Forthright, wry, entirely enjoyable memoir from a Pakistani-British businessman who grew up amid English Christians and questioned his adherence to Islam.
Born in Karachi in 1962, Ahmad moved with his middle-class parents to London a year later. They sought better economic opportunities, but found instead an entrenched system of discrimination. The family first lived in Putney, then Hampton, and early on Ahmad gleaned the impression of being different: “both foreign and not Christian.” He didn’t eat Spam at school like the others and was exempted from attending the religious assembly every day. “I’m not so sure about this,” he writes (his memoir employs present tense throughout). “I quite like singing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful.’ ” Small but significant events began to shape the author’s sense of justice, underscored by his training from age 11 at an Islamic school, where he learned that the Muslims revere the Old Testament and Jesus. Ahmad has an engaging voice, and his mannered prose, presented in brief, anecdotal chapters, is winning. The bookish boy surprised himself by getting into Hampton Grammar School and shone there despite the occasional ugly comments about immigrants. He decided by default to become a doctor, but failed to make the grade. At Stirling University in Scotland, he found theology texts more compelling. He was tortured by the suspicion that loving Jesus was the way into Heaven, as instructed by his Evangelical friend Magnus, and that Islam was the religion of Satan. Gradually, he understood that Islam is a rational religion, rather than an emotional one like Christianity, and while disgusted by the “cultural contamination” of radical Arabic sects, he decided Islam suited him.
A scrupulously well-intentioned look at how Christians and Muslims might live respectfully side by side.