Monash University
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The practice of faith and personal growth in three novels by Muslim women writers in the Western diaspora

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posted on 2017-03-01, 04:31 authored by Abdul Majid, Amrah
The aim of this study is to explore how religious beliefs, rituals and practices shape the personal growth of the leading female characters in three novels written by Muslim women authors writing in the Western diaspora. The novels are Randa Abdel-Fattah’s 'Does My Head Look Big in This?' (2005), Mohja Kahf’s 'The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf' (2006) and Leila Aboulela’s 'The Translator' (1999). These novels span the experiences of the protagonists in Australia, the USA and Scotland. I focused on authors who avoided the negative stereotypes typically associated with Muslim women. I found that these novels showed Islam to be an integrated and empowering part of the women’s lives. Such empowerment is only achieved after long struggles within the women themselves. Emerging at the end of that process are three women who have a firm idea of who they are, are strongly committed to Islam, are tolerant of differences within the Islamic and non-Islamic communities, and are also committed to participating in and enjoying the non-Muslim societies in which they live. In order to understand these aspects of the novels in question, I seek to build on Saba Mahmood’s (2005) study of Muslim women’s piety, which argues that, contrary to the general understanding of Islam as a restrictive religion, particularly for women, its rituals and practices can more properly be understood as tools for achieving self-actualization and self-improvement. At the core of Mahmood’s arguments is Talal Asad’s (1986) conceptualization of Islam as a discursive tradition which allows for varied understanding of its core doctrines and practices. Irfan Ahmad’s (2011) concept of “immanent critique in Islam” further shows how Islam is able to develop criticism within its own tradition. The concepts of discursive tradition and immanent critique together explain how the protagonists can actively engage with different understandings of Islam in order to extend and implement their own satisfactory position within the doctrines and practices of Islam. Finally, the thesis extends Mahmood’s arguments by arguing that the characters’ religiosity is also based on an individual consciousness of God at the centre of their lives. Driven by the recognition of a Higher Power, the protagonists work towards the improvement of their spirituality and morality through changes in their inner being as well as performing what might otherwise be perceived as influential external rituals and practices.


Principal supervisor

Marika Vicziany

Additional supervisor 1

Harry Aveling

Additional supervisor 2

Irfan Ahmad

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School of Social Sciences (Monash Australia)

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Faculty of Arts

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