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  • Writer's pictureA J Lewis

A Note About the History in the Series

Updated: Mar 19, 2018

I Am Not a Historian. Not at all. But I’ve always loved to read about the past, whether in works of history, biography, fiction, and even hagiography. I’ve done my share of studies in the field of historiography as well. I’m fairly proud of the historical digging I’ve done for the introductions for some of my translations. In particular, the biographies I wrote for:

1. Imam Bukhari in Imam Bukhari’s Book of Muslim Morals and Manners,

2. Sh. Ashraf Ali Thanawi in A Sufi Study of Hadith,

3. Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali in The Lawful and the Unlawful,

4. Qadi Thana’Ullah in A Hanafi Handbook of Fiqh and, to a less rigorous degree,

5. Mustafa Sadiq al-Rafii in The Destitute

So, while I admit to having no formal training in the discipline of history, I also believe that a background in the uniquely Islamic disciplines of Usul al-Fiqh, Usul al-Hadith, Ilm al-Rijal, and Ilm al-Jarh wall-Ta`dil prepare one quite nicely for the rigors of historical research. For the record, I published an article in Arabic on my findings in regard to the authenticity, or lack thereof, of the hadiths included in the Mu’jam al-Safar by al-Hafiz al-Silafi.

• “A Study of Weak and Spurious Hadith in al-Silafi’s Mujam al-Safar,” in Arabic, The Arabic Journal of the Islamic Research Institute, Islamabad, Pakistan, Fall, 1997

I will also admit that when I began writing the novels in the 1790s Algiers Series, I imagined that without French I might find myself seriously disadvantaged. The French invasions and the resistance to them resulted in volumes of literature on both sides, both in French and Arabic. So, imagine my surprise when I began discovering book after book in English on subjects related to the Turks in Algiers and their history! As I mentioned in my brief introduction to the Bibliography, these include works in a variety of formats. I think I might generalize a little and classify the works as follows:

1. Histories; formal and informal works that relate events (found by the authors to be relevant) in roughly chronological order

2. Captive Narratives

3. Journals and Travels

4. Fiction set in Algiers

5. Specialized Studies; whether of law, women, administration, shipping, commerce, religion, and the like.

In some of the posts to follow, I'll talk a little about each of these categories. However, to begin with, I'll leave this post with a quote from the most recent and perhaps the most reasonable of all the histories.

The history of Algeria, since the Ottoman period - three centuries of history hardly known outside specialist circles and still thought of in antiquated stereotypes of piracy, ‘white slavery’ and despotism - through 132 years of French colonial occupation (1830-1962) and seven years of ‘savage’ colonial war (the war of independence, 1954-1962), up to the more recent terrors of Islamic and state violence since 1992, has often been written about only in terms of upheaval, rupture, violence and trauma. That these have existed in overabundance in Algeria is not to be doubted... But the history of Algeria as a series of familiar cliches - heroism and horror, triumph and tragedy, anger and agony - is only a part of what has made this country what it is, and does not begin to account adequately for the ways Algerians themselves have lived their lives, understood their country and their place in the world, have made, and continually make day by day, their own futures with the materials their past has given them. p.2

Algeria today is an important as well as a ‘difficult’ country. Little known to most people in most of the English-speaking world, known often in confused and conflicting ways in Europe, especially in France, familiar to most only from news items about terrorism or illegal immigration, it is (in surface area) Africa’s largest country, a major source and supplier of oil and gas to Europe, a significant actor in the international relations of the Mediterranean region and a focus of attention (however undesired) for all those concerned with the ‘war on terror’, European security and economic relations, immigration and Islamism, as well as for students of colonialism and anti-colonialism, insurrection and counter-insurgency, Third Worldism, ‘socialist’ development and transitions toward more liberal markets and (perhaps) democratization, the legacies of imperialism in the postcolonial world and the making of ‘the West’ in its modern encounter with ‘Islam’ and the ‘Orient.’

James McDougall, A History of Algeria (Cambridge University Press, London: 2017)

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