A Vehicle for the Sacred: Marmaduke Pickthall’s Near Eastern Novels

in Marmaduke Pickthall: Islam and the Modern World
Open Access

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Marmaduke Pickthall is the grandfather of the Islamic novel in English. Can the eight Near Eastern novels (1903–1921) of this mostly forgotten Edwardian author entertain and enlighten contemporary fans of the “global novel”, of Pakistani Anglophone fiction, of the “halal novel”, and the titles sprouting from the pens of far-flung Arab authors and Muslim converts writing in English today? Can the considerable achievements and positions of this Englishman in the fields of creative writing, cultural criticism, political activism, journalism, and translation inform, invigorate, or settle current debates about the British Muslim community; Muslim identity and integration in secular societies; and the transformational choices made by convert and ethnic Muslims newly practicing their religion? If these general questions spark your interest, please read on as I explain my main research question.

The Early Hours (1921) was reprinted in 2010 and is the only one of Marmaduke Pickthall’s thirteen novels in print. It is not the only one of merit, and is arguably not his best. There are also Veiled Women (1913) and Knights of Araby (1917). Most of his novels’ titles indicate their Near Eastern setting. A critic writing in The Morning Post judged that “Mr. Pickthall’s Eastern novels, as a whole, constitute the most important contribution to our knowledge of the Muslim East which has been made in any country in this century”.1 I believe the reason that Pickthall was able to make such a significant, if neglected or underestimated, contribution is because he peopled the Oriental settings of his novels with Muslim characters whose subtle selves he depicted according to an Islamic psychological schema. The self of a Pickthall protagonist is attached variously to its nafs (desire), its hawa (caprice), its ‘aql (intellect), its qalb (heart), and its ruh (spirit). Furthermore, he represented his characters’ worlds as structured by an ethos derived from the Quran that he cited in his novels’ epigraphs. This is in contrast to the non-European, “undifferentiated type called Oriental, African, yellow, brown, or Muslim” and presented to European readers by nearly all other writers of the early twentieth century.2 Pickthall was able to do this because, as E.M. Forster explained in 1923, “He is the only contemporary English novelist who understands the nearer East”.3 How did the novelist render Muslim characters and their selves, so different from those of Europeans? Where did an Anglican Christian get an understanding of Islam adequate to the task of rendering fictive Muslim psyches?

Pickthall’s novels represent historical, political, social, economic, and religious aspects of the Near East. Clark and Nash have provided analyses of the historical and political aspects.4 Murad has drawn attention to the Islamic core of the culture that Pickthall so admired and respected in the Ottoman Empire.5 Malak’s Muslim Narratives and the Discourse of English while focussing on literary narratives classified by him as Muslim does not even mention Pickthall’s work, which he seems alarmingly unaware of.6 In short, not much has been written on the religious character of individuals and society as represented in Pickthall’s Near Eastern novels.7 E.M. Forster in 1923 offered his view that the “Oriental” in these novels (1) never abandons his personality and (2) guards his precious “Self” at all times. It is important to show that while strikingly interesting, this does not adequately describe the Oriental self as Pickthall depicts it.

I propose to read Pickthall’s novels through the moral tales of the Bûlâc edition of the One Thousand and One Nights, an original methodological approach I have arrived at through independent research. I will explain what I mean by this after first illustrating how Forster’s critique is inadequate.

