In this immensely readable history that couldn't be more timely, award-winning historian Richard Fletcher chronicles the relationship between Islam and Christianity from the time of Muhammad to the Reformation. With lucidity and sound scholarship, Fletcher demonstrates that though there were fruitful trading and cultural interactions between Muslims and Christians during the period when the Arabs controlled most of the Mediterranean world, each group viewed the other's religion from the beginning as fundamentally different and suspect. Eschewing moral judgments and easy generalizations, The Cross and the Crescent allows readers to draw their own conclusions and explore the implications for the present day.
This illuminating study of Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle Ages shows just how intractable the conflict between Islam and the West has always been. Historian Fletcher (Bloodfeud; Barbarian Conversion; etc.), covers the period from the first Muslim conquests in the seventh century to the 16th-century peak of the Ottoman Empire. The story is one of frequent military conflict, but also of trade, diplomacy, technological diffusion and intellectual exchange as the Muslim world absorbed and elaborated the science and philosophy of the Greeks and then retransmitted them to Europe. Despite these far-reaching economic and cultural interactions, Fletcher argues, Christians and Muslims lived in "a state of mutual religious aversion," even in border regions like Spain where substantial populations of both faiths lived side by side; Christians viewed Muslims as bloodthirsty heretics, while Muslims sneered at Christian trinitarianism as a self-contradictory polytheism superceded by Muhammad's revelations. Fletcher's stress on early modern Europe's growing (but unrequited) openness to and curiosity about Islam as the key to the evolution of the notion of religious pluralism-a development rooted ultimately, he feels, in the multiplicity and diversity of Christian theological traditions-is fairly conventional rise-of-the-West historiography. Still, he ably synthesizes a mass of historical material on the ways in which people both accommodated and resisted the influence of alien religions in their lives. The result is a readable, nuanced account that raises profound questions about the role of religion and ideology in shaping our worldview. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.