The Cross and the Crescent: The Dramatic Story of the Earliest Encounters Between Christians and Muslims

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Overview

In this immensely readable history that couldn’t be more timely, award-winning historian Richard Fletcher chronicles the relationship between Islam and Christianity from the time of Muhammad to the Reformation. With lucidity and sound scholarship, Fletcher demonstrates that though there were fruitful trading and cultural interactions between Muslims and Christians during the period when the Arabs controlled most of the Mediterranean world, each group viewed the other’s religion from the beginning as fundamentally different and suspect. Eschewing moral judgments and easy generalizations, The Cross and the Crescent allows readers to draw their own conclusions and explore the implications for the present day.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This illuminating study of Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle Ages shows just how intractable the conflict between Islam and the West has always been. Historian Fletcher (Bloodfeud; Barbarian Conversion; etc.), covers the period from the first Muslim conquests in the seventh century to the 16th-century peak of the Ottoman Empire. The story is one of frequent military conflict, but also of trade, diplomacy, technological diffusion and intellectual exchange as the Muslim world absorbed and elaborated the science and philosophy of the Greeks and then retransmitted them to Europe. Despite these far-reaching economic and cultural interactions, Fletcher argues, Christians and Muslims lived in "a state of mutual religious aversion," even in border regions like Spain where substantial populations of both faiths lived side by side; Christians viewed Muslims as bloodthirsty heretics, while Muslims sneered at Christian trinitarianism as a self-contradictory polytheism superceded by Muhammad's revelations. Fletcher's stress on early modern Europe's growing (but unrequited) openness to and curiosity about Islam as the key to the evolution of the notion of religious pluralism-a development rooted ultimately, he feels, in the multiplicity and diversity of Christian theological traditions-is fairly conventional rise-of-the-West historiography. Still, he ably synthesizes a mass of historical material on the ways in which people both accommodated and resisted the influence of alien religions in their lives. The result is a readable, nuanced account that raises profound questions about the role of religion and ideology in shaping our worldview. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-tempered survey of nearly a thousand years of Muslim-Christian interaction-most of it unhappy. Medievalist Fletcher (The Barbarian Conversion, 1998, etc.) apologizes at the outset for the overused title ("I . . . venture the modest hope that the present work will be considered worthy of inclusion among the Hundred Best Books called The Cross and the Crescent") and a slight anachronism within it, in that the crescent did not become the symbol for Islam until the Ottoman era. Those are the only apparent flaws in this lively overview, which does not shy from touching on fundamental issues that divide the two "peoples of the book": Islam's bewilderment that there could be such a thing as a God split into three aspects ("What else is a God . . . who can turn himself into a man or a dove or a lamb but some form of polytheism or idolatry"); Christianity's rejection of Islam's austere monotheism; the two religions' widely divergent ways of looking at civil authority as against that of the divine. As Fletcher notes, history has seen plenty of instances of peaceful coexistence among the faithful; he writes, for instance, that the so-called Captive Churches were anything but, given full freedom to operate under Islamic dispensation, and that "in the central Islamic lands of the Fertile Crescent . . . Christian and Muslim cooperated fruitfully in tilling the contiguous, often overlapping fields of professional service and intellectual exchange." Yet this collegiality disappeared with the rise of both doctrinaire movements and increased military friction, as Saracens raided into France and Italy and Christian emperors fought crusades and wars of "reconquest." In the end, Christian Europeovershadowed the Muslim world through technological and commercial advances, the most important of which, Fletcher holds, was the printing press, a forbidden instrument in Islamic lands. "The rise of the West took the world of Islam by surprise," he concludes. "Given Islamic disdain for the West, perhaps it had to happen thus." Smoothly written and useful in understanding events of the past-and present.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143034810
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/28/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 7.86 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Fletcher is the author of seven books, including The Quest for El Cid, winner of the Wolfson Award, and the Los Angeles Times History Prize. Recently retired from the University of York, where he was a professor of history, he lives in England.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps Preface

1. Ishmael's Children 1
2. An Elephant for Charlemagne 30
3. Crossing Frontiers 67
4. Commerce, Coexistence and Scholarship 100
5. Sieving the Koran 131
6. Epilogue 157

Chronology 162
Further Reading 166
Notes 170
Index 175

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