Religious Sites in Algeria: Mosques, Churches and Synagogues
Included in its discussion of various tourist sites and attractions, Cook’s Practical Guide to Algeria and Tunisia provides lists of numerous religious sites, including mosques, churches and synagogues. The first mention of these religious sites is under the general information section for Algeria, where Cook has chosen to write about English churches next to other important buildings like the bank and consulate. Since there has been no mention of mosques or other religious sites up to this point, one can assume that Cook purposely listed English churches so early on with the assumption most of the readers of his guidebook are European travelers, who are presumably Christian and would want to visit these churches to feel more connected with home while traveling.
Later in the guidebook, Cook starts describing various well-known sites in both Algeria and Tunisia, which is where details about mosques can be found, along with additional information about churches. Since the native population of Algeria and Tunisia is primarily composed of Muslims, there are many mosques to be listed. However, Cook only chooses to include a few in his guidebook, along with somewhat dry descriptions of the mosques themselves, especially when compared to how he chooses to describe the churches in the same cities. For example, a typical description of a mosque includes talking about how the “interior is very plain” and the “appearance is rather bare”. When compared to how the guidebook talks about an English church, one can immediately sense the bias that Cook has towards Christianity. While writing about churches, Cook’s descriptions clearly become more positive as he writes, “The interior is very interesting. The walls are covered with …. Algerian marble, some of them very handsome” . However, one can also notice a difference in the descriptions of the various types of churches. Only the English church is listed with a lengthy and flattering description, while the others - such as the Scotch Presbyterian and the French Protestant churches - are listed without being described. This is most likely due to the fact that most of Cook’s audience was English (primarily Protestant) and was not interested in visiting other types of churches. Similarly, on the same page, Cook writes, “the Jewish synagogue...completes the list of religious buildings of importance,” because Cook believed that most European travelers, specifically from London, in Algeria would not be planning on touring a synagogue. However, later on, the guidebook does mention that “a Jewish wedding ceremony, open to everyone, is a very interesting sight [in a synagogue],” showing that Europeans maintained a fascination with the “exotic” culture and religious practices of “other” groups, despite not viewing mosques and synagogues as worthy of a visit.
Throughout the guidebook, Cook provides times and locations of regular church services, while also stating that “[the mosque] contains nothing to attract attention, and scarcely worth a visit.” Even though European travelers chose to visit majority-Muslim countries, the travelers were not actually interested in the religion and viewed Islamic religious sites to be inferior. This sense of superiority is evident earlier in the guidebook, where Cook writes, “It is satisfactory to know, in spite of the hundreds of millions of francs which Algeria has cost France, that this nest of pirates and smugglers has been transformed into a really fine colony … with all kinds of churches, schools, roads,” showing how the addition of churches in Algeria was seen as an improvement to Algeria and the character of its native people. In addition, Cook also writes about how this change is the “gain of Christianity and of civilisation,” which is yet another example of how Europeans believed that without Christianity, Algeria was in trouble and a “headquarters of Mohammedan infidelity,” showing the overall lack of respect travelers had for Islam and Muslims - evident throughout the guidebook whenever religious sites are mentioned.