May 3, 2015

Ferdous Dehqan’s earliest memory is drenched with fear. He is 4 years old in Kabul, Afghanistan, clutching his mother’s hand as they cross the street, approaching a Taliban station. “What if they stop us?” he asks, speaking aloud his little-boy thoughts. “What if they hit my mother?” This may be the first moment that tears at the heart in “Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity,” Ping Chong + Company’s probing and persuasive new work of interview-based theater, but it is not the last. Mr. Dehqan, who turned 19 last week, is one of five young New Yorkers who tell their stories at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center in Long Island City. Seated at music stands, they are a chorus of voices gently demolishing the notion of Muslim culture as monolithic. Amir Khafagy, 24, grew up in Queens, the son of a Puerto Rican mother and an Egyptian father. With a sweetly goofy charm, he calls himself an “Arab-Rican.” Maha Syed, 29, is a high-octane high achiever, a Kuwaiti-born human rights advocate who names her culture, her religion and her feminism as the strongest influences in her life. Tiffany Yasmin Abdelghani, 26, is a Long Island native and recent convert whose family is a Muslim-Christian mix. She once dressed like a goth punk. Having learned from YouTube how to tie one, she now wears a hijab.