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The Political Language of Islam (Exxon Lecture Series) Hardcover – November 15, 1988

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From Publishers Weekly

Lewis, utilizing Arabic, Persian and Turkish documents dating from the time of the Prophet to the present, analyzes the disparity between Islamic and Western political thought.

Copyright 1991 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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Product Details

  • Series: Exxon Lecture Series
  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; First Edition edition (November 15, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226476928
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226476926
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,127,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ralph White on February 28, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is very unlike Bernard Lewis' other writing on Islam. "What Went Wrong" is much more accessible to the general reader and I recommend it highly. If, however, you have read most of Professor Lewis' work, and want to continue through his opus, then this will be your cup of tea. The book's title cannot be taken too literally; the subject is the derivation and meaning of words in the major Middle Eastern languages. The bulk of the book consists of his contrasting the usage of Islamic vocabularies with the counterpart words in English, and occassionally, Romance languages. It is fascinating, but even for a reader interested in linguistics, it becomes a blur. The Arabic ( both classic and modern), Turkish, Iranian (and often Hebrew) words flash by. With Islam in the news so much these days, the general reader will recognize some of them, such as "sadr," as in Sadr City, the slum in Baghdad. It turns out that the Arabic word means "chest" literally, but has come to mean centrality, leadership, command. In Turkish it is part of the Grand Vizier's title. It is true, too, that the reader will learn much about the Qur'an, the Traditions of the Prophet, and of sharia, the Muslim law. For instance, since the principal function of government is to enable the individual Muslim to lead a good Muslim life, there is no thought of the separation of church and state. Also, since there is no clerical bureaucracy, there is no formal theocracy, although most Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed was the giver of all law. It is a brief 116 page book, and the notes and index comprise a third of its volume. Notwithstanding my admiration of Professor Lewis, I cannot recommend this book to any but Islamic-language speaking people.Read more ›
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Eds Word on August 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
Lewis's works are known for their depth of analysis while simultaneously being presented with a simple elegance that makes them approachable to those of us who are not Arabists or Islamicists. In this work he expounds on the language of political discourse in Arabia, Persia, Turkey and Islamic lands in general. Political vocabulary more or less confines and defines the range of this discourse so understanding the language is not mere semantics but indeed critical to the understanding of the development of Islamic political thought.
This short book (116 pages plus 52 pages of detailed notes and references, including an index) traces the etymology behind key political concepts in Islam. If you are an informed reader of current Mideast events encountering words like jihad, ayatollah, imam, shaykh, and fatwa and have a curiosity as to what these words are all about, under what context did they originally appear, and why they have contemporary relevance, you will find this unique volume hard to put down. The book is about the concept behind the word and its historical development more so than philological aspects, although the latter is also well covered. Originally published in 1988, an update reflecting the current state of affairs would be welcome. For example Islamic fundamentalists describe modern society as "jahili," a term originally used as a descriptor of Arabia before the time of the Prophet and related to the Arabic word for ignorance, "jahiliyya." Lewis' thoughts on how Muslims have dealt with attempting to end godless jahiliyya in the past and how it might apply to militant Islam today would have particular relevance as we try to understand the motivations behind the events of September 11th.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By R. Z. Basak on December 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
In The Political Language of Islam, Bernard Lewis attempts to trace the development of the political language of Islam from the Mohammedan Era, through the transformation of the religio-political discourse in modern times, to the present day. An eminent scholar of the Middle East and a professor at Princeton University, Lewis, presents an analysis of the discrepancies between Islamic and Western political thought. The book is based on his Exxon Foundation Lectures delivered at the University of Chicago in 1986.

In the first chapter of the book Lewis explains the differences between Islamic and Western political terms. He discusses the meanings and origins of words and compares them to corresponding terms in Western languages. He dwells on various metaphors and images, which reflect the traditional, social and political distinctions between Islamic and Western cultures. Despite these differences, Lewis says, there exist also resemblances between the two culturally different terminologies, due to the fact that the individuals of the two domains live in the same environment. He further adds that some of the similarities may be the result of cultural influences and borrowings.

In the following chapters Lewis introduces an account of the issues relating to the state and political authority in the Muslim world. He elaborates on relations, particularly of the ruler and the ruled, people and the state, obedience and rebellion, rights and duties, justice and oppression and legitimacy and illegitimacy. He examines how certain political elements were perceived and practiced differently in various parts of the "Islamic bloc".
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