Introducing Waswasa

Heading for Birmingham Hippodrome and part of the ongoing Birmingham 2022 Festival is Mohammed Ali’s Waswasa — named after the Arabic word to describe distractions from prayer. Award-winning street artist –  and founder of Soul City Arts –  Mohammed and his team want to demystify the familiar, yet oft-misunderstood, tradition of Islamic prayer through an immersive exploration of the act.

First inspired by the realisation of worlds colliding as patrons to his Dad’s restaurant stood agape at prayer being performed in the kitchen, Ali was driven to explore and dissect our differences and reveal the aspects of faith often hidden by his father’s generation as early immigrants. The physical act of prayer is a quiet, contemplative and private event in religious spaces, but can be witnessed spilling over into the everyday: in acts of despair, triumph, or gratitude. So is this personal faith the same as what we all strive for in a higher state of focus? With or without faith, however different, we’re probably more alike than we think, and Waswasa is here to help us find out.

Ali says: “Whilst the show is generally uplifting, we wanted to explore some of the darker aspects too; how many may struggle with faith and focus. In fact, Waswasa relates to people of no faith as we all struggle with achieving that higher state of focus, with things like social media and technology dominating our lives.“

The show, created in a warehouse in Sparkbrook, Mohammed describes Waswasa as ‘Muslim Prayer meets a Bladerunner environment’. This show promises to be a stunner, with Islamic prayer captured in a new, insightful and – something Ali looks for to build understanding – challenging way. The audience is invited to walk through a combination of live performance, art installation and projected film zones, including a prayer tunnel graffitied by the people of Brum. At just £15 this is an ace opportunity to explore an aspect of religion so deeply and innovatively. 

Having travelled the world with his murals, performances and installations from New York to Bangladesh, Mohamed now brings his biggest production to-date to his home city. “This show is my most ambitious yet," he says. "It really is the big one for me, as it’s such a heavy theme. It’s one I feel most passionate about. Having just been at the closing ceremony, and feeling kind high on it, I hope Waswasa will be both a moment of closure for this incredible city, but also a beginning. A crucial shift-change — we've pulled out all the stops. This is a gift to Birmingham.” The immersive theatrical experience will run at the Hippodrome from 25 August to 3 September, with tickets on sale now.