Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

by

Alana Valentine

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Aunt Sarrinah Character Analysis

Aunt Sarrinah is a Muslim woman living in Australia. Like her niece Shafana, she is originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, which she was forced to flee in 1989 because of the Afghan Civil War. When she arrived in Australia, she didn’t have access to documents proving her professional qualifications, so she had difficulty finding work. Still, she lived with Shafana and acted as her mother, since Shafana’s family hadn’t yet gained entrance to Australia. During this time, she spoke with a heavy accent and worked in a factory, even though she’d been a top engineer in Afghanistan. Eventually, Aunt Sarrinah found work as an engineer, but in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, she quit her job because her coworkers became Islamophobic. She went back to school to get yet another PhD, this time studying engineering in English so she would be able to teach in Australia. The play takes place just as Sarrinah has earned her PhD. She has fully assimilated into Australian culture, but she hasn’t lost touch with her connection to Islam. At the same time, though, she’s weary of any kind of all-encompassing devotion to religion, since her experiences have taught her that such mindsets can lead to extremism. For this reason, she has a hard time accepting Shafana’s decision to wear a hijab, telling her that religion shouldn’t inform every aspect of her life. In the end, Aunt Sarrinah makes it clear that she will love her niece no matter what. But she also says that Shafana has—by wearing a hijab—made them “opponents,” since Aunt Sarrinah disagrees with the worldview Shafana has embraced by devoting herself so completely to religion.

Aunt Sarrinah Quotes in Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

The Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah quotes below are all either spoken by Aunt Sarrinah or refer to Aunt Sarrinah. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Religious Faith and Devotion Theme Icon
).
Shafana & Aunt Sarrinah Quotes

You’ve sussed out most probabilities so you’re ahead of the game. Which is canny.

But there always comes a point where you lose it. Where a whole generation lose touch. They start to listen to what looks like the next thing. It sounds like the next thing and it acts like that next thing but it’s not the next thing. The truly astonishing thing about what’s coming next is that it’s nothing like what this generation were like, old or young. It’s utterly unfamiliar.

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

SHAFANA: Just. Just wait till you get your qualifications…accepted.

SARRINAH: My engineering degree.

SHAFANA: Yes.

SARRINAH: Why?

SHAFANA: Well, what are you going to tell the teacher? That you work in a factory now? [Pause.] She says, ‘Hello Mrs. Obaidullah and what is it you do?’, and you say, ‘I work packing hardware supplies’?

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

SHAFANA: I want to put on the hijab.

Pause.

SARRINAH: Hijab is an Arabic word. Meaning partition. We are not Arabs. We are Persians.

SHAFANA: What do you think?

SARRINAH: This is an option for all Muslim women. Down the trail.

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

SHAFANA: Mum said that she had been contemplating on it for the past five years but had never taken the step to do it. Dad asked me if I was sure of what I was doing. Had I thought about all the consequences, all the things that are going on around the world, all the employment considerations.

SARRINAH: But if you really feel it in your heart these are not reasons not to do it.

SHAFANA: That’s right.

SARRINAH: And is that how you feel?

SHAFANA: I want to make real the change that has happened to me, that God really is there and I believe that.

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah (speaker)
Related Symbols: The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

SHAFANA: Yes, but I went to the primary sources.

SARRINAH: You are reading the Qur’an?

SHAFANA: I am reading specific explicit verses of mercies, insight, knowledge and understanding. The scope and the breadth and the depth of Islam is overwhelming, so much connecting to me, and it’s like answering one of the most profound questions that I have been asking all this time. Aunt, all at one go it just made me literally ecstatic.

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

SHAFANA: But I do not believe it is a holy war.

SARRINAH: Don’t get into that.

SHAFANA: But I don’t. This killing people, this one human being doing such things to another.

SARRINAH: Be careful.

SHAFANA: This is not Islam.

SARRINAH: Don’t open it up.

[…]

SHAFANA: But I read it myself. Specific verses of mercies, insight, compassion, kindness.

SARRINAH: But that is not what your assignment is asking of you. It is asking you to analyse the crisis, analyse the discourse around it, compare and contrast various points of view, summarise, and provide a lucid overview.

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah (speaker)
Related Symbols: The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

SHAFANA: I am not thinking of it for any of those reasons. All you have mentioned is about consequences. I am not motivated by any of that.

SARRINAH: No?

