Islam: A Short History [NOOK Book]

Overview

No religion in the modern world is as feared and misunderstood as Islam. It haunts the popular Western imagination as an extreme faith that promotes authoritarian government, female oppression, civil war, and terrorism. Karen Armstrong's short history offers a vital corrective to this narrow view. The distillation of years of thinking and writing about Islam, it demonstrates that the world's fastest-growing faith is a much richer and more complex phenomenon than its modern ...
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Islam: A Short History

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Overview

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

Islam: A Short History begins with the flight of Muhammad and his family from Medina in the seventh century and the subsequent founding of the first mosques. It recounts the origins of the split between Shii and Sunni Muslims, and the emergence of Sufi mysticism; the spread of Islam throughout North Africa, the Levant, and Asia; the shattering effect on the Muslim world of the Crusades; the flowering of imperial Islam in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries into the world's greatest and most sophisticated power; and the origins and impact of revolutionary Islam. It concludes with an assessment of Islam today and its challenges.

With this brilliant book, Karen Armstrong issues a forceful challenge to those who hold the view that the West and Islam are civilizations set on a collision course. It is also a model of authority, elegance, and economy.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Islam is the world's fastest-growing religion -- and the most feared. Although, as Edward Gibbon noted, "The greatest success of Mohammed's life was effected by sheer moral force without the stroke of a sword," Westerners continue to fear the onslaught of legions of fanatical Muslims. Karen Armstrong, perhaps the most eloquent of religious historians, approaches this history of a world faith with the same blend of tolerance and exactitude that made her A History of God such an ecumenical visitation.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Within the Muslim world, history and politics are inseparable vehicles of religious expression and cultural identity. A proper understanding of Islamic history is therefore essential if we are ever to resolve the major issues we face in the Middle East. In her newest book, best-selling author Armstrong (Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet; Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths) does an admirable job of presenting Islamic history from an objective, unbiased point of view. This book (part of a new series of small-format hardcover originals from Modern Library) is a distillation of years of writing and thinking about Islam. The history of conflicts with the West from 1750 to the present, the modern Muslim State, fundamentalism, and the Muslim minority are some of the themes addressed. A listing of key figures in Islam is included. Short but detailed, this excellent synopsis of the topic is recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/00.]--Michael W. Ellis, Ellenville P.L., NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
William H. McNeill
A valuable corrective to the hostile caricatures of Islam that circulate in the English-speaking world . .. engaging, provocative and often persuasive.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Would-be students of Islam will throw up their hands in despair at this tangled account of 14 centuries of battling Muslims.
From the Publisher
“A small gem bristling with insight.” —The Washington Post

“A valuable corrective to the hostile caricatures of Islam that circulate in the English-speaking world. . . . Engaging and provocative.” —The New York Times

“Karen Armstrong, a respected and popular author of several books about religion . . . takes on a useful and formidable task in presenting the history of Islam in a single short volume. As many other such works have been written either by apologists or by those hostile to Islam, Armstrong’s comprehensive and sympathetic work is welcome.” —Los Angeles Times

“In Armstrong’s brisk narrative, the clichés evaporate fast. . . . A book like this is suddenly essential." —Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307431318
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 125,607
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Karen Armstrong is one of the world's foremost scholars on religious affairs. She is the author of several bestselling books, including The Battle for God, Jerusalem, The History of God, and Through the Narrow Gate, a memoir of her seven years as a nun. She lives in London.
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Read an Excerpt

Preface

The external history of a religious tradition often seems divorced from the raison d'&#243etre of faith. The spiritual quest is an interior journey; it is a psychic rather than a political drama. It is preoccupied with liturgy, doctrine, contemplative disciplines and an exploration of the heart, not with the clash of current events. Religions certainly have a life outside the soul. Their leaders have to contend with the state and affairs of the world, and often relish doing so. They fight with members of other faiths, who seem to challenge their claim to a monopoly of absolute truth; they also persecute their co-religionists for interpreting a tradition differently or for holding heterodox beliefs. Very often priests, rabbis, imams and shamans are just as consumed by worldly ambition as regular politicians. But all this is generally seen as an abuse of a sacred ideal. These power struggles are not what religion is really about, but an unworthy distraction from the life of the spirit, which is conducted far from the madding crowd, unseen, silent and unobtrusive. Indeed, in many faiths, monks and mystics lock themselves away from the world, since the clamour and strife of history is regarded as incompatible with a truly religious life.

