The Cross and the Crescent: Christianity and Islam from Muhammad to the Reformation

The Cross and the Crescent: Christianity and Islam from Muhammad to the Reformation

by Richard Fletcher, R. A. Fletcher
     
 

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Richard Fletcher is one of today's most renowned medieval historians. In his latest book, he offers a brilliant survey of the relationship between the Islamic and Christian worlds from the seventh to the sixteenth centuries. He shows how, despite long periods of coexistence and overlap, religious misunderstanding between "the peoples of the book" has been present…  See more details below

Overview

Richard Fletcher is one of today's most renowned medieval historians. In his latest book, he offers a brilliant survey of the relationship between the Islamic and Christian worlds from the seventh to the sixteenth centuries. He shows how, despite long periods of coexistence and overlap, religious misunderstanding between "the peoples of the book" has been present since their earliest encounters. He argues that though there were fruitful trading and cultural interactions between Islam and Christianity during the period when Arabs controlled most of the Mediterranean world, neither side was remotely interested in the actual religion of the other. Christians portrayed Muslims as bloodthirsty pagans and Muhammad as a false prophet while Islam viewed Christianity as a jumble of sects and conflicting stories.

Fletcher's lucidity, scholarship, and gift for compression make this one of the most elegant and clear-sighted contributions to its subject for many years. It will appeal to readers of Karen Armstrong's bestselling Islam: A Short History and to all readers looking for a better understanding of the Islamic world's relationship to the West.

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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:
9780670032716
Publisher:
Viking Penguin
Publication date:
01/28/2004
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.84(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.84(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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