Date of Graduation

5-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Graduate School

Advisor

Mohja Kahf

Committee Member

Marvin Booker

Second Committee Member

Yajaira Padilla

Keywords

African American Muslim, Historicizing, Muslim American Literature, South Asian American Muslim

Abstract

In response to the challenge of understanding Muslim Americans in a way that highlights their integral role in the United States through literature, this research starts with two questions: 1) how should we read Muslim American literature in relation to the lived experiences of Islam in America? and 2) how does Muslim American literature contribute to the more mainstream American literature.

To answer those questions, this research takes as its foundations the theories by Stuart Hall and Satya Mohanty on, firstly, the evolving nature of diaspora identity and on the epistemic status of identity. Following Hall’s argument that every expression of art is also a reformulation of identity, artistic expressions by Muslim Americans are parts of Muslim American identity. Following Mohanty’s argument of the epistemic status of identity, literature by Muslim Americans can help us see the lived and intellectual experiences of Muslim Americans. Inspired by Fredric Jameson’s argument for historicizing a literary work and interpret it against its historical background, this research discovered that the at the core of the Muslim American literary works selected for this research lie political causes that underlie the aesthetic of Muslim American literature.

For African American Muslim literature, such underlying historical spirit is the tension between ‘asabiyya (or peoplehood and community building among African Americans) and ummah (or the sense of belonging to the global Muslim community). This spirit, I argue, manifests in Marvin X’s Land for My Daughters and Murad Kalam’s Night Journey. Meanwhile, for works by South Asian American Muslim writers, the historical spirit lies in the tension between the essentialist view of identity and the acceptance of American identity. This tendency manifests in different ways in the Wajahat Ali’s The Domestic Crusaders and Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced.

The discussions on literary works by African American and South Asian American Muslim writers here highlight the collective concerns that underlie the literary works by the two different demographic groups. In doing so, the research places Muslim American literature as a political niche in American literature. This tendency of being political makes Muslim American literature align more with works from marginal cultural communities.

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