God's followers: Beverly Andrews looks at Peter Brook's play, 11 and 12, set in Mali, which examines tolerance as the most difficult and essential quality for a human being to develop. But in the religious realm, tolerance of one another's views becomes an even more difficult quality for the followers of the same religion to develop. This sometimes leads to bloodshed even though their God tells them: "Thou shall not kill".
PETER BROOK IS CONSIDERED to be one of the world's greatest theatrical directors. His acclaimed production of the Hindu religious classic, The Mahabharata, is credited with pushing back the boundaries of theatre. In his latest production, the play entitled 11 and 12, Brook turns his attention once again to the theme of religion and this time looks at a religious dispute which erupts between two rival African groups, a dispute which ultimately leads to war. In many ways, the piece is an apt metaphor for our times and asks the difficult question--"at what price do we seek religious certainty?"
11 and 12 is based on the Malian author Hampate Ba's novel, The Life and Teaching of Tierno Bakar: The Sage of Bandiagara. Tierno Bokar was a sufi mystic who was born in Mali during the late 1800s and served as Hampate Ba's spiritual teacher. Their relationship serves as the basis for the play.
The piece was first performed under the name Tierno Bakar, and premiered in 2004 at the Ruhrtriennale festival. That play in turn ultimately became 11 and 12. It focuses primarily on the theme of theological interpretation and what happens as a result of a fundamental disagreement among the followers of Islam. Who is right, who is wrong and ultimately how important should it be?
The play opens in a Mali colonised by the French. Mistrust and a general lack of understanding between the colonising forces and those who are expected to serve them are highlighted hilariously.
The French colonial officers are at best shown to be ill-informed and at worst arrogant. They are colonial masters who feel nothing but contempt for those they are meant to govern.
Into this already volatile atmosphere erupt the growing tensions between two rival Islamic groups. Both are followers of the same spiritual teacher and both practise in the same way with only one slight difference, the number of times they should say their sacred prayers.
The spiritual leader of both groups dies before he can issue a decree as to who is ultimately right. Should it be 11 times or 12? The former is a result of his earlier teachings; the latter a result of his teachings just before death.
With the leader's untimely death, both groups decide to follow separate heads. The new leaders are both shown to be men of true faith as well as exhibiting a genuine desire to find a solution to this thorny theological problem.
The French colonial officers meanwhile simply stand back and watch the simmering tensions, hoping to capitalise on the civil war which almost everyone feels is to follow.
In an interview with Peter Brook published in the play's programme, he states: "For Christians and Muslims alike, God, through his prophets, has given mankind a clear and simple commandment: 'Thou Shalt Not Kill'. Today we see that no rational thought, no intelligent debate, no social analysis, has ever influenced nor can explain the endless current of hatred that pours through history. …