Islam and the west

This book titled “Islam and the west” whose author is Bernard Lewis was published in 1993 by the Oxford University Press. It discusses the relationship between Europe and Islam and how these two are related sociologically and historically. This book shows first how Islam and Christianity are related. In fact these two religions share a huge heritage and they are sometimes described as sister religions. Even if sometimes or more often their adepts disputed, this mainly due to the message they carried to humanity.

Actually, both religions saw itself as the bearer of god’s final revelation to humankind, which caused a long series of conflicts, beginning with holy wars _ Jihad and crusades then continuing with the ebb and flow of Muslim empire in Europe and of European empires in the lands of Islam. In this cycles of confrontations and wars this two civilizations had conflicts that were caused by their resemblances more than by their differences.

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This book is concerned with the evolution between the two struggling civilization the Islamic and the European or western one. These studies are grouped according to three main topics: encounters, perceptions and responses. The “encounters” part begins with a historical survey of the interaction in war and peace, in commerce and culture between Europe and its Islamic neighbors to the east and to the south. Then, it continues with a discussion of a specific and new issue: “the emergence, mainly through immigration, of large Muslim minorities in western countries”. However, in the study of that aspect this collection of essays was a bit new since it looked at the issue from an Islamic perspective rather than a European one.

The second section deals with the perceptions that surfaced after the clashes between the European and Islamic civilizations. The five studies included in the book are mainly concerned with the western views of Islam. They treat the problems of translation from Arabic into a western language, with its impact on European thought and letters of the centuries long threat of the Turks and with the western scholarship on Islamic culture and history.

This theme is treated in three chapters by looking at the matter from three different perspectives. The first is a chapter on the prophet Muhammad in his decline and fall of the roman empire; the second, an examination of the origins, growth and purposes of Arabic and Islamic studies in the western world, with some consideration of recent and current controversies about Orientalism; the third a more general discussion of the legitimacy of studying “other’s people’s” history.

The last section of the book is concerned with Islamic responses and reaction in both earlier and more recent times. Four issues are discussed in that part: Islamic religious revival and what is sometimes called fundamentalism, the place in Islamic history of shi’a which came into existence after the Islamic revolution in Iran, the introduction and development of the idea of patriotism in the west, then finally the possibilities of religious coexistence. This last part also includes some consideration of the rather short history of secularism in the Muslim world.

In terms of encounters that faced the European and Islamic civilization it is true that these were based more on similarities. Since, both Islam and medieval Christianity were considered as a way of living and as a general code regulating all the aspects of the social life. In fact, Christendom and Islam are chronologically the second and third attempts to create a world religion. These religions were consecutive not concurrent, therefore for the Muslim Christianity was an abrogated religion, which its followers absurdly insisted on retaining, instead of accepting god’s final word.

Even if the two religions had many similarities they were both monotheist neither was willing to recognize the other as a viable alternative. Even this unwillingness was expressed in the same way for these two faiths. Europeans in various parts of the continent showed a curious reluctance to call Muslims with any religious connotation, preferring rather to call them by ethnic names, the obvious purpose of which was to diminish their statute and significance and to reduce them to something local or even tribal (Saracens, Moors, Turks, Tatars). The name most commonly given to Muslims is Turks since even a convert to Islam was called “turned Turk.”

Muslims also showed a similar and identical reluctance and referred to Christians by their ethnicity (Romans, Slavs, Franks). In fact, many wars faced these two civilizations the most memorable one was between 1555 and 1560. At that time, the Christian Europe has lost its dedication and valor. Christian Europe, looked weak, divided, and irresolute, seemed helpless in front of the overwhelming power of the centralized, disciplined ottoman state.

The Ottoman Empire was accustomed to victory and Europe to defeat because it was weakened of the trip around the Atlantic looking for gold. However, the Ottoman Empire had many other enemies that will weaken it before it reaches Europe. The Ottomans did not in fact settle with Persia when it continued to face resistance by its Muslim neighbors until the early nineteenth century. After that the empire had passed its peak and neither Turkey nor Persia nor indeed Islam posed a real threat to Christianity. Consequently, the Ottomans achieved no triumph over Persia , no victory in Europe.

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