Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s Islam and the English Enlightenment is one of the most profoundly enlightening books I have read in years. Dr. Shah compellingly demonstrates that English Enlightenment thinkers were undeniably indebted to Islamic sciences and thought, and that the foundational principles of rationalist thought, scientific inquiry, and religious toleration were deeply anchored in the Islamic tradition. In my view, Dr. Shah’s research soundly challenges the exclusionary and ahistorical idea of the West being a product of a Judeo-Christian tradition or civilization that exists in tension with the Islamic civilization. If the Western civilization is indebted to the Enlightenment then historians must come to terms with the fact that the Enlightenment is deeply indebted to the Islamic tradition. Islam and the English Enlightenment is a must read for every serious student of history, religion, or culture.    

Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law 

Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s Islam and English Enlightenment: The Untold Story offers an important and hitherto underappreciated account of the impact of Islamic theology on the development of European and particularly English Enlightenment, tracing the path from the early Reformation through the development of Antitrinitarianism and the Enlightenment. This is a book that anyone interested in stepping outside a Eurocentric view of the rise of the West and of the modern age must read.

Michael A. Gillespie, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, Duke University

In this compelling and comprehensive study, Dr Zulfiqar Ali Shah responds with clarity and precision to those who continue to maintain that Islam is in need of some form of rational ‘enlightenment.’ Against such uninformed and Eurocentric accusations, Dr Shah convincingly demonstrates the central role that Islam – grounded in scientific enquiry, religious toleration and rationalist thought – played in shaping the values and ideas of the very Enlightenment reformers such as John Locke and Isaac Newton who helped to produce the modern world. While centrally focussed on examples from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, Islam and English Enlightenment ranges widely, engaging global connections to Europe from the Renaissance that illustrate debts to the emergence and development of Islamic philosophy and science. This study provides an indispensible guide to how Islam and Muslim thinkers provided the principles and ways of thinking that challenged the superstitions of the medieval era and without which there would have been no Enlightenment. 

Diego Lucci, Professor of Philosophy and History, American University in Bulgaria

Although traditionally underexplored, the relation between Enlightenment and Islam is crucial to appreciating the complexity of the making of the modern world. With this book, Zulfiqar Ali Shah offers a significant contribution toward a better understanding of the role that Islamic religious, philosophical, scientific, legal, and political ideas played in the Age of Enlightenment. This impressively erudite book indeed shows that many important English thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, including religious enlighteners as well as radical Enlightenment philosophers, were deeply interested in Islamic concepts and, to a certain extent, were also influenced by Islamic views on scientific investigation, communal life, natural religion, and primitive Christianity. Thus, this book accomplishes a twofold purpose, as it sheds new light on the impact of Islamic intellectual traditions on Enlightenment culture and it provides a thought-provoking reassessment of Islam in itself, which Dr. Shah depicts as compatible with Enlightenment principles, values, and practices.


Robert F. Shedinger, Ph.D., Luther College

Over the past twenty years I have had the great privilege to introduce scores of students to the Islamic tradition. The most meaningful assignment I give them is to research an area of medieval Islamic culture to present to the class. Some groups report on advancements made in mathematics by Muslim scholars like al-Khwarizmi. Others report on areas like biology and medicine, physics and engineering, art and architecture, astronomy and more. Students never fail to be amazed by the great cultural achievements of the medieval Islamic world, especially when they encounter achievements they thought (and were taught) resulted from the work of European Enlightenment thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci or Nicolaus Copernicus. Could Ibn Khaldun really have developed a theory of evolution centuries before Charles Darwin? Could Muslim astronomers really have calculated the circumference of a round earth before Columbus discovered that the earth was not flat? Could Muslim physicians really have been removing cataracts so many centuries before modern Western medicine?

Nothing impresses on my students the bias inherent in Western education more than this assignment. How is it possible, they want to know, that they never learned any of this before. They soon come to realize how important it has been for the West to deny its cultural roots in the Muslim world in order to maintain an image of Islam as a primitive force in the world. The primitive nature of Islam then becomes a mirror in which the West sees its own cultural superiority reflected back. With the ongoing rise of Islamophobia in the West, breaking down this stereotype has never been more important, and Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah with his new book Islam and the English Enlightenment makes a major contribution to doing just that.

Dr. Shah has produced perhaps the most comprehensive and deep analysis of the Islamic influence on the English Enlightenment ever produced. While Western scholarship presents figures like Isaac Newton and John Locke in cultural isolation, as if they developed their ideas in a complete cultural vacuum, Dr. Shah documents the deep and abiding influence of Islamic ideas on these and many other English Enlightenment figures. Far from being a primitive force, Dr. Shah demonstrates how Islamic ideas provided an important foundation for English Enlightenment thinkers as they broke away from the mysterious theology and authoritarian structure of medieval Christendom. If you think the English Enlightenment was a positive thing, then you just might have Muslims to thank!

Never before to my knowledge has the cross-fertilization of Western and Islamic ideas been so encyclopedically documented as it is here. In reading Islam and the English Enlightenment, you will never see the relationship between Islam and the West the same way again.  

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