Friday, April 17, 2009

Author Snapshot: Kamran Pasha

Some people -- critics and supporters alike -- are watching the debut of Kamran Pasha’s Mother of the Believers (Washington Square Press) with deep political interest. Viewed a certain way, so much is at stake. Recently, on his blog, Pasha wrote that “controversy is inevitable when it comes to writing about Prophet Muhammad, who has the distinction of being simultaneously the most beloved and hated man in world history. Revered by his followers as God’s last messenger to humanity, and vilified by others as a false prophet, the founder of Islam has always been a figure that excites passionate emotions. So in writing a novel that looks at his life from the perspective of the woman he loved most, I have no doubt that I will become the target of those feelings.”

There’s more of that kind of thing swirling around Pasha’s novel. Doubtless, none of that will be bad for sales, which just a few days after the book’s publication date already look quite brisk. But, right here and now, none of that matters. What does matter: Mother of the Believers is a fascinating and beautifully crafted work of historical fiction. Set in Arabia in the seventh century, it is the story of Aisha, the favorite of the Prophet. Aisha tells his story with sharp and affectionate eyes. “I have been blessed -- and cursed -- with perfect memory,” Aisha tells us early in the book. “I can recall words said forty years ago as if they had been uttered this morning .... The Messenger ... used to say that I was chosen for that reason. That his words and deeds would be remembered for all time through me, the one he loved the most.”

As far as narrative devices go, having a beloved mate tell the story from her eyes is not a bad one. It gives her license to indulge her poetic heart and gives the author space in which to cloud his imaginings.

Mother of the Believers works on all levels. A deeply entertaining fiction -- nice and thick, just the way those of us who love historicals like ‘em -- as well as a bridge to understanding a way of thought and life that will be at least somewhat foreign to many of the book’s readers. Has there ever been a better time for both of those things?

A Snapshot of Kamran Pasha...
Debut novel: Mother of the Believers
Born: Karachi, Pakistan
Reside: Los Angeles
Web site:

What’s your favorite city?
Medina, Saudi Arabia.

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
Go to the Tomb of Prophet Muhammad. Pray. Meditate. Go to the neighboring cemetery, Jannat al-Baqi, and visit the grave of my novel’s heroine, Aisha, the Prophet’s wife. Medina is the most peaceful city I have ever known. Six hours inside its sacred precincts would feel like both an eternity and a blink of the eye.

What food do you love?
Spinach. I have been addicted to spinach since I was a child. Sautéed or cooked in curry sauce, I could eat spinach for every meal!

What’s on your nightstand?
A copy of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. This is one of the most important books for any writer -- in fact, any artist. It explores why we procrastinate as artists, why put off doing what we love, and inspires the reader to overcome his or her blocks and live a creative life.

What inspires you?
Women and words. I have a work of art that hangs over my writing desk, symbolizing my two sources of inspiration. It is a black-and-white photograph of a beautiful woman wrapped in a veil of cursive script. The beauty of women and the power of words -- they are inextricably linked in my heart. Perhaps that is why I primarily tend to write about strong women, and why my first novel is told from a woman’s point of view. The Sufi mystics of Islam teach that the beauty of God is manifest in the feminine form, and my fascination with women has very deep spiritual roots. It is the never-ending quest to probe the depths of the female psyche, to explore the mysteries of the divine feminine, that keeps me creatively inspired.

What are you working on now?

My second novel, Shadow of the Swords. The book will follow the battle between Richard the Lionheart and the Muslim king Saladin to conquer Jerusalem -- and the heart of a beautiful woman.

Tell us about your process.
I am a night owl and normally don’t start writing until 10 PM, and then work until 2 AM in the morning. I am a screenwriter and I usually write a screenplay version of my novel first as an outline. With the dialogue and action already written in the screenplay, I turn to descriptive prose and shape the story into a novel.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I can’t remember anytime that I wasn’t a writer. One does not choose to be a writer. In fact, I would say most writers don’t “want” to be writers. That’s just who we are, we can’t help it. We may in fact hate the compulsion to write, since it takes us out of the social world and locks us into a private -- and sometimes lonely -- place.

There are times when I wish that I had some other passion, as writing is an exhausting process, both physically and emotionally. But words have power over me, and no matter how much I may want to resist, they summon me back to my writing desk. In Islam, creation comes from God using words. He says, “Be” and it is. It is therefore the power of the word that connects us back to our source, the ultimate creative force that imagined the universe into being. Words give me the fuel to live, to breathe. I cannot imagine doing anything else. Being a writer is more than a job. It is the essence of my soul.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?

I would be planted six feet under the earth. Writing is life. If I could not write, I would be like a plant denied water and sunlight. I would wither away and disappear.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
Securing my first book deal after spending nearly six years desperately trying to get agents and publishers to look at my manuscript. There is nothing as fulfilling as a victory that is long in the making.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
There is nothing easy about being a writer. I have no idea how I do it, nor perhaps why. Writing is very much like channeling spiritual energy. It feels like a force greater than myself takes possession of me and moves my hand across the computer keyboard. I often read over my words and am shocked, because I have no memory of having written them. That is usually true with my best writing. And as a result, I can’t really take credit for the best of my work. My conscious mind has nothing to do with the act of creation. Something deeper, something far more ingenious than my limited human mind, is doing the work. I’m just renting it the use of my hands.

What’s the most difficult?
Surrendering to that force, that muse, that is doing the creative work. My conscious mind is terrified of giving up control, and I will procrastinate for hours, days and weeks, before the internal pressure becomes too great and I force myself to sit at my computer and start typing. And the moment that happens, I go into a trance and lose myself in the process. My conscious mind checks out and the muse takes over. Writing is truly a form of possession, no less terrifying than Linda Blair’s experience in The Exorcist. If I had a choice, I would never allow that surrender of my mind to another power. But I don’t have a choice. I was made for this purpose, so I guess I have to just suck it up and deal.

Please tell us about Mother of the Believers.
My first novel is a historical fiction tale that follows the birth of Islam from the perspective of Aisha, the teenage wife of Prophet Muhammad. I was inspired by Anita Diamant’s wonderful book The Red Tent, which tells the biblical story of Jacob and his 12 sons, the forefathers of Israel, from the point of view of the women in their lives. I wanted to do a similar style novel within the Islamic tradition.

Aisha is such a remarkable figure in Islam that it was a tremendous pleasure to write about her. She was a scholar, a poet, a statesman and ultimately a warrior who led armies into Iraq. And at the same time, Aisha was the Prophet’s closest confidante and most beloved wife, and he died in her arms. Aisha single-handedly shatters every stereotype of subservient Muslim women, and I hope that my book will serve as a starting point for a much-needed dialogue about the role of women in Islam.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
I have a crush on Audrina Partridge from the MTV series The Hills.

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Anonymous Margaret D. said...

What a great interview! I, too, found Mother of the Believers a fascinating novel, and have posted a review at There's also another interview with Kamran Pasha on my blog - with a whole different set of questions.

Friday, April 17, 2009 at 2:20:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Phoenix Rising said...

Excellent interview. Pasha's love for writing is inspiring. I look forward to reading his novel.

Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 7:42:00 AM PDT  

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