9/11 to 11/9 Review- "Silk Road Rising" reaches out to the world

Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani, life partners and co-founders of  “Silk Road Rising”, located in the historic Chicago Temple Building, 77 W. Washington, Chicago, are men with a mission- to showcase playwrights and create both live theater and online videos that tell stories through primarily Asian American and Middle Eastern American lenses. Their artistic goals include deepening the understanding of these cultures within the broader community while providing resources and opportunities for education that allow people to explore and accept a more expansive global perspective. Silk Road Rising is the nation’s first theater company dedicated to representing such a diverse constituency.

Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani; photo by Joe Mazza

Their work is filled with personal meaning and moral imperative. “New City” recently cited them as “Players of the Moment”, in a cover feature devoted to “The 50 People Who Really Perform For Chicago”. They are the recipients of numerous accolades and awards, as they work hard to “pay it forward”, to continuously give of the best of themselves to the neighborhoods of Chicago.

Their endeavor, founded as a response to 9/11/01, has been given a rebirth and revitalization since 11/9/16, the date the POTUS was elected. Immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and now intensified after the election, says Gillani, “Millions of lives have been affected in horrid ways”. As anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments have challenged our humanity, their efforts have been redoubled.  Understanding that cultures are inherently linked, they seek to advance a worldview that is polyculturally based and that values art over ideology, inquiry over dogma.

Jamil Khoury in the community

This reviewer recently had the opportunity to interview these men about their vision and it’s translation into the larger community. Gillani told me “The overt racism that’s been demonstrated in a few short weeks has forced us to double down in our efforts both to the communities we serve and to those with whom we are in coalition”. He added, “There is a very real opportunity here for joining together. There is no time to dither”. He further noted, “This is an energizing situation. People who didn’t take the language of racism seriously are experiencing a wake-up call.” He mused, “It’s actually a clarion call”.

His partner, Khoury stated, “When we talk about representation, this is where storytelling becomes essential to the national conversation. We are seeking to provide alternative realities, not spout ‘alternative facts’. We need to stand up together, and to have each other’s backs.” After a pause, Gillani said, “Those who live culturally defined lives don’t live in silos; we are always interfacing”.

Jamil Khoury in dialogue


Gillani and Khoury have been bringing their message into the communities by use of video-plays. These can be found, downloaded and viewed at the Silkroadrising homepage.




"The Four Hijabs”, by Jamil Khoury with Dr. Manel Hamzeh, directed by Liz Wuerfel, 2016, with animation by Anna Hayden-Roy, is an animated short film that explores the various meanings of the four hijabs- veils or dimensional barriers mentioned in the Koran, analyzing them from an Arab-Muslim/feminist perspective. These include the visual, spatial, ethical and spiritual hijabs. Viewing this film can help people understand the meaning of the veil, and remove the fear and prejudice surrounding its use.


"The Imam & The Homosexual", written and directed by Jamil Khoury, 2014, written as part of a larger project called “Mosque Alert”, which explores a fictional conversation between an openly gay Caucasian man and an Imam, the person who leads prayers in a mosque. The two discuss the attitude of Islam toward homosexuality. The Imam's position is that homosexuality is regarded as behavioral, not intrinsic; it is something one “does”, not something one “is”.


"Multi Meets Poly: Multiculturalism and Polyculturalism Go on a First Date", written by Jamil Khoury, 2015, directed by A. George Bajalia, composed as “a theatricalized intellectual workout”, an exercise in probing ideas through drama. It explores the difference in concept between the notion of a numbered set of cultural concepts as opposed to a more fluid viewpoint that accepts the idea that none of us may be represented by one definition or construct- we are homogenous in this global world.  


Jamil Khoury at the podium

As is obvious, the topics these films embrace contain multiple constructs. Khoury mentioned, “We had people telling us they had to carve out their own space”.  In response, Silk Road Rising felt a need to create works of art that enable different groups of people who have been subject to dehumanizing and minimalizing to have a voice. The next phase”, said Khoury, “Is polyculturalism- the overlapping of cultures, when various people who are grounded in various identities are jointly affected and transformed- where we can begin to see our story in the other’s story”.

As Gillani explained, “The goals of the community outreach program itself are to enter areas where people lacking a way to participate in discussions, whose institutions are limited to buildings, who need a way to share can get together in a non-judgmental space”. They will show the group a video-play, and then lead a discussion afterwards. With this approach, when touring "The Imam and the Homosexual" into multiple PFLAG (Parents Friends Lesbians Gays) chapters, they have succeeded in gaining allies. The films are thus used as a basis for discussion about what it means for one community to be an ally of another community.

Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani of Silk Road Rising, Chicago


The conversation I had with these remarkable men and the discussions they describe having in their outreach endeavors are exercises in communication; indeed, they constitute meta-communication, or communicating about communication, which is a very high level of interaction. In the context of discussing allegiance, Gillani and Khoury broached such issues as, “Is it enough to offer oneself as an ally or does it need to be a reciprocal relationship?” Gillani thoughtfully suggested, “The hardest thing about going out into the community to engage people in a discussion is figuring out how to frame or articulate an issue”.

Silk Road Rising will continue it’s fine work, giving voice to talented creative artists, and reaching out to embrace diversity, access and inclusion for every member of the human community it serves, a community that embraces every single one of us! Silk Road Rising has been designated a Top Rated Nonprofit by Great Nonprofits, which stated, “Silk Road Rising is a ray of light, helping its audience re-think the simplistic notions parroted in the mainstream media about culture, race and politics”.


Silk Road Rising's Jamil Khoury in demonstration



-March 11 and 12, at 4PM. At Silk Road Rising, 77 W. Washington: tickets are free but space is limited:

“The Art of Translating: Interpreting Cultures and Contect:

A staged reading of the 2016 Eurodram Prize-winning play, “Illegal Helpers”  about those who aid and shelter migrants, and a panel discussion with  Silk Road Rising Artistic Director Jamil Khoury, translator Neil Blackadder, playwright Ulricke Syha and arts educator Sudanne Knierim.


-May 11 through July 2, “Great Expectations”, by Charles Dickens, adapted by Tanika Gupta; a joint production of Silk Road Rising and Remy Bumppo Theatre Company; the great tale is reimagined and set in 19th Century Calcutta. Check the Silk Road website for dates and times of performance at Pierce Hall, 77 W. Washington, Chicago.


Silk Road Rising Artistic Director Jamil Khoury sharing in community

For information on all the wonderful productions, educational events and participatory opportunities sponsored by and with Silk Road Rising, go to the Silkroadrising website


Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of Malik Gillani and Jamil Khoury, Silk Road Rising



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