Art Feature: Keelat Theatre Ensemble
I sat down with three of the ensemble for an interview and here’s what they had to say. Made up of four full-time staff members, Keelat Theatre Ensemble’s founding artistic director is Mr. Gene, it’s executive producer is Ms Adila Mohckeram, Ms Aiida Tubiman is the business manager and Mr Isyafii is it’s tech manager.
The four of them work full time in the ensemble and they all perform in the productions that Keelat produces. The first production staged was called Al- Ikhlas. I am no theatre specialist (or whatever it is the term is for a theatre enthusiast) so I apologize in advance if I get any of the terms wrong.
Now, without further ado, here it is.
Q: What is Keelat Theatre Ensemble all about?
If we had to give keelat a definition then it’s more descriptive than definitive. In the sense that, we want to look at Islamic perspectives of common issues and common perspectives of Islamic issues. We want to transcend barriers of economic status, intellectual capacities etc. We want to show this not by dictating it or telling but through the theatre itself. All this governed by the Qur’an and Hadeeth, so basically, its theatre through the prism of Islam but we are not restricted only to Islamic plays.
Q: Who founded Keelat and when was it formed?
I (Gene) founded it in 2008 but the idea was conceived way before. I had approached others that would understand this idea. A couple of them came on board but they slipped off because of family commitments and such. They remain supportive although they are not active in the ensemble. Initially, it was a one man show. I was driving it myself and the pace that I was going was 1 show per year. The first show that was produced was “Al- Ikhlas” Yet, it convinced enough of the right people of its significance and in 2010, sisters Adila and Aiida came on board.
So Keelat Theatre Ensemble was officially formed as a society in 2010 with 11 members in the advisory board. They do not participate actively but ask questions and give feedback wherever they can.
Check out the video of their first play “Al-Ikhlas” monologue:
Q: What drove you to form it?
It was because of years and years of frustration that I saw through the theatres that were taking place. At its most extreme, it was anti-theistic and at the very best, it was very preachy. It was not following or developed from what was developed from the Qur’an and Hadeeth. We kept looking at it through a place where Allah is removed from the picture. It was a very secular perspective and we had to come back and return to theatre that embraced our faith. So we take the same issue, rethink it and put it across with Islamic values.
Q: This is theatre and although a lot of people might know what it is, theatre enthusiasts remain a minority. Why is it so important that you get the awareness of theatre out there?
Only 10% of every population are involved with theatre and yes, it is not a popular art. This is because I would consider it as being elitist in a way. Because the skills that are involved in theatre are life skills. If you educate people through theatre, you are elevating them and they become effective members of society.
Islam is a religion of action and in that way, theatre is in line with it. Our mission to reach the remaining 90% of the population is through moving people with the plays. When they are moved, they will be inclined to learn about it. We do theatre but at the core of it is Islam and the best way to do da’wah is to live Islam.
Islam is a very forward-thinking religion, it’s more than a religion actually, it’s a way of life. The problem with Muslims now is that we are always telling others and being told what is forbidden, bid’ah and the likes that we get this illusion that Islam is very restrictive when it is not. We should focus on what is permissible because that is the majority.
Q: Speaking about bid’ah, have you ever gotten complaints about what you are doing being bid’ah?
Not really. Bid’ah is usually related to ibadah and theatre is more along the lines of culture. If the cultural practices are in line with Islam, then it should be alright. Da’wah is not just done in one way, it is through everyday life. Although, there has been issues where it got a bit complicated because our performances were conducted in mosques.
Q: Funding wise, how do guys manage?
We are funded by God and I say this only half jokingly. We receive no support from the National Arts Council as they view us as a religious body. Although that, we have had sponsorship in terms of time, effort and products. Now that I think about it, the lack of support from the NAC is probably for the best because it is made up largely of tax dollars which come from alcohol and cigarettes among other things.
So, we get sustenance from jobs that are offered and our workshops. One of our programmes right now is called Living Iqra’. It teaches theatre skills and aims to produce “people who will crawl over ice to fight with the army of the black flags.” The army of the black flags here refer to the army that will be led by Imam Mahdi.
Here are some links to videos of the sessions conducted in the Living Iqraa’ program:
Story of Abraham: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LR-7jwlEQg4
Story of Noah: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVXakPar4UM
Story of Moses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H93CVt00FOQ
Q: Future plays?
Sisters Adila and Aiida: The upcoming play is called Women of Peace. It is a 6 member ensemble that is based on the roles of women in Islam. The women that are going to be portrayed are Siti Maryam, Balqis, Zulaikha and Asiah. At this time, a few mosques have expressed interest but it still being deliberated and it is a constant struggle to get approval.
Q: How different is it to perform this upcoming one as compared to your previous works?
Sisters Adila and Aiida: When we did Cakap Pasal Remaja, it was a different filming experience. The concept and ideas were different and we felt more accountability for it because we were in charge of coming up with it, filtering the ideas, and putting it together. Women of peace is essentially a play that gives the audience values that they can apply in their daily lives.
Q: So what is/are the goal(s) for Keelat Theatre Ensemble?
We want to make it understood that it is not the fire of talent that is important but the nur of Imaan. We aim to create Ihsan (compassion) and to break stereotypes. You’ll see the poster for Women of peace and it shows the sisters in niqab. This is to show that women who cover up are made of tough stuff and are not weak and oppressed as often depicted.
Q: Alright then, any last words or advice for Muzlimbuzz readers?
The key to unlock the floodgates of ideas is the first revelation that came to Nabi Muhammad (S), which is “Iqra bismi rabbikal ladzi khalaq”. Hence, it teaches us to represent Allah in doing anything. In any situation, we should submit and accept that Allah has a plan because there is none victorious other than Allah. Also, our motto is “and your Lord, do magnify” which is the fourth verse from surah Mudathhir, therefore, glorify God in all that we do.
You can check Keelat Theatre Ensembles facebook page here:
Radhiatul Mardhiyah Mustaffa
Mardhiyah graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a Diploma in Applied Food Science and Nutrition. She’s an aspiring writer trying to find peace and serenity that comes solely from feeling Allah’s love.