Omar Saif Ghobash, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Russia, underlines some of the issues young Muslims are likely to face in a world of extremism and Islamophobia in Letters to a Young Muslim (Picador, Jan.). The book, which is comprised of 27 letters written to his sons, argues against religious radicalism. Like many fathers, the ambassador hopes his words are met with an open mind, especially by his eldest teenaged son.
“I have specifically said to him that I don’t want him to read the book just out of obligation to me and that he could read it in his own time,” Ghobash told PW. “I don’t want him to feel burdened by my desire to tell him things.”
Drawing on his personal experiences, Ghobash explores what makes young Muslims vulnerable to radical interpretations of Islam in the book, including illiteracy as well as unemployment, which millions of Arabs face today. “Extremism makes sense to young men who don’t necessarily have any meaning in their lives and don’t see a way forward,” said Ghobash. “It appeals to male testosterone and adrenaline, and it takes care of the impatience that young men often have.”
Rather than being influenced by a minority of extremists, Ghobash suggests young Muslims take their own way forward in faith. “I want my sons’ generation of Muslims to realize that they have the right to think and decide what is right and what is wrong, what is Islamic and what is peripheral to the faith,” he writes in the book. “It is their burden to bear whatever decision they make.”
Ghobash emphasizes the importance of doubt when finding a voice that is true to Islam and considering religious ideas, even though doubt has a negative connotation in the Arabic world. “Doubt often implies atheism,” said the author. “But actually, between doubt and atheism, there is a tremendous amount of work that can and should be done [in terms of religious beliefs].”
The book is also written for those interested in learning more about Islam, and Ghobash encourages readers to combat Islamophobia by embracing the differences among Muslim practices. “Both Muslims and non-Muslims can come face-to-face with the great and legitimate diversity of Islamic expression,” he said. “This diversity opens up the possibility of tolerance and appreciation.”
Marketing and publicity for the book includes a national advertising campaign; a national media campaign with coverage in NPR, TIME, and more; select author events, targeted outreach to foreign policy and political organizations; and a library and academic marketing campaign.
"One of the author's hopes was to present some possible ways to think about being Muslim in the 21st century," said Picador publisher Stephen Morrison. “He has broad and unique life experiences that we thought informed his writing and worldview: we felt that it was a book only he could write.”