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When we hear that local Muslims have perpetrated terrorist attacks, many Americans worry whether the “strangers in our midst” will assimilate and become Muslim-Americans. Barbara J. Hampton argues that an examination of the themes of community, gender, and identity in three American novels written by Muslims can relieve the worst of our anxieties. The characters of these novels have drunk deeply at the well of personal choice, so central to American values and freedom. The discussion of the novels is grounded in recent sociological data that point to the same reality. A “religious reading” of these texts should lead us not only to be open to hearing these “previously unheard voices” but also to be more open to risking Christian engagement with our Muslim neighbors. Ms. Hampton is a retired instructor at the College of Wooster.

Recent events have done nothing to quiet the fears that radical Muslims in the United States want to destroy the freedom, tolerance, and opportunity that Americans hold dear. In troubling succession, teenage boys have disappeared out of Riverside Plaza of Little Mogadishu in Minneapolis, home to as many as 70,000 Somali refugees, and more than 20 of them have been traced back to Somalia where they have joined jihadist fighters of al-Shabab. According to National Public Radio reports, United States officials are worried that the Somali-Americans will be able to slip back into the country with terrorist intentions birthed in Minneapolis mosques and honed by time in their former homeland.1

More dramatic and disturbing was the November 5, 2009, massacre at Fort Hood by the Muslim Army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan. His internet correspondence with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born Muslim imam now hiding in Yemen, has counter-terrorism officials concerned about “how to prevent Americans from ‘self-radicalizing’ by turning to al-Qaeda supporters on the Internet.”2 The Nigerian student who attempted to blow an airplane out of the sky near Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 also reputedly had connections to al-Awlaki.3 Earlier that year, al-Awlaki wrote in a blog, “I pray that Allah destroys America and all its allies,” and “We will implement the rule of Allah on Earth by the tip of the sword, whether the masses like it or not.”4

Al-Awlaki’s family had come to America, where he was born, to get an education not available in Yemen. The Somalis arrived in the United States fleeing bloodshed and chaos in their failed African state. Their motives for coming to the United States are representative of Muslims, who have the same reasons that other immigrants have had—to find economic opportunity and to exercise political and religious freedom.5 Arising out of their immigrant experience is a question of critical importance to many cultural observers: Will Muslims—not Yemenis nor Somalis, but Muslims—become Americanized, or will they attempt to Islamicize America? Islam is not just a religious faith that individuals practice in the privacy of their hearts or behind the doors of their mosques; it is a complete way of life that has implications for public laws and institutions and is already reflected in Shari’a codes for personal behavior in many countries. If God’s universal rule is valid for every area of human endeavor, as Muslims everywhere believe, then some, such as al-Awlaki, believe its corollary that the state should have power to enforce his will, even in secular countries like the United States and Canada.6

At a Calvin College seminar exploring “Being Muslim in the United States,” Lamin Sanneh of Yale Divinity School asked with some urgency “whether Muslims will concede any moral merit to the American ideas of tolerance and pluralism. If the advancement of understanding, respect, tolerance, and transformation of Islamic legal structure cannot happen here in America,” he argued, “there is less hope for the rest of the world.”7 Questions about assimilation of various Muslim groups merge with questions about political loyalty and acceptance of democratic values. Both impinge on interfaith relationships.

Woven through the Bible is the conviction that Christians must welcome aliens and strangers. Jesus predicted that he would judge his followers based in part on whether they had invited strangers into their midst (Matt. 25:35, 43). Before that, the law commanded Jews to love the aliens living with them because they themselves had been aliens in Egypt (for example, Lev. 19:34-35). In the United States today, that means welcoming an increasing number of Muslim immigrants, up to two thirds of the two and half million estimated to live here.8 This calling becomes much more difficult, however, if we have reason to think that behind the mosques springing up, behind the hijab seen increasingly on the street and in the malls, behind the psychiatrist’s desk, behind the dirty bricks of the inner city housing tower, hide people who want to destroy both Christianity and the governmental system that allows for the free expression of religious and political differences. If Muslims are not content to believe what they believe and to allow us, Christian and secularist, Jew and Buddhist, to believe what we do, how can we befriend them? If they desire to enforce Shari’a law despite the separation of church and state enshrined in American understanding, how can we allow them a place in the public square?

At an individual level, Khadra, the main character in Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, personifies this societal dilemma. When she was still a school-girl, this Syrian immigrant asked about an African-American convert to Islam, who did not wear a hijab, when she had become a “real” Muslim. Her auntie answered, “Shahada.9 That’s all. Belief that God is One. When that enters your heart and you surrender to it, you are a Muslim.” But Khadra was not so sure it was that easy: “You have to practice Islam to be a real Muslim.”10 That was what her parents had told her and why they had moved to Indianapolis to work at the Dawah Center.11 They were Muslim missionaries, spreading the good news of surrender and right behavior in the heartland of America. Belief, practice. Does one take precedence? How do they relate to each other? Christians live with these tensions as well, but as Muslims work them out in the United States, wrestling with whether surrendering to Allah means establishing a Shari’a society, they have implications for all of us, ones that we would do well not to ignore. An important way to avoid the trap of ignorance is to read contemporary novels written by Muslim-Americans.


It may seem circuitous to consult novels to learn about the political intentions of Muslim-Americans. Nevertheless, novels can provide far more than pleasure or diversion for readers. They can even change our lives. In fact, they ought to if we read them religiously. In Towards a Christian Literary Theory, Luke Ferretter develops an argument for why novels provide an important lens through which to view the world. He quotes Mark Ledbetter who claims that “we are narrative beings” who “tell stories to reveal something about ourselves and to discover what gives identity, purpose and meaning to our existence.”12 If this is so, not only must we be open to how characters in novels work at that same task of meaning-making, but we also ought to be able to learn something about our own meaning-making. Another theorist, Robert Detweiler, labels this kind of reading “religious” because it is open to others.13 In particular, Ledbetter calls for “an ethic of reading … to hear those [silenced or, I might add, previously unheard] voices.”14 Not only is hearing the stories of others virtuous in itself, but such hearing can also lead to “a dialogical relationship” between our own readers’ experience and the experience of the “others” in the text. That in turn develops an “understand[ing of] our experience as a whole in a new way.”15 Mark Walhout suggests that such a reading, if undertaken “humbly and patiently, in faith, hope, and charity,” can bring shalom a little closer.16 As a result, we as believing readers should be more sensitive to both the struggles and joys of others, and just as critically, more ready to risk a deeper Christian engagement with them.

