Islam: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles) Info

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No religion in the modern world is as feared and misunderstood
as Islam. It haunts the popular imagination as an extreme faith that
promotes terrorism, authoritarian government, female oppression, and
civil war. In a vital revision of this narrow view of Islam and a
distillation of years of thinking and writing about the subject, Karen
Armstrong’s short history demonstrates that the world’s
fastest-growing faith is a much more complex phenomenon than its modern
fundamentalist strain might suggest.

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Reviews for Islam: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles):

2

May 04, 2015

Armstrong tends to view all of history through the prism of the specific conflicts of our day -- to be accurate: from a vantage point situated near the Arab-Israeli Conflict. That is helpful, but also distorting, occasionally. Not a good book to learn about Islamic history, but useful as a corrective read for those already familiar. It gets quite tiring to be repeatedly referred back, even if with every justification, to the crusades and to the colonial harassments when referring to the west, Armstrong tends to view all of history through the prism of the specific conflicts of our day -- to be accurate: from a vantage point situated near the Arab-Israeli Conflict. That is helpful, but also distorting, occasionally. Not a good book to learn about Islamic history, but useful as a corrective read for those already familiar. It gets quite tiring to be repeatedly referred back, even if with every justification, to the crusades and to the colonial harassments when referring to the west, and to the cultural superiority and religious universalism of Islam... ...more
2

Mar 26, 2009

Honestly, why do I keep picking up Karen Armstrong's books?
It's not that she is a bad writer, just an exceptionally boring one. When I listen to 'Islam: A Short History' I feel like I'm being hit by a verbal machine gun fire of names, dates and places. Unfortunately few of these fact 'bullets' remain in my brain.
She starts off innocently enough, giving an account Muhammad's life and then ....'BANG, BANG BANG!' she hits you with a blitzkrieg of boring, impersonal facts.
About three quarters of Honestly, why do I keep picking up Karen Armstrong's books?
It's not that she is a bad writer, just an exceptionally boring one. When I listen to 'Islam: A Short History' I feel like I'm being hit by a verbal machine gun fire of names, dates and places. Unfortunately few of these fact 'bullets' remain in my brain.
She starts off innocently enough, giving an account Muhammad's life and then ....'BANG, BANG BANG!' she hits you with a blitzkrieg of boring, impersonal facts.
About three quarters of the way through the book Armstrong picks you up, dusts you off, and tries to console you with a bit of modern history on Islamic fundamentalism. But it's too late. I'm already suffering from academic PTSD.
Yet I sense that I'll still read her next book, 'A Short History of Myth'... ...more
5

Feb 12, 2009

the book is written by an author who has complete grip on the subject. although she is not a muslim but she expressed herself in an absolute superb way and brought the correct perspective of islam. although in west the religion of islam is misunderstood as the religion of killings or it is being spread by sword etc but the history of islam tells us it is not so. the writer show up all the important events and depicts that no where in islam it is ever encouraged to kill other human beings if they the book is written by an author who has complete grip on the subject. although she is not a muslim but she expressed herself in an absolute superb way and brought the correct perspective of islam. although in west the religion of islam is misunderstood as the religion of killings or it is being spread by sword etc but the history of islam tells us it is not so. the writer show up all the important events and depicts that no where in islam it is ever encouraged to kill other human beings if they are non muslims. but i dont know when the westernes will look in to it and learn it is not the religion which make some of the muslims extremists but it is the sufferings which some of their brother undergo in palestine, bosnia, afghanistan, iraq and other parts of the world whihc force or tend them to do some undesirable things. which are certainly prohibited in islam like suicide but they in their wrong perception and just like to take revenge do it. but there is nothing wrong wiht the religion and its followers but with the wrong and unjust behaviours of the west towards some of the muslim countries. ...more
5

Apr 06, 2012

A few years ago I took an undergrad course on the Ottoman Empire. There was a great deal of reading on the history of Islam so I was exposed to the material before reading this book.

Karen Armstrong has done a perfect job of telling the history of the religion and it's prophet without creating a huge off-putting and overly detailed account that would drive away many readers.

The history of Islam is exciting and probably alien to most Americans. Looking from the other direction, America has been A few years ago I took an undergrad course on the Ottoman Empire. There was a great deal of reading on the history of Islam so I was exposed to the material before reading this book.

Karen Armstrong has done a perfect job of telling the history of the religion and it's prophet without creating a huge off-putting and overly detailed account that would drive away many readers.

The history of Islam is exciting and probably alien to most Americans. Looking from the other direction, America has been unfortunately a large and meddlesome presence in the Arab world for over a century. The interaction of the Ottoman Empire with Europe has caused friction for centuries. For those who want to understand why Muslims have an attitude about the West, this book is a valuable resource. It takes the reader up to modern times and Armstrong's comments are most illuminating as she writes with sympathy for both Islam and the West.

Empires come and go, rise and are put in the shade. This story offers a period of 1400 years to examine the process involving the Byzantines, the Persians, the Mongols and, of course, the Europeans as seen from the lands of Islam.

You will get a lucid explanation of the varieties of Islam, the leading thinkers of the religion and a nice sprinkling of Arabic words that are helpfully contained in a small glossary.

I was so impressed by this book that I decided to read the author's account of her experience being a nun (Through the Narrow Gate) and intend to investigate other books in the "Modern Library Chronicles" series from the publisher of which Islam is a part.

