Marmaduke Pickthall is well known to millions of readers for his translation The Meaning of the Glorious Qur'ân (1930), considered his crowning achievement. It is the first translation by a Muslim whose native language was English.
At the age of 17, hoping to learn enough Arabic to earn him a consular job in Palestine, Marmaduke sailed for Port Said. He spent a few weeks wandering Cairo where he found a khoja to teach him Arabic, and with increasing fluency, took ship for Jaffa where to the horror of the Europeans he donned native garb and disappeared into the Palestinian hinterland.
Later in life he wrote: 'When I read The Arabian Nights I see the daily life of Damascus, Jerusalem, Aleppo, Cairo, and the other cities as I found it in the early nineties of last century. What struck me, even in its decay and poverty, was the joyousness of that life compared with anything that I had seen in Europe. The people seemed quite independent of our cares of life, our anxious clutching after wealth, our fear of death.'
In Oriental Encounters he writes of that lost world and its passing parade of chiefs, bandits and madmen engaged in the joyousness of life. In his introduction he writes, "I ran completely wild for months, in a manner unbecoming to an Englishman; and when at length, upon a pressing invitation, I turned up in Jerusalem and used my introductions, it was in semi-native garb and with a love for Arabs which, I was made to understand, was hardly decent."
This book is part travelogue, part memoir at once both comic and noble. Marmaduke writes, 'A record of small things, no doubt; yet it seems possible that something human may be learnt from such a comic sketch-book of experience which would never be derived from more imposing works.'
The original text uses the archaic pronouns, thee, thou and thine along with corresponding verb conjugations (dost, shalt, wilt etc.) extensively. While this may convey in translation a certain formality present in Arabic speech, its effect overall on the narrative now seems awkward and dated. To make the book more readable we have replaced the archaic forms with modern ones, trusting that Pickthall, were he alive, might not have been too offended.