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The present must be read in light of the past

Present Day Theater in the Mirror of History

Since its very beginning, history has always been in touch with the major historical shifts. In this context, the works or rather the theatrical creations of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah may be considered as an example of such lofty status. In fact, his highness’s works have always constituted a turning point in the history of the Father of Arts and a reflection of his highness’s deep conviction and firm belief in the role of theater in any nation’s progress and revival. This understanding is part and parcel of the mindset and cultural inclination of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, the lover of theater and the patron of a great cultural and civilizational project. That is why theater is considered the cornerstone of the cultural project of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, who is regarded in the Arab world and indeed throughout the world as a great playwright and the proud producer of many valuable theatrical works such as Samson the mighty, Nimrod, Hulagu, Reality a carbon copy, Daaesh and Ghabra, Aliaa and Esam, the Black Stone to name just a few of his highness’s many theatrical works.

In most of these works, history was a powerful presence made even more powerful through his highness’s masterful employment of any given historical moment, which reflects an extremely intelligent approach to theatrical topics.

In his book “The historical moment in Sultan Al Qasimi’s theater” issued by Al Qasimi Publications, the Iraqi writer Zafer Jaloud indicated the intelligent investment of history by his highness who sees history as an everlasting repository of deeply significant meanings. In fact, there can be no doubt as to the profoundness of the existential questions raised by His Highness, who made of the answers to such questions an archive of beauty and thought conveyed through an unequaled literary style, encyclopedic knowledge, tight structure and masterful theatrical narration.

Accuracy and Reliability

It is highness’s grasp of history that accounts for the great accuracy and reliability of facts, characters and events in Sultan Al Qasimi’s theater. In the play” Alexander the Great” authored by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, there is an unmistakable interest in and knowledge of ancient history. This is further reflected by his highness’s masterful choice, being a creative writer, of the moment of death of the great conqueror who dominated the world and subjugated the great empires of his time, who breathed his last only after having vanquished the Persians, fought the romans, and reached the outskirts of India.  Alexander the Great is a historical play that addresses the life of this great conqueror, but his highness doesn’t only depict this dramatic historical moment but uses it to draw parallels with the current events in Asia and the whole Arab region. It is thus that His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah invests the past to illuminate the present in this torn by wars, racked by pains and tantalized by ambitions in a global age that turned the whole world upside down.

In the preface to “Alexander the Great”, his highness writes “Having read the bulk of what was written about Alexander the Great, I wrote this play to be a living image of the power struggle that has always been going on everywhere since the dawn of time and up to the present time, taking every measure to ensure proper documentation, based on the references attached at the end of the play.”   

Within the same framework, whoever reads the play, authored by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and entitled “The Case”, which addresses a critical historical period will doubtlessly discover that it is inspired by the Arab and Islamic history and seeks, as affirmed by his highness in the play’s preface, the uncanny similarities between the Arab nation’s painful past and the trials and tribulations it is suffering today. This is the same vision projected by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah from the very opening scene of his play “Hulagu” through which he seeks to indicate that what happened to the Arab nation in the past is very much similar to what is going through today and that the tragic events of the past are being reproduced in the painful events of the present.

Piercing Vision

His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah has always emphasized the key role played by the theater as is clearly obvious not only in his highness’s writings, but in all his utterances in his many interviews and appearances in theater festivals, whether Local, Arab or even international. They all reflect a piercing vision of a man of culture and a ruler enamored with the theater and his ever present, almost obsessive, concern for the theater is discernible in all his utterances, interviews, and initiatives, which are in full harmony with such a vision. In fact, his profound statement “Humans are mortal but the theater is just as eternal as life itself” comes as the most eloquent description of the role the theater plays in our lives and how it impacts all humans of various cultures and stations in life.” 

In all historical plays authored by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, one is stricken by the way his highness uses historical events to draw cultural parallels for his highness doesn’t only recount historical events but uses them as a lesson to be learned or an example to be emulated. His highness’s vision is therefore to shed light upon our failures and deficiencies, serve lessons and examples, take us to the bitter past to learn and draw renewed strength from in order to face a no less bitter present.

This vision can’t be more evident than in the play “Torgut” of which his highness wrote “This play is best read in light of the current Arab predicament so as to draw from it useful lessons as well as intellectual enjoyment”. The play “Torgut” is based upon the power struggles that unfolded in the Mediterranean Sea basin, with Tunisia at its very center. It depicts how the naval commander “Torgut” succeeded in freeing north African Arab ports from the clutches of imperialists and in so doing turned into a legendary hero whose exploits became the subject matter of many novels and folk tales in the Arab Maghreb nations, particularly Tunisia.

Characters and Symbols

His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah has always been loyal first and foremost to historical authenticity and accurate documentation as affirmed by Dr. Haitham AlKhawaja in his book “Sultan Al Qasimi’s theater: Questioning life and reality” issued by the Emirates Writers Union and in which the writer examines and analyzes his highness’s theatrical works.

