Letters to a Young Muslim
By Omar Saif Ghobash, Picador, £12.99
This is a thought-provoking book, written by the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Russia to his two teenage sons. Omar Saif Ghobash, the son of a Russian mother and an Arab father who was killed by terrorists in 1977 when the author was four, is a voice rarely heard in the West: that of a devout Muslim, educated at Oxford, speaking Russian, Arabic, English and French, who is keen for his sons to reject all violence and know that “Islam is a religion of peace”.
There is much in what the author writes that all responsible parents would agree with: he wants his sons to spread the “Islamic values of respect, care for others, humour, generosity and the search for knowledge and justice”. He is anxious that they should grow up to feel responsibility for “orphans, the poor, the illiterate, the hungry, the fearful”. He also hopes that this “wholesome Islam” will enchant them with stories that “come from our rich Islamic and human imagination”.
The problem is that this is not the version of Islam that is generally portrayed in the West, so it is hard to assess how widespread Ghobash’s views are and what authority or influence they have within the Muslim world – in, say, Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.
He regards ISIS and the terrorists who regularly engage in outrage, in Western countries as having “nothing to do with Islam”. He argues that the voices of “aggressive clerics” who portray Islam as a “religion of power through violence” – and project “a worldview onto Islam that ties the experience of early Islamic empires to the core of our religion … that must dominate religiously, territorially and militarily” – are not the “true Islam”.
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