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Islam in the West: Islam and Muslims Portrayed in Selected 20th and 21st Century Texts

The representation of Islam was an important topic in English literature of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This research will concentrate on the representation of Islam in general, and the depiction of Muslims. It will also discuss the modern-day Muslim character in light of current international and local political events. A study of some of the literary texts written in the 20th and 21st centuries will do this. This is the theme I propose to analyze by comparing different literary texts and by contrasting them. The thesis will have the following broad outline:

  • Introduction: Islam and the West.
  • Critique / analysis of Amitav Ghosh two texts.
    • The Shadow Lines
    • In an Antique Land
  • Critique / analysis of Alex Haley’s Roots.
    • Malcolm X
  • Critique / analysis of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.
  • Critique / analysis of Hanif Kureishie’s The Black Album.
  • Summary of possible conclusions / research aims.

Islam in the West: Islam and Muslims Portrayed in Selected 20th and 21st Century Texts

Islam and the West

While modern literature has aggressively abused Islam and Muslims, this is not believed or worshiped by the majority of Muslims. The notion of the 9/11 extremist terrorists, suicide bombers, and others being the majority, is a false perception. Islam does not teach this type of violence. Terrorists who distort their faith to suit their interests use Islam to fulfill their own personal objectives. This minority has poisoned Western literature, which shows a stereotypical view of Muslims. This is important for my studies, because an examination for the reasons about the stereotypes of Muslims in Western literature could lead to an answer on how to stop the prejudices against Islam. Maybe this study can shed light on the truth about this misunderstood religion.

It will demonstrate the strength of the Islamic terrorist group. Since before 9/11 the Western world has been fixing on the terrorist and violent aspect of Muslims. An example given is Malcolm X (in chapter Alex Haley). Malcolm X had not believed in Martin Luther King’s (a Christian) non-violent approach. Although Malcolm X intended the violence to be in self defence, Islam became equal to violence in his writings.

Also Study: Islamophobia in America Analysis

The overall theme of this dissertation will be the how these selected writers view Islam and Muslims from their point of view. How are their attitudes toward this religion and its followers? Have they been ignorant? Is their literature a truthful portrayal of Islam? Do any of the writers have certain agendas?  Some of these writers are Christian, Hindu, and Muslim. How did the writer’s individual faith impact their perspective of Islam?  All these questions and what Islam really is about will be resolved.  I’ll explain in the following chapters how the writers portray Islam differently according to their perceptions in these texts.

Critique / Analysis of The Shadow Lines

Until going into my discussion of the cultural differences in The Shadow Lines between nations, I’ll address the author’s language and design. This is a significant part of people’s portrayal in the book, and how they are handled. There will be a focus on Indians and their comments, responses, and interaction with white people in Britain.

The focus will then shift to the fact that the protagonist, Ila’s, life in Britain has distanced her from the customs and traditions of her Indian motherland. I will examine issues like the effects of geographical locations of some characters which make an impact on their beliefs and thoughts, the influence of Western culture on Ila, and if she forget her origin as an Indian. The portrayal of unity, nationhood, and religion in the western society is also important to the analysis of this text. Also, I will examine the way that Ghost describes the relationship between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs is articulated in the novel through a sense of sorrow, loss and alienation over the creation of an independent Pakistan and the imposition of artificial borders between the two countries.

Analysis of In an Antique Land

The content of this part will more or less evolve from discussions above on The Shadow Lines, but here the focus will be on the geographical place. The concept of the cultural shock is mentioned at the beginning of the novel. I will pay particular attention to the Egyptian Muslims’ attitude toward the religion of the Indian (Ghosh) and the attitudes of Egyptians Muslims towards the policies of the Indian Prime Minister against Indian Muslims. From this focus on the novel and its content, I will examine how the Egyptians see their religion as the only true religion and their attempts to convert Ghosh to Islam.

This section of my dissertation will also address the way in which historically Jews and Muslims lived in harmony in the Middle East. This segment will include a debate on the representation of Egypt-India relations as two nations with two different religions.  This will lead to a discussion of the relationship between Muslims and Hindus in India. This will show how Ghosh sees himself as an Indian and a Hindu while he is in Egypt (a Muslim country). The text also reveals how the government in Egypt criticises ‘religious’ Muslims, thus they are treated differently. This study questions why when thinking about Islam, and tries to explain the difference between faith and myth. I will argue that the text asks its readers to evaluate how we can legitimately make judgements based on faith.

