The tragic in Islam is a study in eight chapters of the dimensions of grief on the making of a faith. There was an initial harshness in the geography of Islam's first locale and sharp contrast between its first long suffering preaching in Mecca and its militant political reshaping in Medina. Both forms of the grievous were captured in the classic narrative, Travels in Arabia Deserta, in the 19th century by the intrepid, but deeply prejudiced, C.M. Doughty. He exemplified the instinct in Islam both to excite and engage with enmity.
Islam found its own ‘house of sorrows' in the emergence of the Shi‘a in its earliest decades and in the shared traditions of its martyrology. The grievous partition of India in 1947 was also a tragic partition of Islam itself, overtaken in no less loaded terms in the tribulations of the Arab and Muslim mind from its encounter with the Zionist nationalism embodied in the State of Israel. There was the private kinship of privation in the intertwining story of two blind scholars, neighbours in soul between Aleppo and Cairo across ten centuries. The theme at large might be captured in the otherwise regal serenity of the Taj Mahal of Agra, where Shah Jahan, a dying prisoner, lingered for eight weary years. A final Chapter 9 takes up the task of theological faith in the incidence of human sorrow.