Harlem Treasures

We recently picked up a small booklet from the bookstore at The Ferguson Library called Harlem Treasures: A Unique Guide to Our Neighborhood, Treasures and Sights. While certainly not an antiquarian piece, being published in 2003, the booklet proved interesting for its extensive coverage of Harlem’s religious communities and mention of Malcolm X. Moreover, the publication appears to be a community project having been published by the Alliance for Community Enhancement at Columbia University, Inc.

Harlem Treasures

Harlem Treasures – A Unique Guide to Our Neighborhood, Treasures and Sights / 2003

Within its 114 pages this slim volume also covers subjects such as Harlem’s history, neighborhoods, restaurants and shops. The second chapter on “Religion in Harlem,” however, is indeed the longest. A page therein is dedicated to “Al-Islam” which reads:

Background

Islam is a major world religion founded by the Arabian prophet Mohammed in the seventh century. The central teaching of Islam is that there is one God (Allah) and all Muslims (followers of Islam) are equal before God, regardless of race, class or ethnic background. The five pillars of Islam described in the Qur’an (the holy book of Islam) are the essence of Islamic worship: the profession of faith (shahada), prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm) and pilgrimage (hajj). These rituals constitute the core practices of the Islamic faith. The Muslim community currently numbers more than one billion followers worldwide and is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States, where there are an estimated six million followers.

Mosque Services

The social and intellectual centers for Muslim communities are mosques, where Muslims worship publicly. Traditionally, mosques were built to face Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, and are dome shaped, with a line marked on the interior wall connecting the center of the dome to the side of the building facing Mecca. Another important feature of mosques is a minaret, or tower, from which the crier (muezzin) calls Muslims to prayer five times a day. Due to the poverty of early Muslims (usually immigrant and African-Americans), most mosques in the United States are housed in buildings originally built for other purposes. U.S. mosques have some distinct characteristics – for example, most do not operate strictly as places of worship but also function as places of public gathering; therefore, many are called Islamic centers. They often house weekend Islamic schools, libraries, conference centers, recreation facilities, residential apartments or community halls.

Typically, everyone in an American Muslim family attends worship. Women usually have a separate space for prayers. (p. 44)

At the end of the book a directory is provided that lists information (relevant in 2003) for two mosques under “Al-Islam” on page 102:

Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood: 130 W. 113th Street / Imam Talib’Abdur Rashid (212) 662-4100 Sun., 6 P.M.

Mosque Masjid Malcolm Shabazz: 102 W. 116th Street / Imam Izak-El Mu’eed Pasha / (212) 662-2201/2 / Fri. 1 P.M.

The booklet also makes mention of Malcolm X on a number of occasions. Under the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) a section reads:

When Black activist Malcolm X was slain in 1965 and none of Harlem’s major churches would host his funeral, Bishop Childs allowed the service to take place at Faith Temple. In 1973, following the death of Bishop Childs, Bishop Norman Quick was installed as pastor of the Faith Temple Church. He changed the name of the church in 1974 to Childs Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ in honor of its founder. (p. 51)

Then, under “Landmarks of Political or Social Note” the first entry is the Audubon Ballroom:

Audubon Ballroom (3940 Broadway (212) 928-6288) is where Malcolm X was murdered on February 21, 1965. He was both a loved and hated African-American leader. Shortly before his death, he had completed his autobiography, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which he wrote with the assistance of Alex Haley. It was published in 1965. (p. 73)

Finally, to close this post, under the history section, there is a lengthy, sidebar dedicated to Malcolm X, which is also the only place where the Nation of Islam is ever mentioned. The sidebar reads:

Malcolm X was one of the most influential Black nationalist leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. An outstanding orator and organizer, he was an outspoken critic of American racism. He advocated Black self-defense in the face of racist attacks and urged Black Americans to view the civil rights struggle in the international context of human rights.

Malcolm was born in 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, to parents Earl and Louis Little, who were active supporters of Marcus Garvey’s Harlem-based Black nationalist organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). In 1931 Earl Little was found dead – probably the victim of racist violence – and the Little family suffered in response. Malcolm was moved to various foster homes before eventually ending up in Boston to live with his half-sister Ella Collins in 1941.

