January 30, 2009

George Bush's biography of Muhammad, + Henry Stubbe

Reading American history can take you back further into other contexts... Two curious old out-of-print biographies of the Prophet Muhammad popped up on Google Books and elsewhere on the Internet more recently.

The Life of Mohammed: Founder of the Religion of Islam, and of the Empire of the Saracens is by Rev. George Bush (1796-1859), an actual relative of the infamous presidential family. This copy was scanned from Harvard Library and printed by J. & J. Harper in 1833.

I'd seen this book mentioned when flipping through a book by Fuad Sha'ban at City Lights Bookstore and later seen an actual old copy in Black Oak Books. It's partially sympathetic to Islam as a step away from paganism but at the same time calls Muhammad an imposter, which apparently was an issue in Egypt a few years ago. The context of the period, according to American Palestine by Stanford professor Hilton Obenzinger, is the view of America as a New Israel, a promised land chosen to do God's work on Earth, along with a "Holy Land Mania" of tourism to Palestine where natives were seen much the same as the natives of North America. If you visit the Stanford University quad and see the mural on the outside of the church, you might see California as a Promised Land!

Another even older book on the same subject has also been made available, and it's amazingly accurate on a number of levels for a book from 1670 or so (for example, on Christian history).

An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism: With the Life of Mahomet and a Vindication of Him and His Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians is by Henry Stubbe (1632-1676), a royal physician, classics scholar, and expert on chocolate. The copy you can download from Google was scanned from the UC Berkeley collection, prepared by Mahmud Khan Shairani from a manuscript from the Disney Catalogue, and published by Luzac (London) in 1911. There's another copy scanned from an Indian source on Archive.org.

Until more recently much of what was commonly known about Stubbe and his advocacy of Unitarianism or "Mahometan Christianity" was from British historian Christopher Hill, best known for his work on the English Revolution and period groups like the Diggers and Levellers, and the Quakers, Shakers, Ranters, and Seekers. A cool view of the relations between England and Islamic states in this period can be found in Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery (pictured left), when the views of Muslims were more nuanced than the later period of Rev. George Bush, the European Conquest, and colonialism.

Update: other similar free old books include
Ivan Ilych And Hadji Murad by Leo Tolstoy and The Crescent And The Rose Islam And England During The Renaissance by Samuel C. Chew.

No comments: