“On Islam”, a corseted vision of the Muslim tradition


Book. Specialist in medieval Arab philosophy, Rémi Brague book, in on islam, a series of reflections on the Muslim tradition, of which he distinguishes four meanings: a relationship to divinity, a religion, a civilization, and all believers marked by the heritage of a civilization – four meanings which overlap and sometimes get confused. The author shows the richness of the philosophical and scientific tradition in the Arabic language, as well as the importance of this tradition in Latin Europe from the twelfthe century. But, in his eyes, talking about ” debt “ of the West towards the Arab world does not make sense: the Arab thinkers have simply monopolized, according to him, the intellectual traditions of Greece, Persia and others in order to transform them.

The professor emeritus at Paris-I also intends to deconstruct the “watered down speeches” of those who present the history of the relations between Muslim sovereigns and Jewish and Christian subjects in an idealized way according to him, or who affirm that violence and jihad are foreign to the ” TRUE “ Islam, essentially peaceful: to support his point, he cites numerous texts, ranging from hadiths (collections of acts or words of the Prophet and his companions) to jurists and theologians of the Middle Ages, which legitimize violence against enemies of Islam.

If the great erudition of the author and his knowledge of the texts bring richness and complexity to these remarks, they contribute at the same time to making them obscure for the uninitiated. Thus, evoking the ideologies of conquest, he jumps from Al-Ghazali to the XIe century to Sayyid Qutb in the XXe century, without explaining that the latter was a theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Elsewhere, it passes from the Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi to the XVIIe century at Riad Sattouf in the 21ste century. These leaps in time presuppose, on the part of the reader, a detailed knowledge of very different historical contexts, contexts that the author does not always master. He speaks, for example, of“Alphonse the Wise in newly reconquered Toledo”which he places at the XIIe century – in fact, Toledo was conquered in 1085 by Alfonso VI of Castile, while Alfonso X ” The wise man “ (1221-1284) reigned mainly from Seville.

Lack of historical context

Some errors are more troublesome. The author “proposes a very simple law: each religion tolerates – more or less – the one or those that preceded it”. Very simple law, indeed, but quite far from historical reality. In particular, he asserts that “in medieval Christianity, there was a place for Jews”. This ignores the long history of the persecution of the Jews in Europe, who were, from the Middle Ages to the XXe century, regularly victims of outlandish accusations, assaults and massacres; many European kings expelled the Jews from their territory (including the King of France Philippe IV le Bel, in 1306). From medieval times to the mid-twentieth centurye century, Jews were more accepted in Muslim states than in Christian Europe.

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