Negotiating the Veil and Identity in Leila Aboulela’s Minaret

Susan Taha Al-Karawi, Ida Baizura Bahar


Leila Aboulela’s novel, Minaret (2005), provides authentic and rich content to explore the Muslim Arab woman’s struggle over creating a modern yet religiously traditional identity. The conceptual framework of Victor Turner’s liminality and Homi Bhabha’s hybridity and the third space are applied in order to frame the analysis of this struggle and to show that the veil is a metaphor for the Arab woman’s positive and negative experiences. In Minaret, the protagonist, Najwa, experiences a sense of in-betweenness or liminality through crises, transitions, and resolutions of secular and religious lives.  The different hybrid identities and efforts Najwa makes to come to terms with her developing Muslim identity is discussed, particularly through her and the women around her who choose to wear the veil and modest, rather than revealing, clothing. Together, these form our analysis of the Muslim Arab woman’s struggle to be Muslim through wearing the veil while living in Britain. The veil in this novel is furthermore symbolic of traditional Islamic culture and represents the struggle to be religiously faithful despite being surrounded by non-Muslims or non-practising Muslims. This then provides the means of understanding individual mobility, empowerment, and agency through which liminality is successfully negotiated in order to achieve a hybrid identity of Eastern and Western cultures.





hybridity; Islam; liminality; third space; veil

Full Text:



Aboulela, Leila. (2005). Minaret. London: Bloomsbury.

Ahmed, Leila. (1992). Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven & London: Yale UP.

Ashly, Kathleen. (1990). Victor Turner and the Construction of Cultural Criticism: Between Literature and Anthology. Indian University: Indian University Press.

Bhabha, Homi. (1994). The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.

Chambers, Claire. (2009). An Interview with Leila Aboulela. Contemporary Women’s Writing. 86-102.

Cariello, Marta. (2009). “Searching for Room to Move: Negotiating Space in Leila Aboulela’s Minaret.” Arab Voices in Diaspora: Critical Perspectives on Anglophone Arab Literature. (pp. 39-313). Ed. Al Maleh, Layla. New

York: Rodopi.

El Guindi, Fadwa. (2003). “Veiling Resistance.” in Feminist Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. Ed. Reina Lewis and Sara Mills. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP.

Eissa, Saleh. (2005). Interview with Leila Aboulela. The I Witness. July.n.p. Web. 6 Nov.2006.

Fuss, Diana. (1989). Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference. New York: Routledge.

Hassan, Wail. (2008). Leila Aboulela and the Ideology of Muslim Immigrant Fiction. Novel: A Forum on Fiction. Islamism and the Immigrant Novel. 41(2/3), 298-319.

Hassanpour, Farough and Ruzy, Suliza Hashim. (2012). Reading Forough Farrokhzad’s Poetry from the Perspective of Systemic Functional Linguistics. GEMA Online® Journal of Language Studies. 12(3), 923-937.

Hardin, Richard F. (1983). Ritual in Recent Criticism: The Elusive Sense of Community. PMLA. 98(5), 846-862.

Jelodar, Esmaeil Zeiny, Noraini, Md. Yusof and Mahmoodi, Khalil. (2013). Bearers of Culture: Images of Veiling in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. 3L: Language Linguistics Literature®, Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies. 19(2), 65-74.

Kahf, Mohja. (1999). Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Nash, Geoffrey. (2007). “Leila Aboulela: Islam and Globalization.” In The Anglo-Arab Encounter: Fiction and Autobiography by Arab Writers in English. (pp. 135-147). Oxford & Bern: Peter Lang.

Pepicelli, Renata. (2011). “Islam and Women’s Literature in Europe.” Journal of Philosophy of International Law and Global Politics. VIII(2), 75-92.

Papastergiadis, Nikos. (1997). Tracing Hybridity in Theory. In Debating Cultural Hybridity: Multi-Cultural Identities and the Politics of Anti-Racism. Werbner, P. & Modood, T.London: Zed Books.

Ramadan, Tariq. (2004). Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rutherford, John. (1990). The Third Space: Interview with Homi Bhabha. Identity, Community, Culture, Difference. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Turner, Victor. (1969). The Ritual Process. Chicago: Aldine.

Turner, Victor. (1967). Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu ritual. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.

Turner, Victor. (1974). Metaphors of Anti-Structure in Religious Culture. V. Turner (Ed.). Changing Perspective in the Scientific Study of Religion (pp. 63-84). New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons.

Toossi, Katayoun. (2012). Dislodging (New) Orientalist Frames of Reference: Muslim Women Indiasporic and Immigrant Muslim Anglophone Narratives. Unpublished PhD thesis, The University of Alberta.

Zalipour, A., Raihanah M. M., Ruzy Suliza Hashim, Noraini Md. Yusof. (2011). The Veil and Veiled Identities in Iranian Diasporic Writings. IPEDR Vol.5. IACSIT Press, Singapore.


  • There are currently no refbacks.




eISSN : 2550-2131

ISSN : 1675-8021