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In the Lands of the Christians: Arabic Travel Writing in the 17th Century: Arab Travel Writing in the 17th Century Paperback – 12 Dec 2002

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"Nabil Matar has translated his writings and those of three other Arabs who travelled to Christian lands in the 17th century into English for the first time. For those largely ignorant of Islam, or of the worlds as it was 300 years ago, it makes for absorbing, enlightening and, surprisingly, often amusing reading. A valuable and stimulating piece of scholarship."-"Daily Telegraph, Feb. 22, 2003 "Nabil Matar is a genius. Having written two of the most remarkable, original and important studies of Islamic-Christian relations to be published in the last twenty years, he has now surpassed even his own high standards with "In the Lands of the Christians. At a time when Islam and Christianity appear to be heading for a major confrontation, Matar's work could not be more vital, or more timely."--William Dalrymple, author of "From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East "Gathering together for the first time freshlytranslated accounts by early modern travelers from the Islamic world to Western Europe and the Americas, Matar's In the Lands of the Christians enacts a genuine paradigm shift. These travelogues, diplomatic reports, and letters by Muslim and Christian Arabs from the early to the late seventeenth century demolish the orientalist myth that cross-cultural exchanges in the early modern period were invariably dominated by the supposedly more "curious" West..""-Bernadette Andrea, Professor of English, University of Texas at San Antonio "This selection of early modern writings on Europe and its overseas possessions is proof that Muslim and Arab travelers kept remarkably accurate and detailed records of Europeans, despite the religiousand cultural differences that separated both peoples. Matar's meticulously researched and edited book, together with his excellent translations and introduction, will remind readers that a new form of mahabba (love) may yet prevail over the culture of conflict and suspicion that seems to characterize relations between Arabs and the West. This book is a timely and necessary corrective to the clash of civilizations thesis."-Anouar Majid, Professor of English, University of New England "A splendidly scholarly edition of a selection of tales that reveal Early Modern Europe as well as South America as 'Other' in the eyes of Arab travelers to the 'Lands of the Christians'."-Kenneth Parker, editor of "Early Modern Tales of the Orient: A Critical Anthology

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A DETAILED BIOGRAPHY of Ahmad bin Qasim appears in the "general introduction" to the Arabic text by P S. Van Koningsveld, A. Al-Samarrai, and G. A Wiegers I have relied on that introduction for the information herein, along with some other studies. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Perhaps better material than analysis. 25 July 2009
By D. Kimball - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very valuable book for those, like myself, in the position of having a lively interest in the historical Middle East while knowing neither Arabic nor Turkish (nor German, where I would expect some very good scholarship, between the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns). The meat of the book is the translation of letters of travel by four Ottoman subjects (two Moroccan officials, one Morisco who slipped out of Spain, and an Iraqi Christian cleric) in Europe -- especially Spain and France -- and the New World, and this is certainly interesting reading. The relations of East and West are more equal here than in _Al-Jabarti's Chronicle of Napoleon in Egypt_; this is how Islam (or rather, two Muslims, one New Christian who wasn't, and one Eastern Christian who was) saw the West, when Islam and the West were equals.

As such, this is valuable data for anyone who is looking to improve his understanding of Early Modern culture, European or Near Eastern; one of the most interesting points is how much cultural context the two sides share. Both the Near Eastern writers and their European interlocutors know and focus on classical literature -- and on Arabic literature, as well; Galen rings a bell for both parties, but so does Avicenna. Note that the cultural crossover was even more pronounced than this scholarly commonality -- Ottoman popular culture even included St. George and Roland as spahis, as mentioned in _Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe_. Personally, I would have expected more Persian influence in the Ottoman world; apparently, just as the Pyrenees are the highest mountains in Europe, the Zagros are the highest in western Asia.

Sadly, the author's commentary is not the equal of his selections. He puts up the increasingly frayed smoke-screen of the modern Muslim writer, of which the exemplar is _Orientalism_ and the explanation is in _Culture and Conflict in the Middle East_. Briefly, Muslims (especially Arab Muslims, including Maghrebis) are triumphalist; they convince themselves that every major religious figure from Adam to Moses to Jesus was actually a Muslim, and that the world was theirs before everyone else took it away; and as such, they are unwilling to admit any fault in their home society (cf. the gulf between the Ottoman millet system and its modern apologists' claims of religious tolerance), and are especially unwilling to admit that the Muslim world was a very bad neighbor from the beginning of its history down to its forcible subdual in the 19th and 20th centuries, and again after the "withdrawal from empire" of the French and especially the English. (After all, all Muslim conquests are by definition reconquests, and when was a reconquest ever anything to complain about?)

In this book, this takes the form of carefully glossing over the Barbary corsairs while emphasizing the presence of Christian ones (which is surprising and informative -- although there's a reason the Tunisian, Algerian, and Moroccan Corsairs are better known than the Knights of Malta or the corsairs of Venice), and generally depicting Christians as the aggressors against innocent and peaceful Muslims. Not every book about Islam has to point out that the Muslims conquered Spain rather than having been born there, nor does it have to mention the two sieges of Vienna, the conquest of Byzantium, and so on, any more than every book about Russia has to talk about Lenin and Stalin; but an author writing about Russian travelogues in the 1930s really ought to point out the Stalinist purges, and likewise, an author writing about Muslim -- predominantly Moroccan -- travelogues in the 1500s should own up to the scale of Muslim privateering and slave-trading. If Muslim travelers were met with massive suspicion in the West, it wasn't purely because the Christians of this era were unreasonable bigots; it was also somewhat related to Moroccan corsairs raiding Ireland, or the depopulation of whole regions of Georgia (beautiful women, land borders with both Persia and the Ottomans, and limited military capacity are a disastrous combination), or the perfidy so common in the Ottoman elite (Selim II at Cyprus, for example) -- which lost nothing in the telling in a distinctly paranoid age.

But, I gave this book four stars, and I'd stand by it. The author's commentary would probably produce seriously mistaken beliefs in a generalist audience, but this is not written for a generalist audience. I hope. On the other hand, the author does seem to have written this as a refutation to Bernard Lewis; I don't think it's as successful as he intended it to be, but that's a subject for another time.
Great!! 31 May 2013
By larry white - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Needed this book for school, came just in a nick of time, and cheaper! Thank you! It was just what I needed...,
A fine book 25 Mar. 2013
By James - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An important and much-needed addition to the literature of the 17th century. Of interest to anyone interested in travel literature.
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