Study Guide

A Border Passage Identity

By Leila Ahmed

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An autobiography is the perfect genre for any author to dig deep and learn/reveal important truths about herself. And Leila Ahmed does not disappoint in this department. From her earliest confrontations with her mother to that knock-down, drag-out with Miss Nabih, Ahmed claws away at labels and assumptions to articulate exactly what it means to be an Egyptian, a Muslim, and a woman in her family.

Her biggest challenge is to deconstruct Arabness: what does it actually mean to be Arab? How can this label truthfully represent people from so many different places and cultures? Ahmed senses deceit behind the term and feels uncomfortable with the misrepresentation of her ethnic and cultural identity. And, in a more garden-variety quest, Ahmed has to confront her own understanding of self as she deals with family and moves through the world.

Questions About Identity

  1. Why is Ahmed so uncomfortable being called an Arab?
  2. What are some of the things that make Ahmed's relationship with her mother so complicated?
  3. Why isn't Ahmed into Arabic (pop) culture when she was growing up? Why the love affair with British culture?
  4. In what ways does coming to America force Ahmed to do some serious soul searching? How does this journey change how she thinks of herself and her work?

Chew on This

Ahmed's quest to deconstruct her Arab identity isn't simply a journey to learn more about herself; it's really a quest for the truth.

Ahmed's exploration of her relationship with her mother becomes as crucial to understanding who she truly is as her inquiry into Egypt's political past.

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