Autonomous Histories of Muslim Women Cultural Poetics; A Critical Reading of the Personal/Academic Narratives of Leila Ahmed and Amina Wadud

Hadeer Abo El Nagah


Louis Montrose's "Professing the Renaissance: the Poetics and Politics of Culture" renewed concern with the historical, social and political conditions of literary productions (1989). He suggested a platform through which autonomous aesthetics and academic issues to be understood as inextricably linked to other discourses. While autobiography is considered as a "writing back," I argue here that it is rather a strategic transitional act that connects the past with the present and remaps the future. Though a very personal opening, autobiography is seen as a documentation of public events from a personal perspective. Academic autobiographies like Arab American history professor Leila Ahmad's A Border Passage from Cairo to America; A Woman’s Journey (2012) and African American theology professor Amina Wadud’s Inside the Gender Jihad (2008) are two examples of the production of interwoven private and public histories. The personal opening in such narratives is an autonomous act that initiates cross-disciplinary dialogues that trigger empowerment and proposes future changes. In that sense, these autobiographies are far from being mere stories of the past. Conversely, they are tools of rereading one's contributions and thus repositioning the poetics and politics of culture as testimonial narratives. Employing post-colonial, Islamic feminism and new historicism, the aim of this study is to critically read the above academic/personal two autobiographies as examples of the private/ public negotiations of culture. It also aims to explore the dialogue between the literary, historical and social elements as they remap the future of women in Muslim societies and the diaspora.


New Historicism, Women in Islam, personal narratives, Amina Wadud, Leila Ahmed, post-colonialism, autobiography, non-white feminism

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