What I propose to explore in this essay, then, is a religious reading of the themes of community, gender, and identity in three recent novels by Muslim-American authors that can give Christian readers an ethical basis for interaction with our Muslim neighbors, whether on the page of a novel, through the newscast from far away, or living down the block. Sociological data and political analysis of Muslim assimilation will contextualize and ground our discussion, but the five young immigrants we will meet—secular, successful Jassim and Salwa (Once in a Promised Land by Laila Halaby), disillusioned Yusef and Jehangir (The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammed Knight), and struggling Khadra (The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by MohjaKahf)—pull us into their compelling stories, opening up an ethical dialogue between readers and characters, as well as between readers and their responses to the Muslims in their world. Even when others have sometimes wanted to protect them from it, each of these young Muslims has drunk deeply at the well of personal choice, as seems inevitable in their new homeland. Their choices as individuals created in the image of God matter. Their choices expose their hearts. Our reading hearts are exposed as well, and the choices we make in response as Christian readers also matter. These young people have made altogether American choices, some with dreadful consequences, others with less traumatic ones, but none that should cause us to fear the establishment of Shari’a law and overthrow of our government. As for us, our reading choices must lead us into increasing understanding of and engagement with our Muslim neighbors.


Identity is a many-stranded rope, usually difficult to untangle. For our young fictional protagonists, two strands especially bind—or fail to bind—them: community and gender. Their religious beliefs, while crucial, are mediated by their communities and complicated by gender. Whether they realize it or not, their ethnic-religious communities are important to whether they thrive or even survive. In this regard they are representative of the flesh and blood Muslims around us. There were 1,209 mosques in the U.S. in 2000, the most recent year for which statistics are available, with about 500,000 regularly participating in their religious services. A majority of these mosques provide social services and educational opportunities to their Muslim congregations and neighbors.17 Although these mosques function like nearby temples and churches more than they resemble mosques in their home countries, anthropologist Loukia Sarroub, who has studied the Yemenis of Dearborn, Michigan, one of the most segregated groups of Muslims, emphasizes that “immigrant communities live in the in-between spaces created in the nexus of ethnicity, nationality, and culture.”18 Yvonne Haddad observes that after 9/11 when Muslims felt under threat from their fellow Americans, mosques became even more important as community centers that provided them, women in particular, the place where they could find a “refuge” of shared values, of “comfort…in recitation of the Qur’an” and “security in numbers and the assurance of belonging.”19

However, there does not appear to be anything “in-between” about the Jordanian immigrant couple created by Laila Halaby in Once in a Promised Land, at least externally. Nor did a mosque figure in their lives before or after 9/11. Living in a beautiful home in Tucson, filling their shopping bags at the mall every weekend, driving a powerful sports car, Jassim works in the department of water management as a hydrology specialist and Salwa at a bank and as a budding real estate agent. All they need are the proverbial 2.2 kids to go along with the other props of the American dream. Nevertheless, comfortable in his routines of exercise and work, Jassim does not seem inclined to be a father. Unknown to him, Salwa stops taking her birth control pills, gets pregnant, but soon after has a miscarriage. He has his own secret: he has accidentally killed a teenager who fell into the path of his car. Their private dramas take place in the shadow of the great American drama of 9/11. The “patriotic” suspicions their co-workers have for Arab Americans compound their individual sorrows and mistakes into a seemingly inevitable tragedy of estrangement and loss.

Palpable by its absence is a community of fellow immigrants against whose freely shared opinions Jassim and Salwa could have measured their choices to buy completely into the American dream. No mosque potlucks or Islamic lifestyle lectures for them. Jassim is grateful to have escaped the constant surveillance that would have faced him at every turn in Jordan for the “neater, tidier” social arrangements of America where acquaintances would not dream of questioning an individual’s decisions, where aunties do not poke into personal matters of family life (“When are you two going to have babies, eh?”). “No question,” he tells himself. “One could control one’s life here so much easier.”20 Ironically, however, he cannot control either the accident or the way his co-workers turn against him after 9/11. Even when his life has unraveled completely, he still doubts whether he could return to Jordan and its suffocating communal interference.

In contrast, as she slides into depression after the loss of her baby and into guilt at having deceived Jassim into conceiving it and at betraying him through a sordid affair, Salwa longs for that same distant community. As she is having her miscarriage, she calls not her husband but her friend Randa.

Randa’s fingers rubbed Salwa’s head, her back….Fingers stuffed with centuries of wisdom, knots of history and meaning, somehow accidentally transported to this desert world….A blanket of truth draped over her: this was the life she had chosen, but it was not the life she wanted.21

Randa fulfills the role that a community would have for Salwa, but Halaby gives us no clue how Salwa knew her. She just appears in the story, a random friend. Despite Randa’s friendship, there is no one, Salwa thinks, to play the role of the “blunt aunties to announce what they knew and say, you’d better not, or else.”22 Perhaps this is why Randa’s warnings are not strong enough to keep Salwa from falling for her co-worker’s flirtatious advances. Salwa and Jassim are destroyed because they are disconnected from each other and from a larger community that might have given them a strong enough identity to survive the vicissitudes that come to everyone and the attacks that are directed at them as Arab Americans. They seem to know themselves only as “Consumers,” not as Jordanian-Americans or certainly not as Muslims. Jassim had discarded his faith years ago, substituting for it a faith in Balance. When his life was pushed off kilter, Balance could not save him; not knowing the God whom they had left behind in Jordan, he and Salwa could not even throw themselves on his mercy.

Michael Muhammad Knight, an American follower of Islam who has lived in Pakistan, allows his readers to experience Islamic community from the perspective of young, disaffected immigrants. His novel, The Taqwacores, thrived in an underground cult following.23 Autonomedia published an expurgated version in 2004, although its still-ubiquitous foul language and sexual fantasies can offend any auntie. In the novel, Yusef Ali lives with a group of Muslim riff-raff on the edge of a Buffalo campus, ironically because his parents had feared the corrupting influences of university dorm life. Only addiction to sexual, drug and alcoholic excesses and the five prayers a day unite these wasted young people; the taqwacore house is a trash heap of diversity and heresy. After one prayer session, Yusef reflects, “…every Friday hearing khutbahs [sermons] and standing alongside brothers and sisters together yelling AAAAAMEEEEEEEEN after Fatiha24 with enough force to knock you down”25 increased his belief that they could rescue Islam from its restricting contours.

In one of the many booze-soaked conversations about the new Islam that they want to create, Jehangir declares to Yusef that America can “save Islam” from rigidity and irrelevance. He makes this bold assertion because, he believes, Muslim immigrants must shed their cultures and focus on “just our iman [faith], you know?…But that’s the great thing…they’ll have the freedom to be whatever kind of Muslim they want.”26

Jehangir is obsessed with bringing Muslim punk bands to Buffalo. When he finally succeeds, he falls victim to his dreams of creating a new kind of community, of “taqwacore,” an Islam of “deliberately bad Muslims [who] love Allah.”27 Although he longs for a universal Islam, shorn of its cultural baggage and open to all behavior and religious expressions— “Please, Allah, don’t make this a sect,”28 he whispers in foreboding before the concert—Jehangir could not escape the excesse sof his punk culture. Some of the deliberately bad Muslims take offense over a provocative sexual act at the concert, and in the resulting melee, Jehangir is killed. Yusef drifts away from the house, still longing for a community. “If Allah wants to say anything to me He’ll do so on the faces of my brothers and sisters,” he assures himself.29 In the final irony of this novel, however, his readers sadly realize that Yusef can hear neither these brothers and sisters nor, through them, Allah, because they no longer live together.

