Friday, June 23, 2006

Muslim American Poet Sets Down Stakes

From UCLA's International Institute

At the final public meeting of a UCLA sociology course on Muslim communities in Europe and North America, University of Arkansas literary scholar and poet Mohja Kahf invited students to consider the utility of inventing a field called Muslim American literature. Kahf is herself in the process of doing just that. She has assembled a convincingly long list of authors and works under four sub-categories, and she advocates flexibility about future directions in what may be an emerging field. Many works of prose and poetry that fit Kahf’s criteria for the Muslim American label have been profitably studied under other rubrics—Arab American, Persian American, South Asian American, Beat Poets, new formalist, U.S. Southern, and so on, even Irish American—but Kahf contended that the use of a new lens would be sure to bring previously unexplored aspects of the texts into focus.

"When I started looking, everywhere you turned over a rock … there was something that could be identified as Muslim American literature," she said. A medievalist by training, Kahf has taken up the subjects of Anglophone and then U.S. writing by Muslims only in recent years.

Now finishing its third consecutive Spring Quarter session, the UCLA course, introduced and overseen by Dr. Samy Swayd, has been supported from the start by Education Department grants and has good prospects for continued funding, according to UCLA organizers. UCLA Centers for Near Eastern Studies and European and Eurasian Studies invite speakers and take the leading role in putting together content for this Department of Sociology offering. Many of the speakers looked at post-9/11 Islam in the West and immigration, discrimination, and other issues.

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