries, and produced more than 400 interactive media applications for publishers and businesses. His scholarly works have been published internationally while his films have been screened locally and overseas. Marquis Who’s Who in America of 2010 selected Farzad Wafapoor as one of 95,000 of America’s “most noteworthy people”. Farzad earned his Master’s degree in Mass Media from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.

    Carma Hassan is a journalist and story planning editor with a KTVU Ch. 2 News in Oakland, CA.  She is actively working to bring a stronger Muslim presence to mainstream media. 

    Javed Ali is the founder and publisher of the world-class, award-winning media organization, ILLUME. He is a seasoned technology expert and entrepreneur, who previously founded Digital Pad in 2003, a technology consulting company. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Network and Communications Management and consults with non-profits in the areas of media and technology.

    Anser Hassan has worked both on-air and behind the scenes at several news stations across the country, including ABC, CBS, and CNN. His career began at CTV30, an award-winning cable station in the San Francisco Bay Area. There he was a reporter and news anchor, plus hosted two of his own shows. He also reported for the New York Times broadcast division at WQAD-TV. He has also reported at KRON4-TV/Channel 4 in San Francisco. Currently, he is an assignment editor at CBS5/Channel 5 in San Francisco.

    Panel Moderator:
    Irfan Rydhan is a “Multi-Media” Activist who lives in the Bay Area. His background includes non-profit management, film/video production and graphic art/design. He is co-founder of “Jam-Productions: An International Video/Film Company” and Executive Producer of “The Muslim Round Table Television Show” which currently airs on Comcast Ch. 15 in San Jose and streams live on Sundays at 12:30pm on www.CreaTVsj.org  He is one of the founding members of the SBIA Media Committee, which conducts training programs and classes on how to effectively interact with the media in it’s coverage of issues relating to Islam and Muslims. Read his blog about Architecture, Islamic Art and Media Activism: Al Mihrab: The Place of War