More than 10 years have come and gone since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and although most Americans now know better than to blame mainstream Muslims for the actions of a few militant extremists, many Muslims living in America still feel that their beliefs are often misunderstood by their friends and neighbors.
Among them is M. Salahuddin Khan, who has experienced religious persecution firsthand and was recently inspired to write a novel about a Muslim man living in a post 9/11 world. Khan is releasing the fourth edition of his book Sikander at in Winnetka on Tuesday. From 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. the author will read excerpts, take questions and sign copies of his book.
"I consider myself to be a mainstream Muslim, and — like most Muslims — I abhor violence and love my country." Khan said. "But in the years following September 11th, I've been forced to vocalize my Americanism and my patriotism in a way that's abnormal. And I know that many other Muslim Americans have been made to do the same."
Khan was frustrated by the degree of discrimination he and his fellow Muslims faced on a daily basis, and he often wished that he could help his non-Muslim compatriots understand his point of view. He never imagined that he would one day pen an award-winning novel about the trials and tribulations of a young Muslim man growing up in Pakistan.
In fact, it didn't really occur to him that he could express himself in writing until he picked up of an old copy of Les Miserables, and the transformative power of Victor Hugo's prose suddenly inspired him to put a story of his own to words.
1862 French Prose Breathes Life into Novel
Khan began conducting research for his book in December of 2010, immediately after he finished reading Les Miserables. Just six short weeks later — in February of 2011 — he had finished the first draft of his novel, Sikander.
"The entire process was a bit of a blur," Khan said. "I don't remember much of it, except that I wrote almost constantly. When everything was said and done, though, I was happy with the story that I had told."
Khan and his publicist, Marissa DeCuir, described Sikander as a "coming of age narrative" about a young Pakistani man finding love and himself in the years during and immediately after the Soviet occupation of Pakistan.
Sikander is a sprawling saga of love, loss and redemption. It's also an eye-opening account of a young Pakistani man's hopes and dreams. Khan acknowledged that he can see himself a bit in the novel's protagonist.
"Sikander and I are both Pakistani men, and we both share similar character traits and outlooks," he said. "But our experiences are really quite different. I've been living in America for many years now, and although I certainly sympathize with Sikander and I relate to the way he feels misunderstood as a Muslim, I also believe that we're very different people. We're similar, but we're not the same."
Novel Collects Awards, Praise
Khan isn't the only one who felt as if he can identify with Sikander, though.
Kenilworth-based book dramatist Barbara Rinella noted that "the character of Sikander is so richly drawn, I could not stop turning the pages to follow his story of rebellion and growth."
The novel recently took the grand prize in every category at the Los Angeles Book Festival and the Paris Book Festival, for instance. It was also awarded prizes at the National Indie Excellence Book Awards, the Beach Book Festival, and the Hollywood Festival, and Amazon reviewers have ranked it as one of the site's top 100 works of historical fiction.
Khan hopes to continue promoting and publicizing it, in Illinois and elsewhere.