Khadra, the heroine of Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, squirms even as she thrives under the watchful eyes of her community, but eventually she flees from it. Her parents had fled before her, from political repression in Syria. Her father has become the head of an Indianapolis Dawah Center, a missionary for Islam in the strange, flat, shabby heartland of America. Khadra grows up surrounded by a small but diverse, loving but nosy Muslim fellowship. At public school, dressed as a conservative Muslim girl, she faces taunts of “Rag head.” She goes through stages of teenage militancy, of uncertainty as her perspective broadens during her university days, of conflict at the expectations of her Kuwaiti husband, and finally of the loss of her faith. A small bit of money from her beloved Syrian aunt allows her to travel to Damascus where she recovers her faith, although in a more eclectic form. Several years later, she is invited to return to Indiana to photograph a Muslim convention, and there she comes to a tentative resolution of her estrangement.

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is filled with a delightful array of characters. Herwarts-and-all loving parents, the prying aunties and their children—her friends—and their husbands, the men who work so hard for the Dawah Center: all of these provide a stable structure within which Khadra at first lives her Muslim life unconsciously and naturally and then increasingly with an anger that eventually softens into understanding. They act as a foil for her spiritual growth. Describing a mosque service in the Center when she was a child, Khadra recalls that she “loved the ‘ameens.’ The strong vibrations of the men’s voices and the murmurs of the women made her feel safe. Sandwiched between them, she was right where she belonged.”30 Later, during college when she was beginning to question the validity of this community’s rules, she reflects that “community life was bracing. There was no dearth of henna parties, baby aqiqas and ‘Building God-Consciousness’ seminars. And, of course, there was activism….so she didn’t have time to think about the rift within her.”31 However, the rift widens until Khadra “cauterized”32 those community ties, leaving first for Syria and then Philadelphia.

Seven years later, she returns and slips into the multiple roles of daughter, sister, friend, worshipper, observer, challenger. She realizes that she can choose to stay connected to these people whom she still dearly loves, but she can do so in her own way, at her own distance. During her epiphany she realizes: “That’s what makes the scene so difficult to figure out, so full of contradictions—the people are good people, in many ways—grounded, kindly.” However, she “cannot stand their worldview, can no longer stand to be inside it. It is stifling and untenable.”33

When she had returned from Damascus, she had realized that this American place was the “crucible where her character had been forged, for good or ill.”34 Coming back to the Dawah Center deepens that understanding. Her character has also been forged by the complex, precious people who worship there. They had bound her to them and to her true self so that the cauterization could be reversed and out of that pain could emerge a healthy, whole woman who chooses to believe that Islam is her “path to God” among the welter of many paths people take in America.

Christian readers of these novels can experience with the characters three of the many possible ties between individual Muslims and their communities: a rejection of stifling interference that becomes an isolating and debilitating individualism, a desire for community without its moral boundaries that seem so out of touch with modern American life, and the full orbed, bustling interaction among families who share the same values. We can recognize so much of all three, but especially the last—the Dawah Center of Indianapolis—in our own church and drifting-from-church experiences. We too have been pulled by the magnetic forces of American consumerism and individualism, our children have seen through the traditionalism and even hypocrisy of our religious commitments and tried something new themselves, and we have thrown ourselves into so many church activities that we are hardly at home.

We may discover that we have much of which to repent, individually and communally. It may be of our own lack of discipline with money or our desire for more unnecessary gadgets. Perhaps we can call out a warning, “Don’t go that way! That way leads to a deadening of your spirit and eventually a spiritual death.” Perhaps we can worry together. How can we keep our kids on the straight path? How can we help them love the Lord, not just go to youth group meetings? How can they stay pure in this sex-saturated environment? Perhaps we can chat over a cup of coffee or share delicious recipes. We can worry about the latest scandal out of Washington or the crumbling houses nearby or the latest war maneuver in the Middle East. Perhaps we can speak of major struggles. Where should we celebrate our culture? Where should we resist? We have so much in common and, for good or for ill, most American Christians are further down the path of cultural assimilation.


For many Muslim women, covering their hair with a hijab is both a visible marker of membership in their religious community and a statement of faith. As education and westernization increased in their societies, many women had discarded the veil at some point during the twentieth century. However, after the defeats suffered during the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, they began donning the hijab more often as a sign of their pride in their Islamic identity. Since 9/11 as anti-Muslim rhetoric and incidents have increased, American Muslim women have also increasingly been wearing the hijab.35 According to the 2007 Pew Research survey, 43% of American Muslim women wear a head covering.36 This gendered religious and cultural identity is a complex matter, as we shall see, and particularly for young second-generation immigrant girls, the hijab can signal a variety of meanings, not all of them consistent with each other. It can say, “I am proud to be a Muslim, right here in America. I am not who you think I am even though you think you know what the hijab means.” It can say, “I need to be protected from the kinds of sexual looseness all around me in America and within men everywhere.” It can say, “I respect the culture from which I came and do not want to reject it.” It can say, “I am obedient to how the Qur’an tells me to live.” It can say, “I am the kind of woman a good Muslim man wants to marry.” And it can say, “I have made the choice to dress as I have. Here in America we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We all have choices and this is mine.”37 As Rhys Williams and Gira Vashiargue,

Hijab carves out a cultural space for young Muslim women to live lives that their mothers could barely have imagined…and still to be publicly Muslim….These young women are active agents and are able, to some degree, to create their own lives. Hijab helps them to do so, while also keeping them anchored in a traditional identity and avoiding potential anomie.38

For many people in the West, the hijab is also a sign—a contrasting sign of the oppression that Muslim women are suffering at the hands of their men and their religion.39 The reports on the news of burka-clad Afghan women who long for education but have not been able to receive it reinforce that message. So do possible encounters with hijab at Yemeni high school girls in Dearborn who sit only together, ask for segregated physical education, and keep their eyes down and off the Yemeni boys, who will probably report any perceived behavioral infractions to their fathers and uncles. These behaviors, so different from typical high school interactions, “characterize [these girls] as both voluntary and involuntary minorities,” according to ethnographer Loukia Sarroub.40 What choice did these Yemeni girls have to wear their hijabs? How representative are they? Whether or not they have the opportunity to answer these questions, Muslim women wearing hijabs in the United States found themselves more often as objects of derision after September 11.41

Muslim-American fiction writers have the challenge of representing some of these varied stances toward the hijab. They have typically written about the American experiences as other immigrant writers have, as a “[negotiation of] the difference between the ‘old’ world and the ‘new’ one,” claims Samma Abdurraqib. However, at least some authors, including The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf’s Mohja Kahf, are exploring new narrative patterns that see “veiling as a particular expression of Muslim-Americanness rather than foreignness.”42

In Once in a Promised Land, Leila Halaby’s beautiful young Jordanian, Salwa, has never covered herself, neither in the old country nor in her new home. In fact, she is obsessed with the sexy come-ons of silky, revealing underwear and pajamas. Even so, despite returning again and again to the mall, the clothing is never enough for her. They cannot disguise the fact that she is covered instead with “invisible threads” of the American culture. That covering had become a “curse” from which she is unable to free herself. Those tangled threads confuse her so that she “bought smaller and sexier pajamas in the hope that she would one day wake up in that Promised Land.”43 In one store, she suddenly realizes that “all those orderly cellophaned boxes in pinks and yellows and turquoises were distractions, attempts to shift her focus from any emptiness in her soul.”44 She is beginning to realize that the external American trappings cannot make up for a genuine sense of self. Perhaps that is the curse; in America she has so little self to cover.

