August 17, 2016

Afghanistan: A Historic and Geographic Description of the Country; Religion, and Customs of its Inhabitants

El Afghanistan: Descripcion histórico-geográfica del país; religion, usos y costumbres de sus habitantes (Afghanistan: a historic and geographic description of the country; religion, manners and customs of its inhabitants) is a short book in Spanish, published in Madrid in 1878, for the use of contemporary travelers and others interested in Afghanistan. At the time it was published, it was one of the few sources available in Spanish about the country. The book is in three parts. The first covers geography, and has chapters on different regions, with some attention paid to the problem of defining the borders between Afghanistan and British India (i.e., present-day Pakistan). The second part is devoted to ethnography, and has separate chapters on Afghans, Baluchis, and other diverse peoples. The third part is a summary of the history of Afghanistan. There is a large fold-out map. The author, Francisco García Ayuso, was a leading orientalist in late-19th century Spain. After studying at the University of Munich, he returned to Madrid, where he became a member of the Real Academia Española. The author of books on a wide range of topics, including the religion of ancient Iran and Sanskrit philology, Ayuso also taught many languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Sanskrit, and Syriac.

History of the Mongols, from Genghis Khan to Timur, or Tamerlane

Baron Abraham Constantin d’Ohsson’s Histoire des Mongols, depuis Tchinguiz-Khan jusqu'à Timour Bey, ou Tamerlan (History of the Mongols, from Genghis Khan to Timur, or Tamerlane) is considered the first serious Western study of the Mongols. It was published in Paris in 1824 and reissued in this four-volume edition in Amsterdam and The Hague in 1834‒35. D’Ohsson was born in Turkey in 1779. His father, Ignatius Mouradgea (1740–1807), was the son of a French mother and an Armenian Catholic father who was employed as a translator at the Swedish consulate in Izmir, Ottoman Turkey, and who adopted the name d’Ohsson in 1787. Ignatius followed his father’s career path and became a translator for the Swedish embassy in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). This allowed Abraham Constantin to move to Sweden in 1798, where he graduated from the University of Uppsala and entered the Swedish diplomatic corps. He had a distinguished career as a diplomatic and government official, serving in various European capitals and in Stockholm, and eventually being elevated to baron. He also devoted himself to scientific and historical research and, in addition to his own work, helped to complete and publish his father’s monumental Tableau général de l'Empire othoman (General overview of the Ottoman Empire). Histoire des Mongols begins with an analysis of the nomadic origins of the Mongols, the rise of Genghis Khan (1162‒1227), and the reasons why the Mongols were successful in war. Subsequent volumes deal with the Mongol conquests and the history of the empire to the time of Timur (1336‒1405) and the founding of the Timurid dynasty. D’Ohsson served for a time at the Swedish embassy in Paris, and his research drew heavily on Arabic, Persian, and Syriac manuscripts in the Bibliothéque de la Nation (later the Bibliothéque nationale de France) as well as on Western sources. For many years Histoire des Mongols remained the standard work on the subject.

Eight Years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855

Israel Joseph Benjamin (1818‒64) was a Jewish lumber trader from Falticeni, Moldavia (present-day Romania), who at the age of 25 set out to find the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Fashioning himself “The Second Benjamin” after the 12th-century Jewish traveler from Spain, Benjamin of Tudela, he spent five years visiting Jewish communities in what are today Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Afghanistan, India, Singapore, China, and Egypt. After a brief return to Europe, he spent another three years in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. He recorded the first five years of travels in a book that appeared in French in 1856 as Cinq années de voyage en orient 1846-1851 (Five years of travel in the Orient, 1846-1851). He combined his accounts of both sets of travels in an expanded book in German, published in 1858, under the title Acht Jahre in Asien und Afrika von 1846 bis 1855 (Eight years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855). Translations into English and Hebrew followed in 1859. Benjamin describes the economic and social conditions in the Jewish communities he visited; he also recounts many traditions and local legends. Several chapters draw general conclusions about the state of the Jewish communities in different regions. The German version presented here is bound together with the other language editions in the copy held by the Library of Congress. The book has four synoptic tables, derived from the Bible, of the Jewish patriarchs from Adam to Abraham, the judges from Moses and Joshua to the prophet Samuel, the kings of Judah, and the kings of Israel. It ends with a fold-out map of Benjamin’s travels.

