Baillie Gifford Shortlist 2017: The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason by Christopher de Bellaigue

Review published on November 16, 2017.

In these frankly traumatic times, where various parties are taking more umbrage at each other’s point of view and the language is becoming more provocative, one of the accusations levelled against the Muslim world is that they are failing to adapt to a modern world and modernise their culture. This has not always been the case though, as back in the nineteenth century the Muslim world embraced change and modern practices, medicine and universal suffrage. In this book on the Islamic Enlightenment, de Bellaigue goes back over 200 years to take us through the history of the region and the politicians, scientists and writers who have been key to driving change in the region.

This is not a book you can rush, as de Bellaigue takes enormous pains to find the movers and shakers who drove through the change in this Muslim world and tell their story. It is full of complex tales and he is equally critical of the Muslim countries and of the Western states that carved up the region for their own ends whilst using the local political leaders to continue to oppress the populace. The amount of research that has gone into this makes for incredibly dense prose and I found it quite challenging to read. I also felt that sometimes the narrative of the stories of the people got lost in the detail. It will probably become a standard text in its time, but it is possibly more for the specialist rather than the general reader.

Paul Cheney 2/-

The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason by Christopher de Bellaigue
Bodley Head 9781847922410 hbk Feb 2017

Previous:

Baillie Gifford Shortlist 2017: An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic Poem by Daniel Mendelsohn

Next:

Baillie Gifford Shortlist 2017: Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova

You may also like