Without a covering, Salwa is vulnerable. She lacks both a community to provide warning and the protection of a husband who understands her needs. She lacks a hijab, which symbolizes those relationships, to hide her beauty from Jake, a sex-obsessed, drug-dealing college student who is fascinated by her. Perhaps Salwa’s purchases have convinced her that she is just a sex object; in any case, Jake is all too ready to tear away the cellophane to prove it. As he fantasizes about her, he falls for a stereotype, wondering if Arab women cover themselves because of their “allure.”45 The stage is set for tragedy because Salwa has few inner convictions with which to resist Jake’s charm and sexual advances. She knows that an affair is wrong, but she cannot stop herself even after she has determined repeatedly to do so. She returns to Jake one time too often. He beats her, slashing her with the jagged edge of a picture frame. The Promised Land’s dream of freedom and fulfillment shatters into a nightmare of entrapment and agony.

This function of the hijab to provide a halal/haram marker, to declare, “This is proper and that is forbidden,”46 also fails miserably in the lives of the Taqwacore punk Muslims in Buffalo. In fact, they cannot figure out any reason for the hijab. The men speculate about why Rabeya covers herself in a burka. They discard the explanation that she is obeying religious rules because she is as iconoclastic as they are. They do not think she is making “some Islamo-Feminist gesture”47 and finally decide she just does not want people to see her. Just because. Most of the girls visit the house for the free sex available there, and many passages describe in detail the prerequisite uncovering. At one point Yusef muses, “Booze and girls, as [Jehangir] would say. People throwing up on each other and fornicating. Girls with no idea of what it means to have dignity. Men with no concept of self-control…in all things the path of least resistance. Allah wills, right?”48 Even though he and Jehangir catch glimpses of what is wrong with their behavior, they continue down the haram path just because it feels good. In America, after all, people live by that catchy motto, “If it feels good, do it.” If it feels good, Allah must have willed it.

Rabeya’s appearance on the stage of the taqwacore concert to lift the niqab of her burka in order to give oral sex to Fasiq49 in front of an audience wild with their drunken approval and then to spit what she had gathered at a hostile California band (I told you that the aunties would be shocked; an auntie myself, I can barely type these words) caused the riot that ended in Jehangir’s death. Her covering not only failed to protect her from haram, failed to warn, “This far and no farther;” it heightened the provocation of her “badness” with the only results possible, dissolution and death. The house members had believed that their radically eclectic alternative community contained the promise of a new, life-giving Islam in which men and women “did it my way.” Whether Rebaya wears a hijab because it is Allah’s way or her own, it could not prevent the ultimate haram.

In the Tangerine Scarf, Khadra’s family turns her first donning of a hijab into a celebratory rite of passage with gifts of material, which her father lovingly sewed, and a broach from one of the aunties. The newly recognized young woman rejoices:

Hijab was a crown on her head….Even though it went off and on at the door several times a day, hung on a hook marking the threshold between inner and outer worlds, hijab soon grew to feel as natural to her as a second skin, without which if she ventured into the outside world she felt naked.50

No one is able to forget that she is a Muslim. The hijab does not protect her from all harm. In fact, it draws the abuse of bullies during the Iranian hostage crisis, but it usually protects her from choosing the world’s “haram” by marking its exterior threshold.

In her militant phase, Khadra’s hijab becomes black, announcing her “righteous austerity,”51 her desire to live out the logical consequences of her faith. Only after witnessing some blatant hypocrisy during her trip to Mecca and after getting to know a wider range of Muslim students at Indiana University does Khadra trade in those dour colors for softer yet still modest coverings. She has entered herneo-classical stage. That lasts through her college years and her brief marriage. When her reading of the Qur ’anic scholars disagrees with her parents and community about whether she could resolve her marital crises, she withdraws from those closest to her and, newly divorced, flies off to Syria.

Under the spiritual guidance of a Syrian poet, Khadra discovers a new relationship with her veils, “how veiling and unveiling are part of the same process, the same cycle, how both are necessary.”52 Reinforcing the decision she makes in Syria to interrogate God rather than letting him interrogate her is the decision to Free to be Muslim-Americans: Community, Gender, and Identity “embrace both” covering and uncovering. She knows that she will have to “manifest the quality of modesty in her behavior,”53 and that the hijab had always made that choice easier for her. Nevertheless, as she is ready to land at O’Hare on her trip home, she drapes a silky tangerine scarf over her head, “loosely, so it moved and slipped about her face and touched her cheek, like the hand of a lover.”54 She wants the customs people to know and she wants to remind herself that “she was coming in under one of the many signs of the heritage.”55 From then on, she chooses to veil or chooses not to, but she veils often, because the veil connects her to her community and to her heritage, to the protection of her beliefs—and to herself. “It was the outer sign of an inner quality.”56 She has realized that she has something valuable to cover.

The treatment of hijabs in these novels gives Christian readers much to think about. We know from Scripture that each person is of inestimable value and that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. But we often no longer pay much attention to the biblical calls for modesty (for example, I Tim. 2:9-10). Instead we have adopted American styles and perhaps even shock good Muslim parents. How can we protect girls from the roving eyes of boys and men, particularly if they seem to be inviting those eyes to look long? How can our clothing reflect the image of God in us so that it is “the outer sign of an inner quality”? At the same time, should that clothing be recognizable as twenty-first-century apparel? Should our girls be treated differently from boys in their clothing and other lifestyle choices? A frank conversation between Muslim and Christian parents and teens might help each other with the challenging task of living as religious believers in a secular society.


