The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times by Christopher De Bellaigue

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

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 Mi...

Title:The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0871403730
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:432 pages

The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times Reviews

  • Tariq Mahmood
    Apr 23, 2017

    'Try and pray regularly for forty days, and see whether you can give up prayer afterward', different from 'give up praying for forty days and see whether you can ever resume the practice afterward?'. Jamal Al-Din Afghani, the founder of pan islamism.

    The book demonstrates that Muslim countries have adopted and still desire enlightenment even when some of them are governed by Islamic movements. Turkey, Iran and Egypt are profiled before WW1 to the present.

    If Islam engaged so successfully with mo

    'Try and pray regularly for forty days, and see whether you can give up prayer afterward', different from 'give up praying for forty days and see whether you can ever resume the practice afterward?'. Jamal Al-Din Afghani, the founder of pan islamism.

    The book demonstrates that Muslim countries have adopted and still desire enlightenment even when some of them are governed by Islamic movements. Turkey, Iran and Egypt are profiled before WW1 to the present.

    If Islam engaged so successfully with modernity until the First World War, why since then has reactionary revivalism been able to impose itself on ever larger swathes of the Muslim world?

    The rise of Islamism is a blowback from the Islamic Enlightenment – a facet, however detestable, of modernity itself.

    Although Muslims were not the authors of the achievements that we now associate with the Enlightenment. No Istanbul blacksmith discovered movable type. No Muslim Voltaire sniped at the clerics by the Nile. But there is a great difference between accepting that Muslim civilization did not initiate the Enlightenment and saying that it did not accept its findings or eat of its fruit. This is a big claim to make. It means that Muslims are either congenitally barred or – even worse – have deliberately cut themselves off from experiences that many consider being universal. It means that the lands of Islam have remained aloof from science, democracy and the principle of equality. It is a claim that is often heard in today’s divided, rebarbative, edgy world, and it is nonsense.

    'A very solid case for rise of resentment against their colonisers was inevitable and perfectly natural. If the West can today justify the rise of Far right due to uncontrolled immigration especially from the Middle East than the rise of Wahabism needs no explanation. The other impact was in countries like turkey and Iran who although never got colonised but were left with the perennial fear of takeover, which is still evident in their political psyche even today. So basically the organic like enlightenment movements were transformed into facist like militant movements which believed in hard lined nationalist policy back by military might, turkey of today is a classic example.

    The issue with rise of political islamisation is two fold, at one level Muslims have to be better than others at moral and virtue if others are far more advanced at science and technology, and other is the huge weight of expectation which every Muslim has to carry around which does not let him effectively compete with the others in science, technology, entertainment etc....

  • Normfg
    Apr 25, 2017

    Not a review - yet. This is proving to be a great read. It is "dense" , but not off-puttingly so. It just means that I have to take it slowly. But it is all so worth the effort.

  • Murtaza
    May 12, 2017

    An interesting recreation of Islam's modernization over the past few centuries, focused specifically on three major sites of change in Iran, Turkey and Egypt. This is a standard intellectual history, and charts the lives of most of the well-known Islamic thinkers of this period (Afghani, Abduh, Kemal, Tahtawi, Ale Ahmad etc.), while also recounting the works of a few other lesser-known writers and activists. De Bellaigue's basic contention is that Islam as we know it today has been radically and

    An interesting recreation of Islam's modernization over the past few centuries, focused specifically on three major sites of change in Iran, Turkey and Egypt. This is a standard intellectual history, and charts the lives of most of the well-known Islamic thinkers of this period (Afghani, Abduh, Kemal, Tahtawi, Ale Ahmad etc.), while also recounting the works of a few other lesser-known writers and activists. De Bellaigue's basic contention is that Islam as we know it today has been radically and irrevocably shaped by the forces of modernity. Even ferociously "anti-modern" approaches to religion are colored by their interaction with the thing they are rejecting. Islamism is not a rejection of modernity as much as an articulation of a different way of being modern, one that attempts to take inspiration and guidance from the past. Like quantum physics once something is being observed its own behaviors necessarily change, and Islam's interplay with Enlightenment ideas once it encountered them is no different.

    Although the writing in this book is often quite inspired and there were many small anecdotes, quotes, and even a few narratives I was unaware of (particularly in Iran), for the most part the information here will be familiar to most students of modern Islamic history. The best parts were those that went deeper into history, including the reflections penned by Iranian students on their first trips to the West, the perspectives of women on the new opportunities in society, and the creation of "public opinion" through the mass press. It is also striking how positively that the West and its achievements were viewed in the Muslim world in the past, before the actions of colonial governments began to embitter perceptions. Its hard to imagine an Islamic cleric like Mohammed Abduh today, a man who felt perfectly comfortable being both an ardent Europhile and an "Islamist" and who saw no real contradiction between these two positions.

