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Tag: Islam

May 30, 2013 Posted by tahir in Books

New Release: Three Essays


I’m very pleased to share with you the release of these three essays. Those who have read Eye Spy will be especially interested in the essay on cannibalism. They are all currently available online as individual purchases, and the three essay bundle will be available very soon.

The Legacy of Arab Science 

The Kumbh Mela: The Greatest Show on Earth 

Cannibalism: It’s Just Meat 


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


Upcoming Projects for 2013

I’ve been posting on my Facebook page about upcoming projects for the first half of 2013, without sharing too much detail. I’d like to include a quick overview of things to come:


I’ll have an article coming out in Newsweek (now online only), in the next couple of months. I’ll post on Facebook as soon as it’s online.

Backlist ebooks

I’ll be releasing ebooks from my backlist starting very soon. We’re still working on the cover art, but they’ll be coming out one by one in the next couple of months.


I’ll be speaking at the literary festival there, so if you’re based in or near Lithuania, I’d love to see you.

Scorpion Soup limited edition hardcover

This is now available for pre-order over at the Scorpion Soup website, and books will be shipping out in late March. There are purchase options for both the US and the UK, which is where the books will be warehoused. If you’re in another country and would like a copy, please contact me and I’ll let you know what the extra shipping fees are. I’m trying to keep the cost down on this book by offering it only on my website.

You can also enter one of two contests on Goodreads for a chance to win a copy of the limited edition hardcover. There is a contest for US readers and one for UK readers.

Scorpion Soup en español

We’re also working on a Spanish translation of my recent release, Scorpion Soup. It’s over half-way finished, and then will go into editing before its release. It should be out fairly soon, and I’ll be sure to post on my Facebook page when it’s available.

Casablanca Blues

This is one of my upcoming releases for 2013. I’ve completed the first draft, and it’s being edited now.

Blaine Williams is a thirty-something New Yorker with an mid-life crisis and an obsession of the movie Casablanca. His world collapsing around him, he flees to the one place he thinks he knows and understands. A fragment of security in his troubled imagination, Casablanca the genuine article reveals itself as a roller coaster ride of danger, intrigue, and true love — a realm where nothing is what it seems.

Eye Spy

This is another of my upcoming releases for 2013. I’m half-way through the first draft on this.

While in Central Asia saving the sight of a debauched dictator, Dr. Robert Kaine, the greatest eye surgeon of his generation, unwittingly tastes a pie filled with cooked human eyes. Rather than being revolted by the dish, he adores it, and finds that it has an astonishing and ameliorating effect on the psyche. As the craving sets in, he will stop at nothing to get more of the illicit food.

Against a backdrop of an epidemic eye disorder called Occulosis, that threatens making everyone alive blind, Kaine is the one man who can save human sight… while robbing anyone he can of their eyes.


Morocco Lost in Translation

Last week a close Moroccan friend and I met for our weekly cup of tea at our usual café.

‘You know how much I like you foreigners,’ said my friend, ‘but you people confuse me, and other Moroccans as well.’

Smiling, I asked what he meant.

My friend went on to tell me of how he had been received at an American family’s home in Casablanca the week before. Following that visit, he invited the American family to his own home. A series of lost in translation moments had punctuated both visits.

As someone with one foot in the East and the other in the West, I could see the difficulties and, for this reason, I wanted to present a list of do’s and don’ts for Westerners living in Morocco.

Here it is:

When visiting a Moroccan home:

