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Hammond, Marle (2019) 'Pagan or Muslim? “Structures of Feeling” and Religious Ambiguity in al-Khansāʾ.' Middle Eastern Literatures, 22 (1). pp. 36-57.

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The seventh-century poet al-Khansāʾ is perhaps the most renowned elegist in the Arabic poetic tradition. As a woman who has secured a place for herself at the heart of the canon, she stands as a feminist icon. But her poetry and life story have yielded divergent interpretations: many literary scholars have characterized her verse as “wholly pagan,” whilst others have pointed to anecdotes about her later life in order to paint a picture of the ideal Muslim woman, selflessly sacrificing her sons for the cause of Islam. It is this latter image which has been embraced and promoted by Islamist, and even extremist, actors in recent years. Here, in this essay, I tease out these contradictory strands of her literary and cultural identities and consider religious themes and imagery in her poetry, asking whether or not her verses reflect an emergent Islamic ethos. Drawing on Raymond Williams’ notion of “structures of feeling,” I demonstrate that her verses are informed by competing ideologies of fatalism, on the one hand, and monotheism, on the other. I also investigate feminist postures in her poetry and their interaction with religious motifs. These overlapping, seemingly contradictory ideologies and discourses create space for multiple readings. The act of interpretation thus takes on added complexity, when the original or intended meanings are in flux and unfixed.

Item Type: Journal Article
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics
ISSN: 14752638
Copyright Statement: © 2020 Taylor & Francis. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Middle Eastern Literatures on 06/04/2020, available online:
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 28 Nov 2019 12:18

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