The Islamic Road to the Modern World

In The Islamic Enlightenment, Christopher de Bellaigue aims to address a bias he perceives among general readers about the history of Islamic political liberalization. According to widespread assumptions, efforts to transform Islamic nations into modern societies were mainly imposed “from above” by Western-leaning autocrats—the underlying premise being that the Enlightenment was an exclusively Judeo-Christian (or post-Christian) movement that had no parallel in Islamic societies. This “historical fallacy,” in de Bellaigue’s view, has led “triumphalist Western historians, politicians and commentators, as well as some renegade Muslims who have turned on the religion of their births,” to insist that “Islam [still] needs its Enlightenment.” By contrast, de Bellaigue argues convincingly that efforts to bring modern political ideas to the Muslim world had a “natural constituency” among the educated minority and that, despite opposition, they slowly gained general acceptance.

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