In Unimagined: A Muslim Boy Meets the West, Imran Ahmad narrates life growing up Pakistani and Muslim in England. Born in Karachi, he migrated to England with his family as a very young boy. Ahmad did his best to fit in a land dominated by those with a different religion and color of skin who were wary of the influx of immigrants living in their land. He weaves a heart-wrenching tale in which his struggles to overcome prejudices will surely leave you in tears.
Well, actually, not really.
Ahmad tells the tale of his life with an ever present humor which is evident from the start, beginning with mention of his entry in the “Bonnie Baby” contest in Karachi. He ended up losing to a boy who was the judges son, a sure sign of nepotism. It was that incident, Ahmad wrote, that began his lifelong struggle against corruption. In the recollection of his life, Ahmad weaves in humor so we may laugh, or at least smile, at all the good or bad that happens in his life.
At the bottom of every page, Ahmad includes the time period and his age so the reader can know exactly how old the author was at any particular point in the book. The reader follows Ahmad along while he learns about Islam, his experience in the different schools he’s been to, his struggles with women, and encounters with Evangelical Christians.
Those who were ‘born Muslim’ to immigrants in a place like American or England may find something in common with Ahmad, as he didn’t even know about the fundamentals of Islam until he was put in Islamic school. There, he learned the ‘why’ of all the things that he was doing or supposed to be doing. Before that, he was oblivious of the facts of Islam. Ahmad then shares his knowledge of Islam in a few of his sub chapters, obviously meant for readers who have little or no knowledge of the subject to aid in their understanding of what Ahmad believes in. Unfortunately, at times Ahmad passes on something he learned in Islamic School that isn’t quite right, such as the belief that Satan, Iblis to Muslims, was a fallen angel while Satan is actually a jinn.
Generally, I really liked the book. However, I took offense at one part as a Muslim. Close to the end, Imran Ahmad stated that he was lucky to have grown up the way he had, by parents who were not ignorant or fundamentalists. He then followed the line by stating that his dad was always clean shaven and that his mom never wore the hijab. Those two sentences one after the other suggests that Ahmad equates a bearded man and a woman wearing hijab as ignorant. Whether or not Ahmad thinks a beard or hijab are necessary, he shouldn’t pass judgment on those who choose to adopt them.
I do think Unimagined: A Muslim Boy Meets the West is worth reading since it’s funny and entertaining. It was also incredibly ‘readable.’ I wanted to keep on reading it and find out what was going to happen next. Do keep in mind that these are memoirs and not a religious book. With that in mind, Unimagined is a good read.