"Islamic historical fiction in English? And not just for little kids? Great news!" Those were my first thoughts upon receiving The Idols Will Fall: The Story of the Seven Sleepers of the Cave, by Muhammad Saeed Bahmanpour, published by ICAS Press.
Synopsis: In the pagan Roman era after the coming of Christ, the Christians of Philadelphia (present day Amman, Jordan) are brutally persecuted. They are forced to meet in secret, if they can meet at all, and they watch helplessly while their compatriots are routinely tortured and murdered. Dedicated Christians struggle to acquire even basic knowledge of the faith due to the extreme oppression, and the Roman pagan culture gradually infiltrates their pure beliefs despite their sincerity. The number of educated Christians who are able to know and uphold the true teachings of Jesus is exceedingly small but also supremely devoted.
When the Roman Emperor Hadrian arrives in Philadelphia, a group of Christian men, including high ranking royal counselors, decide to challenge the brutal status quo and confront the Emperor. In the aftermath, they are on a run for their lives and decide to seek refuge in a secret cave. What happens next is fantastic and miraculous...
Based on the Qur'anic Surah titled The Cave, particularly verses 9 to 26, this work also draws from Tafsir al-Mizan, the Christian history of Jacques de Sarough (521 AD), newspaper articles and other sources to create a detailed and plausible story. This English version is translated and significantly adapted from a Farsi original that was also made into a screenplay called Mardan e Anjelos, which is now available with English subtitles.
The historical context surrounding the Seven Sleepers in this tale is well-researched, believable and interesting. The reader is successfully transported in time and place. Characters are numerous, functional and appealing, but only moderately developed. The relationships and dialogue amongst characters serve to develop the story at an energetic pace with melodramatic flair, but are slightly unsatisfying due to missing depths in their personalities. Even so, with a reading level appropriate for a wide range of readers, this novel should provide enjoyable and meaningful reading for young adult, adult, and also some juvenile audiences. It is an emotionally-engaging and inspirational read – a sure combination for a page-turner.
The production of the book is high quality, rivaling any of the elite publishing houses – good paper, beautiful formatting, firm binding and attractive cover art make for a very aesthetically pleasing and lasting paperback. Unlike some translated works, the English grammar is excellent, and the only editing errors are a few omitted or substituted letters or omitted words that a reader can easily detect and compensate for.
The Idols Will Fall could have very broad appeal – not only across age groups but also religious backgrounds. A reader of any faith with a moderately open mind should appreciate and enjoy it. The Christian context is refreshing and potentially unifying. Indeed, this work of historical fiction could be a creative educational opening for interfaith dialogue. One of the appeals of this work as potential dawah is that both Muslims and non-Muslims stand to be educated and to gain from the reading. Further, it offers a wide swath of common ground. There are no overt references to identify this work as "Islamic" until one reads the postscript which reveals its connection to the Holy Qur'an, but it is fully consistent with Islamic teachings throughout. It thematically emphasizes Tawheed and makes a compelling case for the original content of Jesus's (peace be upon him) message as presented in the Holy Qur'an.
But, the novel also stands on its merits of good story-telling and need not be read with any agenda – a characteristic that makes it easy to recommend to just about anyone and makes it a desirable candidate for donations to public libraries. I suspect I am not the only one who finds the prospect of English Islamic fiction that is not just for kids to be exciting. If I'm right, this should be a hot-seller once word gets out.