Tuesday, 21 of October of 2014

Archives from month » August, 2009

Idolising Islam

This was published in EMEL Magazine

Do you want to be the next Islamic Idol? An Egyptian TV programme earlier this year pitted 12 hopefuls against each other in an American Idol-style singing contest in order to achieve that most perplexing of accolades: “Islamic Idol.” Yup, go ahead with the double take on the title. I did the same, unable to imagine two concepts so diametrically opposed to each other being brought together in a serious manner.

The show aimed to find talent for a new Islamic pop channel in the Arab world, 4shbab, For the Youth, which appears to be a sort of halal MTV for an upcoming generation of young Muslims who are conscious of observing their Islamic faith. Ahmad Abu Heiba whose idea lies behind the channel says his mission is to spread the message that observant Muslims can also be modern and in touch with today’s world.

Muslims are not alone in wanting to create alternative choices to the mainstream in order to meet their beliefs. Those who keep kosher, observe a vegetarian diet, or make efforts to live an environmentally friendly life are amongst many others trying to create product options. If by creating “Islamic” options we also create opportunities for Muslims to live their lives at their most spiritually fulfilled level, then this is a good thing.

However, something still niggles with some of these “Islamic alternatives”. Remember the rise of “Islamic cola” a few years ago? Brands like Mecca Cola, Zamzam Cola and Qibla Cola sprung onto our shelves during a period of great encouragement in the Muslim community to boycott mainstream brands. They sold millions of bottles across the world to a cola-thirsty ummah. The political situation had made Muslims conscious of what they were drinking, so why didn’t Muslim entrepreneurs take the opportunity to introduce different beverages in healthier and more innovative flavours instead of mindlessly aping a high-calorie drink which rots your teeth?

Not only would boycott-conscious Muslims have been helped to support their efforts, but such new products might have served a wider audience all of whom are looking for new alternatives. The political opportunity would have been the perfect platform to highlight not only the political change Muslims were demanding, but also the social value they were adding to everyone. By thinking only within the confines of the label “Islamic”, products are not necessarily designed to be good from the bottom-up for the benefit of all in the long run. Instead, they focus on a short-term need.

You will tell me that there is nothing wrong in meeting an urgent short term requirement that meets the technical specification of your need, and you would be absolutely right. Except for the following facts: if all you ever do is focus on today, your future can never be any different to your yesterday. If all you ever do is tweak the products and paradigms of others to conform to your technicalities, you will only ever be a follower, never a leader.
So, whilst we must support the efforts of those who try to help us live more Islamic lives by giving us “Islamic” options, we must at the same time push harder for original thinking in the civic, social and business spheres which will create a better future not just for Muslims, but for everyone.

One very obvious example is the eco-industry. Islam at its very core is about maintaining respect and balance with the environment. Whilst we are busy spending all our time on getting the technicalities right, (remembering that they are indeed very important) we forget that other extremely important point: Islam is a big-picture way-of-life, concerned with equilibrium at a cosmic level. Muslims therefore have a great deal to contribute to setting the very parameters of this nascent debate. Muslim thinking and entrepreneurs are well-placed to shape this new paradigm, contribute to its development and then to capitalise commercially.

There is one bigger, more critical worry when we focus on creating me-too products with the label “Islamic”. When we tick off the list of requirements for something to be “Islamic”, we must be wary of serving “Islam” itself rather than the Creator and that ‘Islam’ itself does not become an idol that must be placated. Is our intent “for the sake of Islam” or is it for the sake of the Creator? When “Islam” or being “Islamic” are the end goals, then we find that titles like “Islamic Idol” are easily created, and that must be a cautionary lesson for all of us.


The marital rights of the British Muslim wife

This article was published at Faith Central at the Times Online

Bess Twiston-Davies writes: Melanie Reid, our columnist, is merely one of many commentators who has asked why Britain’s soldiers are apparently fighting for the right of Afghan men to mistreat their wives, in the wake of the new so -called “Marital Rape” Law (although the original clause permitting men to withold food from wives who refuse sex was eventually removed). Here Faith’s Central’s Muslim guest blogger, Shelina Janmohamed, author of Love in a Headscarf and the blog Spirit21 looks at the disturbing, related issue of the lack of legal protection for many Muslim women who marry in Britain

Shelina writes: One of the reasons Britain gives for its military intervention in Afghanistan is the liberation of Muslim woman from oppression.