We have examined sociological data and literary narratives about both Muslim-American community and the gender issues symbolized by the hijab. What then does all this mean for the identity of these individuals? Who are they? Muslims who live in America or Americans whose Muslim faith is the deeper marker of self-hood? Muslims about whom we other Americans, particularly Christians, should think, “Well, sort of just like us,” or Muslims about whom we should be on guard because they want to subvert American ideals? The 2007 Pew Trust survey concludes that most Muslims have assimilated well into American life and are both socially happy and politically moderate. It reports that while 47% of Muslims here say they think of themselves first as a member of their religion, this is a much lower percentage than of Muslims in Europe, who overwhelmingly consider themselves Muslims first. However, the survey also cautions that younger Muslims are both more devout and more radical than their parents.57 Other research confirms the survey’s conclusions. Paul Barrett argues that Muslims are “not deeply alienated from American society and values” and in fact most are “already integrated into the mainstream.”58

Two studies that focus on different urban Muslim sub-cultures are instructive in this regard. Garbi Schmidt, who studied Pakistani Sunnis in Chicago, claims that “Islam has become an important source of identification” for young Muslims, but that in the United States “life…is about reforming Islam.”59 While their parents might be concerned that they are losing their faith, they in reality are finding a way to join both Islamic and American ways of thinking.60 Detroit, which is home to highly concentrated Arab populations, has become a locus of “Americanization—alongside its occasional twin, resistance to Americanization” for young Muslims.61

Not only are young Muslims becoming Americanized; so is their religion. It is inevitable, argue the scholars, because the cultural contexts in which Islam is practiced change the faith. Alan Wolfe claims that “no aspect of Islam…can be maintained in the United States in the same manner it is maintained in Muslim-majority societies.”62 M. A. Muqtedar Khan, who is optimistic about the future of Muslims in America, contends that an American Muslim identity is emerging because the interaction between them is “leading to a liberal understanding of Islam more in tune with dominant American values such as religious tolerance, democracy, pluralism and multicultural and multireligious coexistence.”63 A significant factor in this process is the intellectual freedom, highly prized as a key American value, that allows them to practice “ijtihad,” or an independent, critical inquiry, into Islamic texts and traditions.64 Many young people have begun to separate their religion from their home culture, a process some have called Islam’s “Teflon construction” because whatever some Muslims consider bad does not stick to “true Islam.” They have become able to keep the textual but discard the cultural65 although in theory, this should be impossible because Islam is a public worldview, not just a private religious belief.

Shortly after September 11 and the heightened suspicions it created about Muslims in our midst, a New York Times reporter wrote an article attempting to answer the question, “Who’s American?” He concluded that the least common denominator meaning of “American” was “simply…being a participant in the search for wealth and stability.”66 This identity best describes the characters of Halaby’s Once in a Promised Land. In Jassim’s and Salwa’s tragedies, we must mourn their passivity but must also worry about the tentacles of the America on offer to them. They have believed, implicitly, uncritically, in the American dream of freedom and success, not realizing until it was too late that such a dream is only a hollow promise. Owning stuff, more and more of it, and working hard to be able to do so is certainly an American trajectory, but the movies, the ads, the store windows do not tell the young Jordanian-American couple—or anyone, for that matter—that “fulfilling” does not automatically “come along with American freedom.”67 No amount of silky underwear can bring Salwa the intimacy and family she longs for. She cannot manage to maintain even the community-in-microcosm of marriage. She makes plans to return to Jordan, but she does not escape soon enough to avoid her assailant Jake’s vicious attack.

Jassim is deceived by a different American promise—that he can be in control of his destiny. As he escorts the waitress he has picked up around Wal-Mart, he reflects,

He was so used to this easy American life, where you could kill a child and the whole family didn’t come after you with demands for justice….Where you could go to work with the same people…and know nothing of them. Or they of you…. Where you could want not to have children….One could control one’s life here so much more easily.68

Even while he is being sucked in by these thoughts, his life is spiraling out of control, both personally and politically. He and Salwa have made choices that wrench them apart. Then when forces so much larger than he, let loose by the attacks on 9/11, override the remnants of control he has left after the accident, the couple cannot even find refuge in each other ’s arms. Even after Jassim rushes to his injured wife’s side, it is still unclear whether he will return to Jordan with her and whether doing so would allow them to salvage their marriage and future together.

Jassim and Salwa are perhaps too American, wanting the vaunted American freedom without realizing that its inherent individualism cannot sustain its promise. If individuals are going to flourish in a free environment, they must embrace a paradoxical understanding of freedom. They can be free only to the degree that they seek more than the fulfillment of their own desires. As J. Andrew Kirk, who examined Christian and Muslim perspectives on freedom, argues, freedom cannot be defined as saying no to what we have been taught and yes to our own desires. Muslim and Christians agree, he notes, that “the most fundamental human freedom is the decision to collaborate unconditionally with the legitimate owner [Creator God].” Believers in both “a contemporary” Christianity and “a modernizing” Islam understand the paradoxical essence of freedom as “self-imposed discipline. One is never so free as when one recognizes and abides by the proper limits to freedom inherent in the human condition.”69

Sadly, this secular young couple is not Muslim enough. Salwa calls on God during her miscarriage, but then assumes fatalistically that her sorrow must be God’s will. She realizes that her Muslim mother would curse her choice to go to her lover with Arabic curses, but she cannot resist the sexual allure and goes anyhow. As for Jassim, in his grief after the accident and miscarriage, he “felt his misdeeds flood through him, a convulsion of sadness and guilt that brought him to his knees, facing southwest, a direction God could not receive.”70 A devastating phrase from Ephesians describes the two of them: they are “without hope and without God in the world.” And Christian readers can be sad that there is no one in their story to share with them the good news that Jesus provides a way into a life-giving relationship with God and with others.

The young men who live in the taqwacore house spend dozens of drunken hours trying to define what a Muslim-American is. “Islam,” they reason, “is itself a flag, an open symbol representing not things, but ideas.” The logical conclusion of this line of reasoning is “What could [Islam, like Punk] mean besides what you want them to?”71 The anarchists who live in the house want Islam to mean a skeptical freedom to decide for themselves what to believe, the freedom to indulge in any behavior that makes them feel good. Jehangir says, “But if anything, agnosticism is the real Islam; because you’re waiting for answers from Allah Herself, not Imam Siraj Dickhead.”72 They pray their own way, give their own sermons, create their own commentaries, disrespectfully leave the Qur ’an on the bathroom sink or read it on the roof while smoking weed. They may momentarily regret their behavior during a hangover, but those feelings have no impact on the next Friday night’s party.

The central and ironic tragedy of the book is the chasm between their talk and their behavior. In a sermon, peppered as usual with his filthy language, Jehangi rurges them to understand that

Islam is f-ing surrender. That’s it. Being aware that you don’t run the show…. And we think submission’s about applying strict discipline to our worship?…It’s not that small to me. I can’t fit my deen [religious life] in a little box because to me, everything comes from Allah….It’s about people. I do zikrs counting your names on my knuckles: We’re the Nur, and Ghazalican eat a d-….I say Allahu Akbar. If that’s not good enough then f- Islam, you can have it. Imam Husain said, “he who has no religion, let him at least be free in his present life.” So there you go. Now let’s pray.73

The behavior they deliberately choose, however, is non-surrender. They want to shape Islam by “doing it my way,” but their way leads to the death of their leader and the dissolution of the community. Like any revealed religion, Islam is not open to such negotiation of its basics. Surrender is not doing it my way; it is doing it God’s way. The Qur ’an repeatedly links belief and behavior; for example, “But they who have faith and work righteousness, they are Companions of the Garden: therein shall they abide (for ever)” (Qur’an 2:28). The behavior of these young men makes it difficult to believe that they love God so passionately. In fact, neither are they free. Another vivid biblical passage describes their slavery as God “[giving] them over to the sinful desires of their hearts”(Rom. 2:24). George Weigel claims that

virtues are crucial elements of freedom rightly understood, and the journey of a life lived in freedom is a journey of growth in virtue—growth in the ability to choose wisely and well the things that truly make for our happiness and for the common good.74

