Malise Ruthven is the author of Islam in the World and 
Fundamentalism: The Search for Meaning, among other books. He recently edited Carving Up the Globe: An Atlas of Diplomacy.
 (February 2019)


The Otherworldliness of Ibn Khaldun

A statue of Ibn Khaldun in Tunis, Tunisia

Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography

by Robert Irwin
Since the nineteenth century, when the Muqaddima (Prolegomena)—Ibn Khaldun’s immense introduction to world history—appeared in French and English translations, the fourteenth-century Arab historian has been widely admired in the West for his perspicacious theorizing about history, politics, economics, society, and religion. The most celebrated of Ibn Khaldun’s ideas, one that …

God on Our Side

The Algerian military and religious leader Abd al-Qadir, circa 1870

Crusade and Jihad: The Thousand-Year War between the Muslim World and the Global North

by William R. Polk
A comment by a young Muslim man who had studied at an American university sets the tone for the impressively far-ranging Crusade and Jihad. “The bottom line,” he tells William Polk, is that no Muslim ever tried to enslave or slaughter your people. You might think of the attack on …

The Islamic Road to the Modern World

The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times

by Christopher de Bellaigue

Freedom in the Arab World: Concepts and Ideologies in Arabic Thought in the Nineteenth Century

by Wael Abu-‘Uksa
In The Islamic Enlightenment, Christopher de Bellaigue aims to address a bias he perceives among general readers about the history of Islamic political liberalization. According to widespread assumptions, efforts to transform Islamic nations into modern societies were mainly imposed “from above” by Western-leaning autocrats—the underlying premise being that the Enlightenment was an exclusively Judeo-Christian (or post-Christian) movement that had no parallel in Islamic societies. This “historical fallacy,” in de Bellaigue’s view, has led “triumphalist Western historians, politicians and commentators, as well as some renegade Muslims who have turned on the religion of their births,” to insist that “Islam [still] needs its Enlightenment.” By contrast, de Bellaigue argues convincingly that efforts to bring modern political ideas to the Muslim world had a “natural constituency” among the educated minority and that, despite opposition, they slowly gained general acceptance.

The Caliphate: From Grand to Sordid

Caliphate: The History of an Idea

by Hugh Kennedy

Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea

by Shiraz Maher
On July 4, 2014, as Americans were preparing to celebrate Independence Day, an event of comparable symbolism took place in the Grand Mosque of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, which had been taken over by the so-called Islamic State on June 10. Slowly mounting the pulpit on the first day of …


Physical Graffiti on the Border

A high-tech adjustable section of the US-Mexico border fence running through the Algodones dunes in California, January 2018

What’s clear is that the “big beautiful wall” promised by Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign is already a thing of the past, a technology superseded by electronic surveillance barriers like the ones Homeland Security has been building in Arizona for several years. Whether or not Trump’s prototypes merit the Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel’s designation of them as “conceptual art,” they should stand as material testaments to outdated, empty rhetoric.

Lure of the Caliphate

Tombs of the Caliphs in Cairo, Egypt, circa 1880

The challenge of defeating the Islamic State is a huge one. The group is formidably armed, and, above all, it has been able to attract unprecedented numbers of young recruits from the West—not least by drawing on apocalyptic currents in Islamic culture that have always appealed to people who are at the margins or who are seeking some new source of meaning.

The Map ISIS Hates

After sweeping into Iraq, the jihadists of ISIS tweeted pictures of a bulldozer crashing through the Syria-Iraq border. This symbolic action against a century-old imperial carve-up shows the extent to which such groups are nurtured by the myth of precolonial innocence, when Sunni Islam ruled over an unbroken realm and the Shias knew their place.