Back to article

The Islamic Enlightenment

A counter-argument to the “clash of civilisations”

What happened when Islam encountered modernity two centuries ago

See article

Readers' comments

Reader comments are listed below. Comments are currently closed and new comments are no longer being accepted.



In the meantime, one of the most "recommended" comment on Guardian is : "Refugees do not rape, It is humans who rape". Now that summarises what is wrong with Liberal press.
Liberal media wants to downplay the occasional acts of terrorism and routine acts of flouting law and order (let alone the utter lack of etiquettes, manners, courtesies, discipline, cleanliness norms, and many more which are not strictly illegal). The usual means are portraying the perpetrator as mentally ill, lone wolf, individually culpable collectively innocent, or even worse : a victim of Western system. This often stretches to legitimising the atrocity as a 'reasonable' response.

All these lead to one conclusion : Leftists do not have any standard logic or rationale. Only thing constant is whom to slam, and whom to embrace. Cultural preservation for one, Cultural Marxism for the rest, Utopian norms for one, "their culure, their rule" for the another, today what is discrimination, tomorrow that is discretion. Totally ad-hoc arguments are presented in defence, by posing themselves as the ultimate moral compass and the sole arbiter of the truth - the first sign of fascism.

Jongrak in reply to A. Andros

Oh dear.... where does one start?
I suppose citing libraries' full of scholarship won't make any difference in the face of such prejudice-laden assertion.
But just to throw out a few items (other than that the ancient Greeks (let alone Indians) who made such huge early contributions to science were hardly Christians... )
- The most famous work of medicine (and textbook in Universities) across Europe for centuries was that of Avicenna (Ibn Sina), both in the original Arabic and Latin.
- Similarly, there is a reason why such Arab scientists as Averroes (Ibn Rushd), Rhazes (Al-Razi), et al, were referred to in Europe by generally known Latinised names: among scientists and philosophers they were household names whose works were read, again, both in Arabic and in Latin translations.
- One of those giants of Western medicin, Vesalius, knew much of his medical terminology in Arabic terms (although he did not know the language - a bit like today's doctors use Latin medical terms): just another indication of how the Arab medical scientific tradition permeated the evolving Western one.
- True, the Arab philosophers and scientists translated much of the work of the Greeks - and thereby saved it for posterity, with many in the West only getting to know it through the Arabic versions. They also built on it. They also assimilated and built on Indian science, from mathematics to medicine, astronomy and beyond.
- Just a few words across the sciences deriving from Arabic include "Algebra", "alcohol", "chemistry", "algorithm" (from the 9th C mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, who also wrote the book on Algebra), etc. It is no coincidence that we talk of "Arabic numerals".
- Apart from Algebra, the work by the Banu Musa bin Shakir , translated by Gerard of Cremona, "introduced to the West (Fibonacci, ... Roger Bacon, Thomas Bradwardine) the first ideas of higher mathematics" [J. Vernet, 'Mathematics, Astronomy, Optics', in J. Schacht & C. Bosworth (eds.), The Legacy of Islam (Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 470).
- in Astronomy, just some of the evidence of Arab contributions comes in the form of Arab-derived names of stars, and in the development (on older roots) of the Astrolabe - the main astronomical instrument of the middle ages.

One could go on. But let's turn to how all this then fertilised Western science. In a first phase, these works were translated by the mozarabs in Iberian monasteries up to about 1000, from where commerce spread knowledge of them further north. Then, in the 12th century, a huge translation surge in Sicily and Spain augments this and makes many Arabic works staple diet for Western/Christian bishops, scientists and philosophers, feeding into the blossoming of Renaissance science.

Now, as to the fate of the Jews under Islam: try and contrast it with the policy of absolute exclusion and persecution brought in by the Spanish monarchy and at one point in Britain, among other places. They had lived and contributed to Arab society and civilisation in early medieval Baghdad and the Abbasid empire (indeed supplying some key scientists at the courts of the caliphs and elsewhere!), until the Mongols sacked Baghdad and many sought refuge in the west of the Islamic lands - in North Africa and Spain (until the latter was also made impossible), where their cultural production in quantity and quality speaks for itself.

