Book Review: Letters to a Young Muslim

In an increasingly modern and complex world, Omar Saif Ghobash felt impelled by responsibility to his two sons to write them a series of letters as they navigate their way through life and their Muslim faith. Ghobash does not write as an Islamic scholar or authority, but as a relatable parent speaking in terms that not only his children, but the next generation, can understand. Concerned by the vulnerability of young people to extremist ideologies, he provides this personal account as a way to help them avoid violent tendencies. He does not believe that religion and reason need be at odds with one another, but rather encourages young people to employ both as they forge a path forward.

Born in the United Arab Emirates to a Russian mother, and a father who worked as a Foreign Minister and was assassinated when he was age six, Ghobash early began to grapple with his role and identity as a Muslim in the wider world. His multicultural and multilingual upbringing combined with his education in Great Britain exposed him to a diverse range of philosophies and perspectives, which he learned to appreciate while staying true to his beliefs. Ghobash has served as the UAE Ambassador to Russia since 2009 and through his writing, he opens the door to conversation with a moderate, diplomatic approach.

Without shying away from discussing topics that were deemed taboo in his school days, he dives into relevant issues, covering everything from fundamentalist Islam to morality, from terrorism to sexuality, and from democracy to the suppression of women. He addresses each subject with an awareness of both external and internal perceptions while ultimately leaving answers up to individual discretion. Ghobash stresses the importance of thinking critically for oneself and taking responsibility for one’s actions, allowing room for healthy questioning in the process. He writes, “I want my sons’ generation of Muslims to realize that they have the right to think and decide what is right and what is wrong, what is Islamic and what is peripheral to the faith. It is their burden to bear whatever decision they make.”

As a non-Muslim reader, I appreciated the way Ghobash spoke to Muslim issues, which also served to inspire introspection into my own faith. He calls for all of us to engage with the world in order to create one that is more compassionate and understanding. I recommend this quick and stimulating read to anyone looking for a window into contemporary Islamic thought, and I would love to hear what resonates with or challenges you. Click here to purchase “Letters to a Young Muslim” as an audiobook, e-book, or print copy. You might also be interested in listening to an NPR interview with the author or watching his appearance on BBC Global News.