I started working on my memoirs in the late 2000s just to make sure that I remembered key things and events that one day I would stitch together, and the lockdown period gave me the stimulus I needed to finish it, as I had a lot of time to reflect on my life while thinking about what a deadly pandemic is likely to do to humanity. Over the years, I have read many memoirs concerning key British Muslim figures, and I was always curious as to how the narrative within them was constructed, and I wanted to provide something myself, but while it would be a story that would not be unfamiliar to many, the additional value that I could add is that, as an academic working on these issues myself, I could provide a degree of reflexivity and also objectivity that may not be found elsewhere. Therefore, I was motivated to try and tell a story about the life experiences of British Muslims and British Azad Kashmiris, reflecting not only on actual lived experiences but also on what they mean in sociological and political terms, having had the chance to understand and reflect on these issues over these years.
While discussing racism and inequality at length, the underlying message of the book is that no matter what people or institutions do to prevent you from getting on, if the will and determination are there and the ability to cut through nonsense is sustained, it is possible to achieve one’s goals. It is a study of how many times we get knocked down repeatedly, but if you keep your heart and mind in the right place, it is possible to get back up from the past and move forward stronger. There are all times when we, as human beings, have the agency within our own hands to make the difference that we seek. This agency needs to be cultivated, primed, and targeted at breaking down the barriers that seek to prevent ordinary people from achieving the achievements that they aspire to. What is noticeably clear in my analysis of society, economy, and politics in the UK over the last forty years is how this is rigged to prevent ordinary people from getting the same opportunities as those who have existing privileges can mobilise with aplomb but also prevent them from being accessible to others, thus making it impossible to get ahead for the many at the expense of the few who continue to do so.
The book is divided into two halves, with the first describing my story and the second being a series of observations. For example, in more recent periods, the Brexit and Trump eras have raised urgent questions about nationalism, authoritarianism, and populism. I also elaborate on observations based on my extended visits to Jakarta, Islamabad, Jerusalem, and New York City. I like to get to the underbelly of a particular city or nation to work out what is alive underneath all that external presentation, and it is very much the case that every society has a dark side to it, and invariably my observations allow me to comment on these societies to work out some of the interrelationships between these common experiences. Inevitably, there is an inherent streak concerning globalisation, neoliberal economics, identity politics, and the idea that there are races or cultures that are somehow superior to others, which ends up normalising neoliberal economic paradigms such that racial capitalism remains the dominant motif in contemporary global society. I hope the book has the desired impact, and I hope that people read it with interest and that it also encourages other writers and thinkers to produce their stories about being an Azad Kashmiri in Britain and all the implications it raises for questions of identity, status, belonging, and becoming.
Praise for the book
At a time when Islam is mostly analyzed through dry statistics, theories and principles, Tahir Abbas reconnects with the memoir genre to provide a unique insight into his journey as a Muslim and an academic in different cultures and political contexts. Highly recommended. –Jocelyne Cesari, Professor of Religion and Politics at the University of Birmingham and Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University
From being a Birmingham boy with Azad Kashmiri-Pakistani roots to becoming a Professor of Radicalisation in the Netherlands, Abbas sheds light on his journey of overcoming the obstacles on the road to his current destination of becoming a distinguished academic. –Alia Amir, Associate Professor of English Linguistics, Mid-Sweden University
Tahir Abbas’ story is partly a biography of growing up in a racialised, gang-ridden inner city where bullies mill across the schoolyard and narrow alleys, but it is also a reportage of a steadily changing Britain where race, the imperial past, so-called majoritarianism, and suspicions of the ‘other’ still anchor communal relationships. –Iftikhar H. Malik, Professor Emeritus at Bath Spa University
Tahir Abbas lets us peep into the family, social circles, mosque culture, and the hidden or not-so-hidden racism experienced by a British-Pakistani-Englishman with ancestral roots in Kashmir … For me, the book combines the wisdom of a teacher with the innocence of a student who is still ‘reading’ the world and does not shy away from sharing his ideas. –Samina Yasmeen, Professor and Director, Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia
Thought-provoking contemplations. –Ziauddin Sardar, Editor-in-Chief of Critical Muslim
A charming and challenging ‘coming of age’ memoir of a young Muslim boy and his journey into political manhood in a strange and hostile land. A must-read that lifts the veil on Islamophobia! –Heidi Safia Mirza, Professor Emerita of Race, Faith and Culture at Goldsmiths and Professor Emerita in Equalities Studies at the UCL Institute of Education
As a post-Brexit UK struggles to accept that global dominance through an empire is no longer possible and that society is truly multiracial, multicultural, and multi-faith, this book captures the reality of growing up with immigrant parents and contributes to the creation of the newer society that is gradually emerging. –Sally Tomlinson, Emeritus Professor at Goldsmiths and an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Education, University of Oxford
The richness of the subject is matched by the excellence of the writing. Professor Abbas has reached a new level of literary attainment, –Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University
Ruminations is a poignant reflection on Tahir’s formative years and distinguished career. It is an incisive analysis punctuated with tender moments of introspection at the juncture of what makes us all human—individuality, community, and metaphysical longing. –Uzmah Ali, Poet and Public Servant