“There are always two histories” may be a well-known saying, but how many of us actually take the time to look at an issue from both sides, to learn both stories? In each of the first three books of a planned quartet, English historian, screenwriter and activist Tariq Ali saves us the work involved in such an endeavor. Taking as his subject matter the intersection of Islamic and Western history, Ali presents three familiar episodes—the Reconquista, the Crusades and the final years of the Ottoman Empire—in a distinctly unfamiliar fashion: from the viewpoint of the Muslims.
Written over the last six years, the first three books of Ali’s “Islam quartet” provide not only great reading, but an extremely useful corrective to the general Western misconceptions about Islam and Muslim society. Each work, while fiction, has clearly been thoroughly researched. The openness, tolerance and cosmopolitanism of Islamic society in each period is clearly presented, with accents and touches that ring true. Yet the books also do not whitewash Islamic history. While Westerners are inclined to view Islam as a monolithic entity, Ali brings out the divisions and tensions that existed within the societies of each period. While some of these tensions are minor, in Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree and The Stone Woman, others go to the very core of the characters’ Islamic identity, and in The Book of Saladin they nearly destroy the society from within. read more