A Back-Page Muslim


Imran Ahmad isn’t the sort of Muslim you’d find gracing the front page of The Herald-Sun on the morning after an anti-terror raid. There’s no beard, no turban, no white robes. When I caught up with Ahmad earlier this week, he was dressed in the same near formal manner as any other middle class Englishman taking a holiday down under.

Okay, it’s true – he wasn’t in the red tie and white shoes he wore when entering the Bonnie Baby contest. For that look, you’ll have to check out the front cover of Ahmed’s debut book, a memoir called Unimagined: a Muslim boy meets the West. (Ahmad wasn’t happy with the outcome of the contest. "I was cheated
out of first place by typical third world corruption," he laments.)

Apart from this early setback, Ahmad’s life seems quite typical for a child of first generation middle class South Asian migrants in England — or Australia, for that matter.

Unimagined might be described as a rather unimaginative book. Certainly, it doesn’t contain any of the fighting radicals, extremists, fundamentalists and other nasty types who, if you believe what you read in the New York Post, are the only types of Muslims that exist.

Ahmad is happy, however, to talk about these issues in real life. I asked him how he was affected by the 7/7 bombings in London.

"When I first heard about the bombings, I thought: ‘Please God, [let the bombers]be some bloody foreigners’," he said. "The reality which slowly unfolded was as bad as it could possibly be — three of the bombers were British men of Pakistani origin. I had absolutely nothing else in common with them, but I still felt a guilty connection.

"I think, as with 9/11, we get sucked into a no-win situation due to tribalism. Even though we have nothing in common with these people — in terms of values, culture, beliefs, intellect, profession — we find ourselves being identified with them because of one or two specific characteristics, and then we are expected to express our apologies for what they did (and thus confirm the tribal commonality) or be condemned for not expressing enough outrage.

"I won’t be defined by my DNA or by anyone else’s preconceptions."

Ahmad is scathing in his criticism of the management committees and imams who manage the UK’s mosques, especially those from Pakistani communities. He despises the emphasis on creating environments that have little relevance to Muslims outside a narrow cultural circle.

"They want [London mosques] to be Pakistani mosques, with all the baggage that comes with that. Why else are the sermons in Urdu, not English?" he says.

"Why are such significant Muslim institutions being run solely for the benefit of Pakistanis, rather than all British Muslims?"

Ahmad says he understands why such leaders cannot properly articulate a coherent post-7/7 message, and it infuriates him.

"These people are too ignorant and self-absorbed to have even registered the implications of the July 7 bombings. They are too detached from the reality of mainstream life in Britain to consider what role their own attitudes and behaviour play in all of this. They have no concept of the risk being posed to peaceful Muslim existence in British society."

Sounds like London has become a bit of a Londonistan. Speaking of which, I asked Ahmad how he felt about a book of the same name authored by tabloid columnist Melanie Phillips. Ahmad tells me he made some attempts at sensible dialogue with Phillips after reading an article in which she claimed that Muslims drew upon an alleged religious teaching that "lies or omissions for the ‘greater good’ of Islam are permissible". Ahmad was perturbed by Phillips’s lack of response when he pointed out the reference to religious lies in the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Then again, like so many neocons, Phillips provides other reasons to be written off. Ahmad tells me that she "lost all credibility" when, on an episode of the BBC’s Question Time, she stated that climate change was a myth.

That might explain why far-right bloggers like Tim Blair are so fond of her. It might also explain why Ahmad’s book has never been cited by Phillips during her numerous tirades against all things Islamic.

"My guess is that a book which humanises Muslims and portrays a Muslim boy as quite ordinary threatens her ‘brand’ far too much," he says.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.