Narrating Everyday British Life by Authors of Muslim Heritage, Then and Now

In today’s multicultural Britain, it is hard to believe that in the early twentieth century there were perhaps only 25 Indian female students in the whole country. Brought across from India to be educated in a British college in 1906, Atiya Fyzee was therefore one of the first female Muslim authors to write about living in the UK. By the twenty-first century, Britain has of course, become more cosmopolitan, but even so the recent novel Maps for Lost Lovers, by Nadeem Aslam, shows the problems South Asian migrant communities continue to face.

Sibyl Adam (University of Edinburgh) and Hannah Kershaw (University of York) introduce us to these important and, in their own way, pioneering writers. Hannah introduces the talk.

In the first half of this lecture, Sibyl Adam evaluates the historical resonance of Atiya Fyzee (1877-1967), one of the first Muslim women to write about living in the UK, by considering how she narrated the public events she attended in London in 1906-7 in her travelogue. By situating her narrative within the context of the Edwardian imperial metropolis, Sibyl will show the impact of being a colonial subject on Atiya’s narration of daily life and notions of selfhood.

In the second half, Hannah Kershaw explores how Nadeem Aslam (1966-), a contemporary Pakistan-born author living and working in the UK, narrates the everyday cross-cultural interactions between the Pakistani migrant community and ‘the Whites’ in his 2004 novel Maps for Lost Lovers and what this can tell us about Muslim perspectives of contemporary British multiculturalism. Hannah shows how Britain’s colonial history with India plays a significant role in how South Asian migrant communities navigate the problems of practising Islam in a secular country.

Hannah and Sibyl emphasise the long history of authors of Muslim heritage (of varying degrees of cultural religiosity) writing about living in the UK, and by using two very different texts, suggest a development of literature that helps connect colonialism to current issues of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and migrant identities.

This lecture formed part of our Late Summer Lecture series, featuring the best postgraduate research into narrative and literature. The series continues until 7th October.

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