What happens when a home fire erupts within a family at the intersection of nationality and religion? In Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire (2017), Parvaiz, his twin Aneeka and older sister Isma all have individual experiences of what it means to be British and Muslim in contemporary society. Whether it be Isma’s travel to and from the United States, Aneeka’s relationship with Eamonn or Parvaiz becoming “the terrorist son of a terrorist father,” each of their Muslim identities are shaped by their home in London. Parvais getting to know Farooq is a transformation in perspective of the religion he has always known from a distance, it is a reexamination of his self-image outside of a UK gaze. (Shamsie 175)
Parvaiz and Farooq often meet up while he is in London, and on one occasion they are talking about his sister and the role of women by quoting the Quran. Parvaiz relates to his earlier life and what his Muslim identity has meant for him growing up in Britain. Shamsie writes, “religion had, since early childhood, been a space he’d vacated rather than live in it in the shadow of Isma’s superiority. But in Farooq’s company he came to see there was such a thing as an ‘emasculated version of Islam…’” (133). The author’s use of imagery through the words “vacated” and “live” regarding the space in life where one engages with religion depicts Parvaiz’s rejection of his older sister’s power to shape his ideas of his own Muslim identity. The word “shadow” for Parvais suggests a superficial idea of Islam that he has not fully understood until Farooq introduces the notion of Islam in Britain as “emasculated” (133).
Imagery allows the reader to see how Parvaiz has understood himself in the past as he begins to evolve his own ideas in “Farooq’s company” (133). The image of vacating a space within his Muslim identity and entering a newly discovered one that is more radical gives him room to change according to the beliefs he has about women. In this scene, Shamsie makes it clear that being British and Muslim is an intersection that Parvaiz has been unable to fully grasp. The version of his religion that has been the default in his home does not align with the ideals he is developing and creating in the presence of a significant figure outside of his family.
What’s being illustrated is not simply how Parvais lives as a Muslim person within British society, but rather the way he chooses to accept or deny parts of a Muslim identity that is normalized within the British society he is raised in.
Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. New York, Riverhead Books, 2017
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie is a 2017 novel depicting the journeys of several contemporary characters through living as a Muslim in the 21st century. The novel thus far has followed the characters of Isma, Eamonn, and Parvaiz as they navigate the intersections between their Muslim and British identities. In the novel, Parvaiz has been recruited into ISIS by Farooq, an individual who he encounters in his London neighborhood. Farooq allured Parvaiz with his claims of the equity that joining ISIS would provide him, and upon his arrival in Istanbul, Parvaiz appreciated the beauty of the sky-high minarets and general atmosphere of his new environment. However, upon being exposed to the brutality of life as a recruit, he develops a desire to return to his home in England. All the while, his sister Aneeka worries profusely about Parvaiz, while Isma wants no part of her brother’s life. Parvaiz’s section of the novel concludes with his approaching the British consulate in an attempt to secure a pass to England.
On page 137, Parvaiz describes his relationship with Farooq: “Parvaiz sipped the tea — too weak — and looked around the flat, trying to find any further clues to his yaar’s life. The Urdu word came closer than ‘friend’ to explaining how he thought of Farooq. Or even better, jigari dost — a friendship so deep that it was lodged within you, could not be cut out without leaving a profound, perhaps fatal, wound.” By using the phrase “jigari dost,” Parvaiz evokes a feeling of intimacy and connection that is partially incomprehensible to the reader. Presumably, the reader of the novel does not know Urdu, and thus this phrase is not familiar to them. By using a non-English phrase to define Parvaiz’s perception of Farooq, Shamsie is defining Parvaiz’s perception of Farooq as something that can not be readily understood by the reader, as the language itself is not readily understood by the reader. The use of an non-English phrase further signifies Parvaiz’s internal transition to defining himself as more Muslim than British by creating a divide between the reader’s understanding of Parvaiz’s British life and his life in ISIS. This transition, of course, is defined by the radicalized Farooq, and should not be interpreted to indicate that a Muslim identity is synonymous with a terrorist affiliation or that a Muslim identity is incompatible with a British identity. Parvaiz’s perception of Farooq as a friend that “could not be cut out without leaving a profound, perhaps fatal wound” however, enforces that Farooq is the primary factor that is defining Parvaiz’s identity at this point in the novel. This effect is significant because it shows that Farooq is tempting Parvaiz to entirely discard all elements of his identity that do not fit within the expectations of his group. Specifically, we can see that Parvaiz feels pressured by Farooq to discard his British identity. Parvaiz feels, as a result of Farooq’s guidance, that his British identity is incompatible with his Muslim identity, and therefore, it must be discarded.
Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.