Tamim Sadikali is the author of “Dear Infidel,” a novel which he describes as a piece of literature about “…love, hate, longing and sexual dysfunction, all sifted through [the lens of] the war on terror…”
Sadikali was born in Kent, England in 1973 and studied Mathematics at Warwick University. His childhood in leafy suburbia was blanched so white, he barely knew he was Muslim until February 1989, when Iran’s Ayatollah Khomenei placed a death sentence upon the British author, Salman Rushdie, for his work, “The Satanic Verses.” Sadikali’s interest – obsession really – with the subject of Identity, began on that day.
What inspired you to write Dear Infidel?
Growing up, there was a constant frustration when watching “Muslim” news stories. I was always left with the same thought – “…but that’s not me.” In time, I understood that the agenda would always be set by the same band of protagonists, antagonists and apologists – or put another way, I realized that only another channel would throw light on the gaps the media missed. And that channel, for me, was literature.
How do you think the experience of being an everyday Muslim in the West, has changed?
Over my lifetime the experience has morphed beyond recognition, in Britain at least. My generation has lived through the disintegration of stock identities – such as “Asian” – before reconstituting others. Some formed for themselves a vacuum-sealed Islamic milieu, while others threw out every ‘vertical’ (i.e. inherited) identity in order to blend in [with the non-Muslim majority]. Most however, couldn’t – can’t – deny the irresistible pull of each, and that’s left many disorientated; like a compass needle spinning round and round, searching endlessly for magnetic north.
What does ‘Dear Infidel’ have to say to the Muslimah?
There are five main characters of which one, Nazneen, is female. She’s a lawyer in her early twenties, independent but married to the wrong man. The love of her life was a non-Muslim with whom she had a relationship at college, however she then rediscovered her faith, and married a Muslim man. The marriage wasn’t arranged, he’s not an asshole, plus he’s crazy about her. So when her old flame unexpectedly reappears, there is no quick salve to the regret eating away at her. I wanted to explore those grey areas [and conflicting emotions] through a strong, female character. Dare I say, Nazneen is the original “alt Muslimah!”
Now that the book is out, what’s next for you?
Play more squash. Take my kids swimming more than once a week. Try to be a bit more romantic, and less of an automaton. I’m also sitting on a collection of short stories that’s about 60 percent complete. I’d love to see that project through.
An excerpt from the book has been provided for altM readers:
Nazneen sat upright in bed, holding the book in her lap. Comfortable in her lotus position and with her back supported, she wrapped herself up in languor. The phone then rang, the shrill tone violating her quiet space, and with irritation she picked up.
‘Happy Eid!’ someone blurted out down the line. ‘That is right, isn’t it, Naz? That is the way you say it?’
‘Oh hiya, Nikki! Wow, what a surprise! Not to hear from you, I mean. It’s just today; I wasn’t expecting to hear from you, today.’ Nazneen winced. What a silly thing to say – way too honest. She gulped air as discreetly as possible. ‘Oh and yeah, thanks girl – “Happy Eid” is fine.’ They both giggled. ‘But how did you know?’
‘Know what, hun?’
Nazneen reached for the remote and, settling back once more, switched on the TV. ‘About Eid. That today is Eid – you’ve never mentioned it before.’
Nikki fell silent as the TV sprang to life, and a scream of Allah-u-Akbar! boomed through the speakers, chased by a volley of gunfire. Nazneen pounced on the remote, assaulting the volume button. The footage ended and cut back to some studio, where a camera French-kissed a cartoon of a man, replete with fuzzy beard, glass eye and hook for hand. Rendered mute, however, he communicated more clearly. The camera adjusted, zooming in for porno detail, leaving the viewers in no doubt:
Eid, Islam, Muslims … Mad Mullahs, Militants, Terrorists. Rabid, scathing, foaming at the mouth. Book burners, wife beaters, rag wearers. Suicide bombers and Jihad.
YOU LOVE LIFE; WE LOVE DEATH.
Who didn’t know that today was Eid?
‘Oh…’ Nikki almost whispered. ‘I think I heard it. Somewhere…’
Silence. Nazneen swallowed her rage, and her hatred for the West, and her hatred for the Muslims.
