On Saturday, I attended the Literature Must Fall day of talks and performances at Impact Hub in Birmingham. The overarching theme was described as "decolonising literature" and the speakers came from a range of backgrounds. It was quite an intense and thought-provoking day and I'm glad I decided to attend, alhamdu Lillah. However, this post is not really about the day as much as it is about the feelings and decision it brought to the surface for me and, in particular, with regard to Book Nomad podcast.
Allah is the best of planners and the timing for this event in the context of my intellectual and emotional state was impactful, to say the least. I had just finished reading The Good Immigrant the day before and I had been discussing ideas of identity and the discourse around it in the UK with a few people on Instagram for a while. There was starting to emerge a feeling that there was something about it all that didn't quite feel right. On the day, I heard and saw discussions on the various topics around culture, belonging, nation, race and the like, all interesting in one way or another. I took a few notes, I asked myself some questions, I tried to consider the various perspectives put before me. It was all in a literature festival day's work.
Then it came to the session entitled "Muslims, Resistance, Writing". To be honest, I hadn't put any particular focus on this event and went into it with same expectations as the previous talks. The only factor that differentiated it from the others was that I knew Asim Qureshi (@thebookslamist) was one of the panelists - I believe he is how I came across this event in the first place - and I enjoy his reviews here on Instagram so I was curious to see what he would have to say.
I was not ready. I was not ready for the realisations that would hit me one after another as I sat there listening to a panel of Muslims speaking about literature, identity, belonging, purpose and more and putting Islam at the centre. This may or may not seem like an obvious occurrence to you on a panel full of Muslims (and let me know in the comments whether it is - I'd really like to know), but in those moments, before that mixed audience, when one panelist told an audience member that one of the ways to solve a societal problem facing Muslims is to live Islam completely (I'm paraphrasing - I was too involved to take notes) and another used hadiths and ayahs confidently and naturally as motivators for speaking truth and establishing justice (paraphrasing again), I realised what I had been missing.
I also realised what I had subconsciously been holding back. When I started this podcast, my intention was to be that voice. I wanted to vocalise what I was sure other Muslim readers and listeners thought when they read a novel, but didn't hear expressed confidently and publicly. I wanted to be that space that allowed them to explore their reading and world through the lens of their faith, that validated their perspective, and that then encouraged us all to ask new questions and challenge the internalised beliefs and ideologies that might be holding us back. Watching that panel discussion, I realised that fear and an unfounded need to appeal to a wider audience meant I haven't been achieving that goal as well as I could. I realised that there are already other people out there who can talk specifically about these topics from a different perspective, but it is the Islam-centred approach that I am interested in and that I don't see very often around me, so that is what I should be focusing on.
As I write this, I realise it may sound like there are huge changes coming. I don't think that will be the case. Most of my reading and study of literature has taken place in a very secular setting and the discussions on the topic that I absorb today are generally very secular; that's a hard habit to kick. Also, an Islam-centred approach doesn't mean quoting hadiths every five minutes; it just means that the discussion is founded on the values that Islam lays out and the way they impact my view of the world and life. My hope is mainly that I can reduce the self-censorship that I have been imposing from time to time for fear of contradicting mainstream views and allow myself to be my everyday Allah-worshipping, question-asking, fiction-loving self, perhaps with a little less self-doubt.
If you have any suggestions for the podcast or comments on improvements you think I could make to the podcast, whether to achieve the above goal or in general, I'd really appreciate them. As you can see, this is an ongoing learning journey for me and I hope it can only get better, in sha Allah.
Reader. Occasional writer. Muslim.