Of course Jewish relations with their Islamic surroundings were no utopia - for one thing, they were legally inferior under the dhimmi system - and the greater tolerance in Islamic lands was only relative, comnpared to the more extreme discrimination and persecution in Spain and northern Europe. Among the plentiful scholarly literature on this, see e.g. M. Cohen, *Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages* (Princeton University Press, 2008). See also his Prologue: 'The "Golden Age" of Jewish-Muslim Relations: Myth and Reality' available at


I'm all in favor of Muslim progress. We should help them in any way possible. What we do NOT need to do is import millions of Muslims from Islamic lands to the West and undergo the risky and expensive task of seeing whether they can be made compatible with Western culture. I'm not willing to give up my taxes, safety or personal freedoms to try to integrate a regressive religious group into my society. If Muslims are so capable of progress then they should do it in their own nations.

A. Andros

One must read this book to fairly understand its thesis but this brief review makes it sound like so much hogwash.

If the West did not exist, Islam would have to invent it in order to justify its consistent and worldwide failure to come to terms with science, democracy and ideological and political tolerance.

European intervention in Middle Eastern affairs was quite brief. To be sure, Algeria was colonized by France in the 1830s and Egypt was (briefly) under British rule. But, European political dominance in the region did not begin until 1919 and was effectively over by 1950. In short, the whole imperial business lasted not much more than thirty years.

Ottoman dominance, however, lasted for the better part of four centuries. And, few empires in history were as stultifying and reactionary as that of the Ottomans. Europe is a convenient whipping boy for Middle Eastern Muslims who cannot come to terms with their own status as the world's hillbillies -- a status rooted not so much in the Koran as the dead-hand of virtual theocracy.

The Crusades? Events in the 13th century are the source of the chaos in Libya and Yemen? The Crusades were, in fact, a counter-attack on a vicious and militaristic Islam that had only been turned back a few centuries earlier at Tours.

The laws of science operate exactly the same in Mesopotamia or the Mahgreb as they do in Germany or the USA. They are equally accessible to all cultures and faiths. Where are the Muslim Nobel prizes for science? (The USA, alone, has 348!) In fact, for the entire Islamic world the total of such awards is barely out of single digits.

Maybe there existed a brief period in which a few Muslim savants toyed with western values and western science. That is not the essential point. What IS essential is that Islamic civilization crushed their efforts and continued to linger, as it lingers to this day, in obscurantism and fanaticism. The story is not one of points of light but of a devouring religious darkness that obliterated them.


There can be no full and honest critique of Islam re the "clash of civilizations" until the epistemology and methodology of science and secularism are compared with the epistemology and methodology of religion, in this case Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The factual knowledge base of the West rests on the foundation of the Enlightenment, which means empiricism, science, reason, experimentation, and research, including the social sciences. The factual knowledge base of religion rests on sacred texts, divine revelation, supernaturalism, designated authorities and faith.

In the secular West, a fact is a fact because it can be demonstrably and empirically proved to be a fact. In religions, truth is truth because that particular religion believes it to be truth. In short, the epistemology and methodology of the secular West and organized religions are literally worlds apart, i.e., they are fundamentally different.

While there is certainly interplay between reason and faith, society and religion, and culture and theology, that is not in any way to diminish their differences. Even though the secular West superseded Christianity as the dominant knowledge motif, we still have secular professionals who profess supernatural beliefs. The conflict occurs when faith and supernaturalism wants to dominant science and reason, or when one religion wants to dominant a different religion.

In the secular West, Christianity for most practical purposes takes a back seat to secularism. The same is broadly true for Judaism. Until Islam learns to make this accommodation, it will continue to be in conflict with reason, secularism and the West. While there is a lot more that can be discussed, this is the bottom-line.


As the author and other progressive globalists resign themselves to the inevitable Islamic takeover of Europe, many, including the United States, are not so easily subdued. I am not Islamophobic. I am Islamomesoic. That is, I dislike the Islamic culture for being the primitive, uncivilized, homophobic, misogynistic and violent belief and political system that it is. In essence, I like my current culture and I would like to keep it as it is now.

Note: I do not dislike the people, just the belief system. I also dislike progressive globalists, socialists, and communists, including Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid. I also dislike TE for printing fakes news and promoting leftist propaganda.

Statements like, "Others retort indignantly that the Islamic world’s problems are the fault of its Western foes, from crusaders to European colonists, who bruised the collective Muslim psyche" only confuse history and obscure the fact that Islam presented an existential threat to Europe and European culture. The Crusades paled in number and intensity as compared with the Islamic onslaught.