‘It’s Charlie’s second birthday soon.’
‘Will you come?’
‘Sure, Nikki, sure,’ she exhaled, still trying to centre herself.
‘Great! I’ve got loads of people coming, mostly from my pre-natal group – they’re really nice but I don’t know many of them too well. Will you come early, Naz? Help me out a bit?’
‘No worries, girl. But I’m no good in the kitchen, OK? You can put me in charge of decorating!’
‘I’ll put you in charge of Charlie, more like! Honestly, where have you been? You’ve not seen him in ages. He’s changing all the time. He’s really big now and a lot more playful. He’s a really happy little boy.’
Nazneen sank back under the still-warm duvet, seeking embryonic comfort. Oh, the luxury! She stretched her legs before bringing them back up, and the next moments were spent simply revelling under down, her legs affecting a half-hearted pedalling motion.
The phone rang again.
‘A change of plan already, Nikki?’ She spoke lightly and stretched to fill a glass of water.
The tumbler slipped from her hand, the glass smacking into her knee as cold water splashed her thighs.
‘Nazneen, it’s Martin.’
Still no response.
‘How did you get my number?’ She gazed down at her soaked nightie and bed sheet, the warm pastel blue being devoured by a dark, expanding wetness.
‘Remember Stefan? From uni? You bumped into him a while back. We still hang out together.’ Her face soured. Stefan, uni, Martin … Who the hell did these characters think they were, invading her space? And today of all days. ‘I’m sorry about last time – when we met.’
She scoffed silently.
‘You know my husband could have picked up.’
‘So? We’re friends, right? Old friends. It’s OK to have a past, isn’t it?’
‘What makes you think you ever came up in conversation? And anyway, why call me? I thought you were only into “new experiences”.’
She winced as she remembered – the last time they met, post-uni, after having split up.
‘Please. I tried to explain. I wrote to you. I don’t know if you ever got my letter.’
She got off the bed, threw the duvet on the floor and ripped the bed sheet off.
‘What do you want, Martin?’
‘Just five minutes … To explain. That day when we met up – it was so disorientating.’
‘Why? Because we weren’t a couple anymore?’ Cupping the portable to her ear she stomped over to the linen basket, slamming the sheets in.
‘No. Dunno … Maybe in part. It was just weird, meeting in London. And us both in suits!’ He laughed nervously but found no echo. ‘I’d just wanted to recapture. Remember. I hated this city when I first got here.’
‘Really? You could’ve fooled me. I think the phrase you used was “Pleasure Dome”.’
‘Jesus, try and understand. This place is so … anonymous. Back in Bournemouth, at uni – we mattered. In London I became just another monkey in a bloody suit. I was trying to be upbeat, let you know I was doing all right.’
‘I should go, Martin. I’ve actually got a lot on today. Speak another time, yeah?’
‘You think I could ever forget you, Nazneen?’
And there was a sincerity in his voice that rattled her. She stayed silent.
‘You … you plague my thoughts.’ He spat the words out like he was trying to exorcise demons. ‘Remember Colorado? I keep thinking of that summer. Remember Red Rocks?’
She stood frozen at the end of the bed. On the wall above was a framed picture; her and Aadam on their wedding day.
‘We went hiking there a few times. It was kind of innocuous, really. You’ve probably long forgotten. But just lately, Christ … it keeps coming back to me.’
Red Rocks Park, Colorado. An infinite blue horizon, black as coal by night; red sandstone pillars, lacerating earth and sky. But it wasn’t about the terrain, it wasn’t about him and it wasn’t even about her. It was them – Nazneen and Martin – their summer together.
‘I never understood why we broke up,’ he confessed, his voice wrenching. ‘Why you walked away … from me.’
She couldn’t take her eyes off that photo. Aadam looked so … childlike, his joy unrestrained. But Red Rocks – she hadn’t forgotten either. Could never forget.
‘I’m happily married, Martin.’
‘I’m glad. Never change though. Promise me that. Keep my number, OK?’ He hung up. Nazneen kept the phone clasped to her ear, the monotone signal rattling her skull.