Advice for young Muslims from a wise father

Letters to a Young Muslimby Omar Saif Ghobash

Picador. 256p, $22

Contributing his moderate but compelling voice to Islamic discourse, Omar Saif Ghobash, ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Russia, has written a series of essays to his two teenage sons, Saif and Abdullah. Written with the loving—at times repetitive—patience of a concerned father, Letters to a Young Muslim covers a wide range of topics, from the history of Islam and of Ghobash’s family to the challenges facing devout Muslims today.

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Religious extremism prompted Ghobash to write these letters. “My overwhelming desire,” he writes,  “was to open up areas of thought, language, and imagination in order to show myself and my fellow Muslims that our world has so much more to offer us than the limited fantasies of deeply unhappy people.”

Ghobash shares several personal stories—including memories of his father’s assassination, a month spent at summer school memorizing the Quran and experiences growing up as a mixed-race Muslim in the United Arab Emirates—to describe how his current opinions on politics, religion, education and prejudice have formed.

He touches on themes universally important for teenagers, like the importance of a sense of a belonging and the necessity of taking responsibility for one’s identity. Ghobash urges his sons to respect the independence of their mind: “If what someone tells you sounds convincing, ask more questions.” And he does not shy away from describing the complex, and at times problematic, relationship between Islam and the West.

Ghobash’s views on religious extremism make for provocative reading. He censures the ulema, or religious scholars, responsible for espousing extremist teachings while also criticizing those whose only response to religiously motivated violence is to say, “Islam is a religion of peace.”

Although unflinching about the work that needs to be done to establish the religion Islam is meant to be, the collection maintains an optimistic tone, repeating that the next generation of Muslims can make a difference: “You are correct in thinking that if someone is going to change the world for the better, then it is you.”

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