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Islam: A Short History

2 Ratings: 4.0
A book by Karen Armstrong

From Publishers Weekly  Readers seeking a quick but thoughtful introduction to Islam will want to peruse Armstrong's latest offering. In her hallmark stylish and accessible prose, the author of A History of God takes readers from the sixth-century … see full wiki

Author: Karen Armstrong
Genre: History, Religion & Spirituality
Publisher: Modern Library; Rev Upd Su edition (August 6, 2002)
1 review about Islam: A Short History

Good Short History of Islam

  • Mar 15, 2009
  • by
Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Islam is indeed short but it covers all the key events in Islamic history and is a good primer for someone wanting the general background on the religion.

Armstrong's main theme appears to be that the basic tenets of Islam have been twisted by later day messianic terrorists and "orthodox" Muslims. One of the original tenets of Islam was egalitarianism, which explains why capitalism, which relies on the accumulation of wealth, is a difficult fit with the religion as an economic system. But it does not explain - as here Armstrong correctly points out - why women are subjects and not equals to men in most modern Islamic thinking.

A second is theme is peace. Overall Armstrong's statement that Islam and the Prophet Mohammed wanted peace above all things belies the fact Muslims have been warring against each other from the religion's inception. Further, the book at times seems like an apologia for the atrocities committed by Muslims against Muslims in the wars centering around Mecca and Medina. While it is true that this violence was typical of the times and that Christians and other faiths have equally bloody histories, it's also true that it was not an auspicious start for a religion whose ultimate normative aim was peace. And it seems peace has been impossible to come by since.

A third theme is how Islam has been closely tied to the state since its inception and religious control of government has typically been the norm throughout its history. This helps explain why a western style democracy is not a good fit for Islam, as Islamic countries traditionally have codified religious behaviors.

What is lacking from Armstrong's work is some proscriptive examples of how Islamic countries can overcome the vicious cycle of history and truly strive for the egalitarian and peaceful ideals that are laid out in the Koran.

Despite these drawbacks it is a good, quick primer on Islamic history.

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March 15, 2009
This sounds like an interesting book. I'm always interested in reading books on Muslims or Persians/Iran just to get an outside-in perspective on my own background. Every book has its shortcomings, but overall it seems like this one is alright. About how many pages is it?
March 15, 2009
About 300 pages, but it's a short, quick read.
March 16, 2009
Cool, I'd love to take a look at it if I get the chance. Thanks!
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