In the Hindu tradition, history is dismissed as evanescent, unimportant and insubstantial. The philosophers of ancient Greece were concerned with the eternal laws underlying the flux of external events, which could be of no real interest to a serious thinker. In the gospels, Jesus often went out of his way to explain to his followers that his Kingdom was not of this world, but could only be found within the believer. The Kingdom would not arrive with a great political fanfare, but would develop as quietly and imperceptibly as a germinating mustardseed. In the modern West, we have made a point of separating religion from politics; this secularization was originally seen by the philosophies of the Enlightenment as a means of liberating religion from the corruption of state affairs, and allowing it to become more truly itself.

But however spiritual their aspirations, religious people have to seek God or the sacred in this world. They often feel that they have a duty to bring their ideals to bear upon society. Even if they lock themselves away, they are inescapably men and women of their time and are affected by what goes on outside the monastery, although they do not fully realize this. Wars, plagues, famines, economic recession and the internal politics of their nation will intrude upon their cloistered existence and qualify their religious vision. Indeed, the tragedies of history often goad people into the spiritual quest, in order to find some ultimate meaning in what often seems to be a succession of random, arbitrary and dispiriting incidents. There is a symbiotic relationship between history and religion, therefore. It is, as the Buddha remarked, our perception that existence is awry that forces us to find an alternative which will prevent us from falling into despair.

Perhaps the central paradox of the religious life is that it seeks transcendence, a dimension of existence that goes beyond our mundane lives, but that human beings can only experience this transcendent reality in earthly, physical phenomena. People have sensed the divine in rocks, mountains, temple buildings, law codes, written texts, or in other men and women. We never experience transcendence directly: our ecstasy is always "earthed," enshrined in something or someone here below. Religious people are trained to look beneath the unpromising surface to find the sacred within it. They have to use their creative imaginations. Jean-Paul Sartre defined the imagination as the ability to think of what is not present. Human beings are religious creatures because they are imaginative; they are so constituted that they are compelled to search for hidden meaning and to achieve an ecstasy that makes them feel fully alive. Each tradition encourages the faithful to focus their attention on an earthly symbol that is peculiarly its own, and to teach themselves to see the divine in it.

In Islam, Muslims have looked for God in history. Their sacred scripture, the Koran, gave them a historical mission. Their chief duty was to create a just community in which all members, even the most weak and vulnerable, were treated with absolute respect. The experience of building such a society and living in it would give them intimations of the divine, because they would be living in accordance with God's will. A Muslim had to redeem history, and that meant that state affairs were not a distraction from spirituality but the stuff of religion itself. The political wellbeing of the Muslim community was a matter of supreme importance. Like any religious ideal, it was almost impossibly difficult to implement in the flawed and tragic conditions of history, but after each failure Muslims had to get up and begin again.

Muslims developed their own rituals, mysticism, philosophy, doctrines, sacred texts, laws and shrines like everybody else. But all these religious pursuits sprang directly from the Muslims' frequently anguished contemplation of the political current affairs of Islamic society. If state institutions did not measure up to the Quranic ideal, if their political leaders were cruel or exploitative, or if their community was humiliated by apparently irreligious enemies, a Muslim could feel that his or her faith in life's ultimate purpose and value was in jeopardy. Every effort had to be expended to put Islamic history back on track, or the whole religious enterprise would fall, and life would be drained of meaning. Politics was, therefore, what Christians would call a sacrament: it was the arena in which Muslims experienced God and which enabled the divine to function effectively in the world. Consequently, the historical trials and tribulations of the Muslim community -- political assassinations, civil wars, invasions, and the rise and fall of the ruling dynasties -- were not divorced from the interior religious quest, but were of the essence of the Islamic vision. A Muslim would meditate upon the current events of their time and upon past history as a Christian would contemplate an icon, using the creative imagination to discover the hidden divine kernel. An account of the external history of the Muslim people cannot, therefore be of mere secondary interest, since one of the chief characteristics of Islam has been its sacralization of history.

Copyright © 2000 by Karen Armstrong All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps
Preface
Chronology
1 Beginnings
The Prophet (570-632) 3
The Rashidun (632-661) 23
The First Fitnah 33
2 Development
The Umayyads and the Second Fitnah 41
The Religious Movement 45
The Last Years of the Umayyads (705-750) 50
The Abbasids: The High Caliphal Period (750-935) 53
The Esoteric Movements 65
3 Culmination
A New Order (935-1258) 81
The Crusades 93
Expansion 95
The Mongols (1220-1500) 96
4 Islam Triumphant
Imperial Islam (1500-1700) 115
The Safavid Empire 117
The Moghul Empire 124
The Ottoman Empire 130
5 Islam Agonistes
The Arrival of the West (1750-2000) 141
What is a Modern Muslim State? 156
Fundamentalism 164
Muslims in a Minority 176
The Way Forward 178
Epilogue 189
Key Figures in the History of Islam 193
Glossary of Arabic Terms 203
Pronunciation Guide 207
Notes 209
Suggestions for Further Reading 211
Index 219
Discussion Questions 229
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Reading Group Guide

1. In Karen Armstrong’s view, what is the historical mission of Islam? What is the chief duty of Muslims according to the Quran? What is the Islamic notion of salvation?

2. What are the five pillars of Islam? Does Islam place more emphasis on right living or right belief? The community or the individual? In these ways, is it more similar to Christianity or Judaism?

3. At the time of Muhammed, what was the attitude of Islam toward other prophets and religious traditions? How were non-Muslim subjects, or dhimmi, treated in the Islamic empire? How does that treatment compare to what went on in the premodern West?

4. Is Islam a militaristic faith? What does the Quran have to say about just and unjust wars? Given the context of his times, did Muhammed set a particularly violent or nonviolent example?

5. What does the Quran teach about the importance of converting people of other faiths? Does Islam condone coerced conversion? How does its theological stance on conversion compare to the teachings and practices of the other major world religions?

6. What does the Quran have to say about the place of women? How forward or backward-thinking was Muhammed’s treatment of women for his time? What accounts for the persistence of a practice such as female veiling in the modern-day Muslim world?

7. What are the differences between Sunni and Shii Muslims? What were the origins of this split within Islam? Did it have theological underpinnings or was it merely politically motivated?

8. What is the primary meaning of the word jihad? Explain its significance in Islam. How did Muhammed understand it? How do some modern-dayfundamentalists understand it?

9. What are the roots of Islamic fundamentalism? How does Islamic fundamentalism compare to fundamentalist movements in other faiths? Are there certain of its precepts that make Islam more prone to religious fanaticism? What historical factors have contributed to anti-Western fundamentalism in Islam?

10. What have been some of the successes and failures of modern-day Islamic nation building? What particular challenges do postcolonial Islamic states face? What has been a common problem with the way secularism has been imposed in the Muslim world?

11. What are some of the greatest challenges facing the Islamic faith today?

12. What are the most common misperceptions about Islam and the Muslim world in the West?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 42 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(16)

4 Star

(9)

3 Star

(8)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 42 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2002

    Weak and glossy

    As a former nun who rejects the Christian theology of Trinity, Karen Armstrong eagerly embraces Islam's monotheism, universalism and charity. But you won't find an open discussion of the faith or its history here. Islam means submission, which Armstrong fails to cover. She glosses over the early Islamic massacres of infidels, as if they did not occur. Nor does she deal with Islam's historic persecution of other peoples, including Zoroastrians, Ba'hai, Hindus, Coptic Christians, Sudanese Christians and Middle Eastern Jews. The chauvinism of Mecca, a city closed to all but Muslims, is similarly avoided in this (mercifully) brief, overly sugared pabulum. For brief lessons on the faith, try the Internet writings of moderate Muslim believers like the Shaykh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi, who heads Italy's Muslim community. He shares the rich beauties of the faith and discusses meanings of key passages in the Qu'ran and Hadith--as well as the interpretation of Islam by the rigid Wahabhi sect that governs Saudi Arabia and controls most mosques in the west. For history, try Bernard Lewis--revered by, Western, Arab and Muslim scholars alike. I recommend Islam in History; Islam and the West and The Muslim Discovery of Europe. To understand Islam's political effect on other peoples, try Bat Ye'or's The Dhimmi or The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, covering the 7th through 12th centuries. But skip Karen Armstrong. --Alyssa A. Lappen

