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Islam: A Short History

Tue, 11/29/2005 - 9:22am by Tim

Kathy Evans Daly, Assistant Director, Ypsilanti District Library

Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2002.

If your education was like mine, then this is the book that should have been required reading along with all the Western Civilization classes that filled our curriculum. This short (187 pages) book covers the period from 610 to the present day, and describes the rise of Islam from the revelations of the prophet Muhammad to its culmination in the 15th century to its widespread colonization and exploitation in the 20th century. The core teaching of the faith, says Armstrong, is that human beings behave to one another with justice, equity and compassion. Over the centuries religious leaders have –like religious leaders everywhere—ranged from corrupt to incorruptible. Schisms and divisions have occurred in various branches of the faith, among them Sunni, Shi’ite, and Sufi. To read this book is to fill in an important gap in the timeline of history as taught to us, and to set in context a better understanding of a world view of a people currently significant in our lives. In a chapter on fundamentalism, Armstrong compares Islamist fundamentalists with those of other faiths, and we are reminded that such people are a small, if vocal, minority. Overall, the book is a revelation itself, a means by which the “Ah-ha” of understanding comes in a small yet dense package.

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