Art is a powerful medium in fostering a spirit of community togetherness.

Art is a powerful medium in fostering a spirit of community togetherness. Kalilah and Dimnah, a theatrical production directed by Farah Remtulla Alwani, brought together diverse talents from the Atlanta Jamat across ages and backgrounds. The play provided an artistic platform for showcasing cultural heritage and shared values through animal fables from the Aga Khan Museum’s publication, Two Crafty Jackals, by Elizabeth Laird.
Organized by the Community Building portfolio and managed by project manager, Samir Gillani, the production of Kalilah and Dimnah was the work of hundreds of volunteers including 22 artists. A community engenders a sense of belonging, connectedness, support and friendship. The Community Building Portfolio of the Council for Southeastern US utilizes arts and culture programming to connect communities across time and traditions.
The magical characters of Shanzabeh (Amrin Kutchhi), Dimnah (Sarah Dhanani), Kalilah (Shamim Sundrani) and the beloved King of the Jungle (Asif Ali) were brought to life through fusionist music, costumes, acting, singing and dance.  A supporting cast of jungle animals such as peacocks, tigers, monkeys and perhaps most memorably, singing zebras filled the stage with a whimsical feel. The play began with a scene set in a Middle Eastern palace featuring a lively performance of an Arabian dance. The King was surrounded by a chorus of advisors who were all competing for his attention through their rambunctious chatter.  The King turned to his family’s long time trusted advisor, Dr. Bidpai (Aahil Sewani) for advice on how to know who to trust in helping him to become a better king.  Dr. Bidpai then began to tell the story of Kalilah and Dimnah with a choir of zebras leading into the next scene with a rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Solomon Lina and the Evening Birds. 
Through the script, various dances, and the interactive choir of Zebras, the audience came to know Dimnah and her ill-intended machinations, fell in love, and feared for the cute rabbit (Izaan Dhanani) and the mischievous monkey (Zuhair Merchant) whom Dimnah kept intimidating. The audience also formed a fond connection with the friendship between the Lion and Shanzabeh as expressed through an English and Hindi rendition of “Yeh Dosti.” They felt the pain and consequences of mistrust and revenge through a moving instrumental piece played by cellist Ariana Virani and violinist Ehsan Daya.
The play was preceded by a “pre-show” featuring a spectrum of talent including 17 children from kindergarten and grade 1 who performed “We Are Al-Ummah” by Kamal Taj and 8 members of the Golden Club who performed a garba dance to and instrumental version of “Dama Dum Mast Qalandar.”  A group of seven young professionals recited poetry between each act. 
Over 900 Jamati members of all ages connected with their families and friends and enjoyed the ambience of the theatre on a Sunday afternoon while taking away many of the key messages behind the play and even noting that the event was a great medium to “hold discussion with our kids on our shared values.” The stories of morals and values depicted in the tales of the two brothers, Kallilah and Dimnah are great tools for sharing community values.
The aim of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto is to connect the past with the present and the historical with the contemporary by fostering a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution of Muslim civilizations on world heritage. Through exhibitions, performing arts and publications such as the Two Crafty Jackals lessons of shared values and rich heritage are explored. Timeless lessons of friendship and trust, jealousy and betrayal, honesty and integrity provide an opportunity to reflect on shared experiences and value that carry through generations across time, culture and geography.