Muslim Feminist Agency and Arab American Literature: A Case Study of Mohja Kahf’s The girl in the tangerine scarf

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Mohja Kahf’s novel the girl in the tangerine scarf highlights a broad spectrum of Muslim feminist agencies. In this essay I look at how her literary representations negotiate religious and feminist discourses in doing so. I further argue that her focus on empowerment through self-defined spirituality and religion sets her novel apart within the canon of contemporary Arab American literature, as most other Arab American feminist narratives focus rather on reappropriations
of orientalist Scheherazade figures to reclaim the transnational histories of
Muslim women’s agency. The genre of the Arab American novel has experienced a veritable boom in the post 9/11 era. However, this rise is located within contemporary neo-Orientalisms and remains in an uneasy relationship to stereotypical audience expectations and to the marketing demands on ‘Muslim women’ to represent not themselves, but the supposed blanket oppression of women in Islam. Steven Salaita points to the inherent tensions between
orientalist audience expectations and artistic self-representation in Arab American cultural production. Mohja Kahf picks up on this tension in her own theoretical work, but shifts our attention to the intersectional specificity encountered by Muslim feminist writers who have to work within both Western Orientalisms and the disapproval of Muslim conservatives who denounce feminism as a Western import and refuse any critique of their own patriarchy. Kahf suggests a constant double critique and careful contextualization to counter this double bind,
and in this essay I not only analyze how she translates this approach into her own creative writing, but I also explore how her novel connects literary activism to Muslim feminist religious scholarship by developing a more expansive, non-binary way of conceiving Muslim women’s agencies.
TidsskriftGender Forum
Udgave nummer65
Sider (fra-til)8-27
Antal sider20
StatusUdgivet - 2017

ID: 189619966