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An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians

An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians

Edward William Lane
Introduced by Jason Thompson
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 664
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    An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians
    Book Description:

    Few works about the Middle East have exerted such wide and long-lasting influence as Edward William Lane’s An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. First published in 1836, this classic book has never gone out of print, continuously providing material and inspiration for generations of scholars, writers, and travelers, who have praised its comprehensiveness, detail, and perception. Yet the editions in print during most of the twentieth century would not have met Lane’s approval. Lacking parts of Lane’s text and many of his original illustrations (while adding many that were not his), they were based on what should have been ephemeral editions, published long after the author’s death. Meanwhile, the definitive fifth edition of 1860, the result of a quarter century of Lane’s corrections, reconsiderations, and additions, long ago disappeared from bookstore shelves. Now the 1860 edition of Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians is available again, with a useful general introduction by Jason Thompson. Lane’s greatest work enters the twenty-first century in precisely the form that he wanted.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-244-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Edward William Lane and
    (pp. vii-xxii)

    As these words are being written, Edward William Lane’sAn Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptianshas been continuously in print for almost exactly 166 years. It is one of the classics of Middle East studies. Its influence is difficult to overstate, for besides being a source for almost every aspect of nineteenth-century Egyptian society,Modern Egyptiansis also widely used for contemporary, medieval, and even ancient Egypt, as well as for the entire Middle East. It has influenced major writers and visual artists such as Gustave Flaubert and J. F. Lewis. Generations of travelers and...

  4. Illustrations
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  5. Editor’s Preface
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  6. Author’s Preface
    (pp. xxix-xxxvi)
  7. Advertisement To the Third Edition
    (pp. xxxvii-xl)
    E. W. L.
  8. The Modern Egyptians
    (pp. xli-lxii)

    It is generally observed that many of the most remarkable peculiarities in the manners, customs, and character of a nation are attributable to the physical peculiarities of the country. Such causes, in an especial manner, affect the moral and social state of the modern Egyptians, and therefore here require some preliminary notice; but it will not as yet be necessary to explain their particular influences: these will be evinced in many subsequent parts of the present work.

    The Nile, in its course through the narrow and winding valley of Upper Egypt, which is confined on each side by mountainous and...

  9. Chapter 1 Personal Characteristics, and Dress, of the Muslim Egyptians
    (pp. 1-26)

    Muslims, in a great degree of Arabian origin, have, for many centuries, mainly composed the population of Egypt: they have changed its language, laws, and general manners; and its metropolis they have made the principal seat of Arabian learning and arts. To the description of this people, and especially of the middle and higher classes in the Egyptian capital, will be devoted the chief portion of the present work. In every point of view, Masr (or Cairo) must be regarded as the first Arab city of our age; and the manners and customs of its inhabitants are particularly interesting, as...

  10. Chapter 2 Infancy and Early Education.
    (pp. 27-36)

    In the rearing and general treatment of their children, the Muslims are chiefly guided by the directions of their Prophet, and other religious institutors. One of the first duties required to be performed on the birth of a child is to pronounce the adán (or call to prayer) in the infant’s right ear; and this should be done by a male. Some persons also pronounce the ikámeh (which is nearly the same as the adán) in the left ear.¹ The object of each of these ceremonies is to preserve the infant from the influence of the “ginn,” or genii. Another...

  11. Chapter 3 Religion and Laws.
    (pp. 37-80)

    As the most important branch of their education, and the main foundation of their manners and customs, the religion and laws of the people who are the subject of these pages must be well understood, not only in their general principles, but in many minor points, before we can proceed to consider their social condition and habits in the state of manhood.

    A difference of opinion among Muslims, respecting some points of religion and law, has given rise to four parties, or persuasions, which consider each other orthodox as to fundamental matters, and call themselves “Sunnees,” or followers of the...

