Source: The New Republic
By Jacob Soll
A new book recovers the work of scholars who helped establish greater understanding between religions.
In 1698, the noted Arabic scholar and Catholic evangelical crusader, Ludovico Marracci published the first historically accurate Latin translation of the Qur’an, as well as a refutation of the Muslim holy book—both of which he hoped could be used to help “fight Islam.” Since the Reformations of the sixteenth century, religious conflicts had been settled not only by the sword, but with the potent weapon of philology, the linguistic science that produced accurate versions and translations of holy and ancient texts. Philology had such force that new translations and interpretations of the Bible had helped split the Church. Marracci hoped that his accurate work would have the same effect in training crusading priests to dispute the word of Muhammad.
As it happened, Marracci’s translation did not have the effect he intended, as Alexander Bevilacqua shows in his tour de force study of the origins of modern Islamic scholarship in the West and its central role in the Enlightenment, The Republic of Arabic Letters Islam and the European Enlightenment. Bible critics and burgeoning Islamic scholars from Paris and Leiden to Oxford used his accurate translation of the Qur’an not to fight Islam, but to study and appreciate it. His work became the basis of even more translations and historical works, ultimately leading to the founding of great schools and centers of Islamic languages and culture in Europe the eighteenth century.
Bevilacqua’s extraordinary book provides the first true glimpse into this story. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Gibbon studied and critiqued Islam along with Christianity, giving the study of Islam a new importance in Europe. The idea that one could equally compare religions was the beginning of a movement of religious tolerance that began with seventeenth century religious scholars and made its way to the thinking of Voltaire, William Penn and Benjamin Franklin, who believed that Muslim theologians should have the freedom to preach their religion to the citizens of Philadelphia.
— Zia H Shah (@ZiahShah1) November 10, 2015