Since coming out in 2017 The Islamic Enlightenment has enjoyed much success and critical attention, being shortlisted for the British Academy’s Nayef al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, the winner of which will be announced on October 30, the Baillie Gifford Prize, formerly the Samuel Johnson Prize, and the Orwell Prize, as well as being longlisted for the Cundill History Prize and named a book of year by the Wall Street Journal, the Sunday Times and the Times Literary Supplement. Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, has called The Islamic Enlightenment 'eye-opening...while both Islamic extremists and Western bigots find it convenient to stress the incompatibility of Islam and modernity, Christopher de Bellaigue shows that Islam is whatever Muslims make of it, and that at least some Muslims have made of it something very modern.' In The New York Times, Jason Goodwin wrote that 'this brilliant and lively history deserves nothing but praise', while Bettany Hughes, author of Istanbul, wrote, 'the work itself incarnates the essence of enlightenment'. 


Islamic Enlightenment? To look at the Middle East's current movements of fundamentalist revival, you might think it never happened. In fact, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present day Islamic society in its Middle Eastern heartlands has been transformed by modern ideals and practices, and the retreat of religion under a wave of secular knowledge defined by rationalism.

Who were the scholars, scientists, artists and administrators who brought about these remarkable changes-from the adoption of modern medicine to the emergence of women from purdah and the development of democracy-and and is their legacy now under threat from a burgeoning counter-Enlightenment? Spanning more than 200 years of Middle Eastern history, and encompassing the Arab, Turkish and Persian worlds, the Islamic Enlightenment describes the collision of an ancient civilisation with new ways of living in the world. 

     NEWS, Articles and appearances 

  • The Islamic Enlightenment has been called 'brilliant' by Orhan Pamuk, 'timely, thoughtful and provocative' by Peter Frankopan, and 'a blow...for common humanity' by Justin Marozzi. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bartle Bull called The Islamic Enlightenment 'at once new, fascinating and extraordinarily important.'

  • My half-hour BBC documentary exploring the subject of loneliness, acclaimed by the Sunday Times as ‘simply superb,’ and by the Spectator as ‘extraordinarily direct and honest,’ can be heard here.

  • Can a neo-liberal rescue Islam? Ed Husain is giving it a try, as I explain in the Guardian.

  • The English are in love with football again. Read my New York Review essay about the English Romance.

  • Patrick Melrose is the everyman of upper class vice, or rather he was, as I argue in the New Yorker.

  • The fate of 'bullshit Britain' - my Guardian review of two vital new histories.

  • Off all the factors in Europe’s Muslim crisis, perhaps the most fundamental is that 'Islam is never part of any general consideration of values in a successful modern society.' See my NYRB essay.

  • The Middle East is the plaything of two ambitious powers. Read my recent Spectator cover-stories on Iran and Saudi Arabia.

  • Can't quite digest 350 pages of close-type text to learn about the Islamic Enlightenment? Read this blini-sized Spectator summary of the main arguments.

  • Is Religion making a come-back? See my essay in the Financial Times.

  • What did Iran's recent protests mean? Read my NYRB analysis.

  • For The Nation I wrote an appreciation of the dark but brilliant Paul Kingsnorth and his England.

  • Dan Jones's new history of the Knights Templar

  • Are reason and Islam compatible? The Palestinian thinker Sari Nusseibeh argues in his new book, which I review here in the Nation, that the two are indivisible.

  • Does Islam have a special propensity for violence? Listen to my Spectator debate on the subject with Tom Holland here.

  • President Trump and his advisers paint Muslims as enemies of modernity. The neglected history of an age of Middle Eastern liberalism proves them wrong. My Guardian Long Read

  • Pankaj Mishra's Age of Anger was one of the most talked about books of 2017. For my FT review click here

  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan is perhaps the world's most successful politician. My Guardian Long Read on the subject.

  • Patricia Crone (1945-2015) was an exceptional scholar and her Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran will be read for decades to come. Read More

  • How is France going to solve its prison radicalisation problem? My Guardian Long Read piece explains. Read more

  • Twenty-two summers ago I fell for Blur while homesick in New Delhi. Read more

  • 'Not Like Argo' - the travails of being a tour guide in Iran, for which I won a 2015 Foreign Press Award. Read more

Follow Christopher on Twitter: @bellaigueC