It’s one thing to know this country’s a rough place for young Muslims — and another to hear about it from people who speak from experience. This is the best reason to see Ping Chong and Company’s thoughtful testimonial piece, Beyond Sacred, now playing at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center as part of a series about Muslim identity.
Beyond Sacred stages complex stories in simple form: Five performers in everyday clothes, on a spare stage, relate the history of Muslims in America. Though they start at the beginning — Muslims sailed with Columbus and fought with George Washington — the focus is on the performers’ own lives. These young men and women came of age after 9-11, and their tales reveal the striking diversity of American Muslim identity. One performer fled Afghanistan after the U.S. began bombing it; another grew up in the South and inherited his faith from his father, a member of the Nation of Islam. The woman wearing the hijab converted to Islam; the woman in jeans grew up with it. There are familiar features of American teenagehood — Blondie records, jobs at Chuck E. Cheese’s — mixed with heartbreaking memories of prejudice and fear.
Beyond Sacred, devoted to teaching, gets didactic at times. But its sincerity will win you over — and these are stories we’d all do well to hear.