  12. Chapter 4 Government.
    (pp. 81-100)

    Egypt has, of late years, experienced great political changes, and nearly ceased to be a province of the Turkish Empire. Its present Báshà (Mohammad ’Alee), having exterminated the Ghuzz, or Memlooks, who shared the government with his predecessors, has rendered himself almost an independent prince. He, however, professes allegiance to the Sultán, and remits the tribute, according to former custom, to Constantinople: he is, moreover, under an obligation to respect the fundamental laws of the Kurán and the Traditions; but he exercises a dominion otherwise unlimited.² He may cause any one of his subjects to be put to death without...

  13. Chapter 5 Domestic Life
    (pp. 101-122)

    Having sufficiently considered the foundations of the moral and social state of the Muslims of Egypt, we may now take a view of their domestic life and ordinary habits; and, first, let us confine our attention to the higher and middle orders.

    A master of a family, or any person who has arrived at manhood, and is not in a menial situation, or of very low condition, is commonly honoured with the appellation of “the sheykh,” prefixed to his name. The word “sheykh” literally signifies “an elder,” or “an aged person;” but it is often used as synonymous with our...

  14. Chapter 6
    (pp. 123-156)

    Quitting the lower apartments, where we have been long detained, I must enter upon a more presumptuous office than I have yet undertaken, which is that of a guide to the “hareem:”¹ but first I must give some account of marriage, and the marriage-ceremonies.

    To abstain from marrying when a man has attained a sufficient age, and when there is no just impediment, is esteemed, by the Egyptians, improper, and even disreputable. For being myself guilty of this fault (to use no harsher term), I suffered much inconvenience and discomfort during my first and second visits to this country, and...

  15. Chapter 7
    (pp. 157-162)

    The domestic life of thelower orderswill be the subject of the present chapter. In most respects it is so simple, that, in comparison with the life of the middle and higher classes, of which we have just been taking a view, it offers but little to our notice.

    The lower orders in Egypt, with the exception of a very small proportion, chiefly residing in the large towns, consist of Felláḥeen (or Agriculturists). Most of those in the great towns, and a few in the smaller towns and some of the villages, are petty tradesmen or artificers, or obtain...

  16. Chapter 8 Common Usages of Society
    (pp. 163-172)

    The respect in which trade is held by the Muslim greatly tends to enlarge the circle of his acquaintance with persons of different ranks; and freedom of intercourse with his fellow-men is further and very greatly promoted by the law of the separation of the sexes, as it enables him to associate with others, regardless of difference of wealth or station, without the risk of occasioning unequal matrimonial connections. The women, like the men, enjoy extensive intercourse with persons of their own sex.

    The Muslims are extremely formal and regular in their social manners; though generally very easy in their...

  17. Chapter 9 Language, Literature, and Science
    (pp. 173-188)

    The metropolis of Egypt maintains the comparative reputation by which it has been distinguished for many centuries, of being the best school of Arabic literature, and of Muslim theology and jurisprudence. Learning, indeed, has much declined among the Arabs universally; but least in Cairo: consequently, the fame of the professors of this city still remains unrivalled; and its great collegiate mosque, the Azhar, continues to attract innumerable students from every quarter of the Muslim world.

    The Arabic spoken by the middle and higher classes in Cairo is generally inferior, in point of grammatical correctness and pronunciation, to the dialects of...

  18. Chapter 10 Superstitions
    (pp. 189-212)

    The: Arabs are a very superstitious people; and none of them are more so than those of Egypt. Many of their superstitions form a part of their religion, being sanctioned by the Kur-án; and the most prominent of these is the belief in “Ginn,” or Genii, in the singular, “Ginnee. ”

    The Ginn are said to be of pre-adamite origin, and, in their general properties, an intermediate class of beings between angels and men, but inferior in dignity to both, created of fire, and capable of assuming the forms and material fabric of men, brutes, and monsters, and of becoming...