Forster’s analysis of the “Oriental Self” in Pickthall’s novels describes an undifferentiated type whose “meditation, though it has the intensity and aloofness of mysticism, never leads to abandonment of personality. The Self is precious, because God, who created it, is Himself a personality; the Lord gave and only the Lord can take away. And a jealous guarding of the Self is to be detected beneath all their behaviour when they are most friendly or seem most humble”.8

It appears Forster had not read Knights of Araby – which received good reviews in 1917 – at the time that his “Salute to the Orient!” critique of Pickthall was published in 1923. When Prince Jeyyash emerges as the final dominant character in Knights of Araby, two instances of “abandonment of personality” do, indeed, occur. First, after his brother’s defeat, a humbled Jeyyash shaves his beard, and – assuming the guise of an Indian merchant – descends to the level of the common man. Second, after Jeyyash peacefully takes the throne of Zabid, he weds and, at the peak of his power and happiness, decides to step away from “all that structure of magnificence”. Rather than demonstrating “a jealous guarding of the Self”, Jeyyash turns his back on his kingdom, dons the pilgrim’s garments for Haj and travels to Mecca with the intention of “self-abasement”.9

Knights of Araby negates Forster’s conclusion, which is unsurprising since Forster acknowledged the limited scope of his essay and the fallible nature of his generalization. More importantly, the work occasions a continuation of the conversation that Forster began, for Pickthall’s rendering of the “Self” is one of the most distinctive features of his Near Eastern novels, and possibly the most significant. He does not render a static self, but rather depicts the subtle selves of characters as they vary, develop, grow or change during the course of their narrative journeys, offering insights into a Muslim world, plausibly and dramatically drawn, that won Pickthall his readers. Protagonists such as Camruddin Agha of The Early Hours and the English convert to Islam, Mary Smith / Barakah, of Veiled Women, further support my thesis and give the lie to Forster’s critique.

As his career progressed, so did Pickthall’s understanding of personal theology, jurisprudence, worship, and the science of spirituality in Islam, giving his novels an ethical and cultural verisimilitude that other writers of his generation – lacking his firsthand experience – could not match. What has not been understood thus far is the possibility that the ethos and poetics that operate in Pickthall’s Near Eastern novels flow from a particular scholarly source hidden in a specific edition of the Thousand and One Nights, which Pickthall is known to have possessed and treasured: the complete Bûlâc edition. In this research proposal, I draw attention to the source – Imam Ghazali – provide evidence that Pickthall claims to have possessed the edition of the Nights in which anecdotes appropriated from Ghazali were included, and give testimony, as well as evidence from unpublished, primary sources, showing that Pickthall was possibly competent to read these Arabic language texts. I examine key themes in one of these Ghazalian anecdotes and show how some of them reappear in Pickthall’s Eastern novels, giving them a unique character that has eluded a precise explication until now.

Before further discussing my theoretical view and investigation methodology, let’s consider how the Nights intertwines with the life of Marmaduke Pickthall. While his mother Mary Pickthall was pregnant with the future novelist, she is known to have read “always that same inimitable book, the Arabian Nights, in a funny old-world translation – not even the grand new one made by the famous Burton – but an old copy… Always these Paynim stories, in the same scented book”.10 Marmaduke Pickthall’s existence, therefore, is associated with the Nights from the start. In his youth, he was educated at the elite boys’ school Harrow, and in addition to Scott, James, and Disraeli, he read authors like Dickens, who had shown the influence of the Nights in his work.

Pickthall set his second, breakthrough novel, Saïd the Fisherman (1903), in the Ottoman Levant, his first Near Eastern setting. The Nights was on his mind during its composition; depicting a reverie of his protagonist Saïd, Pickthall writes: “The whole of his life passed before him at such times, like a tale of the Thousand and One Nights. But for evidence of the piles of carpets, and the presence of Selim, moving to and fro among them, he would sometimes have doubted the truth of it all, so marvellous it seemed”.11

After Harrow, Pickthall sat for exams hoping to join the Levant Consular Service; though he placed first in languages, he did not succeed overall. Instead of going to university, Marmaduke travelled with his mother’s support to the Levant. As he explains in Oriental Encounters (1918), the fictionalised memoir recording this period of his life: “I fancy there was some idea at the time that if I learnt the languages and studied life upon the spot I might eventually find some backstairs way into the service of the Foreign Office”.12 In Jerusalem and environs, Pickthall found himself drawn to Arabic-speaking individuals such as Rashid, a Turkish soldier, and the witty dragoman Suleyman; learning Arabic was thus pursued in advantageous company, and as Abdal Hakim Murad attests in his biographical sketch, the young traveller’s studies, enthusiasm, and sense of liberation in Levantine society allowed him to acquire the language with ease.