...more
1

Sep 23, 2011

Karen Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun who writes popular books about history of religion. Here she tells the conventional story of Islam from the revelations of Muhammad till the present day: the rises and falls of empires, of dynasties, of religious schools. I do not know the relevant history well enough to criticize Armstrong's handling of facts, though I was surprised to read that the importance of Battle of Poitiers is often exaggerated by Westerners. How could it be unimportant, if Karen Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun who writes popular books about history of religion. Here she tells the conventional story of Islam from the revelations of Muhammad till the present day: the rises and falls of empires, of dynasties, of religious schools. I do not know the relevant history well enough to criticize Armstrong's handling of facts, though I was surprised to read that the importance of Battle of Poitiers is often exaggerated by Westerners. How could it be unimportant, if different historians estimate that it involved 15,000 to 80,000 Frankish and 20,000 to 80,000 Muslim soldiers at an age when Western European nations had about 10% of their present-day population? Her interpretations, however, are apologetic. She never says anything bad about Muhammad: did he really want to create a community where everyone, rich or poor, commands absolute respect? Did he really work for the emancipation of women? She condemns the West for being prejudiced about Islam since the Crusades, yet writing about present-day Muslims, Armstrong says that when they look at Western society, "they see no light, no heart, no spirituality." This is wrong: all three are very much present in Western society, yet she does not condemn the Muslims for this view. I sense double standards. I was also unsettled by her insistence that she knows that Islam is really a religion of peace and tolerance, and everyone who disagrees is wrong. Armstrong writes that Pakistan spends too much money on nuclear weapons while a large part of its population lives in abject poverty, "a situation that is abhorrent to a truly Muslim sensibility." The only truly Muslim sensibility is one that is expressed by the Muslims themselves, not by a former Catholic nun, and somehow I've never heard of a Pakistani antinuclear movement. Likewise, she says that Sayyid Qutb's vision of Islam distorted both "the message of the Quran and the Prophet's life." The message of the Quran is whatever the faithful read in it - not her, and as the story of Qutb's student Ayman al-Zawahiri and the movement he now heads shows, this vision is quite significant. ...more
3

Apr 07, 2008


Armstrong's brief (circa 190 pages) history of Islam is necessary reading, but not particularly well written. Her account is based in the fact that there can be no separation of religious from political histories when it comes to Islam: for the Islamic notion of 'salvation' "does not consist in the redemption of an 'original sin' committed by Adam and the admittance to eternal life, but in the achievement of a society which puts into practice God's desires for the human race" (24).

A true
Armstrong's brief (circa 190 pages) history of Islam is necessary reading, but not particularly well written. Her account is based in the fact that there can be no separation of religious from political histories when it comes to Islam: for the Islamic notion of 'salvation' "does not consist in the redemption of an 'original sin' committed by Adam and the admittance to eternal life, but in the achievement of a society which puts into practice God's desires for the human race" (24).

A true history (rather than a cultural study), the book is full of names and dates--many of which, I must admit, were embarrassingly unfamiliar to me. The book is divided into five chapters: "Beginnings," the story of Muhammed's sacred visions, the Rashidun (first four caliphs after the Prophet's death), and the first fitnah (the civil strife that came in the wake of mutiny by the supporters of Ali, Muhammed's cousin, and Ali's subsequent assassination, leading to tensions between Syrian (i.e., Sunni) and Iraqi (i.e., Shia, reformist, loyal to Ali) Muslims that would set the pattern for the following centuries); "Development," detailing the newly monarchical Umayyads (whose capital was in Damascus), the Abbasids (who violently overthrew the Umayyads, ca. 750), and the emergence of the esoteric movements, notably Falsafah (i.e., "philosophy," rationalist interpretation of the Quran) and Sufi (mystic); "Culmination," describing the (largely minimal) impact of the Crusades, and the expansion of Islam, particularly under the Mongols (1220-1500), who had no deep religious identity and thus absorbed and diffused Islam; "Islam Triumphant," an account of the Safavid (Iran), Moghul (Indian subcontinent) and Ottoman (Turkey and Middle East) empires in the 14th-17th centuries--the time of Europe's awakening from its backwater status; and "Islam Agonistes," a quick run-through of Islam since 1750, an account of the decline of the empires, and the rise of Fundamentalism.

Armstrong makes no mistake about her intent: to clarify and counter Western misconceptions about Islam (this approach comes to a head in the last chapter). However, the brevity of the book makes it difficult for her to do more than make assertions. ...more
4

Oct 20, 2012

Islam is one of the most talked about and least understood subjects that has bearing on our foreign policy and security today. But Islam is so rich in history, theology, tradition, literature, and practices that it is a challenge to grasp it on a cursory level. Armstrong makes a valiant attempt to bring much of this to light in the space of fewer than 200 pages. She devotes much ink to the political traditions of Islam and their bearing on today's events. She does well at giving us food for Islam is one of the most talked about and least understood subjects that has bearing on our foreign policy and security today. But Islam is so rich in history, theology, tradition, literature, and practices that it is a challenge to grasp it on a cursory level. Armstrong makes a valiant attempt to bring much of this to light in the space of fewer than 200 pages. She devotes much ink to the political traditions of Islam and their bearing on today's events. She does well at giving us food for thought about the history of Islam's relations with the West over the past two centuries, and why some streams in Islam (the ones we tend to hear most about) are in conflict with the West. I believe it is critical for us to become more knowledgeable about Islam before rendering superficial judgements about it; this book offers a good starting point. ...more
2

