03 Oct 1994 12:01

I shan't try to explain Islam here.

Cultural influence in medieval Italy; in Renaissance Italy; in Sardinia.

One of the most interesting spectacles awaiting the observer of American politics and culture is the rise of Islam. There are somewhere between five and eight million Muslims in the country right now, depending on who is counting and how strictly "Muslim" is defined. Even by the more conservative estimates, therefore, there are already more Muslims than Presbyterians, Episcopalians or even Mormons, and sometime early in the 21st century (that is, the mid-15th) Islam will be the second-largest religion in the United States, surpassing Judaism. The contortions this will produce on the parts of politicians, pundits and colleges are delicious to contemplate, and will be even more amusing to watch. The struggle to find a replacement for "Judeo-Christian" alone will doubtless provide years of entertainment. ("Peoples of the Book" is a natural choice, but by no means assured.) What to teach about the Crusades will also be fun. Pundits and authors of textbooks for college freshmen will solemnly declaim that, since the Muslim world has a Semitic, monotheist religion and inherited Greek philosophy, it is of course a part of "Western Civilization" --- how could one think otherwise? And so on. --- I don't think this will be a bad thing, you understand; it will just be deeply hypocritical, and very funny. [Passage written c. 1998.]

See also: Afghanistan; the Berbers; Central Asia; Indian History; Islamic Law; Islamicate Civilization, from the Beginning to European Colonialism; Islamism; Ottoman Empire; Sufism.