Title: Islam: A Short History
Author: Karen Armstrong
Publication Year: 2002 (revised from 2000 edition)
Source: Purchased from BMV used bookstore
From the cover:
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.
If you’re looking for a brief overview of the history of Islam and Islamic society, this is definitely a good place to start.
Islam: A Short History is exactly what it purports to be: a very short, very condensed version of the history of Islam. Specifically, Armstrong has written an account of the political and historical aspects of Islam, from Muhammad’s life in Mecca and Medina, to the expansion of Islamic rule in Arabia, to the Crusades, and on to more recent developments such as the colonization of many Muslim countries by European nations. There is also a thread of history about the developments of different Islamic sects – Sunni, Shii (aka Shiite), and Sufi – as well as the smaller theological divisions within those sects and across the centuries. The majority of the book, though, is about the political and regional histories associated with Islam, giving a really great introduction to development that Islam has gone through and the ways in which Muslims have related to the rest of the world.
This book was originally published in 2000, so it’s definitely more useful as a historical primer than as a current-affairs text. I read a version that had a short epilogue written post-9/11, which was interesting, but Islam: A Short History does not purport to explain the current state of affairs. Rather, it seeks to educate the average person by explaining as much as possible in a simple overview – there isn’t all that much detail on most of the ideas and personages in the book, but that’s how it manages to tell so much in so little space. There’s also some great information in here that helps to explain the way that relations between Muslim countries and “the West” have developed, and a short section explaining modernization and fundamentalism.
Definitely a good primer if you’re interested in learning about the history of Islam and how it has become what it is today. Quite a dense read, full of dates and names, but even if you’re not a dates-and-names person (like me), you’ll still get quite a lot out of it.
- 4/? for the World Religions Challenge
- 1/? for the Middle East Reading Challenge
- 3/? for the Ultimate Reviewers Challenge
You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.