Oct 24, 2013

A short history is right and sort of a shame. 1,404 years of history squashed into 222 pages (including index and two glossaries) - its possible to do, but the result isn't much fun. This is mostly a case of "just the facts, ma'm" with much of the personality and romance of Islam pretty much stripped out. It's well written, but dryly so - the "wet" of history lies in those personal stories. One of my biggest complaints about the book, however, was the tremendous amount of Arabic words, A short history is right and sort of a shame. 1,404 years of history squashed into 222 pages (including index and two glossaries) - its possible to do, but the result isn't much fun. This is mostly a case of "just the facts, ma'm" with much of the personality and romance of Islam pretty much stripped out. It's well written, but dryly so - the "wet" of history lies in those personal stories. One of my biggest complaints about the book, however, was the tremendous amount of Arabic words, italicized, that weren't defined in glossary in the back. What's the point of having a glossary if all the unfamiliar words aren't listed in it? What was interesting was this is a pre-9/11, pre-Afghani & Iraqi War, pre-Arab Spring and pre-Syrian uprising - but just barely so. The last chapter hints at things to come; Karen Armstrong isn't a fortune teller, but she did have a good idea at the clash of Islam and the West would continue. That last chapter was the best; several new chapters could easily be added. ...more
5

Jan 15, 2011

This is a very important book. Required reading, regardless of the nature of your religious views, or whether they exist or not.

As a Muslim, I know most of the historical figures and events explored in this book, but with varying levels of familiarity and in a discontinuous manner. This book is excellent in formulating a relatively complete (albeit somewhat shallow) picture of Islamic history, stemming from the Rashidun Caliphate, to the Ummayyad, Abassid, and Ottoman medieval empires, to the This is a very important book. Required reading, regardless of the nature of your religious views, or whether they exist or not.

As a Muslim, I know most of the historical figures and events explored in this book, but with varying levels of familiarity and in a discontinuous manner. This book is excellent in formulating a relatively complete (albeit somewhat shallow) picture of Islamic history, stemming from the Rashidun Caliphate, to the Ummayyad, Abassid, and Ottoman medieval empires, to the state of the “dependent Islamic block” that constitutes the Muslim World in modern times. The book’s scope spans at least 1300 years; miraculous if you consider its small number of pages.

It also presents condensed biographical accounts of many major Islamic figures, including religious reformers such as Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, al-Afghani, and Sayyid Qutb. Figures discussed are not exclusively political or scholarly (or, as is common in Islamic history, a combination of both), but also cultural and philosophical, including Rumi and Ibn Khaldon (figures that are rarely incorporated into the orthodox Islamic historical canon).

This book also attempts outlining Shiite historical and theological topics, immensely useful for those who belong to the mainstream, Sunni Islam (including myself) whose typical school curriculum deliberately leaves out any mention, let alone comprehensive study, of Shia Islam.

Along with compassion and an earnest desire for understanding, Karen Armstrong brings an informed, inductive eye to why disconnected events occurred and general trends prevailed at one point or another.

I’ve read this right after Armstrong’s other seminal work on Islamic history, Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time; something I would undoubtedly recommend.
...more
4

Oct 27, 2018

This is, as advertised, a very short intro to Islam. I love Karen Armstrong's longer books on religion. She's a balanced scholar that is able to approach faith without hostility or total dedication. She's a rare gem of a writer. This book was too short for those who are familiar with Islamic history, but it's a great intro for those who do not. I loved her Fields of Blood as an explanation of violence and Islam.
3

Sep 20, 2011

Another samizdat read. The brevity proved itself frustrating as Ms. Armstrong cleaved succint defintions and proceeded while distinctions and details spasmed mutely in the wake.
I suppose I remain resentful as she is an ecumenical apologist. People turn to her for the best word, not the most informed nor incisive. She obliges with humility. I suppose that quality should be crucial to religion.
2

Jan 25, 2015

Should be titled "Islam: A Short History, and Why All Religion is Bunk Anyway." Armstrong does a decent job of tracing the history of Muslim political movements, but gives short shrift to the actual beliefs driving these movements. Some of what she says simply defies belief, such as her insistence that Muslim Fundamentalism is less prevalent and less threatening than the fundamentalism of virtually every other religion. She writes with the clear objective of promoting interfaith dialogue by Should be titled "Islam: A Short History, and Why All Religion is Bunk Anyway." Armstrong does a decent job of tracing the history of Muslim political movements, but gives short shrift to the actual beliefs driving these movements. Some of what she says simply defies belief, such as her insistence that Muslim Fundamentalism is less prevalent and less threatening than the fundamentalism of virtually every other religion. She writes with the clear objective of promoting interfaith dialogue by insisting on a picture of Islam that simply does not exist in the modern world. Her hypothetical Islam is peace-loving, tolerant, and egalitarian. Find me one Muslim country actually characterized by these things and yes, we can talk. ...more
3

Feb 19, 2011



A Non-Muslim's view of Islam...

Considering that this book is written by a Non-Muslim author about Islam, I found this book very interesting. Karen Armstrong has summed up the history of Islam in about 170 pages, which is an achievement on its own; however, I did feel that in parts the book presented a very garbbled up mess of the facts.

However, one thing is for sure, this book is uniquely thought-provoking. The muslims need to be creative and think of a solution for themselves. They need to

A Non-Muslim's view of Islam...

