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Syrian immigrant Najla Shamy is growing up devoutly Muslim in 1970s Indiana, at the crossroads of bad polyester and Islamic dress codes. With her brother Ayman and the African American brother-sister twins Sharifa and Hakim, Najla bikes the Indianapolis streets and explores the fault-lines between "Muslim" and "American". Meanwhile, the adult Najla is in Kansas City attending the conference of a national Islamic organization, in a present-tense thread that reunites her with friends from the Indianapolis days. Durdana, a Pakistani girl who taught Najla that Skipper should call Barbie "bhaji", the Urdu honorific for older sister, is now a lesbian, but still wears the Muslim head covering. Ayman has chosen a conservative life devoted to Islamic work. Tayiba, whose sister was killed by Klan violence in a scene that haunts Najla's childhood, treads a middle path. Hakim has begun to slip out of the "militant imam" persona he created for himself to play in a jazz band. Is there a spark of romance between him and Najla, both recently divorced? Breaking utterly new ground in American literature with this subject matter, Kahf chronicles the material culture and spiritual struggles of Muslims in middle America, with an affectionate -- and critical -- eye.
Veiled, secluded, submissive, oppressed--the "odalisque" image has held sway over Western representations of Muslim women since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Yet during medieval and Renaissance times, European writers portrayed Muslim women in exactly the opposite way, as forceful queens of wanton and intimidating sexuality. In this illuminating study, Mohja Kahf traces the process through which the "termagant" became an "odalisque" in Western representations of Muslim women. Drawing examples from medieval chanson de geste and romance, Renaissance drama, Enlightenment prose, and Romantic poetry, she links the changing images of Muslim women to changes in European relations with the Islamic world, as well as to changing gender dynamics within Western societies.
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