19 January 2015
She was asked if any prominent Muslims would be willing to look at a new autobiography by a Muslim woman and contribute either a foreword. I agreed to take a look at the book, which was sent to me as an almost final PDF document. When I read the book I found it quite readable and had no trouble finishing it despite my other time pressures.
The published book contains a foreword by me which is reproduced below. A small extract from the foreword also appears on the back cover. This was a new experience for me, and the foreword effectively functions as a review.
Every well written autobiography is a privilege, giving you the chance to see the world through the eyes of another person. Sometimes we bring our own preconceptions to the book, for example when the autobiography is of a well-known figure. In other cases, you know nothing about the person until you read their autobiography, as here with Sahera Patel.
Born in 1974 in Bolton, one of five children, mother of two, a former teacher and now aged 40. Despite her life being unexceptional, what she chooses to write about it provides insight into the experience of growing up in Britain in an immigrant family.
As I read it, I kept seeing commonalities but also differences between our life experiences.
Both of us are South Asian Muslims. She was born here while I immigrated but have no memories of Pakistan. Both of us are Muslims, have performed the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and both of us had arranged marriages, deciding to get married after meeting our life partner just twice. However she interviewed about five times as many people as me before finding the right person! Reading how she went about husband hunting through the arranged marriage system should dispel many myths. It is also quite entertaining.
Conversely growing up in Manchester in the 1950’s was very different from Bolton in the 1970’s, and being the eldest son with one younger sister was quite different to being one of five children.
Her book shows far fewer non-Muslim associations than I had, and she mentions no intellectual interests apart from studying for her degree and religion. Perhaps most significantly, she is a woman!
Over the last sixty years immigration has changed the UK significantly. This book allows you to see life through the eyes of one relatively ordinary British Muslim of Indian origin. The better we understand all of our fellow citizens, the more harmonious our country will be.
I found the book very easy to read and always wanted to know what happened on the next page until I got to the end. I particularly recommend her experiences of Hajj, which were very consistent with my own. Especially the toilets!