Letters to a Young Muslim
by Yasmina El Hilali
How do you juggle two identities? How do you combine East and West?
Do you dare ask what they have in common?
Letters to a Young Muslim immediately caught my eye in the local bookstore. Its cover is a bright blue with intricate patterns of silver and gold and I couldn’t help but pick it up. I identify as (relatively) young and Muslim and I was curious what this book was all about. Was it perhaps addressed to me?
Letters to a Young Muslim is a compilation of honest letters of a father (Ghobash) to his son Saif. In his letters, Ghobash opens up about the challenges he faces as a Muslim father raising a Muslim son in the West. The letters are filled with questions, possible answers and tools to move through life. It is Ghobash’s hope that they will aid his son in negotiating his double identity in a world full of dichotomies.
At the time of writing this book, Ghobash is the Ambassador of The United Arab Emirates to Russia. At a young age, he lost his father, the UAE’s first minister of state, to a terrorist attack and has been asking questions ever since. The main question being: what does it mean to be a Muslim? When his son was born, this question was soon exchanged for a slightly different one: what does it mean to be a Muslim in the 21st century?
I remember when you realized that you were a Muslim. You were tiny. You were sweet and round and friendly. It was at an event at school. […] One day the students had to identify their religion and you came back “aware” of your religious identity. You took this identity very seriously. You began to ask me what you “had to do” to be a Muslim.
He explains to his son that the death of his own father forced him to answer questions he hadn’t thought of asking before and that it were these questions that shaped the way he views the world. Now, his son is coming to an age where he is asking himself similar, if not the same, questions. How do you keep faith and hold on to your sense of identity in a world where Islamic Extremism and Islamophobia are competing in a constant tug of war? How do you cope when you’re constantly overwhelmed by media coverage of Islam, which always seems to go hand-in-hand with an excessive amount of violence? How does all this represent you?
I do not want you to learn the most important things in life from people who do not love you as I love you . I want you to learn the lessons from the person who loves you most. If you think that I worry too much about you, know that I worry only about you.
Through his letters, Ghobash offers his son context, history, experience, wisdom. He shows him his place in the greater scheme of things. He encourages him to seek knowledge outside of his own particular world, to move beyond what he knows. He urges him to seek knowledge in all cultures, literatures and philosophies. He teaches him that the world isn’t just filled with horrible dichotomies, extremities and irreconcilable entities.
You can be both East and West. You can be Muslim and sit at the table. You can adhere to your faith while learning about others. Most importantly, Ghobash’s letters reassuringly tell his son: “Look, I’ve been there”, while simultaneously allowing him to be a child of his time.
Letters to a Young Muslim is a book that challenges Muslims and non-Muslims alike to dare open their minds.
So, what are you waiting for?