    The book seems to have been intended as a rebuttal to the asinine claim made by some pop intellectuals that Islam is not modern and needs to be confronted by modern ideas. It generally accomplishes this, and is thus worthwhile for people seeking to understand contemporary Islamic thought and practice around the world - though I regret that he did not include South Asia. De Bellaigue does a good job of crafting a coherent narrative that enriches ones understanding of contemporary political events in many Muslim countries, places that are far from being mired in ancient ideas today, for better and worse.

  • Khaled Emara
    May 07, 2017

    excellent book from the western prospective

  • Christopher
    May 07, 2017

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    When thinking about the Middle East, modern is not one of the words your average American would ascribe to it. Indeed, if one just peruses right-wing media, you would think that the Middle East has been and always will be defined as in a Hobbesian state of nature. But, as the author o

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    When thinking about the Middle East, modern is not one of the words your average American would ascribe to it. Indeed, if one just peruses right-wing media, you would think that the Middle East has been and always will be defined as in a Hobbesian state of nature. But, as the author of this interesting book points out in his preface, this is a historical fallacy. The Middle East has tried and continues to engage with modernity, but in its own way. Mr. De Bellaigue tries to convey the historic struggle between the Middle East's Islamic identity and the modern world in this book with some mixed results.

    Mr. De Bellaigue starts his narrative with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798. Napoleon didn't just invade with soldiers though. He brought with him scientists and scholars, laying bear the fact to Egypt, and the Middle East's, denizens that the Islamic world had fallen behind in the production of new ideas and innovations. This had not always been the case as many remembered at the time. Thus began the region's fitful attempts at reform that continue to this day. Mr. De Bellaigue focuses his narrative on three locations: Egypt, Turkey (formerly the Ottoman Empire prior to World War I), and Iran. He shows how public intellectuals engaged with modern thought and technology and how attempts at real reform were often stifled either by conservative rulers or Western imperialists. This is an eye-opening historical revelation.

    At least, it would be. However, there are some major problems with this book. The biggest problem is that Mr. De Bellaigue's narrative blends together too much. It is very easy to miss when he has transitioned from one topic to the next, especially since there are no subheadings and few line breaks throughout the book. This isn't as big of a problem in the first three chapters as each one of them focuses on one region's first attempts at modernity, but the problem is still there. It gets worse in the last three chapters when Mr. De Bellaigue begins to talk about all three regions in the same chapter. Then not only is it easy to miss the transition from one public intellectual to the next, but also the transition from one region to the next.

    This is not to say that this book is difficult to decipher. Indeed, Mr. De Bellaigue shines when he talks about the great works of literature of some of the great Middle Eastern writers of their time and how their ideas would influence their countries for years to come. Some of their work may even be interesting to look at on their own. However, Mr. De Bellaigue doesn't always give each of these great writers enough space in his book to breathe on their own.

    In the end, while this is not the best book on Middle Eastern history (I would recommend

    by

    for that), it still may be useful for many Americans to read about the Middle East's attempts to modernize. It would certainly help them put the struggles in the Middle East they see on TV in a broader historical context.

  • Karim Hamed
    May 26, 2017

    A nice survey of the progress in the couple hundred years.

    It is limited to Egypt, Iran and Turkey and left me wondering about other areas of the Islamic world that might not have lead the effort of modernization by still had there own story like South Asia.

  • Robert Kinniburgh
    Jun 21, 2017

    Just an excellent work by Christopher De Bellaigue. If you are trying to make sense out of the world today, it's a must read for understanding.

  • Gary
    Jun 14, 2017

    Christopher de Bellaigue is the former correspondent for The Economist in Tehran. He writes like a dream and has an insatiable scholarly bent. Some time ago, he got tired of people saying that what Islam need was an Enlightenment, like the West. He wrote a piece of the NY Review of books, arguing that Islam had already had its enlightenment, and that essay led to this book. De Bellaigue shows in elaborate detail that the Middle East, beginning with the Napoleonic conquest of Egypt in 1798 and co

    Christopher de Bellaigue is the former correspondent for The Economist in Tehran. He writes like a dream and has an insatiable scholarly bent. Some time ago, he got tired of people saying that what Islam need was an Enlightenment, like the West. He wrote a piece of the NY Review of books, arguing that Islam had already had its enlightenment, and that essay led to this book. De Bellaigue shows in elaborate detail that the Middle East, beginning with the Napoleonic conquest of Egypt in 1798 and continuing throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, was exposed to all the political, technological and cultural elements that shaped the West into what it is today. That part of the book is brilliant and required reading for anyone who wants to experience the contact between "East" and "West" at its fullest. But the argument stutters out at the end, since the world of Islam has emphatically not proceeded along the same lines as capitalist Christianity. The infrastructure of the Enlightenment is there to be seen, in roads and railways and parliaments and bookshops. But it didn't take, and de Bellaigue mostly explains the disappointing results in the same terms as any editorial writer might do. One is left with the uneasy thought: What if you gave an Enlightenment and nobody came. . .??

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