It’s ‘horrible’ beach reading for Usman Mushtaq

Story and photo by Francella Fiallos –

For Mechanicsville’s Usman Mushtaq, summer reading doesn’t always mean escaping into a light, breezy story on a beach. It sometimes means delving into a serious academic piece about how music can play a role in how Muslim communities participate in political resistance.

For Usman Mushtaq, summer reading isn’t always lightweight.
For Usman Mushtaq, summer reading isn’t always lightweight.

The book, Rebel Music: Race, Empire and the New Muslim Youth Culture by Hisham Aidi, is a cultural and musical tour de force as it explores different genres of music in Muslim communities and its emphasis on anti-imperialism and Islam.

“It’s awesome,” Mushtaq says. “But really academic and dense. It’s horrible for the beach.”

Aidi is a professor at Columbia University in New York and is a bit of an academic celebrity. Not only did he contribute to the UNDP’s Human Development Report, but writes for The Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and Salon.

His credentials and fame come through in his writing, much to Mushtaq’s annoyance.

“He’s a very good looking brown dude, a superstar in his field,” he says. “So he writes about these cool people he hangs out with, it can be a bit annoying to deal with that ego.”

Mushtaq is a community activist with No One is Illegal Ottawa, a collective advocating for the rights of immigrants and migrant workers in Canada and abroad. Before that, he studied engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston.

School, work, and the weather all have an influence on how much time Mushtaq has for reading.

“I read more in the summer, most of my reading is done in the evening,” he says. “Winter is harder because it’s colder and gets darker easily.”

Mushtaq has also been reading some poetry collections, specifically Salt, by Nayyirah Waheed.

“It’s really beautiful,” he says. “Her poems are three or four lines long about internalizing whiteness in black and brown communities. There’s a lot of power in what she writes.”

Waheed poignantly describes complex emotions regarding self-love, desire, rejection, and revolution in surprisingly concise verses.
It’s clear that Mushtaq’s reading taste is eclectic, to say the least. The next book on his list is Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, a science fiction novel about vampires struggling with power dynamics, transformation and the debilitating effect of age.

Despite the staggering differences between the three books on Mushtaq’s mind, they do have one thing in common: they were all recommended to him by his partner.

“My partner is really good with books,” he says. “I look at what she’s reading and just copy her.”

This post is part of our KT summer reads issue. Read all of our other profiles right here.

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