Lifestyle & Belief

School district cancels musical featuring Muslim characters

The Richland School District in Johnstown, Pa., has cancelled a production of the 1953 Tony Award-winning musical “Kismet” because some local residents have complained that is an inappropriate choice so soon after the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Kismet” tells the story of a fast-talking street poet and his daughter, who falls in love with a Caliph. It’s set in Baghdad 1,000 years ago and features Muslim characters.

Johnstown is located in western Pennsylvania near Shanksville, where Flight 93 crashed after being hijacked.

"Flight 93 flew over our heads," Superintendent Thomas Fleming Jr. said, according to the CNHI News Service. "So it's understandable that people might be a little more sensitive perhaps to the [play's] content. It's on people's minds right now.

“After reviewing the script, the decision was made to move on rather than risk controversy,” Fleming told the Tribune Democrat in Johnstown, which broke the story. “We’re in the business of trying to do what’s best for the kids – not to do anything detrimental if we can avoid it.”

According to the CNHI News Service:

Reaction to the decision to pull the play was instant on the website of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. Most of the comments disagreed with school officials.

"Good job, folks," wrote an anonymous poster. "Teach your kids fear and intolerance. You've just handed another victory to the cowards that attacked us. Let's make sure that the rest of the world thinks that we're afraid of the largest religion in the world because of a handful of extremists."

Wrote another anonymous poster: "You know what's detrimental to our kids? Avoiding education about other cultures."

"We're not saying there's anything bad about the musical. We may potentially produce it in the future," Fleming told The Associated Press.

Literature and the arts are some of the best ways to bridge gaps between people, Ahmed Rehab, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the AP. "And those in education ought to know that more than anyone," Rehab said. "We're a country of immigrants. It's doesn't stand true to our legacy as a nation. I think they need to reinstate the play."

The school has already decided on a less controversial musical replacement. It’s Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” – which stars cowboys and takes place in the American West.