American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims From the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism

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American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims From the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism
By Thomas S. Kidd
Princeton University Press, 2008
224 pp. $29.95

This concise and well-organized study offers readers an excellent summary of American popular attitudes toward Islam from the eighteenth century onward. Americans encountered Islam with less baggage than, say, central Europeans, whose historical memories were haunted by the march of the Ottomans to the Danube and the sieges of Vienna. And for Americans, a relatively unhistorical people with little folk memory of, or religious sympathy for, the Crusades (seen by American Protestants as a Catholic aberration), Islam never occupied the position of "the ancient enemy," as it did in parts of Europe. Even so, as Kidd shows, Islam has cast a dark shadow over the American mind. Theologically, early American Christians saw Islam as "the Antichrist of the East," which they paired with "the Antichrist of the West" (Roman Catholicism), and they searched the Scriptures for prophecies of Islam's downfall. From the capture and enslavement of American sailors by the Barbary pirates, through the struggles among Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the declining decades of the Ottoman Empire, American Christians tended to view Islam and its followers in increasingly negative terms. An important exception to this trend is found among the American missionaries who lived in the Middle East; although the missionaries regretted the failure of the Muslims to embrace the call of Christ, they found themselves increasingly sympathetic to Islamic political aspirations and appreciative of the strengths of Islamic, as well as Arab and Persian, culture.

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