Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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David Douglas Duncan


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Follow link for an enlarged imageThe World of Allah (1982) / view images from this book

From the book jacket text:
Islam — the world of Allah — today confronts the West and Japan as one of history's great geographical and ethnic paradoxes. Its oil dominates our industry. Its people are to us, for the most part, TV images; remote yet hospitable, barefoot-poor and Midas-rich; an aloof, fanatical Khomeini and a gregarious, good-natured Sadat. Moslems — among the most photogenic and perplexing people — represent the oldest of civilizations. The world of their religion sprawls across deserts and mountains and jungles, from the Atlantic Ocean to China, and southward through Indonesia to the Philippines. Ironically, although it profoundly influences our lives, it is almost unknown.

David Douglas Duncan — perhaps best known for his photographic work while with Life magazine, and for his books on Pablo Picasso, the treasures of the Kremlin, men at war, and American politics during the landmark 1968 Presidential conventions — spent many years of his professional and personal life photographing and living among Moslems. He has now taken over two years to assemble, edit, and produce this new book, which he feels represents the best of all of his photographs (many never before published) made during innumerable journeys in the lands of Allah. Even though he carried cameras with him among some of the most remote tribes of central Asia and made painstaking color shots from atop the Rock inside the sacred Dome of the Rock Mosque in Old Jerusalem (for Moslems, nearly equal to Mecca in holiness), no one ever raised a finger to threaten him. The results, as presented here, make The World of Allah the only photographic work of its kind.

Duncan writes of his adventures: "For ten years following the end of World War II, after leaving the Marines and becoming a Life photographer, I was based in the Middle East, living in Cairo and Istanbul, Jerusalem and Tehran, and then in Rome, from where I made trips to countries as widely separated as Spain and Indonesia. By design, sometimes by accident, my camera assignments usually dealt with Moslems. In the dead of winter, I went on maneuvers with the Turkish cavalry near the Soviet border, and those troops happened to be Moslems. I lived with the Berbers in the High Atlas Mountains of northern Morocco and made the tribal migration with the Qashqai nomads across southern Iran. A Palestinian family on the Mount of Olives welcomed me to the ceremonies celebrating the circumcision of their newest son and a Moslem missionary allowed me to follow him as he made conversions to Islam deep in a Ugandan forest. I photographed the Prophet Mohammed's birthday parade in Malaya, then the funeral rites of an honored scholar in Indonesia.

"The Flower Mosque of Isfahan, a whirling dervish in Cairo, Bedouin shepherds near Old Testament Beersheba, portraits of Moorish caliphs of Spain painted on gold, a camel caravan with the veiled Blue Men of the Sahara, Russian horsemen prancing on a carpet of painted sand, an illuminated eighteenth-century Koran scarcely larger than a pin and painted on the skin of a hen, Moroccan soldiers praying to Mecca atop a front-line pillbox on the border of China, the sapphire lakes of Afghanistan, life in the palace of the Saudi Arabian kings — and much more — all are in this book.”

Some of the scenes found here existed during Biblical times, and they will surely survive many tomorrows. Some of these photographs are already history. They will never again appear in one book. That is what gives The World of Allah its special significance and appeal.