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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A balanced approach
One of the greatest barriers for Muslims, like myself, in reading books such as these, is that they have been written by a non-muslim. This is largely because, in many conservative Islamic societies, reverence is ingrained to such an extent from childhood that the one hesitates to question - in fear of potentially weakening faith. As a result, most of what I have read and...
Published on 8 Nov 2003 by Ahmed Hafeez

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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars From the Prophet Muhammed to the Taliban in 2000
Ms. Karen Armstrong has covered an amazing amount of ground in this brief look at the history of Islam's beliefs and practices since 610 when the Prophet Muhammed's revelations began that we know today as the Quran (usually spelled Koran in English). She has supplied a generous number of maps, a detailed chronology, and constantly interprets each ruler, regime, and sect...
Published on 6 May 2004 by Donald Mitchell


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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A balanced approach, 8 Nov 2003
By 
Ahmed Hafeez (Karachi, Sindh Pakistan) - See all my reviews
One of the greatest barriers for Muslims, like myself, in reading books such as these, is that they have been written by a non-muslim. This is largely because, in many conservative Islamic societies, reverence is ingrained to such an extent from childhood that the one hesitates to question - in fear of potentially weakening faith. As a result, most of what I have read and heard has been largely from Islamic sources, whose own devotion to the faith has sometimes meant an approach where they have chosen to overlook or omit historical facts, which may be unpalatable from a western standpoint - since there is awareness that Muslim readers are increasingly exposed to western education as well.
I therefore picked up armstrong's book with some reservation, but only to overcome it in the first few pages. The author's approach is disciplined in the acamedic sense and yet takes ample care in use of language so as not to offend (this is especially evident in the description of revelations to the Prophet). The general Arab context within which the religon and it's beginnings are described is amazingly well written.
I would rate this book highly and recommend it to people of all faiths. It is an excellent resource for a short overview of the history of Islam and tackles the spiritual aspect incredibly well, with the result that it is neither a sermon, nor a rejection - it is a well balanced view and description of history.
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56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brief yet informative and very enjoyable!!, 30 Aug 2001
By A Customer
Islam is a religion of many cultures and traditions spread over more then 1400 years in time. And for an out sider (as I assume Karen to be), she seems to have a vast amount of knowledge on the subject.
The book is written in a very approachable manner and would be understandable to even the beginners. But having said that, there are so many details covered in this one book (even if as brief references) that I couldn't help but admire the effort put into her work. I started off not expecting too much (thinking I know it all any way), but ended up finding so much new stuff and refreshing what I knew before to be true. And the best thing was that it gives us a different prospective of things. It makes us think about things we usually take as a given (either for religious or social reasons), hence closing our minds to them. Also makes us think logically about historical facts we believe to be true but usually tend to look at them just from a religious view point and hence not being able to appreciate them to the full.
So all in all, I very much recommend this book to any one who would like to study the fastest growing religion in the world. It takes away a lot of stereo types about Islam (and made me want to further study a lot of personalities and events mentioned in this book.) and brings things into prospective.
Enjoy!!!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good history book, but not a religious studies essential, 2 Jan 2007
By 
M. J. Harris (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Islam: A Short History (UNIVERSAL HISTORY) (Paperback)
I am doing an Open University religious studies course and wanted something to supplement the set text on Islam. This is a good run through the history of Islam but really spends most of its time in "history book" mode rather than "religious studies book" mode. As such, it is more a history of Arab conquest and defeat than a detailed examination of the religion that most of those Arabs followed. Also, Ms Armstrong tells the story of the prophet, and others, in quite a "cosy" way, speaking of them as if she knew exactly what he was thinking and why he did things, which is using a little too much artistic license - just something to be wary of.

However, it IS very well written, easy to read, and excellently laid out, with a very detailed timeline and glossaries of people and terminology for reference. Buy it as a high quality starter text (in fact buy it at this low price just for the reference pages alone), but if it is Islam (the religion, not the "state") you particularly want to know about, dont expect more than the basics.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short, but detailed - sometimes too detailed, 13 May 2002
By 
Lendrick (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Islam: A Short History (UNIVERSAL HISTORY) (Paperback)
At a little over 100 pages of core text (there is also a timeline and a glossary) this is as the title says a short history and as such good way of getting an overview of islamic history.
Armstrong writes well and for the most part mixes historical facts with he own interpretations in a way that is both informative and enightening....more support for some of here assertions in the form of quotations from the Koran would have helped.
At times there is just too much detail. Caliphs, Imans and other leaders come and go so quickly it becomes quite bewildering.
However the final section on Islam in the modern world is excellent, and should probably be compulsory reading for everyone!
I certainly felt I learnt about the essence of islam as well as the historical facts, and would recommend this to anyone want to know more about this religion.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent In Places, 21 Aug 2005
This review is from: Islam: A Short History (UNIVERSAL HISTORY) (Paperback)
This is a very readable book which I highly recomend to anyone who is intrested in but has little knowledge of the islamic world and its history. With its pleasant style and useful glosary of araboc terms is a very enjoyable and intresting read. However while Armstrong deals excellently with the early history of islam her section on modern islamic politics tends to lose objectivity and presents evidence to support her ideas ignoring other factors and explanations. I found it also a little hard to follow the sucession of the various monarchs discussed as there is no list to aid the reader.
Despite these problems this a deeply well written and informative book. I took this book out of the library and Iam considering buying a copy, Its just that good.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief, concise & easy to read, 19 Feb 2009
By 
Mr Tea-Mole (Lancashire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Islam: A Short History (UNIVERSAL HISTORY) (Paperback)
Armstrong achieves a remarkable feat with her presentation of over 1400 years of Islamic history into a succinct and very readable mere 160 pages. The different strands of Islamic development in intellectual, spiritual and political dimensions are systematically chronicled to present the picture of a faith with a long, vibrant and chequered past. Major events such as the Crusades and the Mongol conquest and their implications on the Muslim world are nicely covered.