Many Muslims agree. In the Sufi tradition, particularly, desires are viewed as enslavers and therefore freedom from desires means submission to God alone.75 Muqtedar Khan warns that contemporary Muslims must “struggle against the dark side of modernity,” in which Kant’s view of freedom as freedom to do good has been exchanged for a freedom from any restraints.76 Despite their radical differences from Jassim and Salwa, whose consumer lifestyle they would scorn, the young people in the taqwacore house are nonetheless like them—too American and not Muslim enough. Tragically, their American life is even less ambiguously a dead end. There was no one, no parents, no Dawah Center, no mosque to mourn their loss except another lost young man, Yusef, who, when we last see him, is trying to get some virtual sex with a Muslim girl on the Internet. In this story, as in Jassim and Salwa’s, there is no one to come alongside of these young Muslims to share the good news that surrender to God through Jesus brings true freedom.

In a poignant moment of Khadra’s childhood, she and her older brother have lost track of time as they happily explore a muddy creek. Frantic with relief and anger after their return, their mother scrubs them within an inch of their lives as she sobs, “Do you think we are Americans? Do you think we have no limits? Do you think we leave our children wandering in the streets?…We are not Americans!…We are not Americans!”77

Years later, one of the aunties explains to Khadra what it was like for the pioneer parents determined to forge a safe Islamic haven on the outposts of civilization. We were scared, she said, “afraid of losing something precious….Of being swallowed up by this land, reduced to nothing.”78 Fear often causes parents to clasp their children too close, but that can backfire when their beloved ones want to pull away, to find themselves in the creeks and city streets that are not so frightening to them. Khadra uses the razor-sharp mind that her parents had cultivated to cauterize the ties and to meander around on the “obstacle course—through the impossible, contradictory hopes the Muslim community had for her, and the infuriating, confining assumptions the Americans put on her….A girl looking for a way to be, just be.”79

Her mother had warned Khadra about the “doing it my way” kind of Islam, though she could not have imagined the taqwacores’ kind of life. In an intimate kitchen exchange, Ebtehaj80 chides her daughter for “not practicing proper Islam anymore. You’re watering it down. That’s the first step to losing it.” As a delicious homemade tabouleh takes shape under her practiced fingers, Ebtehaj reminds her: “There are rules to tabouleh, Khadra. You don’t follow the rules, you don’t get the taste of Islam.”81

Ultimately Khadra chooses a different Islam from her parents’. However, her choices could not destroy their mutual love, reflecting the reality of the biblical truth that “perfect love drives out fear” (I John 4:18). Both she and her parents make many mistakes along the way; their love is not perfect, but it is after all love, not indifference or ambition or scorn or deliberate provocation. When Khadra tells her old friend Tayiba why she is a Muslim even though she believes that all roads lead to God, she decides that it must be “Love…Love and attachment.”82 Although two Christians have interacted with Khadra and her family, their Quaker neighbor, Mrs. Moore, and a schoolmate with whom Khadra exchanges the conviction that the other girl is going to go Hell, no one had ever shared the reality that “God is Love” with her. Khadra’s parents would continue to be Muslims who live in America in the Hoosier way of hard work, family values, and suspicion, and she would begin again to be a Muslim-American in the urban way of rejecting fear, of picking and choosing her beliefs, and of watering down Islam.

As the children of Israel were poised to enter the promised land of Canaan, full of great resources and great terrors, God reminded them through Moses that he “has set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him” (Deut. 30:19, 20). As these young people and their families entered America, they too had choices to make. After all, choice-making is bound up with being human because it is one crucial way that we reflect the image of God in whom we were created. As a political and cultural landscape, America, also full of great resources and great terrors, seems particularly suited to this human activity of choosing. Everything is up for grabs. As Khadra’s auntie so astutely observed, it is possible to get lost here, swallowed up, reduced to nothing. Because their choices were so humanly and spiritually significant, they could only lead to life or death. For Jassim and Salwa, it was the death of the American dream, the death of their child, and the possible death of their marriage. It is difficult to imagine that they will have another child in the future, and if they do, it will not bean American child. For Yusef, it was the death of a corrupted vision of community, the death of the actual co-op, and the death of Jehangir. Children cannot come from their sterile sex acts and those whom Yusef fantasized about during his Internet forays. Even Khadra’s choices led to death—the death of her marriage and the abortion of her child. But she moved from that death-filled place, and as the novel ends, readers are invited to imagine that she marries again and has free-thinking—but not dissolute—children. She does love God and holds to him, at least loosely, as loosely as her tangerine scarf skims her head.

The strong community that provided the context for Khadra’s journey could not prevent her from changing. They might have preferred the Shari’a way, but in their busyness to share their faith with its vision of a just society, they became the perfect Hoosiers. Instead of Islamicizing America as they had dreamed of doing, these Muslims were Americanized. The scholars studying Muslim-Americans, whom we have quoted in this essay, must have interviewed these Indiana believers.

None of the novels we have examined was written as a sociological treatise intending to represent American Islam. Each of the authors interacts more naturally within a secular milieu than probably a majority of Muslim-Americans. Even so, their characters have taken three different paths during their American journeys that are becoming well marked and beckoning to young Muslims living here. The next generation has the choice to follow in their footsteps.

Non-Muslim readers of these novels, particularly Christians, have choices as well. The theory that we examined earlier has profound practical implications for the choices we make as we read these three novels. We must remember that we are narrative beings, that we too have stories to tell that reveal the shape and meaning of our lives. Many of us have immigrant experiences of our own in the not so distant past, complete with tales of encountering the strange and secular habits of our new neighbors. How did we cope and adapt and have we been so wisely informed by our Christian faith that we can murmur in empathy and concern for the young Muslims in these novels? Whether or not we have an immigrant parent or grandparent, all of us are “aliens and strangers” (Heb. 11:13) here, and we need to be alert to the fact that our citizenship is ultimately in a better, heavenly country. We are not to confuse our political or economic identity with our spiritual one; our ultimate loyalty is not to the flag or the marketplace but to God. Because we should hold citizenship lightly and never be completely comfortable in American culture, we will wince at many of the choices the young characters in these novels made. “Is what you can buy at any mall in America or experience at any concert worth anything compared to the value you have as created children of God?” we should be calling across the paper barrier of the books. If we are not so compelled, perhaps their experiences will urge us to ask ourselves if our own identities have shrunk to “consumer” instead of “redeemed child” of the Kingdom of God.

Because it reflects the character of God, a religious reading, a Christian reading, should always be open to others, in particular, to those whose voices have either been repressed or previously unheard. Muslim-American fiction is a relatively new genre, developing across the last couple of decades as the new immigrants have moved into our neighborhoods. The media often demonizes these same immigrants as potential terrorists or abused women, making it all the more imperative that we listen to their stories unfiltered by the news and talk shows. We might find that they have something to tell us even if it is only to beseech us not to be closed to them. If we hear them, we will be able to reflect our own kingdom ethics more fully—to be meek, merciful, and peacemakers; to be slow to judge; and to love our enemies.