  19. Chapter 11 SUPERSTITIONS—continued
    (pp. 213-228)

    One of the most remarkable traits in modern Egyptian superstition is the belief in written charms. The composition of most of these amulets is founded upon magic; and occasionally employs the pen of almost every village-schoolmaster in Egypt. A person of this profession, however, seldom pursues the study of magic further than to acquire the formulæ of a few charms, most commonly consisting, for the greater part, of certain passages of the Kur-án, and names of God, together with those of angels, genii, prophets, or eminent saints, intermixed with combinations of numerals, and with diagrams, all of which are supposed...

  20. Chapter 12 Magic, Astrology, and Alchymy
    (pp. 229-240)

    If we might believe some stories which are commonly related in Egypt, it would appear that, in modern days, there have been, in this country, magicians not less skilful than Pharoah’s “wise men and sorcerers” of whom we read in the Bible.

    The more intelligent of the Muslims distinguish two kinds of magic, which they term “Er-Roohánee” (vulgό, “Rowhance”) and “Es-Seemiyà:” the former is spiritual magic, which is believed to effect its wonders by the agency of angels and genii, and by the mysterious virtues of certain names of God, and other supernatural means: the latter isnaturalanddeceptive...

  21. Chapter 13 Character
    (pp. 241-270)

    The natural or innate character of the modern Egyptians is altered, in a remarkable degree, by their religion, laws, and government, as well as by the climate and other causes; and to form a just opinion of it is, therefore, very difficult. We may, however, confidently state, that they are endowed, in a higher degree than most other people, with some of the more important mental qualities; particularly, quickness of apprehension, a ready wit, and a retentive memory. In youth, they generally possess these and other intellectual powers; but the causes above alluded to gradually lessen their mental energy.


  22. Chapter 14 Industry
    (pp. 271-292)

    It is melancholy to contrast the present poverty of Egypt with its prosperity in ancient times, when the variety, elegance, and exquisite finish displayed in its manufactures attracted the admiration of surrounding nations, and its inhabitants were in no need of foreign commerce to increase their wealth, or to add to their comforts. Antiquarian researches shew us that a high degree of excellence in the arts of civilized life distinguished the Egyptians in the age of Moses, and at a yet earlier period. Not only the Pharaohs and the priests and military chiefs, but also a great proportion of the...

  23. Chapter 15 Use of Tobacco, Coffee, Hemp, Opium, Etc.
    (pp. 293-298)

    The interdiction of wine, and other fermented and intoxicating liquors, which is one of the most important laws in the code of El-Islám, has caused the greater number of the disciples of this faith to become immoderately addicted to other means of inducing slight intoxication, or different kinds of pleasurable excitement.

    The most prevalent means, in most Muslim countries, of exciting what the Arabs term “keyf,” which I cannot more nearly translate than by the term “placid enjoyment,” is tobacco. It appears that tobacco was introduced into Turkey, Arabia, and other countries of the East, shortly before the beginning of...

  24. Chapter 16 The Bath
    (pp. 299-306)

    Bathing is one of the greatest luxuries enjoyed by the people of Egypt. The inhabitants of the villages of this country, and those persons who cannot afford the trifling expense incurred in the public bath, often bathe in the Nile. Girls and young women are not unfrequently seen thus indulging themselves in the warm weather, and generally without any covering; but mostly in unfrequented places. The rich, I have before mentioned, have baths in their own houses; but men who have this convenience often go to the public bath; and so too do the ladies, who, on many occasions, are...

  25. Chapter 17 Games
    (pp. 307-314)

    Most of the games of the Egyptians are of kinds which suit their sedate dispositions. They take great pleasure in chess (which they call “satreng”), draughts (“dámeh”), and trictrac or backgammon (“táwulah”). Their chess-men are of very simple forms; as the Muslim is forbidden, by his religion, to make an image of anything that has life. The Muslims of Egypt in general are, however, less scrupulous with regard to the prohibition of games of hazard: though some of them consider even chess and draughts as forbidden, games partly or wholly hazardous are very common among all ranks of this people:...

