“What About Women?”: The Treatment of Women in Mohja Kahf’s the Girl in the Tangerine Scarf

Husni Abumelhim


In this article, I will argue that the treatment of women in Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is problematic because (a) polygyny in modern practice is depicted as if it were exclusive to Islam when in fact some Mormons still practice polygyny and (b) some readers could misconstrue the traditional gender role for women as being imposed by Islam when in fact it is imposed by a conservative strand of Sunni Islam. First, this article will define the term polygyny - as opposed to polygamy - in order to justify my use of the phrase “polygyny in modern practice,” examine the novel’s implication that Mormons no longer practice polygyny, and present a rebuttal through examples of recent court cases involving Mormon polygynists to prove that some Mormons still practice polygyny. By doing this, it will show that polygyny in modern practice is not exclusive to Islam. Next, this article will clarify what I mean by “the traditional gender role for women” and by “a conservative strand of Sunni Islam,” discuss how Ebtehaj fulfills the traditional gender role for women, and highlight an underlying cultural dissimilarity between her and Aunt Khadija in view of the fact that both women are Sunni. By doing this, it will show that the traditional gender role for women is imposed by a conservative strand of Sunni Islam rather than by Islam itself. Finally, this article will recap my argument, clarify my problem with the novel’s depiction of polygyny, and explain how some readers could misconstrue the traditional gender role for women as being imposed by Islam.


Polygyny; Gender roles; Gender equality; Multiculturalism; Cross-Culturalism; Interfaith dialogue; Islam

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‘Ali, ‘A. Y. (1989). The meaning of the holy qur’an, new ed. with rev. Translation and commentary. Maryland: Amana Publications.

Buhman, B. V. (2013). District of Utah, central division. Case No. 2:11-cv-0652-CW. Retrieved from http://ecf.utd.uscourts.gov/cgibin/show_public_doc?211cv0652-78

Dalrymple II, J. (2014, December 14). Federal judge declares Utah polygamy law unconstitutional. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56894145-78/utah-polygamy-waddoups- ruling.html.csp

Kahf, M. (2007). The girl in the tangerine scarf. Pennsylvania: PublicAffairs.

Kawar, M. (1997). Gender and generation in household labor supply in Jordan (PhD research project). London School of Economics. ruling.html.csp

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/%25x


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