Musical Canceled in Netherlands
Dec. 11, 2000
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ The Dutch directors of a musical about one of the wives of Islam's Prophet Muhammad are baffled by threats that led the entire Muslim cast to walk out and cancel the show.
Rehearsals had been scheduled to begin last week for ``Aisha and the Women of Medina,'' the highlight of next year's European Cultural Capital festival in Rotterdam.
But the eight Arabic-speaking singers, actors and a composer from Morocco abruptly withdrew late last month, Gerda Roest of the Onafhankelijk Toneel production company said Monday.
``We still don't know exactly what happened,'' she said. ``All we know is that a fax was sent from unknown persons in Rotterdam to a newspaper and the prime minister in Morocco ... which warned the cast: 'If you do this you'll have the same fate as Salman Rushdie.'''
Dutch media suggested the fax came from a local Muslim group. Roest declined to speculate on its source.
In withdrawing, cast members sent their own fax to the show's director, Gerrit Timmers, which ended with the words: ``Fear reigns over here.''
Islam forbids fictional or artistic representations of its 7th century prophet, his family or disciples. Dozens of literary works deemed blasphemous have been banned in Muslim countries because they depict figures in the Quran, the Muslim holy book.
Novelists such as Rushdie, author of ``The Satanic Verses,'' have even been threatened with death. Egyptian Nobel laureate Nagib Mahfouz was stabbed in 1994 because of a book he wrote depicting religious figures in allegorical form. Bangladeshi author and women's rights activist Taslima Nasrin went into hiding in exile for four years after suggesting the Quran should be rewritten.
The musical was based on a prize-winning book, ``Far from Medina,'' by Algerian-born French author Assia Djebar.
In it, 9-year-old Aisha is thrilled to become the third and favorite wife of the much-older Muhammad, but becomes jealous following his betrothal to a fourth spouse.
Timmers said he chose the book because it gives a progressive view of Islam.
``It demonstrates that our idea of Islam as a repressive religion toward women is inaccurate,'' Timmers told De Volkskrant newspaper.
According to a theater company statement, the score was based on early Muslim historical sources and adapted to classical Arabic by poet and playwright Noureddine El Ansari in a manner that was ``fitting to its sacred character.''
Roest said the cast knew from the start what the musical was about and was given the score months ago.
Cast member Saida Badi conceded that actors were unaware the prohibition on artistic portrayals also held for Mohammed's wives.
``But much more important,'' she told Rotterdam's Algemeen Dagblad newspaper, ``was that you could walk away from this rendition thinking that Muhammad and Aisha had an immoral relationship.''
Roest said the company had no option but abandon five years of work. The best they've been able to offer the festival committee is a seminar on the cancellation geared to an intellectual audience.
``We're still licking our wounds,'' she said.