Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Basic Books
(July 1, 2003)
Language: English


The Malady of Islam

Translated from the French by Pierre Joris & Ann Reid

The Malady of Islam is as much a lament as it is a critique. Abdelwahab Meddeb probes the thorny issue of Islamic fundamentalism and examines how it has gained such a dangerous foothold in the 20th century. His analysis, is both learned and compelling. A poet and scholar now living in Paris (he was raised in Tunis), Meddeb speaks with the authority and indignation of one who recognizes a "paradise lost." Citing a host of historical, poetical, and religious texts from the advent of Islam to the 20th century, he describes, with regret, how the one-time pluralistic tradition of the Muslim faith has been undercut by narrow readings of the Qur'an that denounce any departure from the letter of the law.

Meddeb judiciously illustrates how the failings of the West to create a universal equality after the Enlightenment has led to "ressentiment" in the Arab community and has contributed to the rise of fundamentalism (or, as he describes it, "the sickness in Islam"). However, he never uses those deficiencies to excuse the "crimes" committed, in part, in reaction to Western colonialism and self-interest. In fact, he reserves his most stinging criticism for a succession of Muslim writers who claim one, incontestable truth for the Qur'an. "If Mawdždi [a Pakistani radical who lived from 1903 to 1979] reproaches the West with the death of God, we can accuse him of having inaugurated the death of humanity." Meddeb is most concerned with the "simplified, traditionalist thought" of the fundamentalists and considers it mostly to blame for the "entropy" he claims now plagues the Arab creative imagination. His proposed remedies for are philosophically complex and fitting to his subject. However, they require a serious rethinking of current geopolitical alliances and actions. Therefore, as much as we may crave the changes Meddeb recommends, we must ultimately realize how difficult they will be to achieve. --Silvana Tropea /