Review by Justin Marozzi | The Sunday Times | January 8, 2017
Omar Saif Ghobash, the Emirati ambassador to Russia, is well qualified to speak about violence. In 1977, when he was six, his father, then the UAE’s first foreign minister, was killed in a botched assassination attempt against his Syrian counterpart. Forty years later the shadow of that killing still looms over the family.
Letters to a Young Muslim reflects on the lasting consequences of that assault and searches for constructive ways to address the wider prevalence of violence in the Arab world. The book is born of concern for his two sons’ generation, specifically the fear that his teenagers might be attracted to the reductive, extremist interpretations of Islam that are so common online and in popular discourse.
Why, Ghobash asks, is it always the Islamic warrior who is hailed as the ideal role model for today’s Muslims? What about the architects, philosophers, trailblazing scientists, mathematical pioneers, comic poets and intellectual rebels who made the early Islamic empires so rich and diverse, from Baghdad in the ninth century to Cordoba in the 10th, Cairo in the 12th and Fes in the 13th? Islam’s superiority complex among its more assertive and less thoughtful adherents can be traced, Ghobash argues, to statements in the Koran and sayings of the Prophet. Yet early Islam was not so much throat-slitting fanaticism as a “vibrant, exciting, intellectually adventurous, and logically rigorous religion."