Born in 1215/1800 in the village of Rashmayya, 12 km southeast of Beirut, M.M. grew up in Deir al-Qamar, on Mount Lebanon. He was a descendant of Yusuf Batraki, a Greek Orthodox merchant from the island of Corfu who moved to Tripoli to take up the silk trade. There, in an allusion to his new profession,Yusuf adopted the name “Mishaqa,” (a term used in reference to the process of filtering silk fibers). M.M.’s great-grandfather was a convert to Catholicism. His father, Jirjis, moved to Deir al-Qamar, the center of power of the Shihabi Emirate, to escape the oppression of al-Jazzar, the governor (vali) of Sidon (r. 1190-1219/1776-1804). Though he initially embarked on a career as a goldsmith, Jirjis soon attracted the attention of the Amir of Mount Lebanon, Bashir II (r. 1203-1256/1788-1840), who welcomed him into his household, first as a scribe and then as chief treasurer.
M.M. claimed to be self-taught, having received little or no formal education. As a member of the Christian middle class, he alternated between commercial activities and intellectual endeavors throughout his life. At the age of 17, he was sent to Damietta (Damyat) to learn the silk trade from his uncle. Three years later he returned to Mount Lebanon. In the 1820s (1236-46) and then again briefly ca. 1256/1840, he practiced the craft of silk weaving. In the 1830s (1246-56), following in his father’s footsteps, he, entered the service of Amir Bashir II, acting as his representative in the courts of the Amir’s allies and as his tax collector on Mount Lebanon.
In 1249/1833 the Amir of Hasbaya, with the consent of Amir Bashir, appointed M.M. to be his representative (wakil) in Damascus. By this time M.M. was highly regarded for his diplomatic skills as well as for his wide array of contacts. With the property he received as a result of this position -- lands in the region of the Hula valley and a small village near Qunaytira -- his financial situation also improved.
In Damascus M.M. was able to extend his social and political connections beyond those he had established with the mid-level ruling classes of Mount Lebanon. He socialized with Muslim notables (ayan) as well as Damascus’ merchant class while also cultivating closer ties with various Western representatives. He studied astronomy, mathematics, geography and music with the renowned Muslim scholar Allama Muhammad Attar. He also undertook the study of medicine, for which he was awarded a diploma in Egypt in 1261/1845. Some time after receiving his medical diploma, he returned to Damascus where he was eventually appointed the chief physician of the municipality. Upon the conclusion of the rule of his patron, Amir Bashir II, M.M., finding the income from his medical career insufficient, became a dragoman, in the service of the British Consulate in Damascus. He soon befriended British Consul Richard Wood. In the 1840s/ 1256-167, M.M. deepened his ties with the American Mission, converting to Protestantism in 1265/1848. During these years he replaced his dear friend, the Arab Christian intellectual Butrus al-Bustani, as the missionaries’ Arabic teacher. Between 1276/1859 and 1287/1870 M.M. served as deputy to the American Consul in Damascus.
By 1256/1840 M.M. was an active member of various Beiruti cultural societies, such as al-Jamiya al-Suriya li-Iktisab al-Ulum wa-l-Funun (The Syrian Society for the Acquisition of Sciences). Later, ca. 1277/1860, he joined al-Jamiya al-Ilmiya al-Suriya (The Syrian Scientific Society), which was open to both Muslims and Christians. Significantly, both of these societies endorsed the idea of Syria as a unique geographical entity.
During the civil war of 1277/1860, M.M. was seriously injured. His house and other property damaged, though not completely destroyed, he and his family found temporary shelter with a Muslim neighbor. He ultimately survived that tumultuous period and lived in Damascus until his death at the age of 88 in 1306/1888.
M.M. is the author of this much-quoted work written in 1290/1873. A history of Bilad al-Sham from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century, the work is also autobiographical, providing a detailed account of his family background and as well as his own life’s activities.
As he had been prompted by relatives and friends who repeatedly asked him for an account of his family’s history, he called this manuscript “Reply to My Loved Ones’ Request.” M.M. also used this opportunity to record his profound knowledge of Mount Lebanon and the rest of Bilad al-Sham. It quickly becomes apparent that M.M. had a first-hand familiarity with the people and events he describes in such great detail.
M.M. begins his historical review with a description of al-Jazzar’s rule and a discussion of his own ties with Amir Bashir II. He alludes to Bonaparte’s siege of Acre and Chaim Farhi’s role in the city and depicts the various feuds among the Pashas of the regions, especially that between the governors of Damascus and of Sidon. He vividly portrays the Egyptian occupation of Syria as well as the civil war on Mount Lebanon (ca. 1256/1840) and concludes the narrative with a detailed description of the civil strife of 1277/1860.
