As a boy in Karachi I was taken regularly, in the company of my sisters, to see films that starred Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds. I was, however, a fan of at least three kinds of films my sisters considered unwatchable: Westerns starring Charlton Heston; historical and biblical costume dramas starring Charlton Heston (these they would make an exception for, if they also starred Sophia Loren); and sword-and-sandal epics from Cinecitta, Rome, which Heston would have considered too lowly to star in. For the last category, my mother found me a suitable companion who was not only a distinguished classical musician but also, as it emerged, an inveterate reader of Urdu fiction. As he sat through these violent films with me, he seemed to become increasingly aware that with my ‘angrezi (English) medium’ education, I only had one side of the picture. That was the Ivanhoe version purveyed by Europe since the Crusades. Or if I wallowed in Christian epics such as Ben Hur and Quo Vadis, he knew the Muslim equivalents would never be made available on film, as Pakistan did not allow portrayals of holy personages. So he undertook my retraining by summarising for me the stories of Abdul Halim Sharar, who at the turn of the century and the height of the Raj, had set out to tell the story from the other side. Sharar presented the Moors and Saracens as heroes and the company of all the Lionhearted Richards and their loyal Ivanhoes as dastardly crusading villains.

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Aamer Hussein’s Dozen:

Modern classic Urdu fiction everyone should read; and can read in translation. 

Ghulam Abbas, Hotel Moenjodaro, Penguin India, 1996.

Aziz Ahmad, The Shore and the Wave, George Allen and Unwin, 1971.

Altaf Fatima, The One Who Did Not Ask, Heinemann, 1993.

Intizar Hussain, Basti, HarperCollins India, 1995.

Abdullah Hussein, The Weary Generations, Peter Owen, 1998; and Downfall by Degrees, Tsar, 1988; reprinted as Stories of Exile and Alienation by OUP, 1997.

Qurratulain Hyder, River of Fire, Kali for Women, 1998; New Directions, 2000.

Saadat Hasan Manto, Kingdom’s End , Verso, 1987.

Khadija Mastur, Aangan (The Inner Courtyard), Simorgh, 2000; and Cold Sweet Water, OUP, 1999.

Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, The Old Banyan Tree, OUP, 2000.

Fahmida Riaz, Godavari, OUP, 2008.

Shaukat Siddiqui, God’s Own Land, Paul Norbury Publications/Unesco 1991.


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