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Stranger to History: A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands    by Aatish Taseer order for
Stranger to History
by Aatish Taseer
Order:  USA  Can
McClelland & Stewart, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Stranger to History: A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands, journalist Aatish Taseer travels in quest of his personal history and in the process rediscovers himself a stranger to both his own and to Islamic history. Taseer has an unusual heritage, raised by his journalist Sikh mother and grandparents in Delhi, India, and not knowing his Pakistani father Salmaan Taseer, a cultural Muslim, who was jailed 'for fighting General Zia's military dictatorship' and whose political career could not include an Indian son.

We are pulled through the book by a fascination with both Taseer's impressions of Islam around the world and by his very personal quest to bridge a gap of understanding with the father who was a distant unknown in his life until he traveled to Pakistan to meet him at age twenty-one. He begins his story with A Pilgrim's Prelude, sharing impressions as he comes 'faithless to Mecca', then goes back to the beginnings with his Delhi childhood and the discovery that he was different from his cousins.

As a journalist in England, Taseer found second-generation British Pakistanis to be 'charged with an extra-national Islamic identity, which came with a sense of grievance.' He wrote an article about his 'experience with radical Islam in Britain', to which his father strongly objected, accusing him of prejudice and of lacking understanding. So he decided to make a journey 'from one edge of the Islamic world, in Istanbul, to a classical centre, Mecca, and on through Iran to Pakistan.'

In Turkey, 'founded as a secular state' that broke its links to its Muslim past, he met Abdullah, whose faith 'spoke directly to the alien and hostile 'world system' that sought to turn Islam into an 'empty box'.' Iran's Grand Mufti spoke a narrative whose 'goal was to forward the idea of the great Islamic past, solidify the difference between Muslim and non-Muslim, and mourn the loss of a great time when Muslims had ruled the world.' He was in Syria during riots against 'cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad' published in Denmark and Norway, 'a misunderstanding of giant proportions.'

In Iran, 'an entire country that had been passed through an Islamic filter', he's informed that the regime is 'shortening the country's pre-Islamic history' in textbooks, making its youth 'strangers to their history.' He tells us 'The emphasis on trifles, and the hypocrisies that came with it, had been institutionalised, turned into a form of control over the people who posed the greatest threat to the republic: its young.'

Finally, Taseer reaches Pakistan, where he spends time in interior Sind with the Mango King, a feudal landlord who bemoans the loss of a middle class in his country. In Hyderabad, he attends a wedding and talks with a politician who seeks a just society. He meets an ideologue in Karachi who speaks of 'a civilization of faith.' And he joins his father in Lahore, only to find an 'empty room'. If you have any interest in the Islamic world, then Stranger to History is a must read.

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