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Studies 21 April, 2015

Anglo-American Orientalism’s Contribution to the Rise of Area Studies

Abdulfateh Naoum

​​Abdel Fattah Naoum is a researcher interested in international and strategic affairs and in analyzing political and social phenomena. Naoum has a First degree in Public Law from Cadi Ayyad University, Marrakech and a Master’s degree in Political Science from Mohamed V University in Rabat, where he is also currently pursuing his Doctorate in Politics. He has taken several courses in cultural affairs and has participated in numerous academic activities.

Introduction    

The term Orientalism is derived from the word Orient, while the additional suffix refers to the activity of those who seek to integrate themselves with the people of the Orient and acquire their language, literature, and science. This definition is given by both the Larousse and Oxford dictionaries. The first use of the term was identified in 1630, when it was applied to a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church.[1] The specific academic sense of the term was first used in English in 1779, and then in French in the same year, and in 1838 it was added to the dictionary of the Académie Française.[2]

Etymologically, the word orient refers to the rising of the sun, a definition that raises the challenge on how to designate a specific geographical location. From a geographic perspective, the centrality of the Mediterranean basin at certain historical periods controlled the shaping of geography in a way that made its east east and its west west. The period after this was marked by the shift in the center of power to Western Europe, which strengthened this conception of the existence of an “East.”[3]

For some, this East refers to the countries situated east of the Mediterranean prior to the Islamic conquests and, subsequent to them, it came to include both Egypt and North Africa.[4] The settled view of encyclopedias is that the Orient refers to Asiatic lands and islands, and sometimes refers to western Asia which is also called the Near East.[5]

Tunisian thinker and historian Hichem Djaït considers that the intellectual environment created during the twelfth century AD, which grew and developed in the following two centuries and continued right up to the eighteenth century, originated in intense hostility for the “Mohammedian pseudo-prophecy.” There was then the widespread belief that the prophet of Islam was the reason for the halt to the ongoing human progress of Christianity with his “pseudo-prophecy.”[6] In addition, most scholars tend to the view that the main aim behind the appearance of Orientalism was to combat Islam.[7] The arrival of Muslims into Spain and Sicily in the Middle Ages convinced the West of the need to study the Islamic message.[8]

The relationship between the East, represented by the Muslims, and the Christian West has been characterized by conflict since its beginnings. There was a period of Muslim advance into western regions which was halted and then followed by a wave of counter-advances by the West against the East, starting with Spain and culminating with the Crusades. During those periods, the writings of Orientalists were not academic in the strict sense of the word as much as they were a weapon of war propaganda. This was to such an extent that works of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD are typically impulsive. In this context came the effort of Abbot Peter the Venerable to attack Muslims and his blaming of Christians for making a truce with them. He incited Christians to adopt violence against Muslims and was engaged in the translation of the Quran into Latin.[9] In the mid twelfth century, four translations of the Quran were published with an introduction by Abbot Peter, who also translated a biography of the prophet and a history of the Caliphs up to Yazid and the death of Hussein.[10] It should be noted that the first translation of the Quran appeared in 1143, prior to the fall of Edessa in December of that year, and was attributed to Father Butrus (1092-1157).[11]

 

To continue reading this Research Paper as a PDF, please click here. This article originally appeared in the Ninth Issue (August, 2014) of Tabayyun, a peer-reviewed quarterly dedicated to philosophy and critical theroy. This paper was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English editing team. To read the original Arabic version, which appeared online on August 28, 2014, please click here.


[1] Ahmed Smilovich, The Philosophy of Orientalism and Its Effect on Modern Arab Literature (Cairo: Dar El-Fikr Al-Arabi, 1998), pp. 21-3.

[2] Omar al-Tibi, “Moroccan society in Orientalism,” Al-Mustaqbal Al-Arabi, year 18, no. 195 (May 1995), p. 86.

[3] Mohammed Fathallah al-Ziyadi, The Spread of Islam and the Position of Some Orientalists on it (Tripoli, Libya: General Publishing Organization, [n. d.]), pp. 55-6.

[4] Smilovich, p.23.

[5] Al-Ziyadi, p. 56.

[6] Lutfi ibn Milad, “Orientalism in the thought of Hichem Djaït,” Al-Mustaqbal Al-Arabi, year 33, no. 376 (June 2010), pp. 119-20.

[7] Zahir Awwad al-Almaie, With the Exegetes and the Orientalists on the Marriage of the Prophet (PBUH) to Zaynab bint Jahsh: An Analytical Study, vol. 2 (Cairo: Eissa al-Babi, 1976), p. 23.

[8] Abdel Jalil Chalebi, Islam and the Orientalists (Cairo: Dar Al-Shaab, [1977]), p. 27.

[9] Abdel Jalil Chalebi, Orientalist Images, vol. 1, pp. 25-6.

[10] Ibid., p. 27

[11] Johann Funk, History of the Orientalist Movement: Arabic and Islamic Studies in Europe until the Beginning of the Twentieth Century, translated by Omar Lutfi al-Alim, vol. 2 (Benghazi, Libya: Dar Al-Kutub Al-Wataniya, [n. d.]), p.17.

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