The History of Arabia, Ancient and Modern


The History of Arabia, Ancient and Modern is a two-volume study, first published in 1833, by the Scottish Presbyterian cleric and man of letters Andrew Crichton (1790−1855). In his preface, Crichton presents his book as a first effort to “connect the past with the illustrations of modern discovery so as to exhibit the whole in moderate compass,” that is, in only two volumes. He acknowledges the ill-informed and prejudicial views that many readers bring to the subject of Islam, and states that he seeks to create a simple chronological narrative free of the “uncharitable rancour” of earlier authors. For the most part he succeeds in this task, helped by the ethnographic knowledge supplied by recent European travelers that was unavailable to earlier writers and by the many newer translations of works by Arab historians. The book covers the pre-Islamic history of Arabia, the mission of Muhammad in the seventh century, the Arab conquests of North Africa and Spain, and the history of the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad. Separate chapters are devoted to Arabic literature, the civil history and government of the Arabs, the Hejaz, the hajj, and the Wahabi sect and the Wahhabi wars of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The chapter on the Qur’an is remarkable for its time. Based on the available translations, notably that of George Sale (circa 1697−1736), Crichton treats the text and its veneration by Muslims in a factual way. In covering the early Islamic conquests and the fragmentation of the Umayyad and Abbasid empires, the narrative is mainly declarative, and thus in keeping with the author’s stated goal of objectivity. Crichton gives credit to and at times evaluates his sources. In the case of the Wahhabi wars, for example, he compares sources and ranks the writings of Jacob Burkhardt (1818−97) and Louis Alexandre Olivier de Corancez (1770−1832) higher than those of other authors. The book contains nine unattributed illustrations and a detailed map of the Arabian Peninsula and the Syrian Desert engraved by G.B. King. The edition of The History of Arabia presented here was published in New York in 1838, five years after the book appeared in Edinburgh.

Last updated: September 22, 2015