Read Stranger to History: A Son's Journey through Islamic Lands by Aatish Taseer Online


“Indispensable reading for anyone who wants a wider understanding of the Islamic world, of its history and its politics.” —Financial Times Aatish Taseer’s fractured upbringing left him with many questions about his own identity. Raised by his Sikh mother in Delhi, his father, a Pakistani Muslim, remained a distant figure. Stranger to History is the story of the journey he“Indispensable reading for anyone who wants a wider understanding of the Islamic world, of its history and its politics.” —Financial TimesAatish Taseer’s fractured upbringing left him with many questions about his own identity. Raised by his Sikh mother in Delhi, his father, a Pakistani Muslim, remained a distant figure. Stranger to History is the story of the journey he made to try to understand what it means to be Muslim in the twenty-firstcentury. Starting from Istanbul, Islam’s once greatest city, he travels to Mecca, its most holy, and then home through Iran and Pakistan. Ending in Lahore, at his estranged father’s home, on the night Benazir Bhutto was killed, it is also the story of Taseer’s divided family over the past fifty years. Recent events have added a coda to Stranger to History, as his father was murdered by a political assassin. A new introduction by the author reflects on how this event changes the impact of the book, and why its message is more relevant than ever....

Title : Stranger to History: A Son's Journey through Islamic Lands
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ISBN : 9781555976286
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 352 Pages
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Stranger to History: A Son's Journey through Islamic Lands Reviews

  • Sairam Krishnan
    2018-10-26 07:47

    I discovered travel writing when I was well into my 20s. Once I did, it didn’t take a lot to realise how travel accounts could tell stories much bigger than just about the particular journeys themselves. From William Dalrymple’s study of Delhi, City of Djinns, to Samanth Subramanian’s portrait of Sri Lanka after the war, This Divided Island, travel narratives have kept surprising me with the way they keep illuminating the larger through the mundane. And I’m convinced that there is no other genre of non-fiction that can tackle subjects as diverse and as difficult, and still be able to infuse them with literary beauty.Aatish Taseer’s Stranger to History is one of those books, but it is also a whole lot more.One of the travel quotes that keeps making its way across Facebook timelines talks about how though a traveler may be making the journey, the journey might be making him. In Taseer’s book, he acknowledges this from the very beginning: This is a journey to try to understand his making; its very undertaking is as an inward journey.The peculiar circumstances that gave birth to Taseer is the starting point of the book, but that is not its heart. Though Taseer writes repeatedly that he wants to understand the young Muslim psyche, and indeed tries and partly succeeds in doing so, the book is not entirely about that either.Aatish Taseer is Indian, his father is Pakistani, and his maternal family are partition refugees. His ancestry lies in the Pakistani Punjab, and Stranger to History is, at its core, an Indian’s attempt to make sense of this. And when I refer to Taseer as Indian, it is not a light remark. The writer’s ethos, his understanding of the world, his way of looking at things, is instantly, immediately recognisable. It is Indian. I know this because I am one. But also recognisable is his feeling for Pakistan, for the land that once was his ancestors’, for the undivided Indian homeland.I understand that feeling as well. Because as an Indian, you’ve always asked yourself that question - the why of Pakistan. Why has the idea of India endured while that of this nation’s, carved from ours, born with as much idealism as ours, has fallen away in radicalism and terrorism? I understand that feeling because like Taseer, I care. You can’t erase a shared history, as he points out multiple times in the book, and that is exactly why I care: this is my world, too. But the writer has much more reason to, of course, and though his story starts as an attempt to understand Islam in this time and age, it is in Pakistan that it finds its soul.The first part of the book deals with the writer’s observations on his travels through the Muslim world, from Turkey, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, including visits to Mecca and Medina. The second part begins in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and goes on to Pakistan, where the really personal drama of the writer’s tale takes place. The division is well thought out: the first part deals with the countries voluntarily regressing to a radical, angry, violent Islam, driven by a restless young population in search of meaning. In the second part, in Iran, the writer encounters a kind-of secular rebellion (complete with Hare Krishnas, God help us) against a state that seeks to impose its own version of Islam on the people. And then comes Pakistan. In all of these places, the writer meets troubled, damaged, fascinating young Muslims, each of them dealing with the challenges of their faith and its complexities in their own way.The writing is incisive, the observations sharp. It startles you right at the beginning, when Taseer seems to grasp and foretell Erdogan’s Turkey of today. It gets better. In Syria, he sees a region in rift, and something that tells of ISIS's rise is already visible. In Arabia, he ventures into the history of Islam, and how it got to where it is today. In Iran, where the nation-state imposes a literal Islam, he sees a people at odds with the history being fed to them. In Pakistan, he sees the great, inclusive culture of the northern subcontinent being strangled, being made into something so hollow and regressive that his despair becomes almost tangible: you can feel it strongly.And in all of these places, Taseer encounters the religion that gives him his Urdu name, and meets its different faces and interpretations, including most importantly, political Islam - the idea that temporal and religious power should be one, the idea that is at the root of ISIS, an idea completely at odds with the world of today. This is also what the book is about: what is Islam to its youth? What does being Muslim mean?In Britain, where second and third generation Muslim immigrants think of Islam as an ‘extra-national identity’, we get our first glimpse of what Islam is morphing to be. In Turkey, where Islamic dress would become a point of contention, Taseer is told, “To be a Muslim is to be above history.” Taseer writes of the exchange, “(This) explained so much of the faith’s intolerance of history that didn’t serve its needs.” It is in Iran, however, that this idea comes home in an conversation with an old Iranian friend of Taseer’s, who had studied in India before going back. Speaking of Iran’s attempt to rewrite everything as an affront to the Islamic nation, and to formulate responses and governance based on this idea of a great Islamic past, the man says, “The youth of today are strangers to their history. You can’t build a country like that.”This idea, as we come to see, is true of the entire Islamic world. In Syria, in a radical mosque where, in the wake of a Danish newspaper publishing cartoons of the Prophet, a crowd of young Muslims is riled up into an angry mob by the mufti, Taseer writes, “ didn’t matter what kind of Muslim you were, as long as you were Muslim, because there never was any plan to offer real solutions, only to harness grievance, and because its sense of outrage had more to do with the loss of political power than divine injunction, it could even find room, as certain decayed ideologies can, for men like my father, who were ready to participate in its grievances, but who were also professed disbelievers.”I grew up in India’s south, far away from the Punjab of India and Pakistan, and where partition is not an open wound like it is in the north. But like it is in the north, India is a land of so many cultural, communal, and religious differences that being Muslim was, to me growing up, just another mode of being, just another difference in a country-ful of them. I know the Muslim festivals, I know the cultural associations, I know the story of Ali, in the same way that my best friend from college, a Muslim, knew all of the corresponding Hindu points of interest. But, and this is an important but, the south has its own shared history and landscape. For example, in Karaikal, where I went to college, the annual Kandoori festival, a remembrance of a Sufi saint, is celebrated by Hindus and Muslims alike - this in a temple town revered for its closeness to Thirunallar, an important Shiva temple in the Hindu pantheon. The Nagore dargah is another, a short motorcycle ride away from Karaikal, where we would ride to, and pray whenever we could. But why are these details important? Am I showing off, in the way liberals are accused of showing off their association with the other faith?No. I point this out because it was natural to be part of these things. It was natural to attend these festivals, go to the dargah together. And the loss of exactly this is what makes Pakistan what it is today. Writing of Sind, and the factional differences, rivalries, and enmities he observes, Taseer writes, “Pakistanis offered their natural differences, differences in culture and language, as an explanation for the battle lines that had come up, but this was hardly an explanation when next door in India deeper differences had been bridged. Not only that, but in Sind too, where once great variety had been absorbed, bitter division was to be found in what was now relative homogeneity. And Sind, for centuries so diverse, its culture and worship formed from that diversity, was for the first time in its history no longer a place of confluence.”The same can be said for all of Pakistan. This was a nation, like mine, that was founded on high ideals. Taseer again: “Pakistan’s founders were not clerics and fanatics, but poets and secularists. It was from the sophisticated(read liberal, secular) Muslims of the time that the case for the country was made. And yet among these genteel people an idea was expressed whose full ugliness, and violence, only became clear in the cruder, more basic articulations that followed.”Taseer’s book ends with a chilling, beautiful passage where he writes of his father’s pain and confusion about facing and reacting to Pakistan’s history. It is deeply personal, an observation by a son about his father, an observation by an Indian about a Pakistani patriot: about how his nation's tragic, unsettled past holds his father down; the phrase Taseer uses is ‘the pain of history in his country’.In itself an attempt to understand, Stranger to History can be a starting point for many who don’t understand how this peaceful, beautiful faith they know so well among their friends can foster such anger and fear. It can also be a glimpse into what Pakistan has become, but like me, it can leave you with a profound sense of sadness and despair. Because what is Pakistan except a part of us, undivided India, that was separated and distorted into something it did not really want to be? They are our people, in more ways than we can ever imagine, and if this can happen to them and this nation they forged for peace, how easy it would be for us to fall into this trap? Hate, anger, and fear, are easily stoked, easily given fuel to, and as we know, there are forces even in India’s strong, pluralistic democracy who wish for nothing less to happen.Pakistan’s knowing, deliberate abandonment of its shared past with India was its first ‘break with history’, and as the years rolled on, that rootlessness invited in dark ideas and conceptions that festered, became poisonous, and that have now eclipsed the ideas the nation was built on. This, then may be what Taseer is saying to us: if you lose your history, you may lose everything.

  • Karan
    2018-11-16 06:45

    I came to Stranger to History, Taseer's debut work after being thoroughly impressed by his piece on Sanskrit where he bemoaned the loss of a whole body of linguistic structure and culture thanks to colonialisation. It was personal, curious and his sentences encased within them a quiet tragedy that had me in thrall at his talent.In this unusual part-biography, part-travelogue, he turns a journey of meeting his politician father in Pakistan who had estranged him in his childhood into an odyssey that would inform him about what being a Muslim in the current world entails. This decoding of contemporary Muslim identity and reality by virtue of travel and interviews in key Muslim nations (Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia Iran, Pakistan and other undocumented detours into Jordan and Yemen), would in his tentative plan, help him bridge the gulf of empathy for a father who is a warden and defender of an Islamic republic for decades. It would also, he hopes, help him complete his own sense of self as a Muslim: a name and a religion that has been little more than a nebulous patrilineal label from an absent father owing to the effect of having grown up in affluent, secular India and received further education and moorings in the world in more liberal societies.This quest for personal actualisation and an ethnic understanding are both deep and compelling journeys and they ground this sometimes meandering, but never short of insightful book. Except for the novelistic flourishes in which Taseer waxes a sentence almost always too long on describing appearance of real people and the rhythms of landscape, he is in his element. Drawing upon his formal training in politics and journalism, his continuous mission to pin down the present and future aspirations of the hoi-polloi and spokespeople in Islamic lands leads to searching conversations and informed conclusions. He might just offer his reader glimpses, but his subjects are chosen with care and the wisdom yoked from interactions is articulated with pragmatism. I enjoyed how his clear-headed, direct questioning on the idea of the ideal Islamic way of life always met with an impasse as the answering man (from a Syrian cleric to his father) entered into a rhetoric constructed totally of convenient historical retellings and amorphous utopian dreams. Without being sensationalist, Taseer manages to make the reader see the fallacies of such utopias in the everyday corrosive realities within inward-looking and self-serving Islamic states with defined borders: Pakistan and Iran, both struggling with the modern "world system".Punctuated with these socio-political musings, his personal journey tore into me, both in how earnestly he pursued his imagined redemption and how he fielded the rebuffs and snubs with absolute decorum. For his sake, I felt myself punching in the air as the bittersweet realisation in the denouement dawns on him as he sits next to his father watching Benazir Bhutto's funeral on live television. Like all journeys, he is a different man at the end of his. He sees things and people differently. The veil has dropped. He has gained in knowledge and lost in innocence, but it feels right. This is how things usually are. Life for rational thinkers is filled with many such obstacles of ossified structures and mind-sets. But the journey to reason must go on.

