Alumnus Melds Pakistan Histories in New Book
Posted 10/03/2013 09:59AM

In the opening chapter of Shahan Mufti’s new book, The Faithful Scribe: A Story of Islam, Family, and War, readers are challenged to consider their view of Pakistan:

“…there are basic impressions: It is next to Afghanistan; it is next to India; it’s Muslim; it has nuclear bombs, many nuclear bombs; it’s the place where a man named Obama bin Laden was finally found. Whatever specific details you can recall are probably more or less accurate. So while I speak, you will be thinking of that Pakistan. But I am also thinking, as I speak to you, about the place that you picture in your mind—and to me it looks like a caricature, a dark parody.”

In the next 355 pages, Shahan weaves his family history together with the history of Pakistan to paint a fuller, deeper portrait of this oft-misunderstood country. Shahan, whose maternal family roots can be traced back 1,400 years to the inner circle of the prophet Muhammad, uses the stories of his ancestors—many who served as judges and jurists on sharia courts of Southeast Asia—to explore Islamic civilization in his native land.

An accomplished journalist – he’s had pieces published in The New York Times, The Nation, Harper’s, and others – Shahan admits his interest in his family’s genealogy came later in his life. After his grandfather passed away, Shahan discovered a family tree among the elder man’s papers.

“This was fascinating history and it forced me to think that maybe the history of what I was writing and the context of what I was writing about as a news reporter wasn't even a couple months or even a couple of years old — these things went way back," Shahan said in an interview on National Public Radio.

Shahan represented Pakistan as a UWC-USA student but considers himself Pakistani-American. He didn’t think much about this distinction until the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The day after the attack, Shahan – then a student at Middlebury College—received a call from a federal agent.

“He made no mention of the events of the day before, which was strange. But it did make me think of why I was pinpointed in my dorm room in rural Vermont on the day after,” he said.

After graduating from Middlebury and then New York University, Shahan spent much of his journalistic career focused on Pakistan. He was a correspondent in Pakistan for the Christian Science Monitor, and later joined a team of journalists to launch an online portal for international news, for which he reported from South Asian and the U.S. His experiences have made him acutely aware of the violence in Pakistan and neighboring countries, but Shahan remains hopeful.

He writes in The Faithful Scribe, “We lived in a time when things were different, when people believed in violence out of fear, ignorance, and desperation. They will forgive us, our future generations.”

Shahan will be on tour to promote the book. Click here for dates.

Listen to the NPR interview.

Read an excerpt from the book.