Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

by

Alana Valentine

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Shafana is a young Muslim woman living and studying in Australia. She and her family fled Kabul, Afghanistan in 1989, during the Afghan Civil War. Shafana was 14 at the time, and she quickly gained entrance to Australia even though her immediate family members were kept behind in India. For the time being, then, she stayed with her aunt, Sarrinah, who acted as her mother. During this time, Shafana was somewhat embarrassed by Aunt Sarrinah because she had a harder time assimilating into Australian life than Shafana herself did. Shafana was also embarrassed because she thought her aunt was overqualified for her job in a factory. However, as a young woman finishing her university studies, Shafana’s views have changed. She no longer sees total assimilation into Australian culture as a good thing—instead, she wants to embrace her Muslim identity. In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, she felt compelled to revisit her Islamic faith, largely because so many people around her vilified Muslim people and Islam as a whole. Reading the Qur’an moved Shafana quite profoundly, and now she is considering the idea of wearing a hijab, but she wants her aunt’s opinion. All the dramatic tension in Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah revolves around Shafana’s decision to devote herself more thoroughly to Islam and the difficult discussions this sparks between her and Aunt Sarrinah, who sees the decision to wear a hijab as too devout and potentially regressive for a freethinker like Shafana. And yet, Shafana insists that wearing a hijab is empowering, thus challenging her aunt’s assumptions about what it means to tie one’s sense of self to religion.

Shafana Quotes in Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

The Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah quotes below are all either spoken by Shafana or refer to Shafana. 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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Shafana Character Timeline in Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

The timeline below shows where the character Shafana 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 practices a presentation she has to give for one of her final exams. She’s in... (full context)
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Making her way to the actual purpose of her class presentation, Shafana continues to rehearse by saying that scientists should know better than to make unfounded assumptions... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah lightly heckles Shafana, interjecting to ask why, exactly, she would care about geothermal vents on the ocean’s floor.... (full context)
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As Aunt Sarrinah interjects to make fun of her niece, Shafana points out that Sarrinah was the one who told her to use vivid details as... (full context)
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...will reflect the fact that she has a doctorate in engineering. Despite this milestone, though, Shafana doesn’t want to accompany her aunt to get the new ID card. She has to... (full context)
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...Aunt Sarrinah points out that she walked all the way across campus to come get Shafana, which meant trekking through the heat. And she didn’t drink any water even though it’s... (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... (full context)
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When Aunt Sarrinah is gone, Shafana addresses the audience, explaining that she was born in Kabul, Afghanistan but left when she... (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.” Her accent is thick,... (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 it’s because Sarrinah can’t... (full context)
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...to be the chef Nigella Lawson, waxing poetic about the Afghan dish she’s making. When Shafana comes in, she pokes fun at her aunt for pretending to be the “Afghan Nigella... (full context)
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Shafana asks to see Aunt Sarrinah’s new ID card and is surprised when her aunt immediately... (full context)
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Becoming more serious, Shafana tells her aunt that the reason she didn’t accompany her to get the ID wasn’t... (full context)
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...Aunt Sarrinah points out that hijab is an Arabic word for “partition.” But she and Shafana, she says, aren’t Arabs—they’re Persians. When Shafana pushes her aunt to tell her what she... (full context)
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Shafana claims that she just wanted to discuss the possibility of wearing a hijab, implying that... (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 her way if... (full context)
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Shafana talks about how people tend to misinterpret what it means to wear a hijab. Many... (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 to decide whether or... (full context)
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...yet another engineering degree, this time in English. She started the engineering program just as Shafana was entering the same university.  (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... (full context)
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Shafana explains that she has been reading the Qur’an. The experience has been overwhelming, making her... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah says that Shafana is right to reach beyond “enjoyment and happiness,” since her essay needs to be grounded... (full context)
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The conversation shifts to the events of September 11th, 2001. Shafana says that, although the attack on the World Trade Center profoundly altered the world, she... (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... (full context)
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...out. She then talks about how she knows what it’s like to desperately want something. Shafana notes that her aunt fiercely yearned for an engineering job when she first came to... (full context)
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...Aunt Sarrinah for being inconsiderate about how hard she worked to get where she is, Shafana tries to get her aunt to finally admit that she has a problem with the... (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 back around... (full context)
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...do something—like, for instance, to defiantly take a stand against persecution. But this sentiment enervates Shafana, who throws her napkin down and says that her aunt isn’t listening to her. She... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah demands to know what has really compelled Shafana to gravitate toward wearing a hijab. When Shafana suggests that it’s simply an external representation... (full context)
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Shafana defends her decision to wear a hijab by telling her aunt about something called 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 is private. She... (full context)
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...that her religion—which is very important to her—isn’t the answer to everything in life. When Shafana argues this point, Sarrinah insists that religious “fanaticism” is a dangerous thing. Shafana is taken... (full context)
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...admits, is that she’ll have to forget about all of the hopes she had for Shafana if she ends up wearing a hijab. Shafana doesn’t think this has to be the... (full context)
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Shafana can’t believe that her aunt is willing to put her in such a difficult financial... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah avoids helping Shafana put on the hijab by pointing out that her niece will suddenly have to have... (full context)
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Shafana says that she will simply answer people’s questions and will tolerate the occasional insensitivity. None... (full context)
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Shafana asks why Aunt Sarrinah never talks about the hellish experience of leaving Afghanistan. Aunt Sarrinah... (full context)
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Once Shafana leaves, Aunt Sarrinah directly addresses the audience, saying that moving to a new country places... (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... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah tells Shafana to be careful. She says that she has already started experiencing some discrimination at work... (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... (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... (full context)
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Aunt Sarrinah apologizes for threatening to collect the loan, and Shafana forgives her, saying that she’s glad her aunt was able to practice how she responds... (full context)
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Shafana asks her aunt why she’s acting so hostile, and though Aunt Sarrinah says she doesn’t... (full context)
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Alone, Shafana returns to the monologue she has prepared for her presentation. She talks about mussels that... (full context)