Stranger to History: A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands
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As a child, all Aatish Taseer ever had of his father was a photograph in a browning silver frame. Raised by his Sikh mother in Delhi, his Muslim Pakistani father remained a distant figure, almost a figment of his imagination, until at twenty-one Aatish crossed the border to meet him.
Stranger to History is the story Aatish's journey-from Istanbul, Islam's once greatest city, to Mecca, its most holy, and then home, through Iran and Pakistan. Ending in Lahore, on the night Benazir Bhutto was killed, it is also the story of Aatish's own divided family over the past fifty years. Part memoir, part travelogue, probing, stylish and troubling, Stranger to History is an outstanding debut.
'Stranger to History is an amazing narrative: a kind of Muslim Odyssey which unfolds before the reader's eyes, bringing revelations, sometimes painful perhaps, but always intensely compelling.'
knocked on my door. He was looking for a plug point to charge his phone. I said I hadn’t seen one, but that he was free to look. He went away, then came back and sat down. His name was Rizwan and he was an electrical-engineering student in Karachi. ‘Where are you from?’ he asked. ‘Karachi.’ ‘But in reality where are you from?’ ‘London.’ ‘I could tell from your accent.’ ‘Is it apparent?’ ‘Slightly. Are you Muslim?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, not wishing to enter into a long explanation.
the average Muslim as inherently good and of one mind. My father later spoke to me of this brotherhood, and what I wondered again and again was what his admission into this brotherhood was based on. And why was I so definitely shut out of it where he was concerned? ‘When you go to a country and you see two groups of people,’ Abdullah said, ‘you can easily tell who is a Muslim and who is not because to be a Muslim requires many things. For example when the time for prayer is called, he goes to
to spend afternoons and sometimes nights at my cousins’ house. My aunt had married the heir of a rich Sikh family and the house was always full of his nephews and nieces, who also lived in big houses on similar wide roads with neem berries and fat ants. I lived with my mother, another aunt and my grandparents in a small house past several roundabouts and a flyover that separated the Delhi of white bungalows and neem trees from the post-independence Delhi of colonies. My mother thought that as I
rounded up for not being correctly dressed, cars stopped for playing Western music, raids, confiscations, a general tightening of the belt. At the same time, the news carried reports of women being allowed to enter stadiums for the first time, despite the religious men in Qom creating an uproar about it. The regime was keeping people busy interpreting these mixed messages. My guard was down in Tehran for no other reason than that the Iranians I met spoke openly and freely, and were so trusting
had gone, the servant brought up a few beers and I sat for a while with my brother. In Karachi, there had recently been bombs. There were often bombs in Karachi, but this was more serious. A suicide-bomber had come into a prayer meeting of a Sunni political group on the Prophet’s birthday and, along with himself, blew up the group’s leadership and nearly sixty other people. The tensions the bombing brought to the surface revealed divisions and sub-divisions of denomination, language and sect that