The shadowy and superficially unpromising history of European countries (in an age before either ‘Europe’ or ‘countries’ really existed) was implicitly a story which would inevitably foreshadow the triumph of the West.

The twelfth-century Syrian warrior, poet and memoirist, Usama ibn Munqidh, found the liberty that the Franks of the Crusader principalities allowed their women quite extraordinary.

Although the Western imagination tended to locate the strangest and most improbable marvels in India and points further east, the Arab lands provided enough of the marvellous and the strangeness for medieval European pilgrims, traders, adventurers and spies to be going on with.

Apart from the iconoclastic ideology of some Muslim scholars and mobs which led to many statues being destroyed or defaced, there was another problem with statues and that was that they might become the habitations of demons.

Anyone who thinks about the history of Arabic literature in the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, from the seventh until, say, the eleventh century, must be struck by the enormous number of first-rank writers and thinkers who were either born in Basra or who lived and studied there.

On the evening before his execution in Baghdad for heresy in 922, Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj faced Mecca and, in a state of ecstasy, conversed with God. The following day he was dancing in his chains and laughing as he was taken to the place of execution and that laughter grew to a crescendo when he saw the gibbet.

The fourteenth-century Maghrebi philosopher of history Wali al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) has been thought by many to be the most profound thinker Islam has ever produced.

The ghazal, or love lyric, evolved out of the pre-Islamic Arabian qasida, or ode, and the origins of the qasida go back to a time before Arabic became a written language.