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The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle…
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The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to…

by Christopher De Bellaigue

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While this is a fascinating book, reading it made me aware of the limitations inherent in the author's thesis and approach. Put briefly, the author states that there was an "Islamic Enlightenment" in which exposure to Western culture, exploitation, and imperialism drove muslims to confront traditional notions of faith versus reason, leading to a period in which major cultural emphasis was put on separating and prioritizing human reason from religious faith. He supports his thesis by tracing the experience of three different muslim societies, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and Iran starting with Napoleon's conquest of Egypt (1798-1801) up through the present time. The book traces the experience of these societies in separate, sometimes intersecting narratives up to the present day (the book was published in 2017). While the author emphasizes the progress of the secular by describing the major writers, thinkers, actors and politicians who impacted it, the story could easily be read as a "Why they hate us" across the centuries. The unrelenting western exploitation and degrading is depressing.

The author has as much as he can handle with the material he covers, but one has to wonder about all the muslim societies he left out, such as Morocco, Algeria, what is now Pakistan, and Indonesia.

I hope the author writes another book to develop the ideas he barely mentions in the Conclusion about what he calls the "Counter-Enlightenment" that has taken control in modern Turkey, Egypt, and Iran, and how the ideas behind the "Islamic Enlightenment" yet survive and influence events. In the meantime I enjoyed this book and learned a great deal from it. ( )
  baobab | Jul 4, 2018 |
This is a dense and sometimes difficult read, but ultimately a rewarding one. I felt like I learned a lot from it, and it made me eager to read more about the Ottoman Empire and the international politics of the late nineteenth century. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0871403730, Hardcover)

A revelatory and game-changing narrative that rewrites everything we thought we knew about the modern history of the Islamic world.

With majestic prose, Christopher de Bellaigue presents an absorbing account of the political and social reformations that transformed the lands of Islam in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Flying in the face of everything we thought we knew, The Islamic Enlightenment becomes an astonishing and revelatory history that offers a game-changing assessment of the Middle East since the Napoleonic Wars.

Beginning his account in 1798, de Bellaigue demonstrates how Middle Eastern heartlands have long welcomed modern ideals and practices, including the adoption of modern medicine, the emergence of women from seclusion, and the development of democracy. With trenchant political and historical insight, de Bellaigue further shows how the violence of an infinitesimally small minority is in fact the tragic blowback from these modernizing processes.

Structuring his groundbreaking history around Istanbul, Cairo, and Tehran, the three main loci of Islamic culture, de Bellaigue directly challenges ossified perceptions of a supposedly benighted Muslim world through the forgotten, and inspiring, stories of philosophers, anti-clerics, journalists, and feminists who opened up their societies to political and intellectual emancipation. His sweeping and vivid account includes remarkable men and women from across the Muslim world, including Ibrahim Sinasi, who brought newspapers to Istanbul; Mirza Saleh Shirzi, whose Persian memoirs describe how the Turkish harems were finally shuttered; and Qurrat al-Ayn, an Iranian noble woman, who defied her husband to become a charismatic prophet.

What makes The Islamic Enlightenment particularly germane is that non-Muslim pundits in the post-9/11 era have repeatedly called for Islam to subject itself to the transformations that the West has already achieved since the Enlightenment―the absurd implication being that if Muslims do not stop reading or following the tenets of the Qur’an and other holy books, they will never emerge from a benighted state of backwardness. The Islamic Enlightenment, with its revolutionary argument, completely refutes this view and, in the process, reveals the folly of Westerners demanding modernity from those whose lives are already drenched in it.

8 pages of color and 8 pages of black-and-white illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 21 Jan 2017 13:21:18 -0500)

A revelatory and game-changing narrative that rewrites everything we thought we knew about the modern history of the Islamic world. With majestic prose, Christopher de Bellaigue presents an absorbing account of the political and social reformations that transformed the lands of Islam in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Flying in the face of everything we thought we knew, The Islamic Enlightenment becomes an astonishing and revelatory history that offers a game-changing assessment of the Middle East since the Napoleonic Wars. Beginning his account in 1798, de Bellaigue demonstrates how Middle Eastern heartlands have long welcomed modern ideals and practices, including the adoption of modern medicine, the emergence of women from seclusion, and the development of democracy. With trenchant political and historical insight, de Bellaigue further shows how the violence of an infinitesimally small minority is in fact the tragic blowback from these modernizing processes. What makes The Islamic Enlightenment particularly germane is that non-Muslim pundits in the post-9/11 era have repeatedly called for Islam to subject itself to the transformations that the West has already achieved since the Enlightenment--the absurd implication being that if Muslims do not stop reading or following the tenets of the Qur'an and other holy books, they will never emerge from a benighted state of backwardness. The Islamic Enlightenment, with its revolutionary argument, completely refutes this view and, in the process, reveals the folly of Westerners demanding modernity from those whose lives are already drenched in it.… (more)

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