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Islam, By Karen Armstrong

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Islam is the world’s fastest growing faith. It all began in 610 C.E. when the Prophet Muhammad received revelations of the Quran in Mecca. Islam’s reputation of promoting a strict and controlling government, female oppression, civil war, and terrorism is not completely correct. Islam is a rich and complex religion that is often misunderstood in the modern world. There have been many obstacles that have been faced. Islam wouldn’t exist today with its leaders, the Crusades, and their empires.

The most important leader was, of course, Muhammad. He basically set up Islam and preached and converted many to this religion. He insisted that it was wrong to build a private fortune but good to share wealth and create a society where the weak and vulnerable were treated with respect (51). Umar, Muhammad’s second successor and father-in-law, was very important to Islam’s history. He was originally opposed to Islam but converted right after he heard some verses from the Quran. Islam made its largest and fastest expansion under Umar’s reign; the Muslim forces conquered Syria, Jerusalem, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and armies of Persia. This period is often thought as the Golden Age of Islam. It was when Muslims were at the top of their regions social order and when Islam was the most pure for it had not yet been corrupted by power or privilege. There have been many other leaders that followed, and all of them have contributed to Islamic history.

The Crusades were a series of wars that were started by Christians to win back their holy lands from the Muslims. It started in July 1099 when the Christian Crusaders from Western Europe attacked Jerusalem, massacred its inhabitants and established states in Palestine, the Lebanon and Anatolia (173). It wasn’t until 1187 that Jerusalem was taken back from Crusaders. The crusades would not be over for a long time. The property of the Holy land is crucial to a religion because it gives a sense of a homeland. If the homeland is occupied by someone else, then it’s a priority to win it back.

The three Islamic empires, the Safavid Empire, the Moghul Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, were very influential in the development of Islam. These empires covered the entire Islamic world. The Safavid Empire was the shortest-lived empire, but made a major contribution by making Shi’a Islam the official religion. The Moghul Empire seems to be the most disastrous of the three empires but gave rise to influential architecture and poetic and scientific works.

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The Ottoman Empire, at one point, was the most powerful in the world. It seemed to be the most stable of the three empires throughout its ruling.

There was so much information about everything except the Religious Movement. That section gave me an awkward feeling because I didn’t really understand what she was trying to say. There are no other objections because I didn’t know much about Islam so I wouldn’t know if something was a false statement.

Before reading this book I did not know much about Islam. I’ve realized that it has become a very important aspect of many people’s lives throughout the world. Islam has had a very intriguing and brutal history. It seems it has had a more complicated history and has gone through many more problems than most other religions. I didn’t feel that there were any gaps in this book. The author did a very good job of retracing Islam’s history.

This was a very informative and interesting book. I would definitely recommend it to someone who would like to know the origin and the path of Islam throughout history. The way it gave additional information was very helpful to understanding the point she was trying to make. The maps and chronological data helped visualize and comprehend the situation of the religion and where it came from. The book was sometimes overcrowded with too many Islamic terms or names which made it a little hard to follow in some sections.

Karen Armstrong is a former nun and one of the world’s foremost scholars on religion. She is the author of many bestselling books on religious affairs. She is also the author of three television documentaries and took part in the television series Genesis. Since 1982 she has been a freelance writer and broadcaster. She has an undergraduate degree in literature from Oxford University. She currently lives in London. Armstrong, Karen. Islam. New York: Random House, Inc., 2000.

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