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Van Koningsveld, Al-Samarrai, and Wiegers, trans. and ed., Kitab Nasir al-Din ala 'l-qawm al-kafirin (The supporter of religion against the infidels) (Hultgren)

  • 20 Jan 2017 10:12 AM
    Message # 4559102
    Janna Bianchini (Administrator)

    P. S. van Koningsveld, Q. Al-Samarrai, and Gerard Albert Wiegers, trans. and ed., Kitab Nasir al-Din ala 'l-qawm al-kafirin (The supporter of religion against the infidels), 2nd ed., Fuentes Arábico-Hispanas 35 (Madrid: CSIC, 2015), 335 pp., illustrations.  ISBN 9788400100100.

    Reviewed by Robert Hultgren

    University of Minnesota

    The autobiographical work Kitāb Nāṣir al-Dīn ‘alā’l-qawm al-kāfirīn, translated by Van Koningsveld, Al-Samarrai, and Wiegers, sheds light on the life of Ahmad Ibn Qāsim al-Ḥajari, a Morisco who made a name for himself as a translator and diplomat. The new edition of the translation provides invaluable information, such as the perspective of a Morisco living as a crypto-Muslim in Spain around 1595, previously unknown contacts between the Sultanates of North Africa and Western Europe, a source of Islamic anti-Christian polemic, and finally a source in the language spoken by Moriscos after their expulsion from Spain.

    The translators have preserved the structure of the autobiography in this recent edition. While the manuscript found in the Dār al-kutub (Egyptian National Library) forms the basis of the work, with all of its linguistic peculiarities, the inclusion of three other manuscripts add depth to the work. While the manuscripts found in Spanish Bologna and the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris have been incorporated in previous editions of the work, the innovative aspect of the current edition is the introduction of a newly discovered manuscript version of the Kitāb Nāṣir al-Dīn found in al-Azhar University in Cairo. The Azhar manuscript contains numerous valuable details that were removed by al-Ḥajari in later versions of his work, which have been annotated in the current edition. The end result is a vivid perspective about religious life and politics for Moriscos in late 16th century Spain and in Diaspora.

    In his first chapter al-Ḥajari talks in detail about his interactions with the Archbishop of Granada and his impressions of the Arabic parchment of the Turpiana and the lead books found in the Sacromonte hills outside Granada. Al-Ḥajari’s interview with the Archbishop about these documents allows us to see for the first time the complete cultural shift regarding the Arabic language. At one moment, literacy in Arabic was to be hidden at all costs. Speaking, reading, or writing Arabic led to inquisitorial trials and often death. However, in the next moment, knowledge of the language was sought-after at the highest levels of the Catholic church.

    Al-Ḥajari’s efforts at translating the documents were rewarded monetarily, but that was not enough to convince him to stay in Spain. He had become convinced that the Catholic Church had become disingenuous in its practice of religion. Chapter 2 of his book describes his escape from Spain and relocation in Marrakesh, where he soon joined the service of the Sultan, Mulay Zaydan. He spent about 12 years there, described in chapter 3. At this point, in 1609, with the expulsion of the Morisco population of Spain, he relates how a group of refugees were robbed during their displacement. They subsequently lodged a complaint with the Sultan when they arrived at Marrakesh. The Sultan then ordered al-Ḥajari to travel to France and negotiate for the return of the refugees’ belongings.

    Chapter 4 of al-Ḥajari’s book describes his travel to Le Havre and then to Rouen dressed as a Frenchman. In Paris we see al-Ḥajari’s impact as an Arabic speaker once again. He met with numerous scholars, including Étienne Hubert and Thomas Erpenius. He assisted both in their study of Arabic manuscripts, leaving his handwriting in their margins. The tone of the meetings seems to have been one of mutual respect, and these contacts proved to be important later in al-Ḥajari’s travels as well.

    In Paris al-Ḥajari also met an official whom he refers to as “the judge of the Andalusians,” who presided over the case of the stolen belongings. Chapter 6 describes his travels to Bordeaux and then to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where the judge was residing. Al-Ḥajari returns to Paris in chapter 7, where he continues to tutor Hubert in Arabic and launches into an anti-Christian polemic, claiming Arabic was used at the time of Christ. He cites the use of Arabic in the lead books of Granada as proof of this fact. The rest of chapter 7 is devoted to his interactions with the judge of the Moriscos’ case and other distinguished guests.

    Al-Ḥajari devotes chapter 8 to his travel to Olonne and his love affair with a young French woman. The captain of the French robbers was also there, but al-Ḥajari was unsuccessful at reclaiming any goods at this time.

    Chapter 9 involves al-Ḥajari travelling to Toulouse and then returning to Bordeaux, but he does not tell us why he went to Toulouse. A description of some discussions he had with Jewish citizens of Bordeaux and Amsterdam makes up the majority of chapter 10. He concludes this chapter with a reading of an Islamic anti-Jewish polemic. At the end of this chapter he does note that he was able to recover some of the Moriscos’ stolen goods.

    With his mission in France completed, al-Ḥajari devotes chapter 11 to his travels to the Netherlands. He appears to have a number of motives for visiting there. One was to visit Thomas Erpenius and assist him in writing his work Proverbia Arabica. Another motive may have been that, in 1610, the Dutch signed a treaty with Mulay Zaydan establishing diplomatic relations. The translators of this edition point out that al-Ḥajari visited the Dutch Stadholder Maurice no less than four times, and that they discussed a possible alliance between the Ottoman Turks, Moroccans, Dutch, and Moriscos against the Spanish.

    These discussions were evidently unfruitful, because al-Ḥajari returned to Marrakesh and resumed his former life as a translator and interpreter for the Sultan. Chapter 12 summarizes his later pilgrimage to Mecca. This chapter is very vague; it makes a few brief references to Mecca, a visit to Egypt, and a discussion with a monk about astronomy. This is essentially where al-Ḥajari concludes his book, in chapter 13, but with these final notes history loses trace of him.

    The translation presented in the Kitāb Nāṣir al-Dīn provides a valuable contribution to recent scholarship on early modern Morisco life, as well as observations on various other European cultures. Al-Ḥajari paints a vivid picture of life in Spain and abroad, as well as of the cultural and political contacts between the North African Sultans and European powers. The new edition of the translation of this work builds on previous ones by offering new information found in a hitherto unknown manuscript of Kitāb Nāṣir al-Dīn found in the Azhar University, which adds further complexity to an already masterful work.

    Last modified: 20 Jan 2017 10:14 AM | Janna Bianchini (Administrator)

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