An American Children's Book in the Name of Allah

1913OlcottsTheArabianNightsbyFrancesJenkinsOlcott-19-2No, this is not CAIR’s newest idea of subversion.  Look to the right at a page from the 1913 edition of the Arabian Nights by Frances Jenkins Olcott, an American librarian.  There at the top is the traditional Islāmic invocation “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful,” which I have seen (with variations) in places like scientific and technical monographs.

I think it’s safe to say that Americans in the years before World War I were better informed about the tenets of Islam than they are today.  One example of this was the coverage given in Godey’s Lady’s Book about the Banner Named Barack.  There was also significant missionary activity in the Middle East in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, and of course many of the Bible commentaries and reference books of the era contained information about the then-contemporary Middle East.

So, given what was known then and is known now, how could Olcott get away with putting this at the front of these stories? The simple explanation is that, then, the main face of Islam in the West was that of the Turk, and the Turk was having his difficulties, to say the least.  Islam in this country wasn’t perceived as much of a threat, and the Ottoman Empire’s loss of World War I only buttressed that perception.  (Europe was another story; the spectre of Islāmic conquest was always in the back of people’s minds, as Benito Mussolini knew all too well.)

Today we have two sources of misleading about Islam and the Middle East.  One from the right really doesn’t grasp anything different from what it has had, which explains George W. Bush’s quest for democracy in the Middle East.  One from the left discounts people’s beliefs in favour of their own artificial construct, which is why we careen from one failure to another these days.  Entertaining either or both of these fantasies will keep our world in turmoil.

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