اهتمام الغرب بالإسلام / Western Medieval Concern with Islam



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دانييل, نورمان; Daniel, Norman; بدراوي, سامى; Badrawi, Sami

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Publication Date





[In the Western Middle Ages, literature about «Saracens,» a word that then meant the whole known Islamic world, might be classified into three overlapping groups, anti-Islamic polemic (subdivisible into the serious and the frivolous, but always hostile), descriptions of actual experience of Muslims, and poetry. Polemic followed two invariable lines, Islam as bellicosus (war-like) and luxuriosus (lustful); both were inappropriate, the first from a Christendom that was initiating a series of aggressive Crusades, and the latter because it was based, not on any practical observation, but on the lack of common ground in points of theory. Few authors (Aquinas and Peter the Venerable were notable exceptions) showed signs of understanding the need for common ground for fruitful discussion. The repugnant libels of scurrilous gossip-writers almost parodied the serious academics. One learned writer, Paschasius, even tried to justify libels from authentic sources. The choice of particular items in other learned works implies that there was a much wider range of known authentic material than was used for polemic. Polemic was probably never used in free and open debate, but may have been used on captive Muslim audiences under Christian rule, and to reinforce the faith of Christians, especially under Muslim rule. Except in their concern for authenticity of source material, itself for purposes of polemic, the theologians even at their best were culturally turned inwards, satisfying intellectually the same hatreds as the fantasies of the more violent writers did at a lower level. Objectivity was not a conscious purpose as it was in translating scientific texts. The occasional appreciation of Muslims was exceptional. The polytheism imputed to Islam by the chansons de geste is the howler of all time, but was probably meant as entertainment and not at all as a statement of fact. The Christians in the poems insist on being more warlike than the Saracens and are equally lustful or more so. The literature of actual experience is more nebulous. Joinville was interested in the circumstances of a Christian convert to Islam, Louis IX was shocked, and the indications are that most Christian Europeans who had to do with Muslims were neither shocked nor interested, but got on with their business as best they might. As communities they were largely isolated from contact with the Muslim world. The best of the polemists, then, were truly concerned about Islam, but only as a Western Christian preoccupation, and their base imitators hardly cared even for verisimilitude. The entertainers were not concerned with facts at all, only with imaginary Saracens and an imaginary religion. Perceptionof the other turns out in this case to be perception of the self, but the Middle Ages were not exceptional in this respect. Concern about Islam in the West has always had ulterior purposes, and, if the nineteenth century Western historians did not see the flaws in their often admirable attempt at objectivity, we their successors too may fail to see the flaws in the sympathy we extend to Islam only too often on our own terms.]

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