  • Take a gift, however small. Not to do so when arriving for a social visit is almost unthinkable. If there are children there, take something for them, or something straight-forward such a platter of pastries. Better to take more than less.
  • Don’t expect a tour of the house, or ask for one. Bedrooms and anything but the formal salon, will be probably off-limits, unless you know the family well.
  • Don’t be surprised if the television is left on all through the visit. TV is regarded as background noise in Morocco.
  • Don’t worry if people come in and out endlessly, while you feel awkwardly rooted to one formal chair. You’re a guest and, as a guest, you’re expected to be seated while everyone honours you. At prayer time members of the host family might slip out, pray, and then return.
  • And, as a respected guest, an abundance of food will be provided. Don’t gorge yourself on starters, as there will probably be large platters of cooked meat to follow.
  • The choicest pieces of meat may well be picked out and served to you. Don’t worry if you have to leave a little, because that’s fine in Morocco – just as eating every crumb is a sign that you are still hungry.
  • Do not help yourself to drinks, but wait for your hosts to serve you.
  • If eating from a communal dish of couscous or a tagine, keep to the triangle of the dish in front of you.
  • Don’t praise an individual object in the home too much, because it may well be presented to you as a gift.
  • Don’t take wine or an alcoholic drink unless you are very certain that the hosts drink.
  • Do make polite conversation, declaring how you adore Morocco, and Moroccan culture. Don’t launch into politics or religious matters.
  • Irrespective of whether you are the guest or the host, your children will be kissed by all. And, if it’s a conservative household, men either kiss each other’s cheeks (if already close friends), and women kiss women’s cheeks. Men shouldn’t kiss women and vice versa, unless you know the family well or if you know them to be less conservative. A handshake is always a good bet unless a cheek is offered.


When Receiving Moroccan Guests

  • On no account serve any dish containing pork or pork products.
  • Don’t necessarily ask your guests what they would like to drink. It’s better to just serve tea, or whatever, or to pour various cold drinks and present them on a tray. Don’t offer wine or beer unless you’re pretty sure your guests drink alcohol.
  • Never eat or drink anything until you are sure that your guests have all been taken care of. And never on any account help yourself to a second helping until all guests have taken what they need. If there’s a little food left at the end of the meal, never dive in and finish it if you are hosting the meal.
  • Remember that when receiving people in your home, they are traditionally guaranteed security beneath your roof. This means that you are obliged to treat them with respect, and so it’s not the right time to launch into severe arguments.
  • In Morocco, receiving a guest is regarded as an honour for the host, and so there should be an abundance of food. Don’t worry if you have many times what will be eaten, as you will be honoring your guests. Quantity, quantity, quantity.
  • Don’t offer a tour of your home, unless the guests are close friends. Moroccans are always confused about the idea of the house tour. It’s largely regarded as absurd.
  • Don’t stress if your guests sit in silence. In Morocco, as in much of the Arab world, silence is seen as a virtue and a medium through which people get to know each other.
  • Don’t be offended if your Moroccan friends don’t send a message of thanks. It’s not something required in the culture. But, you are likely to receive a return invitation instead.

Forthcoming projects...

I’m often asked about what I’m working on. Here’s a sneak peek into what’s in the works at the moment:

Scorpion Soup (In Production)

A story within a story, the book is inspired by The Arabian Nights in its use of a frame tale. One story leads to another, taking the reader down through numerous levels. The idea is derived partly from my fascination for The Arabian Nights, as well as my love for my grandfather’s book THE GOLDEN PILGRIMAGE — in which fellow travellers to and from Mecca relate their own tales.

Hannibal Fogg and the Supreme Secret of Man (In Production)

An epic work of fiction, I wrote Hannibal Fogg back in 2009, with the intention of creating a character that would satisfy my obsession for the obscure, the fantastic, and all the places I had been to but never really spoken of.

The House of Wisdom (In Production)

Having lectured on the legacy of Arab science, I have taken every opportunity to draw attention to the extraordinary contribution that Arab science from the Abbasid era — the ‘Golden Age’ of Islam — has played in the development of Occidental know how and science. Named after the Bayt al Hikma, The House of Wisdom is a fast-paced thriller that considers the roles of Arab science from the great polymaths of the Abbasid age.



I have already mentioned in passing a number of Arab inventions from the Golden Age. They include a wide range of medical, chemical and astronomical devices. But there are whole other areas in which the Arabs inventors excelled.

         Arab engineers learned from the Romans, Greeks and from their own scientists, and came up with creations that demonstrated their astonishing ingenuity. Some of these creations improved living conditions, while others were more whimsical.

