The proliferation of images of “oppressed” and “downtrodden” Muslim women circulating via media discourses and popular memoirs leading up to and after 9/11 has led a number of British Muslim women to “write back” to such representations. However, these writers face a challenging politics of reception, aided by marketing tactics that attempt to reinscribe their voices within limited binaries of East and West, traditional and modern, Islamic and secular. Implicit in such binaries is the assumption of an inherent incompatibility between Islam and the “Western values” deemed necessary for fully-fledged citizenship in modern Britain, especially when it comes to gender equality. Leila Aboulela and Shelina Zahra Janmohamed are two writers who have been successful in negotiating this difficult terrain. Through their manipulation of secular romantic forms, they present readers with more nuanced articulations of Muslim womanhood that fuse feminist and religious concerns. Aboulela’s novel The Translator (1999) and Janmohamed’s memoir Love in a Headscarf (2009) appropriate the domestic novel and chick lit genres, respectively, and recast them within an Islamic signification system. In the shifting space between convention and innovation, their works enact a resistant aesthetic that draws attention to the sexism found in both traditional cultural mores and consumer-driven neoliberal gender regimes, offering personal faith and spirituality as a model for more equitable gender relations. In making a clear distinction between culture and religious belief, their works advocate for a form of Islam that coexists with other values and identities, including British, and clear discursive space for a more complex understanding of the intersection between gender and faith.
The Journal of Commonwealth Literature – SAGE
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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