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Book Launch - Encountering Islam: Joseph Pitts: An English Slave in 17th Century Algiers and Mecca

An Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies seminar
Date13 March 2012
Time17:15 to 19:00
PlaceInstitute of Arabic and Islamic Studies

Common Room

Author Paul Auchterlonie will be talking about his new book

Born in Exeter around 1662, Joseph Pitts was captured by Algerian pirates on his first voyage in 1678. Sold as a slave in Algiers, he underwent forced conversion to Islam. Sold again, he accompanied his kindly third master on pilgrimage to Mecca, so becoming the first Englishman known to have visited the Muslim Holy Places. Granted his freedom, Pitts became a soldier, going on campaign against the Moroccans and Spanish before venturing on a daring escape while serving with the Algiers fleet in the Aegean Sea. Crossing much of Italy and Germany on foot, he finally reached Exeter seventeen years after he had left. Joseph Pitts' only book, "A Faithful Account of the Religion and Manners of the Mahometans", first published in 1704, is a unique combination of captivity narrative, travel account and description of Islam. It describes his time in Algiers, his life as a slave, his conversion, his pilgrimage to Mecca (the first such detailed description in English), Muslim ritual and practice, and his audacious escape. A Christian for most of his life, Pitts also had the advantage of living as a Muslim within a Muslim society and the intimacy of his descriptions of Muslim life are unique for the period.

Paul Auchterlonie is an Honorary Research Fellow of the Institute.  He read Arabic at Oxford before training as a librarian at the University of London. He then worked for forty years as a librarian specializing in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and from 1981 to 2011 was librarian in charge of the Middle East collections at the University of Exeter.  He served for many years as Chair of the Middle East Libraries Committee (MELCOM-UK), and was founding Secretary of MELCOM International. He is the author and editor of numerous works on Middle Eastern bibliography and library science, and has recently published articles on historical and cultural relations between Britain and the Middle East
 


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