The request provoked a wry smile. Could I possibly chair a conversation with Chase F Robinson at the Bradford Literature Festival in the summer of 2017? His recently published book Islamic Civilization in Thirty Lives: The First 1000 Years, was to be the subject matter and I relished the thought of discussing Islamic civilisation in the city of my birth. The tome arrived a couple of days later and I warmed to the teal hardback cover. The front was adorned with a detail from an eighteenth century Indian miniature featuring Timur, founder of the fourteenth century Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia and also the great-great-great grandfather of the first of the Mughal Emperors, Babur. I was instantly reminded of the Mughal Water Garden in Bradford’s Lister Park. In recognition of the heritage of members of the local community, the garden is centrally located, sitting harmoniously alongside the Victorian splendour of Cartwright Hall. Islamic civilisation in thirty lives I mused as my thumb rolled over the writing on the back. The words jumped out at me: ‘a unique introduction to 1,000 years of Islamic history’.
A substantial and meticulously researched piece of scholarship, the book reveals itself to be the culmination of a long-held enthusiasm for Islamic history courtesy of Robinson, professor of history and president of The Graduate Center at the City University of New York. He tells me he became enamoured by early Islamic history before the subject took on any of the urgency that seems to be applicable to all things Islam-related these days. Describing the trajectory of his ‘innocent’ emergence onto the field, he simultaneously acknowledges that we live in contrastingly malignant times.