Books, intellectual musings, speeches, debates, or any other high-minded dialogue of rationalization, will never assuage the different world-view between Islamic and western thought. They are incompatible. These word games will never relieve the world of the Islamic invasion that is taking place in slow motion.

If you do not believe this, move to Iran and enjoy the full fruits of an Islamic nation. Or, go to Sweden to observe the invasion first hand. If we wait too long before waking up, the rest of the world will be just like Iran.


Islamic civilizations adopting western armaments or medicine as renaissance is utterly misleading. No human being is immune to western technology, and effects of globalization. That does not mean all different civilizations are mergin, or dashing towards a renaissance.

Stirrups originated in Africa and spread through the world, was the world becoming African, or simply adopting a convinience? Most youth wear jeans, eat French fries, using conveniences does not necessarily mean people support Western ideas. No more that eating Indian food does not make any one less British. Unfortunately that is the kind of flimsy evidence author has produced. Seems having spent long years in the Islamic world, author has gone native and is simply ignoring much heavier counter evidence.

Islam is simply scared of western ideas. A simple read of Koran, will reveal that most of its central ideas will become unsurvivable in a western educated environment. Christian ideas somehow in some shape or form survived the renaissance, Islamists are not sure of that. The result is a fear of survival of a way of life, a belief system and a civilization itself.
Early Islamic contacts with West, that author alludes to, were mere civilizational introductions. Introductions that only revealed Islamic inferiority and clarified western ideas as a threat, producing Islamic insecurity. After introductions, and first date or two with West, Islamic ideologies do not want west anymore. Suddenly west is sinister, bad, responsible for all ills in the Islamic world, right from crusade to current borders in the Middle East.
Instead of apologizing for insecurity led Islamic narrative of the West, author would have done better to explore the Islamic insecurities.

Clint.Southward in reply to jusdoc

Not really a bulls-eye.

"Everything that enables us to engage with the world we owe to empiricism. Every benefit we take for granted we owe to empiricism. Science has opened up the vast reaches of the universe and provided far too many material benefits to enumerate. It has also pushed back (a little) the darkness that too often swamps the human mind and leads us to howl blindly at the moon."

Empiricism is critical to (actually a necessary condition for) science but not coextensive with it, as this poster would suggest. A course in the philosophy of science might give him/her a bit more perspective.

"Islam is no better and no worse than any other mythology. To single it out is as foolish as claiming that one myth is somehow "better" than another."

This one is the weakest claims in the post, and is the product of the "snowflake" liberal mind, which studiously attempts to conflate all religions under the same monolithic critique for reasons of political correctness, virtue signalling, and timidity of moral intellect. Religions exist on a continuum of offense to science and are grounded along a continuum between myth and evidence-based reason. Their visions for our humanity differ too. Buddhism is symbolized by a figure in contemplation while Christianity is symbolized by a tortured figure ripped to shreds and hammered to a cross. These are different paths to personal redemption/actualization whatever. Some religions in the past have grounded themselves in long-term observation of the stars, however imperfect their conclusions were.

I am an atheist, and have no particular truck with any religion, but this purposeful stupidity of pretending that all religions are the same is rubbish, and would be the perfect example for 1st year students at university of how not to think. The level of reason involved is about as useful as a bag of hammers.

Jackie Holt

If Islam's problems are the fault of the West, why don't we see problems in other regions? In India, in South America? Where is the pushback on human rights and secular law in these regions? Where is the huge sectarian bloodshed?

And why has Western empire 'bruised' the collective Muslim psyche, but Muslim empire is seen in a more rounded light in India, Spain and Southern and Eastern Europe? Why, indeed, is the West blamed for the Crusades, while Islam is forgiven for the brutal expansion termed the Arab Conquests? What makes conquests under the banner of one religion acceptable, but for another religion unacceptable? The Crusades were, after all, a Christian response to the conquest of swathes of Christendom.

I don't buy into the idea that Islam cannot reform, but let's not allow it to foster such hypocritical grievances against the West. It is precisely the warped perspective of history which gives spurious legitimacy to Muslim anger against the West. European empire was no different to any other - Christian or Muslim - the conquered were ruthlessly controlled and exploited: there were just as many rebellions against the Ottomans as against the British; or indeed, against the pre-Islamic Persians as against the pre-Christian Romans.

The reason for the Muslim world lashing out against the West is the chauvinism of Salafist ideology: an ideology which insists it is superior to all others (including other sects of Islam) and which insists it has the God given right to rule over all humanity. Which sounds suspiciously like fascism.

