Monthly Archives: April 2012

Spain as a Christian-Muslim Frontier

Let me begin rather abruptly with a paradox. One of the remarkable differences between Christians and Muslims in medieval Spain has to do with conversion. While the Muslims made no special efforts in that direction, they did manage to convert large numbers of Christians; the Christians, on the other hand who did try to proselytize […]

At the Tomb of the Prophet 1988

It’s 5 A.M. in Jedda when I touch down. The atmosphere here beside the Red Sea feels like the inside of a sauna, fiercely hot and dripping damp. I struggle through customs and look about for my guide. No foreigner wanders the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia unaccompanied, Zayd al-Badawi, my former tutor, philosopher and guide […]

Habent sua fata libelli: The Gospels and the Quran in Mortal Hands

The Gospels and the Quran are the emblematic books of two of the world’s most widespread and influential religions, past, present and future. They have been read and heard by billions of people who have regarded their contents as a manifestation of God’s will, expressed in the Quran in God’s own words and in the […]

Echoes from Sinai: Looking Inside the Gospels and the Qur’an

In the capacious byways of you can probably discover–and perchance even purchase–everything I had to say on the subject of the Scriptures of the Jews, Christians and Muslims. Or almost.  Authors do not normally hold back on their readers unless they are planning a sequel, a Son of Sinai, which I am not.  But […]

Religion, Tolerance and Violence

Religion we think we know and violence we know very well indeed, so let us turn directly to the troublemaker of the trio, tolerance, and save the easier notions for later. Literary critics are extremely fond of the figure of “unpacking” when it comes to explaining a word or a notion or a concept. I […]

Sufis and Jesuits: Religious Orders in Islam and Christianity

There are numerous scholastic tracts in Arabic on the theory and practice of Sufism (tasawwuf) or what would be called in Christian terms, Muslim ascetical and mystical theology, For most Muslims the reality  of Islam was, however, the tarîqa or brotherhood into which Islam’s ascetics, the Sufis, began to assemble themselves. As in Christianity, the […]

Bishops and Imams: The Magisterium in Catholic Christianity and Shi’ite Islam

God’s words to His Chosen Peoples are typically double-edged. On the one hand, the believer knows exactly where he or she stands. Give me a place to stand, a Greek once famously said, and I can move the world. Archimedes was talking lever and fulcrum, but God was talking prescription: stand right there, the Bible […]

The Downtown Local 1943

Of course you can never go home again. I knew that. I never went back to smell the lilacs that bloomed, and perhaps still do, about the Bronx school and convent of Our Lady of the Assumption on Country Club Road, or even to contemplate the ivy that surely still runs round the lead-mullioned windows […]

Life Lessons 1940

Pelham Bay—it’s sounds a trifle rustic, which it was then and remains still. And the Irish and Italians who lived there enjoyed its mild confusion with Pelham Manor, its more genteel Westchester neighbor to the north. There was nothing particularly genteel about Pelham Bay, except perhaps on a Sunday morning in the years before the […]

Medina…in brief

Medina, originally called Yathrib, was an oasis 275 miles north of Mecca. It was an agricultural settlement, with widely scattered palm groves and armed farmsteads, and it numbered among its inhabitants both Arabs and Jews. The two groups lived in a complex political association which late in the sixth century CE began to unravel, resulting […]