21.07.2005Interreligious Theatre ProjectJesus and MohammedAn unusual theatre project about the meeting of two world religions was performed recently during the Protestant Church Congress. Following the performance theatre enthusiasts, both Christians and Muslims, could participate in discussions over common characteristics and taboos. Cem Sey provides more insight.
Performers: Nina Herting, Mira Kaspari and Mathias Eysen, Music and vocals: Hanan El-Shemouty "What would have happened if Mohammed and Jesus had actually met? Would a quarrel ensue or would there have been a peaceful exchange?" This is the question the Berlin-based director Harald-Alexander Korp posed to himself when he took on a rather unusual theatre project, a stage play entitled "Jesus and Mohammed", a rather provocative title for many religious people. Another very unorthodox aspect of the play is that it is performed by two females.
Out of respect for Islamic beliefs, the actresses never optically slide into the role of Mohammed, what would be strictly forbidden from the view of devout Muslims, but rather they concentrate on reciting his religious texts.
Exchange between the religions
At Berlin's Spiritdialox Theater, in the quarter of Berlin-Mitte, actresses Nina Herting and Mia Kaspari rehearse the conversational quarrel between the religions, a fictional debate between Jesus and Mohammed.
"It is exciting, of course, when you allow the different religions to exchange dialogue, and even be confrontational with each other," says Korp, "because that way one's own identity is also pondered over once more and becomes clearer. Thus, a very creative exchange ensues between the religions. And of course, a quarrel between them is also a part of that exchange, but in a positive sense."
Korp, who has studied theology and philosophy among other subjects, finds personal enrichment in the project as well as it being a challenge. He strives to find out how far one can go to refresh the texts and give them new energy.
Indeed, these are in principle original scriptures which he makes use of - from the Bible and from a German translation of the Koran. But the mixture which is presented on stage is quite artificial.
"The idea was, according to Korp, to take the original texts and blend them together. That means to take writings from the Koran and scriptures from the Bible and allow them to be spoken by female performers, without an exact distinction being directly noticeable: When is it a text from the Koran, and when is it from the Bible? A debate, a kind of conversational quarrel, then develops between the actresses."
Actresses lend their voices
A basic problem, however, poses itself with the theatre project: in Islam performing the prophet is not permitted. That makes it a difficult to introduce Mohammed on stage. So, the actresses lend only their voices to the prophet, they do not "play" him, Korp stresses:
"We do not play Jesus and Mohammed. One example is the appeal by the archangel Gabriel which is described very nicely in the Koran: an actor portrays the archangel Gabriel and an actress, Mohammed. Then a dialogue develops between Gabriel and Mohammed. But it is very obvious that they are neither Mohammed nor the archangel Gabriel!"
The fact that two women are on stage is for Korp a part of the loose interpretation of the tradition in the texts: "To me it is about the poetry and the beauty of many scripts. Only when they are spoken by a woman, one more component comes into being than one is accustomed to and expects. This creates irritation."
Controlled topical discussions also take centre stage in the play. Above all the subject of women is in a way made a topic of discussion which poetically contradicts the stereotype often widespread in the west of Islam being a religion hostile to women. The message rings out that women should be treated with care and affection.
Discussion among spectators
However, in spite of all the accepted risks the play has been well received by the Berlin public. The crowd of spectators is often mixed, reports Korp: one half German or Christian - and the other half Turkish or Muslim.
Among and between both groups of spectator's there are often stimulating discussions following the performance: about different religious convictions, about separating and connecting, about taboos.
The Protestant Church was also accepting and open and invited the theatre troupe to present their play to their Protestant Church Congress.
With the Catholic Church, however, the play struck an obstacle of rejection. In the view of the Catholic Church, Mohammed can not be looked upon as a prophet, and therefore, can not be treated equally with Jesus in a play, notes the Catholic Academy in their rejection of the presentation.
© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2005
Translation from German: Mark Rossman