         Engineers were hugely important. When the tenth century Persian engineer and polymath, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), reached Cairo, the Caliph himself went to the gates to greet him. He had been invited to regulate the flooding on the Nile. It soon dawned on him that he couldn’t solve the problem. The only way to save his neck was to feign madness and live for years under house arrest… biding his time until the Caliph’s own death.




As Astronomy developed so in tandem did mathematics and geometry. The great Arab polymaths changed the world in which live by their mastery of mathematics.

1.                               Without doubt the most important breakthrough was the language of mathematics: the introduction of ‘Arabic’ numerals from India, and their use for the first time of a decimal point.

2.                               Introducing Zero to mainstream mathematics was the other massive breakthrough: so enormous that we can hardly grasp its importance… the idea of representing nothing with a symbol.

3.                               In the ninth century Persian polymath al-Khwarizmi gave us Algorithms, which form the basis of most computer programming… indeed our word ‘Algorithm’ is derived from his name.

4.                               Al-Khwarizmi is credited with writing the first book on Algebra as well. It’s title was The Compendious Book on calculation by Completion and Balancing, and was published about 820 AD.

5.                               Arab mathematics honed the work of the Greeks, the Romans as well as that of South Asia. And this work was channelled directly into Europe through Islamic Spain and, with time, made available to the great minds of the Renaissance.




Unlike Chemistry and the life sciences, the Arab quest for the physical sciences came about partly through a need for accurate information… information that related to the Islamic faith. It was necessary to know when to begin and end Ramadan, and when to pray, and in which direction (to Mecca).

Mosques often had their own astronomer, a muqqawit, to determine the time for prayer. They had their own observatories as well. Calendars of prayer times and Ramadan dates, Eid etc were vital, and were created through a knowledge of astronomy. They also had elaborate astronomical charts and instruments for determining the most fortuitous moment to begin a battle or to set out on a journey. All this knowledge in turn fuelled breakthroughs in mathematics, geometry, and geography.

The Abbasids based their research principally on the works of Ptolemy and the work of the seventh century Indian mathematician-astronomer Brahmagupta. The key breakthrough of the Arabs in astronomy was in correcting longstanding errors in the Ptolemaic system. A number of the great Arab polymaths turned their hands to the field, seemingly effortlessly. 



Chemistry II

 Some of the breakthroughs in chemistry under the Abbasids:

1.                   Distillation equipment (such as alembic apparatus, stills and retorts) allowed for alcohol (ethanol) to be distilled for the first time (which was used for perfume and sterilization, rather than drinking). Rosewater was also made through distillation.

2.                   Kerosene was was distilled from petroleum by al-Razi in ninth century Baghdad. He described the process in Kitab al-Asrar, The Book of Secrets. Kerosene was used in lamps. Other petrol products were known and used. The streets of Baghdad were paved with tar in the eighth century. And Arab scientists first distilled crude oil to create what we know as petrol.

3.                   Other processes developed and refined, included crystallization, filtration, and steam distillation.

4.                   Strong acids were created for the first time, including nitric, hydrochloric, and sulphuric acid (the ancients had only had vinegar).

5.                   Other elements were discovered, such as arsenic and antimony, and chemical elements were clearly divided into categories and studied.

6.                   Soap was manufactured for the first time; and even glue was made from cheese… a secret recipe described in ibn Hayyan’s (Gerber) The Book of the Hidden Pearl.

7.                   Cosmetics were also developed, including those by the fabulous-sounding ‘Ziryab’ ‘The Blackbird’, a former Persian slave, who is credited with inventing toothpaste. The idea caught on like wildfire. He went on to open a beauty parlour in Andaucian Spain and supposedly pioneered underarm deodorants and the chemical removal of unwanted body hair for women.

8.                   Other inventions were far less whimsical and were snapped up by the military… including potassium nitrate (saltpetre) which enabled a complete recipe for gunpowder (tenth century). Gunpowder had been made and discussed for a long time, but the first book dedicated to it was written in the thirteenth century by Hasan al-Rammah, entitled The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices.