When I think “West”, I think of the United States. It’s all about us!
But then there’s the UK – the initial West. There are quite a few Muslims from a host of countries that have settled there and, I believe, before a lot of immigrants from “Muslim” countries even started coming to the United States.
Take Imran Ahmad.
Born in 1962, he moved with his family from Karachi, Pakistan to England at the age of 2. His family went from middle class to the not-so-desired class of “coloreds” in a land that didn’t take too well to the immigrants that were entering into their country. He details his experience in his memoir The Perfect Gentleman.
Back in 2007, Imran Ahmad came out with his memoir in the UK under the title Unimagined. Now, five years later, this book has finally been published in the United States under this new title. Funny enough, I actually had read Unimagined when it first came out – I got it through a non-U.S. Amazon site after I heard about it on a UK podcast.
In the book, Ahmad writes about growing up in the UK after having moved there from Pakistan when he was little. At the start of each chapter, he lists the year and how old he was so we start off with Ahmad from the time he was a little kid who lost out on a Bonnie Baby contest (think of it as a cute toddler contest) in Pakistan to the age of 43.
Even though I had previously read and enjoyed the book, I got a lot more out of it this time around. I think it may be because I have much more appreciation for this type of story than I used to, especially since I’ve been writing/attempting to write about culture and religion more these past few years.
Ahmad grew up in a different time and place than me and those few years and thousands of miles meant a slight difference even though he still grew up in the west. By being brown, Ahmad and his family always seemed to be on the receiving end of some sort of racism in England. With Ahmad, that included bullying at school from certain individuals, even though he was in nice and proper schools.
Ahmad didn’t know anything about Islam until he was 11 years old and started attending Islamic school on Sundays. Before that, he didn’t know anything or even why he did certain things – he knew he couldn’t eat pork but didn’t even know why until he was at a friend’s place and the friend’s mother mentioned it. Over the years, he found himself learning more about Islam while becoming a magnet for people who wanted to somehow convert him to their religion. For Ahmad, the part that rattled him was the fact that these people were so certain in their message, a certainty that he lacked for his own faith.
I love that Ahmad is completely honest and doesn’t shy away from writing about his doubts. We all have questions and if you are faced with a host of other messages without having full knowledge of what it is you are meant to believe in, your faith would be tested all the time. It wasn’t until Ahmad learned more that he felt a bit more secure in his own religion.
This isn’t a somber story of his tale of woe, mind you. Quite the opposite! The biggest reason why this book works is because of Imran Ahmad’s personality. He comes across as incredibly down to earth and moral while still being funny and lighthearted. The reader can tell that even at a young age, Ahmad has always wanted to do the right thing and could see through any hypocrisy that he witnessed. It all may be because he didn’t place first at the Bonnie Baby contest due to nepotism and to be a victim of that at such a young age helped shape that kind of guy he turned out to be.
If the above doesn’t work for you, read it just to bear witness to Imran Ahmad’s incredible awkwardness with girls, which is more than a little amusing. His unwavering faith that he would marry Janice, a friend of his in college, made me want to somehow reach out to 20 something year old Imran to tell him to just let it go, man.
The Perfect Gentleman – Imran Ahmad really does try to be one. His aspirations to be James Bond, drive a Jaguar XJ6, and try to communicate with girls while growing up brown and Muslim in the West makes for a great story.
Further reading – Check out my review a couple of years ago for the British miniseries Britz. I wrote a bit about what I think the difference is between Muslims in England and Muslims in the U.S.