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What Kind of Religion Is Islam?

- Abstract

It is no secret that, with the return of Islam to the world stage over the last half-century, relations between Muslims and the West, or what used to be known as Christendom, have undergone sweeping changes. Nor is there any mystery to the large historical and demographic forces impelling those changes. The key event occurred when Muslim countries that for centuries had lain under the sway of European empires (Christian empires, as Muslims regarded them) gained their political independence and embarked upon a long-delayed, wrenching, and still far from accomplished encounter with modernity. Partly as a consequence of this development, the once-numerous Christian minorities in some Muslim countries, especially those in the Middle East, entered upon a rapid and frequently violent decline. Concomitantly, significant numbers of Muslims began to settle in the West and no less rapidly to grow there, to the point where, in France today, they probably amount to 10 percent of the overall population, with smaller but important representations in Germany, England, and the United States.

About the Author

Alain Besançon is a historian and a member of the French Academy.