I’m the kind of person who searches for herself when she reads. I really want to find myself in characters that I love. From Hermione Granger to Lizzy Bennet, I yearn for a connection with beloved characters, so much so that I force the similarities. I try to to become characters instead of finding a natural connection, instead of finding something real.
And then I read “Hana Khan Carries On” by Uzma Jalaluddin.
I have seen attempts at Muslim representation in art in the past and have almost always been heartily disappointed. Seeing the trope of “Muslim girls gone mad”, taking their hijabs moving away and straying from religious morality disturbs me. In other cases, the characters face a great, dramatic internal conflict, where they wonder whether or not they can be both a Desi Muslim and an American student – something along those lines. I have never felt this pressure on maintaining both aspects of my identity. There are probably some desi muslim girls who to do faced with these problems or who are in these situations; that’s not how i grew up. It’s not who I am. So where is the representation of the gender of muslim I a m?
I am a 21st century Pakistani-American girl who was born and raised in Michigan. I have a connection to my culture, but it feels tense at times, feeling more superficial than anything else because of the Americanization that I’ve been used to all my life. I am fortunate to have a stronger link with my religion: Islam is a constant in my life. There are aspects of being a Muslim girl that are difficult, I’ll be the first to admit that. Being the only kid in school wearing long sleeves and pants instead of tank tops and shorts was tough – it can get really hot, really fast. I fasted during Ramadan, feeling my mouth watering when I saw my friends snacking. But all of these things look remarkably small in the grand scheme of things. What if my life was a little different from my friends? I was fortunate to have friends who accepted and loved me for who I was, regardless of cultural and religious differences. I have a family who love and support me. I work hard. I’m fine. I do good.
And yet, I still wanted something. Understand, maybe.
It took 20 years, but I found it.
“Hana Khan Carries On” is a cover of the 1998 film “You’ve Got Mail”, following the Indo-Canadian hijabi Hana Khan as she strives to accurately represent herself, her culture and religion. She has a podcast – that’s where anonymous online romance comes in – and she uses her platform to talk about herself and her life in a very unfiltered way. Likewise, she works to create a radio show that portrays people like her with truth, without subconsciously subscribing to stereotypes. There is also a love story in the book, of course, and while I really enjoyed the halal romcom feeling of it all, Hana’s strength as a Muslim woman facing micro-aggression in the workplace, working to understand her past and ultimately finding her voice meant more to me than admittedly sweet romance. (I’m sorry, Aydin.)
actually, I seen myself to Hana. Of course, she is Indian-Canadian and I am Pakistani-American. She is a hijabi, and I am not. The details don’t matter. Its cultural and family traditions are the same as mine. She has the same respect as I do for her religion. Her perspective on identity reflects mine. Not to mention that she’s a Swiftie, and so am I – and author Uzma Jalaluddin too.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Jalaluddin explained that she wanted to write for people like her. Muslim girls also deserve to be seen in the books. Just because we don’t go out in the traditional sense or because our dress code is more modest than others doesn’t mean that we should be completely excluded from the romcom genre. And just because we have a different perspective on life, a different identity, doesn’t mean that we don’t want to be understood.
âI didn’t grow up with that (kind of performance),â Jalaluddin said. There were hardly any books on South Asians when she was growing up in Toronto, let alone Muslims. âThose who were there were riddled with really toxic stereotypes; most of the time, they were written by white authorsâ¦ examining the experience of what it is like to be a non-white person. I read themâ¦ and I got really angry.
And she is right. There is this need to try to push all Muslim characters into this box of “bad” or “bad”. Even some of the stories I love the most do. We think of the movie “Iron Man”, where vaguely Muslim characters are the villains, torturing and tormenting the hero. And while the characters are not mean, they are not portrayed as “truly Muslim,” as when the aforementioned hijabis decide to pursue relationships that are not exactly halal.
“What’s going on with those kind of ‘girls gone crazy?” hijab When the first white boy smiles at me, what you see is what other people think of Muslim women compared to what happens when you write about an experience that is unique to you, âJalaluddin said. “I don’t think about my hijab; I just wear it. I wore it for years. It’s part of my identity.
This is why his books, both âAyesha at Lastâ and âHana Khanâ, meant so much to me, why they made me feel seen. She is a member of the community she writes about. She writes about people like her, people like me. She sincerely represents us.
âI think I just wanted to write a funny and entertaining book about Muslims, because it always pissed me off that we have sad stories, stories of victims, arranged marriage, forced marriage, extremists who go. flee to do violence elsewhere. â¦ These are not the books that I like to read. I like romanticism. I want to read romance novels.
Me too. I want to read about Muslim girls who love their families and pray five times a day and are able to find happiness through their own actions and decisions rather than a perceived need to move away from their identity.
Of course, there are aspects of being a Muslim that are also difficult, and “Hana Khan” represents them truthfully as well. In the book, Hana, her cousin, and Aydin are victims of a hate crime. As a person who lives in an incredibly diverse and tolerant community, I have been fortunate in not having to deal with individualized acts of fanaticism, although broader political acts have touched me. Jalaluddin referred to the Muslim Ban, explaining that although she is Canadian, she is often affected by what is happening in America. âI think a lot of people have had this ideaâ¦ that Canada isâ¦ a whole different placeâ¦ no, hate happens here. It happens everywhere. “
Hana stays true to herself in the face of these challenges, never backing down from her real self, even when it would be easier to do so. The best part about Hana’s character is that she’s shameless herself, especially when it comes to her culture, religion, and identity. She does not belittle her Muslim attributes, or even question them, when she is in a difficult situation. âWe are all complete human beings,â Jalaluddin said. âWe are nuanced; we have layers. (Hana) has a very strong sense of who she isâ¦ That’s one of the points of the bookâ¦ It’s never like, âAm I a Muslim? I don’t know ‘â¦ His identity issues are all external, not really internal. “
In many ways, Hana views the world the same way I do, which is why I identify with her so strongly and why I appreciate her character so much. She does not doubt her identity, but she does have doubts. It is Ordinary. It is Human. So many people will create Muslim characters with one defining trait: their religion. But people have diapers, as Jalaluddin said – even Muslims. I’m not just a Muslim – I’m a young lady too, working towards a career, I have likes and dislikes. Hana too. Her identity influences everything she does, but it doesn’t uniquely define her.
Jalaluddin says it all, shows everything – the good, the bad and everything in between – when it comes to being a Muslim these days. This is why artists like her, who work so hard to represent the truth, need to be appreciated and supported. She mentioned that she was working on her third book, which is set at an Islamic convention, and I can’t help but hope that potential readers – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – will consider it, as will her predecessors. , as an example of a positive portrayal of People Like Me. âIf you like books about marginalized communities and if you are worried about the lack of representation in these communities, it is your responsibility to support the artists and buy their books. She is right – the performance will not take place, can not happen, without public support. And we need representation because when people feel represented in art, their view of the world changes.
âI think I wrote it for myself and probably for myself when I was younger,â Jalaluddin said. Considering that when she was younger, Jalaluddin hadn’t felt the representation she now creates for readers, that makes sense. But, honestly, I can’t help but feel like it was written for me.
Film Beat editor Sabriya Imami can be reached at [email protected].