In the post 9/11 era in which Muslims in America have increasingly felt under the surveillance of the state, media, and the larger society, how have female Muslim students on US college campuses imagined, performed, and negotiated their religious lives and identities? That is the central question that animates Dr. Shabana Mir’s dazzling new book Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). This book was the winner of the Outstanding Book Award awarded by the National Association for Ethnic Studies.
In her book, Dr. Mir engages a number of interlocking themes such as the varied and at times competing understandings of Islam among female Muslim undergraduates, the haunting legacy of Orientalist discourse and practice on U.S. college campuses, questions of religious authority among Muslim students on campus, and contradictions of pluralism in US higher education. Through a theoretically sophisticated and compelling ethnographic study focused on the college experience of female Muslim undergraduates at George Washington University and Georgetown University in Washington DC, Dr. Mir brings into view the hopes, tensions, and aspirations that mark the intersections of their religious and academic and social lives on campus. Some of the specific issues analyzed in this book include female Muslim American understandings of and attitudes towards alcohol culture on campus, clothing and the hijab, and questions of gender and sexual relations. Dr. Mir’s incredibly nuanced study shows both the diversity and complexity of the undergraduate experience for Muslim American students. This truly multidisciplinary book will be of much interest to not only scholars of Islam, American religion, gender, and anthropology, but also to anyone interested and invested US higher education.