Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant by Mohja Kahf

By Mohja Kahf

Veiled, secluded, submissive, oppressed—the "odalisque" photograph has held sway over Western representations of Muslim girls because the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. but in the course of medieval and Renaissance instances, eu writers portrayed Muslim girls in precisely the other means, as forceful queens of wanton and intimidating sexuality.

In this illuminating examine, Mohja Kahf strains the method wherein the "termagant" grew to become an "odalisque" in Western representations of Muslim ladies. Drawing examples from medieval chanson de geste and romance, Renaissance drama, Enlightenment prose, and Romantic poetry, she hyperlinks the altering pictures of Muslim ladies to alterations in eu relatives with the Islamic global, in addition to to altering gender dynamics inside of Western societies.

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This superhuman “dame” appears and is dispatched within all of sixteen lines, but not before she takes her toll. She is the wife of the tollman Alagolfre, who is killed for refusing to let the Christian knights across the bridge. Barrok then rages forth, smiting all whom she strikes with her scythe “like a develle of helle” (l. 2948) and doing much damage to the Christians until King Charles bashes her brains out of her head and the “cursed fende fille down dede” (l. 2952). ” the next lines exclaim.

Most Roland scholars consider her marginal to the central topics: the conflict between the outnumbered Christians and their pagan ambushers, the contrast between Roland and Oliver’s characters, the betrayal and punishment of Ganelon, and the Abrahamic figure of Charlemagne. Some discuss her in terms of Turold’s aesthetic talent, crediting Turold with skillfully developing Bramimonde to illustrate the “Theme of Conversion” in the poem, for example: “Thus the surrender of Saragossa by Bramimonde, which represents, at the level of the plot, the culmination of Charlemagne’s expedition into Spain, succeeds at the same time in expressing, on a metaphorical level, 27 The Muslim Woman in Medieval Texts 02-T0336 10/1/2001 2:55 PM Page 28 28 Western Representations of the Muslim Woman the idea of spiritual conquest, a simple variation of the Theme of Conversion” (Brault, 313).

They do not even change sides because of the greater power of the Christians: they usually express the desire to convert while the Christians are still underdogs and the odds against them seem great. That the women simply see the innate truth, “dreit-ness,” of the Christian side indicates how powerful was the appeal of the ideal of world harmony and universal order under the homogenizing leadership of Western Christendom. 02-T0336 10/1/2001 2:55 PM Page 39 n o t n e c e s s a r i ly t h e c o n v e r t 39 The Muslim Orderic’s Historia is dated at 1130 –1135.

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