Islamic Scifi

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Alia Muhammad Baker's house is full of books. There are books in stacks, books in the cupboards, books bundled into flour sacks like lumpy aid rations. Books fill an old refrigerator. Pull aside a window curtain, and there is no view, just more books.

There are English books, Arabic books and a Spanish-language Koran. There are manuscripts, some hundreds of years old, on the finer points of Arabic grammar and the art of telling time. There is a biography of the Prophet Muhammad from about 1300. All told, Ms. Baker says, the books number about 30,000. And then there are the periodicals.

These books are fugitives, and Ms. Baker, a 50-year-old librarian in stout shoes, is the engineer of their underground railroad. As the British forces stormed Basra in early April, she spirited the volumes out of the city's Central Library, over a seven-foot wall, to the back room of a restaurant and then later into trucks to carry them to her home. Even friends and library employees have been enlisted as caretakers for troves of the books.

The books constitute about 70 percent -- all there was time to save -- of what was the library's collection. Nine days later, the library building was burned in a mysterious fire.

The books' survival is all the more remarkable because, in Baghdad, looters left both the National Library and a government building containing thousands of illuminated Korans in smoldering ruins. Even some manuscripts taken from the Basra library to be studied in Baghdad were destroyed.

Despite what was saved, Ms. Baker, Basra's chief librarian for 14 years, mourns what was left behind. It was like a battle when the books got burned, she said. I imagined that those books, those history and culture and philosophy books, were crying, 'Why, why, why?' Before the war began, Ms. Baker requested permission from Basra's governor to move the books to safety, but he refused without explanation. Ms. Baker, however, is not easily deterred. Although the library did not allow lending, over the years she often slipped books into the hands of readers and sent them home.

In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was 'Read,' she said.


According to Islamic tradition, during one such occasion while he was in contemplation, the archangel Gabriel appeared before him in the year 610 CE and said, "Read", upon which he replied, "I am unable to read". Thereupon the angel caught hold of him and embraced him heavily. This happened two more times after which the angel commanded Muhammad to recite the following verses:[5][6][7][8] "Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created- Created man, out of a clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,- Who taught by the pen- Taught man that which he knew not."

The first revelation was "Read" and included the statement "God teaches by means of the pen" (96:1-4), and the second revelation was "The Pen" (68:1). The only function of the pen is to write.

Islamic fiction is a genre of fiction. Islamic fiction works expound and illustrate an Islamic world view, put forth some explicit Islamic lessons in their plot and characterizations, or serve to make Muslims visible