By Alberto Jori
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100 Like all his predecessors and contemporaries, with the exception perhaps of al-Shidyaq and Marrash, Khayr al-Din’s perspective is Islamic. 101 By way of justifying the writing of his book, he refers to the importance of understanding the European other in these terms: ‘We can properly distinguish what is most suitable for us only by having knowledge of those outside our own group, and especially of those who surround and live close to us’ (p. 71). He goes on to remind his reader that ‘secular organisation is a firm foundation for supporting the religious system’, and is not loath to express displeasure with religious scholars for their failure to observe the ‘circumstances of time in the application of Law’, and for being ignorant of both domestic and foreign events (p.
Nor does Marrash let go of a chance to praise the achievements of Western civilisation while berating his own culture, as when he describes the gas-lit lamps that illumine Paris at night, whose burning flames, he writes, ‘call upon the cold-spirited to enter into the sphere of civilisation . ’ (p. 35). Who he means by ‘the cold-spirited’ is hardly a matter for conjecture in the text. As to how the French achieved their scientific wonders and high state of civilisation, there is no doubt in Marrash’s mind: it is through reason.
Thus children grow up to be fainthearted and easy to scare . . ’ Eastern girls have an even worse deal, as all they hear from their mothers is gossip about marriage, divorce and affairs. 72 The end result of this, al-Shidyaq tells his reader, is that ‘the children of Europeans are proud of themselves from a young age, active, nimble and have initiative, unlike the children of eastern countries, . . who are sluggish, slow, listless and slack . 73 Al-Shidyaq could not be more forthcoming in denouncing his own culture in the same breath as he lauds the culture of Europe.