A Short History

Book - 2000
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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.
Publisher: New York : Modern Library, 2000.
Edition: Modern Library ed.
ISBN: 9780679640400
Characteristics: xxxiv, 222 p. : maps ; 19 cm.


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Mar 22, 2015

Now having read a couple of Armstrong's books on islam, there is a definite pattern. She obviously relies on the reader not having read the Quran or Hadith and then conjures up a religion of peace and tolerance based on a few snippets of the Quran that, when read in their context, mean something quite different. She clearly writes from the perspective of a fan of islam and loses credibility as an academic. For instance, she briefly dismisses the Crusades of Christiandom as a terrible and misguided blot on Western history, yet repeatedly excuses or praises the centuries of Muslim conquest as necessary, brilliant or good. She makes several references to the beautiful poetic style that the Quran is written in while arguing that it is beyond the reach of most people to truly understand its deep meanings. Clearly, though, she claims to understand where others, she accuses, fail. However, the Quran itself states that it is plainly written to be easily understood. A plain reading of an English translation reveals something quite different from what she describes. She, near the end, concludes that, with the rise of Al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood types, that for the first time, Jihad has been elevated to religious war of great importance. That is flatly untrue. One only needs to read the book on Jihad in the Sahih Bukhari Hadith to see that Jihad has always meant religious war where all manner of cruelty is justified to advance Islam and that it has always been a primary duty of Muslims. She paints a picture, overall, of Muslims as perpetual, innocent victims of larger forces that would rather be left alone, but are instead forced to act out violently. She even casts blame on the West for much of sickness that is coming from the Islamic world, as though Islam has little to do with it. In short, a more openly Muslim apologist could not have written a more deceptive propaganda piece for Islam.

Feb 18, 2015

Armstrong's erudition and scholarship are on full display here, originally written in 2000. Her focus is on the origins, Muhammad as a person and the context in Arabia out of which his movement arose. Then she turns to the explosive expansive of the religion and its political system in the centuries after Muhammad's death. She also emphasizes cultural aspects of Islam, including contributions to science, technology, astronomy, and the arts. With all this, something must get slighted, and it seems to be the geographic scope of Islam. While she mentions its spread to Spain, it's only a mention, and there's no mention that countries like Indonesia are the most heavily Muslim in percentage terms. The 2002 date is apparently for the large print edition, and this book calls out for a revision after the events of 9/11. Still, for a brief introduction, it's highly informative.


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