July 17, 2016
The book, which focuses on Muslim women, also
traces the implications of the 9/11 attacks.
Khair's latest novel is a nuanced study of the implications of western
Islamophobia that has been on the rise ever since the 9/11 attacks. The book
attempts to explain the reasons that are propelling Muslims in the West to
trade their lives of comfort for one that entails suffering, deprivation and,
very often, death itself in the name of Jihad.
searching prose in this sense is an inquiry into what goes inside the minds of
the Muslims in the West as they try to find a way to continue with their
everyday lives while keeping their faith and also how that faith is sometimes
manipulated by those in power, turning them into pawns to be used by them as per
The plot of
the novel is centred on two young British girls, Jamilla and Ameena, who
undergo experiences of cultural alienation in British society. It is evident
that Tabish has drawn his inspiration for the plot from real life events, one
of them relating to the three schoolgirls who reportedly fled the country to
join the ISIS in Syria.
provides an account of his characters' lives in UK as meticulously as in Syria,
he seems to be at his lucid best when doing the latter. Interspersed with the
action of the novel are the two girls' self-transformations and their growing
understanding of the "real" Islam and its ethics, which the reader
deserves the credit for being as value-neutral as possible while trying to
analyse the psychological underpinnings of fundamentalism and tries to look at
the matter from various perspectives. These multiple perspectives include those
of Jamilla's family, Ameena, her parents, and later even Hajjiye and Hasan.
Apart from its brilliant suspense that keeps the reader guessing about Ameena's
fateful life, the book is also appealing for the empathy with which Tabish has
etched out his female characters.
which focuses on Muslim women, also traces the implications of the 9/11
are we made aware of the racial discrimination faced by Muslim women,
particularly those who wish to stay veiled while living in the West, but also
how, once internalised by them, does it actually frame and affect their psyche.
It is the trauma of living in a hostile cultural environment that turns Ameena
into a religious fanatic with Jamilla and her family's politics acting as mere
facilitators of that transformation.
not just a push from the immediate environment in the direction of Jihad
working on these girls, but also a pull - the allure of being a part of
"the perfect Islamic state" - exercised by people like Hejjiye. The
text documents how modern-day technologies, especially internet, are being used
by the fundamentalists to further their cause.
tale comes to us sieved through Ameena's consciousness, who is recounting the
experiences of her Daesh days and the ones prior to that to the unnamed textual
author. The structure of the novel is thus very much remindful of Conrad's
Heart of Darkness, where Ameena is the Kurtz who, in place of colonialism,
discovers the horrific reality of religious fundamentalism, and Jamila, like
Marlowe, is the rightful inheritor of the legacy of that realisation that she
wants to disseminate.
Marlowe, Jamila too tells a lie about Ameena, a lie told because the truth is
too convoluted. In talking about this grim, morbid reality of our times, the
novel may come across as too cynical. However, it also has its moments of hope,
and in reading those lies the value of this extraordinary work. The writer is a
research scholar in the Department of English Literature at the English and
Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad.