Mollie's Reviews > God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

God's Crucible by David Levering Lewis
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's review
Jul 19, 2008

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Read in July, 2008

Lewis tries to look at the clash between Islam and Christianity during the Middle Ages from a new (non-Western) perspective. According to European myth-makers and France's epic The Song of Roland, Christianity valiantly and miraculously repelled the barbaric, heathen Saracens and rescued Europe from Islam. According to Lewis, Europe and Dark-Age Christianity stood to gain quite a lot from the tolerant, thriving, accelerated culture of al-Andalus. Arab scholars maintained and translated countless Classical works that would have otherwise been lost forever, and they introduced Europe to such concepts as algebra, medicine, pharmacology, rational skepticism, and paper. It's undeniable that Muslim Spain was centuries ahead of Christian Europe. But it's also indisputable that the tables did eventually turn. The reason, Lewis hints, is militarism. Just as the Crusades and blood-thirsty expansion retarded Christian civilization, so did jihad eventually lead to the demise of a tolerant and intellectually curious Islam.

Lewis perhaps simplifies things and overstates his case on several occasions. For example, al-Andalus also introduced the concept of sumptuary laws, which kept Jews repressed and in ghettos throughout Europe for hundreds of years. Also, the Roman Catholic Church was a force for good as well.

I picked up this book after returning from Morocco, where I was inspired and intrigued by Moorish culture. I wanted to learn more about Islam and about the events that brought the Moors to Europe in 711 (and turned them away again 500 years later). This book definitely succeeded on both counts.
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