Bilal Philips is no stranger to controversy. The Canadian preacher who makes his home in Qatar these days now has the attention of the Attorney General of Ontario, the Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto Police, for incendiary comments he made to reporters.
Philips was in Toronto to speak at the Journey of Faith (JoF) conference, an annual assembly of every able-bodied Salafist preacher not yet banned from entering Canada. Last year’s conference made headlines when Zakir Naik’s visa was cancelled by Ottawa days before his anticipated arrival. This was Philips’ year.
His carefully dyed black beard, African style skull cap and fluency in Arabic goes a far way to mask the fact that he was born on the tropical Caribbean island of Jamaica in 1947 as one Dennis Bradley Philips. He would later migrate to Canada, convert to Islam in 1972 and change his name to Bilal. He is also known as Abu Ameenah, the father of Ameenah, the name of his eldest child. Although given his colourful past moonlighting as a gun-runner it could have easily served as his nom de guerre.
I find myself reading a fair bit these days. I am not complaining. Ramadan is fast approaching and with it the imperative of a different kind of reading, one that promises to nourish the spirit.
“The Reluctant Fundamentalist”
I’ve had a few books gathering dust on my shelf for months now and thought maybe this was as good a time as any other to knock off a few. Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” appeared a quick read and it was. Not because it happened to be engaging but rather because it was only 184 pages. And thank the Lord for that.
The book garnered some praise when it was first released. The inside flap said it echoed of Camus and Fitzgerald, describing it as “a riveting, devastating exploration of our divided yet ultimately indivisible world.” I think the publishers made a mistake and borrowed that praise from another book perhaps deserving of it.
I found the narrative childish, the kind of drivel you’d expect from a drunk at a late night cafe. Changez’s thoughts are unworthy of being called ideas. To compensate, Hamid makes him speak with a degree of artificiality that caused me to dismiss his main character as an idiot, an imbecile. Changez is neither idealistic nor is he realistic. He is neither a fundamentalist or is he a nationalist and yet the author wants us to believe he is a little of both. Changez is a confused immigrant, like so many brilliant Pakistani men wandering the corridors of great institutions in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. but whose minds are still trapped in Anarkali bazaar. New York has more character, passion, zeal and humanity that ten Lahores. I am not here talking about the Lahore of the exquisite Shalimar gardens, the lush openness of the Badshahi mosque nor the spiritual ecstasy of the Sufi mazar of Data Ganj Baksh which was the target of two suicide bombers last month. That’s the Lahore of the past. Hamid’s Changez neither understands Empire nor does he understand Colonization. He knows not the secular nor the religious, neither war nor peace.
He reflects the contemporary Pakistani born American, Canadian or British male, floating like a dangling modifier without a hint of a spiritual identity to anchor his lost soul. He latches on to the message of Zakir Naik and Anwar Al-Awlaki only to end up proclaiming his Sufi heritage a bid’a. He runs from his past only to arrive at the gates of hell with a beer in one hand and a whisky in the other. Changez is neither reluctant nor is he a fundamentalist.