Mopping urine off your masterpiece is not what most would-be writers aspire to but for Harrow-born author Sagheer Afzal it is part and parcel of his life experience, which feeds into his hilarious but poignant debut novel The Reluctant Mullah, about a young Muslim looking to avoid an arranged marriage.
The wee incident did not make it into the book. Sagheer, 36, recalls the moment humorously. “There were these twin little boys from Pakistan who were not toilet trained. They looked at one another and urinated in tandem on my laptop. I thought to myself, how am I ever going to write again? But then I just waited for it to dry and painstakingly wiped every key. ”
Sagheer’s own experience of arranged marriage did not make its way onto the page either: “I went to Pakistan in 2000 and my bride-to-be asked me for £1,000 and took the wedding jewellery and took off. I was jilted,” recalls Sagheer. “One of her uncles came up to me afterwards and said: ‘I got a shirt especially for today; it’s a good thing I kept the receipt’ and at the time I thought ‘you tactless git’, but now I can see the funny side.”
The funny side is definitely portrayed in the book, which is set in Walthamstow and Leytonstone.
Musa, a devout Muslim has just been thrown out of the Madrasah of Islamic Britons for dressing up as a woman. Disgraced, he is told he must find a suitable wife or accept the choice of his grandfather Dadaji. What follows is a desperate race against time in which Musa’s family, friends and colourful neighbourhood characters help him to track down the girl of his dreams. But can reality live up to the dream?
Sagheer draws upon real life and not fiction to describe some of the strange things that happen to Musa along the way.
“Some of the escapades Musa has meeting arranged brides are autobiographical. As in the book, I met a family who were all blind due to a genetic problem except for the daughter, and my parents did subscribe to all these Muslim matrimonial websites, which all said the same thing: ‘She loves cleaning and cooking, going out and nightclubbing’, which is some Westernised view of Islam.”
Interwoven with Musa’s search for happiness is a debate on the true meaning of passages from the Quran. Sagheer says he is disappointed at how many people quote it out of context.
“It’s is a malady common to Muslims when they try to justify their conduct that they misquote passages. They’ve gleaned their knowledge from DVDs and discussion circles not from Quran itself.
“In East London I came across a bunch of Muslims in a Madrasah, and a few of them were from good schools in Harrow but they’d been expelled because of bad behaviour and it struck me how aggressively opinionated they were.
“The Quran advocates humility, peace, forgiveness and compassion. If you read it and study it yourself you’ll find there’s no need for a scholar dictating what you should or shouldn’t do.”
The Reluctant Mullah is published by Halban Publishers, price £8.99. www.halbanpublishers.com
Sagheer will be doing a signing in Waterstone’s, Harrow on March 20.