Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash
One of the books I read over the weekend was Omar Saif Ghobash's Letters to a Young Muslim. This was a fascinating read in that it was so out of my element. I do not read a lot about theology in general, but I know even less about both Arab and Muslim 'culture'. It would not surprise me if this has something to do with the Islamophobia prevalent throughout the West, of which our society succumbs to, consciously or not. I read this because I am educated enough to know that the fear created around Islam and the Muslim people is not accurate and not okay, but I am still naive about this religion and other Muslim tradition, having grown up in a predominantly Christian country. I even did my best to take the advice in the opening pages, which is to think "peace be upon him" every time the Prophet Mohammed's name (PBUH) is mentioned. I read this as an exercise, to challenge my own habits and to educate myself, which is essentially what Ghobash asks of his son, Saif, in these letters.
The fact that this book's lessons are revealed through Ghobash's letters to his son makes it relatable. This format works well; we saw it in Ta-Nehesi Coates' Between the World and Me. The endeavor of father to guide son is well understood across humankind, and thus a wonderful medium through which to establish rapport, even with those outside of one's faith. And just like Coates' book, to the degree that it is about the son, it is also about the father (ah, a story we know all too well!). Ghobash lost his father not to religious violence, though this is something he covers in depth, but to political violence in the 1970s, when Ghobash was just six years old. Having an absent father is Ghobash's rational for making an even grander effort to be present in his son's transformation into man, and into Muslim individual. (The connection to Coates' is that Coates is shaped very much by his own father, who was involved with the Black Panther party and inspired in his son an alternative way of life to the one the streets set out for him.)
It is my understanding that Ghobash is not a trained writer, and I was not swept away by the prose per say. Rather, I was swept up by the lessons he was trying to impart to his son - lessons about individual responsibility, not just for one's thoughts and actions, but how these contribute to the wider community or society as a whole. It is one thing to read these letters, it is another to go beyond these statements to find meaning in one's life. There is much to learn from this.