“How did Ibn Battuta support himself on his travels?”, asked a student once. It’s hard to imagine a world where erudition and charm enable a man to travel the world as the honored guests of kings and scholars as well as humble folk, but that is how things worked in those days. It also helped to be able to sleep as soundly in silk sheets as on a crofter’s mat. A world like that, a man like that, does not belong to a remote past, but it may belong to a past that is fading fast. Tales from the Life is an outpouring of praise and sadness on the occasion of the death earlier this year of Bruce Wannell, the last great English traveler in the Orient.
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.
Naguib Mahfouz was familiar to newspaper readers across Egypt for his column in the leading daily Al-Ahram, in which he reflected on issues of the day, from domestic and international events, politics and economics to culture. This volume brings together his articles written between January 1989 and the knife attack in October 1994 that almost ended his life.
The first takeaway from Gilles Kepel’s new book Away from Chaos is the immense complexity of Middle East politics.
“And he gathered them together in a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon” (Revelation 16:16). Armageddon. The word sends shivers up the spine; it’s the place where, according to the imaginative interpretation of some, the final battle between the forces of good and evil will be fought. It’s mentioned twelve times in the Old Testament and once only in the New, quoted above.
In the Sahara Desert, Ukhayyad, the son of a powerful tribal leader, receives a camel as a gift. The Mahri camel is not an ordinary breed. It is beautiful, unique. Ukhayyad develops an endearment towards the animal which only grows and runs parallel with his coming-of-age. Gold Dust, its English edition recently republished, follows their bond, as events quickly trouble their tranquillity.
Husayn ibn ‘Abdallah, more usually known as General Husayn, died in Florence in 1887. Born in Circassia in the late 1820s, he was sold as a slave to agents of the bey of Tunis, raised and trained there, ultimately rising to hold some of the most senior positions in the government.