Considering that this book is written by a Non-Muslim author about Islam, I found this book very interesting. Karen Armstrong has summed up the history of Islam in about 170 pages, which is an achievement on its own; however, I did feel that in parts the book presented a very garbbled up mess of the facts.

However, one thing is for sure, this book is uniquely thought-provoking. The muslims need to be creative and think of a solution for themselves. They need to free themselves from the clutches of the past and the influence of the west to come up with a unique solution of their own, which will specifically target their problems.

It was a good read and I would recommend this book for all who want to read an unbiased version of Islamic history. ...more
4

Dec 15, 2007

From Publishers Weekly
Readers seeking a quick but thoughtful introduction to Islam will want to peruse Armstrong's latest offering. In her hallmark stylish and accessible prose, the author of A History of God takes readers from the sixth-century days of the Prophet Muhammad to the present. Armstrong writes about the revelations Muhammad received, and explains that the Qur'an earned its name (which means recitation) because most of Muhammad's followers were illiterate and learned his teachings From Publishers Weekly
Readers seeking a quick but thoughtful introduction to Islam will want to peruse Armstrong's latest offering. In her hallmark stylish and accessible prose, the author of A History of God takes readers from the sixth-century days of the Prophet Muhammad to the present. Armstrong writes about the revelations Muhammad received, and explains that the Qur'an earned its name (which means recitation) because most of Muhammad's followers were illiterate and learned his teachings not from reading them but hearing them proclaimed aloud. Throughout the book, Armstrong traces what she sees as Islam's emphasis on right living (? la Judaism) over right belief (? la Christianity). Armstrong is at her most passionate when discussing Islam in the modern world. She explains antagonisms between Iraqi Muslims and Syrian Muslims, and discusses the devastating consequences of modernization on the Islamic world. Unlike Europe, which modernized gradually over centuries, the Islamic world had modernity thrust upon it in an exploitative manner. The Islamic countries, Armstrong argues, have been "reduced to a dependent bloc by the European powers." Armstrong also rehearses some basics about Islamic fundamentalism in a section that will be familiar to anyone who has read her recent study, The Battle for God. A useful time line and a guide to the "Key Figures in the History of Islam" complete this strong, brisk survey of 1,500 years of Islamic history. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. ...more
3

Jun 21, 2008

When I watch our pundits pontificate on affairs in the Middle East, I usually wind up pounding my forehead on the table: Things can't possibly be as simple as all that, and this "short history" of Islam proves that.

As usual, Armstrong packs a lot of information into a small package. This is a high altitude flight over 1,500 years of Islamic history so the reader shouldn't expect to become an expert in sufism (for example) but it drives home several points:

1. Islam is a far more complex When I watch our pundits pontificate on affairs in the Middle East, I usually wind up pounding my forehead on the table: Things can't possibly be as simple as all that, and this "short history" of Islam proves that.

As usual, Armstrong packs a lot of information into a small package. This is a high altitude flight over 1,500 years of Islamic history so the reader shouldn't expect to become an expert in sufism (for example) but it drives home several points:

1. Islam is a far more complex phenomenon than a bunch of savage fanatics waving their swords and swearing "death to the Great Satan. Obvious with even a minimum of reflection but always a good corrective considering the "crap" the media bombards us with.

Just to mention one tradition that has a direct bearing on Western development: Faylasuf (philosophy). Without the efforts of men like Avicenna and Averroes (and other, less well known lights) it's unlikely the West could have recovered as much of its Greek heritage as it has. Not to mention those traditions that have no direct Western parallel such as Shariah and sufism.

2. Until c. 1750, Western Europe was a backwater in human history, and the Crusades were a brushfire war on the periphery of Islam. The richest, most advanced, most innovative civilizations of the world were either Islamic, Chinese or Indian.

3. Islam today wrestles with the same problems that plagued the West in the transition from the agrarian paradigm that had ruled human destiny since 10,000 BC to the modern one.

Armstrong goes to great length to show that Islam is no more prone to violent extremism than any other creed, religious our secular. In fact, Islam's emphasis on creating a just society here on Earth was several centuries ahead of the West's concerns about social welfare and human rights.

Unfortunately, knowing human history, it's the reactionaries and fundamentalists who write the agendas. The moderate voices on all sides are drowned by the fear-stricken shouts of the bigots (just witness the hysteria over Iran).

As with Muhammad, the earlier bio I reviewed this week, this is a good introduction to a complex subject for any non-Muslim wanting to escape the simplistic BS that passes for analysis in the mainstream press. ...more
3

Jul 27, 2013

Written before 9/11 and the better for it, this book is an understandable account of the history of Islam from the Prophet to the modern era, focused on the decisions and actions of Muslim political leaders and clerics. The fourth book on the topic I've read in the last couple of months, it admirably filled in gaps, particularly in regards to the gradual development of Shii Islam, and the Iranian state, and the growth of Sunni Islam to become the majority interpretation.
Armstrong's clear Written before 9/11 and the better for it, this book is an understandable account of the history of Islam from the Prophet to the modern era, focused on the decisions and actions of Muslim political leaders and clerics. The fourth book on the topic I've read in the last couple of months, it admirably filled in gaps, particularly in regards to the gradual development of Shii Islam, and the Iranian state, and the growth of Sunni Islam to become the majority interpretation.
Armstrong's clear preference, however, is the role of Sufi mysticism, and this is covered with both depth and open admiration. At times Armstrong's preference for spiritualistic ritual and practice annoyed a little, but it didn't detract from the overall clarity and detail in the book.
I mentioned at the beginning that the book - published in 2000 - is the better for predating the events of 9/11 and the aftermath of war and Islamaphobia. Without the need to re-emphasise constantly that Islam is not inherently violent, Armstrong is able to just paint a brief picture of a complex, multifaceted, multi-shaded religion, which developed local and sectional variants across the globe. She traces Islam's push-pull relationship with state power in a fascinating account, leaving her own conclusions tentative.
Her strong assertion of the importance of modernity, and her thesis that Islamic worlds need longer to develop their own form of it, made a few too many unexamined assumptions for me to be entirely comfortable with it, and despite getting a lot of history out of the book, I'm not rushing to read her other work. ...more
3

