Muslim Women: Crafting a North American Identity
by Shahnaz Khan
Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. 152 pp. $49.95.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Although Khan herself writes in the pseudo-complex language of post-modernism (the cute puns, the slashes, references to Homi Bhabha, and the insufferable use of the first person pronoun), her fourteen interviewees speak a plain language in which they recount the inevitable difficulties of living as a Muslim woman in the Toronto area. They are a diverse lot, ranging from pious Muslim to pious convert to Judaism, from Pakistani to Anglo convert to Islam. What they nearly all share in common is a pride in their Muslim origins, an agony at the way Islam treats females, and a dismay at the way in which they are seen by non-Muslim Canadians. Khan reports "a distancing, a dislike, as they turn away from identifying themselves as Muslim. Yet their narratives also hint at a nostalgia and a longing for a stable and comfortable identity." Another way to put it is that the women feel a double disillusion, from Islam and from the West.
Specific tidbits are of great interest. The convert to Judaism has done so in near-secrecy, with just her immediate family knowing. Likewise, an unmarried Turk pretended to all but her immediate family that she was married. In contrast, a Pakistani "removed" herself from the organized Muslim community when she started living with a man, so as not to embarrass her mother . That mother, herself an interviewee, is divorced and miserable because she rejects Muslim suitors and is too sexually modest for the non-Muslims, leaving her with exactly no one. An Indian from Uganda fiercely protects Islam in the outside world and just as ardently critiques it when among Muslims. An Indian relates that her son is "very proud" of being Muslim but her daughter has "more problems" with the faith. An Egyptian took Islam for granted when in Egypt but found it more important by far in Canada; likewise, a second Pakistani identifies more as a Muslim after reaching Canada. An Arab from Iran "loved" living in Khomeini's Iran but left it because of the war with Iraq; in Toronto, the expression of her faith has been reduced to little more than strictly controlling her daughters. A Somali suffers from life in Canada and "would rather be" living in a Muslim country. A second Egyptian, an Islamist, insists that "Muslim women have more rights" than their Canadian counterparts. Finally, the convert to Islam found that the biggest problem on conversion was that age-old woman's dilemma: what to wear ("It was agony for about the first year and a half of being a Muslim because I didn't know how to dress properly").
Related Topics: Muslims in the West, Sex and gender relations | Daniel Pipes | Winter 2000 MEQ
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