Author Bilal Khan is a Muslim American physician (writing as Hubshey D. Rogers) who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His first book, Caterpillar, was published in 2016. You can find him on his website Hubshey.com and on Twitter: @bilmkhan and @Hubshey.
What is your elevator pitch for Caterpillar?
Caterpillar is a philosophical journey of the protagonist Zarathustra through various periods in time. Using similar methods as used by Nietzsche, I have tried to bring out in this fictional work my own objective of revisiting the causes of antagonism seen between the Muslim world (a post-colonial world) and the rest (which includes the more developed nations and the former colonists). I have tried to bring out some universal concepts and ethos that I believe are important in bringing people together as we move forward to a better and a more dependent future together. We are moving towards a more global society. The sooner we realize this and see beyond the divisiveness, the better service we would be doing to humanity in general.
What makes this work unique in the metaphysical market?
In a very non-controversial way I have pointed to reformation in Islamic thought; and also a reinterpretation of the way western democracies see the post colonial Islamic world. This work helps to understand the other side and also helps each party to look at itself better. For this reason I have also made this work more into a bilingual work so that if zealots want to exploit any aims at reformation of thought in Islam they would be handicapped as a portion of this book is written in Urdu. The aim was that the message should not be lost in translation. A problem reformist writers, writing in English, face.
How did the story idea come about?
The idea of the book started with my loving devotion towards my Beloved Blessed Prophet Mohammad. For some time I have wanted to show his evolution. He was born an orphan in a tribal society, broke traditions by marrying an older widow. Let her continue with her business, in fact assisted her. As someone with some experience growing up in a society where tribal affiliations are a big deal, I was always in awe of his breaking away from traditions, and yet he remained famous and well respected because of his character. He was a truly liberated mind. We would not have known him had he not received divine revelation. I find my life richer for it.
Tell us about your main character.
The main character is Zarathustra. In Nietzsche’s writings he is the harbinger of the new age and brings the news of the death of God. I used the same name and to some extent the same personality of character. The protagonist now travels in different historic times to bring about the important universal principle of universal thought. My protagonist faces great problems in the sense that he has to deal with different ages, while dealing with my insistence of bringing out universal principles. The need to reform and reinterpret.
I have a great respect for liberated minds and wanted to bring about an emphasis on the importance of such minds. Walter Kaufman in the opening of his book Without Guilt and Justice: From Decidophobia to Autonomy explains the importance of liberated minds. Those are the sort of characters I want to create. It is these strong characters that move the society forward and make (the way) for a brighter future.
What was the most rewarding aspect of writing the book?
The most enjoyable aspect during the writing of Caterpillar was bringing forward the Central Asian bureaucrat, Otuk. Creating this autonomous man was fun. The other fun part for me personally was writing the dialogue of Malik Taus, the peacock. He is the character of the fallen angel in the Middle Eastern Yazidi religion. I knew little about his historic fall in the Yazidi tradition and how he was forgiven by the mercy of the creator of the universe. Writing dialogue from a fallen angel perspective, adding a tone of humbleness along with the experience of ages to his persona, and showing it in dialogue was especially challenging. I loved it!
Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research?
When I found out about some of the earlier reformers in the Islamic tradition, I realized those Muslims had much more freedom of thought and expression than we do in this day and age.
Do you have a favorite quote from the book that you’d like to share?
One I really enjoyed coming up with is found in the opening: “It was then as it is now. Or may be not.”
What else would you like readers to know about Caterpillar?
The opening scene is a dialogue between Malik Taus (the fallen angel) and Zarathustra. The reason I chose this for the beginning was that this book is a quest, even a personal quest, to find a new subrogate for the times that lie ahead. Free from fear and societal domination of the individual. Towards a new autonomy of the individual person where expectations are set by the individual. Where religion or way of life is simply a means to finding inner harmony, to help build a personal palace or temple of the mind. The opening scene had to start from the beginning. So I started by bringing about an early character from human history as much as I could dare. It is a heavy beginning. The scenes which come later are much easier to digest. Another scene has Zarathustra conversing with Ariel. He is the wise young brother of a societal reformer. I will leave it at that. I have treaded very carefully here so as not to offend anyone. It is this part of the book that necessitated an explanation in a language spoken in a Muslim country (in this case Urdu). So my reader understands, this endeavor in no means intends any disrespect. Far from it.
Why did you decide to use a pen name?
I like to keep my privacy in everyday life. My livelihood is such I do not want the people I interact with at work to recognize me and be uncomfortable as if I am keenly observing them or anything. Something I do not do, especially in the role of a physician. Besides, for the English speaker, I think it is easier to pronounce Hubshey (pronounced almost like Hershey) than my name Bilal.
What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Friedrich Nietzsche), The Glass Bead Game (Herman Hesse), The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky), and Without Guilt and Justice from Decidophobia to Autonomy (Walter Kaufmann).
What is your writing routine like? Is there a place and time of day when you feel most inspired?
The most inspirational time for me is around dusk. The time for Maghreb Prayer. I can only write at night.
What has writing taught you about yourself?
I am an idealist waiting for the best of times.
What is the best advice you’ve received on your writing journey?
Writing is a lonely journey. I avoid all advice. I would suggest others do the same.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I have started working on my second book, Dreams in American. I think it should have some form by April 2018.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.