The Hijaz, that part of the Arabian Peninsula which contains the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, was long subject to imperialism, but not of Western variety: it was instead subject to the Ottomans. Although nominally under Ottoman suzerainty for centuries, it was ironically 19th-century British imperialism that forced Istanbul to attempt to consolidate its control over the region.
Visitors around the world have traveled to Europe to see the tall spires and stained glass windows of the continent’s Gothic cathedrals: in Cologne, Chartres, Milan, Florence, York and Paris. The trappings of Gothic architecture have become shorthand for “medieval Europe”. Yet in Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe, Diana Darke investigates the Islamic origins of Gothic architecture, tracing its history through pre-Islamic Syria through the Islamic empires to the tall European cathedrals between the 12th and 17th centuries.
This year’s 75th anniversary of the end of WW2 and, in particular, the end of the War in the Pacific, has coincided with a number of books, some broad, some focusing on individuals. But few perhaps look at what is—at first glance—as unlikely a corner as Kelly A Hammond’s China’s Muslims & Japan’s Empire.
The morning after Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire last year, Diana Darke remarked on Twitter and then on her blog that much of what is considered iconically European about the cathedral—the twin towers, the gothic arches—is Middle Eastern in origin. This created something of a stir and in the provocatively-entitled Stealing from the Saracens, Darke sets out to prove it.
Samira Ahmed is a force in young adult literature, bringing voice to Muslim American teens and calling out increasingly rampant Islamophobia. In her latest novel, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, she combines a contemporary story with historical fiction that reaches back to Lord Byron (who bore the sobriquet that also titles the novel), Alexandre Dumas and Eugene Delacroix. Two young women are at the centers of these stories, thereby telling history from women’s perspectives.
Justin Marozzi starts his survey of Islamic civilization by noting that the Arab world hasn’t had the best of press lately. “Everywhere you look there’s chaos, fighting, bloodshed, dictatorship, corruption, injustice, unemployment,” a Tunisian friend of his tells him.
In his 1978 work Orientalism, Edward Said accused Western artists and intellectuals of instrumentalising their perception of the Islamic world to support the narrative of Western dominance and colonialism. The British Museum’s show of Orientalist painting from the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, allows us to evaluate the truth of Said’s statement.