Review Essay

How the Muslim World Was Invented

The Complicated Origins of a Universal Idea

In This Review

The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History
The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History
By Cemil Aydin
Harvard University Press, 2017, 304 pp. Purchase

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” This was the statement that Trump read aloud at a rally in December 2015, during his campaign for the U.S. presidency. In one sentence, Trump cast Muslims as threats emanating from abroad. He delivered on that characterization as president, signing executive orders that sought to ban the citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

Trump’s push for the so-called Muslim ban provoked intense controversy. Yet its subtext—that there exists some uniform, foreign community of the planet’s Muslims—is a longstanding construct, as the historian Cemil Aydin shows in his timely book, The Idea of the Muslim World. The notion of a “Muslim world” is not a result of Islamic “theological requirements or a

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