These Christian virtues bring shalom a little closer, claim Christian literary theorists; they affirm and chose life rather than death. We must practice them in order to assume another aspect of our identity, being ambassadors for Christ. These alienated and confused young people, whether their emptiness is covered by a hijab or a successful career, whether they are isolated or surrounded by community, whether we meet them on the pages of a novel or in flesh and blood, need to hear that they can have an abundant life in Christ. It would be a shame if they—and our Muslim neighbors—never hear that Islam is right to insist that submission to God is freedom, but also that there is more to God’s story than submission. Christians submit to a God who is knowable in his Son, in whose crucifixion love and justice meet. In America we have the freedom to come alongside our new friends with this good news, and they have the freedom to listen and to accept or reject what we say and to share their own faith claims with us. That is, after all, what friends do for eachother. That, also, is the biblical way. Jesus did not force the rich young ruler to follow him, but his invitation to follow is always open.

If these novels can tell us anything about the real experiences of Muslim immigrants, it is that they will inevitably, and with great cost, choose an American identity. We too must allow love to cast out our fear so that we can welcome them into our lives. In Acts of Faith, the autobiographical narrative about his attempts as a young Muslim to retain his faith, Eboo Patel writes:

My struggle to understand the traditions I belong to as mutually enriching rather than mutually exclusive is the story of a generation of young people standing at the crossroads of inheritance and discovery, trying to look both ways at once. There is a strong connection between finding a sense of inner coherence and developing a commitment to pluralism. And that has everything to do with who meets you at the crossroads.83

Our reading of these three novels by Muslim-Americans should enable us to journey to the crossroads and there meet the Salwas, Jassims, Jehanjirs, Yusefs and Khadras of our country with our hands outstretched in welcome.

Cite this article
Barbara Hampton, “Free to be Muslim-Americans: Community, Gender, and Identity in Once in a Promised Land, The Taqwacores, and The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 40:3 , 245-266


