The Songbirds of Aceh
In Shariah ruled and culturally patriarchal Aceh, an all girl teenage Muslim choir is fighting systemic gender discrimination and terrorism using nothing more than their voices in song.
What if your voice was a sin? Would you stay quiet, or would you scream? For some they’ve chosen to sing.
Aceh is the only Shariah run province in Indonesia. Here, women have strict dress codes, curfews and some still consider the female voice as part of the female modesty that cannot be experienced by men outside of their family.
In an Islamic boarding school in Aceh, a group of teenage girls are waiting to get on stage. Some are warming up their voices while others fuss with their costumes. They are West Aceh’s first teenage female Muslim choir and they don’t just sing—they challenge systemic gender discrimination and terrorism through song.
At the heart of this school is Umi—the school principal and a prominent contemporary female Muslim leader. She has been called names, been put down and even had her first Muslim boarding school shut down, with her and her 20 students left homeless, solely because she was taking in victims of sexual abuse. Local religious leaders and villagers said that she was propagating sin and housing dirty sinners.
Our story follows the choir leading up to a prestigious competition where muslim boarding schools from all over Indonesia compete in Muslim art forms. It will be the girls’ biggest stage yet, and an opportunity to spread their message outside of Aceh.
Our main character is Miska, a 15 year old lyricist and Kpop fan. We’ll follow their journey leading up to this competition. From writing their next song, sewing new costumes to even new choreography.
We’ll also watch her personal journey as she struggles with a duality of identities— conservative village daughter and empowered Muslim woman. Miska has also expressed her desire to start dating—but tradition doesn’t allow it, and her empowered female values says she doesn’t need a man—so we’ll watch as she battles her hormones as well.
The female voice against oppression is growing louder but with rising conservatism, one might question whether it’s possible for humanistic values like gender equality to exist in Muslim communities. These songbirds could be the answer.