Refutation of the Materialists

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838–97) was a pan-Islamic thinker, political activist, and journalist, who sought to revive Islamic thought and liberate the Muslim world from Western influence. Many aspects of his life and his background remain unknown or controversial, including his birthplace, his religious affiliation, and the cause of his death. He was likely born in Asadabad, near present-day Hamadan, Iran. His better known history begins when he was 18, with a one-year stay in India that coincided with the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857‒59. In what would become a life of constant travel, he soon went to Mecca to perform Hajj, before returning to Afghanistan to join the service of the country’s ruler, Dost Mohammad Khan (1793–1863). He later sided with Dost’s son Mohammad Aʻzam, who ultimately lost in a power struggle with his British-supported brother Sher Ali. Al-Afghani’s political activism eventually took him to Paris, London, Tehran, Saint Petersburg, and Constantinople. It was during his second stay in Egypt (1871–79) that he cemented his role as a reformer. He found in Cairo a class of young intellectuals who gathered around him, established newspapers, and used these papers to disseminate his ideas. Chief among al-Afghani’s Egyptian disciples were scholar Muhammad ʻAbduh, journalist ʻAbd Allah al-Nadim, and nationalist politicians Mustafa Kamil and Saʻd Zaghlul. Al-Afghani’s influence on both modernist and traditionalist Islamic thought continues to the present. An activist who sought to effect change through political journalism and public speaking, he did not write many books. This treatise, entitled al-Radd ʻalā al-dahrīyīn (Refutation of the materialists), was a rebuttal of the views of the pro-British Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who had argued that science is more important than religion in the rise of civilizations. First written in Persian following al-Afghani’s exile from Egypt to India, it was translated into Arabic by his student Muhammad ʻAbduh, with the help of al-Afghani’s assistant Arif Efendi.

Travels in the Mogul Empire

Travels in the Mogul Empire is the first authoritative translation into English of François Bernier’s Histoire de la dernière révolution des états du Grand Mogol, published in Paris in 1670‒71. Bernier was born at Joué in the Loire, France, and educated in medicine at the University of Montpellier. Desiring to see the world, he traveled to Syria and Palestine in 1654. He returned to the Middle East in 1656, where he lived for a year in Cairo before sailing south through the Red Sea with the intent of making his way to Gondar (in present-day Ethiopia). Upon learning that conditions there were unsafe for travel, he embarked on a ship bound for the port of Surat on the west coast of India. He remained in India for some 12 years, from 1658 to 1669. He initially served as personal physician to Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and the emperor’s designated successor, and later worked for Daneshmand Khan, a nobleman in the court of Emperor Aurangzeb. Bernier witnessed firsthand the bloody civil war and succession struggle of 1656‒59 in which Aurangzeb, a younger brother of Dara Shikoh, seized the Mughal throne. In 1664 Bernier traveled with Aurangzeb to Kashmir, “commonly called the paradise of India,” becoming most likely the first European to visit the province. Bernier wrote several long letters to correspondents in France, in which he gave detailed descriptions of economic conditions and religious and social customs in northern India, including one to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, finance minister to King Louis XIV. These letters form part of Travels in the Mogul Empire. Along with his compatriots Jean Chardin (1643‒1713) and Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605‒89), both of whom he met on his travels, Bernier was the source of most of what Europeans knew about India in the late 17th century‒early 18th centuries. Bernier was a thinker as well as an adventurer, and the book is replete with excursions on a range of topics, for example, on the nature of atoms, the Lost Tribes of Israel, winds and currents, rains, and the Nile River. There is also an appendix on the history of travel to India. The book contains a preface by the translator, Irving Brock, an English merchant banker who had literary interests. It has illustrations of notable people and scenes and three fold-out maps.

Five Years of Travel in the Orient, 1846-1851

Israel Joseph Benjamin (1818‒64) was a Jewish lumber trader from Falticeni, Moldavia (present-day Romania), who at the age of 25 set out to find the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Fashioning himself “The Second Benjamin” after the 12th-century Jewish traveler from Spain, Benjamin of Tudela, he spent five years visiting Jewish communities in what are today Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Afghanistan, India, Singapore, China, and Egypt. After a brief return to Europe, he spent another three years in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. He recorded the first five years of travels in a book that appeared in French in 1856 as Cinq années de voyage en orient 1846-1851 (Five years of travel in the Orient, 1846-1851). He combined his accounts of both sets of travels in an expanded book in German, published in 1858, under the title Acht Jahre in Asien und Afrika von 1846 bis 1855 (Eight years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855). Translations into English and Hebrew followed in 1859. Benjamin describes the economic and social conditions in the Jewish communities he visited; he also recounts many traditions and local legends. Several chapters draw general conclusions about the state of the Jewish communities in different regions. Presented here is the French edition of 1856, which in the copy held by the Library of Congress is bound with the later German, English, and Hebrew editions.