Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
Islam: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles) Paperback – August 6, 2002
|New from||Used from|
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
“A small gem bristling with insight.” —The Washington Post
“A valuable corrective to the hostile caricatures of Islam that circulate in the English-speaking world. . . . Engaging and provocative.” —The New York Times
“Karen Armstrong, a respected and popular author of several books about religion . . . takes on a useful and formidable task in presenting the history of Islam in a single short volume. As many other such works have been written either by apologists or by those hostile to Islam, Armstrong’s comprehensive and sympathetic work is welcome.” —Los Angeles Times
“In Armstrong’s brisk narrative, the clichés evaporate fast. . . . A book like this is suddenly essential." —Entertainment Weekly
From the Inside Flap
No religion in the modern world is as feared and misunderstood as Islam. It haunts the popular imagination as an extreme faith that promotes terrorism, authoritarian government, female oppression, and civil war. In a vital revision of this narrow view of Islam and a distillation of years of thinking and writing about the subject, Karen Armstrong's short history demonstrates that the world's fastest-growing faith is a much more complex phenomenon than its modern fundamentalist strain might suggest.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
"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.
I find it necessary to write a long review as I want to make it clear why I am not recommending this book, so please bear with me as I explain my reasoning. Let me cite a few examples so that you can see what I mean when I say that the book is highly sanitized, and does not present the full picture of events. The book mentions that Mohammad had a great number of wives, but claims that this was because he was arranging alliances with their tribes, however, the book fails to mention that he also had concubines and that one gave birth to a son that died in infancy, so the claim that he was not creating a harem must be questioned, which it is not. The book also fails to mention that Mohammad’s third wife Aisha was, according to Muslim sources, between nine and twelve when the marriage was consummated.
Not only is this version of the life of Mohammad highly sanitized, so is the relationship of Muslims to non-Muslims. The book correctly refers to the Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians as Dhimmi who were required to pay a special tax not required of Muslims. They are quaintly describes as “clients” and to quote the book “Dhimmis paid a poll tax in return for military protection, and were permitted to practice their own faith, as the Quran enjoined”. Conveniently left out is the fact that Mohammad said that Muslims should not befriend Christians and Jews, that the Dhimmi were required to wear special clothing to make themselves readily identifiable and that they were legally inferior to Muslims – their word was given less weight than that of a Muslim in a dispute. This was in the best of situations; the book completely fails to mention the times when the Dhimmi were treated much worse.
Given this sanitization, I was tempted to stop reading after only 37 pages of text, but I went on because I needed more information on the various Caliphates. I found the rest of the book to be equally sanitized and worse, to border on propaganda. I got the feeling that it was either in some way supported by Saudi Arabia (the book is very highly slanted towards the Sunni interpretation of events and away from what the Shia believe) or was a misguided attempt to help the West understand Islam by hiding any negative aspects of its history or beliefs.
What is in the book –
1) Beginnings - The book starts with 37 pages of a sanitized version of the life of Mohammad and early Islam.
2) Development – the next 40 pages are devoted to the sanitized history of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates. This section of the book ends with a discussion of the esoteric philosophical and religious Islamic movements. I found the history to be superficial and incomplete and the discussion of the esoteric movements far too brief to be very understandable.
3) Culmination – This period of the book is again a combination of a bit of history (far too superficial) with some esoteric philosophy. This section covers the Crusades, but from the aspect of the wicked West conquering Jerusalem, neglecting to mention that it was first a Jewish holy city and then a Christian holy city that was conquered by the Muslims. The book somehow neglects to mention that the Christian west was trying to recover their holy city from Muslim conquers.
4) Islam Triumphant – The title says it all. This section is about the triumphant Ottoman Empire, the Moghul Empire of India and the Safavid Empire of Iran. Like the rest of the book the history is superficial and very sanitized. For instance, the Jannissaries are correctly described as Turkish slave soldiers, but the fact that they were created by forcibly removing very young boys from their Christian parents and raising them under very harsh conditions, against their will, in military barracks is conveniently neglected.
5) Islam Agonistics – This section is devoted to Islam and its interaction with the modern West. This section is perhaps the most egregious of all as the west is painted in a completely negative light, compared to Islam. The west is immoral and imperialistic, and bent on stealing the wealth of Islam, with very little on how Islam stole the wealth of the Balkans and the other areas that they had imperialistically controlled when they had the power to do so. The state of Israel is painted as a “Zionist” entity depriving Palestinians of their homeland, neglecting to give any information surrounding the creation of the state of Israel, or the fact that Jews had a historic claim to returning to their homeland, and that Jews were living in Palestine when it was portioned between areas where the Jews would predominate and where the Muslims would predominate. The book notes that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left what was to become Israel, but neglects to mention that an almost equal number of Jews were driven from Arab lands, and that while the Jews were welcomed in Israel the Palestinians were not welcomed in Arab lands. I think that it is a disservice to the reader to reduce the complex question of the state of Israel and it Muslim neighbors to the stereotype of Zionists “… who set up the secular Jewish state of Israel there with the support of United Nations and the international community”. Nor is the book just against Israel, it is so anti-Shia that it even goes so far as to proclaim Saddam Hussein a “reformer” (I kid you not, see p151), whereas the Shah of Iran is not so designated, when in fact he was. The atrocities committed by Saddam are not mentioned at all, whereas those of the Shah’s police are dwelled upon.
The book presents an Islamic ideal of peace, moderation, inclusion and faithfulness to the higher ideals that most religions espouse, and is in effect a lengthy apology of why the 1400-year history of Islam is marked by assassination, war and despotism. It never even questions internal inconsistencies, such as the idea that laws can only be based on the Koran instead of being freely agreed upon by “we the people”, espousing instead that a consensus of a group of religious experts is equally democratic in creating laws. It consistently neglects any information that might put Mohammad and Islam in a negative light and when negative information cannot be ignored it is explained away as either un-Islamic or due to the actions of others.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of this book is that it is being promoted as a school textbook. The last page refers to a teachers guide and there are loaded questions at the end of the book that would cause a student to repeat the highly sanitized information in the book. I did find some interesting sections in the book, but I expect a book that purports to be a history of a subject to provide the good and the bad of a situation and not be totally biased in its presentation. In short, this book is bad history, bad philosophy, bad religion - a book with a clear agenda, and in my opinion definitely one that should not be used as a school text.
She is known to nurture an obsessive passion for Arabs (on camel back or not, but usually dressed in the white bed sheets as their desert custom dictates) and, by extension, for Islam. In this respect, she suffers from what is known as "Lawrence of Arabia syndrome". This makes her books a highly unreliable source whenever Islamists are in any way involved. Anyone interested in the subject (which is very much en vogue due to the preponderance of extremists and terrorists in their midst) should consult serious scholars, like Bernard Lewis among many others.
If one is curious about all the brouhaha surrounding her name (not the quality of her books - God forbid), avoid "A History of God" (in reality a history of the '2 + 1 Abrahamic religions') where she presented Muhammad as equal to Jesus, in moral and theological terms, rather than the pedophile, the enslaver of women and the promoter of Jihad he truly was.
Also to be avoided is "Jerusalem" where Ms. Armstrong gives Muslim lie, about the fastest return trip on a flying carpet, from Mecca to Jerusalem and back, in the history of travel, equal currency with history and truth. She thus promotes Muslim 'rights' to Jerusalem while diminishing the value of Jewish and Christian history, tradition and honest 'claims' in relation to the Holy City, capital of the Holy Land.
All in all, a notorious politically correct revisionist of history, without credentials.