Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

24

Rethinking Islam: Philosophy and the 'Other'

1. ISLAM AND TOLERATION

It was predictable perhaps, given the 'universalism' of the radical stream, and its eradication of theological criteria from its ethical system, that there would be a striking divergence between the two wings of the Enlightenment in their respective attitudes towards Islam. If both streams jettisoned much of the prejudice and wildly biased attitude of the past, and sought to be more objective and fairer, the moderate mainstream (other than the providential Deists, such as Voltaire) was still far from the partially positive attitude adopted by the radicals toward Muslim traditions of thought, moral teaching, revelation, and prophecy. If the radical stream, by contrast, still found much to be contemptuous of, particularly in Islamic popular piety and the attitudes of Muslim preachers, it showed a marked tendency to view these perceived negative features as imperfections or a falling away from the pure core of Muhammad's teaching.

Giannone, one of those who urged contemporaries to cultivate the study of Islamic religion and culture in their own interest,1 called Islam a close 'sister' of Christianity and yet a religion of which, astonishingly, Christians knew next to nothing.2 Respectable adjustments to the West's image of the Muslim religion were made by a number of scholars during this period prominent amongst whom was the Utrecht orientalist Adriaan Reland (1676–1718). His De religione mohammedica libri duo (1705), appearing in English in 1712, in German in 1717, and in French in 1721, though placed on the Roman Index in 1722, evidently had a wide impact, not least on Giannone who congratulated the Dutch érudit on initiating such badly needed research.3 Reland's general approach was to urge a more balanced and tolerant view of Muhammad and his religion than had been usual hitherto, noting that the Jews had always been much fairer and more accurate than the Christians in their appraisals of Islam.4 Wolff was among those who praised Reland as the scholar who, through his admirable erudition, did most to make the 'face of Islam more tolerable

1 Giannone, Opere, 982.

2 Ibid. 976–7.

3 Ibid. 983; Bibliothèque choisie, 8 (1706), 396–407; Hamilton, 'Western Attitudes', 75–7; Gunny,
'Images of Islam', 198–201.

4 Reland, Religion des Mahométans, ii. 91.

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