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Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization Paperback – December 24, 2002

3.1 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Finally, a good, up-to-date introduction to Islamic faith and history. Providing compelling analysis of contemporary Islam and its conflicts without overwhelming the reader with information, Nasr, one of the most admired Islamicists, introduces all the important movements and beliefs of Islam in broad, sweeping sections on the history of Islam, the schools of Islamic thought, and other topics. Whereas most introductions breeze past the diversity within Islam to focus on the common ground, Nasr proves himself equal to the challenge of distilling 1,400 years of faith and history by discussing and lauding Islamic diversity in some detail; for instance, he treats Sufism and Shi'ism in general and also historic and contemporary sects within those traditions. Even readers of Karen Armstrong's Islam (2000), by far the most popular introduction to Islam, will learn a lot here, although Nasr lacks the compelling narrative voice that makes Armstrong so popular. His is a deep, thoughtful, sympathetic introduction to the diversity and history of Islamic faith and practice. John Green
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“A valuable primer on a religion that, for all its monolithic appearances, is as splintered as any other.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“[A] classical and timeless text....that manages to be sweeping in scope yet accessible in style.” (Publishers Weekly)

“[A] deep, thoughtful, sympathetic introduction to the diversity and history of Islamic faith and practice.” (Booklist)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; First Edition edition (December 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060507144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060507145
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By DAVID Bruce on April 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book turned out to be exactly what I was looking for, a historical book on Islam. The author is an Islamic scholar, and his credentials impress me a little more than Karen Armstrong, though I hold no grudge against her. I wanted to get an inside, learned perspective on the religion itself, without the preaching, and that's exactly what this book offers. I highly recommend it.
The negative review from "AtheistWorld.Com Book Review" is actually posted by Solomon Tulbure, as you will find by doing a simple Yahoo! search. That is truly sad.
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Seyyed Hossein Nasr concisely describes the rich diversity of the Islamic faith in the world. Nasr explains in plain English how the different Islamic communities came to life, spread and evolved over time (pg. 18 - 24). Nasr's journey through Islamic history usually shines through both its brevity and clarity (pg. 115-152).

Unlike Bernard Lewis in his superb book "What Went Wrong? The Clash between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (pg. 96-116)," Nasr does not always explain clearly to his (non-Islamic) readers why Islam, unlike Christianity, has not experienced the need to separate the spiritual from the temporal (pg. 26-28, 110-113, 173-177). Nasr rightly reminds his readers of the unique contribution that Islamic science made to the development of Western science (pg. XXI - XXII, 121, 126). Regularly, this immensely important contribution of Islamic scientists through their own observations, experiments and ideas, is ignored. For example, in his otherwise excellent book, "The Essential Drucker," Peter F. Drucker mentions the contribution of China, but not that of Islam, to the development of the West's technological lead by the end of the Middle Age (pg. 338). Unlike China, Islam at its apex created a world civilization: poly-ethnic, multiracial and intercontinental as Lewis states (pg. 6).

Nasr does a good job at illustrating the rich interdependence that exists among the Qur'an, the art of calligraphy and architecture (pg. XIX, 40, 121 and 126). Nasr clearly explains which relationship the Prophet had with Allah and his human nature and how the Qur'an came to life through Divine guidance given to its Messenger (pg. 37-43, 62-64).
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On the positive side, this is an elegantly written book, a lucid and concise introduction to Islam for the general reader. Nasr is from Iran and educated at Harvard; he knows his Islam and gives a broad overview from the perspective of a participant and a scholar. He also avoids the typical Western biases and tendencies to demonize Islam. The book was written shortly after 9/11, to help provide a more balanced view of Islam, so the author says.

Now for the less positive side. For one thing, this book is written from the perspective of religious fundamentalism. By that I mean the author is in no doubt whatever about the truth of Islam and the inerrancy of the Quran. He also clearly states twice that biological evolution must be false, since the human being was made directly by God. Nasr also rejects any of the critical historical scholarship on the Islamic tradition. Scholars have for example long held that the “Hadith,” the collection of purported oral sayings of Mohammed, is full of sayings of dubious authenticity used to support a particular belief or policy. Nasr rejects this out of hand, claiming (uncharitably and inaccurately) that this “so-called historical criticism” merely reflects a bias against Islam. He also writes that these arguments “have been negated by the discovery of recent historical evidence.” He does not however tell us what this evidence is (not even in a footnote) or say how it supports the entire Hadith tradition. This does not exactly inspire confidence in the objectivity of his methods.

Moreover, the author goes to such great efforts to portray Islam in a positive light, that the book ends up being close to a whitewashing of the religion.
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I purchased this book without having the slightest idea about Islam. After reading it, I can say I learned a lot, especially in the area of Islam and International Relations, pertaining to how it spread over the Muslim world, and the world as it is. This book would be a great addition to the libraries of some politicians nowadays, as they create policy affecting Islamic countries. Also, the fact that it was written by someone from the Middle-east gives it a lot more validity in my view. A must read!
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Seyyed Hosseein Nasr is the most profound and eloquent spokesman of Islamic thought in the United States today. This book is a mere introduction into the ocean of his thought. The other reviewer is simply trying to peddle his own book. The George Washington University, where Dr. Nasr is a professor, organized a conference in 2001 honoring his unparalled contributions to Islamic studies. Check out the site, ....., if you would like to have a sense of the depth and breadth of Nasr's thought.
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