Let's not give fascists a helping hand by giving credence to a lopsided view of history which allows them to play the victim card. Instead, we ought to set the historical record straight and champion the West's development of secularism and universal human rights.


Optimism regarding religiosity is charmingly naïve but doomed to disappointment.

Religion, fundamentally, is the acceptance of myth over reality. It is the entrenchment of magical thinking over reason.

Everything that enables us to engage with the world we owe to empiricism. Every benefit we take for granted we owe to empiricism. Science has opened up the vast reaches of the universe and provided far too many material benefits to enumerate. It has also pushed back (a little) the darkness that too often swamps the human mind and leads us to howl blindly at the moon.

Religion, meanwhile, has given us nothing except tired old self-contradictory stories that, when examined with any degree of attention, reflect the predictable tribal obsessions with land and animals, inheritance rights, and sexual taboos. Nowhere in any mythology has there ever been the slightest shred of a hint of an adumbration of anything beyond the mind of an illiterate and innumerate goat-herder.

In other words, religions of all forms are merely the same tedious old mummy and daddy gods doing the same tedious old things our parents did when we were little and saw the world from knee-height.

Islam is no better and no worse than any other mythology. To single it out is as foolish as claiming that one myth is somehow "better" than another. They are all rubbish and the sooner we grow up and leave behind our childish ways of thinking, the sooner we'll be more capable of dealing more adequately with our very real and urgent social problems.


History is ...history. The past will help the Western civilization not at all - neither to survive and much less to progress - as long as Islam is in love with its 'invented' past.

Reality on the ground proves that "Islam 21st Century" will strike at all non-Muslim nations, and many Muslim nations too, until it is victorious or utterly defeated.

This point-of-view is not politically correct but at least it is honest and sincere.


"The Islamic Reformation" - We're still waiting... but muslims believe their 8th century holy book is unassailable and its teachings are wholly relevant today.

Apostasy is still recognized as punishable by death.

Sempervirens in reply to Dutch59

"And what will come after that?"

More mass immigration to non-muslim countries. More victim-hood ideology about how the Xtians and Jews have "kept the muslims down". And more and more babies, because as the quran states without reservation: "Allah will provide"

Kurt Lessing in reply to mohdan

Thank you for sharing your interesting views. We don't get that sort of insight in this line of thinking. But segregation won't save you. You can close borders, but not to ideas, certainly not in the 21st century. You have nothing to offer, not to your youth and especially not to your women and that is the reason you will loose in the end and that without a shot fired.

guest-ajalease in reply to Kurt Lessing

Mohdan has a good point. Like fences that make good neighbors, segregation allows people the freedom to live as they like without a fascist state telling everyone how to live the same way. Freedom is not free if the government shoves a forced diversity and diverse culture down our throats.

Give me segregation, away from the hoards of unwashed idiots who even Hillary eschewed and called Democratic low lives and idiots.

MySetDancer in reply to TalkyMcTalkface

Good post.

Muslims always ignore the fact that it was the Arabs/Muslims who invaded what we today call Palestine. Prior to the Muslim invasions, Arabs were just another assortment of tribes in what we call Arabia, and there were no Muslims outside of Arabia. The Arabs invaded all the way to Vienna and France before they were stopped cold by superior forces. They spread their "religion" with the sward and scream bloody murder when other peoples reject their "truth." I want no part of it.

ashbird in reply to jusdoc

Great post, @jusdoc! And so clearly articulated! First Class!
I note additionally, "secular" is "secular". There isn't a "North", "South", "East", "West" distinction for what is "secular". Once the algorithm for "secular" is switched on, it is on for all intent and purposes in any scientific work - research and/or hands-on practice. There are scientists who maintain a spiritual belief (whatever it is) side by side with science. They don't see a clash, nor does one interfere with the other. Their form of spirituality has got NOTHING whatsoever to do with the belief subscribed to by the 3 Abrahamic faiths in their *Fundamentalist Form*, which is to say, every word in the Holy Book, according to these folks, is treated as *literal* and all endeavors for "truths" henceforth are not necessary because the Holy Book already has all the answers to all Q's. Which make these folks the realest sort of hypocrites - for example, they don't go to their "priests" when they need to have an appendectomy done. There is nothing you can do with this type of minds. Not only are they wilfully ignorant, they are pridefully hypocritical.