Jacob Mikanowski’s LARB essay “A Silver Thread: Islam in Eastern Europe” is somewhat scattershot, basically an excuse to tell a bunch of stories (and good stories they are — I particularly recommend the Evliya Çelebi “strange and comical adventure, a wondrous and foolish gaza,” though it’s not for the squeamish), but this passage is obvious LH material:

The world of Islamic Eastern Europe is an undiscovered continent. Exploring its history means spelunking in obscure journals and forgotten offprints. Even with a good research library at your back, it is a struggle. For literature, the situation is even worse. But there are treasures waiting for the enterprising translator. The task will be difficult though, requiring not just a knowledge of languages and scripts, but an understanding of a whole world of cultural referents that have all but disappeared. To read Naim Frashëri requires not only a command of Albanian, but also of classical and modern Greek, French, Italian, and the high Islamic tradition he absorbed through Arabic, Turkish, and Persian verse.

And who will be the first to unlock the world of Balkan aljamiado literature, that is, literature composed in Bosnian and Albanian (and less frequently in Polish and Belarusian) but written in Arabic letters? Also known as Arebica, this is a type of writing that serves as a perfect metaphor for the region: hybrid in form, plural in content, permeable to influence from east and west. A starting point might be Fejzo Softa’s Ašiklijski Elif-ba, that poet’s erotic introduction to the Arabic script, from which our enterprising translator could move on to the work of Umihana Čuvidina, a Bosnian war widow who commemorated her dead in her 79-verse-long epos The Men of Sarajevo March to War Against Serbia.

So much unknown material out there, and yet they keep translating the same warhorses over and over!


  1. For those that speak German, there is the Archiv für slavische philologie, which can be found on the Internet Archive website. It contains articles publishing works in arebica eg. the Chirvat-türkisi or the “Croatian song” (see Archiv für slavische philologie vol 32, 1911).

    The “Prilozi za orijentalnu filologiju” (Contributions to Oriental Philology) of the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo are also available online. These are searchable and there are a number of articles on alhamijado literature and language. The language of the articles in Bosnian, but some have summaries in English.

    The “Glasnik zemaljskog muzeja u Bosni I Hercegovini” (The publication of the Landesmuesum in Bosnia-Hercegovina) began publication in 1889. Articles were written in Latin, Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets.

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