Tharik Hussain longlist author interview
Tharik Hussain, longlisted author of 'Minarets in the Mountains: A Journey into Muslim Europe,' delves into his favourite destinations to write about and the experiences that never made it into his book.
How does it feel to be longlisted?
‘Surreal’ in a word; this is the type of acknowledgement you dream of as an author, and when you do - dream that is - you imagine it will happen late in your career, when you might have established yourself, not with your debut book when nobody knows who you are.
Which place that you travelled to for it would you most recommend to others?
All of it, as it is so poorly represented, but if I was to narrow this down: the Southwest of Serbia, because it is nothing like the rest of the country, or at least nothing like what we have been led to believe Serbia is. This area is home to a huge indigenous Muslim population living in delightful towns like Novi Pazar where ancient Muslim traditions like the reverence for the musafir (the traveller) remain. Then there is Albania; a country so badly misrepresented that even my Albanian friends wondered why I wanted to visit it. Yet it was a place we found ourselves wandering through dreamy historic towns like Berat and Gjirokaster; learning tales about marvellous local heroes like Ali Pasha and Skenderberg; swimming in azure blues waters off the edge of a spectacular coastline, and exploring a stunning mountain interior.
Are there stories about your journey that didn’t make it into the book?
Yes, sadly in any writing process, some stories have to be left out. One in particular springs to mind, where I was in conversation with a Bosnian Imam, a huge mountain of a man, who had the most peculiar habit of dabbing his lips using his bread when enjoying soup, the way we might use a napkin. I remember sitting with him, and after reflecting on the genocide his people had recently experienced, he paused, dabbed his lips before uttering the following very chilling words: ‘If that (genocide against Muslims) happened today, with the Islamophobia we are seeing across the globe, I don’t think anyone would have stopped it… and we might well have been extinguished’.
What are you working on next?
I have a few ideas simmering away and they all aim to offer a different perspective of places, people and narratives that are familiar to us and we think we know well. As one of very few Muslim travel writers writing in English, I hope my perspective remains valued and interesting for those of us that have been craving alternative ones in this genre.