  • N
    2018-10-22 06:05

    Fascinerende reiseskildring fra muslimske land, innenfor en ramme av en sønn som forsøker å forstå sin fraværende og avvisende fars muslimske bakgrunn og kultur

  • Miriam Jacobs
    2018-11-10 04:54

    In a recent review for Poetry Magazine, the poet and journalist Austin Allen asserts that T. S. Eliot’s body of work “entices all of us, even the most Prufrockian schlub, to view history as personal—and to personify it as the source of our daily temptations and frustrations” (September 2015). Aatish Taseer, no schlub, Prufrockian or otherwise, in his 2011 memoir, Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands, nevertheless has written a contemporary substantiation to Allen's claim. Taseer personifies the psychological world he grew up in, Punjabi, India, haunted by its pre-Partition past. A deeply serious person, tall, handsome, engaging, considerate, with an encyclopedic knowledge of Indian languages, culture and history, Taseer’s eyes, even at instances of high – or low – hilarity, are shadowed not only with his own past and its disillusionments, but with disenchantment, sorrow, in what he sees as the cultural fall of a century. He is taken with the idea of the 1947 split of Pakistan from India as a symbol of himself, or perhaps it works the other way around: perhaps he is a symbol of it. His eight-month journey through strongholds of the Islamic world – with only his British passport to defend him - and he dispassionately interviews locals as he goes – begins in Turkey, where politics and faith are purposely, sometimes heedlessly, insensibly divorced, proceeds through Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, where politics and religion are one, and ends at ailing Pakistan – when he crosses on foot – demonstrating an admirable lack of prudence. Henry James, in his essay "The Art of Fiction,” offers this advice to writers: “Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!” Taseer is not looking for corroboration of a position he already holds, but for understanding of the phenomena he observes, beginning with an alienated Muslim teenager in Britain, and ending with his deceptively unfettered father, the Pakistani businessman and politician who was assassinated by his own bodyguard in 2012: pretzel logic, irrationality, fanaticism, rebellion, and fear, all in relation to a history embattled with the present, a history that is ever eroding from consciousness. Taseer asks, What is the nature and source of this faith that has become, in the modern world, so deeply politicized? What has happened, if they still exist, to cultural Muslims, whom he defines in an article for the Huffington Post, but ends Stranger to History with a sense of separation from, as: “intellectuals, poets, writers [who] took great pride in the challenge that they, as men of learning, were obliged to present to men of faith. Long before dissent and irreverence came to be seen as a Western contamination, they had been an organic part of the Islam of the Indian subcontinent … [and are] now most endangered of endangered creatures: the atheist Muslim. A man, who though not religious, was nonetheless steeped in the culture of Indian Islam; an unbeliever, yes; but, by no means, deracinated … [who] represented a certain intellectual and cultural self-confidence … this kind of man had, in our time, all but disappeared … In a world of ever sharper polarities, the cultural Muslim, around till just the other day, had been edged out; he was, in some respects, the supreme casualty of the age” (November 2012).In the end, however, Taseer feels estranged, and herein is the source for the book’s title, even from this notion of the cultural Muslim. He is caught by conjunctions between Islam and “politics somehow,” a phrase lobbed at him during an interrogation in Iran, a phrase that strikes him as so calculatedly disingenuous that he turns it over and over in his head throughout the center of the book. Islam’s “small and irrelevant rules,” he concludes, “were turned on the people to serve the faith’s political vision. For the faith to remain in power in a complex [modern] society, it had to beat down the bright and rebellious members of that society with its simplicities.” Stranger to History is studded with winning observations. The game of cricket, so popular in the subcontinent, is “a dress rehearsal for war;” Iran’s police state is a “tyranny of trifles;” Punjab, bisected in Partition, retains unity in “language, song, poetry, clan affiliation, and a funereal obsession with certain tragic romances.” Ha. At times, however, Taseer loses track of his readers, his sense of audience, and although he is mostly careful to explain, he occasionally becomes mired in what is obvious to him, and will fall into sentences that are inexplicable: “In the end, the story could only be seen in its context, a vignette in Pakistan’s Hobbesian political life. The extreme shows of defiance – not signing the admission or not paying the ransom – could also come to seem like bravado rather than courage when the people who endured them saw them as training rather than injustice.” It’s these last four words I cannot unpack: training rather than injustice? However, this failure may be my own. Possibly, I just don't get it.But if I am right, abrupt summations like this one are the book’s only flaw. And although its publication was four years ago and concerns a world where there have been marked escalations in the troubles Taseer explores, it is important reading for those of us, West and East, who hope to better understand, and with knowledge become better able to act in ways that will help us circumvent more tragedy. “Decay is real,” Taseer told me in an informal interview, ruing society’s current disengagement with the past. As much as he may see intersection in his own plural history, including disconnection, as an analogy for what is happening in the larger social order, it is no stretch to see ourselves similarly. Our personal memories are shaded by our search for patterns. And the days of our ancestors live inside us, whether we recognize the fact or not.