Pickthall’s recollection of that late nineteenth century milieu compares the worldliness of Europe with Muslim societies’ detachment from the material world.

When I read The Arabian Nights I see the daily life of Damascus, Jerusalem, Aleppo, Cairo, and the other cities as I found it in the early nineties of the last century. What struck me, even in its decay and poverty, was the joyousness of that life compared with anything that I had seen in Europe. The people seemed quite independent of our cares of life, our anxious clutching after wealth, our fear of death.13

Pickthall afforded a privileged position to the ethos of Islamic detachment-from-the-world, in contrast with the European worldliness from which he was estranged; and, he had “rapidly increasing fluency” in Arabic when he went native. Regarding the fruit of this enterprise, Fremantle writes: “It was in Damascus that he finally acquired his great mastery of Arabic”14

Oriental Encounters ends with Pickthall’s emotional departure from Damascus. Regarding a parting gift from a friend, he says: “It was not till some time after I arrived in England that I realised that the volumes which he had presented to me were a complete Bûlâc Edition of the Thousand and One Nights – a valuable book – which is my greatest treasure”.15 Pickthall is writing about events that occurred twenty years earlier, during his travels through Syria and Palestine between 1894 and 1896. His testimony regarding the Bûlâc Edition would have been written circa 1916. The declaration is made in the present tense, suggesting that the Nights, when he finished writing Oriental Encounters in 1916, was still his greatest treasure. In any event, when he received the complete Bûlâc edition in 1896, Pickthall’s Arabic proficiency was good enough to read it, and when he set to writing Saïd the Fisherman, he considered his Arabic a valuable source of this novel’s authenticity. In an unpublished 1901 letter to his literary agent, Pickthall makes a claim for his novel, which he has just sent Pinker in manuscript, asserting that its significance owes to its having been written by an author more familiar with the land and people that it treats than the average traveler, explaining that he had troubled himself exceedingly to ensure its historical accuracy, and that he was fairly fluent in Arabic.16

In a December 2nd, 1904 letter to Pinker, Pickthall announces that since coming home, he’s read only Arabic material, which has put him in an Oriental frame of mind, and that he hopes to start another Eastern book very soon. In a December 22nd letter the same year, he writes about the sample chapters of his new eastern book. “By the Mercy of Allah”, he announces, its prologue is now finished and seems good. In his handwritten letter, he suggests a title – Shemsuddin – followed in Arabic script by the words in sha Allah (if God wills), and concludes with wishes to Pinker for a happy Christmas and several words written in Arabic – Al-Janaab, Al-Ajal, Al-Amjad; al-Khawaja Binker (Arabic has no ‘P’), al-mohtarum, explaining in parentheses that these are honorifics. In an April 11, 1908 letter, Pickthall discusses the novel he is now preparing for publication, stating that the history in the book is almost exclusively taken from Arabic sources. These signs of fluency in Arabic and its function in Pickthall’s creative process should come as no surprise considering that he would one day produce a respected translation of the Quran.

Pickthall could have read in his treasured Bûlâc edition of the Nights the anecdote that is identified by Yuriko Yamanaka as “Night 464 Iskandar Dhu’l-qarnayn and a certain tribe of poor folk”, or “anecdote 5”,17 and many others like it. The original source of this anecdote, and numerous others, has been identified as Imam Ghazali (1058–1111 a.d.) in his Nasihat al-muluk,18 “a book of counsel for kings, or what is called in Western languages a ‘mirror for princes’”. Nasihat al-muluk was translated into Arabic as al-Tibr al-masbuk fi nasihat al-muluk sometime before 1199. While the Persian original nearly went out of circulation, al-Tibr was often copied during Mamluk and Ottoman times. The part – in al-Tibr – that is said to be authentically by Ghazali, “apart from minor differences in the wording” is “substantially identical” to a corresponding passage in the Thousand and One Nights’ Arabic text, which according to Yamanaka’s reference is contained in the complete Bûlâc edition.19 If Pickthall read his complete edition of the Nights after arriving back in England in 1896, he would have read the passages originally written by Ghazali, one of which I summarize below and compare with themes in Pickthall’s novels:

