Islam Relief benefit refreshing departure from the routine- IRUSA

Music: Islamic Relief benefit a refreshing departure from the routine

The Dallas Morning News

July 28, 2006

By Tom Maurstad

RICHARDSON – At most concerts, the lines you hear over and over again from the performers are along the lines of “How you all doing tonight?” or “We’re glad to be back in Texas.” But throughout the Evening of Inspiration 2006 World Tour at the Eisemann Center on Thursday night, the phrase you heard over and over again was “As-salamu alaykum” – an Arabic greeting, commonly used in Muslim cultures, meaning “Peace be upon you.”

And at most shows, when there’s an intermission, the audience piles into the lobby to buy food and drink, check out the souvenirs and, of course, chatter into a cellphone. While all of that was going on at this show, the primary purpose of intermission was to allow people a chance to file downstairs and pray.

These were just a couple of ways in which this evening of inspiration showed itself to be a different sort of event. Sponsored by the California-based charity Islamic Relief, the benefit was part of a five-city tour bringing a showcase of music and comedy to a sold-out audience (1,500 plus filled the center) with the aim of raising money to benefit children around the world.

Organizers are all too aware of the conflict-filled context for their fundraising. With every day’s news bringing fresh reports and images of violence and bloodshed in the Mideast, fear and suspicion have a way of blurring the country’s collective vision so that many may hear the name Islamic Relief, and contemplate a gathering of Muslims, and wonder, “What are they up to?”

“This is a very difficult time, but I would tell people to look at our past track record,” says Islamic Relief’s regional development director, Azhar Azeez. “We have spent the last 22 years trying to help the orphans of the world, Muslim or non-Muslim.

“Dallas is a very diverse city and has always been very responsive to our appeals.”

That diversity was on display and maybe even the star of the show. The audience crossed just about every imaginable line – black, white and brown, young and old, conservative dress and thoroughly modern. The evening was summed up by the sight of a woman wearing long robes and hajib (traditional headwear) followed by her young son in baggy jeans and an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt, and her even younger daughter wearing a pink T-shirt with “Gap” in sequins across it.

The evening began with some spiritual singing, and then it was time for Azhar Usman, a.k.a. the “Ayatollah of Comedy,” to serve up his shtick. And with him as the evening’s emcee, that proved to be an all-you-can-eat buffet. While the subjects on which he riffed were often exotic by mainstream standards, his routine demonstrated the universal, almost fill-in-the-blank language of comedy, talking to the audience – “Any Iranians out there?” – highlighting the differences between Indians and Pakistanis, and musing about Ramadan.

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