    9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 16, 2011

    Dishonest propaganda for Islam

    Do not expect anything truthful in this book. It is plain unvarnished propaganda for Islam, indeed for the worst elements in Islam. Any discussion of the slaughter of infidels that continued for centuries and still goes on? Nope. Any discussion of the debased status of non-Muslims under Muslim rule? Nope. The horrific situation of women? Only excuses and dissembling. Taqqiya--- religiously mandated deception? Nope. Jew-hatred? Nope. Muhammed's pedophilia (e.g., marrying a 6-year-old and commencing to rape her at 9). Glossed over. The central command of Islam--- Jihad--- or unceasing war against non-Muslims--- don't expect an honest discussion here.

    The book (and her others) is a disgusting piece of propaganda. But Armstrong has been rewarded well for it, and that's another story.

    4 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2011

    Don't bother, unless...

    Don't bother reading this or any Islamic books written by this author; Karen Armstrong. She's nothing more than an "apologist" for the "peace-loving" religion they call Islam. So unless you're totally devoted to Islam, or wanting a biased one-way scoop on Islam- don't bother. Spend your money on ANY book written by Robert Spencer if you want the "truth" about Islam. He's a great writer and really knows Islam without the BS!

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2002

    An apologist glosses over warts

    Although Armstrong mentions the Hadith, the second sacred literature of Islam, she does not explain that it contains explicit anti-woman teaching expressed directly by Mohammed himself. Specifically the Bukhari Hadith, the hadith given the greatest weight and authority in the Muslim world, contains a statement in which Mohammed states that 'women are deficient in intellect.' Mohammed himself in his last sermon told his followers to follow his example and the Hadith is a record of his example, it is as controlling on the life of a devout Muslim as the Koran. Armstrong also glosses over the system of Islamic slavery that operated in North Africa long before Europeans become involved in the slave trade and long after the slave trade in Europe and the Americas were ended. Saudi Arabia did not end slavery until the 1960's.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2002

    OUTSTANDING PIECE OF LITERATURE

    This book shows in basic English the principles of Islam and it's importance in the lifes of Muslims. It explains the purity of Islam.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2002

    Great start, bland finish

    The excellent start of this book gives a perspective on the development of Islam and the events early Mulsims endured. The latter chapters, however, speed along and the parts pertaining to modern times are not as good as the historical perspective. I would recommend it to readers looking for a historical survey of early Islam.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2002

    A pretty good book

    I think this is a very balanced book, I have seen a lot of books that are just published with the intention to demonize Islam and others that glorify it. This book draws a good balance.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2002

    A fantastic must-read for everyone!

    A very informative, well-balanced, easy to read history of Islam and the clash between culture and religion that has been going on for centuries, whether it be Christian, Jew or Islam. We need to read this for a balanced view of world events.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2001

    An American Citizen who spent 12 years in the Middle East

    It's a great buy. Highly recommended for the curious and the hurried who do not have alot of time to spend, yet want to get to know more about the islamic religion as well as the culture. Although, I do wish it shed some more light on how this widely misunderstood culture came to be our main link between the renaissance and the lost ancient roman and greek knowledgebase (the section on Anadolosia (i.e. islamic spain) was rather weak. Nevertheless, there is only so much you can cover in one book for a period of 1500 years of history.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2012

    Well written books, very recommended to anybody who always blame

    Well written books, very recommended to anybody who always blames Islam as Bad entity. Karen Armstrong has given an alternative views on Islam, which Moslem itself cannot explain as good as him.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2011

    Excellent snapshot of a complex subject

    The history and nature of Islam is one of the most relevant and important subjects today, one I'd been meaning to tackle but I was overwhelmed by the immensity of the subject matter. This book does a wonderful job of not only narrating the pivotal events of Islamic history, but placing it in a context that makes sense of current events.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 5, 2011

    Knows nothing

    A sorry read, for she didn't unmask the truth behind this ideological cult.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2006

    What can a former Catholic Nun tell you about Islam?

