Before the Qur’an was revealed, there were many books deemed sacred by mankind.

It was during Saddam Hussein’s disastrous annexation of Kuwait in 1990 that I had an idle daydream of what a tired old tyrant sitting on the throne of Iraq might be persuaded to do towards the end of his life.

The Hajj has always been a source of wonder to me. At first, I must confess out of sheer travel wanderlust. For central Arabia, like the mountains of Tibet, is one of those historical testing grounds for heroic British scholar travellers.

It was shopping that first inclined me towards an interest in Islam, though it must be said that the lupine line of hassling touts that in the old days awaited the visitor immediately outside the old Tangier dock gates did their best to keep the secret well-springs of their faith well hidden.

It was a packed London underground train, so social interaction was already set at a glacial minimum – the standard non-communication of a late-morning English commuter crowd. In through the sliding door strolled a caricature from Hollywood central-casting of a potentially threatening Muslim male – a tall, big youth, with a thick beard, black boots, camouflage trousers and a vest with big swirling Arabic calligraphy tattooed all over his rippling biceps.