First There Was The Word

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20140523

Author Yasmin Hai combines personal storytelling with journalistic analysis exploring British Muslim fiction, memoir, readerships and publishing and the forging of a literary 'Islamic gaze'.

In the twenty five years following the Rushdie affair there has been an explosion of 'Muslim' books and bookshops catering for the believer's newly born literary needs. But what is that need exactly? In a culture seeped in the nuances of the oral tradition, what is the modern day Muslim's attitude towards books - the literal word - and the genre of fiction especially?

In this feature, Yasmin tells the story of her community's troubled relationship with the written word - and her own story within it. From her early years when she was made to read the Koran by barely literate mullahs, to her teenager years when she saw her usually timid local community rise up against The Satanic Verses, to current times, hailed by western publishers as an authentic 'Muslim writer,' despite being a non believer.

Yasmin will explore if what she has witnessed over the years is a Muslim community coming into its own in the modern world and building a literary infrastructure of book prizes, writers groups and independent publishing houses as it does so. But can current British Muslim writers bridge a gap between Islam and the West, and most importantly, modern literary traditions, underpinned by secular values? Or would the literary 'Islamic gaze' ultimately end up producing books for a niche market? As the battle for the Muslim word continues, it's a question which has yet to be answered.

Presenter: Yasmin Hai

Producer: Simon Hollis

A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4.