  • Akshat Upadhyay
    2018-11-15 08:13

    BOOK REVIEW OF ‘STRANGER TO HISTORY’ BY AATISH TASEERSometimes its good to speak in tangents.Reading this book and the method of comparisons, elegant case studies, I’m reminded of a certain book by a certain author (I remember neither the name of the book nor the author) where he tries to answer the question ‘Why is there something instead of nothing ?’ He goes and speaks to a multiverse of people: philosophers, scientists and religious ideologues to get a broad overview and understanding of this particular question; how different people, some speaking the same language, some of the same ethnicity answer this question, depending on the perspectives shaped by their lived histories and including their formal and informal educations.I’m also reminded of my stint with the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that fractured country, mutual paranoia enveloped by the notion of statehood. There, as in Taseer’s journey, I saw the various manifestations of religious identities. Tribalism, animism, evangelism, joblessness, greed and anarchy: a heady mix for democracy!Aatish Taseer, offspring of the illegitimate union of Pakistani politician Salman Taseer, to be later murdered by his personal bodyguard Mumtaz Quadri and then ostracised by the nation for his outspokenness against the Blasphemy Law, and the mediocre journalist and socialite Tavleen Singh, seeks to understand the identity of his father’s faith, its deeper undertones and its relation with history and politics by making a journey through Muslim lands starting with Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and finally his father’s homeland Pakistan. He wishes to find some similarities, a common thread that supposedly joins a disparate group of people around the world: white, black, Asian, Caucasian, African through what he refers to as a ‘civilisation of faith’. What he discovers through his travel-memoire is a deeper understanding, an entrenched confusion about Islam and its relation to civilisation, culture and politics.Turkey.The first stop in Taseer’s journey is Turkey. This is a country I had myself travelled and admired during 2014. A Muslim country with a total secular outlook and the only non European NATO nation. The liberal outlook was there for all to see before everything went to hell in 2014. Taseer’s interactions with Abdullah ( this book was written in 2008) foretold of an explosion, the emergence of faith from the holds of Ataturk’s secular quarantine. Here Islam is differentiated from the rest of the religions as a world system, a system of rules and regulations that defy time and space. For Abdullah, its a mode of being, as temporal as being human. A Muslim cannot be separated from Islam, a moderate Muslim distances himself from Islam but that does not change the characteristics of the faith.Syria.The Islam Taseer encountered was more an evangelist one. It tempered all the world’s with an Islamic tinge. Syria was the perfect example of a closed world system, an ideal laboratory of isolation, a police state where the real world problems could be tuned out. But here Islam was used to justify or propagate a family’s hold on the society. A frustration and negativity, pent up and stoked and expressed in violence just a couple of years in the future.Saudi Arabia.Taseer saw the Arabianised version of Islam and came to realise how through Wahhabism, an Arabic culture, more Arabic than Islamic was being propagated in the name of the faith. A significant portion of the hajj or umrah consisted of rituals which predated Islam but were grounded in Arabia. Cultural Islam or the ‘corrupt’ Islam, of the Sufis, shrine and sacred threads was a result of the intermixing of Islam with local cultures. This was being subdued by a puritanical zeal with the aim of returning to the days of the early Arabs rather than the faith.Iran.The Islamic Republic, apparently the first political realisation of the faith, a possible model for what to expect, if the faith triumphed in other states, was a sadness in being. In the name of the faith, the regime had appropriated people’s lives, their joys and their humaneness. What was left was the magnification of trifles. The Republic had failed its people. In Taseer’s words ‘The emphasis on trifles and the hypocrisies that came with it had been institutionalised, turned into a form of control over the people who posed the greatest threat to the republic: its young.’Pakistan.Taseer’s terminus. This was a country that had been conceptualised as a homeland for Indian Muslims, an opposition to everything Hindu but still could not let go of the subcontinent’s idiosyncrasies. Pakistan had been cleansed of Hindus; barring a few thousands no diversity in terms of religion was permitted. Ironically the faith that was supposed to bridge cultural and ethnic differences failed to do so and in fact exacerbated the secession of its biggest chunk in 1971.Finally, what seems most obvious is the experience of the living; faith as lived history, history as lived history and culture as lived history. Islam, by failing to allow for these ‘cultural’ aberrations and monogamising on its version of its history, the symbolic one, the Arabianised one then fails to give its followers freedom and that, my friends, is its failing.

  • Gary Shostak
    2018-11-21 07:50

    Interesting story of a man attempting to establish a relationship with an absent father & fa's religion - Islam. Well worth reading for anyone interested in an insight into Islam as it is lived today & India-Pakistan relations.

  • Sonia Date
    2018-10-22 10:54

    My first Taseer book recommended by a collegue. Insightful, especially to a person who has very little knowledge of Islam. He writes well , excellent vocabulary. As a reader one could sense his need to reach out to have father. This journey was on account of that desire.