King Dhu ‘l-qarnayn came to a nation that possessed nothing and “saw graves dug at the doors of their houses; and every day they went to these graves and worshipped”, eating only herbs. He summoned their king, who refused to come: “I have no business with Dhu ‘l-qarnayn, and no demands to make of him”. Dhu ‘l-qarnayn went to the king and asked, “What has befallen you?” “I do not see any possessions belonging to you people. Why do you not amass silver and gold, and thereby gain profit?” “Because no person has ever gained satisfaction from such profit”, [the king] said; “and because it always brings loss in the world to come”.20

The eponymous picaro of Saïd the Fisherman has been planning to buy a coffee-house and leave fishing, but when he is swindled of his hard-earned savings, he reacts with unchecked emotion. Abandoning his humble property and country to the deceitful neighbor who has defrauded him and convinced him to flee from misfortune, Saïd makes demands of everybody he encounters on his way to Damascus, lying, cheating, and stealing as he goes. He abandons his wife on the way and, when offered a partnership in an honest trade by a sympathetic and pious muleteer, grows malcontent and leaves it. He amasses much wealth during the 1860 Damascus massacre, but his vain-glorious mishandling of it brings him to ruin. Saïd is driven by the desires of his lower self to London, where he is forcibly rendered drunk and robbed. He reaches Alexandria where, ultimately, he is killed during the British bombardment. The novel’s moral is clear: a simpleton in his ignorance and rejection of the Prophetic Way has consigned himself to an ignominious death.21 Care for this unfortunate ingrate is extended by the ulema, but squandered by him on the passionate delusions of his lower self. Exemplified by Emir Abdul Qadir, the ulema have an almost timeless quality to them, and staying-power in a time of political turbulence. At the level of government, the rulers too have surrendered to their desires and caprices, rather than being guided by the Prophetic Way, the middle path of the ulema. They too race to an ignominious end, politically signified by European financial control, taking their nation with them. It is only people committed to lives of spirituality as opposed to materialism who are agents of societal benefit; Emir Abdul Qadir, a Sufi like Ghazali, saves a convent full of nuns during the massacre of Christians.

There is a logic to all of this, which can be discerned in the Ghazalian schema for the human subtlety: every person is associated with his or her own subtlety known as the latifa, and this subtle “self” has different names depending on its attachments: the nafs, or lower self, is attached to its desires; hawa, or caprice, is attached to one’s whims; the aql, or intellect, is attached to considerations of personal benefit and detriment; the qalb, or heart, is attached to the afterlife; the ruh, or soul, is attached to God alone.22 Reading Saïd as a manifestation of the nafs is motivated by every chapter of the novel. The lower world in which the nafs rejoices is explicitly mentioned by the king in (Ghazalian) anecdote five.