Critique / Analysis of Alex Haley’s Roots and Malcolm X and his views on Islam

This chapter will discuss several issues raised from this text. In this chapter I will discuss the importance of prayer to the African Muslims in the village of Juffure. It also talks about some of the Islamic tradition when it comes to have a new baby in the village. The role of the Imam among the villagers. How the Africans believe that Kunta Kinte is a man who has the blessing of Allah when he came from Muritania. How sometimes Islam is mixed with tradition. The fact that some Africans believe in charms and magic which is against the religion of Islam. How the prayer mat is considered sacred to Muslims. Haley also describes the idea of polygamy in Islam. The idea of sacrificing goats bullocks for the sake of Allah is broached. The importance of prayer among Muslims, including how the Africans pray to Allah at the times of hunger. Haley describes the African prayer to Allah mixed with a kind traditional African dance. The belief that Kunta Kinte is a man of Allah in the eyes of the people of Juffure is discussed. The description of Muslim children’s ignorance, about how they pray to the sun. The eating of a pig to Muslims and how it is considered forbidden. The issue of the righteous people and how it is described that it can be inherited. The description of Kunta’s job as a man of Allah and his story among the villagers again. There will be some discussion of how the African women act based on their tradition in a way which is against Islam. The idea of mixing religion with tradition is very important in this chapter. How Omoro sees life and death?. The teaching of Islam in the raising Kunta, like respecting the elders and never to lie. The mixing of superstition with Islam and how the Africans believe that the crescent moon is a symbolic of Allah. The belief in magic and magician is very strongly shown in the text although it is totally against the teaching of Islam. The description of the importance of teaching Quran to the children in Juffure and the belief in Allah and His divine will among the villagers. The idea of women respecting men in Juffure is this part of religion or just African tradition?. How Kunta sees the Alimamo dancing as a part of a celebration, again there is a kind of mixing between Islam (Alimamo who represents that) and the African traditions. The description of Muslims as ones who are forbidden to drink, nor smoke. The importance of having experts on the Koran and how important they are in this community. The Circumcision of males in Islam and how Kunta was afraid of it. The importance of prayer and supplication to Allah among the villagers.

The belief in spirits and how the child’s question about Allah. The slaves from Omoro’s point of view, and how must they respect them as being human beings. The supplication to Allah in the time of crisis. The African tradition and myth against the teaching of Islam among the Africans. The importance of attending the prayer in the mosques for grown men in the village. The questions in Kunta’s mind about the creation of insects and animals and if they have any purpose in this life. The idea that law and religion are one under Islam. The blessing of the sheikh. How a man is treated with great respect if he shows signs of a very righteous Muslim. The idea of repentance for Kunta. The teaching of Arabic as a part of Islam. The teaching of Koran and knowing parts of it by heart which is considered a source of pride to parents in Juffure. When the prayer time comes, all kinds of celebrations stops in the village. The importance of attending morning prayer to all men. The notion of fear of harming holy men. The Obeisance to men of importance and how that is considered to be against the teaching of Islam . Kunta’s feeling of the greatness of Allah creation of this universe. Morning prayer is attended only by the men of Juffure.  Kunta and how he feels towards his mother (does he treat her as a woman and what does Islam really says about treating mothers)? The belief in magic among the villagers although it is against the teaching of Islam. How Omoro would like to choose a wife for his son by saying that the girl has to be virgin (as a sign of righteousness and not committing adultery before). The notion of supplication before travelling in Islam. Kaffirs (the non muslims) to Kunta and how he looks at them with disgrace even though that they are Mandinkas. Kunta teaches his little brother how to perform prayer in their trip. The punishment in Islam is mentioned in the text as well and there will be a discussion about the punishment of the thief and the one who commits adultery. The the council which solves the marriages problem. Divorce in Islam and the witness of three men on how is he capable of satisfying his wife (un-Islamic). Men of religion are the ones who judge among the people. The bloodiness on a piece of a cloth as a proof of the girl’s virginity and will be taken to the Alimamo (tradition vs. religion).  The notion of treating Allah’s creatures with respect.