Over the next five years Malcolm held a wide variety of jobs in both Boston and New York City. Known in the streets of Harlem as “Big Red” and “Detroit Red,” Malcolm entered the underground economy of the ghetto, running numbers, peddling bootleg liquor and selling illegal drugs. Malcolm’s life as a petty criminal caught up with him in 1946 when he was arrested and sentenced to prison for grand larceny and breaking and entering.

While in prison, Malcolm’s brother Reginald introduced him to the Nation of Islam (NOI), a Black nationalist Muslim movement that promoted ideals similar to Garvey’s UNIA, with an added religious dimension that affirmed Black humanity while radically repudiating white supremacy by referring to whites as “devils.” After being paroled from prison in 1952, Malcolm Little joined the NOI and became Malcolm X, with the “X” signifying the unknown true name of his African ancestors who had been enslaved.

Working closely under the NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm quickly rose through the NOI hierarchy, and in 1954 he became minister of the NOI’s Harlem Temple No. 7. The decade that followed saw Malcolm establish NOI temples throughout the country and gain notoriety as the national representative of Elijah Muhammad for his fiery speeches denouncing white racism.

By 1964, however, Malcolm had grown disillusioned with the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. That, in addition to internal power struggles as well as possible manipulation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which kept tight surveillance on Malcolm and the NOI, caused an embittered Malcolm to leave the NOI.

He abandoned the racialist teachings of the NOI and established his own Harlem-based Muslim Mosque, Inc. and Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), patterned after the Organization of African Unity – an organization of newly independent African states. Malcolm traveled widely throughout Africa and Asia, and he encouraged Black people in America to view their struggle in the context of the international struggle for human rights. He even announced plans to take the plight of Black Americans before the United Nations.

On February 21, 1965, while speaking at the Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm was assassinated at the young age of 39. Alleged NOI members were convicted for his assassination, but many argue that there exists a compelling case for involvement by others, including the FBI.

A year after his death, his autobiography was published, and it remains one of the most widely read books of the twentieth century that continues to inspire people from all walks of life to this day. (pp. 24-25)

Alliance for Community Engagement. 2003. Harlem Treasures: A Unique Guide to Our Neighborhood, Treasures and Sights. New York, NY: Alliance for Community Engagement at Columbia University, Inc. Co-produced by the Habitat Project.

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Ernest Goes to (Post-)Ottoman Istanbul, 1924-26

In less than two weeks time I’ll be journeying to Istanbul yet again. In anticipation of that I wanted to share a wonderful reminiscence of Istanbul from a fellow American, Ernest Gerber,* at the beginning of the 20th century.  What you’ll find are Ernest’s striking readings of a number of subjects including Muslim tolerance, Laylat al-qadr, and what I presume to be a Sufi dhikr (rather than Tarawih prayer). But before I begin, a bit of background is in order.

Kiran’s earlier post on The Real Muslims of Lower Manhattan introduced us to the fount of historical information that was gathered and compiled by FDR’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), specifically the Federal Writers’ Project, from 1936 to 1940. The efforts of these writers, however, extended beyond American guide books like our New York City Guide (1939) and New York Panorama (1938). Spread across the country, the writers of the WPA were well positioned to collect the local history and cultural color of many of the America’s oft-overlooked communities and hidden corners.  In effect, these writers became the country’s first collective of oral historians. In fact, counted among the hundreds who worked for the WPA was Studs Terkel, who arguably went on to become America’s greatest oral historian.

Kiran and I have searched and continue to search through the rich collection of WPA material for other bits of “Islamicana.” Particularly helpful has been the website maintained by the Library of Congress: American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940. The piece that I wish to share now is just one of our discoveries and seemed exceedingly relevant given my own imminent departure to Istanbul. Not only does the Library of Congress provide a rough transcription of the typed interviews, or “life sketches” as they were sometimes called, it also provides digital scans of the original reports.

Allow me at last to share with you some excerpts from one remarkable interview entitled “From Around the World to a Georgia Farm.” Rather than being about some aspect of Islam in America, these words have more to do with an American abroad.