But what if anything has really changed for them in the 8 years in which the UK and US have been present in the country? In fact, with laws like the recent legislation dubbed the “marital rape law” where a husband can supposedly starve his wife if she does not have sex with him, it’s hard to see that Muslim women are indeed being ’saved’.

Let’s look at the example of veiling where women are forced to wear the Afghan-style burqa. This is utterly wrong as it is a woman’s choice as to how she should dress. Some in Afghanistan, however, who would argue that it is a more traditional society, where women being uncovered is ‘alien’ to the ‘culture’. This really is about culture not religion because this is absent in the majority of Muslim countries bar a few exceptions.

Back in Britain, some Muslim women do face pressure to veil, but on the whole veiled Muslim women are exercising their own freedom of choice. This can be seen from the fact they tend to be younger, well-educated, British-born women, often decked out in the latest fashions. These women are exercising the same freedom of choice that Britain says it is fighting to give Afghan women.

Now let’s look at marriage. Married Afghan women have little protection from mistreatment and abuse. The scale of magnitude in Afghanistan is clearly different to the UK, but British Muslim women can suffer from lack of protection by the law in Britain too. If we care about Muslim women’s rights in Afghanistan, we must demonstrate clearly that we care about them here as well.

I’m referring to the ‘nikah’, the Islamic wedding ceremony, which is not recognised under British law as a legal marriage. For this, the bride and groom must undertake a further civil marriage ceremony. A Church of England marriage by comparison is automatically registered as a legally recognised marriage. For Muslims, as with many of other religions, it is the religious ceremony that is paramount, and once this is conducted the couple are considered married. Rightly or wrongly, the civil marriage is often not carried out.

If the marriage doesn’t work out, or the husband leaves the wife, the wife is still married but has no legal protection under British law. Further, if the husband proves unscrupulous, he can marry another wife legally under British law without committing bigamy. Recognising the nikah as a valid British marriage with all the parameters of the civil marriage is the first step to solving this problem. Some mosques do insist that the civil marriage certificate is proffered before they will conduct the nikah, but these are too few. Tying the nikah into civil marriage has nothing to do with ‘Islamifying’ Britain, but is rather a small development which will offer much needed British legal protection to Muslim women in marriage.

Of course the Muslim community – mosques and Imams – who have conducted the marriage ceremony should be held responsible should a marriage break down, but this doesn’t always happen. Ensuring that mosques and Imams are abiding by procedures which give both bride and groom their full rights is the next step, and for that we need to talk about those so called ’shariah courts.’ In fact, a better description would be ‘Islamic advisory panel’. At the moment they consist of volunteers with various levels of Islamic training, probably few social or counselling skills and even less legal training under British law. This is hardly surprising, since they state quite openly that their remit is to offer Islamic advice. Often faced with marital disputes Muslim women prefer to go to these panels because their faith is important to them and they want an Islamic resolution to their problems. Also, they live as part of a family and community, and any resolution agreed with such a panel is more likely to stick with the people amongst which they live.

By recognising the nikah as legally valid, these subsequent links in the chain will be forced to deal with such issues with higher standards and in line with legal norms, thereby respecting the religious wishes of the Muslim woman, and at the same time affording her full protection in the law. A standard of behaviour and guidance amongst mosques and Imams becomes normalised over time, and the woman becomes automatically protected.

If we are busy fighting in Afghanistan for legal protections to be put in place for Muslim women, then we need to do the same for Muslim women here. The issues are different in magnitude but are still about both choice and protection. Not only will implementing such laws and protection in Britain squash accusations that ’saving’ Muslim women is just a pretext for war, not only will it actually protect Muslim women, but more importantly it will also demonstrate that in word as well as in practice we are genuine in our intentions and actions.


Culture of extravagance is robbing Ramadan of its significance

This article was published recently in The National, which is based in Abu Dhabi, and aims at a Gulf and Middle Eastern market.

The Muslim world goes topsy-turvy in Ramadan. Eating, sleeping and socialising routines are turned back to front – the first meal is eaten as the sun sets. The initial morsel of food into our mouths will usually be a sweet, succulent date, according to the Islamic tradition. But are the hours that follow really that religious?