    Plenty, but, if you are looking for understanding the essences and deeper meaning of the teachings of this major monotheistic world religion, Islam: A Short History by renown religious scholar Karen Armstrong, this is not the book. What Ms. Armstrong does do is give the reader a synopsis of historical events during Islam¿s growth during the first millennium. From the beginning, the author sets the stage that the Islamic outlook on life is not separated by events and/or exclusive reactions per event but that life events are all spiritual in nature. Wars, pandemics and epidemics, environmental changes, economies, social and political challenges¿ are all part of humanity¿s earthly experience controlled by God Almighty (Allah, from the root Arabic word ilah, meaning The God.) The knowledgeable Muslim understanding this Islamic philosophy understands that mankind is challenged to deal justly, humanely, kindly, and uprightly with each event that comes before them collectively and individually. Islamic philosophy and its body of ethics do not take the stand of secular and religious separation in decision making, as are the theories and philosophies of the West. In the body of Islamic thought, God is the sovereign and humankind more or less is appointed viceroy in handling earthly affairs. It is worth noting that the author points-out that if the individual Muslim is not content with appointed leaders to see to the affairs of the community or the state, locally or internationally, then the individual is obligated to oppose those leaders or that leaders decisions that do not live up to the Islamic idea. Sounds like a democratic model to me, created over a thousand years before the American constitution was signed. Regardless, Ms. Armstrong clearly lays out for the reader that Muslim leaders throughout the last fourteen hundred years have not been without their flaws and failings, after all, they are human and men whose interpretation of Islamic Law, and consulting with statesmen and religious leaders have not always led to the best decisions being made for defending against oppression and attempts of genocide against the early Muslim community by unified tribes in Arabia, foreign invasions during the crusades, imperial expansionism of the Mongols, civil wars, and differences on political and leadership issues. Reading Islam: A Short History, one realizes that Islam is not just a religion but as Y. A. Al-Qaradawi a professor at the University of Qatar puts it, ¿¿there is more than one way of life.¿

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2006

    The liberal Muslim band wagon marchs on!

    Lets be truthful about one thing, when we're talking about Islam most of the books out there are generally the same. They all write about the beginning and the historical facts and events of this 'so called' religion of peace. What Ms Armstrong neglects to tell you, as well as many of the other Islam revisionist, of Islam's bloody and brutal beginnings(which by the way has never ceased)! Maybe I'm not a great historian or religious studies professor but one thing I do know is that the Muslims started conquering nations and peoples, long before any crusades! This book is definitely a good one for the liberal media darlings, who don't want to offend anyone(except evangelical Christians and Jews). If you want a feel good book about Islam, this is the one for you but if the whole truth is what you desire, you'll flush this book down a Getmo toilet!

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2003

    Best book of the year

    This book has to be the best book I have come across in the last few years. Karen Armstrong who has a great depth of knowledge about world religions truly makes history and current affairs come alive in this book. If you want to get a strong background in history to better understand what is going on in the world today, I would recommend this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2002

    A masterpiece!!!

    This book is a masterpiece and was obviously well-researched. If you are interested in Islamic history or politics, this book will be hard to put down.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2001

