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'Faithful Scribe': Tracing Ancestry Through Pakistan's History

Shahan Mufti has written for <em>Harper's Magazine</em>, <em>The New York Times</em> and <em>WIRED.</em>
Dmitry Gudkov / Courtesy of Other Press
Shahan Mufti has written for <em>Harper's Magazine</em>, <em>The New York Times</em> and <em>WIRED.</em>

In The Faithful Scribe,Shahan Mufti examines the history of Pakistan and its relationship to the United States. He also explores how his own family story is part of the tumultuous story of the world's first Islamic democracy.

"A huge impetus for me in writing this book was actually being on both sides of this present conflict, where America is involved in this war in Afghanistan," Mufti tells NPR's Arun Rath. "As we know, the place of Pakistan in this conflict is very dubious and questionable."

Mufti talks about balancing his Pakistani and American identities and the challenges of U.S.-Pakistan relations.


Interview Highlights

On his family history

"This is family history that even I came to pretty late. My grandfather had passed away and it was among his — whatever was left of his life — that I found a family tree that showed me that the maternal side of my family actually traced its lineage and its roots back to the inner circle of the Prophet Muhammad.

"So this was fascinating history and it forced me to think that maybe the history of what I was writing and the context of what I was writing about as a news reporter wasn't even a couple months or even a couple years old — these things went way back."

On balancing Pakistani and American citizenship

"Being Pakistani and being American had never really been something I spent too much time thinking about. This was not an issue, this was in no way a challenge. But the point of departure in the book is the day after Sept. 11 when I received a phone call from a federal agent ... who just wanted to know how I was doing. ...

"It was early in the morning and I got a phone call, with a double ring so I knew it was off-campus, and the federal agent just kind of asked me mundane questions about what I was doing, how I was doing, if I was alright.

"He made no mention of the events of the day before, which was strange. But it did make me think of why I was pinpointed in my dorm room [at Middlebury College] in rural Vermont on the day after.

"And this was a time, we should remember, that these ideas of a clash of civilization and these ideas that Islam is inherently locked in some sort of conflict with Western life and Western ideals. That is when we really started talking about it."

On the future of U.S.-Pakistan relations

"We've really been focused on the Pakistan western border, for a decade and more now — Afghanistan and Iran. They're two countries that are obviously very important to American foreign policy. I think the focus is going [to] turn more onto Pakistan's eastern border. And on Pakistan's eastern border we have India and China.

"So really, Americans aren't escaping Pakistan any time soon. And maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe the story that America and Pakistan are about to write on the eastern border is about economic growth."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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