Loyal Enemy Marmaduke Pickthall Islam

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Sarah's story

spitfires flying in an oil painted sky

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.

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Decibel 2011

The Loyal Enemy project was presented at Decibel, the performing arts showcase in Manchester in September 2011.

I love the story and overall concept, and I think the pitch was spot on – emphasising both the weight and depth of the content but in creative and engaging way. It did come across as creatively very ambitious which from a seat in the audience made the clarity of how the final piece might look slightly hard to vision. It’s an exciting project, mind and sounds like the right doors are opening for conversations to develop.

Paul Bonham – Arts Council South East

The project has a very clear vision, yet with the right amount of curiosity for this stage of development – and a great diversity or artistic disciplines influencing the work. I liked the fact that co-producers and partners can influence how it might shape up (good for commissioning), and that there may be different packages for different markets / budgets / places. What I liked most of all was the fact you may present the work in places of worship and other locations. (Could work with local an

Sarah Sansom – Arts Council, London and TIME WONT WAIT

Thanks to your sparky yet sensitive and insightful pitch, I became genuinely interested not only in your exciting project but in your great, great uncle, MMP, his conversion to Islam and his scholarly translation of the Qu’ran. I’ve been googling; clearly a very interesting man, I want to learn more. The Loyal Enemy project has great potential – we do badly need examples of people who have the courage and strength to place personal integrity and conviction above pressures to follow this o

Keith Nimmo – Artistic Director WMC