chapter  1
On cooks and crooks
Ah˙mad Fāris al-Shidyāq and the orientalists in England and France (1840s–1850s)
ByTarek El-Ariss
Pages 25

The Arab “discovery” of Orientalism in the nineteenth century generated both fascination with and contestation of European scholarship on Islam and Arabic language and literature. For instance, in Takhlīs˙ al-ibrīz fī talkhīs˙ Bārīz (An Imam in Paris) (1834), Rifāʿa al-T˙aht˙āwī (d. 1873) relates his encounter with Silvestre de Sacy (d. 1838), 1 heaping praise on this scholar at the École des Langues Orientales and founder of Journal Asiatique. 2 Working under the supervision of Edmé-François Jomard (d. 1862), the editor of Description de l’Egypte, al-T˙aht˙āwī expresses great admiration for de Sacy’s knowledge of Arabic language and literature, and quotes in Takhlīs˙ parts of his translation and commentary on al-H˙arīrī’s Maqāmāt. 3 By way of comparison, al-T˙aht˙āwī states that this eminent scholar’s erudition and prestige are such that they lead the reader to imagine what al-Farābī (d. 950) was like in his day. al-T˙aht˙āwī illustrates this through an anecdote about al-Farābī’s first visit to Sayf al-Dawla al-H˙amadānī’s (r. 944–967) court in Aleppo, during which he bewildered attendees with his knowledge, language mastery, and musical genius. By conjuring up al-Farābī in his discussion of de Sacy, al-T˙aht˙āwī reclaims a tradition of Arab-Islamic learning that produces wonder and fascination as well, and to which he, an al-Azhar scholar, is heir.