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Chapter 6 - Friendship
Religion was a necessity of life in the 17th century, for Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. The Republic was no exception and the exchange of polemics among various religious persuasions was intense. Many direct contacts between Christian scholars and their Middle Eastern correspondents, however, betrayed no sign of this animosity. Often, the values that they shared as scientists or scholars and their interest in each other’s world were more important than the differences of faith. Most of these relationships were characterised by mutual respect and equality. In some cases, close friendships were formed, such as that between Theunisz and Abd al-Aziz. The exchange of knowledge benefited from personal relationships of this kind.
Dedication by Abd al-Aziz to John Paget
Versio Evangeliorum Arabica, Amsterdam 1610
Last page in a copy of the gospels, that Abd al-Aziz made for ‘his friend’ John Paget, Amsterdam, 1610.
God bless you
Muhammad al-Jazari, Al-hisn al-hssin min kalamsayyid al-mursalin [Prayer Book], Amsterdam 1610
During the winter of 1609–1610, Abd al-Aziz spent four months as the houseguest of the Mennonite Arabist Johannes Theunisz in Amsterdam. Before he departed, he made a copy of his prayer book for Theunisz, who, to judge by his notes, studied it carefully.
Four faiths at one table
Versio Evangeliorum Arabica, Amsterdam 1610
The New Testament in Arabic, copied and provided with phonetic symbols by Abd al-Aziz for his ‘friend John Paget’, who had fled from England because of his faith. One copy of the original, printed in Rome, was available in Amsterdam, in the ‘librye’ of the Nieuwe Kerk [New Church], where the Englishman Matthaeus Sladus (1569–1628) was librarian. Paget (a Presbyterian, also British), Sladus (a Calvinist), Theunisz (a Mennonite) and the Muslim Abd al-Aziz formed a close-knit circle of friends.
Conversation about Christianity and Islam
Johannes Theunisz, Over den Christelijke godsdienst en den Koran [About the Christian religion and the Quran] Leiden, 1612
Theunisz’s account of his conversations with Abd al-Aziz about faith. Predestination, Maria, the miracles of Muhammad, eternal life – they were in agreement concerning many subjects. Not, however, about whether Jesus was the son of God. The text testifies to respect for each other’s arguments as well as to concerns about one another’s salvation.
Regional Archive Leiden en Omstreken.
Johannes Theunisz, wordlist
According to dictionaries, the common meaning of the Arabic daraja was ‘to climb stairs’ or ‘to make steady progress’. In his vocabulary, Theunisz added a meaning that Abd al-Aziz had taught him: ‘to hop, to beat one's wings like a bird’. Abd al-Aziz must have put his pen down and acted out what he meant.
University Libraries, Amsterdam [OTM: III C 11].
Koran, Maghrib, 16th century
In April 1610, Abd al-Aziz left Amsterdam, not bound for his home but on pilgrimage to Mecca. For a parting gift, as a memento and out of gratitude, he gave Johannes Theunisz his Koran. In the back, he wrote a dedication:
Praise be to God alone. The blessings of God for Muhammad. This blessed book, the Koran, we have given to our honoured friend, the ‘Fleming’ Juhannan ibn Antun. He wants to learn from it, because he has asked us to tell if this is the truth or a falsehood. For that reason we have given him the book. May he learn the Arabic language from it. This has been written, with praise for God the Exalted, by Abd al-Aziz ibn Mohammed.
University Libraries, Amsterdam.
My teacher ‘Abdil Aziz’
Johannes Theunisz, Doctissimorum quorundam hominum de Arabicae linguae antiquitate dignitate et utilitate testimonia publica, Amsterdam 1611
This small book contains, among other things, a list of reasons why famous scholars embarked on the study of Arabic. In his preface, Theunisz describes “Abdil Aziz” as one of his teachers, together with Rudolfus Snellius and Franciscus Raphelengius (on the previous page).
University Libraries, Leiden.
Request and recommendation
In 1612, Theunisz applied to the Curators of the University of Leiden for a position as a teacher of Arabic. He arranged a letter of recommendation in Spanish from the new Moroccan ambassador, Ahmed ibn Abdallah, who writes that he ‘has a good knowledge of the Arabic language, writes, speaks and understands it quite well’ and should therefore be ‘honoured and praised’.
University Libraries, Leiden [Ubl002, box 42, file 42/2]
Muhammad Urdi al-Halabi writes in this letter to Golius: ‘Warner and I are like lâm and âlif’. That is to say, like two Arabic letters that are intertwined if they are written next to each other – best of friends, in other words. Al-Halabi was one of the people who bought books and had them copied for Warner when the latter lived in Istanbul.
University Libraries, Leiden [Or. 1228-65].