SHAFANA: No. Do you want to hear? Do you want to hear me when I say that I want to put on the scarf because this is who I am and I feel this is what I want to do? It is for me, not for anyone else. One night I was reading the Qur’an and it just occurred to me, I don’t even recall what passage or where, and it just occurred to me, ‘Why am I not wearing the scarf, what is stopping me?’

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah (speaker)
Page Number: 24-5
Explanation and Analysis:

SHAFANA: Have you heard of the soft revolution?

SARRINAH: No. Or… it’s… is it?

SHAFANA: It’s young Muslims who reject both extremists and liberals. They… fight… for human rights… for change to the Hadith… There is a project. It could be the most intellectually active period for Islam since the height of scholarship in the Middle ages.

SARRINAH: And you want to be part of it?

SHAFANA: I don’t know. But for them, for some, the veil is a mask in the power struggle against the dictatorship of men.

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah (speaker)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

SARRINAH: You think you can synthesise Qur’anic values with the twenty-first century?

SHAFANA: Don’t you?

Pause.

SARRINAH: You want to participate in a faith that judges others by the rules it fashions.

SHAFANA: What?

SARRINAH: The rules. The outward cladding of piety.

SHAFANA: No.

SARRINAH: Yes. You want to judge my faith.

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

SARRINAH: My faith is between me and God. The Qur’an speaks directly to me, Sarrinah, today.

SHAFANA: Of course.

SARRINAH: It is a fundamental part of who I am.

SHAFANA: It is all of who I am.

SARRINAH: No. There is faith and there is reason. There is religion and there is civil society. There is belief and there is the law.

SHAFANA: But your faith touches every part of your life.

SARRINAH: No. My faith is private and cultural. But it is not the answer to all the freedoms we have struggled for.

SHAFANA: But how can you say that?

SARRINIAH: Because I have seen what your brand of religion can do. I have witnessed what your brand of fanaticism can destroy.

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

SHAFANA: Your solution is just to hide? Fade into the background.

SARRINAH: That’s not what I’m saying.

SHAFANA: Assimilate. Disappear into the masses. Never speak up, never stand up. Well, maybe if you’d spoken up in Afghanistan the country wouldn’t be in the mess it is in now.

Related Characters: Shafana (speaker), Aunt Sarrinah (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

In a new country your religion becomes the main focus of how you are being seen, we all go a bit deeper into who we are and where we belong. The society we are living in, we are thinking about how we are going to protect our children, we want it to be in a direction that they are not going to be hurt, not going to be victimised.

Related Characters: Aunt Sarrinah (speaker), Shafana
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

SARRINAH: You’ll see me. I’ll see you. But we won’t be able to… see each other.

SHAFANA: Why are you being so ruthless?

SARRINAH: We can pretend. We can pretend that this is a disagreement about… oh, I don’t know… what TV chef we like best. Let’s pretend it’s just like that. And say… nothing. But, deeply, I am opposed to the path you advocate. Now.

Related Characters: Aunt Sarrinah (speaker), Shafana (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
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Aunt Sarrinah Character Timeline in Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

