Through the years, Islam and Christianity and the civilizations they created have influenced each other to greater and lesser extents in terms of arts, sciences, culture, and medicine. The Crusades produced the most violent confrontation of the two worlds, but it is also important to note the effect of Christian missionaries on Islam and that of Islamic science and literature on the West. In light of the threat of terrorism in the new world order of the 21st century, it is imperative that the West and the Islamic world improve their understanding of their respective cultures.
This course is conceived to reveal the interaction of these two religions and civilizations throughout their histories, highlight their similarities and differences, and, finally, show that Muslims and Christians share much common ground, especially in terms of morality, life issues, and family.
©2004 Sayyed Hossein Nasr; (P)2004 Recorded Books
Bottom line up front: informative series of lectures, but I strongly recommend that additional sources be utilized to obtain a more complete picture of the mutual contributions, influences, and interactions between Islamic and Western (i.e. European and American civilization).
This series of lectures emphasizes the contributions to- and influences of- Islamic civilization and culture on Western culture, thought, and technology. Professor Nasr’s lecture style is engaging and easy to listen to. However, there are a few things worth noting. I did not compile an exhaustive list because I didn’t feel like taking the requisite time or listening to the lectures again, so these were just the off-the-top-of-my-head examples:
Professor Nasser occasionally leaves out relevant details, such as when he mentions the French invasion of Morocco as a [by implication, negative] example of European colonial-era aggression against Islamic states, while failing to mention the fact that Morocco, as one of the Barbary states founded in the 1500s, had preyed on European and American Mediterranean and Atlantic shipping for centuries as its primary national occupation.
I think Professor Nasr overstates his case in arguing that Islam is one of the pillars of Western Civilization and when drawing parallels to support this. After listening to his lectures on the topic, one comes away with the impression that every major positive Western development from navigation to mathematics, to university structure, etc, had its origin, was borrowed, or was heavily influenced by Islamic culture/civilization/technology (while making minimal mention of positive contributions going the other way, and specifically not including the Byzantine Empire, which he classifies as Eastern). One minor example is his assertion (mentioned several times) that it has been “proven beyond a doubt” that Dante’s imagery of heaven from the “Divine Comedy” was drawn from Islamic sources (an argument made by Spanish scholar Miguel Asín Palacios in 1919). Further research on my part suggested that Palacios’ thesis is intriguing enough to obtain publication and several PhDs for graduate students, but very far from conclusive and most likely not accurate (and that this is the conclusion of most professional scholars on the subject).
Professor Nasr’s tendency to make asides is one of the things that makes his lecturing style palatable, but also tends to be where makes his more arguable or least-substantiated assertions. For example, he states as an aside that Christopher Columbus’ [primary] navigator on his initial New World voyage in 1492 was a Muslim. I’m assuming he’s referring to the Santa Maria’s pilot Pedro Alonso Nino (or the Nino family in general, many of whom aided Columbus’ voyages). They were certainly Moors, but by the late 15th century “Moor” was as much or more an ethnic term than a religious one, and I could find no evidence (other than one or two unsubstantiated statements on a couple of non-scholarly websites) that the Nino family was Muslim. Given the demographics of Spain at the time, it’s more likely that they were 2nd or 3rd generation Christian Conversos. It’s also worth pointing out that Columbus was a skilled navigator in his own right, and made multiple voyages without the Nino family.
It may have been just me, but I thought I also detected a tendency in Professor Nasr’s lectures to attribute the least altruistic motivations in Western-Islamic interactions to the Westerners. An instance of this would be how Professor Nasr, in his final lecture, attributes increased Muslim immigration to Europe following World War II almost entirely to a conscious policy by Europeans, aimed at forming de-facto internal colonies of poor non-citizen laborers to make up for lost overseas possessions. This ignores far too much opposing evidence including European legislative debates, stated intentions (public and private), and experiences and statements by the immigrants themselves. (And also the fact that a chief complaint by natives about immigrants the world over is that immigrants provide unwanted competition for unskilled labor.)
Personally, I would recommend consulting a number of other resources prior to taking up Professor Nasr’s lectures (such as Michael B. Oren’s book on America in the Middle East, which covers more a limited time period and perspective, but gives a very well-balanced, nuanced and highly readable/listenable presentation).
A truely inspired lecture series. The speaker (who's name is Nasr, not Naer), is complete in his vast analysis and yet remains clear and simple. He manages to explain amazing amounts of information and understanding of both the West and Islam and never falls into the old academic pitfalls of obscurity or tangents. A must listen.
This lecture seemed very anti western in its tone, someone unfamiliar with history would infer that Europeans lived in caves before the Muslims came forth to lead them out of ignorance. The esteemed professor, takes discoveries from older cultures and spins it so they appear of ONLY Muslim origin, i.e Arabic Numbers, Universities, etc. He makes Christians appear intolerant compared to Muslims since they did not "force" their conquered subject to convert to Islam. But fails to mention that they often preferred that those same subjects retain their original faiths in order to extract the Jizya Tax! The course remains interesting and I still recommend it to anyone interested in Islamic history. But beware, learn something of European history before beginning this course or you will find yourself led astray!
I found this book to be remarkably biased with statements laden with presuppositions about Islam and the West without supportive historical evidence for opinions. It could be a useful book for someone who is unfamiliar with middle east history who would like an overview.
"a good starting point"
I enjoyed listening to this book. It does very well as an introduction to the topics that it presents rather than provided deep knowledge on anything in particular. This is both its strength and its weakness. The benefit however is that many topics are covered so you do establish a breadth of knowledge. In my opinion the narration could have been better at times (at times the author seems to hesitate). I would still recommend this book and it is worth listening to. I will probably use this use the topics mentioned as a basis to direct further reading
"Suffers from consistent pro-Muslim bias"
The lecturer is himself a Muslim and that very quickly becomes apparent. There is a consistent pro-Muslim bias running throughout the text. All the usual cliches are trotted out. The Crusades are portrayed as a vicious attack on Islam, rather than a response to Muslim aggression. (Read Rodney Stark's The Case for the Crusades for another perspective.) Islam didn't spread by the sword, he keeps insisting. Somehow lots of non-Muslims all across the Middle East and North Africa somehow just decided to let themselves be ruled by Muslims. Muslim-ruled Spain is depicted as a haven of tolerance, ignoring the degrading conditions that the non-Muslim dhimmis were forced to endure.
Islam should be understood as one of the pillars of western civilisation, alongside its better-known Greco-Roman foundations, he argues. The slender basis for this preposterous claim is the translation of some Arabic texts into Latin in the Middle Ages. Of course he ignores the fact that many of the texts translated were originally Greek works that had been translated into Arabic and that the Greek colonies in Southern Italy provided an alternative source of Greek knowledge.
I would characterise this lecture series as a work of Islamic propaganda, one that is done subtly enough to make it seem superficially fair and plausible. However, it may be of some interest for those who would like to learn more about the Muslim perspective on things.
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