It is next to impossible to review a Thames & Hudson book with remarking on the general excellence of the photographic illustrations. Islamic Architecture: A World History is no exception with several hundred photographs from, as the subtitle promises, around the world.
When meeting an expatriate friend on my first trip to Dubai, the host at the restaurant where we were meeting quickly ushered me up to the second floor. For foreigners, he said—before handing me a wine list. Dubai’s tolerance of alcohol is a more formalized version of Muslim tolerance—and clandestine drinking—of alcohol that dates back to its very inception, despite religious commands to the contrary. Professor Rudi Matthee tells that story in Angels Tapping at the Wine-shop’s Door: A History of Alcohol in the Islamic World.
Western scholars have tried, since the 18th century, to explain the differences between Sunni and Shia traditions of Islam; Muslim scholars have tried since the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Epistemological problems beset these efforts. How to describe beliefs, held by individuals across 5,000 miles and 1,400 years?
Why are we surprised that, while Islam forbids wine, Muslims have been known to imbibe? Doesn’t Christianity prohibit adultery? In Angels Tapping at the Wine-shop Door, Rudi Mathee explores the contradiction between the formal ban on alcohol and the essential cultural role of wine in Muslims societies over the ages.
The Silk Road has long caught the imagination of travelers and has hence been the subject of interest by many writers, the majority of whom at least in English have hailed from the West. Iftikhar Malik, a professor of modern history at Bath Spa University, in his 2020 book, The Silk Road and Beyond, offers a personal perspective on contemporary travels as a Muslim scholar to Central Asia and beyond. Malik draws on four decades of travel and writes from the lived experiences of a curious academic.
For avid collectors during the gilded age Gentile Bellini’s portrait of a seated Turkish scribe came as a revelation, opening a window onto heretofore unfamiliar elegance, hinting at a connection between their beloved Italian Renaissance and the magnificence of contemporary Ottoman court. This same generation read and swooned over Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam. They traveled to Constantinople, Cairo and Damascus, collecting repoussé brass works, calligraphic tombstones, Iznik tiles and Tabriz carpets. In this rarefied milieu of Calouste Gulbenkian, J Pierpont Morgan and Isabella Stuart Gardner (who swooped up the Bellini), no one was more enthusiastic about the arts of Islam than Bernard Berenson, the high priest of the Italian Renaissance.
“To this day the monument remains nearly unscathed—a meager consolation in the face of such suffering.” The monument in question is the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, erected in about 705 by the young and energetic Umayyad (the dynasty began in 661) caliph al-Walid I (705-15) on the site of a Christian church which he had ordered razed to the ground.