In M.M.’s al-Jawab it is possible to trace several significant developments in the historiography of the region. Indeed, this work should be regarded as a genuine prototype for the burgeoning genre of Lebanese historiography, a genre that sought to cultivate a sense of community among the Lebanese based on their own unique local traditions. Broader in scope than the writings that preceded it, this new genre no longer referred to specific religious communities or “principalities” but to the Lebanese community as a whole. Similarly, M.M.’s work represents an innovation in the interpretation of Syrian historiography. Whereas traditional historiography centered on a specific town or a limited part of a region, this new genre focused on a wider geographic area and introduced a new theme: Syria as a single territorial entity, a country with its own borders, history, people and manners. M.M. was one of the first historians to trace the history of Greater Syria in the nineteenth century, with Mount Lebanon included as an integral part of this new whole. M.M. thus fosters a territorial concept of Greater Syria, that regards the Syrian people as one entity. In a larger framework, M.M.’s al-Jawab may also be regarded as the precursor of modern Arab autobiographical literature, an important aspect of the Arabic historiographical tradition, which itself first emerged in the late 18th century.
The style of the work differs from classical chronicles in that it is a historical narrative embodying not only a linear account of events, but also an analytical interpretation of their significance, buttressed as it is by arguments and conclusions that often reveal the author himself as an active participant in his own narrative. In addition to describing and analyzing a train of events, M.M. levels criticisms, suggests models of commendable behavior, and questions why things were as they appeared to be. He also contemplates future societal progress. His analyses take into consideration a broad spectrum of economic, social and political viewpoints and supply pertinent background material to the topic at hand. Another virtue of the work is M.M.’s non-sectarian attitude, particularly in his accounts of the civil wars of 1256/1840 and 1277/1860. Unlike other Christian writers of his time who would portray the activities of their own sect in laudatory terms while summarily dismissing the value of the activities of their rivals, M.M. seeks to represent the Druses and Christians even-handedly, often casting a critical eye on the behavior and actions of both sides. For example, in his analysis of the causes for the civil war of 1277/1860, M.M. is very clear on the part the Christians played in aggravating the situation, though he also censures the actions of the Ottoman administration. Moreover, although he explicitly states that some Muslims in Damascus provided shelter and aid to many other Christians, including himself, thus saving their lives, he is also unflinching in his portrayal of the acts of cruelty perpetrated by the Druses and other Muslims against the city’s Christians.
M.M.’s omission of any analysis of the rule of the Sublime Porte is one of the weaknesses of his account. For example, he nowhere mentions the establishment of the Syrian governorship (vilayet) in 1282/1865 or the reforms of the Tanzimat, though he does reflect on how the interpretation of these reforms pertained to the events of 1277/1860. In addition, M.M. places the center of gravity of the region’s history perhaps too firmly in the rule of Amir Bashir II. In the glowing portrait he paints of the Amir, M.M. depicts the period of his rule as not only particularly blissful for his own family, but also prosperous for all of Mount Lebanon. Moreover, for M.M., the scope of Bashir’s power and influence extended well beyond Mount Lebanon, his formal sphere of control, into the provinces of both Damascus and Sidon.
Two editions of the Arabic manuscript exist. The first is an unsatisfactory adaptation that M.H. Abdu and A.H. Shahashiri included in their 1908 publication Kitab Mashhad al-Ayan bi-Hawadit Suriya wa-Lubnan. The second adaptation by Asad Rustum and Subhi Abu-Shaqra in 1955, is more reliable, though the authors, wishing to avoid reviving ancient animosities, did not include pages 320-382, the section in whichthe civil war of 1277/1860 is described. This version contains a detailed index. A full English translation (with pictures and index) by W. M. Thackston Jr. was published in 1988.
This work was composed in 1259/1843 by a certain Miha’il Dimashqi, an otherwise unknown historian, who may actually be M.M. himself. There are noticeable similarities between this work and al-Jawab ala Iqtirah al-Ahbab, not only in content and style, but also in the biographical details of the author as well as in the slight slant to the left in the handwriting of both authors. The autograph copy of the work from 1259/ 1843, which is in good condition, can be found in the Oriental Room of the British Library. Its three parts deal with the years 1197-1257/1782-1841: the first part describes the governors of Bilad al-Sham and chronicles their respective rules; the second focuses on the coastal areas of Lebanon as well as on Mountain; the third details certain noteworthy events that occurred in Beirut and on Mount Lebanon during the latter part of the period under discussion. The manuscript concentrates especially on the reigns of al-Jazzar and Amir Bashir II and the Egyptian occupation, and highlights the administration of Damascus and Mount Lebanon as well as other developments in Bilad al-Sham. It depicts religious events and elaborates on the interrelationships between sects, particularly the debates between the Greek Catholics and the Greek Orthodox. The manuscript closely resembles a chronicle and, though parts are written in fusha (the canonical language), its overall language is closer to that of the ammiya (common language) of Damascus.
