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The Good Muslim


The Good Muslim

For anyone who believes deeply in the existence of an all-powerful, all-wise, and hopefully all-merciful Creator, that faith forms the core and central energy of a meaningful human life. When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter through what theological lens God is perceived, nor does it matter how God is addressed or worshipped from one cultural tradition to another. What does matter, as THE GOOD MUSLIM reveals in sometimes agonizing detail, is that faith is all too often the first and most brutally wounded casualty of any rigidly organized religion that puts duty and ritual ahead of compassion and emotional involvement.  

"Anam’s exquisitely descriptive and evocative writing paints a memorable journey as each [character] in his or her own way struggles to keep life as it once was from wholly bursting apart."

In the pages of her second novel, award-winning Bangladeshi writer Tahmima Anam deals poignantly with one of religion’s oldest conundrums through the struggle of a dysfunctional Muslim family trying to find post-war stability in a troubled and chronically impoverished country. Her story, which reads more like a real-life memoir than fiction, focuses on how the stress and after-effects of civil strife tear apart a once-inseparable brother and sister.

Maya, trained as a surgeon but isolated for years in the primitive conditions of rural medicine, lives her morality through action, insisting that her faith and religion be engaged with daily reality, no matter how messy and distasteful it might be. Her brother Sohail, once the rising star of the family in his sophisticated and worldly university days, returns home from military service beset by mental and emotional demons that push him in the opposite direction of intense, obsessive and judgmental religiosity.

The unspoken and unresolved question throughout Maya’s painful attempts to rebuild their sibling relationship is reflected in the novel’s title. What is a “good Muslim”? Similarly, one could ask: What is a “good Christian,” a “good Jew,” “a good Hindu,” a “good Sikh”?  Is the good religious life based on withdrawing from a world seen as decadent, evil, dangerous, or heathen? Or is it about living as the embodied example of prophetic, messianic or divine teaching --- in other words, walking the scriptural talk?

It’s the old, old tug-of-war between abstract and practical theology, one shared by the community of every religion. What makes Anam’s approach so compelling, however, is that THE GOOD MUSLIM places it within the believable and concrete microcosm of family life in difficult social and political times, rather than trying to generalize through the filter of pre-set universal values.

Predictably, Maya, Sohail, their kin and their friends cannot keep global stresses and pressures at bay forever. Anam’s exquisitely descriptive and evocative writing paints a memorable journey as each in his or her own way struggles to keep life as it once was from wholly bursting apart. In such an intimate story, there can be no “happily ever after” ending, but rather a vigilant acceptance that life must become almost unrecognizably different before it, like the still-infant nation of Bangladesh, can be reshaped into something that fits both faith and reality.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch on September 15, 2011

The Good Muslim
by Tahmima Anam

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
  • ISBN-10: 1847679757
  • ISBN-13: 9781847679758