Paris, 23 Sept. (AKI) - A French-based writer, who has been fiercely criticised in the Algerian press for his latest novel, has rejected accusations of offending Islam and upheld his right to recount a brutal period in history with the language that its Muslim and Christian protagonists would have used. Anouar Ben Malek, an Algerian who lives in France, was lambasted by Algerian daily El-Khabar this week, for his novel 'Oh Maria' published by Fayard. Ben Malek told Adnkronos International (AKI) he recounts a dramatic period, "marked by torture and oppression," and the language he used reflected the harsh confrontation between faiths.

"It is a huge misunderstanding. In my book I recount an era in which Muslims and Christians faced off, following the fall of Granada in 1492, and I tackle real episodes of history, that is the migration of Muslims from Andalusia at the start of the 17th century," he told AKI.

El-Khabar, on Thursday weighed in with scathing criticism of Ben Malek's novel, describing it as "poor and shallow... carrying a dangerous dose of hatred against Muslims and their Prophet."

The paper - in an article by Muhammad al Bugghali - said that many who had read the novel considered that it included an unprecedentedly harsh attack on Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.

The newspaper alleged that the author had compared the odour of Islam and Muslims to human waste, and the Holy Qur'an to writings that stimulate human being's basest instincts.

"It was a very hard and difficult period characterised by the trading of fierce insults between the followers of the two religions. In this sense, insults and attacks of the other religion are pronounced by some of the characters. These do not express my opinion as a writer," the author added.

The Maria of the title is a Moor who is tortured for her Muslim faith and has her tongue cut out, she flees the Spanish Inquisition with her family but her father and aunt are killed.

After being sold to a painter who uses and abuses her as a model for the Virgin Mary in his religious paintings, she gives birth to a son who is sent away to Rome. Her son later returns home and discovering the tragedy that has befallen his mother and her family decides to seek revenge.

Ben Malek stressed the need to "put things in their historical context," querying whether "the writer is maybe responsible for what his characters say? If I were to write a novel on a murderer of a criminal, would I then be a criminal just like him?"

Through his novel, the author of 'Oh Maria' said he tried to "understand the reasons which led to the gradual exit from history of Islamic civilisation, after its period of maximum splendour in Andalusia."

Ben Malek slammed the latest speech by Pope Benedict XVI in which the pontiff quoted the words of a Christian Byzantine emperor who criticised Islam, linking the religion to unreasoning violence, emphasising that they were not his own words or views.

"The Pope would have done better to keep silent. He used a medieval text which criticises Islam, while all of us know just how distant the Catholic church in that period was from reason and tolerance," he said.

Algerian writer risks Muslim wrath