10 JANUARY 1964, Page 23

Day of the Crescent

As Glubb Pasha writes in his book, one of the results of neglecting the study of Arab history in the West has been to distort the real reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire and the onset of the Dark Ages in Western Europe. The Roman Empire was essentially a Mediterranean community, owing its unity and its civilising power to its control of the Mediterranean, through which trade and ideas flowed between East and West, .and on which armies could be moved for offence or defence. It was the severance of this artery, brought about by the Arab conquests, and not the land-borne barbarian invasions from, the north, which really put an end to Roman civilisation in the West by cutting the West off from all the intellectual and material resources which had nourished that civilisation.

Glubb Pasha, in the book under review, and in its predecessor, The Great Arab Conquests, has done much to repair this neglect for the ordinary reader. This is not to imply that The Empire of the Arabs is a `popular' work in any pejorative sense. The author has a rare and happy combina- tion of qualifications for his task as an historian of the Arabs. He is a soldier who has com- manded Arab troops in much of the terrain covered by the Arab Khalifats. He is an Arabist who can read the Arab historians in the originals. He is a particular expert in Arab genealogies. And, as he has shown in this book and in its predecessor, he is also a diligent scholar with an acute sense of history and a lively narrative style who, with military efficiency, has learnt to organise his material and construct his story. The result is a tremendously interesting, informative and objective account of the Omayyad and Abbasid Khalifats down to the effective end of the latter with the assassination of the Khalif Mutawakkil in 861.

As a whole, The Empire of the Arabs is judiciously balanced, soundly constructed, scholarly, accurate and eminently readable. This book, and The Great Arab Conquests, make one feel grateful to King Husain for having given the author the opportunity to write them. They are altogether in a different class from Glubb Pasha's three earlier books, and nobody who was

disappointed with those should, on that account, be deterred from reading these.

The Caliphate : Its Rise, Decline and Fall is a reprint of one of the standard works on the Caliphate (I follow the author's transliteration) in a European language, originally published in 1883. The author, who died in 1905, was a dis- tinguished Indian Civil Servant and Islamic scholar. The first half of the work (300 pages) is devoted to events under the first four Caliphs —Abu Bekr, Omar, Othman and Ali. One hun- dred and thirty-four pages are devoted to the Omayyads and 164 pages to the Abbasids. The Caliphate is regarded by the author as coming virtually to an end after the removal of Mustan- sir from Baghdad to Cairo in 1261. The so- called Mamluk Caliphate and the subsequent Ottoman Caliphate are dismissed in four pages.

Sir William Muir's work is one of unquestion- able authority, derived, as it is, almost entirely from original Arabic, including many manu- script, sources. The publishers are to be con- gratulated on making it once more generally available. Some of its transliterations—Irac, Bussorah (for Basra), Muavia—look weird in these days, but that should put nobody off. It is written in a curious, archaic, but nevertheless (to this reviewer) attractive style of English, reminiscent of the Authorised Version of 'the Old Testament.

'Glubb Pasha, although probably far more familiar than Muir with Arabs and with Arab ways, always writes as an outsider. Somehow, Muir seems to arrive at an identification with the early Moslems which Glubb does not and his book, lacking the broad sweep of The Empire of the Arabs, has a vividness of characterisation that Glubb Pasha never quite achieves.