Top positive review
15 people found this helpful
Brief, concise & easy to read
on 19 February 2009
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.