RAHM (Mercy)

based on William Shakespear’s Measure for Measure

Mahmood Jamal

WHY I adapted William Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE and set it in the Muslim world, in Lahore, Pakistan?

The medieval and modern history of Islam has been characterised by the battle between two dominant and opposing ideologies. One represents the puritanical, authoritarian, vital and intensely idealistic, and the other, the humanist, liberal, pacific and tolerant, best represented by Sufism. The former is in keeping with its source, backward-looking, ahistorical and unforgiving; the latter emphasises forgiveness, reconciliation and affirmation of life.

These two opposing ideas of religious Puritanism and intolerance on the one hand, and mercy, tolerance and forgiveness on the other, are the subject of Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE.

I saw it on the stage nearly fifteen years ago, and it echoes issues being debated within Islamism. Shakespeare, with uncanny insight, predicted the imminent takeover of England by the Puritans; they had similar views of reform and popular religious culture that seem to affect today’s Islamists.

In a recent article in The Guardian, reflecting on the bombing by Isis of a Sufi shrine, William Dalrymple writes:

“Like 16th-century Europe on the eve of the Reformation, reformers and puritans are on the rise, distrustful of music, images, festivals and the devotional superstitions of saints’ shrines. In Christian Europe, they looked to the text alone for authority, and recruited the bulk of their supporters from the newly literate urban middle class, who looked down on what they saw as the corrupt superstitions of the illiterate peasantry.”

When Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure, the historical situation in England was similar to that of the contemporary Muslim world – with the Puritans of Shakespeare’s days resembling the Islamists of today with their obsession with punishment and uniformity of belief, and an almost suffocating denial of diversity. Both types of extremists subject everybody to their literal and narrow strictures, which deny the intrinsic tolerance and diversity of Islamic civilisation.

Shakespeare asks for mercy instead of punishment; his idea of justice is tempered with forgiveness and reconciliation. He celebrates diversity of belief and the possibility of human folly- “Live and let live” is in the spirit of this play. So is the story of RAHM which takes these themes and explores them in Lahore, Pakistan.

Within a “Muslim” country which has gone through and is going through this tension between religious Puritanism and humanist Islam, RAHM (MERCY) explores these issues while remaining true to Shakespeare’s vision, which almost exactly mirrors the Sufi world view:

Diversity in religious belief, justice for the powerless, forgiveness and reconciliation, peace in place of strife and a celebration of life in all its varied colours is the message of the film.

RAHM or MERCY is in short supply everywhere around the world. We see only revenge and withholding of forgiveness and relentless violence.

BISMILLAH AR RAHMAN AR RAHEEM- In the name of Allah most Beneficient most Merciful.

Muslim belief in mercy is paramount and a fundament of belief. Woven into the theory is also the idea of corruption of power and the issue of justice and equality for all, which is sadly lacking in many Muslim countries and is the cause of much strife. So Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE, written 400 years ago, finds its relevance in the Muslim world of today.


*WRITER AND PRODUCER: RAHM ( Mercy) based On William Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Rahm has been selected for Cairo International Film Festival, November 2017.

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