A WPA writer named A. O. Berie met with a Swiss-American neighbor named Ernst Gerber on the latter’s farm just north of the Chattahoochee River in Marietta, Georgia. Locals also called Ernest “Chief” and “Doc” as the writer does in the following life sketch. The interview was conducted on 25 February 1939, but the story that Ernest related covered nearly his entire life.

Berie opens by providing an interesting description of Ernest’s home, part of which reads:

The chest which holds the camp stove also serves as a kitchen table, holding the few dishes and accessories necessary for his simple meals. A few inches above them, and extending nearly across the wall from door to window, is a fine example of Turkish tapestry about 18 inches in width, and immediately above the center of this is a small but excellent water color portraying the murdering of a Sultan’s favorite by the Eunuch and his helpers. (The Chief says she probably waved her handkerchief out the window at some Yankee sailor). Flanking the picture is a pair of wrought brass candlesticks (from Turkey) representing two puff adders. Above each of these is a small framed excerpt, in Arabic, from the Koran. Above these, in the center of the wall is a beautiful prayer rug depicting the mosque of Little St. Sofia. Scattered about the other walls are pictures of Mohammedans in native garb and a couple of fine tapestries. Two small taborets of exquisite inlay workmanship stand near a large oil-cloth covered table which serves as a writing desk and also accommodates the typewriter and a few books and datalogues. (pp. 5-6)

With that our stage is set and Berie then hands over the course of the life sketch directly to Ernest’s own words. And so we learn from Ernest himself that in 1917 he joined the Hospital Corp of the US Navy and then, began in 1920 to visit Istanbul, or Constantinople as he called it. Here is some of what Ernest had to say about a two-year stay in Istanbul that began in early 1924:

Well, magazines have carried pictures and fine descriptions of the beautiful mosques and palaces in Turkey and nothing I could say would make them more beautiful or interesting. I do say, though, that the so called Christianized people who are always talking about the Turks or Mohammedans being so terribly intolerant, don’t know what they are talking about. They always cite the fact that the beautiful mosaics in the mosque of St. Sofia have been covered with ochre. Well, did you ever see a picture of the Virgin Mary in a Presbyterian or other protestant church? I have been in St. Sofia many times and the thought came to me the first time that if these people were so intolerant, why didn’t they destroy the mosaics? A Yankee boy with a handful of stones could spoil one in a few good throws. And in many cases the only part of the picture covered is the face, and some of these are not even painted over but covered with a gold star. In the same Mosque, on either side of the opening in the hall-way where the faithful enter the inner temple there is a beautiful statue which could have been destroyed with a blow of a hammer; instead they are enclosed in cabinets which are closed up during religious ceremonials, and can be opened to the view of the public at other times.

I had a little adventure in connection with this mosque which might be worth telling about. It was built by The Emperor Justinian I as a Catholic shrine, and is considered the third most holy mosque in Turkey. For that reason it was, at that time at least, closely guarded, and no one was allowed to carry anything inside which might desecrate it. I had tried for nearly a year to get permission to photograph some of the interior but was always refused permission. Well, one day I got acquainted with a shepherd who tended his flock not far from there and after I had visited him many times I told him what I wanted. He finally told me of a way to get in through a narrow opening between the bastions in the rear which was covered with bushes. I sneaked through the opening and not seeing the guard inside I set up my tripod and camera and got two good pictures. Just as I was hurriedly taking down the outfit the guard entered and saw me. He raised his long barreled rifle and was about to drill me when the shepherd rushed in with his hands up, shouting the Arabic word for “immunity.” This was my cue and I dug out my embassy assignment card and handed it to him. Of course he didn’t know what it said but as we were immune from about everything else he thought I hadn’t got a picture yet he finally got friendly and was very courteous from then on.

