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Islam and the West

Islam and the West

by Bernard Lewis
In Islam and the West, Bernard Lewis brings together in one volume eleven essays that indeed open doors to the innermost domains of Islam.


In Islam and the West, Bernard Lewis brings together in one volume eleven essays that indeed open doors to the innermost domains of Islam.

Editorial Reviews

Gilbert Taylor
The reading public is likely to encounter Lewis on op/ed pages when it seeks an interpretation of a Middle East crisis. Here, in a less urgent mode, it can select among 11 eclectic essays concerning the 1,400-year-long rivalry between Christendom and Islam. The concise overview article covers the high tides of the two faiths' territorial struggles, pegged to events such as the Battle of Tours (739), the fall of Constantinople (1456), the expulsion of the Moors (1492), and the seige of Vienna (1683). Having summarized what moderns would call geopolitics (but for which the combatants felt they had divine sanction), Lewis plunges into intriguing aspects of the Muslim outlook. As Arabic is a difficult language, he devotes two articles to problems of translation and philology. The word "shi'a," for example, means "faction" and goes a distance toward explaining why Shiites, conceiving themselves to have been the downtrodden, tend to be more militant believers in the faith than Sunnis. In the temporal realm of academe, Lewis takes on Edward Said and others who criticize the state of oriental studies. Lewis is a deceptively clear writer and renowned scholar with a half-century of published books behind him, and these essays will square with libraries holding his standards, such as "The Muslim Discovery of Europe" (1985).
Kirkus Reviews
Eleven superb essays on the culture clash between the Islamic nations of the Middle East and the more secularized West; from distinguished Orientalist Lewis (Near Eastern Studies/Princeton; Semites and Anti-Semites, 1986, etc.). Scholarly but not pedantic, writing without fear or favor, Lewis makes an ideal guide through the political, religious, and cultural thickets of Islam. As the range of subjects demonstrates, his reach is as wide as his touch is sure. His tone is objective throughout, except for two pieces: a searing critique of Edward Said and other critics of Orientalism for their "science-fiction history and...lexical Humpty-Dumptyism"; and an impassioned defense of non-Western studies against adversaries who employ contradictory rhetoric to mask a hidden agenda ("If we don't study and teach other cultures we are called arrogant and ethnocentric and if we do we are accused of spoliation and exploitation"). Lewis begins with a capsule history that outlines the odd affinities and tensions between Europe and the Islamic nations—a struggle in which each side has called the other "infidel" and has swapped commercial and military supremacy. He also considers medieval Islamic debates on worship in lands where the teachings of Mohammed did not hold sway—and the implications of this today amid the Arab diaspora to Europe and America. Lewis is equally comfortable with more specialized topics, including Edward Gibbon's influence on the Western image of Mohammed; the difficulties of translating from Arabic; and the Ottoman threat to Europe until the Turkish defeat at Vienna in 1683. The author concludes with four meditations on the contemporary Islamic response to Westernmight, discussing resurgent Islamic fundamentalism as a unifying factor in Mideast politics; the split between the Shi'a and Sunni sects; the passage of the concept of "country" into Islamic lands; and why few Islamic countries have traditions of religious coexistence and secularism. A learned, forceful analysis that treats Islam with respect, not condescension. (Photos)

From the Publisher

"Islam and the West is a well-written and erudite book, affording many important insights on the history of cultural interaction between Europe and the Middle East."--Diplomatic History

"Demonstrate[s] breadth and depth of scholarship and an ability to communicate with both specialists and nonspecialists."--Journal of Ecumenical Studies

"A valuable collection of essays and topics for introductory graduate seminars on Middle East politics."--Sandra Halperin, University of Pittsburgh

"Lewis's scholarship is prodigious...He avoids dogmatic positions himself and sees dogma as something to be analyzed. It is this sense of nuance, of historical setting, of honesty to texts, that informs the essays in Islam and the West."--The New York Review of Books

"Lewis speaks with authority, in prose marked by lucidity, elegance, wit and force...A challenging book that deserves a wide audience...Lewis writes with great force and clarity."--New York Newsday

"Brilliant...weaves a seamless web between past and present. In collection of remarkable learning and range Mr. Lewis takes us, as he alone among today's historians and interpreters of Islam can, from the early encoutners of Christendom and Islam to today's Islamic dilemmas. To read Mr. Lewis on Europe's obsession with the Ottoman Turks, the raging battle between secularism and fundamentalism in the Muslim world, or the difficulty of studying other peoples' histories is to be taken through a treacherous terrain by the coolest and most reassuring of guides. You are in the hands of the Islamic world's foremost living historian. Of that world's ordeal he writes with the greatest care and authority and no small measure of sympathy."--Fouad Ajami, The Wall Street Journal

"Mr. Lewis contrasts the Christian and Islamic civilizations and explains their interaction in war and peace, commerce and culture...Islam and the West is a primer for greater understanding of the countries engaged in cold and hot wars that, directly or indirectly, are rooted in religion."--The New York Times

"A leading Islamicist, though sometimes a controversial one, Lewis here gathers some 11 essays that seek to 'open doors to the innermost domains of Islam.' There are long pieces on Gibbon, Edward Said's Orientalism, the trickiness of translating Arabic, and on the 'shi'a in Islamic history,' among other subjects. As the title suggests, the book's main thrust is one the encounter--all too grequently the clash--between Europe and the Middle East."--Washington Post

"Provocative"--Chicago Tribune

"Even when one disagrees with Lewis, he is well worth reading for the experience and erudition of his writing, and the refreshing lucidity of his style."--San Francisco Chronicle

"A scholar who through industry and intellectual brilliance has achieved pre-eminence in his field."--Washington Times

"Eleven superb essays on the culture clash between the Islamic nations of the Middle East and the more secularized West...Scholarly but not pedantic, writing without fear or favor, Lewis makes an ideal guide through the political, religious, and cultural thickets of Islam...A learned, forceful analysis that treats Islam with respect, not condescension."--Kirkus Reviews

"Erudite...powerful and revealing. Everywhere in this book Mr. Lewis's commanding achievement is evident--his great learning, his deep knowledge of Arabic philology, his masterly acquaintance with the history and culture of the Middle East, and his intimate familiarity with the relations of East and West."--The New York Times Book Review

"A very learned and thoughtful work. Lewis' comparative and synthetic approaches to the issues discussed are highly informative and worthy of careful reading by both specialists in the field(s) and lay readers."--Andrej Kreutz, Arab Studies Quarterly

Product Details

Oxford University Press
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Meet the Author

Bernard Lewis is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus, at Princeton University. His work has been translated in twenty-two languages, and he has lectured in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and America, and in many Muslim countries.

Brief Biography

Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
May 31, 1916
Place of Birth:
London, England
B.A., University of London, 1936; Diplome des Etudes Semitiques, University of Paris, 1937; Ph.D., University of London,

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