Europe Through Arab Eyes, 1578–1727

Nabil Matar

Columbia University Press

Europe Through Arab Eyes, 1578–1727

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Pub Date: November 2008

ISBN: 9780231141949

344 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£50.00

Pub Date: November 2008

ISBN: 9780231512084

344 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $59.99£50.00

Europe Through Arab Eyes, 1578–1727

Nabil Matar

Columbia University Press

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.

Nabil Matar has given us an astonishing new picture of what North Africans knew, thought, and felt about European Christians in the early modern period. A treasure trove of discovery.

Natalie Zemon Davis, author of Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim Between Worlds

Fastidiously researched, showing a rigorous and comprehensive engagement with the fateful relationship between Arabs and Europeans, this narrative is remarkably convincing in its representation of what is known as a complex history of East and West. Europe Through Arab Eyes reflects Nabil Matar's life-long concern with the subject. It will be well received by anyone who is concerned with the writing of history, especially specialists in Middle Eastern studies, who will see how Matar elucidates historical events of the past and, with the translated selections, makes haunting, distant events close and familiar. A book of the past written for the present and future.

Mohammed Shaheen, professor of English and comparative literature, University of Jordan

Nabil Matar's meticulous translations and analyses make available a rich panoply of Muslim experiences and images in the early modern period. More than yet another brick in the edifice of knowledge, this collection of texts by Muslim captives and diplomats, court scribes and travelers, scholars and Sufis, recuperates often overlooked sites of European-Muslim interchange and, in doing so, demonstrates that Muslim awareness of and interest in Europe were both more extensive and polyvalent than pervasive arguments about 'Muslim parochialism and intolerance' recognize.

Roxanne Euben, Mildred Lane Kemper Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College

This book fills a huge gap in our understanding of the history of that period.

Times Higher Education Supplement

An excellent example of the creative use of source material... Highly recommended.


Europe Through Arab Eyes offers a tantalizing glimpse into a rich and diverse corpus of early modern Arabic-language accounts of Europe and the Mediterranean world.

Ellen R. Welch, Journal of World History

Europe Through Arab Eyes is a landmark in the study of the exchanges between Christendom and Islam in the early modern period.

Abdul-Karim Rafeq, Historian

These evocative and provocative translations from an important moment in the history of Arab-Islamic and European relations will enable increasingly finegrained comparisons. Matar continues to challenge and reshape early modern studies.

Claire Schen, Journal of British Studies

In this erudite and beautifully written book, Nabil Matar tells an untold story about Christian-Muslim relations in the early modern period. Often suppressed or ignored by historians, this period comes to life in Matar's text as a dynamic stage of cultural and political exchanges between Europe and the Muslim world.

Tarek El-Ariss, Seventeenth Century News
A Note on Transliteration
List of Rulers
Part I
1. Popular Sources: Accounts of Muslim Captivity in Christendom
2. Elite Sources: Muslim Ambassadors in Christendom
Conclusion: Encountering the Dunya of the Christians
Part II. Translations
1. 1578: Letters of Radwan al- Janawy on Muslim Captives
2. After 1588: Description of the Defeat of the Armada
3. ca. 1589–1591: A Journey from Morocco to Istanbul and Back
4. After June 1596: Description of the En glish Attack on Cadiz
5. 1613–1618: Description of Pisa and Florence
6. 1623: Expulsion of the Moriscos and the Miraculous Ransoming of Muslim Captives
7. 1633–1635: Letters from Tunis by Osman/Thomas d'Arcos, a Convert to Islam
8. 1635: Letter About Muslim Captives Converted to Christianity
9. 1635: Expulsion of the Moriscos
10. 1642: Description of the World
11a. Before 1688: Christian Attack on Jarbah (Tunisia) in 1510
11b. 1685: Bombardment of Tripoli, Libya, by the French Fleet,
12. 1681–1691: Battle Accounts
13. 1590–1654: Euro-Tunisian Piracy
14. Before September 2, 1706: Letter of Mulay Isma'il to the English Parliament
15. November 1, 1707: Letter from a Captive in France
16a. 1713: Letters of Bentura de Zari, Moroccan Ambassador Under House Arrest in London
16b. January 12, 1717: Letter of Mulay Isma'il to Philip V
17. 1726–1727: On Quinine
18. Mid-eighteenth century: Captivity in Malta
19. 1782: Muhammad ibn 'Uthman al- Miknasi. Falling in Love in Naples
20. 1798: Letter from a Female Captive in Malta

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2009

About the Author

Nabil Matar is professor of English at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of a trilogy on Britain and the Islamic Mediterranean: Islam in Britain, 1578-1685; Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery; and Britain and Barbary, 1589-1689. He is also author and translator of In the Lands of the Christians.