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Muslim Diasporas in North America

Session VIII-19, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • American Muslim fiction is a burgeoning space that is little known except to those who are directly engaged in study of the field or who actively seek out writing in this category. The first purpose of this talk will be to draw the contours of the growing field of American Muslim fiction, with a focus on novels. Muslim American novelists are publishing in nearly all genres, including historical fiction, contemporary fiction, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and romance. A number of these works have achieved critical acclaim. I seek to describe this literature’s size, its variety in terms of genres, subject matter, and literary quality, and to suggest a periodization for this literature. I will survey authorship in this category, in terms of countries and cultures of origin, gender, professional affiliation, age/generation, race, among other features. The overall thrust of this segment of the talk will be to present a survey of the publishing landscape of Muslim-authored novels in the U.S., to indicate salient trends, and to raise complicating questions about delineating Muslim American fiction. Some of these salient trends are the high ratio of female writers to male writers, the relationship between race and self-publication, and the prevalence of queer authorship. Some complicating questions have to do with defining the categories of “American” and “Muslim,” and with identifying the boundary between fantasy and realism in religiously framed fiction. Beyond describing these external characteristics of Muslim American fiction, this talk will examine some of the prominent themes and topics taken up in these novels, with special attention to their exploration of Islamic religious elements such as cosmology, morality, spirituality, ritual, and scripture. While not all Muslim American fictionists take up matters of religion, many do. I will explore some of the ways that these works engage with elements of Islam. My overarching argument is that Muslim American fiction writers are forging new ways of being Muslim, and through their creative work in matters of religion, are contributing to the shape of Islam itself.
  • This paper studies the Turkish feminist writer, Halide Edip Adıvar (1882-1964) who was a bold advocate of Turkish nationalism and feminism, a prolific writer and a controversial political figure. Through her writings and talks both in Turkish and English, she engaged in nationalist and feminist discourse during the transitional period from multi-ethnic Ottoman empire to a nation state of the Republic of Turkey. As a transnational feminist writer, Edib also faced the imperialist racialization ascribed onto her as an Oriental woman during her years in the U.S. Through the analysis of Halide Edip Adıvar’s political conflict with the founding elites of the republic in Turkey and her visits to the U.S. during the years of her self-imposed exile, this paper locates her intersectionality in the context of the tensions between the nation building process during the establishment of the Republic of Turkey and the Orientalist racializing stereotypes in the U.S. during the 1930s. I read her identity through the framework of assemblages to reveal how Edib negotiated the entanglements of national and transnational intersections. The main objective of my paper is to investigate/critique the framework of intersectionality in a transnational context. More specifically, I seek to consider how the categories of race, class, gender and nationality in both national and transnational contexts are distinct while simultaneously informing one another. By exploring the ways in which Edib navigated the entanglements of national and transnational intersections, I analyze the ways in which the meanings assigned to the categories of race, class, gender, and nationality in one national context can be contested, wielded, and reconfigured during the transnational encounters. This project speaks to the importance of mobilizing a transnational feminist political framework to challenge static categories of identities.
  • Muslim American communities are retaining men and losing women. This chapter is part of a broader project that examines and explains why embeddedness in Muslim American spaces is gendered, using ninety life history interviews with thirty to forty-five year olds that grew up in the United States. Specifically, this chapter argues that families sowed the seeds of gender inequality in the home as Muslims entered adolescence and early adulthood. Drawing on descriptions of these time periods from, I show that parents used vastly different strategies for daughters than they did for sons. Parents monitored and surveilled girls while using a “don’t ask don’t tell” approach for boys. These divergent approaches planted discontent among young Muslim women, as they clashed with parents over autonomy. I demonstrate how parents focused their anxieties about assimilation on adolescent women. Parents, I argue, were ultimately afraid of raising children whose habits and thoughts would turn them into strangers beyond the parents’ cultural reach.
