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Who is a Good Muslim, a novelist explains

Author of The Good Muslim, Tahmima Anam is no stranger to religious fundamentalism. She speaks up on what makes a good muslim and the Salman Rushdie row.

books Updated: Jan 24, 2012 06:58 IST
Sonakshi Babbar, Hindustan Times

“I think all the writers are very sad that Salman Rushdie wasn’t able to come,” says Bangladeshi novelist Tahmima Anam, “This incident has raised the issue that the book is still banned in India after all these years and the chances of it being unbanned are quite slim.”

Author of The Good Muslim, Anam is no stranger to religious fundamentalism. In the character of Sohail – a book burning, Islam fanatic, she has explored the psychology of a religious fundamentalist.

But why has the state has overlooked the majority to pander to the demands of a minority?

“When it comes to censorship, the state is at its most insecure and most anxious sensitive. It gives space to the narrowest voices and ignores the majority.”

She is at her most bracing when she points out the similarities in the India and Bangladeshi government’s giving in to the minority’s demands.

Most of the time it’s a minority that wants a book banned, burnt but somehow the state embraces them. Even in the case of Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladesh government responded to the marginal voices.”

As a writer, she believes, the Rushdie storm has given her an opportunity to reflect on freedom of writing, “The issue has made us ponder on how we take our freedom for granted. It is important to defend this freedom in a robust way.”

Coming from a family of freedom fighters, Enam set her story in Bangladesh’s Liberation War. Her debut novel, A Golden Age, portrayed the emotional and political turmoil of a war-scarred family in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladeshi war. Her second novel, The Good Muslim, picks up where the first ends.

Have you arrived at a definition of a good Muslim? She argues not. “The title of my book is provocative, it’s meant to ask what is a good Muslim, not to answer is. The characters are debating and challenging the question all the time. The answer lies with the person who is reading it, which would be different for everybody.”

Born in Dhaka, Anam has lived in Paris, New York and London over the years. One wonders if the Harvard graduate has ever experienced the famous ‘diaspora’.

“Not at all” she laughs in a musical way. “I have lived outside Bangladesh, but I’m committed to the country. I can’t feel have diasporic feeling since I have never been uprooted and planted somewhere else, I’m a Bangladesh writer who loves living in London.”