One day I heard that some prominent man had died and his funeral was to be held at the Mosque of Ayoub [Eyup], on the Golden Horn. Hiking out there I joined the crowd lining the street and waited for the ceremonial procession. I noticed a young man in European clothes standing next to me and spoke to him in Arabic. He answered me in better English than I ever spoke and we immediately became friends. He was highly educated in English and other languages, was a graduate of one of our own famous universities, and was the personal secretary of the Sheik El Islam, the spiritual head of the Church in that part of the empire. He did me many favors during the rest of my stay and helped me to learn more of the Mohammedans and their customs.

Not long after we met, the month of the Ramidan [Ramadan] began. During this period, which begins when the first sickle of the new moon appears after the Vernal Equinox, the faithful fast every day from sunrise to sundown, not even a drop of water reaching their lips. But you’d ought to see them eat and drink between sunset and sunrise! They sure do make up for lost time.

During this month there is one night set apart from the rest and called the Night of Power [Laylat al-qadr]. On this night the spirits are supposed to descend on each worshipper and give him the power to control his body and mind, in fact make them sort of supermen. That is, if they are able to get themselves wrought up to the proper pitch for the reception of the power. I had long wanted to witness one of these gatherings but it seemed I was doomed to disappointment, until I met my new friend and asked him if he could help me out. Well, through his influence with the Sheik I was permitted to attend, clothed in the proper robes and instructed how to act. I must say that I was not greatly impressed with the show. It was not nearly as wild as I had been led to believe; in fact, I’ve seen a lot crazier demonstrations of fanatical emotionalism right here at home at Holy Holler meetings. Very few of the worshipers went into contortions and for the most part it was more of a mass action, the robed figures swaying from side to side and forward and back in unison, me with the rest of them. Maybe its all hooey, but I know from close contact with them that they sure do know how to control their tempers, especially when some fool white man does something that would mean fight right now in any other country.

I sure enjoyed life there and sometimes wished I could have stayed there permanently, but all things must keep moving, so early in 1926 I was ordered to the USS Pittsburg, at Villefranche, France. And here began the long trip which finally landed me back in the States, on the last lap of my journey to Georgia. (pp. 28-30)

The interview continues beyond this and at the very end of the typed report is a brief note scrawled in an expedient cursive hand. It dispassionately states “The subject of this sketch died on Dec. 23-1940” (p. 40) meaning that Ernest Gerber passed away almost two years after having been interviewed.

*In memory of Ernest Gerber (12 January 1883 – 23 December 1940). Thank you Ernest for your memories, sincerity, and honesty and thank you to the men and women of the Federal Writers’ Project for saving so much that would have otherwise been lost.

For those still interested in reading more here is a bonus passage detailing his living accommodations and his observance of firefighting methods in Istanbul/Constantinople:

No, I didn’t find my old sweetheart in that port [Constantinople] but there was plenty of others. Now, I’m not going to spill a lot of hooey about the morals of sailors or make excuses, but what the folks call the immorality of the foreigners is a damn sight better than the same thing in some of the so-called civilized countries. Now, you take a man assigned to shore duty for a long stretch; he would have to spend most of his spare time on the ship, if he didn’t live on shore, and would have to be in at certain hours and put up with a lot of other regulations. Well, he can rent a good room and kitchenette for five dollars a month, get him a good looking girl, and live like a king. Yes, they do everything a wife would do and a lot more than most of them. And let me tell you, they are a darn sight more capable and economical in running a house than the girls here. They have it bred into them in those countries… They mend and press your clothes, buy the groceries, do the cooking, and they sure can cook, and keep the place spotlessly clean. And while you have her she is your woman and nobody else can touch her. Yes, as soon as you’re gone she will be looking for another man, but they got to live just like everyone else.

