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Qaisra Shahraz: Literature can help to bring cultures together

18 November 2013

The piece below was published in the Manchester Evening News on 9 October 2013.

Literature can help to bring cultures together

Qaisra Shahraz - Author and Teacher

I love Manchester, my home city. It’s a terrific place; a marvellous example of various minority communities around the world living harmoniously side by side.

My personal commitment to promoting community cohesion and celebration of diversity, in particular relating to different cultures, faiths and languages is part and parcel of my work in education as a teacher trainer and inspector.

I joined the Muslim Jewish forum of Greater Manchester in order to connect with the Jewish community and I am delighted that my role as trustee of the Manchester Multi Faith Centre enables me to connect with people of many faiths.

Both of these roles have thoroughly enriched my life  and given me wonderful opportunities to  gain a better understanding of the different religions and their beliefs.

I have visited different places with my Jewish friends including the Auschwitz concentration camps.

The poignant sharing of my Jewish friends' grief at the tragic loss of their loved ones compelled me to write a short story, ’Train to Krakow’ on the subject of the holocaust.

So I was saddened to learn about the daubing of swastikas at the tram station at Prestwich, an area where many Jewish people live.

Even if it was just mindless vandals who committed this awful act it demonstrates, I think, the need for more work to be done to promote community cohesion and this can be done through literature, in my opinion.

I have loved reading, since the age of 15, starting with authors like Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen and since then have been steeped in world literature.

Love of books, has led to a successful writing career including the writing of my first novel, The Holy Woman, translated into several languages and now an international best seller.

My latest novel ‘Revolt’ and collection of stories ‘A Pair of Jeans & Other Stories’ have just been published. In recent years I have chosen to use literature, my stories and novels to build cultural bridges and promote intercultural dialogue on an international scale including in America and Germany.   

At the Manchester Multi Faith Centre we are soon going to hold Interbelief Book Reading Club sessions, chaired by Guy Otten, a humanist, bringing together people of different backgrounds to discuss books written by people of different faiths and those of none. They are going to start with my novel The Holy Woman, which will introduce them to four Muslim countries.

Since September 11 there has been constant demonisation of Muslims throughout the world. I feel my faith has been hijacked both by the terrorists and certain parts of the media.  As a Muslim I hate and resent this situation.

I am now actively using my literary work  as a platform to voice my thoughts and, in particular, to combat Islamophobia and the accompanying racism aimed at Muslims. For instance, I often tell thousands of German and English students and their teachers,  I meet, and who are studying my story ‘A Pair of Jeans’ that ‘I am proud to be a Muslim - But I am not a terrorist  or a suicide bomber.

I often challenge my own thinking and beliefs, reminding myself to get out of my own ‘little box’  and to look beyond my own cultural  norms and  to begin to respect those of other people, including their way of lives and values.

 

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