Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash

The binary world is not the only Islamic world you can live in. There is much more gray in between the black and white that the ulema and other scholars present us. And the gray is where you develop intellectually and morally. The gray area of uncertainty and doubt as to what is right and what is wrong is where you discover your own right to think for yourself and to participate in the construction of our ethical world in practice.
— Omar Saif Ghobash, Letters to a Young Muslim

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.)

The more difficult and perhaps more valuable sacrifice a person can make is to face the complexity of modern life and live life to its fullest - morally, spiritually, and socially. It is far more difficult to deal with the troubles thrown up by a globalized economy, the complexities of modern city life, and the utter sense of futility that all of us feel at some stage. And morally far more important.
— Omar Saif Ghobash, Letters to a Young Muslim

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. 

I want you to notice that there are at least two kinds of responsibility that I am referring to here. The first kind of responsibility is the responsibility you take for your own actions. And to take responsibility for your own actions, I believe you must first take responsibility for your own beliefs... This is a big demand. It is not easy to look at your beliefs and think through them... It is difficult, as words and ideas are slippery and can easily slide out of your control. This is why a lifelong search for knowledge through order and meaning are vital.
— Omar Saif Ghobash, Letters to a Young Muslim