Mohja Kahf

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Mohja Kahf (born 1967, Damascus, Syria) is an Arab-American poet, literature professor, and an author.


Kahf moved to the United States in 1971. Her family has been involved in Syrian opposition politics, a theme reflected in the life of her character Khadra of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf.

She received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Rutgers University and is currently an associate professor of comparative literature and faculty member of the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Literary career[edit]

Kahf's work explores themes of cultural dissonance and overlap between Muslim-American and other communities, both religious and secular. Islam, morality, modesty, gender and gender-relations, sexuality, politics, and especially identity are important aspects of her work.

Her first book of poetry, E-mails From Scheherazad, was a finalist for the 2004 Paterson Poetry Prize. Her novel The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf was chosen as Booksense Reading Group Favorite for June 2007; as book of the year for the One Book, One Bloomington Series by the Bloomington Arts Council, Monroe County Public Library, Bloomington, Indiana, 2008; and as required summer reading for incoming first-year students at the College of Notre Dame, Baltimore, Maryland, 2008. She is a Pushcart Prize winner.

Published works[edit]

Poetic works[edit]

E-mails from Scheherazad 2003, University Press of Florida Poetry publications:

“My People Are Rising” (poem) in Mizna: Prose, Poetry, and Art Exploring Arab America, Vol. 13, Issue 1, pp. 4–6. April 2012.

“Brenda Unbound”, in Banipal, Magazine of Modern Arab Literature, #38. London. pp. 50–52.

“Little Mosque Poems.” Journal of Pan African Studies, 2010, Vol. 4 Issue 2, p106-113.

“Asiya’s Aberrance,” I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights, ed. Melissa Kwasny & M.L. Smoker. Lost Horse Press, 2009. pp. 55–57.

“Asiya Is Waiting for a Sign” and “Among the Midianites on U.S. 31,” Tiferet: A Journal of Spiritual Literature, Issue 7, Fall 2008, pp. 80–82.

“Poem for Hamsa Newmark on Her Sixtieth Birthday,” Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature, No. 32, Summer 08, pp. 88–93.

“Lifting the Hajar Heel” p. 84, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Voices from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond, ed. Carolyn Forche, Ravi Shankar, Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal. W.W. Norton, 2008.

“My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears,” “Hijab Scene #1,” “Hijab Scene #2,” “Postcards from Hajar,” Hayan Charara, ed., Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry, U of Arkansas Press, 2008, pp. 171–176.

“The Mihrab of the Mind,” The Atlanta Review, Fall/Winter 2007, p. 37.

“Sarah’s Laugh II” & “Hagar’s Ram,” Tiferet: A Journal of Spiritual Literature, Issue 5, 2007, p. 15-16.

“On Reading Marge Piercy,” Natural Bridge, #16, Fall 2006, p. 55.

“The Ladies on the Stoop” & “Balqis Makes Solomon Sign a Pre-Nup” Pakistani Journal of Women’s Studies, Winter 2004

“Pears in the Time of Burnished Gold,” in Bascove, ed., Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover’s Anthology of Sensuality and Humor, David R. Godine, 2004, pp. 95–96.

“Copulation in English.” Paris Review #164 Winter 2002-2003, p. 76.


The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf 2006, Carroll & Graf


“Lord, Make Me Not Oblivious” (autobiographical essay) Anne Richards & Iraj Omidvar, Muslims in American Popular Culture, Praeger, Nov. 2013, pp. 425–441.

In Italian: “La rivoluzione si mette i jeans” (essay on the Syrian revolution) Italianieuropei, Paper issue: 5/2012 pp. 131–144.

“The Girl from Mecca,” (short story) Feminist Studies, 2012, Issue 38, pp 73–83.

“Purple Ihram and the Feminine Beatitudes of Hajj,” (feminist analysis of Haj) in New Geographies (a Harvard University Press journal), Issue 3, 2011, pp 114–121.

“The Caul of Inshallah,” (autobiographical essay), Bill Henderson, ed., 2011 Pushcart Prize XXXV: Best of the Small Presses. Pushcart Prize Fellowships, 2011, pp. 458–461.

“Writing on Muslim Gender Issues in the West Today: Slipping Past the Pity Committee and Dodging the Defensive Brigades,” (analytical essay dealing with gender, Islam, and postcolonial politics) in Rabab Abdalhadi, et al.,ed., Studies in Arab American Feminisms (Syracuse UP, 2011), pp. 111–123.

“From Her Royal Body the Robe Was Removed: The Blessings of the Veil and the Trauma of Forced Unveiling in the Middle East,” (essay) in Jennifer Heath, ed., The Veil:Its History, Lore, and Politics, Berkeley: U California Press, April 2008.

“Manar of Hama,” “The Spiced Chicken Queen,” (short stories) Pauline Kaldas & Khaled Mattawa, ed., Dinarzad’s Children: Arab American Fiction, UArkansasP, First Edition, 2005.

Scholarly Monographs[edit]

Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque 1999 U of Texas Press

Articles and Book Chapters[edit]

"Writing on Muslim Gender Issues in the West Today: Slipping Past the Pity Committee," in Rabab Abdal Hadi, ed., Studies in Arab American Feminisms (forthcoming).

"From Her Royal Body the Robe Was Removed: The Trauma of Forced Unveiling in the Middle East" in Jennifer Heat, ed., The Veil (UC Berkeley, 2008).

"The Silences of Contemporary Syrian Literature" World Literature Today, Spring 2001.

"Politics and Erotics in Nizar Kabbani's Poetry: From the Sultan's Wife to the Lady Friend" World Literature Today, Winter 2000.

"Packaging Huda: Sha'rawi's Memoirs in the US Reading Environment" in Amal Amireh & Lisa Suhair Majaj, ed., Going Global: The Transitional Reception of Third World Women Writers (Garland, 2000)

"Braiding the Stories: Women's Eloquence in the Early Islamic Era" in Gisela Webb, ed., Windows of Faith: Muslim Women's Scholarship and Activism (Syracuse UP, 2000).

Critical Studies[edit]

  • Sabiha Sorgun, “‘Into the state of pure surrender’: Spirituality in Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf,” 30th Annual Meeting of Southwest Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Associations, February 25–28, 2009. Albuquerque, NM.
  • Harb, Sirène. “Arab American Women’s Writing and September 11: Contrapuntality and Associative Remembering,” MELUS (Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, peer-reviewed journal). Fall 2012, Vol. 37 Issue 3, p13-41.
  • Harb, Sirène. “Perspectives on Violence and Reconciliation: Arab-American Women’s Writing About September 11.” Dissidences: Hispanic Journal of Theory and Criticism (peer-reviewed) 4.8 (2012): 1-15. [1]
  • Fadda-Conrey, Carol. “Arab American Citizenship in Crisis: Destabilizing Representations of Arabs and Muslims in the US after 9/11.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies (peer-reviewed journal), 2011 Fall; 57 (3): 532-555.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]