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Saturday, December 23, 2023

December 23-24, 2023: Hamza Suleiman’s Guest Post on Mohja Kahf

[Hamza Suleiman is a Physican Assistant major at King’s College, class of 2027, who aspires to be a PA radiologist. Born and raised in America, he currently lives in Clifton, New Jersey. His parents are immigrants from Palestine. He writes: “My family and I are proud Arabs, and we all follow the Islamic faith. In ‘The Spiced Chicken Queen of Mickaweaquah, Iowa,’ Mohja Kahf addresses stereotypes about the Arab and Muslim communities, with themes aimed to educate both American and minority groups. Kahf’s story and messages resonated with me, as they are important and clear up misconceptions about my community.”]

Learning Islam in a Different Light and Debunking Stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims in “The Spiced Chicken Queen of Mickaweaqua” by Mohja Kahf

“I can’t believe she is still wearing that wrap around her head; her life is so sad” is a common phrase people would say when they see a Muslim woman wear the hijab. This is one of the many racist beliefs that Americans have about Muslims. The hijab is a religious obligation that Muslim women wear as commanded by their God, Allah. However, people fail to take the time to be educated about the Islamic practice and Arab culture, stirring hatred and biases towards Arabs and Muslims. In “The Spiced Chicken Queen of Mickaweaqua”, Mohja Kahf debunks myths about Arabs and Muslims through the parallel of two distinct Muslim married couples, along with portraying themes relevant to all her readers.

Mzayyan and Rana serve as foil characters in “The Spiced Chicken Queen of Mickaweaqua” to contrast the reality of Muslim women versus how they are perceived by in the America. Mzayyan is married to an abusive husband and originally appeared off as scared to get her husband in trouble. When Mzayyan is expressing her concerns to Rana over the phone, Rana replies, “‘Mzayyan!...His beating you is the digrace, Mzayyan. It’s un-Islamic. This is what you tell them at the mosque: it’s contrary to the teaching of the Prophet’” (Kahf 145). Rana explains to Mzayyan that Muslim men mistreating their wives is against the Islamic religion. In Islam, there are obligations that a Muslim man must follow regarding his wife. A widespread misconception is that is normal for Muslim men to oppress their wives because that is what their religion entails. However, in Islam Muslim men are prohibited to hit or abuse their wives. In fact, Muslim men are supposed to be the protectors of their wives, providing them safety and taking care of them financially. Additionally, Muslim women have rights in Islam, such as the right to work. While Mzayyan did not have a job in the beginning of the story and seemed to be deprived of freedoms, Rana was working as a diligent physicist, referred to as Dr. Rashid, at a nuclear power plant. Dr. Rashid is a prime example of how Muslim women are allowed to enroll in school and pursue higher education to get their dream career. Likewise, despite Mzayyan appearing as helpless, she was secretly rescuing herself from the abusive marriage and created an entrepreneurship for herself. When Dr. Rashid was trying to get Mzayyan’s husband convicted, Mzayyan gave Rana a stack of papers to give to the INS and informed her, “‘Here are tax returns for the last two years. He’s a great con artist...Do you think...I could have the title to his property transferred to my name’” (Kahf 147). Through Mzayyan’s actions, it is evident that she was never defenseless, but has been plotting her freedom by herself for a while. She was conducting a plan for her husband’s conviction and aspired to have her own business. In the end, her goal was reached, and she owns her husband’s store selling spiced chicken. Even before, the strength for Mzayyan was always there when she defended herself during one her husband’s attacks. This contradicts the normal beliefs of the West that when a Muslim woman is abused from her husband, that she accepts it and is submissive. No, this is false because Muslim women are intelligent and strong and are supposed to go against their abusive partners in Islam. All in all, through the comparison between Rana and Mzayyan, the readers unlearn about the misconceptions of Islam and are enlightened with the truth about Muslim women.

