Maryam and the Maulana by Ehsan Masood

It is a scene that still carries fond memories: the sight of the postman stand¬ing outside the front door of my grandfather’s Karachi house laden with a cardboard box marked with the Royal Mail’s trademark red livery. The box would contain books from England, carefully packed by my father who was working in London while my mother, sisters and I spent some years in ‘the Land of the Pure’. During the late 1970s, the ‘Islamic republic of Pakistan’ provided thin pickings when it came to affordable English language reading material, something that my father understood well. So he became what was in effect a one-man book club for his three children: asking us what we would like him to send, adding in his own recommendations, and dispatch¬ing the contents 5,000 miles away. Even now, thirty years later, I can still feel the excitement as we peeled back the layers of tape and cut through the string when the boxes would arrive.

The contents were rarely, if ever, predictable. Shakespeare one month, the novels of Ian Fleming and Orwell another. Textbooks on physics or mathematics; books on English grammar and lots and lots of pulp fiction. However, one author was a perennial. Over the five years from 1979 to 1984 when I lived in Karachi, I got to read just about everything produced by Maryam Jameelah Jameelah, a New Yorker who had converted to Islam from Judaism. During the early 1960s she journeyed by ship to Lahore to begin a new life as the adopted daughter of Maulana Abul Ala Mawdudi, founder of the Jamat Islami.

All of Maryam Jameelah’s books began and ended with the same text. The foreword would introduce the author by recalling her story of how a super-intelligent, bibliophile American found solace and truth in Islam, how she abandoned the bright lights of New York city for Lahore. The back cover of most titles would carry the headline ‘Muslims awake’, and in it she would remind her readers of the central message of each of her titles: ‘The evils of atheism and materialism, supported by all the forces of modern technology are working day and night to destroy us . . . we foolishly choose to tread the path of an alien civilisation.’