Cover image for The malady of Islam
The malady of Islam
Meddeb, Abdelwahab.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Maladie de l'islam. English
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [2003]

Physical Description:
241 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BP166.14.F85 M4413 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this impassioned, erudite, and deeply moving book, Abdelwahab Meddeb, born and raised in Tunis and now living in Paris, details the breadth and scope of the Arab intellectual tradition and dismantles common preconceptions held by the Islamic and Western worlds. He describes the growing resentment between the West and the Islamic world as being due, in large part, to Islam's drift away from its own pluralist tradition. Tracing the history of the "conquering" of the Arab world by the West, he provides a detailed history of the ways in which Islamic fundamentalism has come to compensate for Western dominance. Directly addressing the terrorist attacks of September 11, he challenges us to reconsider the presumption that the gulf between the Islamic world and the West is too wide to breach.The "malady" of Islam lies in its alienation from the West and the corrosive influence that fundamentalism has wrought. This book is a correction of the historical record, a passionate description of the best of Islamic thought and culture, and an absolutely necessary read for those seeking a better understanding not only of Islam but also ourselves.

Author Notes

Abdelwahab Meddeb is a prolific novelist, poet, translator, and essayist and the editor of the journal Dédale. The author of ten books, he is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Paris X--Nanterre. He lives in Paris, France.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

According to this impassioned but unfocused disquisition on the decline of the Muslim world, Islamic culture in its medieval heyday was tolerant, open-minded, rational and urbane, its science, literature and government a beacon unto benighted Europe. But "ancient Islam, intelligent and likable" is vastly different from "the political forms of present Islam, stupid and detestable" and steeped in xenophobia, fanaticism, prudery and resentment, according to Meddeb. Two factors are responsible for this "sickness." The first is modern strains of ultra-conservative Islam, especially Saudi Wahhabism and Egyptian fundamentalism, which distort Islam from "a tradition based on the principle of life and the cult of pleasure into a lugubrious race toward death." The second is "Americanization," which has spawned an amnesiac, TV-hypnotized but socially archaic consumer culture in which fundamentalism flourishes while Islam's humane heritage is forgotten. Citing European intellectuals like Voltaire, Kant and Camus alongside Muslim thinkers, Meddeb, a Tunisian novelist and poet now living in Paris, has an outlook best described as French: he wants Muslims to embrace the Enlightenment, but in its classical European form, not its corrupted American form. Meddeb's cultural history is wide-ranging but cursory and disjointed, and his often turgid style ("Hierarchical mobility and hegemonic restructuring can only be developed on [the globalized world], and can only be involved in a shared axiology") doesn't make it easier to follow. His call for open debate and respect for difference in the Muslim world is welcome; but his insistence on the easygoing compatibility of Islam and modernity, based on cherry-picked progressive-sounding passages from the Koran and other medieval texts, is unconvincing. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

This popular account of Islamic culture by a Tunisian Muslim living in France is a valuable addition to the growing library of books that aim to bridge the abyss of misunderstanding separating Europeans and Americans from Muslims around the world. Meddeb (comparative literature, Univ. of Paris X-Nanterre) draws on his comprehensive knowledge of European and Middle Eastern histories to compose an impressionistic picture of their complex and often deadly interactions. His analysis is evenhanded and his judgments incisive. The long, sad story of colonialism in the Middle East and Asia frames the critique of Arab self-destructiveness, whether in the form of political despotisms or of fundamentalist movements like Wahabism. Meddeb invokes Voltairean tolerance to expose the moral bankruptcy of both Saudi and American fundamentalism. Perhaps most important are the impressive portraits of brilliant Muslim historians, philosophers, poets, and theologians whose subtle reflections on ways to assuage religious passions to preserve social order have been occluded more by Western colonialism and globalization than by Muslim backwardness. This is a lesson that needs to be learned far more than the similarities between the medieval cult of Assassins and al-Qaeda. For university, college, and public libraries. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-level undergraduates through faculty. J. Bussanich University of New Mexico