Mar 25, 2015

This might better be subtitled "A Short Defense" rather than "A Short History", as Armstrong is mainly writing to address common Western prejudices against Islam (and I would have appreciated her disclosing this, rather than disguising her book as a history). The section on Muhammed is particularly painful in its overly apologetic tones, as Armstrong is obviously minimizing the less savory parts of history (the massacre of the Jewish Qurayzah for example is explained away as a normal feature of This might better be subtitled "A Short Defense" rather than "A Short History", as Armstrong is mainly writing to address common Western prejudices against Islam (and I would have appreciated her disclosing this, rather than disguising her book as a history). The section on Muhammed is particularly painful in its overly apologetic tones, as Armstrong is obviously minimizing the less savory parts of history (the massacre of the Jewish Qurayzah for example is explained away as a normal feature of a chronically violent society) while she magnifies the parts about Muhammed bringing peace to Arabia. She is also a little too overtly choosy over which parts of history she wants to paint as authentic divine revelation: she describes Muhammed as "being the recipient of a divine revelation". On the flip side, a few pages later she describes how the leaders of a later rebellious revolt "claimed to be prophets, and produced Quranic-style 'revelations'". In the second instance, revelation gets put in ""'s, I guess so we know which part of history Armstrong's deity was really behind.

As long as I could keep Armstrong's biases in sight, I enjoyed learning about the history. I enjoyed her theory about fundamentalism being a reaction to modernity. Unfortunately, the book was published in 2000, so lacked commentary on the more recent controversies surrounding Islam (such as the Islamic/Islamist distinction that seems to have cropped up in Western circles in more recent years). But my interest has been piqued enough that I think I will pursue some more recent books on Islam. ...more
1

Apr 08, 2015

Mediocre writing and it is highlights some of the important historical events in Islam. However, the author is either too rosy-eyed, afraid of being labeled an Islamophobe or literally afraid of ending up like Charlie Hebdo, Isioma Daniel or Theo Van Gogh to narrate the negative aspects of the history of Islam such as the religiously-justified slave trade, imperialism, colonialism, slavery and cultural genocide. The author is a biased apologist for Christianity and Islam; although it's good to Mediocre writing and it is highlights some of the important historical events in Islam. However, the author is either too rosy-eyed, afraid of being labeled an Islamophobe or literally afraid of ending up like Charlie Hebdo, Isioma Daniel or Theo Van Gogh to narrate the negative aspects of the history of Islam such as the religiously-justified slave trade, imperialism, colonialism, slavery and cultural genocide. The author is a biased apologist for Christianity and Islam; although it's good to hear another view, she is simply too biased for her books to be read alone. Perhaps read her book alongside a more critical book so you can get both sides of the story. I had to give her such a low rating because she sites the long-debunked statistic that Islam is the fastest-growing religion and she makes no mention of the rise in atheism and apostasy in the Muslim world. If she wrote an entire book citing such a wrong statistic then it's hard to take the rest of it seriously. ...more
4

Jul 01, 2017

"Variety benefits the whole world."
(Page 158)

" Plato had argued that a well-ordered society needed doctrines which the masses believed to be divinely inspired." (Page 62)

"The modernisation of society involved social and intellectual change." (P: 122)

"Salvation didn't mean redemption from sin, but the creation of just society in which the individual could more easily make that existential surrender of his or her whole being that would bring them fulfilment." (P:134)


It is an interesting book from "Variety benefits the whole world."
(Page 158)

" Plato had argued that a well-ordered society needed doctrines which the masses believed to be divinely inspired." (Page 62)

"The modernisation of society involved social and intellectual change." (P: 122)

"Salvation didn't mean redemption from sin, but the creation of just society in which the individual could more easily make that existential surrender of his or her whole being that would bring them fulfilment." (P:134)


It is an interesting book from an enthusiastic writer.

Karen Armstrong carried out its responsibilities of being writer realistically. Whatever a writer's religion, creed or country, he/she should be faithful with the subject of the book and Armstrong deemed it her foremost priority in this book.

In early chapters, there are some enunciations coalesced with Maudodi's 'Khilafat o Malokiat' but sans myriads of miscellaneous.

Initiated with chapter 1," Beginning", she delineated history of Islam beyond prejudices and biases like Lesley Hazleton. There were reasonable grounds for banishing and slaughtering tribes in the Arab history with shaky and dubious characters which Lesley didn't bother to reveal in her books.

