Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah


Alana Valentine

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Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Alana Valentine's Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Alana Valentine

Alana Valentine is an Australian playwright, director, and librettist. She graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, Australia in 1989. Her first play, Swimming the Globe, premiered in 1996, and her second, The Conjurers, premiered the following year. Valentine also attended the University of Sydney around this time, graduating in 2000 with a graduate degree in museum studies. She has published 13 plays, produced a handful of radio plays, and has received a number of awards, including the Australian Writers Guild Award.
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Historical Context of Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

The majority of Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah is set in the years following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. The play directly deals with the aftermath of this monumental event, specifically examining how Western culture demonized Islam by lumping together peaceful, law-abiding Muslims and the al Qaeda terrorists who carried out the attacks. To that end, the term “Islamic extremists” worked its way into the media, which many public figures have since criticized, since the phrase risks vilifying Islam itself instead of the small minority of terrorists who use violence to pursue a radical, militant agenda. President George W. Bush tried in 2002 to dissuade Americans from directing anger and prejudice toward Muslim people, saying that the war waged in the aftermath of the attacks was “not against Islam or against faith practiced by the Muslim people,” but against “evil.” Arguably, though, political messaging surrounding what the U.S. government called the “War on Terror” had already stoked Islamophobic sentiments in the United States and abroad. Of course, Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah takes place in Australia, not the United States, but it examines how the discourse and messaging surrounding the terrorist attacks reverberated throughout the world, causing very real problems for ordinary, peaceful people like Shafana and her aunt.

Other Books Related to Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah is technically a response to the Australian playwright Alex Buzo’s 1968 play Norm and Ahmed. Buzo’s play centers around a single encounter between a white Australian man and a Pakistani man at a bus stop one night, mining the tensions and complexities that many non-white migrants have historically faced in Australian society. In fact, Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah was specifically commissioned by the literary estate of Alex Buzo, which funded Alana Valentine to write a contemporary response to Norm and Ahmed. In terms of more recent plays that cover similar ideas, it makes sense to consider Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah alongside Disgraced by the American playwright Ayad Akhtar. Like Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah, Disgraced considers how the 9/11 terrorist attacks exacerbated Islamophobia in the West. Given that Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah also features two characters living abroad as refugees, it’s also reasonable to compare the play to famous works about refugee life, such as Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West or Viet Thanh Nguyen’s story collection The Refugees.
Key Facts about Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah
  • Full Title: Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah
  • When Published: The play premiered on August 6, 2009.
  • Literary Period: Contemporary 
  • Genre: Drama 
  • Setting: Australia in the years following September 11, 2001
  • Climax: Calling her aunt’s bluff, Shafana suggests that Aunt Sarrinah should help her put the hijab on—after all, Sarrinah refuses to admit that she disapproves of the idea.
  • Antagonist: Islamophobia

Extra Credit for Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

On the Air. Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah was adapted for the radio shortly after it premiered onstage.