Negotiating Identities in Contemporary American-Muslim Women's Writing
Date: 21 October 2019
University of Exeter
PhD in English
This project examines the struggle of American-Muslim women to negotiate their identities in literary works published after the invasion of Iraq (20 March-1 May 2003). By engaging with postcolonial studies, and working within the frameworks of cultural and feminist studies, this thesis aims to investigate both the common themes and ...
This project examines the struggle of American-Muslim women to negotiate their identities in literary works published after the invasion of Iraq (20 March-1 May 2003). By engaging with postcolonial studies, and working within the frameworks of cultural and feminist studies, this thesis aims to investigate both the common themes and aesthetic strategies that American-Muslim women writers deploy in their writing. The writers in question, their ancestries noted in parentheses, are Mohja Kahf (Syrian), Randa Jarrar (Egyptian/Palestinian), Diana Abu-Jaber (Jordanian/German), and Shaila Abdullah (Pakistani), who are first-generation American-Muslims. Some of them were born in the U.S. (Jarrar and Abu-Jaber), and some of them immigrated to the U.S. when they were children (Kahf and Abdullah). Through the juxtaposition of Muslim traditions and U.S. popular culture, these writers express and explore their unique positioning within contemporary U.S. society. These writers respect their Muslim intellectual forebears, such as Muhammad al-Ghazali (Iran), Muhyiddin al-Arabi (Spain), and Jalaluddin Rumi (Turkey), by emulating their tendency to combine in their writings allusions to the Qur’an, ancient storytelling traditions, and contemporary social issues in order to engage their readers. These techniques enable American-Muslim women writers to reveal their multiple and complex identities and work to represent both their pride in being Muslims and their desire to claim their rights as American citizens of Muslim descent. After an introductory chapter one, chapter two explores how Kahf and Jarrar use the form of bildungsroman in order to illustrate their protagonists’ transnational identities. This is principally achieved in Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (2006) and Jarrar’s A Map of Home (2008) through the intersection of music and the bildungsroman. Chapter three considers how Abu-Jaber uses food and food culture in order to reveal her multiple identity affiliations, which are derived from her parents’ different cultural and religious backgrounds (her father is a Muslim Palestinian-Jordanian-American, and her grandmother is a Catholic Irish-German-American). Chapter four reveals how Kahf alludes to iconic Muslim women in order to insert contemporary American-Muslim women subjects into a tradition of Muslim women who are mothers, survivors and, perhaps most importantly, weavers of a creative tradition that they pass down through the generations. Chapter five examines how Jarrar and Abdullah use sites of memory in order both to excavate layers of their protagonists’ personal memories linked to collective memories and to reveal their national identities and histories. This thesis contributes to scholarship on American-Muslim literature by showing how important it is for these American-Muslim women writers to show their transnational identities; this allows them to negotiate questions of American belonging as well as participate in larger debates about transnational capital’s globalization.
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