Samar Attar. The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl's Influence on Modern Western Thought.

AuthorTalhami, Ghada H.
PositionBook review

Samar Attar. The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl's Influence on Modern Western Thought. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, inc., 2007, 174 pages. Hardcover $65.00.

THIS IS NOT ONLY A SCHOLARLY BOOK which fills a serious gap in classical Arabic studies, it is also a timely foray into the ever intensifying east-west debate. Ever since the modern colonial period when Western imperialist powers took over much of the non-Western world and held it as a source of riches and a dumping ground for Europe's industrial surplus products, Europeans contended that the enlightenment was a purely Western development. As a way of justifying their colonial exploitation, these Europeans claim that non-Western populations, particularly Arabs and Muslims were relegated to the depths of intellectual depravity because they never participated in the enlightenment. Lack of development, both political and economic was blamed on the absence of a parallel intellectual phenomenon among these same non-Westerners. Even Czarist Russia's extended feudal age was blamed on its isolation and non-participation in the enlightenment. This movement has assumed gigantic dimensions as the world moved towards the nineteenth century, becoming synonymous with rationalism, scientific development and modernity. Pursuing a separate track of historical development, therefore, automatically excluded these non-European races from the definition of modernity.

Samar Attar has executed a difficult philosophic coup by forcing upholders of this school to confront their indebtedness to Arab thinkers of a previous epoch who clearly influenced the renaissance. This in itself is not a new discovery since careful scholars have long recognized the impact of Arab and Islamic thought on the medieval heritage of Europe. Few seriously believed that the enlightenment was a singular rediscovery of the classical heritage of Greece and Rome. Yet, for most, especially in the nineteenth century, who were eager to establish Europe's divergence from the civilization of the non-Christian world, the assertion of Arab and Islamic isolation and lack of development proved to be very comforting.

Attar bases her study on a singular idea, expressed by George Sarton in a letter to Henry James in 1935, in which he states:

The scientific activity is particularly interesting from the historical point of view because it is not simply creative but cumulative.... Michael Angelo stands upon the...

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