Today, all the colonial empires that once governed a large part of the Islamic world have ended. The last, the former Soviet Union, was dissolved. Most of its 50 or 60 million Muslims live in six independent republics where, for the time being at least, they are still subject to social and legal systems that are very remote from Muslim holy law. Many remain as minorities in Russia and other non-Islamic republics. Even after the breakup of the empires, by no means all-Muslim populations are under Muslim rule. Two non-Muslim countries have ruled over Muslim populations for many centuries. Among the new states established after the fall of the empire, several non-Muslim countries retain significant Muslim populations, notably India, Sri Lanka, Israel, and a number of sub-Saharan African states. Most, if not all, of these have been willing to maintai
n the system of devolution and legal autonomy, at least in matters of personal status, bequeathed to them by the empires their position in this is significantly different from that of the Muslim remnant in ex-Ottoman southeastern Europe. To these one must now add an entirely new category, which is Muslim minority communities formed by voluntary migration from Muslim lands to predominantly Christian countries that have never at any time formed a part of the house of Islam. In fact this topic was never discussed previously maybe because the possibility never seems to have entered their minds that a Muslim would voluntarily leave a Muslim land in order to place himself in this dilemma. A mass migration of ordinary people seeking a new life among the unbelievers is an entirely new phenomenon, which poses new and major problems.
The debate on these problems has just started. The most common argument offered in defense of such migration is necessity expressed in economic terms. Some have tried to adduce a prophetic precedent for their action by citing the example of the prophet who before the hijjra authorized some of his Muslim followers in Mecca to seek refuge in Christian Ethiopia. The prophet himself, that is, had authorized the migration of Muslims to a Christian country. Others reply that they were leaving a non Muslim city and that no Muslim state existed at that time. The flight to Ethiopia does not therefore set a precedent for voluntary migration from a Muslim to a Christian country.
How far then are the new Muslim new immigrants to Christian and post Christian lands are aware of these juridical arguments and of the legal and theological texts on which they are based. It does not greatly matter. These texts are evidence of the concerns, beliefs, and aspirations of the community from which they came. For the outsider they are the most accessible, the most reliable, and often the only source of information.
The translations of Arabic findings and discoveries to Latin languages and European ones, has long constituted a big problem for its reader. In fact, many cases of translation have caused a loss of meaning and comprehensiveness and in other cases a miss representation of the truth. Therefore, translators must be aware of the difficulties that arise while translating Arabic to English or to any other European language. This is mainly due to the differences between the cultures and the civilizations, in fact some have proposed as a solution to invent a new kind of English to allow the translation of Arabic possible but the fact here is that prior to translation a good understanding of the meaning and concepts in question must be acquired before starting to translate. With this method the existing English is sufficient to make a good translation.
The fourth essay discusses The Ottoman Obsession. In the sixteenth century, when the Ottoman Empire was still at the pinnacle of power, it was, among statesmen at least, the Turkish menace that overshadowed all other aspects; two empires, two faiths, two different ways of life stood face to face, contending for the mastery of the known world. To some at the time it seemed that the centralized, disciplined power of the ottoman must surely prevail over a weak, divided, and weak Christian Europe.
Though this idea was wrong, Ottoman power remained a factor on the European scene for years to come; it had already passed its peak. The Muslim faith no longer attracted Europeans; the Turkish menace was ceasing to frighten them. There was in fact no settlement between the Turks and the Persians, but continuous struggle and occasional wars until the eighteenth century, by which time neither Turkey nor Persia offered any threat to Europe. On the contrary, now themselves were threatened. A new image of the Turk weak and decadent, an invitation to foreign domination was replacing the once prevalent images of power and menace, while a new image of the European threatening, alien and yet seductive was looming on the Turkish horizon.
I personally believe that this book was enriching for me. I considered that Lewis began well with early Islam versus Medieval Europe, and continued through the 19th century and the Ottoman Empire. However, I found myself frequently confused as I read these essays, since Lewis attacked most analogies with which I used to understand the Islamic world, but provided no alternative comparisons.
I was impatient to read the essays about the subject of Middle East studies. Bernard Lewis’s book is alternately fascinating and frustrating. If you opened the book expecting either a history of the relationship between the Islamic and Western worlds, or an analysis of their relationship in recent decades, you will be confused as I was. The book is more a collection of essays dealing with various issues in Islamic-Western relations, such as problems in translating Arabic texts into European languages, the idea of country and patriotism in the Islamic world, and disputes between scholars of Middle Eastern studies.
Despite these mysterious topics, however, the book is not just for knowledgeable people of orientalism or European- Islamic encounters. Lewis’s knowledge, and his writing style made this book much more interesting and enjoyable to read. I picked up many intriguing facts and anecdotes from the book. However this book is not that perfect. For me, the problem in Bernard Lewis’s approach is summed up in one of the book’s first essays “on Muslims living in non-Muslim countries (in the encounters part). Lewis offers a fascinating study of what various Muslim scholars have said over the centuries about the theological implications of Muslims living under the laws of non-Muslims.
Then he admits that the average Muslim probably has little or no knowledge of these theological debates and it is uncertain what effects these ideas have on how real people live their lives. He insists, though, that they must have some effect, and in any case, how can we find out any information about religious ideas except by listening to religious scholars? Scholarly and theological debates are interesting, but how religious ideas effect people’s lives is even more so and that area is not only beyond the scope of Lewis’s work, but it is something that he writes off as irrelevant and inappropriate to discuss, which I disagree with. For me, this limitation is a problem throughout the book. Lewis is a always interesting scholar when he is discussing the history of ideas. But he repeatedly jumps to the conclusion that those ideas filter down to ordinary people’s lives with little change. It would be far more interesting, and relevant to the general reader, I think, to see how those ideas play out in the real world.
To conclude, this book made me a strong believer and a high fervent of the idea of tolerant living between Muslims and Christians. Since, Bernard Lewis showed through the book that the periods of history when the two civilizations lived together in harmony were period of success and economical welfare and social well being. The Idea of Live and let live is also converging with the ideas of the university and after reading this book I am aware of one fact which is the encounters and conflicts between Christendom and Islam have just caused disasters throughout the centuries. I believe that it is time for all civilization to live in harmony in a global civilization in which there is room for ethnic diversity and theological mixture in which only strong faiths will sustain.