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Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence in the Middle East Hardcover – February 27, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Conventional wisdom says that Christians, Jews and Muslims cannot get along and have never gotten along; the Crusades, the Inquisition and September 11 have all fueled the flames of constant religious intolerance. In a pedantic and frustrating study, journalist Karabell (The Last Campaign) challenges this view by pointing to numerous but little-known periods of peaceful coexistence among the three religions. For example, he points to John of Damascus's condemnation of Islam as a Christian heresy as a powerful indication of the close connection between the two faiths in the early Middle Ages. During the Crusades, Christian rulers often adopted the policies of the Muslim governments they had supplanted, while in the 19th century, some Muslim nations attempted to emulate the progress of Europe and to coexist more peacefully with European nations. Karabell points to Dubai as an area in which such ironic coexistence still occurs and wonders whether Dubai holds the key to the future. Regrettably, the moments of peaceful coexistence are hard to spot in Karabell's narrative, since the largest portions are occupied with the ways that Christians, Jews and Muslims have failed to get along. (Mar. 2)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Historians have so often focused on religious conflict--crusades, jihads, pogroms--that Karabell fears many readers have forgotten how often the devout have lived in peace with those of different faiths. To dispel this unfortunate forgetfulness, he develops a wide-ranging narrative highlighting epochs of interfaith toleration and cooperation. Readers visit, for instance, ninth-century Baghdad, where a Muslim caliph invited Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist theologians to compare beliefs; later, the tour moves on to thirteenth-century Toledo, where Muslims, Jews, and Christians collaborated in translating important classical texts; and, still later, Karabell turns to mid-twentieth-century Beirut, where disparate religions hammered out a national pact for sharing governance. Karabell concedes that some regimes have pursued ecumenical harmony merely to secure economic and political advantage, but he insists that such harmony actually reflects peace-fostering doctrines central to all of the Abrahamic faiths. Applying such doctrines, Karabell concedes, has grown more difficult in a modern world transformed by the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism. But he understands that Fundamentalists can pursue their bloody aims only by reducing the past to a litany of grievances crying out for vengeance. A book restoring to that past the complexities of peace and cooperation greatly enhances the prospects for the future. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (February 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400043689
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400043682
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #671,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author's stated thesis for this book is "peaceful coexistence among the monotheistic, Abrahamic religions has been more the norm rather than the exception since the recognition of the Prophet Mohammed and the inception of Islam." Although the book makes a strong case for Islam as the more tolerant of the trio when in power, my take on the real contribution of this book is a bit different.

This book succeeds best as an objective account of the turbulent history of the Abrahamic religions over the past 1,400 years. It examines the potent effects of religion on the social, political, and economic fabric of the times as a succession of influential patriarchs or local, self-appointed charismatic leaders adjusted belief systems and popular perceptions to accommodate their agendas within and among the three religions. Hardly surprising, in this age of 'future shock' propelled by technological advances in communications and the management of information, we are witnessing these same machinations in overdrive today.

This is a well-researched book with generous notes and bibliography. The author ostensibly has no axe to grind, which frees this book from the usual polemics found in many books on religion. Although it's not written in a strictly chronological manner, the book maintains historical continuity.

If you are first a thinker then a believer, in search of the lessons of the past to better understand the present, "Peace be Upon You" is a recommended read.
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Format: Hardcover
Peace Be Upon You surveys Muslim history from the seventh century to the present day. As the title suggests, Karabell focuses on those historical episodes, and where pluralistic society is highlighted, there is peaceful co-existence among people of different religions, and genuine religious tolerance. Woven into the narrative is Karabell's interpretation of the events and the reader is reminded to view these events not from the twenty-first century perspective, but from the perspective of the period.

In the introduction, Karabell states that "... the pages that follow present stories of both conflict and corporation." As a survey, it is necessary to focus only on the highlights of the era. The issue becomes deciding which events merit representing that era and here seeps the narrator's bias. Karabell's bias minimizes the role of religious doctrine as a driver for violence, and this view may be regarded as understating the rational for conflict in some eras.

The work explores primarily Muslim societies for examples of co-existence. This may be due to its scope. Examples are non-Muslim societies, where religious tolerance was the norm, are not given much exposure. Hence, the Norman king Roger II is not given a lot of exposure.

Civil society is composed of non-governmental organizations. These organizations have molded their respective society's outlook and in turn shaped official policies. In understanding religious tolerance, this aspect needs to be more fully explored. While there are some examples (such as the Order of Cluny), the influence of the Ottoman guilds or contemporary NGOs (such as AKDN) is not thoroughly explored.

Peace Be Upon You seems to have two objectives.
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Format: Hardcover
Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence charts not another course of conflict and confrontation between Islam and the West, but its cooperative coexistence - which has all but been forgotten in light of modern events. Fourteen centuries of history are covered here to assure this history of cooperation isn't forgotten: chapters discuss early Baghdad scholars who engaged in spirited debate with various faiths, medieval Spain where Jewish and Muslim philosophers and sages debated the meaning of God, and even a Crusades where Christians and Muslims lived peacefully side by side. PEACE BE UPON YOU is much needed in a modern world which has come to associate Islam with violence and war, and is a recommended pick for all levels of libraries, from public lending collections to college-level holdings strong in history and social issues.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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Format: Paperback
The usual bias of history writers is to focus on violent conflicts, while glossing over many less exciting developments in the quality of everyday life. Karabell tries to counter this, and to give at least equal time to the more normal periods of peace, tolleration, or creative cooperation between the three religions of the book.

Assuming the reader has a rough idea of Christian and Jewish history, Karabell focuses on the evolution of Muslim relations with Jews and Christians. He also centers on the Near East-Mediterranean zone where the three religions have mixed together longest. This basically leaves out the history of Islam eastwards of Iraq.

The book highlights many cases of mutual influence and learning between the three religions. It shows how their relations have usually involved shared benefits, even during the recent colonial period, where mainly Christian nations conquered almost all the Muslim world.

--author of Correcting Jesus
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