  • Research on grandparents in the Syrian Canadian diaspora, especially in the context of forced migration and resettlement, is lacking. Our goal in this paper is to further the emerging scholarship about the wellbeing of Syrian Canadians admitted via the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Initiative (SRRI) through a unique focus on transnational grandmothers resettled within their multigenerational families. Drawing on three waves of annual in-depth interviews and in-person and virtual qualitative field research, we show how the authority and status grandmothers once held in Syria may be undermined through their “subordinate integration” in Canada. Although post-migration configurations of power, care work and community may present some opportunities, the burdens and dependencies of subordinate integration mostly constrain grandmothers from reclaiming their authority and status.
  • At the turn of the twentieth century, nativists and eugenics movements were anxious about the influx of immigrants to the United States. White supremacists succeeded in weaponizing immigration laws by constituting a definition of who can become an American on a racial/biological basis and through the invention of the national origins quota system (Fahrenthold 2019; Ngai, 2004). Racial restrictions on immigration remained in place until 1965 when the Congress abolished the national origin system and the Asiatic Barred Zone (Lopez 2006). However, discriminatory policies and laws regulating immigration and asylum in the United States have been utilized systematically to target specific nationalities under the disguise of national security and the indefinite “war on terror,” as evidenced in Donald Trump’s travel ban (2018). In this paper, I analyze the effects of legal violence on the lives of Syrian asylum seekers and immigrants from the Middle East who have been held in legal limbo and permanent status of precarity. Building on ethnographic fieldwork in North America between 2014-2021 and more than 80 interviews with Syrian asylum seekers and immigration attorneys, I examine the invisible, harmful effect of surveillance programs and discriminatory regulations —such as the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP), and Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds (TRIG)—that constructed Arab and Muslim communities as a threat since the 9/11 attacks. I conclude by arguing that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) operates as an authoritarian agency marked by a lack of accountability and transparency and sustains white supremacy by implementing Kafkaesque policies and shadow programs that include racialized Others through exclusion (Agamben 1998).
  • Talal Asad posits that for a behavior to be Islamic, it should be “instituted practice (set in a particular context and having a particular history) into which Muslims are inducted as Muslims” (Asad 1986: 21), further explaining that “a practice is Islamic because it is authorized by the discursive traditions of Islam, and is so taught to Muslims – whether by an ‘alim, a khatib, a Sufi shaykh, or an untutored parent” (Asad, 21). In his model, Islamic institutions and their agents mainly create Islamic discourses within the Islamic societies' political and ideological power matrix (Asad 23, 29; Anjum 2007: 666). These discourses then trickle down into the everyday and vernacular level (Asad 1986: 21-23), where lay Muslims also circulate and negotiate Islamic discourse. In other words, Islamic discourses at the vernacular level are shaped in tandem and conversation with Islamic institutions and their agents (Mahmood 2005: 115; Awass 2017: 36). Based on several months of ethnographic fieldwork in two Iranian-American Shia mosques in Los Angeles, I bring examples to propose that Muslims can produce verbal and performative Islamic discourses not in conversation with Islamic authoritative sources and institutions but in tandem with non-Islamic institutions, discourses, and “public imaginations (Falk and Faessel 2019: 3)” of Islam in the US. I emphasize that these outward-looking discoursive processes are not secondary and trivial; they are the main drive for Muslim Iranian Angelinos —who regularly participate in religious events such as Quranic gatherings, prayers, and sermons— to produce Islamic orthodoxy and orthopraxy. I present the results of my participant observation and interviews to further argue that Iranian Angelinos adopt and share the postcolonial categories of “good/bad Muslim (Madani 2002: 766-7),” (re)create these categories, associate themselves with good Muslims, and shun the bad ones. They define the good and bad Muslims around racial, sectarian, and ideological forms of difference. Above all, they incorporate these discourses of association and differentiation in their vernacular conceptualizations of Islam and the Islamic discourses they produce and disperse. The authoritative Islamic sources do not inspire their production of Islamic discourses; instead, Iranian Angelinos’ Islamic discourses mainly function to construct modes of Islam that are perceived as “good” from the perspective of dominant postcolonial and racist imaginations of Islam and Muslims in the US.