In second chapter there is discussion about monarchies, less to absolute one, in Umayyads and Abbasids expansions and strategies they follow with every era's religious movements including esoteric movements and Fitnahs of the time with prominent leading personas. 'But nearly all religious movements in Islam take off at least from a political perspective and Sufism was no exception. '

"under the Umayyads, Each town had developed its own fiqh, but the Abbasids pressed the jurists to evolve a more unified system of law." (Page 50)

" Ismailis always alluded to God in the phrase, ' He Whom the boldness of thought can not contain.' (Page 59)

"The Faylsaufs were enthralled by the Hellenistic cult of reason; they believed that rationalism was the highest form of religion." (Page 61)

Third chapter is marred with exclusive detailes from New World Order ( 935-1258) to the Baghdad annihilation by Mongols. During 9th century local tribes started to make a show under Abbasids rule and ruled on the behalf of tribes' name mainly. Seljuk, Ghaznavi were more successful till 10th centuries and then with these, others also took favourable positions while Abbasids disintegrated gradually. The crusades is another topic of discussion in the book with all its to-day prevailed hatred which was used as a political instrument in Islamic world for a radically revolutionary propaganda and as well in West for their policies for Islamic areas.

"Al Ghazali was not writing for the religious experts, but for devout individuals. There were he believed, three sorts of people: those who accept the truths of religion without questioning them; those who try to find justification for their beliefs in the rational discipline of kalam, and the Sufis, who have a direct experience of religious truth." (Page 76)

A mystic ideology, " Muslims had to cultivate a sense of the aalam al-mith, 'the world of pure images' which exists between our ordinary world and God's."

"But unlike Arab Muslims the Mongols brought no spirituality with them." (Page 83)

There is a good amount of discussions about Sufis. Conservatism was the fruit of agrarian culture. Liberalism flourished with industrial revolution. The writer clearly mentioned the hindrances created by the leasers itself what then they related with Islam, emphasising the double standard of leaders , time-to-time.

"by the fourteenth century the Ulama had transformed the pluralism of the Quran into a hard communalism, which saw other traditions as irrelevant relics of the past." (Page 88)

"When there is an entire alteration of conditions,' Ibn Khaldun reflected,' it is as if the whole creation had changed and all the world had been transformed, as if there were a new creation, a rebirth, a world brought into existence anew." (Page 90)

"By the end of the fifteenth century Islamdom was the greatest power bloc in the world. " (page 94)

Fourth chapter is consisted of of soundly argy-bargy Islamic triumphant in the shape of three empires , The Safavid, The Mughal, and The Ottoman. In Safavid Iran, Shiism became the state religion; Falsafah and Sufism were dominant influences on Moghul policy; while the Ottoman Empire was run entirely on Shariah lines and was firmly grounded than other empires because it had been able to evolve so gradually.

"Truth couldn't be imposed by force and intellectual conformism was incompatible with true faith: Mulla Sadra" p:103)

"Any agrarian society had a limited life span." (P:116)

Last chapter is dedicated to Islam's rivals as people thought of. The Arrival of the West is the prime agnostic element. Armstrong related the ' unique ascendancy by an outgroup' with the the emergence of Arab Muslims as a major world power in the seventh and eighth centuries but the Muslims had not achieved world hegemony and had not developed a new kind of civilisation as Europe had began to do in the sixteenth century .

There is a great deal of discuss on Islam and Nationality and Islam Democracy and then Fundamentalism.

"Where Christians would often respond to the challenge of modernity by a reassertion of doctrine, Muslims have responded by making a social or political effort (jihad)." (P:133)

Armstrong asserts that ideal Muslim state takes creative ingenuity and discipline to implement the egalitarian ideal of Quran in the grim realities of political life.

"Fundamentalism is an essential part of modern scene. Wherever modernity takes root, a fundamentalist movement is likely to rise up alongside it in conscious reaction." (P: 141)

"Fundamentalism, therefore, exists in a symbiotic relationship with a coercive secularism." (P: 141)

She clearly based his idea of fundamentalism on secular and modernity's response. Linking it with Islam is wrong she emphasised time and again. Every religion faced fundamentalism as now is facing Islam as fundamentalism reveals a ' fissure in society' which is polarised between those who enjoy secular culture and those who regard it with dread. Violent distortion of the faith and more extreme form take place in stress and fear of culture and religious annihilation.

"The colonial crusade has been less violent but its impact has been more devastating than the medieval holy wars. " (p: 153)

"Religion has helped human beings to cultivate decent values." (P:158)

A well-researched detail of the events and a unbiased outlook are prominent features of this Armstrong's book. ...more
2

Apr 29, 2013

The downfall of what could be an otherwise good history of Islam is Karen Armstrong's attempt to whitewash history. She repeatedly distorts history and makes apology for Muslim violence throughout the centuries, while blaming Christianity (no stranger to violence) for introducing violence to Islam.

But first, the good: With a few minor exceptions, the first two-thirds of the book is a good history of the spread of Islam, and a reasonably engaging read. Some other reviews have criticized the The downfall of what could be an otherwise good history of Islam is Karen Armstrong's attempt to whitewash history. She repeatedly distorts history and makes apology for Muslim violence throughout the centuries, while blaming Christianity (no stranger to violence) for introducing violence to Islam.

But first, the good: With a few minor exceptions, the first two-thirds of the book is a good history of the spread of Islam, and a reasonably engaging read. Some other reviews have criticized the readability of the post-Rashidun sections, but for a history text, it is excellent.

