To look at the Middle East's current movements of fundamentalist revival, you might think a period of ‘enlightenment’ never happened. In fact, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present day, Islamic society in its Middle Eastern and South Asian heartlands has been transformed by modern ideals and practices, from the adoption of modern medicine to the emergence of women from purdah and the development of democracy.
Who were the scholars, scientists, artists and administrators who brought about these remarkable changes, and is their legacy now under threat? Taking as his starting point Napoleon’s arrival in Egypt, which forced upon the Muslim world the modernising influences of the West, Christopher de Bellaigue tells the story of the key figures and reformers in Islamic culture and politics, studying their intersection with Western ‘rationality’, from the harmonious to the hostile.
Spanning more than 200 years of Middle Eastern history, and encompassing the Arab, Turkish and Persian worlds, The Islamic Enlightenment describes the collision of an ancient civilisation with new ways of living in the world.