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Q&A on The Caliph's House

2012-07-26 10.48.43I am occasionally interviewed via email or invited to participate in a Q&A for a course that is reading one of my books. I thought I’d share this one with you, which discuses The Caliph’s House:

1. Why did you choose to express your feelings through imagery, rather than express them directly? 

That’s a good question and one I have never been asked before. I wrote The Caliph’s House not long after 9/11, and I had that atrocity in my mind all the way through. It was really important to me to try and show Morocco from the inside out, and in a way that American people especially could receive. I wanted to show the kingdom in ways that were not merely descriptive, but touched the senses, as well as reaching an audience through anecdotes. It was difficult to do, but I am always so happy when people write to me saying that the book changed the way they regarded Morocco — ie as not “just another” Arab country.

2. Did you realise that the Arabic meaning of the characters’ names in the book correlate to their personalities, or is this coincidental?

Read more

April 3, 2013 Posted by tahir in Books

New Releases from My Backlist

TS ebook series backlist

I’m very pleased to share with you the release of my travel backlist as ebooks. Each book has been updated with a new introduction, with the exception of Travels With Myself, my 2011 release. Trail of Feathers will also be available very soon.

Get your copy now: Read more


In Search of King Solomon's Mines

An inky hand-drawn map was hanging on the back wall of Ali Baba’s tourist shop, deep in the maze of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Little more than a sketch, and smudged by a clumsy hand, the map showed a river and mountains, a desert, a cave, and what looked like a trail between them. At the end of the trail was an oversized ‘X’.

‘Is it a treasure map?’ I asked. Ali Baba, an old man with a pot-belly, glanced up from his newspaper. ‘It shows the way to the fabled gold mines of Suleiman,’ he said. After an hour of negotiation, I slid a wad of Israeli shekels across the counter and left with the map. Anyone else may have scoffed at the object, or laughed at my gullibility. After all, Jerusalem’s Old City is cluttered with Holy Land bric-a-brac. I had a feeling from the start that Ali Baba’s map was suspect, for it had no place names or co-ordinates.

But to me it symbolised a family obsession.

To continue reading, see my full article at Explorers Connect.


Vast Libraries

Magnificent libraries were made possible by the price of cheap paper, and by the growing literacy because people were required to read and write the Qur’an. An example was the Royal library in 10th century Cordoba, assembled under the patronage of Caliph al-Hakim II, which boasted 400,000 books. The library’s directory stretched to 44 huge ledgers. Caliph al-Hakim II sent scholars across the East to buy and have copied important books, and in so doing, added to the expansion of knowledge. The library at Cairo supposedly had two million volumes; and the one at Tripoli had three million, before it was destroyed by Crusaders. We can only imagine the extent of the House of Wisdom’s great library before it was sacked. It must have run into the millions of documents as well. It is said that when it was sacked in 1258 by the Mongol Horde, that the Tigris ran black with ink for six entire months.


April 17, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Turn a Rod into a Snake

You will need: one snake

This is arguably the oldest illusion on record, and was performed by Aaron at the court of the Egyptian Pharaoh. It is still performed regularly across the Subcontinent by Godmen. The illusion involves a rod or staff being tossed to the ground, and slowly taking on life, and slithering away as a snake. It’s important to do the trick in dim lighting, preferably towards sunset when the heat of the day has worn off. You take the snake and chill it, while stretching it out between your hands… and as you do this, you press a thumb quite hard on the top of the snake’s head. The serpent, which thinks there is a huge creature standing on it, goes into shock and freezes. As soon as the snake has been exhibited as a rod… quite motionless, you drop it to the ground. Realising that the predator has vanished, and warming up, it slithers away.

NB Godmen’s miracles such as this should never be attempted by children, or anyone else except trainee Godmen.


April 16, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Make Flowers Bow Down

You will need: Chloroform, spray apparatus

The illusion was very popular with more established Godmen in the 1990s, before it was rumbled in a big way. The illusion is simple: the Godman enters an auditorium and, as he does so, flowers on either side of the dias seem to droop. Little do the audience of devotees know, but the re are tiny nozzles placed amongst the flowers, which spray chloroform. Flora, just as mammals, are affected by the chemical, and go into their own form of collapse.

NB Godmen’s miracles such as this should never be attempted by children, or anyone else except trainee Godmen.


April 15, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Get Ash From Coins

You at will need: a saturated solution of mercuric chloride up in water, one aluminium coin

While the audience is assembling, dip your finger and thumb into the solution of mercuric chloride as it is part of your miracle process. Ask for a volunteer to come up and to show  you a very low denomination coin (in India these are made from aluminium). Take the coin and rub it with your thumb and forefinger so that the solution of mercuric chloride touches the metal on both sides. Then call for the volunteer to come forward again and place the coin in his palm, tell him to close his palm and wait a little while. As the solution reacts with the aluminium metal, heat is created and a grey ash substance — like holy ash — starts being formed on the surface of the coin. You can wash the coin and the ash was still erupt.

NB Godmen’s miracles such as this should never be attempted by children, or anyone else except trainee Godmen.

April 14, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Dip Your Finger in Molten Lead

You will need: a crucible, some lead foil

Heat the lead foil over a fire in the crucible. When it is molten, scrape off any residue or impurities. This is important because they can get stuck to the finger during the miracle. When you are ready, and when the lead is completely liquid, dip your finger into the molten metal and withdraw it as deliberately as possible. The lead will only be about 400 degrees celsius, and therefore ought not to burn you.

NB Godmen’s miracles such as this should never be attempted by children, or anyone else except trainee Godmen. 


April 13, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Eat Glass

You will need:  one banana, one clear lightbulb

Before your has audience has assembled, eat the banana. Then when the audience is ready, show them the lightbulb, which must be clear glass. The opaque variety contains mercury which is poisonous. Tell the crowd that you are about to eat the lightbulb because you are superhuman. Then, with as much theatrical flair as you can muster, place the lightbulb on a handkerchief and crush it under your foot. When you have done this take a large piece of glass, preferably from the side or the top of the lightbulb, and put it on your tongue. Slowly begin to chew using your molars. Once the glass has been crushed well, you can swallow it. There should be no harm because the glass powder will be embedded in the banana which will be waiting to the glass in your stomach.

NB Godmen’s a miracle such as this should never be attempted by children, or anyone else except trainee Godmen.

April 12, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Dip Your Arm in Boiling Oil

You will need: One big pot, lime juice, vegetable oil

Pour the vegetable oil into the pot and pour in the lime juice as well.Put the pot on a fire in front of the audience, and announce to them that you are going to plunge your arm into boiling oil. As the oil heats up the citric acid in the lime juice boils off long before the oil is itself hot enough to boil. As the lime juice sits at the bottom of the pot, it boils up through the oil, giving the illusion that it is the oil that’s boiling. While the oil is still cool enough to do so, immerse your arm into it, while exclaiming to the crowd how incredible it is that you can defy the heat.

NB Godmen’s  miracles such as this should never be attempted by children, or anyone else except a trainee Godmen.