Since Kemal Attaturk began to reform the country I suppose there have been many changes, and things would be a lot different than when I was there, but my camera retained for me the things as I saw them, and bring back to my mind the incidents that happened at that time. Some things I didn’t photograph pop into my mind once in a while and I was just thinking of the time I saw the fire department go into motion. They didn’t have any waterworks then, just a well here and there, and there seemed to be two crews of firemen, one with red equipment and the other with green. The men wore helmets like the old Roman soldiers and a little short tunic, the rest of the body being bare. Their pump was a sort of barrel-shaped thing which was carried on the shoulders of six men, some extra men being in front and behind them to relieve if the trip was very far, and a number of men carried buckets. There wasn’t any signal system, but a watchman in a tower in some part of the city would cry out when he saw what looked like a fire maybe the word would get around to the firemen after a while. When they heard about a fire they would start running toward the spot and the first crew there might get the job of putting out the fire. If both crews got there about the same time, they would begin bidding on the job of putting out the fire. That’s what happened one day when I was lucky enough to be nearby, and damned if the building didn’t burn down before the owner decided which crew he would hire. (pp. 26-27)

The Real Muslims of Lower Manhattan

My eyes quickly scan the spines of books lining the overburdened shelves, stacked and piled with patient tomes. The letters are familiar, my mind registers them as English, however the words are Turkish. My brain struggles to make sense of the jumbled script and forces my eyes to settle on words I can understand. New York City Guide.

This is no ordinary guide to New York City, the greying hard cover, weathered binding and strained spine reveal its age. Instinctively I turn to the verso to find it is a 1939 print. While Martin is methodically searching through shelves and amassing his own collection of books, I settle into a chair on the dusty 4th floor of Simurg Bookstore. I skim the table of contents and flip to the index searching for any indication of Muslims living in Lower Manhattan.

I’ve read contemporary studies, newspapers and opinion pieces of the evidence supporting the existence of places such as Little Syria. The case for Muslims being a part of New York’s unique tapestry has been made. However, at times I need the evidence to manifest itself to me – to appear in a 1939 guidebook. I need for the rosy fragrance of deteriorating pages to invade my senses, to witness acidity yellowing the pages, to feel the strain of cradling a heavy book on my wrists. I want to read paragraphs, uninhibited by an author’s interjections, on the Muslims of New York.

At a time when hotels were rented for $2.00 a night, subway fare cost 5 cents, and traveling via steamship was normal, baklava was being sold on the street corners of Lower Manhattan.

In the market section, comprising a world of its own, is the Syrian Quarter, established in the late 1800’s at the foot of Washington Street from Battery Place to Rector Street. A sprinkling of Turks, Armenians, Arabs, and Greeks also live here. Although the fez has given way to the snap-brim, the narghile has been abandoned for cigarettes, the coffee houses and tobacco and confectionery shops of the Levantines still remain.

Using the same methods and types of implements as native Syrian bakers, the confectioners make delicious sweets such as baclawa (chopped walnuts or pistachios, wrapped in forty layers of baked dough of gauze-like thinness flavored with goat’s milk butter and drenched in honey), knafie (twisted hank of fried dough with a core of chopped pistachios flavored as baclawa), sweet-sour apricot paste sprinkled with pistachios strings of walnuts dipped in grape syrup, and “Syrian delight” scented with attar of roses. Restaurants feature shish kebab (spit-broiled lamb) and rice cooked in salted vine leaves, and furnish narghiles upon request. Other neighborhood stores sell graceful earthen water jars; brass, silver, and pewter trays; tables inlaid with mother of pearl; brass lamp shades fringed with variegated beads, and Syrian silks of rainbow hues. (p. 76)

Flipping between the index and the text, my fingers interlaced with the pages, I learn that in addition to Syrians residing in Lower Manhattan they also lived in Brooklyn.

[I]n the Red Hook vicinity there are many Arabs and Syrians. It is anomalous that Brooklyn, the borough of homes and churches, should have some of the worst slums (Williamsburg, Brownsville, Red Hook) of the nation, yet such is the case.” (p. 433)

Concerning South Brooklyn:

Here are Erie and Atlantic basins, the Todd and United Shipyards, the busy State Barge Canal Terminal, and miles of freight railway tracks. Sailors from a hundred foreign ports fill the bars and rooming houses, and the prevailing atmosphere of a great international seaport is increased by the Syrian shops and coffee houses with their Arabic signs, on Atlantic Avenue. (p. 463)

Finally, on diverse Brownsville:

Brownsville extends from Ralph Avenue to Junius Street, between Liberty and Hegeman Avenues. With more than two hundred thousand people dwelling in its 2.19 square miles, it is the most densely populated district in Brooklyn. The population is predominantly Jewish. A large group of Negroes lives on Rockaway Avenue, Thatford Avenue, and Osborn Street between Livonia and Sutter Avenues. The only Moorish colony in New York is on Livonia Avenue between Rockaway and Stone Avenues. Italians live in the northern section of Brownsville; and on Thatford Avenue near Belmont is a small Arabian and Syrian quarter.” (p. 498)

Entranced, I continued to search. What else could I find? And what exactly was this treasure I had found?

