How a common experience drove two civilizations apart: In recent years media attention for the Muslim world has increased tremendously and many reputable scholars of Islam have joined the flurry of publications that is released month after month. With Following Muhammad — a thoughtful essay on Islamic spiritual traditions — Sufism expert Carl Ernst has attempted to counterbalance the torrent of books on political radicalism. Bernard Lewis, the nestor of Islamic history writing, took the easy way and jumped the bandwagon of Islam-bashing by rehashed his 1999 Vienna Lectures Series under the title What Went Wrong?
Refashioning that earliest essay, from which the book has taken its title, into a rebuttal of Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis, Bulliet explains that there are more similarities than differences between Christendom and the Muslim Middle East. The conversion processes during the earliest centuries shared many features; in particular the slow percolation of the new religions into the lower social strata. As contacts became more intensive during the middle periods, it is true that mutual hostility increased but even then peaceful exchange was more common than violent interaction. Only from about 1500 did the two civilizations go their separate ways, but – in an explicit rejection of Huntington – Bulliet observes that this was more due to accidents of history than an inherent necessity resulting from irrevocably different outlooks.