Mosque Alert fictionalizes reaction to Naperville proposal

By Myrna Petlicki, Pioneer Press, 3/24/16

A fury erupted in 2010 when a proposal was submitted for the building of a mosque near the site of New York's former World Trade Center. That occurrence as well as multiple rejections of mosque-building proposals in Naperville inspired Jamil Khoury's "Mosque Alert." The play, which was developed in part with the input of live and online audiences, is having its world premiere at Silk Road Rising, March 24-May 1 under Edward Torres' direction.

It focuses on the reaction of members of three fictional Naperville families to the erection of a mosque.

Highland Park native Rengin Altay, who plays Emily Baker, said she was drawn to the project because it is "telling a story of diversity and tolerance, and acknowledging prejudices that we don't even know we have. We all make judgments all day long."

Altay noted that throughout our country's history, we have always been afraid of "the others." Who those others are has changed throughout history. Now it's the Muslims.

Altay's character is a wealthy Naperville housewife and mother of two college age children. "Events in the play bring her a bunch of steps closer to examining her beliefs," she said.

Emily, whose best friend is a very wealthy Muslim woman, "is awfully proud of herself for being so open-minded and liberal. Emily is trying to be good in the world."

River Forest resident Rula Gardenier, who has the role of Aminah Qabbani, Emily's best friend, says the play's message "seems to be so timely right now. I can always appreciate a theatrical effort to make palatable the stories of Muslims and Arabs and people who are 'the other' in any circumstance."

Born in an Arabian Gulf country in the Middle East to a Palestinian father and Lebanese mother, Gardenier was raised in England but has lived in the United States for over 30 years. Because of living in such different places, she said, "I have sympathy for all kinds of people."

Gardenier described Aminah as "a progressive Muslim woman." Things get tense for her when Emily's brother creates a website in opposition of the building of the mosque.

Evanston actor Mark Ulrich, who plays Emily's husband Ted, noted that the play, "addresses in many ways the fear of change and the Islamophobia that can so quickly come to the surface when American Muslims try to establish a place of worship to 'belong' in America."

Ulrich's character Ted heads the local chamber of commerce. "He has a good deal of influence on the development and growth of the Naperville business community," Ulrich said. "Because of his job, he's sort of caught in the middle, trying to appease and represent both sides. He wants to satisfy the needs of the growing Muslim community but he also is answerable to the business leaders in the downtown area and a good portion of the white community that may not want the mosque to be built."

"I hope this play reminds us," Ulrich added, "the best thing about America is our inclusiveness and our willingness to enfold many different and disparate people into the fabric of the nation."