Moussa Ould Ebnou
My novel, La Mecque païenne (pagan Mecca), is a historical fantasy novel that revisits the Jahiliya, the native milieu of Islam and the last bastion of Semitic paganism, to rewrite it with varying degrees of wonder and magic. The universe of this text is populated by fantastic or monstrous creatures (deformed beings, terrifying beasts, jinn, etc.) The story oscillates between two worlds, a primary world which is that of humans and a secondary world, the satanic world, with its wonderful beings and beasts, its demons and its jinn. It is a novel that honors the centuries-old themes and techniques upon which today's fantasy stories are based. The medieval fantasy does not necessarily imply the European Middle Ages. The European Middle Ages are not the only possible theater of medieval fantasy. There are popular novels such as Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, which is set in medieval China, or The Chronicles of Sword and Sand by Howard Andrew Jones, which is set in ancient Arabia. However, there is no doubt that the fantasy of the non-European Middle Ages is not as popular as that of the European Middle Ages. Readers in general are more familiar with the European context. We have all enjoyed stories of fantasy set in the Dark Ages; in historiography the expression “dark ages” is best known in connection with the early European Middle Ages (from around 476 to about 1000 CE).
Part satanic novel, part Saharan fantasy, La Mecque païenne introduces the "Fantastic Jahiliya" genre of writing. This is the first part of an Arabic and French text pair. Reading the two versions, one wonders in which first language they were written, and one does not know which version to consider as the core text of the pair. Until today, I have produced all my books in both languages, writing the French version each time and editing it first, except for La Mecque païenne whose "original" French manuscript, written in 2003, was not published until 2016, while its Arabic version was published in 2005.
Jahiliya refers to the pre-Islamic era, a period characterized by the presence in Arabia of a pantheon of idols. It is a world of a medieval character, with its bladed weapons, its horsemen, its rural economy, its tribal universe and its marvelous imagination; a world where one found one’s way according to the position of the constellations and where medicine (magic aside) often consisted of an empirical knowledge of medicinal plants. In the days of Jahiliya, magic and divination were inseparable, and diviners exerted a great influence on society. Divination had a demonic character; the diviners were magicians who put the human spirits in contact with the pure spirits, namely the jinn and the demons. This era was also a “sea of poetry” populated by demons and witches. In Jahiliya, to be a poet was to make a pact with the Devil. At that time, the Arabs were convinced that the poets were inhabited by demons inspiring their poetry and their eloquence: each poet had his appointed demon who composed his poetry.
Although sometimes used as synonyms, the expressions "Pre-Islamic Arabia" and "Jahiliya" have different connotations. The expression "Pre-Islamic Arabia" implies only a temporal relationship with Islam. The "Jahiliya" (which literally means "age or condition of ignorance"), on the other hand, indicates an assessment of certain parts of earlier Arab history from a strongly Islamic perspective. The idea of Jahiliya is a construction of Islamic thinkers, developed for particular purposes. It focuses on the life of Arabs in western central Arabia (the Hijaz) in the century before the emergence of Islam. Al-Jahiliya focuses on aspects of pre-Islamic Arabia that are generally considered relevant to understanding the rise of Islam and does not attempt to cover in detail the many aspects of Arab history that do not relate directly to Islam.
For the Moors of the Sahara, of whom I am one, the Jahiliya is an archetype that needs to be reclaimed. We are prisoners of the idea of Jahiliya, so deeply ingrained in our historical consciousness, despite the fact that Islam considers this period "a disgusting chaos which hardly deserves to be known". We know well that the concept of Jahiliya was, from its invention, strongly colored axiologically, since it was a question of opposing the pagan darkness, a time of ignorance and darkness, to the light brought by the Revelation, and of giving an existence and a name to the era from which Islam was extirpated in order to open an otherwise prestigious period.
Writing this novel was a real time machine for me. To establish the framework of the story, the backdrop against which the actions of the characters would be inscribed, I undertook considerable research to restore the atmosphere of the pilgrimage to Mecca at the beginning of the 7th century, shortly before the Hijra of the Prophet towards Medina, in 622. All the imagination of this time, with the values that are attributed to it, its knowledge, its beliefs, its myths, its heroes, are restored in this novel.
By diversifying across different time frames, as well as across cultures, science-fiction and fantasy writers are able to present a whole new perspective to their readers.