What’s it like to live on the fringes of society, to be an outsider. First, second and third generation Muslim of migrant heritage often complain of being marginalised. But what would it be like to be a marginal person in more than one home country?
Osamah Sami’s family knows exactly what this is like. His late father, a religious scholar and leader to a Shia congregation in northern Melbourne, grew up in Iraq as a young man keen on reading foreign newspapers. Tortured by the regime of Saddam Hussein, he fled to Iran.
Osamah was born a foreigner. Despite belonging to the same religious denomination as the Iranians around him, Osamah was an Arab, not a Persian. His mother made him wear a long robe, not jeans like his Iranian friends.
But worse still, Osamah’s family were Iraqis living in Abadan, a border town. He and his neighbours lived under the shadow of Iraqi bombs, mortars, missiles and gas raining down on the city during the 1980’s war between Iran and Iraq. They also suffered from the constant suspicion and prejudice from those deemed more Iranian, more Shia and more Muslim than those who spoke Arabic. The language of the Prophet and the language of the enemy were one and the same.
Things weren’t made easier by the fact that Osamah’s father and uncles were fighting in the Iranian army, possibly against their former Iraqi relatives and neighbours. Amongst the drama and tragedy, the author manages to insert much laugh-out-loud humour.
Indeed, tragicomedy is an appropriate description of the book. Osamah’s childhood reflections of the hypocrisies of Iranian theocracy make an excellent antidote to those who would make us believe that the solution to our woes necessarily lay in the Islamic state. All the religious police in the world could not stop Muslims from identifying more by their tribe or sect. Kurds did not cease being Kurds. Iraqi Shia Muslims were still deemed Iraqis and potential enemies of the state. All this during the age of jihad against thee Great Satan and its cronies.
There were no long term prospects for Osamah’s family. The family moved from Abadan to the university city of Qom, where his father pursued studies to become a religious scholar. Later he was invited to Melbourne to officiate for religious ceremonies. Eventually, the family applied to migrate as refugees.
Much of the book is structured around a visit the adult Osamah made to Iran with his father. They arrived at the city of Mashhad in 2013, enjoyed a traditional falafel roll together and returned to their hotel. Osamah went for a walk while his father quietly moved onto the afterlife. Whilst dealing with his own grief, Osamah also had to deal with Iranian bureaucracy. “Policy is policy,” he would be told whilst forced to leave his Australian passport in the hands of anonymous officials in Mashhad before travelling some 900 km across a huge desert to Tehran.
Good Muslim Boy is a superbly hilarious read that will make you realise that even the most religious place can be filled with testosterone and even an imam’s son can get upto no good while maintaining his father’s affections. Terrific.