His questioning continues: “‘For what purpose did you dig these graves?’ [Dhu ‘l-qarnayn] asked. ‘So that I may at every hour see what stage has been reached on the road to the after-world,’ he said; ‘thus [are we reminded] not to forget death and not to let his [sic] lower world become dear to our hearts, but to remain assiduous in worship’”.23 The stages on the road to the after-world that are mentioned here can be understood as the different attachments of the human subtlety, whether it is attached to its desires, its whims, to ethical conduct, to the hereafter – as in this instance where the king mentions the heart – or to God Himself, the soul’s attachment. The anecdote’s focus on death is not without an equal focus on remaining “assiduous in worship” and detached from the “lower world”. This sort of detachment, states a translation of Ghazali, is “perhaps that which the Sufis call ‘ecstasy’ (hal), that is to say, according to them, a state in which, absorbed in themselves and in the suspension of sense-perceptions, they have visions beyond the reach of intellect. Perhaps also Death is that state, according to that saying […]: ‘Men are asleep; when they die, they wake’”.24 There is a similar confluence of ecstasy and death in the description of The Early Hours’ Camruddin Agha, and his lingering “among the tombs in dreamy ecstasy”. An explanation follows later: “The thought of death is dear to us Osmanlis”, answered Camruddin, with pride. “That is Allah’s mercy to us, since the menace of a cruel death is always on us from the Christian hordes”.25The king then showed two skulls to Dhu’l- qarnayn, explaining that the first was one of the unjust kings of this world, who spent his time amassing worldly wealth, and oppressed and despoiled the subjects. “‘The True God on High saw his tyranny, took his soul, and sent him to Hell.’ The second ‘was one of the just and righteous kings, who was kind and merciful to the subjects. When God on High took his soul, He sent him to Paradise.’ Then, he laid his hand upon Dhu’l-qarnayn’s head: ‘O Dhu’l-qarnayn, I see this head of yours. Perhaps it will soon be one of those two’”.26

The conduct and fate of princes and kings is an important theme in Knights of Araby, as we shall see. Here, I want to show how the concluding moral of this anecdote is reflected in Saïd the Fisherman. “On hearing the words of the possessionless king, Dhu’l-qarnayn wept and said: ‘If you will consent to accompany us as wazir, I will grant you up to half of my empire.’ ‘No,’ [the king] answered. ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘The whole of mankind,’ he answered, ‘are hostile to you on account of your sovereignty and wealth. To me they will always be friendly, on account of my contentment and poverty’”.27 This final moral is illustrated by Selim the muleteer who befriends Saïd and is an exemplar of contentment and poverty. His qualities are recognized by the noble scholar Ismail Abbas, who welcomes him as a friend in the Grand Umayyad mosque. Imam Ghazali is known to have spent much time in this mosque.

The lessons conveyed in this anecdote will come as no surprise to readers familiar with Sufism or Imam Ghazali, but the instruction embedded in this anecdote has gone nearly unnoticed:

the whole central block of the Nights, consisting of nearly 100 short edifying anecdotes, has been overshadowed by the full-length tales of love and marvels. European translators have not paid much attention to them. Galland’s translation does not contain this section, and Lane and Mardrus only selected a limited number of tales of this type. For example, Lane compresses most of these shorter stories into the notes to the chapters in small print, and omits to mention even the title of minor tales such as that of Alexander. Perhaps partly due to this, very few studies have been dedicated to this section of the Nights.28

Some readers might have a privileged awareness of the moral aspect of the Nights that is more prominent in certain editions, such as the Arabic Bûlâc edition that Pickthall owned. As Cyril Glassé notes in the entry on the Thousand and One Nights in the Concise Encyclopedia of Islam: “Many stories describe the journey of the soul through life; the treasures which are sought are realizations of reality, and the magicians who are vanquished are the different kinds of illusions which the ego throws up to keep its hold over the immortal self which must be freed from the imprisonment of the earthly condition”.29

None of the studies of Pickthall’s fiction that I know have linked it to the work of Imam Ghazali, though Pickthall – after his last published novel – mentions his admiration for him.30 In his foreword to The Early Hours, Murad, a Ghazali expert, explains that Pickthall’s youthful religious needs, were “satisfied by an increasingly high Anglicanism”, and that the aspiring author had a “robust willingness to accept and face doubts, and even a solid cynicism about the ultimate truth of God”, as indicated in Pickthall’s notebooks, which show that “he wrestled with these difficulties, seeking help in the secular philosophy of the day, eventually to emerge, as Ghazali had done, a stronger man”.31 This instance, which describes Pickthall’s development of faith, refers to the period of his life preceding his first publications near the end of the 19th century. There is no mention of the Bûlâc edition of the Nights or of what it contained, only that Pickthall himself experienced a crisis of faith that could be understood in Ghazalian terms. This provides all the more reason to believe that Pickthall would have understood and seized upon the Ghazalian archetype and Ghazalian teachings at that time, regardless of whether he was aware of their provenance.

