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Islam: A Short History Hardcover – August 22, 2000

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles
  • Hardcover: 222 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Modern Library ed edition (August 22, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679640401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679640400
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (221 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

The picture of Islam as a violent, backward, and insular tradition should be laid to rest, says Karen Armstrong, bestselling author of Muhammad and A History of God. Delving deep into Islamic history, Armstrong sketches the arc of a story that begins with the stirring of revelation in an Arab businessman named Muhammad. His concern with the poor who were being left behind in the blush of his society's new prosperity sets the tone for the tale of a culture that values community as a manifestation of God. Muhammad's ideas catch fire, quickly blossoming into a political empire. As the empire expands and the once fractured Arabs subdue and overtake the vast Persian domain, the story of a community becomes a panoramic drama. With great dexterity, Armstrong narrates the Sunni-Shi'ite schism, the rise of Persian influence, the clashes with Western crusaders and Mongolian conquerors, and the spiritual explorations that traced the route to God. Armstrong brings us through the debacle of European colonialism right up to the present day, putting Islamic fundamentalism into context as part of a worldwide phenomenon. Islam: A Short History, like Bruce Lawrence's Shattering the Myth and Mark Huband's Warriors of the Prophet, introduces us to a faith that beckons like a minaret to those who dare to venture beyond the headlines. --Brian Bruya

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 About the Author

Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous other books on religious affairs-including A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and The Great Transformation-and two memoirs, Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. She has addressed members of the U.S. Congress on three occasions; lectured to policy makers at the U.S. State Department; participated in the World Economic Forum in New York, Jordan, and Davos; addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and New York; is increasingly invited to speak in Muslim countries; and is now an ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations. In February 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and is currently working with TED on a major international project to launch and propagate a Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public and crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, to be signed in the fall of 2009 by a thousand religious and secular leaders. She lives in London.

Customer Reviews

I found this to be a very strange book that seemed to be an odd "politically-correct" whitewash of the history of Islam.
This summer, during a time when the focus seemed to be far from these concerns, I did a very good thing by reading Karen Armstrong's book on the history of Islam.
Nathan W. Attwood
If there's anyone who wants to learn about Islam and Muslims but doesn't know where to start, this would be a good book to do so.
Ahmed Mahmood

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

170 of 199 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Brucia on September 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It's a pity this book isn't a standard text for secondary school students. The history of Islam is something all Westerners should learn in their teens - and don't. Robinson's book is both a revelation and an indictment of our collective ignorance.
"Islam, A Short History" is densely written, and sympathetically describes the evolution not only of the Islamic world, but also of the practices and tenets of this major monotheistic religion. Armstrong's tome not only dwells on the history of Islam, but also traces most major currents of thought within Dar al-Islam. She examines the evolution of Sharia (Islamic law), Sufism, the Ismailis, Twelver Shiism, and Wahhabism, just to mention a few of the streams that comprise this river. Best of all, this volume is written in plain English, simply written, incisive when need be, concise if not.
Ten maps show the ebb and flow of Islam: The illustrate the early conquests, the growth of the Umayyad Empire, the disintegration of the Abbasid Empire, the extent of the Seljuk Empire, the geography of the Middle Eastern Crusader states (in the 12th century), the threatening Mongol world in the 13th century, The Safavid Empire, the Moghul Empire in India, and the Ottoman Empire. The amirs, caliphs, ulamas, qadis (judges), and a host of other political, military, administrative, and religious figures are examined and put into their historical contexts.
"Islam, A Short History" contains a first-class 275-entry (!) chronology, a listing of 118 historical figures (!) from the history of Islam, a VERY exhaustive listing of additional readings (bibliography), and a good index. (The only weak point is a somewhat truncated glossary of Arabic terms.) Of the many books I have read about Islam, this is the one I would recommend as the first to read - it is a the perfect introduction to a fascinating (and almost unknown) new world.
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88 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Vince Leo on April 29, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Karen Armstong would like to believe in the Prophet Mohammad, not because of his visions or poetry or even his special relationship to God, but because of his ability to create a compassionate and unified movement out of the chaotic tribalism of sixth century Arabia. She also wants to believe that Islam is at least as much social experiment--in equality, compassion, and surrender to God--as it is doctrines or rituals. For Muslims, Armstrong writes, "salvation does not mean redemption from sin, but the creation of a just society." That's a long way from hanging the burned body parts of Americans on public bridges, but that's exactly why this book should be on every American voter's reading list. It's not so much to find out the objective facts of Islam (though there are plenty of those), but to understand the religion's deepest yearnings and view of the world. If you've bought into the American party line on Islam, the last 40 pages of this book are going to be hard to swallow--Armstrong's litany of Western imperialism and meddling are unflinching and humbling. Violent Islamicists also come in for their own share of criticism. Alarmed by the failure of Western materialism to satisfy spiritual needs, Armstrong fears that Islam will fail in its calling to justice and compassion. The broad premise of this calling--that religion might provide an enduring improvement in social life--is the possibility Armstong is most interested in, the desire that makes sense of past and present. Muslims carry this sense and desire into every part of their lives. It may not be important for us to do the same, but refusing to recognize its grip on Muslim hearts and minds is where the battle of Fallujah really began.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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.
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