A few months later, and back in the states I learned that the guidebook I stumbled upon in Istanbul is only one of an impressive series of books, all part of The American Guide Series – the first guidebooks to cover the states and regions of the United States. This warranted a trip to the library where we picked up a few more books on the guidebook series and the program that started them. In the mid 1930’s and in response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of the New Deal. The WPA was enacted to employ millions of workers in public works projects. One of the more creative WPA projects was the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP); this division was created to support written work and writers during the Depression. The Federal Writers’ Project relied upon struggling writers to document the peoples and places of the United States. Many notable writers held modest careers as FWP writers, including Studs Terkel, Ralph Ellison, and Zora Neale Hurston. More can be found on the WPA and the Writer’s Project in Soul of a People (book and documentary). The American Guide Series and the research that went into it ended up being an incredible anthropological study of the American people. I found that the New York City Guide is the companion volume to New York Panorama, a broader view of the city’s life and history.

The Panorama provided even richer details of the early immigrants.

Of the three near-Eastern groups, the Syrians have the largest population in the city, numbering 30,000 throughout greater New York. The Armenians come next with 22,000, while the Turks in New York number only about 300.

Only 1,000 of the city’s Syrians live in Manhattan, along Washington Street between Morris and Rector Streets. The largest Syrian colony lies between De Graw and State Streets, running from the East River to Hoyt Street in Brooklyn. A smaller settlement has grown up in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

The Turks are settled mainly along Rivington and Forsythe Streets in Manhattan.

Armenians and Syrians in the city are almost without exception Christian, the former adhering to the Gregorian Church while the latter have formed a number of sects related to the Greek Orthodox and the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches. St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church at 57 Washington Street, best known Syrian church in the city, conducts services in Syrian.

The Turks are exclusively Mohammedans. The only real mosque in the city, at 108 Powers Street in Brooklyn, claims most of the devout. Some belong to the Mohammedan Unity Society at 67 West 125th Street. (p. 117)

In many ways, Michael Gomez says it best, “arguments are necessarily more tentative than conclusive…” (Gomez 1998, 60). Despite the hopes I once held for Muslim Syrians in Lower Manhattan, a mere two sentences on the Turks has abated my disheartenment. How appropriate is it then that I found the New York City Guide tucked away on a dusty shelf in Istanbul. Somewhere in the pages, interspersed between the lines lies a fleeting truth. I am caught between discerning facts and waiting for unanticipated discoveries, clinging to the fine details. Culling for the truth and always hoping for something more, these small nuggets of information keep the search alive.

Gody, Lou, Chester D. Harvey, and James Reed, eds. 1939. New York City Guide. New York: Random House.

New York Panorama. 1938. New York: Ramdom House.

Michael Gomez. 1998. Exchanging Our Country Marks. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Cairo 1916: Where have all the dragomans gone?

I’ll be travelling to Cairo soon and I’ve been reading through my travel guide in preparation. Apparently, I need a reliable dragoman. Dragoman, you ask? Allow me to explain…

Being the historian that I am, I’ve forgone the latest Lonely Planet and instead turned to a book of a much finer vintage, a 1916 Guide to Egypt and the Sûdân* from the Macmillan’s Guides series. A couple of years ago Kiran and I picked up this slim, handsome volume from the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.

If there was ever an underused source for historical information, old prejudices and past insights it is the modern day travel guide. They are the ugly cousins to the more refined and consciously-worded travelogues and historical tomes. What distinguishes travel guidebooks from their kin is that they are published on a regular basis, constantly “updated” with new and more correct information (or so they would have you believe), and contain pro forma a wealth of detail not guaranteed in travel writings and history books. And of course travel guides are as much a window into the world of their authors and intended audiences as they are to the far off places they intend to cover.