Contemporary changes to the Ramadan culture mean that the spiritual significance of Ramadan is slowly being lost. Abstaining from physical intake during daylight hours – which means food, drink, and sex – with the intention of getting closer to the Divine, has a myriad of philosophies and meanings.
It allows appreciation of the suffering of the poor and hungry, a chance to devote less time to the physical and more time to the spiritual, a recognition that we can live happily and successfully with less than we have.Come nightfall, these good intentions are put to one side, as though Ramadan is for daylight hours only, and the revelling begins.

Mothers cook sumptuous meals for their families. The food is indulgently calorific to the point that many Muslims say they actually gain weight rather than lose it as one might expect. The philosophy of restraint and frugality adhered to during the day has its mirror image in the excessive culinary indulgence after dark.
One of the religious traditions of Ramadan is to feed others at the time of iftar in order to gain reward. Dinner invitations thus abound, and these iftar gatherings are warm social events. But in many places they turn into arenas for showmanship, outdoing friends and family with ever extravagant menus. “People will announce at the end of the meal how much it cost,” said one Egyptian woman to emphasise the one-upmanship that dominates what should be an occasion of sharing and community.

Once the iftar is over, there is a wide choice of entertainment. Those who are extrovert will find their way to newly erected Ramadan tents, to smoke shisha and chill out with friends for the whole night, going from party to party until dawn. Other families will stay at home to watch the multitude of soap operas which dominate Ramadan. In Saudi Arabia last year it was claimed that there were 64 such soap operas broadcast each night, staggered over time so audiences could watch as many as possible.
This is not a comment on the values or quality of the soaps, or the claims by some clerics that they are “debauched”. It is simply an observation that these soap operas prey on the communal feeling that is generated in Ramadan and profit from it. The audience is understandably drawn towards the high level of entertainment but inadvertently becomes distracted from the sweet pleasures of contemplation and social intercourse of Ramadan.
And let’s not forget the shopping. Shops are open later than ever, and it seems that Ramadan is not a time of midnight contemplation, but rather just a prelude to Eid, a day to show off your new clothes. Ramadan shopping festivals are becoming more common, as is the compulsion to purchase and give Eid presents to a wide circle of acquaintances.

Instead of cutting back on the desire to consume, we end up with heightened consumption in these 30 days, whether that be in restaurants or in retail.

This is not to say that the Muslim world has become a month-long consumerist orgy – far from it. The social and spiritual temperature of Muslim communities is high and mosques teem with passionate worshippers.What may surprise many who live in majority Muslim countries is that this sense of community and faith is particularly acute in countries where Muslims are minorities.

In these countries, if you are fasting you have to make an active choice to go against the grain of mainstream society. You still have to go to work where you can stare longingly at your colleagues drinking coffee, or attend meetings which run across the iftar time. You have to really know and understand why you are fasting, rather than just being swept up in the maelstrom. There is a sense of community purpose in these countries and an overwhelming push towards spiritual success.
The energy is so focused that I have known Muslims who come to Britain leaving Muslim countries behind in order to have a more spiritually profitable month.

As Ramadan’s religious significance is slowly eclipsed by its commercial and cultural status, then it is voided of its meaning, and ultimately of its importance. That is exactly what happened in 1960 when the president of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, wanted to cancel Ramadan. He felt that although Ramadan was a “beautiful custom”, it “paralysed our society”.
He appeared on national television with his cabinet eating during the day and tried to get senior Muslim clerics to issue fatwas to say that it was permissible not to fast. Of course, this did not happen, but it is a salutary tale of how, when religious occasion turns into culture, it becomes vulnerable to elimination.

There are some who will say I am being a killjoy and too pious. Others will say that if mothers want to spoil their families with delicious food after working hard on their fasts all day, then that is their right. There are those who will say that spending the night chatting away in shisha bars or comparing notes on soap operas, increases the sense of community and social cohesion.
These outcomes are all good things – part of the magic of Ramadan, no doubt. And of course there is no compulsion in how you spend Ramadan. You do not have to sit on a prayer mat all hours of the day. But I do see a worrying trend when you piece each of these actions together. Each one may be justifiable because everyone has choice, but if you step back, you start to see that the meaning and context of Ramadan is slowly being lost.
If we accept these justifications then we must be wary of opening ourselves to the charge of hypocrisy.

Ramadan and Eid are not the only occasions to have suffered this slow and insidious dilution of meaning and impact. Practising Christians in the western world complain that Christmas has been sucked dry of its religious meaning. Other festivals, too, have lost their meaning. Easter was about rebirth and renewal, but now focuses on chocolate eggs and cute bunnies. And Lent, which was a 40-day period of frugality and restraint – almost akin to Ramadan itself in its ethos – has been distilled down to Mardi Gras, pancakes and gaudy carnivals.

