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Short evaluation of Khaled Rouayheb's new book on important parts of the intellectual history in the early modern Ottoman empire

Posted 31/12/2015

Khaled El-Rouayheb, Islamic Intellectual History in the Seventeenth Century. Scholarly Currents in the Ottoman Empire and the Maghreb,  Cambridge University Press.

September 2015.

ISBN: 9781107042964

 

This is an important book. While the political and social history of the early modern Muslim world and especially the Ottoman empire have received a great deal of attention over the last few decades, the same cannot be said for its intellectual history. There have been some excellent studies of individual thinkers—a personal favorite is Stefan Reichmuth’s book on al-Zabīdī—but no synthetic overviews that offer a comprehensive narrative of the intellectual developments in the Muslim world from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries (the field of jurisprudence is a notable exception, but there, too, more is needed). This book does precisely that, and the research and effort that went into it go some ways to explaining why no one had written such a book before. Khaled El-Rouayheb’s accomplishment is to define criteria for measuring intellectual vitality and development in a broad number of fields—logic, dialectics, reading strategies, theology, and Sufism among them—and then to show how and why during what we might call the long seventeenth century the scholarship of the central Ottoman lands was revitalized in these areas. In doing so he acquaints his reader with an impressively broad array of scholars, some of whom are well known—Ibrāhīm al-Kūrānī (d. 1690), al-Ḥasan al-Yūsī (d. 1691), ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī (d. 1731), for example—but many more less so (the sheer number of lesser known but significant scholars featured here, along with their scholarly genealogies and most important works, is in itself a valuable contribution). El-Rouayheb shows that the Ottoman empire and neighboring Muslim lands experienced a notable increase in the study of the rational sciences in the seventeenth century along with an emphasis on rational modes of argumentation, often related to the use of the term taḥqīq or verification. It is a particular virtue of his analysis that he is able to show how this development began and ended, and how it relates to the subsequent intellectual developments associated with figures such as Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (d. 1792), al-Zabīdī (d. 1791), and al-Shawkānī (d. 1834). In the process he makes a compelling case for the continued significance of intellectual history as a field and the counterproductive nature of European frameworks such as humanism and enlightenment when describing developments in the Muslim world.

 

Justin Stearns