  • Viju
    2018-11-16 04:04

    Between a three and four. Aatish Taseer is wonderfully gifted writer. There is no doubt in that. To write a travel memoir on his journey towards his father via religion is no easy task. However there is some naivety that crops up in the book overall, which can mostly be attributed to the time when Aatish wrote the book (probably in his mid 20s). I strongly believe mid 20s is when a person grows up as a person and learns a lot about the world around him. It is interesting that Aatish exhibits that growth in the introduction to the revised edition (which came out a year after Salmaan Taseer was assasinated). I've read travel memoirs mostly by William Dalrymple and one can definitely see the ease with which Dalrymple weaves stories into his journeys seemlessly. Though it is gross injustice to compare the two of them (considering both writers are good in their own right), Aatish could take a leaf from Dalrymple's style guide. Looking forward to reading 'The Way Things Were' next!

  • Ayesha U
    2018-10-28 04:13

    My reason for reading this book was that I expected to know in depth about Aatish Taseer’s relationship with his father Salmaan Taseer and paternal relatives in Pakistan. The book does talk about it but not in detail. And I don’t think it is fair to expect much anyway since their relationship was anything but normal and cordial. And over a couple of decades they met only a few times.The main thesis of the book is the journey that the author undertook through certain Islamic countries and his quest to understand what binds or divides the Muslims all across the globe. It sounds interesting but in my view, the author hasn’t come up with anything ground-breaking or something that we (or I) didn’t know already. Yes, we know how religion has been exploited for political gains and when the two are mixed nothing spiritually pure comes out of it. Yes, there are people, in fact the youth that dreams of Islamic renaissance and revel the past glory when the Muslims ruled over pretty much the entire world. We also know how much Friday sermons are politicized. And yes, there are “some” people who even today look for “differences” when it comes to India and Pakistan. But is that how everyone look at things? Certainly not! That’s where I didn’t enjoy the book.The narrative also drags at lethargic pace. For example, the entire episode of Mango King – the Sindhi vadera, his abduction as a child and the mention of his court case seem redundant. The author’s hanging out (partying) with Iranian dissent didn’t prove much either. There is always bound to be a dissent in any totalitarian society. There was no surprise in knowing how guarded and corrupt Iranian system was.I would have certainly skipped the rest of the book, if I could, as I was really not interested in knowing the meaning of “cultural Muslim”.

  • Susan Ritz
    2018-11-03 04:06

    This book was quite an undertaking for a young journalist struggling to reconcile his identity and heritage. Taseer, grandson of a famous Pakistani poet, son of a "cultural Muslim" Pakistani politician and an Indian Sikh journalist mother sets out on a journey to finally reconnect with his father and learn what it means to be a Muslim.Challenged by his father to learn more, he travels from Istanbul through Turkey, Syria,Saudi Arabia, Iran and finally, Pakistan, discovering along the way the how religion and politics mix in each of these lands and how the Islamic world is tied together in an overarching ache to regain its former glory. Many times reading the book I felt the author's youth and was surprised by his naivete in some situations. The main thing I got out of the book was a new understanding of history. The Muslims Taseer meets in each country are tied together by a common history, the history of Islam, that connects them across geographical and political boundaries. This is most clear when Taseer writes about the partition of Pakistan and India, and Pakistan's jettisoning of its Indian past in favor of the Islamic past, creating a greater divide between the two nations than any border. In many ways, this is a frightening book, but also one that helped me get a better grasp on the world as it changes around me.

  • KumarAnshul
    2018-11-21 10:48

    The Author has a Pakistani father (who had left) and an Indian Sikh Mother and he travels not only to Pakistan but also to Turkey, Syria and Iran. Why? To understand what is it actually to be a Muslim in the present world.While he roams around the cities and countryside of these Islamic homelands, he experiences how these all are similar because of religion but different due to culture. From the fiercely secular Turkey, the new global centre of Islam which is Syria, the forced Islamic Republic that Is Iran to finally a failed state, which is becoming 'Stranger to its own history', called Pakistan.It's not JUST a travelogue. It's a son's journey to try to connect and know the father which he never had and the faith and religion which he had never followed diligently.One of the best NON FICTION that I have read this year.

  • Upasana
    2018-11-21 09:58

    An interesting narration of a son's journey starting from Istanbul to Lahore to find out about what is to be a muslim. This book talks about the life, culture of people in the different Islamic countries and how it affects him as an individual and his relationship with his father, Salmaan Taseer.

  • Praveen Alluri
    2018-11-03 09:48

    It was a little boring to read for me as i am used to reading fast paced books. So it took a little bit of time to complete it. But it was a good book and I got to know few things that i didn't know before.

  • Karishma
    2018-10-23 06:11

    A fascinating trip through Islam- political, geographic and most importantly, cultural. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain a nuanced perspective on Islam through any of the above lenses.

  • Karnail Singh
    2018-11-07 04:14

    Wonderful. The genre, style, language, narration and subject everything is of my choice. The writer takes you on a real journey through the Islamic Lands. Must read.