Some people will bristle at the comparison of the way that Christmas has been usurped by consumerism with the contemporary experience of Ramadan. But the similarities are striking as the evidence above shows.You do not have to be religious to appreciate that the social and ethical meaning of festivals such as Christmas, Ramadan and Eid have a great deal to contribute to the morality of human society.

For this reason, Muslims add their voices to these complaints, as part of the faith communities who share a concern about the sapping of meaning and moral compass from these occasions. However, it often turns into pointing fingers at the West for becoming “godless” or “decadent” due to the excessive commercialisation, while turning a blind eye to the same challenges in the Muslim world.

Is this a case of pot calling the kettle black?

Ramadan does not have to be, and should not be, sober pious asceticism. Of course not. Enjoyment, sharing and happiness in our togetherness are critical components of Ramadan. But Ramadan should be about more than gluttony, shopping and vacuous entertainment.

We do in fact need to recognise and acknowledge the place of Ramadan’s material pleasures. By being honest about the importance of the physical, we can de-prioritise it in favour of the spiritual and moral at least for the 30 days of Ramadan.

This de-prioritisation is what makes Ramadan special in the first place. By withholding the importance of the physical self, Ramadan is about recognising the importance of our individual spirit, and about finding our place as souls, not bodies, in the society in which we live.

The Muslim wedding, British manners and the Minister who walked out

This article has just been published at the Times Online.


Politics.co.uk carries this report on Jim Fitzpatrick, the Minister for Food, Farming and Environment, who walked out of a Muslim marriage ceremony in his constituency, apparently in a state of shock that men and women would be segregated and sit apart.

Our guest blogger, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, author of Love in a Headscarf, argues, with justification, that Fitzpatrick was extremely rude to the couple in question. What do you think?

Shelina writes: Fitzpatrick’s constituency, Poplar and Canning Town, includes Tower Hamlets which has a 35 per cent Bangladeshi Muslim population. He claims, rather surprisingly, that he was unaware of the custom of segregation at Muslim weddings. It worries me that the representative of a ward where a large minority are Muslim is completely ignorant of this tradition. I’m even more shocked that he is proud to profess his ignorance. Whether he likes or dislikes the custom is a different matter: surely he ought to be aware of how a significant chunk of his community conduct a central event in their personal lives. What else is he ignorant of?

Let’s start with the meaning of integration. Fitzpatrick says that separate seating for men and women is stopping integration. Yet here is a family who only knows him through a friend and possibly as their MP, inviting him to their most important day. That to me is reaching out and encouraging integration.

Then we can move onto good manners. Weddings have always been a very personal matter and as with all occasions, there is etiquette which the guests must follow. If there is one thing that the British can truly pride themselves on, it is (or at least used to be) excellent manners. We know how to respond to invitations, use the right cutlery, queue in line. In fact many a book over the centuries has been written on developing the right social graces. The bride and groom are under no obligation as to who they invite to the wedding, and to be invited at all is a great honour. And at a time when budgets are tighter than ever, and weddings are becoming increasingly expensive, it is a real privilege to be invited to someone’s wedding.

I feel very sad for the bride and groom that their special day has been hijacked by a rude ungracious guest who decided that their personal choices for the day were not to his taste.

But here is the rub of Fitzpatrick’s ignorance. Segregated weddings are extremely commonplace and have been so for decades. Only a handful of the many Muslim weddings I have attended in my life have not been segregated. And this is not just the case in Britain but all over the world. Women have their own celebrations, as do the men, and both of these are incredibly joyful vibrant occasions. A half-Iraqi half-English Muslim friend who married a British born Bangladeshi had her marriage celebration for women only, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Her husband is delighted that the women got to “let their hair down” (literally in some cases of hijab-wearers). A wedding I attended in Bahrain of a minor royal was held in a glamorous marquee catering for a thousand people. Nine hundred and ninety nine were women. The groom popped in briefly to give his bride the ring.

If we look closer to home, segregation is still prevalent in other wedding traditions too. Some orthodox Jewish marriages are segregated. And we still hold dear to our separation of the stag night and hen do. Would Fitzpatrick have wanted to take his wife along on a drunken weekend in Prague?


