My father was a very quiet man, painfully shy, reserved. He never really spoke much to me and my brothers. He loved being in the sky in tiny aeroplanes as close to God as he could muster. Flying planes in Malaya shot his head and hearing to pieces and thereafter he suffered a multitude of tiny explosions in his head. He died a long and painful death to Parkinson's and the little we had of him, we lost. He was Catholic. My mother was Jewish/Catholic. There was nothing of Islam in our lives.
When my father died, I became obsessed with his things, the cogs and wheels of his life, searching for some vestiges to piece together somehow the man I never really knew. I found some solace in his book shelf. Forgotten books tightly packed and gathering dust. I’d always known they were there but I’d never really looked at them. Many titles bore the name of who I’d been told was my great great Uncle – Marmaduke Pickthall.
I’d only since my father talk about him once, when he leapt out of his chair when on the Michael Parkinson programme Dame Edna Everage declared “Marmaduke is my favourite author”! Pickthall? my family name so difficult to spell, let alone pronounce. Pickthall. Pick-thall.
Marmaduke Pickthall - a ridiculous name!
His books had always been on top shelf away from small fingers. Then one day – after my father had died – I reached up to the shelf and picked out – Said the Fisherman, by Marmaduke Pickthall. Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall. Mohammed? Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall....
On the same shelf, I found the story of his life written by Peter Clark. I read this in a weekend from cover to cover and began to realise what had been under my nose all my life – my blood relation - a man whose name I shared who stepped out of line and into the light of Islam.
The son of a rector from Suffolk who went to Turkey and the Middle East in search of the truth and found it in the Holy Qu’ran, who penned a ‘translation’ of the same “kitab”, the word of God, that is being printed, still used in many schools and mosques today. And from that moment on, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall was off the shelf and in my life. People mentioned him at work, he came up on countless conversations. I started reading his other novels – Veiled Women, The Early Hours and I joined Barry Humphries as a devotee. This extraordinary man, my blood relation suddenly appeared to me in my life and at every turn. It was Hassan Mahamdallie who first suggested that together we look more closely at his life.
Pickthall has often been described as a Rabid Turcophile, a sentiment that had blossomed in a 5 month period of time spent in Constantinople in 1913 which put him at odds with the British Government, at that time preparing for war with Turkey, and consolidated his commitment to Islam.
Loyal Enemy is the result of that journey – a mixed media piece that involves the hearts and minds of a handful of extraordinary artists – Alinah Azadeh, Mohammed Ali, Abigail Norris, Rachel Gadsden, Sabrina Mahfouz, Hassan Mahamdallie, Avaes Mohammed, Omer Saleem alongside Peter Clark, his biographer now in his 70’s who we tempted out of his Somerset home. The piece is rooted in Istanbul today - a psycho geographic trail in Mohammed Marmaduke’s footsteps made almost 100 years later, finding answers to the questions – what is it like to walk on the wrong side of history? To step out of line, to cross the line, to walk that tightrope of what it is to be both British and Muslim all at once.