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The Faithful Scribe: A Story of Islam, Pakistan, Family, and War

The Faithful Scribe: A Story of Islam, Pakistan, Family, and War

by Shahan Mufti

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A journalist explores his family’s history to reveal the hybrid cultural and political landscape of Pakistan, the world’s first Islamic democracy
Shahan Mufti’s family history, which he can trace back fourteen hundred years to the inner circle of the prophet Muhammad, offers an enlightened perspective on the mystifying


A journalist explores his family’s history to reveal the hybrid cultural and political landscape of Pakistan, the world’s first Islamic democracy
Shahan Mufti’s family history, which he can trace back fourteen hundred years to the inner circle of the prophet Muhammad, offers an enlightened perspective on the mystifying history of Pakistan. Mufti uses the stories of his ancestors, many of whom served as judges and jurists in Muslim sharia courts of South Asia for many centuries, to reveal the deepest roots—real and imagined—of Islamic civilization in Pakistan.
More than a personal history, The Faithful Scribe captures the larger story of the world’s first Islamic democracy, and explains how the state that once promised to bridge Islam and the West is now threatening to crumble under historical and political pressure, and why Pakistan’s destiny matters to us all.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Journalist Mufti incorporates the stories of his family and ancestors into a larger history of Pakistan and its post-9/11 political turmoil. He begins on the eve of his parents’ wedding in 1971, which coincides with the day India intervened in Pakistan’s civil war. This story is followed by discussions of clashes between supporters of Socialist Zulfiqar Bhutto and the devout Jamaat-e-Islami party, whose followers incited violence at Punjab University where Mufti’s father was a professor. The author discusses the complicated relationship between Pakistan and America, focusing on the Cold War and the Reagan administration’s funding of the guerrilla mujahideen, as well as the more recent wave of attacks ordered by President Obama. Moving toward the personal, Mufti describes his family’s alienation and harassment while briefly living in Ohio at a time rife with anti-Muslim sentiment and memories of acclimating when they moved back to Pakistan. He recalls living in Pakistan during the deadly protest at the Red Mosque and the hotel bombing that was an attempted assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female prime minister. Mufti takes readers on a tour of Lahore, his parents’ hometown, Sodhra, the town where his grandfather was born, and Islamabad, the nation’s capital, sharing his remarkable family tree, which includes an ancestor who was a close adviser to the prophet Muhammad. This astonishingly detailed, well-researched history is brought to life by the addition of Mufti’s personal story’ and journalistic acumen. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"The Faithful Scribe is an impassioned and insightful look into the heart of a troubled but vital country. This is a history of Pakistan from the pen of a keen observer, whose own story represents Pakistan's past and whose vision reflects its hope for the future." —Vali Nasr, New York Times bestselling author of The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat

"In The Faithful Scribe, Shahan Mufti, who calls himself '100 percent American and 100 percent Pakistani,' sets out to explain the country's present-day turbulence through the prism of its history…. Mr. Mufti deserves credit for framing Pakistan's story in terms of ideas, not merely events. He intuitively grasps that, though Pakistan is no theocracy, it shares some of the Saudi and Iranian sense of a larger Islamic mission." —Wall Street Journal

"[Mufti's] talent for explaining the political through the personal—particularly the "tormented embrace" between his home countries—benefits from the uncanny convergence of his family's milestones with Pakistan's." —New Yorker

"A penetrating,  carefully crafted, and sometimes moving account that presents Pakistan through the lens of Mufti's family's history, offering a vivid new perspective on a troubled country that is at once intimate and sweeping." —Declan Walsh, New York Times Pakistan Bureau Chief

“Journalist Mufti incorporates the stories of his family and ancestors into a larger history of Pakistan and its post-9/11 political turmoil…This astonishingly detailed, well-researched history is brought to life by the addition of Mufti’s personal story and journalistic acumen.” Publishers Weekly

"The rich cultural and religious history of Pakistan dictated through a journalist’s personal stories...An undeniable visionary, Mufti insightfully glances back at Pakistan’s past and nods hopefully toward its precarious future." —Kirkus

"Mufti’s incisive, sensitive book—half memoir, about his family’s deep roots in
Pakistan, and half history of the state, which he tells through the discovery of his own sprawling family tree—describes a place that might as well be invisible in that explosive analogy: a country with a unique, founding mission to merge constitutional democracy and Islam; a county defined today not by its peoples’ extremism but their shared history." —Daily Beast

"[A]n enlightened perspective on the history of Pakistan." —University of Richmond Newsroom   

If you want to understand Pakistan and the Pakistani-American relationship, read this book. Mufti combines the personal, familial, national and international, narratives in a uniquely revealing manner. He is Pakistani and an American. And he brings that special blend to a brilliant work.” —Ryan Crocker, American Ambassador to Pakistan, 2004-2007.

