The story is enough.

The story is enough.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"The Duniazat" by Salman Rushdie

This story can be found here in the June 1, 2015 issue of The New Yorker Magazine. 

First Line: "In the year 1195, the great philosopher Ibn Rushd, once the qadi, or judge, of Seville and most recently the personal physician to the Caliph Abu Yusuf Yaqub in his home town of Cordoba, was formally discredited and disgraced on account of his liberal ideas, which were unacceptable to the increasingly powerful Berber fanatics who were spreading like a pestilence across the Arab Spain, and was sent to live in internal exile in the small village of Lucena, a village full of Jews who could no longer say they were Jews because they has been forced to convert to Islam."

Last Line: "Ibn Rushd was dead, but he and his adversary continue their dispute beyond the grave, for to the arguments of great thinkers there is no end, argument itself being a tool to improve the mind, the sharpest of all tools, born of the love of knowledge, which is to say, philosophy."

This is the first story by Salman Rushdie I have read, and I was quite enchanted by it.  Combining fantasy and historical fiction in this tale about the 12th Century philosopher, Ibn Rushd, entertains as well as encourages us to think.  

Ibn Rushd, is forced into exile for his thoughts, his writings, and must use his fortitude and resources to continue to survive.  He becomes a horse trader, a financier, a gardener.  He falls in love with a young woman who calls herself Dunia, meaning "the world".  She becomes his lover and his housekeeper.  They have many children, for she is quite insatiable.  Only the stories he tells, the philosophies he had to abandon, calm her desire.  He tells her tales based on former ideas of "reason, logic, and science" - "the inevitability of cause and effect".

What Ibn Rushd does not know is that Dunia is really a jinni, "pursuing her fascination with human men in general and brilliant ones in particular".  Her most distinctive feature is her lack of earlobes, and all of their children inherit this quality.  While she is magic, she, too, is bound by the natural consequences of her choice. Their lives trickle into common, human patterns.  Physical intimacy fades, money problems wax, and time and energy for thought is overrun by the presence and clamor of children.  Even magic, even miracles, even God must follow natural laws.  Reason and religion must be reconciled.

Then Ibn Rushd is called back to court suddenly.  His exile is ended.  He does not take his children with him, nor Dunia/the jinni. But "she went on loving him, even though he had so casually abandoned her".  Their bastard children, the children of a jinni and a philosopher, wander the earth, "ignorant of their supernatural origins", adopting every kind of thought out there - some of faith, some of reason, never reconciling the two as Ibn Rushd, their father, had done.  Secularism arose.

Using magic to tell the story of the history of thought is fascinating.  It is a fairy tale that leaves so much room for thought and reader participation.  "The Duniazats" is microcosm, "stories within stories".  Ibn Rushd's experience mirrors the grander story of all of us: reconciliation between the polarities of thought that compete for our belief, and the love affair between fantasy and rational thought.  We are the Duniazats, their children.  What beliefs will we choose?  Can we live by faith and also by reason?  We are limited if we chose just one as the basis of all our thoughts.
I know I will keep pondering this story throughout the week.  There are so many layers, so many ideas to unravel…

This review can also be read on The Mookse and the Gripes.

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