Also how Kunta was caught by the white men and Kunta’s supplication to Allah. Kunta’s rage and anger towards the white men. Kunta’s shock from the Wolof who does not believe in Allah any more after what he has seen from the white man. Kunta’s asks questions about the existence of Allah in everywhere and then he blames himself for thinking in that way. Kunta’s relationship with the Wolof. The question of does someone needs to be a Muslim for Kunta to laugh and live with? What are the Islamic teaching on this issue? How Kunta remembers his father’s name whose named after the second Caliph. The supplication of the captured Africans so Allah will help them. Kunta’s belief that his soul will be with Allah after he dies. Kunta tries to convince himself that the horror he is seeing is the divine will of Allah. Kunta asks himself about why Allah does not save him..what sin does he he commit so he is being punished by the white man and praying is very important to Kunta.  Are all Africans Muslims according to Kunta? Most importantly fighting and Jihad to Kunta. How he believes in fighting the oppressor. How the supplication to Allah and asking help from the ancestors contradict each other in Islam. The belief in spirits and their ability to help in Islam! Kunta’s sees sun and moon in the toubab land as a sign of Allah’s greatness. Kunta gets worried about his fellow Africans even the non Muslims ones. Believing in fate as part of Kunta’s religion. How Kunta thinks that Islam and Christianity look alike in praying to God. Kunta’s prayers to Allah versus his belief in the saphie charm as a contradiction in Kunta’s belief. Kunta’s questions about being with Allah after death. The way Kunta reacts towards Christmas. Kunta questions the freedom of choosing a religion. Kunta’s belief that he is suffering for a reason and as a part of Allah design. Massa Waller notices that Kunta never drinks (teaching of Islam of forbidding drinking alcohol)/ Kunta’s questions about the qua-qua player and how each one of them feels that the other is a servant of Allah (A Muslim). Kunta blames himself for not praying for along time in the toubab land (the influence on Muslims being in the west) Also to be discussed is how Kunta looks at a proper marriage and how dislikes the idea of having a pagan ceremony. Kunta ‘a Muslim’ gets married to Bell ‘a Christian’. How Islam permits the marriage between Muslims and Christians. The differences between Kunta and Bell according to their religion. Kunta and what he thinks of the prayers said in the marriage ceremony ‘pagan god’. Kunta and Bell are announced couples ‘good Christians’. Kunta’s daughter get christened. Bell believes it is a privilege, but Kunta does not like the idea at all. What Kunta’s view on a Christian practices? Miss Anne reads from the Bible on Kunta the Muslim while he is sick. How the grandsons of Kunta become Christians totally (the influence of being in the west for generations) Alex Haley prays in Juffure with the Muslims Africans.

Alex Haley was also introduced to Islam through Malcolm X. Haley wrote an article for Playboy. This article turned into a book on Malcolm X. Like Kunta Kinte, Malcolm X believed in resistance to white oppression. Malcolm X did not want to turn the other cheek when discriminated against, but vengeance. This influenced Haley on exactly what Islam consisted of. Alex Haley was an African American, thus approached Islam as an attempt to connect with his ancestor.

Critique / Analysis of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth

Zadie Smith writes a book about a Muslim butcher. In this Muslim butcher’s shop, Varin, a Hindu works. Arshad and his father conversation about God and the universe. Mo talks to Archie about committing suicide in front of a halal place (owned by a Muslim).  The Muslim butcher shows the image of a Muslim in the business of bleeding. A description of Samad Iqbal (a Muslim) and the café owned by an Iraqi family is shown. In this café no haram food which is forbidden in Islam can be found. A look about how God is represented in the novel will be explored. Clara believes that Muslims and Jews and Catholics are not saved in the judgement day. All of these issues, plus many more will be explored.

Critique / Analysis of Hanif Kureishie’s The Black Album

In this novel, Sahid, a student, is being taught that censorship is a crime. A community of Islamic fundamentalists is present at the college. Sahid likes being part of their group.  This makes him feel like he is coming into contact with his forbears ‘ religion and culture. The third strength in his life is the culture of drugs that emerged from the raves that made 1988 known as a second ‘ summer of love. ‘ The views of the fundamentalist Muslims and Sahid’s wanting to be accepted, but having different views will be examined.

Summary of Possible Conclusions / Research Aims

These texts show us how some of the Islamic beliefs and the Muslims described can be placed them in a thematic context. These writings are influenced by the writers’ own experiences, what they have seen, and what they believe Islam and Muslims should be. Some of these writers are ignorant of what Islam really is, some of them judge Islam and the its followers by the kinds of Muslims they have seen in their everyday life, or even according to the description of Muslims stereotypes nowadays. This project attempts to shed light on the overall portrayal of both Islam and Muslims through the eyes of different writers. In my discussion of the portrayal of Islam in these texts, I hope to answer and react towards the issues raised about image of Islam, the different kinds of Muslims, and the mixing of religion, traditions and myths in these texts.

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