  • Sajith Kumar
    2018-11-05 11:12

    India, a multicultural, multi-religious and multiethnic country, was partitioned in 1947 to make room for a republic of Muslims, who claimed to be a nation that can’t coexist with others. Feuds among brothers are common in families, and when a partition plan acceptable to all is implemented, peace eventually returns. But not so in the case of India and Pakistan. Communal riots of the worst kind broke out in both countries and a mass transfer of populations took place. Families were divided, relatives ended up across the border. Ties between the two countries floundered and people to people contacts also died down. Even in such frozen state of affairs, rare contacts indeed took place and love got the better of patriotism. Aatish Taseer had worked as a reporter for Time magazine. He is a bridge that connects the two countries, as his parents – Indian Sikh mother and Pakistani Muslim father – met in the fag end of 1970s and the author was born. Salmaan Taseer, his father, being somewhat a playboy, broke the relationship and returned to Pakistan. Aatish Taseer grew up in India in his mother’s household. He had only a dim recollection of his father as an infant. At the age of 21, he travelled all by himself to Lahore to meet his father, but was distracted by his indifference. His father had married many times in the meanwhile and had children through all of them. When his father read the author’s coverage of the London terrorist bombings of 2005, he advised his son to learn more about the religion to which they both belonged and to understand the Pakistani ethos. Aatish made a travel through Islamic countries which terminated in Pakistan, meeting his father. This book, the first one from the author, analyses the socio-religious ferment in the Islamic states and its precarious reconciliation to modern Western society.Aatish travels through Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, before finally arriving in Pakistan. With his discussions among intellectuals and ordinary people in these places, he identifies the fault lines with unerring accuracy. He rightly observed in 2006 how fragile Turkey’s forceful brand of secularism, backed by the army, which could silence even the boldest Islamists. Fundamentalism is right there beneath the authority’s noses, as exemplified by the author’s visit to the neighbourhood of Fatih Carsamba in Istanbul. Islam was coming back in through the back door. These words appear prophetic, with the recent failed coup against President Erdogan. Fundamentalists want to break away from a nation’s secular history, making the citizens strangers to it, and go back to the religion’s historic roots with anachronistic desires to dress or think like the Prophet did. In short, their aim is to return to a moment of time, some 1400 years ago, in a time warp if possible. As expressed by representative men in Turkey, Islam wants to dominate the world, where they are ready to grant the right to life to other religionists and perhaps nothing more. They also consider their own governments and political classes as corrupted by western style. There is only a single way out for a clean government – Islam – which is shared by many billions of people having supra-nationalist affiliation to a common brotherhood. What this produces is an absurd insistence on trifles like detailed control of the believer’s life from his personal habits to his food choices.The picture is not much different in Syria, where Islamic universities don’t offer any real solutions, but harness the grievance of the people against the West. When the author travelled the country in 2006, they openly sided with the regime of Assad. After the civil war broke out in Syria, these universities turned out to be the breeding ground of ISIS terrorists. Islam’s peculiarity observed by the author in the wake of the protests against cartoons appeared in a Danish journal against the Prophet is that even the moderates among them called for violence! Of the countries he toured, Turkey and Iran present contrasts of a glaring nature. The regime made secularism compulsory in all public transactions in Turkey, but the people were often deeply religious in private. In Iran, the government insisted on strict Islamic code of conduct in public, but the people were more or less secular in private. The author tells about the unbelievable tendency of a growing number of city dwellers to follow the Hare Krishna movement in Iran. It should, however, be thought only as a form of resistance to the regime of clerics and Basiji, the militia that enforces religious virtue, rather than due to any interest in Hinduism. There also, Islam encompasses all its followers under a species, jokingly called Homo Islamicos. People of other religions are thought to belong to other species. The youth has become strangers to their own history, where pre-Islamic history is blacked out. Islam in Iran is not a religion, but politics. By making even minor transgressions a crime, it has made an entire urban youth criminalized.Pakistan presents the most tragi-comic example of all. It was founded on faith, but was never part of the tradition of high Islam. They didn’t have an Islamic past, as virtually all of them are converted Hindus, so now look forward to a great Islamic future. The country was established on the single agenda of rejection of India in every sphere. Pakistanis, at least a sizeable number of them, live in a hallucinogenic misunderstanding of the supposed ‘manliness’ of Muslims and emaciated cowardice of Hindus. It is amusing to observe this delusive image created by self-hypnotism or something! It is a plain fact that nearly 100,000 ‘manly’ soldiers of the Pakistan army meekly surrendered to valiant Indian troops at the end of the 1971 war and India cut Pakistan neatly into two fragments, like a piece of cake! This is all the more significant now, as another dismemberment of the country in the form of Balochistan is on the cards. In the absence of a credible state, local militias and crude power was everywhere. Rich people travel to the countryside only with a loaded Kalashnikov within their reach. Aatish records instances where the police themselves turn dacoits during their off-duty hours.Subtitled ‘A Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands’, the book is a re-evaluation of Islam on the basis of its strict demand of allegiance from its adherents. Taseer brings out the points where mainstream society break ranks with fundamentalism, but adopts a semi-resigned compromise with it. Fundamentalists always go by a feeling of victimization, a sense of persecution whether living in a Muslim society or not. That’s the well from which youngsters who were born and brought up in Europe turn away from the society and go east to the deadly embrace of the Islamic State. Religion has become a political and historical grievance against the modern world. Such fusing of history with faith spells danger to pluralistic and multicultural societies. Taseer answers a perennial problem often associated with Islamic societies where the voice of the moderates are not heard. Even though it is often claimed that the terrorists constitute only a tiny minority of Muslims, the voice of the ‘moderate’ majority is conspicuous by absence. The author identifies them with his father and stepsiblings, who don’t pray, wear any dress they like, drink what they choose, but harboured feelings of hatred of Jews, Americans or Hindus that were founded on faith and only thinly masked in political arguments.The book is a very good one to read, considering this is the first one from the author. A set of photographs and an index would’ve added much interest to the book.The book is highly recommended.

