I’ve been re-reading a romantic suspense novel that was first published in 1989. The heroine, born in 1963 by my reckoning of the dating in the story, is the child of a Middle Eastern king who married a Hollywood movie star and then became a radicalized Muslim and wife beater when he didn’t get the son he wanted.
Setting aside the distasteful backstory there, I keep getting thrown out of the novel by the little things that show the author (who has since become a multiple New York Times bestselling author of some renown) didn’t know anything about Islam or the situation in the Middle East in the late-1960s, early-1970s. Even if we grant to her that she made up the name of her characters’ desert kingdom.
An example of her lack of knowledge of Islam would be where this radicalized Muslim king thinks to himself that his travel and education in the West has made him a “more pure child of Allah.” Divine filiation is a Christian concept that Muslims dispute. A Muslim might think he was a “servant” of Allah, or even a “slave” of Allah, but not a “child” of Allah.
Then there’s the fact that the monarchies in the Middle East, perhaps with the exception of Saudi Arabia, have tended to be more progressive than other Muslim governments in the Middle East. The Iran of the Sixties and the Seventies, under the shah, was much different before the ayatollahs came to power. Even today, monarchies like Jordan—which I suspect this author used as a template for her fictional kingdom—are not nearly as repressive as countries like Iran after the shah was deposed.
Yes, I know, she was creating a fictional Middle Eastern kingdom for story purposes. But since there was a strong critique of the treatment of women by fundamentalist Muslims in the story, I think the author owed it to her readers and to Muslims to do her world-building with a basic respect for the facts.
(Image: Writer sitting on pile of books; iStock / Used with license.)