  26. Chapter 18 Music
    (pp. 315-340)

    The Egyptians in general are excessively fond of music; and yet they regard the study of this fascinating art (like dancing) as unworthy to employ any portion of the time of a man of sense; and as exercising too powerful an effect upon the passions, and leading a man into gaiety and dissipation and vice. Hence it was condemned by the Prophet: but it is used, notwithstanding, even in religious ceremonies; especially by the darweeshes. The Egyptians have very few books on music; and these are not understood by their modern musicians. The natural liking of the Egyptians for music...

  27. Chapter 19 Public Dancers
    (pp. 341-346)

    Egypt has long been celebrated for its public dancing-girls; the most famous of whom are of a distinct tribe, called “Ghawázee.”¹ A female of this tribe is called “Gházeeyeh;” and a man, “Gházee;” but the plural Ghawázee is generally understood as applying to the females. The misapplication of the appellation “Al’mehs” to the common dancing-girls of this country has already been noticed. The Ghawázee perform, unveiled, in the public streets, even to amuse the rabble. Their dancing has little of elegance; its chief peculiarity being a very rapid vibrating motion of the hips, from side to side. They commence with...

  28. Chapter 20 Serpent-Charmers, and Performers of Legerdemain Tricks, &c.
    (pp. 347-354)

    Many modern writers upon Egypt have given surprising accounts of a class of men in this country, supposed, like the ancient “Psylli” of Cyrenїca, to possess a secret art, to which allusion is made in the Bible,¹ enabling them to secure themselves from the poison of serpents. I have met with many persons among the more intelligent of the Egyptians who condemn these modern Psylli as impostors, but none who has been able to offer a satisfactory explanation of the most common and most interesting of their performances, which I am about to describe.

    Many Rifá’ee and Saadee darweeshes obtain...

  29. Chapter 21 Public Recitations of Romances
    (pp. 355-364)

    The Egyptians are not destitute of better diversions than those described in the preceding chapter: reciters of romances frequent the principal kahwehs (or coffee-shops) of Cairo and other towns, particularly on the evenings of religious festivals, and afford attractive and rational entertainments. The reciter generally seats himself upon a small stool on the mastabah, or raised seat, which is built against the front of the coffee-shop:¹ some of his auditors occupy the rest of that seat, others arrange themselves upon the mastabahs of the houses on the opposite side of the narrow street, and the rest sit upon stools or...

  30. Chapter 22 Public Recitations of Romances—continued
    (pp. 365-378)

    Next in point of number to the Shó’arà, among the public reciters of romances, are those who are particularly and solely distinguished by the appellation of “Moḥadditeen,” or Story-tellers (in the singular, “Moḥaddit”). There are said to be about thirty of them in Cairo. The exclusive subject of their narrations is a work called “the Life of Eẓ-Ẓáhir” (“Seeret Eẓ-Ẓáhir,” or “Es-Seereh eẓ-Ẓáhireeyeh”¹). They recite without book.

    The Secret Eẓ-Ẓáhir is a romance founded on the history of the famous Sulṭán Eẓ-Ẓáhir Beybars, and many of his contemporaries. This prince acceded to the throne of Egypt in the last month...

  31. Chapter 23 Public Recitations of Romances—continued
    (pp. 379-390)

    There is, in Cairo, a third class of reciters of romances, who are called. “’Anátireh,” or “’Antereeyeh” (in the singular “’Anteree”);¹ but they are much less numerous than either of the other two classes before mentioned; their number at present, if I be rightly informed, not amounting to more than six. They bear the above-mentioned appellation from the chief subject of their recitations, which is the romance of “’Antar” (“Seeret ’Antar”). As a considerable portion of this interesting work has become known to English readers by Mr. Terrick Hamilton’s translation, I need given no account of it. The reciters of...

