Islam: A Short History
By Karen Armstrong
Islam: A Short History gives a brief overview of Islamic history from the times of Mohamed until the present day. Although I find Islamic history interesting, this book didn't particularly interest me. Several chapters read like apologia, and I wonder if the author is a Muslim.
Nonetheless I learned a lot, and the book has changed several of my perceptions of Islam.
5 Things that I learned by Reading Karen Armstrong's History of Islam
1. Islam is a universalist religion. I had always assumed that Islam was a religion that promoted strong in-group preferences because of the behavior of modern Muslims. In fact, Islam is a strictly universalist religion which recognizes many prophets before Mohamed. From the Islamic perspective, Mohamed is simply the final of 124 thousand prophets. These pre-Mohamed prophets include everyone from Jesus to Buddha. Muslims don't believe it is wrong to believe in any of the other religions as long as you haven't been exposed to Islam.
2. Caliphates are divinely ordained states. Like many early Christians, Muslims believed that the state was divinely ordained by God. When Constantine converted the Roman Empire, he taught the doctrine that God has blessed the Empire with the Holy mission to Christianize and Civilize Earth. The Roman Empire was the only legitimate government. After the Roman Empire fell, many successor states branded themselves as the true Roman Empires and only legitimate divinely ordained states. Interestingly enough, the early Muslims had the exact same concept. The Caliphate is the only divinely ordained state for all of mankind, and all other states are illegitimate. Even when the Umayyad empire fractured, successor states called themselves Caliphates.
3. Islam is very fractured. Prior to reading this book, I knew that Islam was fractured into Shia, Sunni, and Ibadi. I didn't realize how many sects of Islam there truly were. There are Sufis, Kharijites, Kalam, Murji'ah, and many many other sects.
The many branches of Islam
Most of my articles are book reviews, but I also write about many other topics.