The Road from Damascus – review and author interview

The Road from Damascus, written by Robin Yassin-Kassab, is set in London, and follows the story of Sami Traifi, a tortured academic who struggles to follow in the footsteps of his brilliant atheist secular Syrian father.

The book opens in Damascus where Sami is visiting distant relatives in order to inspire his academic thesis, but he discovers a dark secret there that ought to shatter the perfect image he has of his father, but which pushes him deeper into crisis. Interwoven into his tale are the struggles of his neurotic but patient and devout mother Nur, his long-suffering and yet extremely balanced and new-to-discovering religion wife Muntaha, as well as his street-wise fundamentalist brother-in-law, and numerous other characters.

It is a dark, disturbing and challenging read. This is not a frivolous by-the-beach book, far from it. You have to be fully engaged intellectually and emotionally with this book. It rattles you in the way intense literature can. At times you feel physically shaken, at others, you marvel at the author’s turn of phrase that shimmer jewel-like in the text.
At first glance it is a welcome addition to the writings about Muslim experiences, and in particular it offers an insight into a world that is even less familiar to British readers – that of the Arab experience in the UK. It delves into the history and attitudes that have been shaped by the rise of Arab Nationalism and secularism in the region, and the tensions that have been created – rightly or wrongly – between the notion of keeping religion whilst aspiring to modernity. Sami is a secular atheist fundamentalist who cannot comprehend why his wife finds fulfilment and solace in the faith she discovers long after they are married. He is repulsed by his mother who prays and excludes her from his life out of disgust. Yet they are far more centred and content than he is despite the fact he claims moral and intellectual superiority. He spurns them, whilst they shower him in love.

But whilst the book does much to inform readers of the “Muslim experience”, it is about something other than making a contribution to the landscape of literature that tries to untangle the complexity of religion in our society. The book is much bigger than this and in some ways less about religion and more about the intersections of life choices of different people, and how at some points they veer towards each other, and other times they veer apart. the human skill is to be able to hold relationships together no matter where you are on the curve.

Sami is a deep, dark, miserable anti-hero, not realising that redemption comes not from remaining in the past, but by making sense of what has gone before in order to create the future. His are the darkest of human demons – disparaging the importance of emotion and spirituality in favour of the intellect. In many ways it is the portrait of the eternal questions that face human beings, and which are at the centre of our contemporary debates.

I caught up with Robin Yasin-Kassab after he returned from the Palestine Literature Festival.



Shelina: Where did the idea for your book come from?

Robin: I don’t know. I just started writing. Which is my only advice to someone who wants to be a writer: just write.

Another answer would be: from the churning of ideas and experiences in my mind, having lived in London, Istanbul, Damascus, Rawalpindi and elsewhere, over the years. And from feeling the rising cultural tension after September 11th, the crushing of the second Intifada, the invasion of Iraq, etc.

And from reading novels, of course.

Shelina: In Britain, even though mainstream writing by and about British Muslims and Islam is relatively limited, what does exist tends to focus on the Sub-continental experience. Your book exposes a very different backdrop that many readers may be unfamiliar with like notions of Arab Nationalism, secularism and modernity in the Middle East. In what way do you feel the Arab experience in Britain has been different?

Robin: According to the old imperial definition of citizenship, the peoples of the subcontinent (and the Caribbean) were British even before they arrived in Britain. In most cases Arab immigrants don’t have the long cultural-historical link with Britain that some other groups do. They are (with exceptions such as the Yemeni communities) more recent and less well-established arrivals, fewer in numbers, and more likely to be political refugees. Proportionately, there is a high number of intellectuals, journalists, writers etc, as these people have often had trouble with Arab regimes or occupation authorities. Mainstream Anglo society is perhaps even less conversant with the ideas and cultural references of the Arabs than with those of the subcontinent.

In my book I didn’t intend to create a representative sample of British, or London, Arabs. I have spent most of the last fifteen years living in the Arab world, so my preoccupations while writing were not necessarily specifically British. I used a London setting to dramatise the preoccupations because I felt most comfortable writing about London. I still do feel most comfortable writing about London, and I’m not sure why. I’ve lived in other places much longer.

Shelina: Let’s be honest, your main character Sami, is not the most likeable hero. And reading your book is at times a challenging emotional wrangle. Was this deliberate?

