A meeting with the author Ali Shakir about his book “A Muslim on the Bridge: On Being an Iraqi-Arab Muslim in the Twenty-First Century”

Yesterday, I had the luck of participating for the first time in my life in a book club. The name of this book club is “JCI Book Club – Amman” (You can read more details about the club and my experience in this post: Are there English Book Clubs in Amman? There is the JCI Amman Book Club and here is my Experience!). At my first participation, I had the luck that the club had a Mr. Ali Shakir to talk briefly about a book that he had recently published.

It was my first time ever to know of Mr. Shakir. Mr. Shakir is a New Zealander-Iraqi author. He recently published a book called: “A Muslim on the Bridge: On Being an Iraqi-Arab Muslim in the Twenty-First Century”. This book is the first book ever written by Mr. Shakir and the JCI Amman Book Club hosted him to talk about his book.

Book's Front Cover - A Muslim on the Bridge: On Being an Iraqi-Arab Muslim in the Twenty-First Century

Book’s Front Cover. Source: Book’s page at amazon.com.

Who is Ali Shakir and what is his book about? These questions are answered concisely and precisely at the back cover of the book:

The Book's Backcover - A Muslim on the Bridge: On Being an Iraqi-Arab Muslim in the Twenty-First Century

The Book’s Backcover. Source: Book’s page at amazon.com.

From the book’s back cover, I just want to highlight that Mr. Shakir lived most of his life in Iraq until 2006 when he moved to New Zealand.

During the entire event of JCI Book Club Amman, Mr. Shakir was very quiet. He spoke in a low voice, which he said he could not “increase”. Mr. Shakir introduced himself very briefly and talked in less than 10 minutes about his book. This was certainly not enough. I liked very much the “etymology” of his book’s title.

He told us that the main landmark in Baghdad is the Tigris river نهر دجلة. He explained that there are many bridges crossing this river to connect the parts of Baghdad at its both sides. When he used to live Iraq, he liked a lot to go above these bridges and watch the city of Baghdad. In his opinion, this gave him a very good view of the city of Baghdad at both sides of the river. He thinks that he could not have got this view were he not to stand on these bridges! In a similar fashion, I understood that he is now lost between his Muslim and Arab identity and western point of views. Therefore, he wrote this book to give a better view of the difficulties that he, along with other Iraqis and Muslims in general, are having (N.B. I am not sure how precise I remember his words).

Tigris River, Baghdad, Iraq.

Tigris River, Baghdad, Iraq. Source: A flickr account of James Gordon.

I do not know a lot of information about the author or about the book. Nonetheless, I sensed a tone of sadness in the voice of Mr. Shakir.  I sensed that he had a lot inside of him and he wanted to express it but could not. Could it be that this book was enough? Is there a story of suffering somewhere in the life of Mr. Shakir? This is why I quickly became very interested to read the book.

The floor was opened for discussion. One person asked about the source of Mr. Shakir’s information in the book and whether he depended on certain resources. Then a person asked a question that diverted the conversation to the situation of Iraq and Baghdad nowadays. Finally, I asked the last question 🙂 and gave my opinion regarding what Mr. Shakir had begun his brief talk by. Mr. Shakir had said that “he is against a writer speaking about his/her book” and that “a good book will speak about itself.” I told Mr. Shakir that I would have most probably not known about his book if he had not come to that event. I then told him that although communication skills are important, but that strong ideas can convey the greatest bulk of a person’s opinion. I finished my comment by saying, “If I were you and were invited into an event to discuss my book, I will go.”

Questions ended. Then, a young woman of JCI’s administrative people asked a very interesting question:

“If Mr. Ali Shakir’s book was available today at Book Readers, who will buy it?”

I raised my hand. It was not though a very high rise. The reason is not that I did not want to buy the book. I found the book very interesting. The reason is that I would have bought it not as paperback but as an e-version. I no longer prefer reading paperback books. I then thought very frightened, what if they told us that the book is available and they wanted to make it a surprise? I do not have enough money to buy it. Yes, I did not have more than JD 10 in my pocket. My salary as an intern in the ministry of health is only JD 96.5 ($136.26). “I want 10 people to raise their hands.” The young woman said again and then started counting those who had raised their hands. My hand was not lowered enough and I was counted among those “lucky” people who will have the chance to buy the book that night. However, not for very long: “Mr. Ali,” The young woman said. “We would like to inform you that a secret person has told us that he will buy 10 copies of your book and donate them.” Mr. Ali then immediately asked, again in low voice, “Who is this person?” The young woman refused to answer. Then the beautiful surprise came:

“We want to give these ten books to the ten people who raised their hands.”

I was very happy. This meant that I would have a free copy of Mr. Shakir’s book. What a very good surprise! I think it is the most expensive prize (if I can say) that I have ever won in my life! The paperback version of this book costs $15.19. I have never won a prize that is worth more than 15.19$. The person who decided to donate the books. I really respect him/her. It certainly shows that Mr. Shakir’s book had touched this person’s mind and/or heart!

The book will arrive at Book Readers in about two weeks. I am looking forward to reading it!

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5 Comments:

  1. Ohh, I am glad that you got a copy of this book Jameel. I, too, got it as a gift from Ali himself. It is an honest account that shows how our Arab societies drifted into extremism in the past 2-3 decades. He is an Iraqi Shi’a who lived in Baghdad most of his life, and I am a Jordanian Christian who always lived in Amman, and I feel that I could relate to many of the small details he highlights in the book. I see it more of the story of nation who went downhill.

    • Dear Mr. Zaghmout,

      Firstly, it is an honor that you write a comment in my Blog again (The first comment of yours was at least 1.5 years ago. Most probably you do not remember that… But I do :)).

      I was not given the book today. Hopefully, I will be today by the JCI Amman Book Club.

      The following setence of yours made me more and more interested to read the book: “… how our Arab societies drifted into extremism in the past 2-3 decades”. I did not know that this book handles this topic. I think that it would be very exciting to read the point view of Mr. Shakir, an Arab who comes from a minority, just like me… and you!

      Thanks again for the comment… and for the re-tweet 🙂

  2. It’s been a pleasure meeting you Jameel, and thank you again for taking the time to write about my book. I only need to clarify one thing: I never saw myself as a Shai-not that there is anything wrong with being one, I was privileged with a secular upbringing in Baghdad. In fact, the book tells the story of that very liberal world and life and how they had been transformed into the other, rather ugly, extreme! When people ask me about my denomination, I often joke by saying: I am a cocktail! That’s because my mother is a Sunni and my father a Shia. However, I was taught Islamic rituals in school according to the Sunni church. But at my age now-just turned 45, I am indeed a fusion of all the faiths and cultures I have been reading and learning about, or quoting the book’s title, I am standing on a bridge!

    • Dear Mr. Ali Shakir,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to write a comment in my blog and for clarifying more about you and your book.

      It was an honor meeting you. I am really looking forward to reading your book 🙂

  3. Fadi, thanks again for your kind words. It is not so often that a young man bravely holds a mirror that shows his community its social malaises the way you have done through your first novel, Arous Amman. You will be long remembered for taking the first, very difficult step.

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