  32. Chapter 24 Periodical Public Festivals, & c.
    (pp. 391-420)

    Many of the most remarkable customs of the modern Egyptians are witnessed at their periodical public festivals celebrated in Cairo; the more important of which I shall here describe. Most of these festivals and other anniversaries take place at particular periods of the lunar, Mohammadan year.

    The first ten days of “Moḥarram” (the first month of the Mohammadan year) are considered as eminently blessed, and are celebrated with rejoicing; but the tenth day is especially honoured. They are vulgarly called the “’ashr;” the derivation of which term will be explained hereafter. The custom of selling, during this period of ten...

  33. Chapter 25 Periodical Public Festivals, & c.—continued
    (pp. 421-448)

    It might seem unnecessary to continue a detailed account of the periodical public festivals and other anniversaries celebrated in Egypt, were it not that many of the customs witnessed on these occasions are every year falling into disuse, and have never, hitherto, been fully and correctly described.

    During a period of fifteen nights and fourteen days in the month of “Rabeeḁ et-Tánee” (the fourth month), the mosque of the Ḥasaneyn is the scene of a festival called “Moolid El-Ḥasaneyn,” celebrated in honour of the birth of El-Ḥoseyn, whose head, as I have before mentioned, is said to be there buried....

  34. Chapter 26 Periodical Public Festivals, & c.—continued.
    (pp. 449-460)

    It is remarkable that the Muslims of Egypt observe certain customs of a religious or superstitious nature at particular periods of the religious almanac of the Copts; and even, according to the same system, calculate the times of certain changes of the weather. Thus they calculate the period of the “Khamáseen,” when hot southerly winds are of frequent occurrence, to commence on the day immediately following the Coptic festival of Easter Sunday, and to terminate on the Day of Pentecost (or Whitsunday); an interval of forty-nine days.¹ The Wednesday next before this periodis called “Arba’á Eiyoob,” or Job’s Wednesday, Many...

  35. Chapter 27 Private Festivities, & c.
    (pp. 461-470)

    As the modern Egyptian does not become a housekeeper until he is married (and not of necessitythen,for he may live with his wife in the house of his or her parents), his first marriage is generally the first event which affords him and his wife an occasion of calling together their respective friends to a private entertainment. Whenever a great entertainment is given on any occasion of rejoicing, it is customary, for the persons invited, to send presents (such as I have mentioned in describing the ceremonies attendant upon a marriage), a day or two before. The husband...

  36. Chapter 28 Death, and Funeral Rites
    (pp. 471-488)

    When a learned or pious Muslim feels that he is about to die, he sometimes performs the ordinary ablution, as before prayer, that he may depart from life in a state of bodily purity; and generally he repeats the profession of the faith, “There is no deity but God: Mo. ammad is God’s Apostle.” It is common also for a Muslim, on a military expedition, or during a long journey, especially in the desert, to carry his grave-linen with him. Not unfrequently does it happen that a traveller, in such circumstances, has even to make his own grave: completely overcome...

  37. Supplement
    (pp. 489-516)

    The fame of that great nation from which the Copts mainly derive their origin renders this people objects of much interest, especially to one who has examined the wonderful monuments of Ancient Egypt: but so great is the aversion with which, like their illustrious ancestors, they regard all persons who are not of their own race, and so reluctant are they to admit such persons to any familiar intercourse with them, that I had almost despaired of gaining an insight into their religious, moral, and social state. At length, however, I had the good fortune to become acquainted with a...

  38. Appendix A Female Ornaments
    (pp. 517-532)
  39. Appendix B Egyptian Measures, Weights, and Moneys
    (pp. 533-536)
  40. Appendix C Household Expenditure in Cairo
    (pp. 537-538)
  41. Appendix D Prayer of Muslim School-Boys
    (pp. 539-540)
  42. Appendix E Directions for the Treatment of Dysentery and Ophthalmia
    (pp. 541-542)
  43. Appendix F Editor Notes
    (pp. 543-574)
  44. Index
    (pp. 575-598)