Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Once Were Radicals: My years as a teenage Islamo-fascist, by Irfan Yusuf

Mr Yusuf is an Australian writer who frequently publishes opinion pieces in print and online media. I’ve always enjoyed his humourous slant on Islamic issues, so I thought I’d give his debut book a go.

A bit to my surprise, seeing the subject matter is growing up Muslim with Indo-Pakistani parents, I found this memoir to be a real page-turner. Before I knew it I was half way through the book, and by the time I got to the end I wanted a bit more.

For me one of the chief appeals of the book is the descriptions of the scholarly Islamic environment Irfan Yusuf was raised in. The descriptions of his educated, Urdu speaking mother are both endearing and funny. (Her anxieties centre around young Irfan doing well in his studies.)

The second half of the book describes the author becoming interested in political Islam. This leads him to make a few hasty conclusions about what it means to be a true Muslim. After much reading and soul searching, Yusuf rejects many of the tenets of political Islam. A lot of it he sees as enforcing monoculturalism and homogeneity.

Most non-Muslim Australians like myself see Islam through the lens of a hot and intemperate media. At the back of our minds, no matter how liberal we try to think ourselves, the media has created a mental template that equates Muslims with terrorism.

You should give this very enjoyable book a go as it will give you a more three dimensional, human picture of what it’s like to grow up Muslim.

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