  1. Dina Temple-Raston, “Somali Teens Go Missing in Minneapolis,” NPR’s Morning Edition,February 2, 2009,;“Minnesotan Sheds Light on Somali Terror Group,” July 29, 2009,; “8 Charged in Terrorism Probe of Missing So-malis,” November 23, 2009, (accessed February 8, 2010).
  2. Spencer S. Hsu, “Hasan’s Ties to Radical Cleric Raise Issues for Law Enforcement,” Wash-ington Post, November 18, 2009, (accessed February 8, 2010).
  3. Ahmed Al-Haj and Sarah El Deeb, “U.S. Cleric: Accused Detroit Plane Bomber Was MyStudent,” Detroit News, February 4, 2010,—Accused-Detroit-plane-bomber-was-my-student (accessed February 8,2010).
  4. Brooks Egerton, “Imam’s E-mails to Fort Hood Suspect Hasan Tame Compared to OnlineRhetoric,” Dallas Morning News, November 29, 2009, (accessed February 8, 2010).
  5. Jane I. Smith, Islam in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 50-52. See alsoIlyas Ba-Yunus and Kassim Kone, “Muslim-Americans: A Demographic Report,” in Mus-lims’ Place in the American Public Square: Hopes, Fears and Aspirations, eds. Zahid H. Bukhari,Sulayman S. Nyang, Mumtaz Ahmad and John Esposito (Walnut Creek CA: AltaMira Press,2004), 305.
  6. The problem extends beyond the United States to all western-style and other democracies, but this paper will focus on the United States.
  7. Lamin Sanneh, “Being Muslim in the United States” (seminar lecture, Calvin College, GrandRapids, MI, July 23, 2008). The literature on Islam and democracy is voluminous, but for our purposes, Sanneh’s exploration with Lesslie Newbigin and Jenny Taylor lays out the issue clearly: “The pragmatist liberal scruple that proceeds upon religion in the fashion of individual entitlement and free speech is in one sense the spoilt fruit of the original insight about keeping Caesar and God separate, about ensuring religions freedom against state and power and jurisdiction. That insight become [sic] twisted into religion as individual entitlementand free speech, as a private rights issue under state jurisdiction, in fact as a matter of per-sonal, individual choice without public merit. So Muslim critics are correct that rights with-out God are meaningless, but mistaken to suggest that a religious state would do better,because under such a state rights would spring from duress and intimidation, and that wouldscarcely qualify for freedom.” Faith and Power: Christianity and Islam in ‘Secular’ Britain (Lon-don: SPCK, 1998), 68.
  8. Muslim-Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream (Pew Research Center, 2007), 3, 10.However, Muslim groups, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, estimate thenumber of Muslims in America much higher, up to seven million. See “About Islam andAmerican Muslims” (CAIR, 2010), (ac-cessed March 1, 2010).
  9. Shahada” is the universal statement of the Muslim profession of faith: “There is no god but God (Allah) and Muhammad is his prophet.” Reciting this before two Muslims is all that is necessary to become a Muslim.
  10. Mohja Kahf, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2006), 24.
  11. “Dawah” in Arabic means “making a summons or inviting.” Hence, a Dawah Center is aplace hosting missionary activities.
  12. Luke Ferretter, Towards a Christian Literary Theory (Houndmills, England: Palgrave Macmillan,2003), 180.
  13. Robert Detweiler, Breaking the Fall: Religious Readings of Contemporary Fiction (San Fran-cisco: Harper and Row, 1989), 35. Expanding on his argument, Detweiler claims that a “reli-gious reading … might be one that finds a group of persons engaged in gestures of friend-ship with each other across the erotic space of the text that draws them out of their privacyand its stress on meaning and power.” 34-35.
  14. Ferretter, 180. Ledbetter’s book quoted here is Victims and the Post-Modern Narrative, or,Doing Violence to the Body: The Ethic of Reading and Writing (Basingstoke and London:Macmillan, 1996).
  15. Ferretter, 187-188.
  16. Mark Walhout, “Critical Theory” in Contemporary Literary Theory: A Christian Appraisal,eds. Clarence Walhout and Leyland Ryken (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1991), 290.
  17. Ihsan Bagby, Paul M. Perl, Bryan T. Froehle, The Mosque in America: A National Portrait: AReport from the Mosque Study Project (Washington DC: Council on American-Islamic Rela-tions, 2001), 3, 34. See also the discussion of mosque life in Alan Wolfe, The Transformation ofAmerican Religion (New York, Free Press, 2003), 229-230. Wolfe observes that mosques in the“old country” serve as prayer centers with Friday sermons whereas in America, they servemultiple religious, social, and personal needs.
  18. Loukia Sarroub, All American Yemeni Girls: Being Muslim in a Public School (Philadelphia,PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 126.
  19. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, “The Post-9/11 Hijab as Icon,” Sociology of Religion 68.3 (Fall2007): 264.
  20. Laila Halaby, Once in aPromised Land (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007), 298.
  21. Ibid., 91.
  22. Ibid., 181 (emphasis in original).
  23. “Taqwa” means “fear or respect” for God, “God-fearing,” being careful to please him. “Core”hints at the hardcore punk rock scene. Knight converted to Islam as a teenager, lived inPakistan for a while, later rejected the faith—during which time he wrote The Taqwacores—and has come back again to Islam. He is currently studying at Harvard Divinity School.According to Rashid Hussein, Knight’s works plus The Autobiography of Malcolm X shouldmake up the syllabus for any course on Muslims in America. “Kill Your Patriarchs: An Inter-view with Michael Muhammad Knight,” Religion Dispatches, (accessed March 31, 2010). Knight told aclass on “Conversion” at Wake Forest University in 2008 that he does not subtract identities;he only adds them, no matter how contradictory they seem to each other, and that his “heartis South Asian” while his “head is African American” in expressions of the faith. John Schaefer,e-mail message to author, April 15, 2010.
  24. “Fatiha” is the opening Surah of the Qur ’an, a prayer to Allah: 1. In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 2. Praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the world; 3. Most Gracious, Most Merciful; 4. Master of the Day of Judgment. 5. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek. 6. Show us the straight way, 7. The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.
  25. Michael Muhammad Knight, The Taqwacores (Brooklyn, NY: Authomedia, 2004), 38.
  26. Ibid., 72-73 (emphasis in original).
  27. Ibid., 212.
  28. Ibid., 224.
  29. Ibid., 252.
  30. Kahf, Tangerine Scarf, 32-33.
  31. Ibid., 234.
  32. Ibid., 16.
  33. Ibid., 407.
  34. Ibid., 313.
  35. Smith, Islam in America, 108. See also Haddad, “Hijab as Icon,” 257-258.
  36. Pew, “Muslim-Americans,” 37.
  37. Rhys Williams and Gira Vashi, “Hijab and American Muslim Women: Creating the Spacefor Autonomous Selves,” Sociology of Religion 68.3 (Fall, 2007): 283.
  38. Ibid., 284.
  39. Haddad, “Hijab as Icon,” 258.
  40. Sarroub, All American Yemeni Girls, 10.
  41. Haddad, “Hijab as Icon,” 263.
  42. Samma Abdurraqib, “Hijab Scenes: Muslim Women, Migration, and Hijab in ImmigrantMuslim Literature,” Melus 31.4 (Winter 2006): 55-56. Abdurraqib wrote her essay before thepublication of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf and her analysis concerns Kahf’s poetry. Thesepoems are snapshots of time, and Abdurraqib was anxious to know how the passage of timein a novel might affect Kahf’s portrayal. As we shall see, Khadra changes her views abouther scarves many times across the years.
  43. Halaby, Promised Land, 49.
  44. Ibid., 101.
  45. Ibid., 171.
  46. “Halal” means “lawful” or “permitted” and “haram”means “unlawful” or “forbidden.”
  47. Knight, The Taqwacores, 89.
  48. Ibid., 124 (emphasis in original).
  49. His name reflects the extremity of his behavior—someone who has violated Islamic law. Iinterpret his name not as Knight’s sad comment on his acts but as Fasiq’s defiant waving ofthe flag of the Taqwacore.
  50. Kahf, Tangerine Scarf, 112-113.
  51. Ibid., 150.
  52. Ibid., 309.
  53. Ibid., 312.
  54. Ibid., 311.
  55. Ibid., 313.
  56. Ibid., 425.
  57. Pew, “Muslim-Americans,” 8, 9, 6.
  58. Paul M. Barrett, “American Muslims and the Question of Assimilation,” Muslim Integra-tion: Challenging Conventional Wisdom in Europe and the United States (Washington DC: Centerfor Strategic and International Studies, September, 2007), 76.
  59. Garbi Schmidt, Islam in Urban America: Sunni Muslims in Chicago (Philadelphia, PA: TempleUniversity Press, 2004), 5.
  60. Ibid., 83.
  61. Nabeel Abraham and Andrew Shryock, “Introduction,” in Arab Detroit: From Margin toMainstream, eds. Nabeel Abraham and Andrew Shryock (Detroit, MI: Wayne State Univer-sity Press, 2000), 17.
  62. Wolfe, Transformation, 227. See also Mark Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity: HowAmerican Experience Reflects Global Faith (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 31.Noll argues, “But when either Christianity or Islam moves into newly globalized regions, inevitably Muslim and Christian practices shift to meet the requirements of local settings, even as they effect change in the local settings.”
  63. M. A. Muqtedar Khan, “Constructing the American Muslim Community,” in Religion andImmigration: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Experiences in the United States, eds. Yvonne YazbeckHaddad, Jane I. Smith and John L. Esposito (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2003), 176.See also Schmidt’s analysis of the Sunni process of contextualization in Chicago, 189, and anoverview of the articles in the special issue on American Muslim identities in Muslim World.Karen Isaksen Leonard, “Introduction: Young American Muslim Identities,” Muslim World95.4 (October, 2005): 473-476.
  64. Parvez Ahmed, “Western Muslim Minorities: Integration and Disenfranchisement,” in Changing Identities and Evolving Values: Is There Still a Transatlantic Community? ed. EstherBrimmer, ed. (Baltimore, MD: Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins UniversityPress, 2006), 59. See also Ilhan Kaya, “Identity across Generations: A Turkish American CaseStudy,” Middle East Journal 63.4 (Autumn, 2009): 17.
  65. Abraham and Shryock, Arab Detroit, 200. Williams and Vashi analyze the “Teflon construc-tion” in “Hijab: Selves,” 280.
  66. Gregory Rodriguez, “Identify Yourself: Who’s American?,” New York Times, September 23,2001. March 8, 2010.)
  67. Halaby, Promised Land, 99.
  68. Ibid., 278.
  69. J. Andrew Kirk, The Meaning of Freedom: A Study of Secular, Muslim and Christian Views(Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1998), 235-236.
  70. Halaby, Promised Land, 218. Muslims must pray facing Mecca, and Mecca is not southwest of Tucson.
  71. Knight, The Taqwacores, 7 (emphasis in original).
  72. Ibid., 106.
  73. Ibid., 184-185 (emphais in original).
  74. George Weigel, “A Better Concept of Freedom,” First Things 121(March 2002), (accessed August 25,2009).
  75. Kirk, Meaning of Freedom, 171.
  76. M. A. Muqtader Khan, “Islam, Postmodernity and Freedom,” Discourse Magazine, October,2002, (accessed March 31, 2010).
  77. Kahf, Tangerine Scarf, 66-67.
  78. Ibid., 405.
  79. Ibid., 358.
  80. Although her mother ’s name looks like an ironic play on the word “ijithad,” or “criticalthinking,” it means “joy, rejoicing, delight.”
  81. Kahf, Tangerine Scarf, 348 (emphasis in original).
  82. Ibid., 402.
  83. Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007), xvii.

Barbara Hampton

Barbara Hampton is a retired instructor at the College of Wooster.