Several useful appendices add significantly to the value of this book. These include a very detailed chronology recording every major date, event and development, an alphabetical list of key figures, a glossary of Arabic terms and a detailed list of suggested further reading material

The book is worth reading for the value of the final section alone entitled "Islam Agonistes" where Armstrong moves out of her abstract "narrator" mode and provides a profound analysis of the contemporary Muslim situation vis-à-vis the West, modern technological society and the challenges of secular modernity for Muslims. Her conclusion is that many Muslim societies have commitments and attachments to their faith which they are unwilling to jettison wholesale similar to Christians in the West. They would like to participate in the modern world but on their own terms, whilst remaining faithful to the central tenets of their own religious understanding.

I gave the book 4 stars as opposed to 5 because - as a practising Muslim who has experienced being a member of the faith for many years - I was unable to relate fully with Armstrong's central thesis - namely that the supreme Islamic mission is the establishment of a just society. Her assertion is that Muslims have experienced history as a divine theophany, a manifestation of God's historical presence and the supreme Muslim challenge is to incarnate the principles of the Quran into their political and social institutions. Her research (which needless to say will be much greater than mine) has probably led her to this conclusion but my experience of being a member of this faith prevents me from fully attesting to this.

There was also the conspicuous lack of mention of the "Tabligh Jama'at" in the closing pages of her book where she detailed brief sketches of the significant religious movements animating the Muslim world since the last century. Although she talks about the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) at length (which has lost much of its impetus in recent decades) she remains conspicuously silent about the Tabligh Jama'at which exerts one of the most significant global influences on Muslim masses today. Recent sociological studies (see Yoginder Sikand) have indicated Tabligh Jama'at participants as being around 80 million worldwide, and the Jama'at is ubiquitous in the majority of Muslim lands as well as most Muslim minority communities in the West. Maybe Armstrong's lack of mention is due to the movement's avowedly apolitical nature which contravenes the central thesis around which this book revolves: that the supreme Muslim duty is the incarnation of Quranic principles into a political reality.

Overall, an excellent snapshot of 1400 years of Islamic history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good introduction to the history of Islam, 31 Oct 2003
Armstrong's book not only offers a good and detailed overview, but also provides us with a sound and well-balanced historical argument. The style is easy to read and the author's un-dogmatic approach very appealing. The book obviously not only considers the history of Islam, but also that of the Islamic world and its political settings. Although some passages are rather traditional in approach, fixing very much on names and dates, which after 40 pages might spin around your head, the book nonetheless never loses its focus: Islam. Indeed, its greatest strength lies precisely in connecting the religious and spiritual developments of this world religion to the political and socio-economical circumstances. The book manages especially well with destroying our sometimes rather simplified views of Islam, presenting the different spiritual movements and tendencies that Islamic culture developed over the last 1300 years. It clearly shows that there has always been far more then just Islamic fundamentalism. Another good point is the well-illustrated relation between Western Europe and the Islamic World. In fact the last 30 pages, which almost over-ambitiously try to condense the past 200 years, actually grasp the problematic directly at its roots providing once more a clear and concise description. The book is nothing more than it pretends: a short history of Islam, but I would strongly recommend it to everyone who is looking for a good introduction or overview of the topic.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Didactic insight on a vast topic, historical to contemporary, 9 Sep 2001
By A Customer
Karen Armstrong writes a fascinating insight on a subject that has historical, political and spiritual connotations on a world level today. From the cave of Hira where it was suggested the Prophet Muhammad first received the 'revelation' to Islamic 'fundamentalism' and the contentious role of the media, this publication provides a short, succinct comprehension into a faith generally misunderstood outside its own circles.
Chronologically developed the writer attempts to explore Islamic history and challenge misconceptions of its current climate.
The insight allows the reader an understanding into contemporary world issues on the faith through objective historical analysis. A must for one looking for an impassionate summation on the subject, as a lead to further research or alternatively for a genuine understanding of the religion and it's effect on the world.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent objective historical study., 5 Oct 2000
This really is a MUST READ book when it comes to anyone being interested in Islamic history. The book is well written, easy to read and concise. Above all it is objectively written. Karen Armsrong puts in order the main historical events in the Islamic World , without being judgemental, on the contrary she is very quick to place events in perspective, relating to the norm of the time. In the process many Western thoughts about Islam are brought in to focus, with Karen Armstrong refelcting on their evolution from the crusades. Importantly this book will make you think, whther you are a Muslim or a non Muslim, and should help place many of todays disagreements between Islam and the West in to perspective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 28 Oct 2010
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This review is from: Islam: A Short History (UNIVERSAL HISTORY) (Paperback)
Just finished reading this book a few days ago. Personally I found it an intriguing read and was gripped by this book from beginning to end. Specifically with the concise descriptions of key changing events in the evolution of Islam. For me it explained a lot about that which I feel I should know, but in fact knew nothing when I started reading this book. I have since gotten Karen Armstrongs book : Muhammad - Prophet for our time, which I look forward to reading.
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Islam: A Short History (UNIVERSAL HISTORY)
Islam: A Short History (UNIVERSAL HISTORY) by Karen Armstrong (Paperback - 3 Dec 2001)
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