A Sultan in Palermo – Islam Quintet IV

Published by Verso, 2005

The fourth and penultimate novel in Tariq Ali’s celebrated Islam Quintet

A Sultan in Palermo is set in medieval Palermo, a Muslim city rivaling Baghdad and Cordoba in size and splendor. The year is 1153. The Normans are ruling Siqqiliya, but Arab culture and language dominate the island and the court. Sultan Rujari (King Roger) surrounds himself with Muslim intellectuals, several concubines, and an administration presided over by gifted eunuchs. The bishops, expecting to be at the pinnacle of power, are angered by the decadence of the court. In this captivating novel, Tariq Ali charts the life and loves of the medieval cartographer Muhammed al-Idrisi. Torn between his close friendship with the sultan and his friends who are leaving the island or plotting a resistance to Norman rule, Idrisi finds temporary solace in the harem; but, confronted by the common people of Noto and Catania, his conscience is troubled. A Sultan in Palermo is a mythic novel in which pride, greed, and lust intermingle with resistance and greatness. Though set in the past, it has haunting resonance today.

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Reviews: The Guardian, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

From the archive

  • Entrevista a Tariq Alí para ‘El Viejo Topo’

    April 2, 2008

    An interview with Tariq Ali by Joan Benach and López Arnal for El viejo topo, April 2008

    Tariq Alí es un conocido intelectual, escritor, historiador, cineasta y activista paquistaní, autor de libros de historia y política así como de varias novelas. Alí escribe habitualmente para revistas y periódicos como The Guardian, Monthly Review, o Z Magazine y es editor y asiduo colaborador de sinpermiso y New Left Review.

    Entre sus libros más recientes cabe citar: El choque de los fundamentalismos: cruzadas, yihads y modernidad (Alianza editorial, 2004), Bush en Babilonia: la recolonización de Iraq (Alianza editorial, 2005), Años de lucha en la calle. Una autobiografía de los sesenta (Foca, 2007) y Piratas del caribe. El eje de la esperanza (Foca, 2008). Durante su reciente visita a Barcelona a principios de abril, en compañía del periodista y escritor Richard  …

  • LRB Diary

    May 30, 2014

    Conversations in Cairo are punctuated by dates: 11 February (Mubarak’s fall), 24 June (Morsi’s election), 30 June (Sisi’s coup), which takes a bit of getting used to. On the street murals depicting the martyrs are defaced with black ink; barbed wire, state-constructed barricades and gates used to seal off roads remain in place. My publisher, Karem Youssef, talks me through the geography of the uprising, describing how she herself was radicalised as week followed week. It’s too soon to treat the events nostalgically since, according to some, they are not yet over. I’m not sure about that, but what is indisputable is that hope is dead.

    During and after the uprising Mubarak’s name stood for amorality, cynicism, duplicity, corruption, greed and opportunism. A few months after Morsi’s triumph at the polls, the same adjectives were being used to describe his rule,  …

  • ‘The Spirit of Cricket’

    July 11, 2011

    ‘The Spirit of Cricket’ by Tariq Ali for the London Review of Books blog, July 7, 2011

    ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’ The Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara, giving the Spirit of Cricket lecture at Lords a few days ago, answered this question – first posed by C.L.R. James in Beyond a Boundary half a century ago – at length and in some detail. It was a virtuoso performance that linked cricket to the history and politics of the island. It was witty, intelligent and, above all, courageous. Sangakkara’s assault on the cricketing establishment (the Ministry of Sport) of his own country is a model for others to follow. Listening to the speech I wondered whether there was any other practising cricketer in the world today who could have made it. Not a single  …