Story: Saleema Imam & Laura Moya
Women in Burngreave were offered the chance of a free trip to the Crucible Studio Theatre on 24th March to see the world premiere of ‘Sisters’.
Writer and actress Stephanie Street interviewed 43 Muslim women from the UK and used their words to form the play. The characters talked about their experiences as Muslim women and touched on some controversial issues such as gender and sexuality.
Tickets for 50 women were funded by Burngreave Community Action Forum and South Yorkshire Police. A follow up workshop, funded by Sheffield City Council’s Strengthening Communities was held at Sorby House on 22nd April. Around 55 women met to discuss the play and share their opinions with both each other and the director Ruth Carney and playwright Stephanie Street (via Skype as she was delayed in Singapore).
A lively question and answer session took place, before we split into groups to discuss themes from the play. Here are some of the points women made Being an Active Citizen Women felt they were active citizens in different ways:
“Being from a minority community makes me feel stronger to stand up against discrimination, demand equal rights and to use my vote.”
“There is an Islamic duty on all Muslims to serve the society in which they live.“
“Muslim women actively support their communities and local schools.”
Being a Working Woman
Although a lot of women worked, some felt the demands of home were greater than employment:
“In general not working is perceived to being a negative thing in today’s society.”
“Khadeja, (Prophet Muhammed’s PBUH 1st wife) was a successful business woman and mother.”
“Women of any faith have difficulty in balancing work and family responsibilities.”
Being a Role Model
Women talked about being role models within their families as well as in the outside world:
“Women have a strong presence and position in Islam and they are starting to feel stronger and more confident in challenging traditional expectations.”
“Media refuses to portray positive Muslim role models despite there being many.”
“Though boys seem to get more leeway, most women agreed that they are trying to bring up their children more equally”
Women of Faith
Concerns were expressed about how the media represents Muslims:
“Islam is a simple religion, but there is a confused picture of Muslims which Muslims share responsibility in creating.”
“The media does not represent Muslims fairly.”
“The play ‘Sisters’ did show that wearing Hijab and Niqab was a personal choice and not something forced on women.”
“Media portrays that women that wear a Hijab are oppressed, when it is the opposite.”
One final comment summed up what was expressed throughout the day:
“We are Muslim women; we are articulate, free thinking, generous, motivated, educated, sophisticated and active members of our society. If you want to hear what we say then come and speak to us. We want to be heard and contribute to change!”
Comments about the play
Response to the play amongst women who attended the Sorby House discussion was mixed. Some felt that the play had tried to represent all Muslim women, but had failed; portraying controversial lifestyles and not reflecting ordinary Muslim women’s lives. Some women were angry with how it had portrayed Muslim women, others felt it was a step in the right direction.
“I really liked the play, in some sense it touched me because I was seen in those people's lives in the play. Two weeks after the play women were invited to talk about the play and share their opinions. I was so disappointed that some people, without watching it, commented that it was a bad play. I am a Muslim and proud to be, in my opinion there wasn't a bad thing in the play about Islam, Quran or Muslims. They pointed out good things about Islam. There are good and bad in every religion and we can't hide or ignore it. I am not saying who is bad or who is good but the play was about women's real life stories which was very well played by actresses.”
“Initially I was so excited to explore the crucible from the inside and for me that was a big privilege. We went there and it was good to see that the audience came from different ethnic groups but with one common gender, they were all women. The show took place in a living room where five amazing and very talented actresses who played different characters and showed the emotions which made each role express a real picture. Sometimes it was so sad that it made me cry. They discussed issues that are hardly understood by Muslim society. They also expressed that Islam is all about love, respect and education, even though some people confuse religion with tradition. They played all the scenes with energy and enthusiasm, breaking taboos and sending a message to Muslim women telling them that silence never solves problems.”
“I thought it was very entertaining, but the writer could have done some more accurate research on the more controversial issues. I feel she should have referred to the Quran and looked in a bit more depth. It bridged some gaps for people in terms of understanding Muslim women – it’s a start. I felt there was a character missing though, a professional woman who is a practising Muslim, who is happy – a lot of women they are happy to juggle their profession, their religion and their family, unlike the characters in the play.”