Unfortunately, the book makes unfounded and unsourced assertions, and is rather clearly biased. Armstrong's liberal Christian heresies are interjected here and there, which is rather annoying. The worst part, however, is the repeated assertion that Islamic fundamentalism is more characteristically fundamentalist than Islamic, and that (p149) "equally prevalent and violent fundamentalisms of other faiths" are somehow the same. Sorry, but I can't remember the last time fundamentalist Buddhists got a whole state to themselves (Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.) or Christian fundamentalists killed a few thousand civilians. Armstrong likes to quote the Fall of Jerusalem in 1099A.D. as Crusader brutality and, hilariously, the "first experience of the West" for Islam. Spain, Southern France, Sicily, and parts of Italy, which had been conquered or raided by Muslims centuries before, would like a word. She likes to talk about the slaughter at Jerusalem, but never mentions the slaughter at Constantinople. The truth is, that when cities fall without a surrender agreement, there is no organized end to the fighting, and massive numbers of civilians die, whether the attacker is Christian or Turk. It gets funny at times. In her attempts to portray Europe as a backward backwater, she brushes off the *88 year* occupation of Jerusalem and multi-century Crusader presence in the Holy Land as brief and unimportant. Aside from the mountain of evidence demonstrating at least the parity and probably the technological superiority of Medieval Europe over the Dar al-Islam, how could a tiny band of backward soldiers hold off the might of Islam, camped out in their 3rd holiest site, for nearly a century?

I'd give the book a pass. I'd suggest [Placeholder] instead. ...more
4

Apr 07, 2013

A great book for an unbiased introduction to Islam and its history. The book gives the uninformed reader of Islam a great read from a nice objective perspective. The author seems to know what she is writing about and is a rather easy and interesting read. I was a bit skeptical trying to find an honest book on Islam with so many out there that are very biased one way or the other. This was a great intro into who the great man Mohammad was and his teachings. Like most religions, there are numerous A great book for an unbiased introduction to Islam and its history. The book gives the uninformed reader of Islam a great read from a nice objective perspective. The author seems to know what she is writing about and is a rather easy and interesting read. I was a bit skeptical trying to find an honest book on Islam with so many out there that are very biased one way or the other. This was a great intro into who the great man Mohammad was and his teachings. Like most religions, there are numerous breaks, changes and transformations over the hundreds of years that Islam has been around. There are many different 'sects' of Islam, many of which seem to be very different and not in agreement with one another.

I would recommend this book for anyone wanting to get an honest perspective of Islam and break down many false stereotypes that the media has created and labeled from a few extreme Islamic groups that do NOT represent the millions of other Islamic followers in the world today. ...more
2

Mar 19, 2015

A fine start when describing the emergence of Islam and the Prophet and the development of the religious movement. Then it becomes rather choppy during the crusades (chop chop) before disintegrating during the final third which, sadly, was the part I had originally picked up the book for - the conception of the modern muslim state. Armstrong gets ensnared in a cacophony of names, names, names and dates and battles until it all becomes a blur and falls apart. She's strong on the generic broad A fine start when describing the emergence of Islam and the Prophet and the development of the religious movement. Then it becomes rather choppy during the crusades (chop chop) before disintegrating during the final third which, sadly, was the part I had originally picked up the book for - the conception of the modern muslim state. Armstrong gets ensnared in a cacophony of names, names, names and dates and battles until it all becomes a blur and falls apart. She's strong on the generic broad strokes at the beginning but gets bogged down in too much detail in too short a space and loses the thread later on - in biblical terms, a solid opener with the genesis of the religion and the exodus of the tribes etc but gets stuck in a Levitical genealogical dystopia from which she can't quite disentangle herself. This unfortunately isn't the book to turn to if you're seeking a quick introduction to Islamic history and, consequently, its influence upon and possible insight into the modern muslim mind - that's what I was looking for from this book. Perhaps I went in with the wrong expectation. ...more
4

Nov 16, 2014

Highly recommend for anyone who wants to know more about Islam. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was very honest and unbiased and I truly appreciated that, especially having been written by a western author.

What I particularly liked about this book is that it inherently seeks to destroy western myths and stereotypes about Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) was a brilliant man to which every Muslim seeks to be like. He was the one, under the name of Allah and the Quran, who brought Muslims, Highly recommend for anyone who wants to know more about Islam. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was very honest and unbiased and I truly appreciated that, especially having been written by a western author.

What I particularly liked about this book is that it inherently seeks to destroy western myths and stereotypes about Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) was a brilliant man to which every Muslim seeks to be like. He was the one, under the name of Allah and the Quran, who brought Muslims, particularly Arabs, together - something unheard of back in primitive times, when Arabs were loyal to their tribe and only their tribe.

It illustrates how beautiful, peaceful and freeing Islam really is. But of course, as with everything, man changes things. It's not that the basic principles of Islam have actually changed. However, the intentions of the Prophet and even Allah (swt) were misinterpreted to fit certain peoples' own agendas. You will see that in this novel.

...more
1

Mar 13, 2017

A terrible book that continually identifies the atrocities committed by this faith and then backpedals to defend the actions taken.
4

Sep 10, 2014

Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (New York: The Modern Library, 2002). Pp. 230. Paperback $15.95.

I was going through used bookstores in Omaha last week and I came across this book. It was a decent price, and I’ve been looking for a book about the history of the Middle East. I want to be better informed about the politics of the region, and this book appeared to fit the profile. In fact, the President will make a major announcement about military action in the Middle East later tonight. Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (New York: The Modern Library, 2002). Pp. 230. Paperback $15.95.