Robin: It’s always a risk to write about an anti-hero or a failure, but most of us are partial failures, some of the time. And there’s a great contemporary tradition of nasty protagonists – from Dostoyevsky to Philip Roth and John Updike. In these cases, the reader’s discomfort is compensated for by the strength of the writing and observation, and in Roth’s case by humour. I hope that Sami’s unpleasantness is usually compensated for by psychological observation, humour, interesting writing, and the satirical angle of the narration. As for ‘challenging emotional wrangle’ – I sense disapproval here! – I suppose this was deliberate too. I wanted to transmit the emotional wrangles that my characters are challenged by, and that the world was challenged by in september 2001. Again, there is a great tradition of the challenging emotional wrangle text, real great claustrophobic classics, like Notes from Underground or Wuthering Heights. Of course, I do not possess the skill or experience of these writers. I do what I can.

Shelina: The female characters in your book are much more centred, spiritual and accepting of others than the male characters. Why do you think this is?

Robin: Because they are, I think, treated less satirically and more realistically. And in a slightly more forced way, becuase I wanted to write against the contemporary stereotype of the passive, ignorant, oppressed Muslim woman. In my novel Muslim women choose to wear hijab for their own reasons, becuae they have an inner life. In most of the media, Muslim women are told to wear the hijab.

Shelina: As a female reader I felt frustrated by the female characters – they seemed too perfect, too right, too balanced. The male characters had much more leeway to explore themselves to their absolute limits. Do you think women are more constricted by culture and religion?

Robin: Do you really think Sami explored himself to his absolute limit, more than Muntaha did? Wasn’t he in fact only avoiding self-exploration through dramatic diversions? Sami learns a disturbing secret in the first chapter and then takes until the end of the book to admit it to himself. Everything he pretends is exploration is really a red herring. I think Sami is shown as far more constricted by culture and religion (although his is a secular nationalist religion) than his adaptable wife.

And I’m not sure that Nur is completely right and balanced. She’s a nervous chainsmoker for a start. And she is able to see through culture to the possibility that she may only be grasping at something unreal. Her justification for the hijab in the penultimate chapter is more Camus than Qaradawi.

I suppose I used testosterone as a literary device. I think there is a certain kind of silliness – like Sami’s ridiculous drugged night out, or Ammar’s flirtation with militant blackness – for which boys are more likely candidates than girls.

Shelina: Your main character Sami Traifi appears to be a secular fundamentalist who clings to his religion of unbelief with immense tenacity. His wife’s younger brother is a fundamentalist of a different kind, born of the street, combining hip hop, reggae and a need to claim some kind of social identity. What light, if any, does this shed on current debates on religious fundementalism?

Robin: Well, it’s a satirical reflection of our world. I think the cultural arrogance, reductive simplifications and monomania of the ‘new atheists’ is as fundamentalist as Ayman az-Zawahiri. Other ‘religions’, in whose names people are ready to kill, include American manifest destiny, the civilising mission, ‘liberty’, and so on. In good ways as well as bad, religions surround us – by which I mean religion in the widest sense, a story and set of values and meanings which are bigger than individual human beings. But the culture often pretends that only systems like traditional Christianity or Islam are religions.

About Ammar, one point here is that he’s British. His hip hop-Islamist militancy (but he’s a gentleman really, just disturbed) could only be British. It’s like wearing a hood and saying innit, innit?

Shelina: What do you hope for your book?

Robin: I feel blessed with what has happened. I didn’t really expect it to be published. In the year since it’s come out I’ve met many interesting writers and been to Oslo, Milan, Dublin and Palestine. Being a participant in the Palestinian Festival of Literature was a great honour.

Shelina: What is your next project?

Robin: I’ve given up, for now, after a year and a half’s work, on my second novel. It was too complicated and self-conscious and wasn’t flowing. The difficult second novel. So I’m thinking about the third novel, and playing with three ideas. One involves an albino, one is a family saga, and one returns to Sami and Muntaha, later, and shows Muntaha in a period of weakness. Perhaps I should write that one for you, Shelina!

I also have a blog http://www.qunfuz.com/ and I’m a coeditor of Pulse http://www.pulsemedia.org/ , one of Le Monde Diplomatique’s five favourite websites.

Shelina: Thanks Robin for taking some time out to talk to me, and I’m looking forward to that third book in my honour. I wonder if I’ll be mentioned in the dedication page! Good luck with your future writing, and I hope to read a lot more of your work in the future.