  • Mohak Mangal
    2018-11-17 12:01

    Through this memoir, Taseer manages to combine two narratives - his relationship with his father and the 'idea' of Islam in different countries. As a result, boxing this book into a particular genre becomes all the more difficult. It is a fascinating book for anyone interested in understanding how different Muslims view themselves (obviously, it is not generalisable because of Taseer's small sample but is interesting nonetheless). Moreover, as an Indian who is enchanted with Pakistan but has no explicit connection to that country, it was heartening to read someone's story that links the two countries together.

  • Sundarraj Kaushik
    2018-11-10 09:49

    An autobiographical book by Aatish Taseer, the son of Tavleen Singh (an Indian Journalist) and Salmaan Taseer (a Pakistani politician who worked closely with the Bhuttos). Aatish Taseer himself is a journalist by profession.Aatish had a Sikh upbringing as he was brought up by his mother. His mother did keep him aware of his father and the fact that he was Muslim and made it a point to take him to all the Muslim celebrations at the houses of the that she knew.At an early age he writes a letter to his father and his father does not bother to reply back. Salmaan also tries to hide the fact that Aatish is his son as his political journey in Pakistan would be jeopardized by this revelation. Aatish tries to talk to his from his school, but ends up having a cold conversation with this father.He finally ends up meeting his father and finds that his father is only a Muslim in name and does not really believe in the religion as such, although is an advocate of everything Islam.Aatish plans to figure out about Islam by traveling through diverse countries in Europe and the middle east to discover the religion for himself. He begins his travel from Turkey and travels through Syria, Iran, and multiple other countries before ending up at this father's place in Pakistan.In the book, Aatish, relates his experience in these countries. He relates the meetings he has with the different set of people in the different countries. Having been brought up in what could be called an elite society (he studied in London and has a British passport) he tends to be biased towards the more liberal lifestyle than the rigourous lifestyle. These are reflected in the observations that he ends up making the book.It should have been an rewarding experience for him, but he does not manage to convey the full import of what the journey meant for him to the reader. Nevertheless a good read for a lazy afternoon.

  • Ryan Murdock
    2018-11-06 11:51

    Raised in India by his Sikh mother, Aatish Taseer’s Pakistani father existed only as a fading photograph in a silver frame. Even after contact was finally made, their relationship remained distant.This distance prompted the author to set out on an eight month journey through Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan in an effort to understand his father’s worldview and to bridge the gulf that divided them. His travels forced him to grapple with a series of questions: Why did his irreligious father describe himself as a “cultural Muslim”? Why did being Muslim bind you to other Muslims before the citizens of your own country? And why did Muslims regard modernity as a threat?The author’s personal memoir of father-son alienation is compelling in its universality, but the book is more important for the cultural alienation he discovers.Each new country and each new conversation reveals a Muslim world which transcends the borders of nation states—and even the borders of religion—to form a culture that unites Islamic peoples regardless of their professed belief or lack of belief in the tenets of the faith. Taseer discovers that theirs is a worldview torn between a rapidly modernizing “global culture” as embodied by the West, and a utopian dream of a society founded on an idealized vision of the Islamic past.Penetrating in its insight, sensitively observed and honestly reported, Stranger to History sheds new light on how a troubled region and culture is choosing to face globalization and change.

  • Divakar
    2018-11-08 05:11

    Aatish Taseer has an interesting background. Son of Salman Taseer – a Muslim (the same gentleman who was a Governor in Pakistan and shot dead some 3-4 years ago by his own security detail) and Tavleen Singh –a Sikh (journalist and political Commentator). He grew up in India amongst his Sikh relatives with little or no contact with his biological father till he was in his 20s.This book is his maiden attempt and seemed to have been written when he was in his mid to late 20s. Something tells me that with age and experience, he could be one of India’s greatest writers in the years to come.It is difficult to classify this book into a genre. At one level it is like a travelogue of his journeys to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria and Pakistan. At another level it is an intensely personal story of a son estranged from his father and his attempts to reconnect with a rather cold and distant man. A story of longing, neglect and a need to be accepted by a recalcitrant father. Interwoven thru these two stories is his commentary on the young and restless in the Islamic World where faith, religion, state and government are trying to coalesce and the youth are crying for expression and purpose and integration with the modern world in their lives beyond religion. The struggles of youth caught between trying to integrate in a dynamic and changing world and being enforced on the basis of a world order written centuries ago in the 21st century is lucidly detailed. Strongly recommended to all. And also watch out for his newer books.

  • Abiha
    2018-10-28 05:50

    "The faith decayed within him, ceased to be dynamic, ceased to provide moral guidance, became nothing but a deep, unreachable historical and political identity... It didn't matter how much someone prayed, how they prayed, what dress they wore, whether they chose to drink or not, but it did matter that someone harboured feelings of hatred towards Jews, Americans or Hindus that were founded in faith and only masked in political arguments". This is how Taseer describes his father who called himself a Cultural Muslim. It struck a chord for the number of such hypocrisies one witnesses in this world of faith.Derived from his journey across Muslim lands, the book is rich with experiences and emotions and the underlying struggle of finding oneself. It makes for an informative read but it is easy to lose interest owing to the melancholy tone. While the subtle infusion of pain, suffering and loss in a text draws me on most days, it doesn't, in here. Having said that, it counts for a rich read and furthers my desire to read more about the experiences from that part of the world.

