, Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 709-711
Date: 24 Sep 2011

Review of Ian Almond, History of Islam in German Thought: From Leibniz to Nietzsche

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Ian Almond’s History of Islam in German Thought: From Leibniz to Nietzsche is an intensely researched testament to the prejudices and misunderstandings that have greeted Islam and Muslim cultures in European intellectual contexts.

Almond begins with Leibniz, whose celebration of China is well known; Islam also occupied a significant, if less favorable place in his writings. Leibniz proposed that Muslim lands were ‘undeveloped, cruel and backward,’ ripe for conquest (7, 16–18). At the same time, he urged careful scrutiny of Arabic sources (cf. 24–28) and acknowledged that Muslim ‘moral/theological frameworks’ were ‘similar’ to those of Christianity. This progress—mild as it was—can be contrasted with Kant’s ‘obsession with the limit, the boundary, the Grenze,’ which ruled over his cross-cultural observations (30). Muslims were on the wrong side of the border between reason and the irrational; the ‘Mohammedans’ vacillate between fanaticism, laziness, lasciviousness, and self-satisfaction.