Despite the Islamophobic insistence on “Islam” as an alien and hermetically sealed phenomenon in popular and political Anglophone cultures, the field of Islamic and Near Eastern studies—historically subsumed under Oriental studies—has long been studied alongside a multiplicity of pre-Islamic Southwest Asian cultures. Yet the European Orientalist tradition still needed to create a “coherence” out of Islamic history in order to place it within a hierarchy of so-called civilizations. This essay discusses the issues regarding the Orientalist legacy of the terms Middle Ages and medieval in academic Islamic discourse, and how such usage, made to “familiarize” non-European cultures to Anglophone, non-Muslim audiences, served to reinforce Orientalist notions of lack of progress and backwardness in Muslim-majority societies.

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