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A revelatory history that uncovers the modern foundations of the Islamic world.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE 2017

'An eye-opening, well-written and very timely book' Yuval Noah Harari


'The best sort of book for our disordered days: timely, urgent and illuminating' Pankaj Mishra

'It strikes a blow…for common humanity' Sunday Times

The Muslim world has often been accused of a failure to modernise and adapt. Yet in this sweeping narrative and provocative retelling of modern history, Christopher de Bellaigue charts the forgotten story of the Islamic Enlightenment – the social movements, reforms and revolutions that transfigured the Middle East from the early nineteenth century to the present day. Modern ideals and practices were embraced across the region, including the adoption of modern medicine, the emergence of women from purdah and the development of democracy.

The Islamic Enlightenment looks behind the sensationalist headlines in order to foster a genuine understanding of Islam and its relationship to the West. It is essential reading for anyone engaged in the state of the world today.

Reviews

An eye-opening, well-written and very timely book, which can help us understand better the complex relationship between the Muslim world and modernity. While both Islamic extremists and Western bigots find it convenient to stress the incompatibility of Islam and modernity, Christopher de Bellaigue shows that Islam is whatever Muslims make of it, and that at least some Muslims have made of it something very modern.

YUVAL NOAH HARARI author of SAPIENS and HOMO DEUS

This book is an enlightenment in itself, and a salient one in this age when everyone seems to feel entitled to a firm opinion about Islam and Muslims.

David Aaronovitch, The Times

A highly original and informative survey of the clashes between Islam and modernity in Istanbul, Cairo and Tehran in the last two hundred years. Brilliant.

Orhan Pamuk

Christopher de Bellaigue has long been one of our most resourceful and stimulating interpreters of realities veiled by fear and prejudice. In The Islamic Enlightenment, he cuts through the complacent opposition of Islam-versus-modernity to reveal a fascinating world: one in which complex human beings constantly change, improvise and adjust under the pressures of history. It is the best sort of book for our disordered days: timely, urgent and illuminating.

Pankaj Mishra

This is a nuanced and empathetic view of the Islamic world at one of its most challenging and enthralling moments: its history-changing encounter with western modernity… At a time of profound suspicion and mistrust between the West and the Muslim world, this is an important, beautifully written book that offers a powerful corrective to the notion that Islam contains an inbuilt prejudice against modernity. It strikes a blow, as the most readable writers do, for common humanity.

Justin Marozzi, Sunday Times

It would be hard to imagine a more timely book than The Islamic Enlightenment.

Jerry Brotton, BBC History Magazine

Luminous... [De Bellaigue] is a wonderful narrator, and these chapters burst with colour and detail ... A dazzling feat of erudition and storytelling. It is also a necessary work, challenging many of the assumptions that animate contemporary narratives about Islam.

Kenan Malik, New Statesman

A vigorous and thoughtful book … De Bellaigue has written a (beautifully illustrated) book that prompts an important conversation, and is extremely useful for our times. As well as introducing neglected histories and characters about which and whom we need to care, the work itself incarnates the essence of enlightenment.

Bettany Hughes, Guardian

A tale of reform and reaction, innovation and betrayal ... His cast of characters — “the Muslim pioneers we never thought existed” — is presented with flair and an acute eye… This is a civilised and beautifully written story of the advances and reverses of a great civilisation that lost its own way, was shunted into cul-de-sacs by predatory European imperialists — and yet was and is constantly searching out ways to bounce back.

David Gardner, Financial Times

At a time when the gulf between Islamc and the West yawns distressingly wide, De Bellaigue’s book is a welcome and surprising corrective… An invigoratingly erudite read

Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

Timely, thoughtful and provocative.

Peter Frankopan

A radical rethinking of the way in which Islam is perceived in the west.

Guardian, 2017 Books of the Year

A radical rethinking of the way in which Islam is perceived in the west.

Guardian, 2017 Books of the Year

A brilliantly learned and entertaining study of a topic that is of far more than merely antiquarian interest: the encounter between the Islamic world and the post-Enlightenment West.

Tom Holland

De Bellaigue has reported as a journalist from Iran and Turkey, and his telling of his renaissance as it manifested itself in Tehran, Istanbul and Cairo is as thorough in research as it is rich in detail.

Anthony Sattin, Observer

[De Bellaigue] possesses a sure sense of place and of social and historical context… This is a rich and surprising history that fully justifies its provocative title

Eric Ormsby, Literary Review

Bellaigue knows how to spin a yarn. The book is a great read, its story is far too little known, and he's certainly done his research ... Bellaigue throws up all sorts of fascinating historical facts and anecdotes, bringing to life the long, transformative nineteenth century ... His enormous cast of characters is colourful and varied each a hero in the struggle to usher in a truly modern Muslim world

Thomas Small, Times Literary Supplement

A sweeping and hugely engaging book that throws much-needed light on modern Islam.

Andrew Lycett, Spectator

Erudite and elegant

Ruth Scurr, Times Literary Supplement

This fascinating book prompts us to question how we think about the world, and challenges those in West and East who peddle the dangerous myth of civilisational conflict

Christopher Kissane, The Irish Times

This is an interesting, well-written and thoughtful book… He deserves credit for engaging with a highly complex and equally pertinent subject at a time when Islam is always in the news especially in the Western world

Muhammad Khan, Muslim News

Highly readable… The Islamic Enlightenment has a bone to pick with those who argue that Islam needs to become more civilised.

Nabeelah Jaffer, Daily Telegraph

A refreshingly optimistic counterpoint to the idea that Muslim and Western world-views are doomed to clash.

The Economist

A tremendous combination of deep learning, forceful argument and arresting prose, The Islamic Enlightenment is bold, bracing and important

Jessie Childs, author of GOD'S TRAITORS

That there has been an Islamic Enlightenment at all will come as news to many. De Bellaigue’s account of the “very broad church” of Islam in the modern world is splendid and timely.

Anthony Gottlieb, author of THE DREAM OF ENLIGHTENMENT

Nuanced and rich in detail

Dmitri Levitin, London Review of Books

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback

    9780099578703

    April 30, 2018

    Vintage

    448 pages

    RRP $24.99

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