  • Rohit Chandra
    2018-10-29 06:50

    I had high expectations from this book, but it left me underwhelmed. Although this is an important piece of work and does enlighten and also entertain at many points, but it does not really captivate the reader. The book talks of the authors journey through the Islamic lands of Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan and along the way we get to meet several interesting characters like a Mujahid from London who aspires to be a suicide bomber, a hardline Madrasa teacher in the secular Istanbul, a Krishna follower in Tehran who applies his own twists to the chants to keep himself safe from the fundamentalist regime and a feudal lord in 21st century Sindh. The book seems more like a work of reportage, the author does not seem to question or seek answers to the presence of an aspiring suicide bomber in the middle of UK or the rise of a hyper religious regime in Turkey after decades of state backed policy of secularism.

  • Lorinda
    2018-11-01 07:45

    Taseer's observations of people and places are engaging and his writing style carried me along. Even though he calls out what he is learning from time to time during his travels, I found it a little difficult to come to grips with the basic issue of theocratic government and religion's role in society. According to the author, Muslims have a sense that Islam was once dominant in the world and they want to return to that state of affairs. The author clearly favors pluralism, with people of all points of view living together, that he finds to be more common in India. Before I read this book, I wondered why Islamic terrorists never think to proselytize for their religion instead of killing non-believers. I think this book is saying that a person can only be a Muslim if the father is a Muslim. (But then how did people become Muslims back in the early centuries when the religion was expanding so rapidly?)It is a good book that asks more questions than it answers.

  • Jb
    2018-10-31 03:58

    Though nominally a Muslim because his father was one, author seeks to establish in his mind just what Islam is all about. He journeys from Turkey, through Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran to Pakistan is effort to satisfy his curiosity. He finds that Islam is for the most part a rigid culture, not particularly open and searching. It’s not a religion, but politics, and his confusion about that got him into trouble in Iran. The most absorbing pages of the book are those that relate his three-hours of intense interrogation by Iranian authorities. Even so, he concludes that the current theocracy there won’t last; most Iranians seem to take pleasure in dissent. Another author goal was to contact and perhaps even bond with his estranged father in Pakistan. His father, an open-minded, non-practicing Muslim, was for a time a state governor. Too tolerant, though, for the Islamic establishment. Soon after the reunion, the father was assassinated. Bonding never took place.

  • Mira
    2018-11-17 05:49

    Interesting travelogue covering Turkey, Syria, Saudi-Arabia, Iran, India and Pakistan. The author speaks with people about religion and politics, describes the differences and the similarities of the modern Muslim countries, which he visits and tries to determine his own feelings and attitudes relating to Islam (his father, whom he never really got to know, was a Pakistani Muslim, his mother was an Indian Sikh and he spent his youth in a Christian boarding school, so he is not quite sure if he belongs to a certain religion). His book clearly presents some food for thought, but often I would have liked him to concentrate on some topics a little longer and go deeper into the matter, that just touching it on the surface. All in all, I enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend it to people interested in the Middle East, the subcontinent, Islam or religions in general.

  • Alan Cunningham
    2018-11-06 05:46

    This book was simply amazing. Taseer had the standing to interview and experience Islam from within, and I loved hearing about the honest motivations of Jihadists, Wahabbists, Fundamentalists, everyday Muslims, and disaffected Muslims trapped in faithless theocracies, fighting for their right to party.The stories of his father and partition, who gave him entry to these stories, were at first a revealing accent to the minute-by-minute playbook of times in Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, but they became overlong and dull to me after he left Iran. If I was more interested in Pakistan in particular, I would have read them more charitably.

  • Aya
    2018-11-20 04:13

    The idea of the book is interesting. It is interesting to discover the religion of your father, which you really did not know. Aatish's journey went through Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Pakistan: an interesting mix of cultures and ways of living religion. However, I did not like in the book the analysis of the writer on many issues that he faced. It took us a life time to understand the interlinks between religion and culture, what Islam is and how it is used by different groups to take advantage of it. The issue is very complicated, and I think the projections made by the author did not provide all the time the reasonable analysis..

  • Adithya Vs
    2018-10-27 09:14

    In a very personal and deep story, Aatish Taseer takes us on a journey through the lands of Syria, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan to find the history that he did not inherit from his father. Aatish takes us on a multi dimensional journey. A journey through his extraordinary life. And another one through the pages of history. It's not a book of history. Neither is it an autobiography. And I don't think you can call it a travelogue. It's a collection of experiences that people have had of an idea. An idea that has changed lives and history throughout the world.

  • Dave Mills
    2018-11-07 09:12

    Those of us who are not Muslim will never know what it means to be Muslim, but I think Taseer takes us non-believers about as close as possible to the significance and influence of the Islamic religion. This, despite his lack of popularity in India and Pakistan. He's also a skilled writer, though, alas, I couldn't make it through "The Way Things Were." To learn more about this Sikh, Muslim, Pakistani, Indian, British and, now, American, person, read his "Wall Street Journal" article called "The Day I Got My Green Card." I feel greatly enriched by this author and "Stranger to History."

  • Raka Majumdar
    2018-11-21 07:59

    This book has been on my wishlist for ages. The reason i really wanted to read this book was to explore and understand how an kid having mixed parentage,belonging to very influential and public life grew up to be strong independent individual. Who at a prime of his life would embark on a journey of self discovery and in search of a father he has grown up without. Brilliantly written and very poignant this book is a must read. It also highlights and talks about Pakistan as a nation.