Of the two editions of this manuscript, the first, by Luwis Maluf (1912), is entitled Ta’rih Hawadit al-Sham wa-Lubnan min sana 1197/1782 ila sana 1257/1841; the second, Ta’rih Hawadit al-Sham wa-Lubnan wa Ta’rih Miha’il al-Dimashqi, by Sabanu Ahmad Gassan, was published in 1982. Both editions contain the actual text, along with an introduction, a list of major topics and explanations of various terms appearing throughout the work. Only the first edition includes an index.
In addition to his historical works, M.M. wrote treatises on medicine and Arabic music. He also completed a statistical report on mosques and other Muslim institutions in Damascus that serves to this day as a unique source for the study of Muslim urban history. He is also the author of the following works on religious topics, the manuscripts of which can be found in the Oriental Room of the British Library: Kashf al-Niqab an Wajh al-Masih al-Kaddab (1860); al-Dalil ila Taat al-Injil (1860); al-Barahin al-Injiliya Did al-Abatil al-Babawiya (1864); Kitab Ajwibat al-Injiliyin ala Abatil al-Taqlidiyin (1867).
1) al-Jawab ala Iqtirah al-Ahbab
Manuscripts: (1) Beirut, American University of Beirut, MS 956.9 M39 JA. 48532, 382 fol., 21 lines, nesih, autograph. (2) Oxford, Middle East Centre, St. Antony’s College DS80.87 M6, 382 fol., 21 lines, nesih.
Editions: Miha’il Mishaqa, Kitab Mashhad al-Ayan bi-Hawadit Suriya wa-Lubnan, eds. M.H. Abdu and A.H. Shahashiri (Cairo, 1908). Miha’il Mishaqa, Muntahabat min al-Jawab ala Iqtirah al-Ahbab, eds. Asad Rustum and Subhi Abu-Shaqra (Beirut, 1955).
Translation: Mihayil Mishaqa, Murder, Mayhem, Pillage, and Plunder: The History of Lebanon in the 18th and 19th Centuries, tr. W.M. Thackston Jr. (New York, 1988).
Bibliography: Albert Hourani, “Historians of Lebanon,” Historians of the Middle East, eds. Peter M. Holt and Bernard Lewis (London, 1964), 237. Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age 1798-1939 (Oxford, 1970), 58-59. Thomas Philipp, “Class, Community, and Arab Historiography in the Early 19th Century,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 16 (1984), 161-175. Thomas Philipp, “The Autobiography in Modern Arab Literature and Culture,” Poetics Today, 14 (1993), 581-583.
2) Ta’rih Hawadit Jarat bil-Sham wa-Sawahil Barr al-Sham wa-l-Jabal
Manuscript: (1) London, British Library, Oriental Room Add. 22673/2; 68 fol., 21 lines, nesih, autograph.
Editions: Miha’il al-Dimashqi, Ta’rih Hawadit al-Sham wa-Lubnan min sana 1197/1782 ila sana 1257/1841, ed. Luwis Ma’luf (Beirut, 1912). Miha’il al-Dimashqi, Hawadit al-Sham wa-Lubnan min sana 1197/1782 ila sana 1257/1841, ed. Luwis Maluf, al-Mashriq, 15 (1912), 49-60, 102-115, 179-190, 287-298, 363-373, 494-502, 577-590, 688-699, 745-756, 812-824. Ta’rih Hawadit al-Sham wa-Lubnan wa Ta’rih Miha’il al-Dimashqi, ed. Sabanu Ahmad Gassan (Damascus, 1982).
Bibliography: Fruma Zachs, “Miha’il Mishaqa - The First Historian of Modern Syria,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 28/1 (2001), 83-86.
General Bibliography: Fleischer, “Michael Meschâka’s Cultur-Statistik von Damaskus,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 8 (1854), 346-374. Yusuf Iliyan Sarkis, Mujam al-Matbuat al-Arabiya wa-l-Muarraba, vol. 2 (Cairo, 1929), 1747-1748. Butrus Abu-Manneh, “The Christians between Ottomanism and Syrian Nationalism: The Ideas of Butrus al-Bustani,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 11 (1980), 287-304. Fruma Zachs, “Miha’il Mishaqa: The First Historian of Modern Syria,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 28/1 (2001), 67-87. Fruma Zachs, The Making of a Syrian Identity – Intellectuals and Merchants in Nineteenth Century Beirut (Leiden, 2005), 34, 178-179.