Political Theory

(Negative Review)


Yared, Nazik Saba. Secularism and the Arab world: 1850-1939. Saqi Books, 2002. 250p bibl index ISBN 0-86356-393-7, $45.00

Yared surveys writings by ten Lebanese, two Syrian, and four Egyptian authors to trace the influence of Western secular thought on the Arab world. Nine of the Lebanese are Christians, one a woman; the tenth is a Druze woman. The Syrians and Egyptians are Muslim males. On the premise that Western secular influence can first be noticed in Arab writings in the mid-19th century, Yared begins her analysis there but does not explain why she ends it at the beginning of WWII. Albert Hourani's examination of these same authors, except for the two women, plus others in Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1789-1939 (1962), receives a mere footnote reference. While he treated authors individually, providing a coherent and instructive account, Yared focuses on what they say about various topics she associates with secularism such as anticlericalism, women, education, progress, and literature. The approach does not work well, mainly because it provides only disconnected snippets of each author's thought. Typographical and substantive errors weaken the book. For example, Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid translated Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics into Arabic, not " De Re Publica"; Aristotle wrote no book by that title. Summing Up: Not recommended.— C.E. Butterworth, University of Maryland College Park