Good Muslim Boy tells the story of Osamah Sami’s journey from Iran during the Iraq war to the suburbs of Australia and his quest to fit into his new life whilst trying to stay a good Muslim boy. In turns comic and tragic, Osamah’s story explores the universal truths of growing up, falling in love, marriage, family and following one's dream; whilst also telling the immigrant’s story of straddling two cultures and the difficult expectations of family and faith versus fitting in.
Osamah begins by recounting his youth under Islamic rule in Iran: the mischievous antics that he and his friends would get up to, and the lengths they would go to for a little contact with girls – resulting in hilarious reprimands from the ‘Piety Police’. But the inescapable impacts of war are never far away and Osmah details the trauma his family suffered from the violence in Iran and their desperation to reach safer shores in Australia.
Cut to Australia years later where Osamah is pretending to attend university after lying to his family about his final high school results, afraid of the shame it will it cause to learn that their son didn’t make it into medical school. While embroiled in his lie, Osamah meets the girl of his dreams – but as neither of their parents would approve of their relationship, they must carry out their affair in secret...
What ensues must be read to be believed, an arranged marriage is escaped; true love is embraced; and an acting career evolves, as Osamah goes on the road staging a show entitled ‘Saddam The Musical’.
With a distinct authorial voice, Osamah Sami’s A Good Muslim Boy unfolds and enchants us; both funny and entertaining, we are enlightened, shocked, saddened, made to laugh, and ultimately uplifted in a tale that couldn’t come at a more prescient time.
Published by Hardie Grant Books in Australia. Click the 'Buy' button (move curser to mid-lower page) to purchase.
BY ANDREW KNIGHT
I first met Osamah at filmmaker Tony Ayres’s home in Elwood. Tony had approached me to co-write a film with a first time writer, the son of the head cleric of Melbourne’s shiite community. On the short walk to Tony’s house I was rehearsing the many ways I could politely say, ‘Get me out of this’. Tony and I often talked about working on something, but a political tract on the complexities of Islamic life in Melbourne seemed a bridge too far.
Also, the fact that it meant working with a first time writer for whom English wasn’t his first language didn’t exactly thrill me. But this was a time when this country’s abuse of refugees and the growing fear campaign was reaching its now-permanent crescendo—so I saw some merit in at least having the chat. On the phone I had pushed Tony on the theme. He duck-fudged a bit before admitting it really wasn’t that kind of story. ‘It’s more— it’s a...well, it’s a kind of fucked-up romantic comedy about a... it’s...can you just meet this guy? You’ll really like him, he’s super talented and he’s very good looking.’
So I found myself sitting in Tony and Michael’s living room with its alarming crack in the wall (then more window than crack) talking to this...yes, annoyingly good-looking man. Six hours later I left not only agreeing to do the movie, but believing I had just collided with one of the most gifted young people I have ever met.
What do you need to know about Osamah—he of the unfortunate first name? He is a lousy Muslim. He tries hard. He is committed to his faith and loves its central teachings and rituals, but man does he wrestle with it. His private life is always in chaos and deeply amusing to observe. You find yourself laughing at him as much as with him. He speaks with a first generation Australian twang that disguises the fact he speaks six other languages. In the time we worked together, he taught himself near-perfect French on the internet and has probably added another tongue since last we spoke a few weeks ago. He is a genuine polymath with a formidable intellect. He reads far and wide. He is a great sportsman—though I only have his word for this. He thankfully barracks, loudly, for Essendon and holds a 1st Dan black belt in karate. He plays cricket and football and builds and plays ouds and several other instruments. He does fine calligraphy, can fix my computer, never pays a parking fine and as a result is always in some pointless dispute with authority. He has a great and compassionate heart, an unquenchable enthusiasm for life, great humour, two children and, oh, he can act—very well as it happens—and for someone for whom English is only his third (or is it fourth?) language, he writes beautifully.
This book chronicles some of the least sane periods in Osamah’s already insane life; the fact that these events are true beggars belief. This book will delight the reader.
We need someone in the world to be our yardstick, a benchmark by which we may assess our own gaffs and shortcomings. Osamah is our man.
His writing affords a reader a genuinely warm and hysterical insight into an Islamic community struggling to make sense of and fit into a purportedly liberal, secular Australia. That tussle provides endless material for this writer.
