Arab Muslim civilization was a multivalent cultural symbol for the French of the Enlightenment and revolutionary eras. Muslims were made to stand for both Self and Other, were deployed as both icons of enlightenment and symbols of hidebound rigidity. The most thorough experience the French of the Revolutionary era had with Muslims came during Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquest and occupation of Egypt. How did the French construct this religion that was so alien to them? What differences were there among them in this regard? My question is not ‘what did Islam mean to them?’ in a unitary sense, but ‘what were the various sorts of things they used Islam to symbolize?’ More interestingly, how did they see the interplay of identity between Egyptian Muslims and French Deists? The other side of the coin is the question of how Egyptian intellectuals invoked French cultural symbols for their own, internal purposes.
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