For instance, let us return to the matter of the dragoman. First, a dragoman refers to a translator, interpreter or guide and the term itself derives from the Arabic word for translator, tarjumān. Concerning dragomans, the 1916 edition of Guide to Egypt and the Sûdân states:

Dragomans – It is unnecessary for the ordinary tourist, who only stays in the big towns and makes a steamer trip up the river, to have a dragoman constantly. For sightseeing in Cairo it is better to take a guide or dragoman each day than to engage one for the whole period of stay. The charge is from P.T. 30-40 a day, according to the experience of the man and his knowledge of English. Travellers must remember that the dragoman, whether Egyptian or Syrian, dressed in European, Turkish, or Arab dress, is merely a servant, and should always ride on the box and not in the carriage. They are quick to take advantage of the slightest familiarity. (p. 5)

A helpful rule of thumb indeed– that my dragoman must “ride on the box and not in the carriage.” Another choice tip about bakshīsh (meaning a tip):

Bakshîsh would seem to be the first word the Egyptian child learns, so great is the cupidity of the tourist-spoilt Arab. Yet, however big the tip given, it is rare to find the recipient grateful or satisfied, and the traveller must not think he has underpaid because no thanks are returned. (p. 5)

Finally, concerning Mohammedanism or Islamism, the guide notes:

Polygamy is allowed by the law of the Koran, but is not frequently practised. Unfortunately the law makes divorce particularly easy. In the year 1903, while there were 176,474 Moslem marriages registered, there were 52,992 cases of divorce. The position of women under Egyptian Mohammedanism is deplorable, and is responsible to a large extent for the unprogressive state of society. (p. 23)

Text aside, the book also provides a number of attractive illustrated maps, several of which fold out. For the curious, here are the maps of Cairo:

If you ever chance upon an old travel guide, it is certainly worth a look.

Guide to Egypt and the Sûdân including a Description of the Route through Uganda to Mombasa. 7th edn. Macmillan’s Guide series. St. Martin’s Street, London: Macmillan and Co., Limited., 1916.

*According to the personal inscription at the beginning, this book once belonged to a Sophie Voorhees of Richmond Hill, Long Island, New York. Her handwritten notes indicate that she likely stayed at the National Hotel in 1924 and then the Shepheard’s Hotel in 1928. I’ve discovered quite a bit about Sophie Voorhees’s social life from the archived New York State newspapers at fultonhistory.com.

Book: Sufi Master and Qur’an Scholar

Several copies of my new book Sufi Master and Qur’an Scholar: Abū’l-Qāsim al-Qushayrī and the Laṭāʾif al-ishārāt arrived today at the office. This work, which has evolved over the years from an idea into a prospectus into a dissertation into a book, is finally in print. I am indebted to many colleagues and friends for their help and support in composing this work. My thanks to you all.

Sufi Master and Qur'an Scholar by Martin Nguyen

While I knew how the book would appear well before it arrived (it is a handsome tome), I was unaware of the readers’ comments that would appear printed on back. They read:

“The detailed analyses and the vast cumulative data presented in Nguyen’s work have produced a fresh, original, thorough and well-articulated book. It has the potential to become one of the main textbooks in the study of Sufism as well as, more generally, in the fields of hermeneutics and medieval Muslim culture.”
-Sara Sviri, Department of Arabic and Department of Comparative Religions, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

“This excellent book is the first in-depth study in English of one of the monuments of Sufi Qur’an commentary, the Laṭāʾif al-ishārāt of Abū’l-Qāsim al-Qushayrī. Clearly written and well-annotated throughout, this timely study brings to light some important and hitherto unexplored aspects of the celebrated Sufi theologian of Nishapur.”
-Annabel Keeler, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge

The praise is generous and undeserved, but heartening nonetheless.

The book has been published by Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies. My experience working with them has been absolutely superb. For more information on the book, including availability, please visit my Lata’if al-ishārāt project page on this site.