Tom Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for the Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World, London: Atlantic Books, 2012. ‘History’, roars Tom Holland in a moment of cognitive elation, ‘is not built upon sand’. To this we may add: ‘No, not on sand but upon quicksand!’ For, the deeper… Read more »

Alona Frankel is talking about ‘the most horrible event of my life’. A much-loved Israeli children’s writer, with a late-blooming career as an autobiographer, she survived the Lvov ghetto in Poland. One of a handful of Jews who escaped transportation to the death camps, Frankel came as a child to the new state in 1949. She sits, genial and youthful, in the conference hall at Mishkenot Sha’ananim just outside the old city of Jerusalem.

So much has been written about Iraq in the last two decades that it isn’t easy to remember the time when Saddam Hussein ruled unchallenged, supported by Western governments viscerally alarmed at Khomeini’s Iran – and when very little was really known in England about Ba’athist Iraq.

The massacre at Karbala is a central event in Islamic history. Its significance can be judged by the fact that the very mention of Karbala evokes strong emotions amongst Muslims, particularly the Shi’a. On 10 October 680, corresponding to the Islamic date 10 Muharram 61, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Husayn b. ‘Ali (referred to as ‘al-Husayn’) along with his family and companions, was brutally martyred.

If it is death that determines the limits of life, it is love which offers the promise of overcoming those limits. Between these two great defining factors of human existence there is a necessarily complex relationship, which in one way or another involves just about every aspect of what it means to be truly human.

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.

Rabia of Basra lived in twelfth-century Iraq. She wrote in Arabic, but her exemplary piety made her a saint who is venerated all over the Muslim world. In her era, the mystical tradition of Islam was growing, even burgeoning