Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Britain and the Islamic World, 1558-1713

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Britain and the Islamic World, 1558-1713

Article excerpt

Britain and the Islamic World, 1558-1713. By Gerald MacLean and Nabil Matar. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, Pp. xi, 335. $65.00.)

There is much of value in Britain and the Islamic World for the teacher of an undergraduate history survey of the British Empire-the vantage point from which the reviewer writes. Drawing on an impressive array of archival and primary sources, Gerald MacLean (Exeter) and Nabil Matar (Minnesota) show that the Muslim world had a real impact on early modem Britain. The claim that, by the end of the seventeenth century, the "Muslims, with their intellectual and religious legacies, had become an important factor in British imagination, theology, and society" may be a little strong (40), but there is no question, as the authors ably show, that the Muslim world had a greater influence on British society than is generally known. English physicians learned about antidotes to poison from Egyptians, for example, and Queen Elizabeth sweetened her food with sugar from Morocco. Britons learned skilled horsemanship from Muslims, coffee came into Britain as a result of contact with the Muslim world, and Persian silk, Turkish carpets, and Indian cottons "were crucial commodities linking people in Britain with residents of the Islamic world," and these goods "changed the ways people dressed themselves and how they decorated their houses" (199).

It is curious that another legacy of contact with Muslims goes unmentioned, namely, the adoption into English of many Arabic words. When we speak, for instance, of algebra, algorithms, almanacs, admirals, sugar, and candy (among many other things), we are acknowledging early Muslim-European relations.

Where the information the authors provide about British trade with the Muslim world is useful and enlightening, the polemic that underlies the narrative is tedious and, one gathers, rather simplistic. Britons are criticized for "accusations [against Muslims] that are dismissive rather than substantial" (194), but the allegation can be turned back on the authors, whose critique derives from the fact that the early-modern Britons who confronted the Islamic world did not possess the West's twenty-first century cultural sensitivities. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.