Europe Through Arab Eyes, 1578-1727

Europe Through Arab Eyes, 1578-1727

Nabil Matar
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Europe Through Arab Eyes, 1578-1727
    Book Description:

    Traveling to archives in Tunisia, Morocco, France, and England, with visits to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Spain, Nabil Matar assembles a rare history of Europe's rise to power as seen through the eyes of those who were later subjugated by it. Many historians of the Middle East believe Arabs and Muslims had no interest in Europe during this period of Western discovery and empire, but in fact these groups were very much engaged with the naval and industrial development, politics, and trade of European Christendom.

    Beginning in 1578 with a major Moroccan victory over a Portuguese invading army, Matar surveys this early modern period, in which Europeans and Arabs often shared common political, commercial, and military goals. Matar concentrates on how Muslim captives, ransomers, traders, envoys, travelers, and rulers pursued those goals while transmitting to the nonprint cultures of North Africa their knowledge of the peoples and societies of Spain, France, Britain, Holland, Italy, and Malta. From the first non-European description of Queen Elizabeth I to early accounts of Florence and Pisa in Arabic, from Tunisian descriptions of the Morisco expulsion in 1609 to the letters of a Moroccan Armenian ambassador in London, the translations of the book's second half draw on the popular and elite sources that were available to Arabs in the early modern period. Letters from male and female captives in Europe, chronicles of European naval attacks and the taqayid (newspaper) reports on Muslim resistance, and descriptions of opera and quinine appear here in English for the first time.

    Matar notes that the Arabs of the Maghrib and the Mashriq were eager to engage Christendom, despite wars and rivalries, and hoped to establish routes of trade and alliances through treaties and royal marriages. However, the rise of an intolerant and exclusionary Christianity and the explosion of European military technology brought these advances to an end. In conclusion, Matar details the decline of Arab-Islamic power and the rise of Britain and France.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51208-4
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. List of Rulers
    (pp. xxiii-xxviii)
      (pp. 3-28)

      Ahmad ibn Qasim was an Andalusian Morisco who fled from Spain in 1597 and settled, like many of his compatriots, in Morocco. He was proficient in Spanish and, to the surprise of his wary coreligionists in Morocco, Arabic too. Sometime in early 1611, he was sent with five other Moroccans by the ruler Mulay Zaydan to France and the Netherlands on a mission to retrieve goods that had been stolen from Moroccan ships—or to demand compensation for them. During his three-year stay in these two countries, he observed and reflected on the nasara/Christians among whom he was staying, debated...

    • I. POPULAR SOURCES: Accounts of Muslim Captivity in Christendom
      (pp. 29-71)

      Western Muslims did not know what to call the first Europeans they encountered—except salibiyyūn/cross-bearers. When Europeans set their standards on African lands and fought Muslims in battle or bombarded them from their fleets, they exhibited the sign of the cross. Whether they were English or Spanish or Maltese, their national banners and individual insignia all bore what to Muslims was the most provocative symbol in Christianity, the cross (Saint George’s red cross for the English, even on their commercial ships; the yellow diagonal cross of Saint Andrew for the Spaniards; and the white cross for the Maltese/Knights of Saint...

    • II. ELITE SOURCES: Muslim Ambassadors in Christendom
      (pp. 72-117)

      While captives saw the Europeans through the experience of seizure, envoys and ambassadors developed a different perspective, dictated by their need to provide detailed information about the political institution, innovation, and religious culture of the host country. Their rulers, to whom their accounts were addressed, were eager to learn about their allies/adversaries on the other side of the Mediterranean, as well as in other regions of the world. In this category of elite sources, there were grand narratives that conveyed an overarching view of the nasara, as well as numerous letters and recollections, oral reports and informal descriptions, both in...

    • CONCLUSION: Encountering the Dunya of the Christians
      (pp. 118-136)

      A manuscript from 1700 describes a convivial community of French Capuchins and local Christians and Muslims in Alexandria. The manuscript was intended for teaching the French priests conversational Arabic: there are vocabulary lists at the beginning of each chapter, followed by dialogues among numerous men, transliterated on the opposite page in Latin script with a French interlinear translation. The text provides descriptions of some aspects of life in the Egyptian city by local men whose names range from the very Christian ʿAbd al-Masīh, Girgis, Butrus, Simʿan to the Muslim names of ʿAli and Ahmad. The speakers discuss such topics as...

      (pp. 139-248)

      Some of the texts below were written by jurists whose command of the language was firm. Others were written in poor Arabic, with colloquialisms, neologisms, and transliterations of words adopted from European languages, especially Spanish. Arabic had clearly passed its golden age and was trying to cope with its encounter with Western Christendom, which was undergoing vast geographical and cultural expansion.¹

      In these translations I have tried to retain, as much as possible, “the foreignness of the translated text”² and on occasion, especially in correspondence, some of the syntactical and repetitive peculiarity. The texts were written in various styles and...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 249-276)
    (pp. 277-300)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 301-314)