Reading the Future

In the play “Nimrod” the reader cannot help but be stricken, and justly so, by the magnitude of the effort exerted in reading the past in order to sound the alarm for the present through a play entitled “Nimrod”, that legendary ancient Babylonian historical character that has always lived on in our collective memory. This play authored by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, in addition to being a theatrical masterpiece, draws parallels with the present as his highness’s historical theater is wont to do. The choice of Nimrod by his highness a lesson to modern day dictators was inspired as he(Nimrod) was a ruthless despot who terrorized his people and was so possessed by megalomania that he claimed divinity and defied the Gods only to meet his well-deserved albeit tragic end as killer mosquitos  annihilated his army, while preparing to fight another army, while Nimrod himself was killed by his own people who rose up against his despotism and ended his legend as one of the worst and most ruthless despots humanity has ever known. In his play ”Nimrod” his Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah used the legend to expose the present and the future, highlighting the horrible end that awaits all forms of tyranny and injustice, which should serve as a lesson to all despots that thirst for power is a malignant disease that must ends in certain destruction of those afflicted with it, because such a thirst for power runs counter to public interest and only represents the basest form of greed.

Creative Vision

In all the analytical readings of the creative theatrical works authored by his Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, there is a masterful employment of historical subject matter as a sharp surgical scalpel that dissects the present. Historical events for his highness are therefore not an end unto themselves but rather a means to understand the present as if a mirror reflecting the past is placed opposite another reflecting the present. The researcher Dr. Baheeja Edlibi made that same observation, as she said ”It is through this parallelism that distance ceases to exist as life and thoughts cast the same shadow, ideas gain a material existence and the theatrical vision remains indelibly imprinted in each viewer’s memory, so that the history is reproduced by tools of the present, allowing vast room for interpretations in which the audience members take active part and reproductions and visions are just as many as the spectators”

Human Causes

His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah has always been primarily concerned with human causes in all his theatrical works. In fact, his Highness has asserted on more than one occasion this important endeavor. One such occasion was the opening ceremony of the thirteenth edition of the Gulf Theater Festival held at the Cultural Palace in Sharjah, where His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah said “The theater reflects and addresses human issues in all its manifestations”. It is within this framework that the theatrical works of his highness characterized by its great variety in terms of topics addressed, may be read. In these works history doesn’t preclude inferences that constitute the launching pad towards an indirect and wide-ranging discussion of social, humane and even national issues in today’s world that bespeaks a clear vision, deep passion for Arab nationalism, Decent life and Islamic faith.

In fact, this was exactly what attracted the attention of the literary critic Haitham AlKhawaja, who considered this clear vision an equally clear manifestation of his highness’s aversion to injustice, despotism, corruption and megalomania on the one hand and of the major intellectual trends in his highness’s theater, of which the most predominant is the nationalist trend which is an unmistakable and constant feature in all his works where his highness repeatedly emphasizes the almost religious need for preserving the nation and provides solutions to problems associated with such issues, addressing both its immediate and direct dimensions as well as the indirect and imperceptible dimensions.

The present: A Carbon Copy of the Past

It is because his highness is primarily occupied with Arab and Islamic concerns, that the bulk of his works reflects such concerns. In fact, an in depth reading of the bulk of his highness’s works cannot but uncover that clear and potent obsessive concern. His highness’s play “The present: A Carbon Copy of the Past”, for example, is a historical work that draws strong parallels with the present. In his preface to the play, His highness says “The Arab nation has been through periods that are much darker and crueler than the one we are living through. So, let this play be a call for hope and an incentive to unity and struggle. In fact, his highness’s play “The present: A Carbon Copy of the Past” is the last installment of a historical theatrical trilogy, also including “Hulagu” and ”The Cause”, that addresses the current Arab predicament from a contemporary perspective that reflects deep optimism and a firm belief in a brighter future based on awareness, revival and enlightenment.

Struggle of Darkness and Light  

The bulk of the theatrical works authored by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah includes a persistent call for increased awareness and encapsulates the lessons of history in an impressive artistic style, making such works Arabic and international theatrical documents worthy of reading and contemplation. It is no wonder, therefore, that his highness’s works that were translated into various foreign languages were in such demand in all academic and cultural circles all over the world as it presents an aesthetic and in depth reading of the various transformations the Arab and Islamic communities have been through, as exemplified by the play ”The holy book of Allah: Struggle of Darkness and Light’ and as symbolized by the play ”Daaesh and Ghabra”, which is a modern theatrical saga that condemns the idea of violence, which renders the relationship of past and present a never ceasing polemic, as exemplified by his highness’s poetic play entitled “Aliaa and Essam”, which recounts the story of a Bedouin Arab tribe, called Rula that was constantly on the move in search of grazing grounds for its cattle herds and in the midst of such barren surroundings a tender love story blossoms between Aliaa and Essam but which ends tragically in a storm of blood and vengeance.

Source: Al-Khaleej Newspaper