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MALTA IMPRINT IN ARABIC LANGUAGE / EDUCATION: كتاب تواريخ مختصر ينبي عن ممالك وبلاد عديدة وما حدث فيها من قديم الزمان الى عصرنا هذا



[Kitāb tawārīkh mukhtaṣar yunbī ʻan mamālik wa-bilād ʻadīdah wa-mā ḥadatha fīhā min qadīm al-zamān ilá ʻaṣrinā hadhā / Concise History Book, Providing Information on Numerous Realms and Countries and What has Happened in Them from Ancient Times to Our Own Era]

A rare work in Arabic language, published in Malta for educational purposes of learning history


8°. 136 pp. with illustrated cover, somehow later blue cloth binding with patterned boards and old red label with gold lettering mounted on the spine, grey endpapers (a tiny wormhole in inner white margin and one minor wormhole in the text on approximately 15 pages, cracks in the hinges of endpapers, binding little rubbed with light scuffing to the corners, but overall in a good condition).

(Note on collation: First 9 unnumbered pages are followed by the first numbered page 14, but as published and complete. The collation of our book corresponds to the scanned example from the Columbia University Library.)



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This scarce book is the only work on general history, printed in Arabic language in Malta. It was published by the English Church Missionary Society to educate people, newly converted to Christianity, in necessary background material for better understanding of the Bible and development of the Christian religion.

The text is a translation of Catechism of Universal History written by William Pinnock (1782-1843), with adjusted first chapter, which in original explained the history of Great Britain. The book is centered on the Western perspective of history with only little consideration for the Middle East.

English Church Missionary Society

Church Missionary Society (CMS), which survives to the present day as the Church Mission Society was founded in 1799 in England as a vehicle to spread the Anglican Protestant faith around the world. Well-funded and backed by politically influential figures, the CMS rapidly established missions all over the world. The Middle East, called the ‘Mediterranean Sector’, was of great interest to the CMS, and in 1815 their operations there were inaugurated by Reverend William Jowett. From 1819-21 Jowett attempted to establish missions in Anatolia, but this was frustrated by the Ottoman authorities.

The CMS then decided to focus upon deploying transient missionaries to spread the ‘proper’ practice of the faith amongst the empire’s large Christian communities. Naturally, the missionaries required books written in Arabic. While Christian printing in Arabic and Syriac had long thrived in Lebanon, the Ottoman authorities had made it plain (at least for the time being) that foreign Christian missionaries would not be permitted to publish books in Turkish on Ottoman soil. Indeed, it seems that the Sublime Porte was sceptical of the CMS, perhaps (with good reason) suspecting that they intended to open a ‘dialogue’ with Muslim communities.

The CMS turned to Malta as a base for their operations in the Ottoman Empire. Malta was in many ways ideal, as it was British colony with an ardently Christian population, while it had close geographic proximity and strong cultural and economic ties to the Ottoman lands.

In 1825, the Reverend Jowett set up of a printing press in Malta to publish books in Arabic, its operations benefitting greatly from the involvement of Ahmad Faris Al-Shidyaq (1804 – 1887), a Lebanese Christian who was a pioneer of modern Arabic literature and journalism. The CMS press produced approximately 100 Arabic titles over the 17 years of its operation, until it closed shop in 1842. These works consisted of Christian religious texts and educational works, including the first world atlas printed in Arabic.

Note on Rarity

Worldcat lists examples in following libraries: University of Cambridge , University of Oxford, American University of Beirut, Yale University Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, National Library of Israel, Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (Lebanon).

We have noticed two variations of the title page of the same title, differing by the printing technique of the image on the title page and by the line / double line under the image.

References: OCLC 235988321, 1136000694, 49359808, 257711376. Geoffrey Roper, Arabic Printing in Malta 1825-1845 Its history and its place in the development of print culture in the Arab Middle East, 1988, p. 254-255, cat. no. 48


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