Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Learn more Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Shop now Shop now Shop now

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£9.98+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 30 August 2001
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.
0Comment| 60 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
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.
0Comment| 14 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon 13 May 2002
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.
0Comment| 43 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 21 August 2005
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.
0Comment| 21 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 9 September 2001
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.
0Comment| 32 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 8 November 2003
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.
33 comments| 30 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 November 2015
This book is interesting and revealing as all Karen Armstrong’s books are, but also disturbing. Her rather uncritical admiration of Islam is expressed when she says; “Look what had happened once they (Muslims) had surrendered to God’s will! Where Christians discerned God’s hand in apparent failure and defeat, when Jesus died on the cross, Muslims experienced political success as sacramental and as a revelation of the divine presence in their life”. It is a revealing description of the patriarchal origin of Islam from a clan based society where it is the steady power of a strong leader who don’t compromise that is needed in order to unite the society, as apposed to the rather feminine softness of a Jesus. In this context, it is understandable that the prophet had to shop the heads off some seven hundred Jews in the massacre of Qurayzah, since they did not obey. She explains Islam as a total belief system and “if their community was humiliated by apparently irreligious enemies, a Muslim could feel that his or her faith in life’s purpose and value was in jeopardy.” Such a feeling could inspire to fight and revenge though. It is interesting that pride and humiliation plays such an important part of traditional clan society’s power struggles as shown from history and e.g. social anthropology. To handle those personal feelings have therefore been rather important issues in other world religions.

Islam is the first and only purely monotheistic religion with many taboos attached to it, like that the prophets face should not be portrayed. With taboos follows that you can punish those who break them, which is why taboos play such an important role in tribal politics for example. Armstrong explains how Islam grew out of a tribal society and streamline tribal rules and practises. She does not see this as a problem or something to analyse. But she writes about the fights between different factions who have different interpretation of the truth. To me, any ideology that claims to have monopoly of the truth and that justify punishment of those who does not comply will end up in trouble. The medicine for this is reason and critical thinking.

The Islamic law, Sharia does not distinguish between divine law and secular law like in Christianity where a process to separate religious faith from common law started with Anshelm in the 12th century. The reduced influence of religion into worldly affairs contributed to the emerging enlightenment and scientific revolution. The sharia law leads back to interpretation of the Prophet’s custom, the hadith, and is as such not based on reason. It should have been interesting if the author would have discussed the consequences of a belief system where law is based on faith rather than reason.

The author expresses some astonishing patronizing attitude towards Muslims. They are always victims. Her idea towards mans ability to create their society is deterministic when she says: “When resources were limited, it was impossible to encourage inventiveness and originality in the way that we do today in the modern west”. But where does inventiveness and creativity come from? Is it not from ideas of our minds that are governed and inspired by the belief systems in where we live? According to Karen Armstrong, the decline of Muslim power was due to the economic base, which was agrarian in the Muslim world. It had nothing to do with ideology, and if anyone dares to indicate that it has - is arrogant! Armstrong is consistently apologetic about Muslims to the extent that she bends the truth when she says that there is evidence for only one attack on one monastery during the conquest of India. This is a very different story than the destruction of Hindu temples accounted for in numerous history books about India and from what you see on the ground.

The description of Islamic science and the Sufi philosophy is a good overview (although no thought about why Sufis are so hated by orthodox hardliners), but what about the fact that none of the great Muslim intellectuals never challenged the ultimate belief in one god, in a monotheistic belief system? Wasn't it when even the ultimate truth could be questioned that the scientific revolution was allowed to happen?

As a conclusion, the book is somehow amazing, because Karen Armstrong describes the core problems within Islam, but seems to do so unintentionally. The absence of analysis and reflexion is also somehow revealing .
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 2 January 2007
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.
0Comment| 15 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 10 October 2014
Stop wingeing about Muslims and start trying to understand them. Yeah that might be corny but if we don't we are all gonna die horribly in an endless war.
This woman is a very good writer with excellent credentials.
Islam's history is incredibly complex (no surprise, surely) but at least this short work has given me a handle on some of the main periods and branches.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 October 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.
0Comment| 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)