...[a] fascinating and elegantly written account of the impact of modernity on the Islamic world ... The Islamic Enlightenment introduces us to a fascinating gallery of individuals who would grapple with reform and modernization in theory and practice over the next two centuries ... A book like this can only point to the sheer complexity of Muslim identities, loyalties and accommodations in the modern world, both among the hundreds of millions who lead lives of varying degrees of quiet and the troubled few. Far from spurning or avoiding modernity, Muslims are 'drenched in it,' as de Bellaigue points out, and in tracking the sinews of enlightenment through the last two centuries of Islamic thinking, this brilliant and lively history deserves nothing but praise.
Mr. de Bellaigue, the finest Orientalist of his generation, does the world a great service by charting the attainments of the region’s long 19th century ... This ultimately is the big question, today as in 1831. Is there a link between Islam and the nature and performance of Islamic societies? Here we see another of Mr. de Bellaigue’s strengths, a respectful frankness about the nature of the faith ... Cherry-picking is always a danger when it comes to textual quotation on religious questions. Mr. de Bellaigue, a remarkably fair observer, never falls victim to the temptation.
The author has a keen eye for a story, and our companions as we follow his argument are those vivid heroes (and occasionally heroines) who had the vision and the guts to bring about reform ... As well as big history analysis there are delightful incidental details ... This book also elegantly offers a reminder that we are the stories that we tell about ourselves ... One question this book doesn’t fully answer – and it is a crucial one – is why this kind of liberality was followed by centuries of retrenchment ... Yet De Bellaigue has written a (beautifully illustrated) book that prompts an important conversation, and is extremely useful for our times. As well as introducing neglected histories and characters about which and whom we need to care, the work itself incarnates the essence of enlightenment.