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Biography Explores Leading Islamic Figure

SDSU professor's new book shares an inside look into her father's life and modern Islamic reformism.
"A Journey in Islamic Thought" was published in the United States on Nov. 22.

Ghada Osman became fascinated with the development of her father’s ideologies while in high school. Since learning his significance to modern Islamic reformism in the global arena, it has been a personal goal to write his story.

The director of San Diego State’s Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies chronicles her father’s journey growing up in pre-revolutionary Egypt to becoming the voice for modern Islamic reformism in her book, “A Journey in Islamic Thought: the Life of Fathi Osman.”

Impact on Islam

Fathi Osman was a major figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, but as he became aware of the organization’s violent aspects, he began to distance himself and voice his opposition. He was imprisoned multiple times for this affiliation before leaving Egypt in self-imposed exile.

In the United States, he worked to bridge gaps between Islam and the West by addressing distorted versions of Islam, including publishing a guide to the Quran for non-Arabic readers.

Contributions to the field

Ghada Osman spent eight years working on the biography, interviewing her father and other family members. What she found most surprising is the shortage of secondary literature written detailing 20th century Islam. She thumbed through decades of newspaper materials, court records, letters and books written by and mentioning Fathi Osman.

“When we discuss the Arab Spring, when we talk about the Muslim Brotherhood, for so much discussion, there’s actually very little that has been written about it in a first-hand account,” Ghada said. “It’s exciting to think that it’s a contribution to a field that is very current.”

Gaining new perspective

The archival research was refreshing for Osman. It was an external view of her father, deeper than the thought processes he voluntarily shared with her, through the eyes of people who knew him.

“Ultimately, for someone who knew my father, on the one hand, he was this man who was very humble, very modest, very shy,” she said, “but he had this history that we mention with a certain amount of fear. I think that can appear as a discrepancy. This book helps (readers) understand how in any political movement, those involved are very human.”

Part of the ironies of life, Osman said, is that her father passed away in September 2010. But even though he is no longer here to share his ideologies, the book will serve as a continuation of his voice. As her father loved debate, even if others did not agree with his views, she hopes the inside look into his ideologies can open avenues of discussion.

"A Journey in Islamic Thought" was published in the United States on Nov. 22. It is available for purchase at the SDSU Bookstore.

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