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Fatherly counsels

17 February 2017

Simon Ross Valentine reads a progressive Muslim’s manifesto

Letters to a Young Muslim
Omar Saif Ghobash
Picador £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30


OMAR GHOBASH, the ambassador of the UAE to Russia, presents a series of letters to his two young sons “and to all young Muslim men and women, with the intention of opening their eyes to some of the questions they are likely to face and the range of possible answers that exist for them”.

He warns his children against “a closed worldview”. In contrast to extremist groups within Islam, he tells them to respect differences and diversity within Islam, and also diversity in the world generally.

Drawing from his own life experiences — his father, a diplomat, was killed in a terrorist attack when the author was six years old; and the challenges he faced as a Muslim student at university in the UK — Ghobash argues: “Every generation of Muslims should re-examine their faith and understanding” and “re-express Islam in the words and the needs” relevant to this generation.

As such, Ghobash presents a tolerant, progressive Islam that can accept democracy, the mixing of the sexes in public, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and even “genetically predetermined” homosexuality.

Ghobash discusses militant Islam, “a twisted and perverted ideology that”, as he states, “we have to confront with everything that we have”.

Particular attention is given to the medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyya and his frightful doctrine of aggressive Jihad, and Sayyid Qutb, the radical writer executed in Egypt in 1966, and his questionable claim that the West is godless.

He reminds his sons that “the only way you can make the world a better place is by doing the opposite of hating. It is by loving,” and in particular, by helping the poor, orphans, and “those who are on the borders of society”.

Endearing, and poignant, challenging and inspiring, this book is a “must-read” not only for every Muslim, but for Christians, or people of any religion who are trying to make sense of their faith in the 21st century.


Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a specialist in Islamic Studies who has been working in Iraq.

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