The Times of History: Universal Topics in Islamic Historiography

By Aziz Al-Azmeh | Go to book overview

FOREWORD
Hayden White: Beyond Orientalism

I am pleased to be asked to present Professor Aziz Al-Azmeh's collection of essays on the historiography of the Near East, Muslim religiosity, and the problems raised by the effort to specify the nature of “Islam.” I found them illuminating, full of learning, and intimately relevant to the understanding of current conflicts throughout the Arab world. I hasten to add that I am anything but an expert in these matters, but I recognize expertise when I see it. Al-Azmeh is a subtle guide for anyone wishing to pierce through the fog of prejudice, false learning, and ideology about both the contemporary and the historical Near East.

But this collection of essays is about much more than these currently pressing matters. It is also a sustained, brilliantly argued, and intimidatingly learned exposition of the relevance of modern critical historiography to the current (mis)understanding of the modern Middle East. Professor Al-Azmeh shows that contemporary politics in the Middle East as well as Western misunderstanding of these politics are a consequence—among other things—not just of a lack of historical knowledge but also of a failure to comprehend what a properly historical knowledge consists of. So, these texts make an important contribution to contemporary understanding of the politics, social structures, religious ideas, and sectarian struggles of the modern Middle East. But they also make an important contribution to the understanding of modern Western ideas about historical reality, scientific historical research, and the ways in which certain modern ideas about history underlie and sustain the conflicts they wish to illuminate.

In fact, and here I presume to speak as an expert, Al-Azmeh's collection of essays constitutes a unique contribution to contemporary historiography and philosophy of history. It engages directly in the principal historiographic debates of the past twenty years. Moreover, it does so not in an abstract and only theoretical way, but also practically, by

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