I was going through used bookstores in Omaha last week and I came across this book. It was a decent price, and I’ve been looking for a book about the history of the Middle East. I want to be better informed about the politics of the region, and this book appeared to fit the profile. In fact, the President will make a major announcement about military action in the Middle East later tonight. This region affects U.S. politics, and that, in turn, affects me. Living in ignorance is not good, and to be a better voter, it behooves me to learn more. Plus, I’m hoping to be better informed for the ecumenical dialogues I participate in.

The book starts with Muhammad, then progresses through the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Crusades, and the Mongols. After that, Armstrong discusses the rise of the empires of the Safavids, Moghuls, and the Ottomans. Finally, she ends with a discussion of the arrival of the West and the contemporary situation of the Middle East.

This book is entitled, Islam, but it’s really about the people that made up the empires I described above. Armstrong does write a bit about Islamic ideals and beliefs, but what makes this book stand out, and what makes it a very good introduction, is her discussions of how these various empires and rulers were able to use – or distort – Islam. Within this mix, she is also able to write about various movements/schools that develop, and how they influence various aspects of Islam and the empires in which they existed.

I don’t want to have too many spoilers, but there are a few things of note that I found very interesting, and I’d like to share them here. As Armstrong is opening her book, she writes about Muhammad’s motivation and how he saw Islam fitting into his world. Three of them I thought were of note.

Firstly, Mecca, Muhammad’s hometown, was experiencing economic growth for the first time in its history. As a part of the population gained wealth, another part was experiencing extreme poverty. Muhammad was very uncomfortable with this inequality.

Secondly, Muhammad had an admiration for the religion of the Jews and the Christians. Armstrong says that he felt that the Arabs had been left out of God’s overall vision. However, with his visions of the Quran, he believed that the Arabs now became a part of the ‘family,’ so to speak. However, Armstrong notes that Muhammad was unaware not only of the differences between Judaism and Christians, but also that various types of Christianity existed in this period (Orthodox, Nestorians, Arians, Monophysites, etc.). He believed the each ethnic group received their own prophet – Moses, Jesus – to reveal the one God.

Thirdly, Muhammad was tired of the fighting that existed between the various Arab tribes. With the advent of Islam came the idea of ummah, or community. From my understanding, this isn’t much different than the Christian idea of koinonia. Once an Arab tribe became Muslim, they were forbidden to attach another Muslim tribe. In this way, Muhammad was able to unite the Arabs for the first time in their history.

After reading about these three motivating factors, it became clear that Islam was fundamentally different than Christianity. Christianity is, at its basic level, a religion of orthodoxy (right belief – and this gets played out in Byzantium where the councils are convened to determine right belief, and heretics are anathematized); however, Armstrong strongly points out that Islam is a religion of orthopraxy (right practice). The practice of Islam is the practice of living in harmony with one another in an ideal society, which is God’s desire for the human race. This is why Islam has such a strong sense of giving to the poor.

This unity of the Arabs had consequences, however. Arabia is basically a desert. So for each tribe to get the resources they need to survive, they developed the idea of ghazu, or raids. Why they didn’t develop a more sophisticated form of trade, I’m not sure. However, if all of tribes are now united in Islam, they couldn’t raid each other for resources, so they turn to the non-Muslims of the north (Byzantium and Persia). This begins the expansion of the Islamic empires.

From here on out, Armstrong is able to articulate the various expressions of Islam and how the various monarchs and empires use, or distort, Muhammad’s original vision. One of the first disputes in Islam is over the proper successor of Muhammad – this eventually leads to the Shiis and the Sunnis. It also leads to other Muslims having visions and declaring themselves prophets, known as the riddah. They also lead to the First and Second Fitnahs (literally, temptation, but I think of them as civil wars). Of course, these disputes cause an identity crisis of sorts because the idea of Islamic unity, ummah, is threated. This very idea is in play today in the Middle East.

Islam also faced new trials as Islam became a part of an empire. The rulers of these empires soon discovered that the most efficient way to run a medieval agrarian society was to rule as absolute monarchs – along the lines of the Persians, and the Byzantines. However, Islam, as a religion, is more egalitarian, and Muhammad advocated a more ascetic lifestyle. This caused tension between faithful practitioners and the royal courts. In fact, Shariah law starts as a protest to the state, though later the Ottomans incorporate it into the state.

After progressing through several empires, she has a good discussion about Islam’s encounter with the West. The West had spent the last 300 years easing into modernity, changing from a religious based society to a secular based society. Their economy completely changes – from agrarian to one founded on technology and an investment in capital. This allows the West to produce goods indefinitely, and it brings most people above the subsistence level. It also meant that they needed to turn to other places for resources, and this lead to colonization in the Middle East (as well as elsewhere).

The Middle East, which was still an agrarian society, had always seen the West as barbarians (after the fall of the Byzantines). Thus they typically paid no attention to the West and were completely unaware of the advances there. So, when the West shows up, worlds begin to clash. But I won’t spoil the whole thing here. It’s also quite involved and not easy to sum up, so I’ll just recommend you read Armstrong’s book.

I could go on and on from what I learned in this book – how the capitals changed cites, how the esoteric movements began, the Islamic renaissances… However I’ll just end this review by stating that I found this book very helpful. It is straightforward and easy to read for someone who is unfamiliar with the history and Arabic terminology. The only reason I gave it 4 starts instead of 5 is that Armstrong isn’t quite as unbiased as she should have been – she takes a few cheap shots at the West. But they are few, and it shouldn't discourage you from using this book to learn more about the Middle East and how the current situation developed.

...more

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