With Ramadan upon us, I’ve been reflecting back to when I was surrounded by people who couldn’t reconcile my faith with my art and its industry. I would never have believed it was my problem if it wasn’t for the fact that peers and authority figures were treating me like it was. Teachers and castmates spoke with certainty on Islam from their purely media driven expertise. Muslims who would stand in prayer with me would use their next breath to say that acting was haraam (something that is prohibited in the Qur'ran or would result in sin when committed by a Muslim). Everybody was real vocal about how impossible the combination was.
Now that I’m removed from the majority of that chicanery, I know that this was their problem. Much like those who insist that they’re colorblind, I push encounters with that type to the far reaches of my personal sphere. Being Muslim enriches my acting and acting helps me understand the importance of certain concepts within Islam. In my life, they are in perfect compliment with endless connections between the two. These are just a handful of those connections I’m grateful for at the moment.
The ideal Muslim and the ideal actor are the same: one who has attained mastery over being present. Islam places all of the importance on using awareness practices as a means to cultivate presence with the world around you. The day is structured with what amounts to five required combined physical, vocal, and breathing exercises. It is perfectly designed to slow you down and let you approach being in the moment from a place of calm.
If Islam is where calm is engineered, acting is the test track--a nurburgring for your ability to be present and in the moment every moment. I’ve been performing since I was eight and I’m going on twenty-nine--performances are all laden with stressors that would make regular people scream. We add layers, lights, and stretch the normal person’s 10 minute work presentation into two hours. We go up there, nervous every time cause we’re human, and deliver presence in a storm of uncomfortable circumstances. The two experiences make a whole understanding of what it means to be fully present.
Islam and acting find their strength in my life through repetition. The root of the Qur’anic arabic word for human is forgetfulness, which is why the text is surmised to be so repetitive. From memorizing the Qur’an to remembering Allah throughout the day, repetition is a tool used for maintaining a balanced life worth living. Repetition without intention distances you from what you experience. Repetition with intention allows you to explore.
Repetition is all over acting. Training, not just in the Meisner technique that immediately comes to mind, but physical and vocal as well. Rehearsals, read throughs, right into audition preparation--repetition as a track record in making the actor better. I also find that in acting, because we’re heightening everything, the consequences of not utilizing repetition is easier to see. Allah will forgive you for coming to prayer under rehearsed, but the audience sure won’t.
If there’s one thing I can rely on that connects acting and Islam, it’s myself. My life matters and I treat myself like it does. When you’re going over seemingly disparate concepts in your mind--even if they’re only that way because you’ve internalized the terrible things people have said to you--it’s easy to disconnect from the fact that you absolutely count as part of what unifies it. So today I’m counting myself.
All the Prophets in Islam are different--missions, cultures, and miracles vary, but the something they all have in common is that they were rebels. People who were of their time and culture and disruptive to the status quo. They did this by presenting themselves as a mirror in which all of those around them could see a clear and inescapable image of their behavior. I would say that this was part of my main goal in what I consider to be a successful Muslim and to perform a successfully acted role. And there’s no better gift for me as a Muslim than having the regular opportunity to do that through acting.
Ramadan is a time where Muslims fast from food and water, as well as that which is harmful to them. It’s an invitation to be kind to yourself during a time of structured loss so you will remain kind to yourself during times when you don’t get to choose what’s taken from you. If you find yourself an actor, Muslim, both, or none at all--just a being living at the intersection of identities that people love to tell you don’t align, I invite you to fast from these fools with me. If you can give up the space they have in your head even a little bit now, when you find yourself low on resources, rejecting their uncreative narratives will be much easier. You are the gateway to connections between those identities. Connections that already existed and will always exist.
I’m Muslim and I’m an actor and before we head into the month of fasting, you can go ahead and eat that up.