Following a brief discussion of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, this essay examines the newly burgeoning genre of “oppressed Muslim women” narratives. For each of the texts under consideration—Jean Sasson's Princess, Latifa and Shékéba Hachemi's My Forbidden Face, Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Suzanne Fisher Staples's Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind—Ahmad examines its claims toward authenticity and also notes the places in which those claims are undermined. Ahmad focuses on how the texts at once generate and challenge essentialized misreadings, misreadings that then proliferate within a prevailing interpretive field that posits feminism and multiculturalism as irreconcilable goals. The emphasis in the essay is on reader reception as well as content: whereas some of the texts responsibly recognize and depict local specificities, that nuance often disappears as readers situate texts within a “clash of civilizations” discourse. Ahmad considers as well the effect of publishing apparatuses like covers, appendices, and reviews, which can encourage a reductive and simplistic reception. The essay concludes with an emphasis on interpretive and pedagogical practices that discourage reductive ethnographic readings.
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Dohra Ahmad; Not Yet Beyond the Veil: Muslim Women in American Popular Literature. Social Text 1 June 2009; 27 (2 (99)): 105–131. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-2008-024
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