    From the Prophet Muhammed to the Taliban in 2000

    Ms. Karen Armstrong has covered an amazing amount of ground in this brief look at the history of Islam¿s beliefs and practices since 610 when the Prophet Muhammed¿s revelations began that we know today as the Quran (usually spelled Koran in English). She has supplied a generous number of maps, a detailed chronology, and constantly interprets each ruler, regime, and sect from the perspective of the Quran¿s text, and the practices advocated by the Prophet Muhammed. The book has an agenda, which I would describe as creating a spiritual appeal for mutual understanding among Muslims and nonMuslims, especially those of the Jewish and Christian faiths. That appeal seems based on an appreciation for similarities in the religious practices of the three religions as they were originally observed. Every deviation from those original Muslim practices is explained in the book as an error that needs to be and will probably be corrected in time. If you are like me, you will find that some of your understanding about historical Muslim beliefs is incorrect. For example, the original geographic expansion of Islam from 638-738 A.D. involved little attempt at creating converts to Islam. In fact, the Muslim forces usually were garrisoned in separate, new cities to minimize contact between them and the local people. Much of what we have heard about the doctrinal basis for religious war in Islam seems to have been developed through the successful Mongol invasion, and reactions to the secular invasion of Western culture into Muslim nations in the last few decades. One new idea that I learned from this book is that the success of all Muslims as a community in a combined political, social, and economic sense is viewed as a sign by Muslims of how well the religion is being observed. Until the arrival of oilfield riches in the Middle East in the 20th century, Islamic influence had been on the wane worldwide as the industrial West swept forward to create its colonies and continued economic dominance through advanced products and technologies. The seeking for a possible solution to this ebb of cultural success has led in part of the fundamentalism that has spawned conflicts with the United States and some other nations. I was also interested to note that in countries where Muslims are in the majority, democracy will lead to dominance by religious parties. Islam does not separate church and state the way that Western democracies usually do. Appreciating this point means a different kind of diplomacy and cooperation with Islamic democracies than will occur with multicultural, pluralistic democracies. Although I found the book to offer these kinds of insights, Ms. Armstrong would have helped me understand Islam more by sharing additional information about the religion from the primary source of the Quran and key writings of religious figures. Also, it is unusual to analyze a religion in terms of how closely it follows the original way it was observed. Few today, for example, look at the Catholic Church or any Protestant church for how closely it matches in specifics how Jesus and His disciples lived. Finally, I could probably have gotten the key points in the book without quite as much detail as was spelled out here about various leaders. With less ¿who did what, when, and where to whom¿ there would have been much more space to explain key ideas and to provide more detail about the Quran. I also wondered what misunderstandings various Muslim groups typically have about those of us who live in countries where the percentage of Muslims is relatively small. A number of other questions still came to mind after reading the book. If each person is to be treated equally in respect and in terms of economic goods in accord with the Quran, what do people in various Muslim countries think about the growing gaps between the richest and poorest Muslims? What do Muslims in various countries think about people of their same r

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2013

    Islam a Short History After reading this book I can s

    Islam a Short History



    After reading this book I can see where a way was needed for an individual from the Arab perspective could draw closer to God. This book gives a clearer look and a good understanding into the Islamic religion. I see a people who have struggled with old religious ways and practices. To move
    from old practices, a direction must come from a place that gives deeper insight and simplifies the path to go. Karen Armstrong lets the reader see the contrast between the Arabs the Muslims, the past and future for the Arab people. This book deals with the things needed to find the answers for those that seek it. Karen Armstrong allows the reader to take a glance at the interworkings and development of Islam.

    It is said that to change the old religious ways can sometimes complicate life in a dramatic fashion. To know that God has not forgotten or cast you aside can be very liberating, but everyone does not accept change. Teachings and texts were provided and leadership was established. A war was coming, and this war would make individuals question that very foundation that they believed to be from God. Arab and Muslim leaders from both sides struggle to find common ground during the early infancy of Islam. We must understand that religious and political views were heavily involved in this contention. When moving forward for the better every side will not be satisfied or happy if things do not go in their favor; however, to give life sometimes pain is involved. I give these people a great deal of credit. Through the early years things were not going so well.
    Karen Armstrong allows the reader to travel from the past to the present. She discusses the Seljuk, Moghul, and Ottoman Empire. Mrs. Armstrong discusses and in book about the political struggles between the different empires. The development of the Shii empire caused the difference of opinion between Sunnis and Shii's. I think Karen Armstrong does a magnificent job relating the beginning, development, and Islamic victories in this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2012

    If you want a brief introduction to the history of Islam, this i

    If you want a brief introduction to the history of Islam, this is your book (it's called "A Short History" for a reason). Karen Armstrong is a fairly good writer, easy to follow, but her biases are sometimes apparent. She does, however, make some effort to address the negative as well as the positive. No, it didn't answer all my questions about Islam (what 272 page book could?), but it gave me somewhere to start. I'll be perusing her reference list and expanding my reading from there.

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  • Posted April 26, 2012

    Ignore the haters in this list of sad diatribes below. Karen Ar

    Ignore the haters in this list of sad diatribes below. Karen Armstrong does a marvelous job of explaining the history and context of the birth of Islam without the unfortunate negative emotional bias found in many currently available books. This is a great primer for understanding why and how Islam arose in Arabia when it did, and how it changed, in a positive way, the Arab social structure in the 7th century. Armstrong has the advantage of a background in comparative religions and history, which is what makes her exploration of this topic so rich and so easy to understand. Buy it, and leave the mean-spirited stuff on the shelf for the ignorant to consume.

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