A Mosque Among the Stars, a new short story collection edited by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad (founder of the Islam and Science Fiction website) and Canadian SF author Ahmed A. Khan, is an anthology with a message. Tired of the narrow representation of Islam on display in most Western media (including much SF), the editors wanted "to present Islam and Muslims in a different light."
It's tough to aim for an anthology with a unified message, especially in SF, which prizes diversity of opinion. But these editors have done it—in some cases, the editorial notes suggest, by nudging the writers toward revisions. In many cases that might seem problematic, but here—where the editors are Muslim and most of the authors are not—it makes sense. And any fear for lack of diversity among the stories is quickly assuaged by the variety of the stories on display, which include several kinds of both SF and fantasy.
The anthology's best story is without a doubt Tom Ligon's closing novella, "For a Little Price," which details a fundamentalist plot to hijack a potentially world-destroying spaceship. The story was originally written in 1986, but the story was repeatedly rejected—reading between the lines in the author's note, it seems that its too-sympathetic, too-complex picture of one of the hijackers was one of the main reasons for its rejection. It fits in perfectly here, and its closing passage, in which the now-repentant terrorist meditates on his motivations, has definite impact.
Similarly strong is the opening story, Lucius Shepard's "A Walk Through the Garden," a piece of military SF about a group of American soldiers investigating the aftermath of an experimental bomb blast in the Middle East. The reality-bending bomb has opened what seems to be a gateway into the Muslim afterlife, and the soldiers' exploration of the surreal landscape beyond makes for a truly unique tale.
Of the fantasy stories, the most impressive is Pamela Kenza Taylor's "Recompense," in which the ghosts of Muslim slaves take revenge on the crew of a slave ship. The story is a great illustration of the concept of jaza’—a word that means both reward (for the good) and recompense (for the wicked). There are an awful lot more of the latter on board the slave ship—hence the negative meaning getting the title.
There's a thread running through the anthology, and it's tough to tell how problematic it is. Many of the stories deal with terrorism, war, and the clash of civilizations. Given the events of the last decade or two, one could hardly expect a group of mostly-Western authors to come up with an anthology that didn't include stories on these themes. The important thing, and what the editors have striven for, is that these stories address the questions of terrorism and war without demonizing the innocent along with the guilty. It's an important message, and this anthology delivers it well.
For more about A Mosque Among the Stars, see the Islam and Science Fiction website.