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Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization

Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization

by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

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The world's leading Islamicist offers a concise introduction to this rich and diverse tradition of 1.2 billion adherents.

In this informative and clear introduction to the world of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr explores the following topics in depth:

•What Is Islam?

•The Doctrines and Beliefs of Islam

•Islamic Practices and


The world's leading Islamicist offers a concise introduction to this rich and diverse tradition of 1.2 billion adherents.

In this informative and clear introduction to the world of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr explores the following topics in depth:

•What Is Islam?

•The Doctrines and Beliefs of Islam

•Islamic Practices and Institutions

•The History of Islam

•Schools of Islamic Thought

•Islam in the Contemporary World

•Islam and Other Religions

•The Spiritual and Religious Significance of Islam

Editorial Reviews

“[A] deep, thoughtful, sympathetic introduction to the diversity and history of Islamic faith and practice.”
Publishers Weekly
Nasr, a professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, is probably America's leading Islamicist, and he lives up to his reputation with this short yet comprehensive primer on Islam. Nasr presents the religion of more than a billion people today without prejudice or preference. In eight short chapters, he surveys all that can be described as "Islamic"-the theology, people, history, cultures and more. His descriptions of how Islam spread through black Africa and China are concise and clear. Although certain readers may prefer a book that speaks more directly to the concerns raised by the attacks of 9/11 or that addresses hot topics like the treatment of women under Islam, Nasr unapologetically lays out a classical and timeless text. He is at his most engaging when discussing Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, a topic that is usually underrepresented in similar books. Nasr also dives headfirst into Islam's more abstract and intellectual underpinnings, much to the satisfaction of the reader who seeks spiritual guidance in addition to education. "To understand Islam today," Nasr cautions, "it is first of all important to realize that the histories of different religions do not all follow the same trajectory." Readers who desire more than a simple current events profile, and who want to understand the core of the world's second-largest religion, will appreciate this introduction that manages to be sweeping in scope yet accessible in style. (Jan.) Forecast: The Islamic bookshelves are getting quite crowded these days, and America's rush to obtain a remedial education on Islam seems to have abated. That's a shame, because this book deserves a wider readership than it may get in today's glutted market. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A valuable primer on a religion that, for all its monolithic appearance, is as splintered as any other.

"Islam today is a living reality faced with multiple problems and challenges, but still deeply anchored in the . . . tradition and the truths that have guided its destiny since the descent of the Quranic revelation more than fourteen centuries ago." So writes Iranian scholar Nasr (Islamic Studies/ Georgetown Univ.) in the close of this survey of Islamic thought, which covers both the ideological mainstream and some of the offshoot (and sometimes heretical) variants of the religion. Nasr begins by identifying what all observant Muslims believe in common, the foundations of the ummah, or community, of Islam: that "There is no god but God," that "Muhammad is the messenger of God," that "the Quran is the verbatim revelation of God." Beyond that, however, lies much local and cultural interpretation, which allows some mullahs to decree terrorist acts, for example, to be anathema and others to declare them a key to heaven. In the course of his explication, Nasr offers a few comparisons with Judaic and Christian belief--noting, for instance, that "angels have not as yet been banished from the religious cosmos of Muslims, as they were to an ever greater degree in Christianity from the seventeenth century on"--and ventures interesting asides on the condition of Islam as a transnational polity today. On the second matter, he observes that although nearly every nation in the Islamic world is independent, many are less free, and certainly less contented, than they were under foreign rule--a situation that affords a perfect breeding ground for antinomian groups. But, Nasr holds, althoughfundamentalism is a powerful reality in the Islamic world, it is less powerful and less unified than the Western media portray it.

A useful resource for readers seeking an introduction to Islamic thought and its major schools.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


Religion, History, and Civilization
By Seyyed Hossein Nasr

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Seyyed Hossein Nasr
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060507144

The Seal of the Prophets

Following Ishmael's line in Arabia, we come in the latter half of the sixth century a.d. to Muhammad, the prophet through whom Islam reached its definitive form, Muslims believe. There had been authentic prophets of God before him, but he was their culmination; hence he is called "The Seal of the Prophets." No valid prophets will follow him.

The world into which Muhammad was born is described by subsequent Muslims in a single word: ignorant. Life under the conditions of the desert had never been serene. People felt almost no obligation to anyone outside their tribes. Scarcity of material goods made brigandage a regional institution and the proof of virility. In the sixth century political deadlock and the collapse of the magistrate in the leading city of Mecca aggravated this generally chaotic situation. Drunken orgies were commonplace, and the gaming impulse uncontrolled. The prevailing religion watched from the sidelines, providing no check. Best described as an animistic polytheism, it peopled the sandy wastes with beastly sprites called jinn or demons. Fantastic personifications of desert terrors, they inspired neither exalted sentiments nor moral restraint. Conditions could hardly have been better calculated to produce a smoldering undercurrent, which erupted in sudden affrays and blood feuds, some of which extended for half a century. The times called for a deliverer.

He was born into the leading tribe of Mecca, the Koreish, in approximately a.d. 570, and was named Muhammad, "highly praised," which name has since been borne by more male children than any other in the world. His early life was cradled in tragedy, for his father died a few days before he was born, his mother when he was six, and his grandfather, who cared for him after his mother's death, when he was eight. Thereafter he was adopted into his uncle's home. Though the latter's declining fortunes forced the young orphan to work hard minding his uncle's flocks, he was warmly received by his new family. The angels of God, we are told, had opened Muhammad's heart and filled it with light.

The description epitomizes his early character as this comes down to us by tradition. Pure-hearted and beloved in his circle, he was, it is said, of sweet and gentle disposition. His bereavements having made him sensitive to human suffering in every form, he was always ready to help others, especially the poor and the weak. His sense of honor, duty, and fidelity won him, as he grew older, the high and enviable titles of "The True," "The Upright," "The Trustworthy One." Yet despite his concern for others, he remained removed from them in outlook and ways, isolated in a corrupt and degenerate society. As he grew from childhood to youth and from youth to manhood, the lawless strife of his contemporaries, the repeated outbursts of pointless quarrels among tribes frequenting the Meccan fairs, and the general immorality and cynicism of his day combined to produce in the prophet-to-be a reaction of horror and disgust. Silently, broodingly, his thoughts were turning inward.


Excerpted from Islam by Seyyed Hossein Nasr Copyright © 2005 by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is university professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University. Author of over fifty books, Professor Nasr is a well-known and highly respected intellectual figure both in the West and in the Islamic world. Born in Tehran, raised from the age of twelve in the United States, and a graduate of MIT and Harvard University, Nasr is well qualified to explain Islam to a Western audience. He appears frequently on Meet the Press, as well as other national news shows.

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