Border Crossings by Mohammad Chowdhury

27 Nov

I first met Mohammad when he was a new direct entrant into the management consulting practice of one of the Big 4 accounting firms. We had an interesting exchange. He was about to start a small assignment for a major client, National Grid. He explained to me that Ramadan was about to start, and as a Muslim he would be fasting from sunrise to sunset. That could make him faint and potentially irritable – and as his manager on the assignment I should be aware of this.

My side of the the exchange was simpler – I explained what a spreadsheet was (he was an Oxford graduate in Politics, Philosophy & Economics, so not a difficult concept for him to grasp) and how he would need to use it in his assignment.

This small exchange encapsulates the theme of this book – how Mohammad, as a second-generation immigrant from Bangladesh, developed his career and explored his Muslim faith. In doing so, he had to undertake many ‘border crossings’ – some cultural, some the actual crossings of physical borders. He recounts both in this book, and the physical border crossings include a fascinating account of his entry to Israel at the Allenby Crossing, and how to exit from a newly-independent Kazakstan with an expired Russian visa.

The book is subtitled ‘My journey as a Western Muslim’, and some of the best parts are Mohammad’s reflections on racial, religious and ethnic tensions. In one memorable passage, he asks us to imagine what London would be like if it was ‘as fragmented by sectarian division as Beirut has been… I imagine Wood Green Turkish enclave…Southall controlled by Sikh separatists’.

But as well as the humour, he has interesting things to say about his developing faith – noting that some supposedly Muslim practices are more based on local tradition than the Koran, and contrasting earlier times of Muslim learning and flourishing with the narrower focus of Muslim learning and scholarship today. The insight I found most illuminating was his view on how long it would take for ‘home grown’ democracy to become established in the Middle East – ‘I claimed confidently that we were in the early stages of one hundred years of turmoil that began with the Iranian revolution in 1979’.

The book is definitely a ‘good read’. As a Western Christian, I found it enriched my understanding of the Muslim world. When, at the end of the book, Mohammad returns to Sonarpur, where the Chowdhury family had been landlords in colonial times, his driver notes ‘you are like your father…[willing] to sit with everyone and chat about nothing in particular’. More chatting and less posturing – and definitely less military intervention – must be the way to go in our world of racial, religious and ethnic tensions. This book helps with that.

Available at Amazon and (probably by special order) at your local bookstore – see https://amzn.to/3lf3tLt

One Response to “Border Crossings by Mohammad Chowdhury”

  1. Mohammad Chowdhury January 8, 2022 at 1:45 am #

    Richard, thanks for this review, which I just discovered today. I didn’t remember that I’d told you all that about Ramadan, though do to this day remember the spreadsheet lesson! See you soon, Mohammad

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