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The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In Paperback – Illustrated, December 9, 2008
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About the Author
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Paperback : 421 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0306817403
- ISBN-13 : 978-0306817403
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.25 x 8.25 inches
- Publisher : Da Capo Press; Illustrated edition (December 9, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #625,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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To me, this book seems more like a companion book for someone who is already familiar with Muhammad, what he preached, his early campaigns, and the inner politics of early Islamic rule, because all of those things, which to me seem essential to a better understanding of the conquests, are absent here.
In true academic fashion, Kennedy spends so much time questioning his source material, that it leads the reader to believe that we know nothing at all about this topic, and that the history as it is written is mostly made up by Muslims of later generations who are trying to fill in the gaps in their knowledge about their forebears.
The author also makes it clear in several parts of the book that in his opinion the success of the conquests had to do more with circumstance than in any ability or prowess of the Islamic soldiers or armies, mentioning more than once that if Muhammad had been born seventy years earlier, that we never would have heard of Islam and that the Arabs would have been confined to the desert. Instead, due to plague, political vacuum in the conquered areas, lack of military or governmental structures in place, weakness of both the Byzantine and Sassanid empires due to years of warfare, and similar factors, the Arab armies were able to easily sweep through and conquer these areas with little or no resistance. This viewpoint, while having perhaps some merit, disregards the military achievements of the Arabs, and downplays the role that the new religion played in spurring these armies forward.
Kennedy begins with an introduction to Arabia before Mohammed, giving context to the social and political climate of the people who would embark on this wide-spread conquest. Following the death of Mohammed in 632, Kennedy explains the motives behind Islam's expansion outside Arabia. At the risk of oversimplifying a well-researched and well-written account, it was primarily due to opportunities for individual glory and wealth, not religious zeal, as one might expect.
What is most interesting, perhaps, is not the "why" behind the expansion, but the "how". Afterall, the Sassanid and Byzantine Empires were wealthy, powerful and well-organized; that their vast holdings in present-day Iraq, Iran, the Levant and Egypt would collapse so quickly was far from a given. Kennedy does an outstanding job of illlustrating this, as well. To briefly touch on a few points: both the Byzantines and Sassanids had exhausted themselves from warfare between them, and their constituent populations saw the Arab invaders as "liberators". Additionally, the Muslims did not force Islam on the conquored - rather, they were primarily interested in collecting tribute (which, in some cases, was less than had been paid in taxes to either Byzantine or Sassanid overlords). Finally, there was a strong social component as well: Islam is egalitarian, giving the poor and dispossesed an opportunity to become one of the "conquoring" class.
As Kennedy points out, there has been little scholarship around this question (historians are either Islamists, ancient historians or historians of the Middle Ages - this period of time straddles all three) and the available sources are not primary. Nonetheless, he has done a remarkable job in answering the question posed by this 7th century monk.
The book was a little heavy on the military history for my taste, and I wanted to give it four stars. To be fair, however, conquoring is a function of the military, and the title clearly states its objective is the nature of Muslim conquest - therefore I can't fault the book on this point. I would also add that the maps are excellent, providing a useful tool to reference as you read Kennedy's narrative. Highly recommended for historians and armchair historians, and for those who seek a better understanding of the Near East.
Top reviews from other countries
Hugh Kennedy engrossa os defensores da hipótese de que as conquistas árabes foram iniciadas a partir de tribos nômades da península arábica, sem treinamento militar avançado, em contrapartida a outra corrente que afirma que os iniciadores foram tribos do norte e leste mais desenvolvidas, do Crescente Fértil, cujos territórios pertencem hoje àqueles correspondentes à Síria, Líbano, Palestina e Iraque nos dias de hoje.
Assim como a Batalha de Tour, vencida por Charles Martel, em 732, evitou o avanço muçulmano na Europa, outras circunstâncias, em sentido contrário, favoreceram diversas vezes as conquistas dos árabes muçulmanos. Sem estes fatos circunstanciais seria difícil aos muçulmanos lograrem dominar tão vasta parte do mundo, em menos de um século.
Um exemplo importante foi a conquista do Egito que, assim como no Irã e Iraque, os muçulmanos se beneficiaram de disputas locais. No caso do Egito, a disputa entre cristãos Monofisistas e Diofisistas, ou minoria Calcedônia, em particular a perseguição que o Império Bizantino fazia aos cristãos monofisistas a seu patriarca Benjamin, e o apoio à minoria calcedônia favoreceu aos muçulmanos. Existem fortes indícios históricos de que os Coptas Diofisistas ajudaram os muçulmanos contra os bizantinos.
Sabemos o quanto o Egito foi e é importante, modernamente, como berço do radicalismo islâmico, a partir do movimento nacionalista egípcio, com a criação da Irmandade Muçulmana e dos livros e escritos pelo seu ideólogo Sayyid Qutb.
Recomendo bastante o livro para quem se interessa pelas raízes do crescimento islâmico no mundo.