Caravanserai

In 1993 Hanifa Deen set out on a journey of the heart and mind to show the human face of Australian Muslims: ordinary people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, people who mow their lawns, worry about their mortgages, love their children.

 

Ten years later, in the wake of September 11 and the Bali bombings, she revisits those people and finds them living in the shadow of the wider community's hostility. Australia has shifted from the welcoming caravanserai that Deen originally envisaged to a place that many Australian Muslims no longer see as safe for their families. The whispered voices of prejudice from the past are now loud and shrill and gaining currency day by day.

Winner of New South Wales Literary Award 1996, Ethnic Affairs Commission
Short listed for the Nita B Kibble Literary Award 1995

Read an Excerpt:

I left Perth on the midnight flight — the infamous ‘red-eye special’ that only the foolhardy or the desperate ever take. When I landed three thousand kilometers away, the clocks at Tullamarine Airport told me that it was 7 am, not 4 am as my recalcitrant body kept trying to assert. It was the first day of Ramadan. Melbourne Muslims had started fasting at sunrise, two hours before, while I had been flying, semi-comatose, somewhere over South Australia .

The question bothering me was whether I should fast or not. Technically, as a traveller journeying more than twenty kilometres, I was exempt. But no, I had stubbornly resolved, I would start my fast on Day 1 of Ramadan. Besides, surely the travel exemption was meant for medieval travellers, centuries ago, alone in the desert or journeying in a caravan of donkeys and camels – not for a spoilt modern passenger sitting in an air-conditioned jet!

Still, it was a rocky first day of Ramadan as I disembarked dazed, jet lagged and dehydrated. I was house-sitting for old friends in North Carlton and after settling in, though still feeling dazed and jet-lagged, I decided to stock up on food (already food was becoming a priority). What better place than nearby Lygon Street ? That was a big mistake. … 

(Extract from Chapter 5 "Fading Fast in Lygon Street")

Reviews:

Judges' Comments - NSW Premier’s Literary Award 1996
"An outstanding contribution to Australian literature."

Australian Book Review
"Caravanserai challenged my views of Islam; it is an interesting, beautifully written and emotional account of one person’s journey."

Moira Raynor - Writer, lawyer, speaker and human rights activist
"…a powerful reminder of what the Australian ‘national character’ truly is, and a stronger argument that the toleration of prejudice and maltreatment of migrants, asylum-seekers, Muslims and persons of Middle eastern appearance’ today is profoundly undermining Australia ’s maturity as a sovereign nation."

Katy Nebhan - The Australian Public Intellectual Network: 
" ....The reader soon discovers that the orientalist exoticisation of the east is used by Deen, somewhat cheekily, to play on western stereotypes in order to subvert, challenge and question them in a way that is both humorous and informative..."
  Full Review    

Irfan Yusuf, The Week, June 2009
"This seminal book includes entertaining profiles of some of Australia’s oldest Muslim families.  It provides an excellent response to cultural warriors who allege Muslim migrants arrived as one monolithic troublesome wave."
  Full Review    

Katy Nebhan, Culture Matters, August 2007
"…. Maybe it’s time to put all Harry Potter books aside, and to give this book a try. And especially if you’re from a European-Christian background, whether you have prejudices against Muslims or not, please read this book because Hanifa Deen is basically saying Muslims are neither wonderful nor terrible, but they are only human beings like everybody else."

Sussan Khadem, Overland 174, Autumn 2004
"Deen has a gift for telling stories in a poetic and descriptive way. [Her book] is an important contribution to literature and should be read not as an attempt to consume the Other but as a window into a part of Australia which makes the country what it is today."

Graham Williams, Sydney Morning Herald, Spectrum 7 June 2003
"…. She writes with deep anger but dignified calm. Read her and weep for the country we have become, urged on by politicians at the highest levels, and their shock-jock accomplices. If you have ever doubted the urgent need to reverse this downward spiral, this elegant and beautiful book will persuade you."

Australian Book Review June/July 2003
"….Deen, a high profile human rights activist and social commentator, writes in an accessible and personal style to comment on the current state of affairs that sees many Muslims afraid and feeling unsafe in our communities. Refusing to relinquish a belief in the “intrinsic fairness” of our national character, this is a plea for new creative alliances among Australians."

The Age Saturday 28 June 2003
"When this was first published in 1994 (to great critical acclaim) it was a much-needed introduction to the history of Muslims in Australia . Since then, in the wake of September 11 and the Tampa disgrace, Muslims have become the new “other” (both domestically and internationally) and this updated version is even more needed. … But it’s not simply a timely text; it’s thematically complex, yet simply and evocatively written, the title linking journeys ancient and modern—with some fascinating descriptions of the old caravanserais."