The timeline below shows where the character Aunt Sarrinah appears in Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Shafana & Aunt Sarrinah
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...Shafana begins to talk about “black smokers” (geothermal vents on the ocean’s floor), her Aunt Sarrinah enters and tries to interrupt. (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah lightly heckles Shafana, interjecting to ask why, exactly, she would care about geothermal vents on... (full context)
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As Aunt Sarrinah interjects to make fun of her niece, Shafana points out that Sarrinah was the one... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah says that until she goes to get her new university ID printed, she will continue... (full context)
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Frustrated, Aunt Sarrinah points out that she walked all the way across campus to come get Shafana, which... (full context)
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As soon as Shafana says she needs to talk to her, Aunt Sarrinah demands to know what’s wrong. She interrogates Shafana, asking if she’s doing drugs or having... (full context)
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When Aunt Sarrinah is gone, Shafana addresses the audience, explaining that she was born in Kabul, Afghanistan but... (full context)
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In a flashback, Aunt Sarrinah asks a teenage Shafana if she wants her to “come to school as a pear.”... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah doesn’t understand why Shafana doesn’t want her at the parent-teacher night. Eventually, Shafana explains that... (full context)
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Back in the present, Aunt Sarrinah is in her kitchen at home, where she’s surrounded by preserved food in jars. As... (full context)
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Shafana asks to see Aunt Sarrinah’s new ID card and is surprised when her aunt immediately pulls it off her clothes—she... (full context)
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...She did have more work to do, but there was another reason, too. As Aunt Sarrinah knows, Shafana has been revisiting her relationship with Islam recently. Ever since the terrorist attack... (full context)
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After a moment, Aunt Sarrinah points out that hijab is an Arabic word for “partition.” But she and Shafana, she... (full context)
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...hijab, implying that she hasn’t fully decided to go through with the decision. But Aunt Sarrinah seems unsure—she thinks her niece simply wants to convince her that it’s the right decision.... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah somberly tells Shafana that none of these considerations—about global affairs or employment opportunities—should stand in... (full context)
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...hijab when they look at her, ultimately failing to see her. Playing devil’s advocate, Aunt Sarrinah says that maybe wearing the hijab will discourage people from making “superficial judgments” about whether... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah realizes the reason Shafana didn’t accompany her to get a new ID card: she’s trying... (full context)
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Quickly changing the subject, Aunt Sarrinah says that she has forgotten to get coriander for the dish she’s making. Although Sarrinah... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah was able to immediately enter Australia because of her impressive qualifications, going ahead of her... (full context)
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In a flashback to 2002, Shafana asks Aunt Sarrinah what she thought of an essay she wrote for class. The assignment was to focus... (full context)
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...had for her entire life. She has even felt “ecstatic” as she reads, but Aunt Sarrinah simply says that this is common, adding that the Qur’an reads “like someone who is... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah says that Shafana is right to reach beyond “enjoyment and happiness,” since her essay needs... (full context)
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...world, she doesn’t believe that such violent actions are part of a “holy war.” Aunt Sarrinah is hesitant to discuss the matter, but Shafana presses on, insisting that the actions of... (full context)
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Back in the present, Shafana returns from the grocery store with some coriander. Aunt Sarrinah notes that she took a long time, but Shafana simply says there was traffic and... (full context)
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This discussion leads Aunt Sarrinah to a story about finding a job in Australia after leaving Afghanistan. She had to... (full context)
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After apologizing to Aunt Sarrinah for being inconsiderate about how hard she worked to get where she is, Shafana tries... (full context)
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The conversation continues, as Aunt Sarrinah and Shafana talk about things unrelated to Islam. But then Aunt Sarrinah brings the conversation... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah goes on to say that sometimes fear can actually motivate people to do something—like, for... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah demands to know what has really compelled Shafana to gravitate toward wearing a hijab. When... (full context)
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...For these people, Shafana explains, wearing a hijab is liberating and empowering. This prompts Aunt Sarrinah to ask if Shafana thinks it’s possible to “synthesize” Qur’anic sentiments and values with the... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah defensively informs Shafana—who insists that she doesn’t judge her aunt’s faith—that her relationship with Islam... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah goes on to suggest that her religion—which is very important to her—isn’t the answer to... (full context)
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What Aunt Sarrinah struggles with, she admits, is that she’ll have to forget about all of the hopes... (full context)
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...in such a difficult financial position just because she wants to wear a hijab. Aunt Sarrinah unconvincingly says that the two issues are unrelated. But then Shafana says that if that’s... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah avoids helping Shafana put on the hijab by pointing out that her niece will suddenly... (full context)
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...aunt for downplaying her faith as a way of fitting into Australian society, but Aunt Sarrinah takes issue with this characterization, reminding her niece that she knows exactly what it’s like... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah tells a story about escaping Afghanistan through Pakistan. She had to wear a chador as... (full context)
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Shafana asks why Aunt Sarrinah never talks about the hellish experience of leaving Afghanistan. Aunt Sarrinah says that it’s painful... (full context)
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Once Shafana leaves, Aunt Sarrinah directly addresses the audience, saying that moving to a new country places new emphasis on... (full context)
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In a flashback to September 12th, 2001, Shafana rushes into Aunt Sarrinah’s house. They’re both flustered and talk about what they’ve heard on the news about the... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah tells Shafana to be careful. She says that she has already started experiencing some discrimination... (full context)
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Back in the present, it’s the day after Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah had dinner together. Shafana is in her laboratory, singing a song in Dari while putting... (full context)
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Although she’s sad that Shafana has decided to wear a hijab, Aunt Sarrinah starts joking around with her a little bit, much to Shafana’s surprise (and delight). As... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah apologizes for threatening to collect the loan, and Shafana forgives her, saying that she’s glad... (full context)
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Shafana asks her aunt why she’s acting so hostile, and though Aunt Sarrinah says she doesn’t want to be this way, she also says that—starting today—she and Shafana... (full context)