Mid-semester, I asked my Contemporary Islamic Civilizations section* to write down the first thing that pops in their mind when I say, “Name a fictional Muslim character.” I gave the students a minute, collected the names and then read them out loud.This is what they wrote (and how they wrote it):
Aladdin: 4 students (one student also wrote: maybe not Muslim?)
Salah al-Din/Saladin: 3 students (one specified Saladin from Kingdom of Heaven)**
Malcolm X: 2 students**
Scheherazade: 2 students
Can’t think of anyone: 2 students
Jafar (Muslim or just Arab?)
Jasmine (Disney princess)
Marji (from the book/movie Persepolis)
Amir Khan in Fanaa (Bollywood film)***
Lead male actor in Kite Runner (not sure if he’s Muslim)
Characters portrayed by the Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri
Changez in TheReluctant Fundamentalist
Abu Nazir in Homeland
*All the students are Ivy League undergrads majoring in various subjects; most of them were raised and educated in the U.S.
**These are not fictional characters. I definitely expected the Aladdin characters, and I was not surprised that the students listed Saladin. I was surprised, however, to read names of 20th century North American historical figures…especially since the Autobiography of Malcolm X was required reading (in addition to Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi). Was it a result of mishearing the question (i.e., the student listed the first name s/he could think of rather than consider whether that figure was fictional)? Was it a reflection of their age? Or was it from ignorance of more recent U.S. history (i.e. post-World War II) and that U.S. high school students often receive a cursory treatment of the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, Cointelpro, Immigration Act 1965, etc. (if they are able to reach that time period at all)?
***Out of all the Bollywood movies with identifiably Muslim characters, a student who watches Hindi films first thought of Fanaa. It does make depressing sense. The film flattens the local and material context of the Kashmiri struggle with India as a powerful nation-state by crafting a narrative which echoes narratives on U.S. national-security and the War on Terror. In a way, it’s another commercial film giving a Bollywood flavor to a Hollywood story. In this case, violence is de-contexualized and subsequently generalized under the category of “Muslim violence.” Here, Indian nationalism as love of nation (and national security) is made relatable to an American palate which has acquired a taste for the “Islamic terrorist/national-security threat” as a popular character, making Amir Khan’s Kashmiri character as a terrorist easily identifiable (and insidiously memorable) as “Muslim.”
In Covarrubia’s seventeenth century dictionary Tesoro de La Lengua Castellana O Española, moro (from the Latin Maurus) is defined as “one from the province of Mauritania.” The term is meant to be used pejoratively as in the proverb, “A Moro muerto, gran lanzada” (p.1150). The Real Academia Española offers more than eleven definitions, including the natural border of North Africa and Spain; one who professes the religion of Islam; a Muslim who lived in Spain from the eighth to the fifteenth century; a black mare with a star on the forehead and shoes on one or two limbs; Muslims of Mindanoa and Malaysia; etc. In the Oxford English Dictionary, moor is defined as “originally a native or inhabitant of ancient Mauretania” and “later usually a member of a Muslim people of mixed Berber and Arab descent inhabiting north-western Africa (now mainly present-day Mauritania), who in the eighth century conquered Spain.”
In An Early Modern Dialogue with Islam: Antonio de Sosa’s Topography of Algiers (1612), Sosa devotes an entire chapter—“The Inhabitants and Neighbors of Algiers”—to defining the “Moor” as a category of people among other inhabitants in Algiers, including Jews, Turks and Christians. The rest of the text, however, does not always use the term in the same way; rather, its usage reveals and reproduces the conflation of race, ethnicity and religion in the early modern period.
I was raised in Turkey in a practicing Muslim family dedicated to fighting against the Kemalist secular ideology of the state, and attended a public school where this official ideology was taught with a passion. I quickly learned to keep my critical comments about the regime to myself. At school, Kemal Ataturk was depicted as a brilliant commander of the national war of independence, who had saved the country and fashioned Turkey into a modern Western republic. At home, my beloved grandfather would speak about the manner in which “that apostate (kafir)” betrayed the only true Islamic state, the Ottoman Empire.
It is September 2009; I’m in Upper Egypt, on this particular night, at the monastery and commemoration site of three martyred youth of Coptic history in a suburb of Luxor. As I passed a pathway littered with garbage set ablaze, I am told to look down, walk fast, and stay close to the Coptic sisters as we walked by a crowd of Muslim men or so my Coptic sisters told me. I felt their fear while we were walking through this neighborhood, but I didn’t entirely understand why. As soon as we arrived at the monastery, I asked my Coptic friends why we walked so timidly. They replied, “This area is unsafe for Christians at night.” With those words, I began to reflect on the reason and context for such words, and why fear of the Muslim other was so deeply seated in the Coptic community, at least the one I was acquainted with in Sheraton, Heliopolis. Continue reading “The Unknown”: A Coptic Spring?→
Being a YouTube celebrity requires cutting edge creativity, cunning new media awareness, or utter obliviousity – I like to think of myself as a paragon of all of these.
My name is Hisham Fageeh, and I am the owner of the hit Saudi YouTube comedy channel HishamComedy. The channel is just shy of 3 million views in its 11th week.The channel is distinguished by its stylistic approach to (Saudi) humor, which is a satire faux-vlog of a disenfranchised Saudi guy living in the United States. He uses outdated Hijazi, specifically Makkawi, idiomatic expressions to articulate his disillusioned, cynical view of the American experience.