The Naseeb Reviews. Part. 2

Book of Naseeb – Khaled Hakim (Penned in the Margins, 2020) 

Early 2015, I attended a conference with Mark Rainey in Durham. It was on Gillian Rose, a celebration.

I had been burned out of my house by a DIY fuse box – by feckless estate agents, actually – and after a short period of drinking to deal with it, I was newly sober. The conference room was divided in half by simple human clustering: theology people; social science and philosophy people. At times the atmosphere was charged. Argumentative, accusatory. The Bible was discussed. Andrew Shanks spoke eloquently on the Book of Amos.

I started telling Mark that we should start again with the Old Testament. He probably thought I was talking out of a state of shock and if he did he would have been right. But that moment, no justice for the fire I was in – Grenfell some way off – and austerity casualties everywhere, times seemed ripe even then for the accuser on the temple steps, letting fly with prophecy.

A key function of prophecy was social. Using its generic language form, you could go and tell the priesthood their shit stank. ‘We need that now’ I said to Mark. He nodded, but I never knew what he thought.

When I got back – I was written off work with PTSD – I started to look at the King James bible. The Bible often sets up a proposition, then the answer comes over the other side of a semi-colon. And all those semi-colons. Hundreds. Litter. What if I took them all out?

I got a text version. I took them out using the find/change function. And suddenly it was a different thing. I slashed Proverbs to ribbons and then reversed Ecclesiastes back into its ruined space. I carried on like this for months in my first lockdown, a trauma lockdown.

Eventually I had created a book I called A Book of the Broken Middle. Fold Press put a small number out early in 2017, with an ISBN: put in a British Library order if you’re interested. A new version, called A Shaken Bible, with a Preface by Canon Emeritus Andrew Shanks, is due out with Boiler House Press.

I had a contract with Repeater, but we went our separate ways when I ‘slanged up’ the text. Now I am halfway through Book of Naseeb by Khaled Hakim and I wish A Shaken Bible were out. Because of the slang, of course, the street talk, and the old time religion. That mix, we are both on that mix.

But reading Book of Naseeb, it also strikes me forcefully that there are connections underneath which are much bigger than its alarming and brilliant surface.

There was a fork in the road of Abrahamic faiths hundreds of years ago. This book dowses for metal right over that buried crossroad. The angels listed glossary form at the start of Naseeb are the same ones the Golden Dawn conjured in protecting rituals before divination, WB Yeats included. Their names might be slightly different, but as this book, and my Shaken Bible show, the details matter little.

In the seventeenth century localised and individual spellings were ordinary. In my book I even spell ‘their’ two ways. ‘Thier’ and ‘their’. They are not typos. My people, on the Lancs-Yorks border spoke like that, the older ones. And it was coming out of Methodism and Bible talk. There is a flash forward to slang in this. I knew that then, Khaled sees it. I can see that he sees it.

This book, Book of Naseeb, also gives me a connecting fork. It is the other part of the lost wishbone. Because I went to Sunday School and was confirmed, lapsing immediately and everafter, I thought the King James was fair game. But obviously I grew up with the Rushdie affair on the TV and we were not far from Bradford. So I wasn’t going to go there.

But I knew this could be done and that someone should. Khaled has done it. He understands some may find it ‘outrageous’ to ‘yoke the degraded language of criminals and gangs with the divine speech and rhythms of Allah.’

To many Muslims ‘the confluence of Islamic world with the language and subject of The Book of Naseeb would be offensive.’

Naseeb appears to come through customs unscathed due to his protecting angels, along with the recording angels and Khaled remarks that Muslims should ‘also be aware that the Recording Angels must detail every obscenity in Naseeb’s gift of life.’

‘I am at an intersection’ Khaled explains, ‘between modernist narrative (that at its extreme can be read in any direction) and the linear story.’ Yeats and what comes after, then, isn’t a tenuous connection.

But this is not merely the sacred slapped into electrified form by some cuss words. This is a piece of literature and its threads vanish into the hardback spine and back through to antiquity via modernism. I experienced figures when reading this book that simply aren’t in it, and yet are: Newton as the last occultist and first and perhaps only modern man (because a giant enough to have all the others inside him). The Old Testament Prophets, but in an expanded Pantheon which reaches right into the Muslim world (it isn’t new, it’s just that the keepers of tradition keep it hidden).

The text feels spidery, but it is a taut, well-constructed web, made of the strongest silk. Every cipher counts, there’s a baby called Jonah, a double life. The baby doesn’t know right from wrong yet. Khaled knows how to make a whole lineage of myth come alive with a single sign. The circuits glow poppy blue behind the words. The line ‘an exploding horizon of wings’ comes to me via Doré’s etchings, or it triggers them in me, maybe there is no difference. But it seems to come out of a space I was in in the late 1990s, when I sent weekends in Bethnal Green going to drum’n’bass nights.

But the slang, actually, is a surface. The deep mythological dimension remains: The shadow of the whale so large it passes unnoticed; the glimpses of Mujahideen in poppy fields; there are single line details in this book which contain histories.

There is something in all the things in this book that are part of what I was trying to do. There is something in the fact that we are both trying to do it – Khaled and I – in this part of our epoch. I can’t say anymore about it at the moment, but I feel like a deep well has been uncovered.

What was I saying? A key function of prophecy was social. It still is.

Here is profess-eye. It feels incredibly necessary because it is.

– Steve Hanson

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