Similarly, Mzayyan’s husband and Rana’s husband Emad, act as foil characters to display the truth about Muslim men compared to the Western’s beliefs about them. Emad and Rana are both Muslims and are of Syrian-descent. Emad earned his Ph.D and is a cardiologist. He is very well respected by his family and has had a successful career and life. As a matter of fact, Emad and Rana have a very healthy relationship with each other. When Emad arrives home one day, he excitedtly tells Mzayyan, “‘Picked up your apricots at the farmers’ market...Organically ripened to perfection’” (Kahf 141). Emad’s benevolent gestures to his wife represents the truth of how Muslim men treat their wives in Islam. Emad is never seen harming his wife or even disrespecting her. He cares for her by doing these acts of kindness to show his love, respect, and pride over his spouse. Vice versa, Rana loves her husband and confides in him over matters that are serious to her.  More so, he is outraged by the way Mzayyan is being treated by her husband. When Rana tells Emad about the situation between Mzayyan and her husband, Emad replies, “‘So why didn’t she call the cops?’” (Kahf 140). Emad is clearly against Mzayyan’s husband’s actions and wants Mzayyan to get her justice. In addition, him wanting Mzayyan to stand up for herself proves that Muslim men are not misogynistic. In addition, more bigotry towards Muslim men arises in the story after the 9/11 incident. For instance, Emad’s brother was questioned from the FBI about why he named his son Osama. The FBI interrogating anyone who they see as Muslim or Arab looking is racist and generalizes a large group of people based off on a few actions of others. Kahf incorporated this scene in her story to resemble the real-life discrimination towards Muslims. NBC news recently published an article “For Muslim Americans, a spike in hate incidents feels reminiscent of post 9/11 Islamophobia” where they described a hate crime done by an Illinois man “after he demanded that two Muslim men get out of the country and threatened to shoot them” (2023). This hateful incident is a reminder that Islamophobia is still prevalent today in the United States. This parallels with Emad’s brother and his son as they are real life examples of how Arab men are targeted, due to similar physical characteristics with the hijackers of 9/11. Overall, Kahf created Emad’s character to demonstrate the correct Muslim men representation in contrast with Mzayyan’s husband, along with refuting prejudice ideas about Muslim men post 9/11.

In “The Spiced Chicken Queen of Mickaweaqua Iowa”, Mohja Kahf offers themes that are relevant to the reader, despite ethnicity. These themes include preserving one’s culture, seeking help, and eliminating biases towards minority groups. In the story, Rana and Emad were friends with an Arab couple named Joseph and Jocelyn. Joseph and Jocelyn are obvious non-Arab names. It is explained in the story how “so many generations removed from the slightest hint of Arabic accent or whiff of cardamom, that no one would notice if you dropped the ‘Arab’” (Kahf 143). Kahf offers a specific theme aimed towards ethnic groups of the importance of holding onto one’s roots, despite the racism. Joseph and Jocelyn were normal Arabs that lived a simple life. Unfortunately, their parents gave them different names and they removed their cultural aspects to appear American. People carrying this mindset is detrimental because everyone should feel proud of their ethnicity and visibly show off their heritage, culture, and religion. If this keeps up for multiple generations, then there would be no need for a family to hide their background because all cultural traditions would be long lost. Moreover, the more people accept who they are and portray themselves as their native background, the more it will help normalize all minority groups. If Joseph and Jocelyn showed themselves in their town as Arab, then it would be another positive representation causing more people to be less biased. Another prominent theme for all people is to seek help whenever trapped in a toxic relationship. Kahf utilizes Mzayyan to give all other abused women strength and courage to rise over their partner and leave to make a better life for themselves. There are multiple cases in America, where the couples are not arab, where a partner is being mistreated and assaulted. Therefore, the best solution is for the partner to recognize their worth and leave the relationship. Lastly, Kahf used a variety of Arab countries to emphasize the multitude of different cultures in the Arab regions. For example, Rana and Emad are Syrian, Mzayyan and her husband are Omani, and Joseph and Jocelyn are Lebanese. Many people assume that Arabs all come from one country, but there are actually twenty-two Arab countries that comprise of four hundred and fifty-six million people. Additionally, not every Arab person is Muslim as they are a large Christian and Jewish population. Therefore, it is absurd to put Arabs under one category because there are numerous distinct cultures and practices within the Arab nations. Tying it all together, Moja Kahf teaches to her audience multiple messages that are relevant to all people despite their background.

By contrasting the two Muslim couples in “The Spiced Chicken Queen of Mickaweaqua”, Mohja Kahf was able to shed light about the truth and beauty of Islam, while eliminating stereotypes and problematic assumptions that people make about them. Emad represented how Muslim men are to their wives, while Mzayyan’s husband is what Americans think how Muslim men are to their wives. Also, Dr. Rashid and Mzayyan are both strong independent women who have their careers and freedoms, just like any other individual. Most importantly, Kahf has three Arab couples from different countries to highlight the large nation of Arabs and how they all come from different backgrounds. Thus, it is crucial to not generalize Arabs because they all come from different cultures. It is important to note as well that not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs. This can be an issue when the American media is discussing a crime that an Arab man did, and everyone assumes that he is Muslim, when he is not, and is fed into their Islamophobia. On a large scale, Kahf addresses serious issues that apply to everyone, such as seeking help from Domestic Violence and maintaining one’s culture, no matter the ethnicity. Kahf leaves her readers with a call to action to end racism towards, not just Muslims and Arabs, but for all minority and ethnic groups around the world.


Venkatraman, Sakshi, and Mirna Alsharif. “For Muslim Americans, a Spike in Hate Incidents Feels Reminiscent of Post 9/11 Islamophobia.” NBC News, 31 Oct. 2023,

[Holiday series starts Monday,


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