Undiscovered continent
May 15, 2018 9:22 PM   Subscribe

A Silver Thread: Islam in Eastern Europe A long article by Jacob Mikanowski in the Los Angeles Review of Books about Islam in Eastern Europe through folklore and history.

This Europe, in which Christians and Muslims routinely switched clothes and butterflies could defeat dragons, has been largely forgotten. A shame, for it has lessons to teach us — lessons about embracing difference and accepting mercy. These are important lessons at a time when leaders in Poland, Serbia, Hungary, and far too many other nations have taken to saying that Muslims have no place in Europe, neither now nor in its history. The work of remembering is hard, but it is necessary, and it bears fruits.
posted by tavegyl (5 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I like the article, but "the Spanish traveler Ibrahim ibn Yaqub from Tortosa" was Jewish (or at least of Jewish birth), probably a spy, and deserves better than to be called a "Muslim trader... crisscrossing these still-pagan lands before Christian missionaries had set foot there".

The position of Jews in al-Andalus is interesting in itself, but Ibrahim ibn Yaqub/Avraham ben Yakov is especially interesting. It's arguable that his background as a Jew among Muslims gave him easier entree to Christendom and elsewhere than he would have otherwise had. In a sense, his experience parallels that of the Muslim minority in later Christian Europe and I think the author's argument would have been richer if it hadn't elided his background.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:02 AM on May 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Wonderfully written article, thanks for posting. (Just spent a couple of days n Belgrade, and to have this kind of complexity lens to help put this part of the world in better focus/perspective is a real relief from all the facile stereotypes you’re generally offered to “get” the Balkans...)
posted by progosk at 4:59 AM on May 16, 2018

A very enjoyable, if scattered, article; it's basically an excuse to tell a bunch of great stories, and if you don't have time to read the whole thing, Ctrl-F for Evliya Çelebi and read his tale of the "wondrous and foolish gaza." You won't regret it. (It's not for the squeamish, though.)

If you're interested in a more historical/scholarly approach, I can recommend Islam in the Balkans: Religion and Society Between Europe and the Arab World, by H. T. Norris (expensive, but try a library—I got it at a sale for a couple of bucks); for anthropology, Being Muslim the Bosnian Way: Identity and Community in a Central Bosnian Village by Tone Bringa; and for a personal/political account, Sarajevo, Exodus of a City by Dzevad Karahasan. (Those are all from the southern end of the region, obviously.)
posted by languagehat at 8:03 AM on May 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

What a fascinating read!
posted by A hidden well at 8:09 PM on May 16, 2018

This reminds me a lot of how Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the traditional cultures of the people of Southeast Asia mixed and melded over centuries. Sadly that kind of syncretism is slowly disappearing here too.
posted by destrius at 6:48 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

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