Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East

By Bernard Lewis | Go to book overview

31
The Revolt
of Islam

Until the latter part of 1978 the discussion of Islam as a factor in politics was subject to certain taboos in the Western world. There was no such taboo in the Middle East and generally in the Muslim world, where the rise of nationalism had touched off a continuing debate on the relationship between patriotic or national and religious loyalties and on the place of Islam in ideology, allegiance, and government.

This debate attracted little attention in the Western world, which in this as in other matters tended to see other societies in its own image. For one thing there was a growing consensus among social scientists that religion was no longer an adequate criterion by which to classify peoples and societies and that to use it could involve grave distortions. In the second place, and perhaps more important, it was felt that to suggest that anybody, especially in other cultures, was influenced or, worse, determined by religion in making political choices was somehow insulting. This was particularly true of those who professed the religion of Islam, the great majority of whom were Asians and Africans and thus part of what had come to be known as the third world.

There were still scholars, in both the first and second worlds, who continued to undertake the academic study of Islam, its history and its culture, and some of these from time to time ventured to publish their findings and offer their opinions of the relationship between Islam and politics in the past and even in the present. For the most part their studies, and the impact they made, remained confined within their own professional circles. The International Congress of Orientalists, which has held meetings every few years since 1873, has always devoted one of its major sections to the study of Islam, alongside other sections

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