As Osamah’s mother says in our script: ‘The Koran was written before this country was discovered—the Prophet never saw Australian beaches.’ Being with Osamah, reading his words, you can not help but gain some appreciation of this singular, largely Arabic world secreted in our inner suburbs. You grow to love these people—as wonderful, awed and crazy as the rest of us. In that sense, perhaps Osamah’s writing is more seductively political and life affirming than any trenchant criticism.
Melbourne, Australia, 2013
When you’ve grown up the way I did, an Iraqi boy born in Iran while the two countries were at war, you think there’s not much left that can scare you.
And yet, here we were, gathered in the house behind the mosque in Melbourne, where my father, the cleric, had summoned me, an adult man, away from my own wife and daughter, almost like I was seven years old again. Almost like back in Iran.
He wore a familiar facial expression: absolute benevolence tossed with a natural flair for absolute ass-kicking justice.
‘So a caravan of elders came to the mosque today,’ he breezily said. ‘They demanded I disown you. Even better, they demanded I send you to Iran so that you could face the death penalty.’ He smiled.
I remained silent and flicked through the index of crimes that might have upset the community. Was it my marriage? My work? My education? Something I’d done long ago, in the past?
My father put me out of my misery. ‘Son, it’s about YouTube,’ he said.
I face-palmed. I knew what he meant.
The son of the cleric had appeared in a gay movie on the internet.
My relationship with the community was already under strain—as it had been my whole life to this point, for a variety of colourful reasons. Lately, all these reasons had had to do with my acting career. I’d appeared opposite Claudia Karvan as a refugee who slept with a married woman (Community Outrage O’Meter: eight). I’d most recently displeased them by playing a Lebanese man engaged to a lesbian (that was a nine).
Playing a gay man—well, we needed the Richter scale for that one. It was one giant earthquake that would leave aftershock after tremor after aftershock for a long time yet. But this hadn’t been a high-profile role, the kind the community would notice. It had been a small role in a short film project, filmed years ago.
In retrospect, I probably should’ve predicted that a community member would somehow manage to stumble upon a gay flick on YouTube. It was remarkable how often our nosy neighbours would ‘accidentally’ dig up evidence of my sins in exactly this fashion. Of course, once they’d seen it, what could they do but send a mass email blast to hundreds of local Iraqis? Every Iraqi with bluetooth enabled had a chance to freeze-frame the exact moment I embraced a—gasp—white man—double gasp—bare-chested.
I’d had a long time to make my peace with the judgement of our community. But the problem with a small immigrant community was you were never quite a lone ranger. For every casually abusive comment I’d get, thanks to my Western behaviour, Dad always received ten times the letters, ten times the questions. His role as the visionary local imam was coveted by a handful of hopeful aspirants. Every wrong step I took was exactly the ammo they needed against Dad.
‘I think we should get out of this place and have you blow off some meaningful steam,’ Dad suggested.
My wife was interstate at the time; Dad pronounced, ‘So let her be. Bring your daughter, your mother will look after her. We’ll go away for a few weeks, get you freshened up, and come back with a new perspective.’
He grinned at me while sipping his pineapple juice. This suggested he’d planned a holiday somewhere tropical: maybe Hawaii or Bermuda. None of this was plausible when we were talking about my dad.
Still, he went on. ‘It’s important to connect with yourself before you can recharge,’ he said.
He was speaking slowly, naturally having a conversation with himself out loud, convincing himself this would be a good idea, exactly what he and I needed.
‘I’m not saying the change of scenery alone will change your state of mind. For if inside you are trapped, you will always remain trapped. No matter where you are. Even on the moon!
‘But these experiences will change you. I’m sure you’ll do amazing things and come back, I dare say, a different man.’
I nodded in tentative agreement.
‘I just want you to know, Osamah, that, as always, there is no judgement on my end on any aspect of your life, even the parts of it which I am sure you personally regret.’
He set down his pineapple juice and dusted his hands, clearly wrapping up the conversation.
‘So, we will go together and God willing have a great time.’
He finished with an enormous, fatherly smile.
Well, so far, so good, I thought. Free holiday with Dad.
‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘I need a new wave of energy to wash my mind and body clean. And what better way than a trip with a man I admire and love?’
We smiled at each other. This would be good.
‘And Iran is beautiful this time of year,’ he said.
My stomach dropped a hundred kilometres. ‘Iran?’ I swallowed a hot ball of saliva.
If I’d known what the trip would really be like, I would’ve thrown up all over the carpet.