Evidence of a Ghazalian worldview can be found in many of Pickthall’s Near Eastern novels. Perhaps the richest vein is contained in Knights of Araby. With its punning title, Pickthall draws attention to The Arabian Nights, giving a hint as to his source, perhaps, and alerting interested readers. It is a typical Pickthallian strategy to entice British readers with a popular high concept that allows him to introduce them to his somewhat unconventional, and even subversive themes, as he does in Veiled Women. In the case of Knights of Araby, a historical novel set in Yemen during the period from 1066 to 1120 a.d., Pickthall is straightforward about his intentions, which, as he explains in the novel’s foreword, include “calling the attention of the English reader to the fact that Muslims, all those centuries ago, confronted the same problems which we face to-day; and made short work of some of them”.32

A fully realized and resonant historical novel, Knights of Araby tells the story of feuding sovereigns contending for the throne of the Yemeni city of Zabid, former site of the Muslim world’s oldest university. The heroes are two brothers – Saïd the Squinter and Jeyyash – sons of the assasinated King Najah, whose family has been ousted to a nearby island from whence Saïd, the elder of the two, plots revenge on Ali es-Suleyhi, Zabid’s reigning king and his father’s murderer. After a patient infiltration of Zabid with the assistance of resourceful, and varied sympathisers and relatives, Saïd succeeds in dispatching Ali es-Suleyhi and regaining the throne. However, he is not scrupulous in his triumph, indiscriminately killing one of his supporters when he slays the king. After enjoying his sovereignty, Saïd the Squinter is eventually the victim of a plot that allows the Suleyhi clan to recapture Zabid. His downfall is occasioned by his brother Jeyyash and an unexpected lapse of propriety. A master chess-player, known as the less volatile, more poetic, cautious, and orthodox of the two brothers, Jeyyash’s one weakness – for beauty – is exploited by an enemy whose dignity he has publicly, if justifiably, affronted. Blinded by the outward beauty of a girl used as a decoy, Jeyyash is brought close to ruin, and entangled in a romantic quest while enemies trick his brother the king into marching his army into an ambush. The narrative is marked by thematic harmony and balance as a thoroughly humbled and penitent Jeyyash adopts the guise of a commoner and walks the middle path of the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him). This prophetic standard is the target that the novel oscillates towards, symbolized by the color white, which is invoked in the bloodless coup that Jeyyash stages, regaining the throne, this time with justice and mercy.33 Experience, bloodshed, and suffering teach the characters of this novel, or rather lead them to, observance of the sacred Law. The knights of Araby are not extremely intelligent, but Jeyyash the final victor proves himself capable of being edified by circumstance.

Pickthall hints at a Ghazalian archetype in Jeyyash, who finds peace in self-abasement after years of political turbulence. Jeyyash’s development of character, detaching his subtle self from its desires so that he is guided by his intellect, heart and soul, recalls to mind the Sufi path in one particular: his fall from his lofty station as prince during his brother’s reign, upon the latter’s defeat. After his exile and return to their former kingdom in the guise of a clean-shaven and humble Hindustani, Jeyyash rubs shoulders with commoners in the streets and through plain dialogue with the “quiet folk” and ordinary citizens of Zabid learns of their needs, and wishes for life. In his previous princely station, he was veiled from the reality of the populace. This lowering of Jeyyash’s nafs from a religious identity that has been punctured and shown to be false ultimately elevates him. Soon, intending to follow the Way of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him), Jeyyash is king of the realm, having staged a bloodless coup of Zabid’s throne. Self-abasement is explicitly intended by the new king after he is given his ultimate triumph: the reappearance of his lost love, Yasminah, and their marriage. What King Jeyyash values is sovereignty over his self:

So great was his felicity, so perfect the success of all his schemes, that the king acknowledged that he was in danger of elation, and felt the need of self-abasement before God. Accordingly, when he had set the realm in order and established the administration and defensive works, he turned his back on all that structure of magnificence, and set out with a few companions on the pilgrimage.34

Jeyyash’s fall and adoption of a humble persona, followed by his accession to the throne and pilgrimage to Mecca have affinities with the well-known story of Imam Ghazali’s spiritual crisis, which was also followed by a dramatic (though, in Ghazali’s case, deliberate) descent from the worldly apex of his success as an orthodox scholar, and a period of travelling incognito, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. Pickthall seems to hint as much when he makes what appears to be a recondite allusion to Imam Ghazali in his selection of the alias – “Bahr”, meaning ocean – that Jeyyash uses while incognito. Ghazali was once praised by his teacher Imam al-Juwayni as “bahr”, an ocean.35

The novel is also set between 1066 and 1120 a.d., which corresponds closely to Ghazali’s lifetime, though it unfolds mostly in Yemen. More interesting is the correspondence of its themes with those of anecdote five (from the Bûlâc edition of the Nights), which emphasises the reality of the grave that awaits every man. To quote once more this compelling anecdote, the King Dhu’l-qarnayn approaches “the possessionless king: ‘For what purpose did you dig these graves?’ he asked. ‘So that I may at every hour see what stage has been reached on the road to the after-world,’ he said; ‘thus [are we reminded] not to forget death and not to let his [sic] lower world become dear to our hearts, but to remain assiduous in worship’”. Once he is king of Zabid, Jeyyash similarly “felt the need for self-abasement before God”, and “turned his back on all that structure of magnificence” and made the pilgrimage “to an empty house”. This is the Bait Allah (House of God), the Ka’aba, the direction to which Muslims turn in prayer. Jeyyash reads Mecca’s history as a metaphor for the purification of the self, that is emptied until its worship is for God alone: “It was the blessing, and had been the curse, of El Islam – this city which contained no relic save its ancient memories of cruel persecution and idolatry; no beauty to seduce man’s thoughts from God. And, as he pondered on the glory of the Unity, and how the folk of old obscured its light with vain imaginings, he praised the wisdom which had made men pilgrims to an empty house”.36

Pickthall’s novels enrich English literature with characters that reflect an Islamic conception of the self and God. Because Pickthall understood the Sunni worldview, he could understand how Muslims think and, increasingly, as his career progressed and he became Muslim, how they felt. Consequently, readers of his novels can also, as is evidenced by the reviewer in Everyman, who wrote in 1917 that, “Once again Marmaduke Pickthall makes ancient Islam live for us. You might say it was the ‘Arabian Nights’ written by a realist. The ‘Knights of Araby’ is, to our mind, as fine as ‘Saïd the Fisherman.’ The triumph of Mr. Pickthall’s work is that the atmosphere of the East is never ‘worked up’; it is taken for granted, so that you walk among these Muslims as a Muslim – not as a tourist with a pith helmet and a Cook’s guide”.37


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  • WaleyMuhammad Isa.Message to the author.18 July 2012. E-mail.

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  • YamanakaYuriko. “Alexander in the Thousand and One Nights and the Ghazali Connection“ in YurikoYamanaka and TetsuoNishio eds. The Arabian Nights and Orientalism: Perspectives from East and West. London: I.B. Tauris200693115.