"After reading Shahan Mufti, a political junke like me feels as though she's begun to understand Pakistan for the first time. Movingly and compellingly written, The Faithful Scribe is invaluable reading for anyone who's ever asked 'What's really happening there?'" —Lesley Hazleton, author of The First Muslim and After The Prophet

“[Mufti] has written a book that takes you from the beginning of Pakistan in 1947 to now. He does this effortlessly, telling the story through his family’s experience.” The Chester Telegraph

"Recounting the way the Islamic legal system was integrated with religion but was then plucked away as Western influence grew, discovering at the same time his own family’s connection to that system, are Mufti’s twin foci as he takes us back through the lives of his parents and then his ancestors and at the same time his country’s complicated history, its relationship to the Western world and the world at large.  Mufti manages to let us see Pakistan from its own perspective and from ours—something of vital importance to all of us if we are to understand the world as it exists today.” —The Inkslinger

“Doing complete justice to the title, this book gives you detailed circumstantial evidences of the past and current political situations in Pakistan. Mufti has intelligently used his family as the protagonist with the political instability of a merely 66-year-old nation as the backdrop… A good read for those who have an interest in history, and for those who want to know more about the first Islamic republic of the world, Pakistan.” —Hindustan Times

"Recommended...for those interested in Pakistan's history or in how politcal decisions impact citizens." —Library Journal

"Both a personal and political memoir, The Faithful Scribe brilliantly blends the history of one family with the history of a nation as a whole. As he traces his family's past, Mufti writes with deep insight into the relationship between the two countries during the Reagan, Bush and Obama eras without ever feeling overly dogmatic. He is able to point out specific parallels between Pakistan and the United States that could have fell flat in a strictly historical text, making The Faithful Scribe a readable, fascinating peek into the hidden connections binding the countries from around the globe." —River City Reading

"A very lucid book that clarifies much of Pakistan’s history and gives us food for thought." —Arab Spring News

"Mufti really shines...[His] curiosity leads him to come up with a very interesting narrative, one that will go a long way towards helping Pakistanis (and people outside Pakistan) make sense of the nation." —Medium

"With clarity and depth, [Mufti] penetrates [Pakistan's] complex history." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Heart-felt and beautifully written." —Book News

"[The Faithful Scribe] is unique because Mufti’s perspective is pretty unusual...[T]his book is ultimately about humanity, and how ordinary lives are played out against a backdrop of violence and struggle." —TouchBASE

Kirkus Reviews
The rich cultural and religious history of Pakistan dictated through a journalist's personal stories. Born in America to Pakistani parents, Mufti (Journalism/Univ. of Richmond) considers himself a native of both lands. He spares readers "every torturous twist and turn in Pakistan's modern history," opting for a harmonic analysis of the sovereign country from both a frontline journalistic approach and a familial, homeland perspective. Mufti proudly unspools his country's tapestry of allegiance and warring strife and embeds his own family's legacy within it. The nuances of his parents' arranged marriage amid the violence of the Pakistan-India war of 1965 merges into his father Shahzad's struggle to maintain order throughout a doctoral tenure amid political upheavals in the 1970s. A decade later, after his father had accepted a medical school professorship at Ohio University, the author was born into an era where being Muslim equated with an allegiance to Ayatollah Khomeini. He traces his earliest memory of Pakistan from age 4, settling in Lahore, war-torn by Indian army attacks. The author pauses to reflect on how the Islamic culture became (and continues to be) denigrated in the shadow of 9/11 and posits that even a cease-fire in the Afghanistan War would still fail to curb the senseless violence decimating Pakistan. Steeped in personal anecdotes, Mufti writes of bomb scares and defiant million-man marches on the streets of Islamabad as a roving journalist and gingerly dissects the roots of his surname, which can be traced back to the prophet Muhammad. Yet he ponders if he will ever live to see a quiescence between Islam and the West. An undeniable visionary, Mufti insightfully glances back at Pakistan's past and nods hopefully toward its precarious future.
Library Journal
Mufti (journalism, Univ. of Richmond), a journalist who has covered Pakistan, intertwines his family's history with that of Pakistan's as a nation. His main narrative starts when his parents got married in 1971 on the day that India and Pakistan went to war. His U.S.-educated father moved the family to the States when political conditions in Pakistan became increasingly Islamist. They went back to Pakistan when they perceived that Americans had become less tolerant of Muslims in the wake of the 1979–81 Iranian hostage crisis. The author returned to the States to attend boarding school and then college and, as a journalist, ended up shuttling between Pakistan and America. While Mufti's intent here is to illuminate Pakistan's intricate history by tracing that of his own family, most of the time the personal and the historical are disconnected, with neither narrative unfolding chronologically. The onus is on readers to cope with gaps in time and keep track of dates. A time line of major events, historical and personal, would have helped, as would a table of contents, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. VERDICT Recommended, with reservations, for those interested in Pakistan's history or in how political decisions impact citizens.—Muhammed Hassanali, Shaker Heights, OH

Product Details

Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

   I was born in the American Midwest, but I have shuttled back and forth between America and Pakistan for my entire life. A year here, four years there, five months here, two weeks there; if I sit down to count it all, I might discover that I have split my time equally in the two countries down to the exact number of months. I’ll tell you, “I’m 100 percent American and 100 percent Pakistani.” It’s true. Both countries and cultures are equally home to me. You might ask me where in Pakistan my family is from. I would tell you Lahore, and explain that it is the capital and the heart of the region in Pakistan known as the Punjab. I speak Urdu and Punjabi just as well as I speak English. For this reason, working as a reporter in Pakistan has been easier for me than it is for most other American journalists. And no, no one in Pakistan would think I’m from anywhere other than Pakistan. 
   I know that in your mind you linger on that word: Pakistan. You’ve heard it often; you know it well. It’s a pop of a gunshot ringing out in the room. Pakistan. You have been bombarded with information, images, ideas about this country, much more than you can recollect at this moment. But 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 not a place for an American to be walking around alone late at night. 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 also am thinking, as I speak to you, about that place that you picture in your mind—and it is really not a full picture at all.

Meet the Author

Shahan Mufti is a journalist who has written about Pakistan and the political evolution of Islam for Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times Magazine, The Nation, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, and many others. He splits his time between Pakistan and Richmond, Virginia, where he lives with his wife and teaches journalism at the University of Richmond. You can learn more about him and his work at his Web site, shahanmufti.com.

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