Title: The Monk, the Moor and Moses Ben Jalloun
Author: Saeed Akhtar Mirza
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins India
Genre: Literary Fiction
Sometimes you need to get rid of the pre-conceived notions and look at things differently. We need that so much as we tend to just think and believe what we have been taught or raised on. The ideas we grow on or read and take them to be true without questioning. That maybe is the biggest disease of our time and age.
I had not known of Saeed Akhtar Mirza before reading Ammi: Letter to a Democratic Mother. His first book is something else. A chronicle of religion, love, the simple life gone by and about his mother. Then I realized that he is also a film-maker, but that is a different story altogether.
“The Monk, the Moor and Moses Ben Jalloun” is his second novel and a book which I would recommend everyone to read. The book is about a history deliberately forgotten and tracks of it covered so no one can uncover the truth. There are two parallels to the story. One takes place in an American University in 2008, where four students from varied backgrounds and cultures set out to discover the truth, to understand how the past affects the present and the future sometimes. This essentially is about uncovering so called Western Epics (Literary, Philosophical, Medical and Scientific) whose roots are essentially found or taken from Islam manuscripts. The search starts because of a statement made by a Senator at the beginning of the book during a political rally, about how Obama is a not an Arab, but a decent American Citizen and that is viewed by Omar and his three friends on television.
The second track of the novel is the tale of Rehana – an Iranian from the eleventh century and her quest to learn from her husband, who is an older man of philosophy, sciences, and art. The need for her to question everything in sight and finding answers from her husband and people around her.
The book makes you realize that sometimes we are so ignorant of events taking place or that already have around us. It isn’t a religious treatise. It is just uncovering aspects of the past which we are unaware about (it could be true or not), or it could be a possibility of truth, which the author is trying to convey through this book. Saeed Akhtar Mirza dismantles the past and brings to us in its pure form – the way Europeans think how the modern world was built and what actually the truth could have been or is. For instance, how Algebra as a word was coined or who was of the opinion that light was made of particles, years before Newton could discover that. These facts were hidden or not sought after is because during those times and in that age, everything Islam was looked upon with suspicion and that is at the core of this book. The premise begins with the assumption that Dante Aligeri’s Divine Comedy, one of the cornerstones of classical European poetry might have stolen its idea and form from a book written by Prophet Muhammad himself.
The writing as was in the first book is brilliant and lucid. The future cannot exclusively belong to one religion or sect or community – it is a collective effort and sometimes more so individual efforts. Sadly, we still think and feel that way sometimes and that needs to change, which is brought about beautifully through this book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it also got me thinking of how the world could have been created and where did ideas come from. Read it. You will not regret it.