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1Ann Fremantle, Loyal Enemy (London: Hutchinson, 1938), 258.
2Edward. W. Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul), 252.
3E.M. Forster, Abinger Harvest (London: Edward Arnold, 1961), 291.
4Peter Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall: British Muslim. (London: Quartet, 1986); Geoffrey Nash, From Empire to Orient: Travellers to the Middle East 1830–1928 (London: I.B. Tauris, 2005).</italic>
5Abdal Hakim Murad, Foreword, Marmaduke Pickthall, The Early Hours (Cambridge: Muslim Academic Trust, 2010).
6Amin Malak, Muslim Narratives and the Discourse of English (New York: State University of New York Press, 2005).
7See, however, Claire Chambers, Britain Through Muslim Eyes, Literary Representations, 1780–1988 (London: Palgrave, 2015), Ch. 3. The author is grateful to the editor for supplying this reference.
8Forster, Abinger, 291–2.
9Marmaduke Pickthall, Knights of Araby (London: Collins, 1920), 372.
10Fremantle, Loyal, 12.
11Marmaduke Pickthall, Saïd the Fisherman (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1925), 201.
12Marmaduke Pickthall, Oriental Encounters, Palestine and Syria (1894-5-6) (London: W. Collins, 1918), 14.
13Murad, Foreword, vii.
14Fremantle, Loyal, 77.
15Pickthall, Oriental, 318.
16Letters to J.B. Pinker. 1901–1922. MS. James B. Pinker Collection of Papers, Berg Collection, New York Public Library, New York.
17Yuriko Yamanaka, “Alexander in the Thousand and One Nights and the Ghazali Connection”, The Arabian Nights and Orientalism – Perspectives from East & West. Ed. Yuriko Yamanaka and Tetsuo Nishio (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 93–115, 106.
18Dr. Muhammad Isa Waley, curator of Persian manuscripts, British Library, informed me: “As regards the attribution of Nasihat al-muluk, it is clear from Hillenbrand and others that the content is consistent with the ideas of Hujjat al-Islam al-Ghazali. That does not in itself prove that he was the author, as they would surely admit if pressed. But of course it does make the text more worth studying. And Allah ta’ala knows best.”
19Yamanaka, “Alexander”, 103.
20Ibid., 106.
21Speaking of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), a brief description (at the end of Chapter 10 of Saïd the Fisherman) reflects a heterodox conception of him. One can infer, since he became a Muslim, that the author might have later regretted writing this description. Furthermore, as much as one wishes to show due respect for the sensitivities of a scholarly audience, in light of criminal attacks around the world related to exercises in Islamophobic freedom of speech, it would seem remiss not to mention the following. Readers and lecturers interested in Saïd the Fisherman who wish to exercise caution might consider arguments (of scholars such as Norwich, England’s AbdalHaqq Bewley, a translator of the Quran) proposing the idea of classifying as crimes acts that abuse the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace).
22Faraz Rabbani. “The Subtlety Within Humans and What it Relates to.” Islamic Beliefs for Seekers.
23Yamanaka, “Alexander”, 106.
24Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058–1111 ce): Munkidh min al-Dalal (Confessions, or Deliverance from Error), c. 1100 ce. Medieval Sourcebook, ed. Paul Hallsall. Fordham University, 1998.
25Marmauke Pickthall, The Early Hours (Cambridge: Muslim Academic Trust, 2010), 81, 266–7.
26Yamanaka, “Alexander”, 106.
27Ibid., 105.
28Ibid., 93.
29Cyril Glassé, Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam (London: Stacey International, 1989), 402–3.
30"Works of Philosophy abound, all of them interesting, many of them – as, for instance, those of Al-Ghazzali – worthy of the closest study even now”. Marmaduke Pickthall, The Cultural Side of Islam (New Delhi, Kitab Bhavan, 1927), 80.
31Murad, Foreword, xv.
32Pickthall, Foreword, Knights.
33Pickthall, Knights, 366.
34Ibid., 372.
35Faraz A. Khan. Introduction, “Biography of Imam Ghazali”. Ghazali’s 40 Foundations of Religion Explained.
36Ibid., 381.
37The Common Cause, 12 October 1917.

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