Field: History of Islam
Title: Islam; a short history
Author: Karen Armstrong
Publication: Weidenfield and Nicolson, The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
Reviewed by: A.S Abd Mokti
It has always been the case where Islam is being misunderstood by the masses. Islamophobia, the presentation of fear and ignorance of the Western society towards Islam haunts their popular imagination of the religion as an extreme faith that promotes authoritarian government, female oppression, civil war and terrorism. This book could be a vital corrective of the stereotype which demonstrates the idea of social justice and compassion which are and had always been the centre tenet of Islam.
Completed with maps and the chronology of the Islamic history, this book gives a bird’s view on the events in history dated back from 610 AD till the year 1998. There is also a list of A to Z of political, religious and academician throughout the History of Islam which is useful for readers to refer.
Beginning with the advent of preaching of Islam by Prophet Muhammad pbuh with dated back more than 1400 ago, Karen Armstong highlighted the era of tribulations and the uproar of the mushrik (infidels) as a retaliation against Muhammad’s teaching of Islamic Monotheism until the times of Madinah where the first Islamic state is founded. Followed heed is the history of the Khulafa’ Ar-rasyidun (Rightly-guided caliphs) and the First Fitnah (upheaval) which is an important marker of the commencement of division of the ummah.
Despite the emergence of sects due to political collision, Muslims continue to develop and explore new lands. However, Muslims would particularly disagree with the author on the point of the judgment of conquering other lands merely for material gain and influence backed by the upholding of the Shariah Law; which is unparallel to most of our (Muslim) believes and the description of the Umar II (Umar Abdul Aziz) tenure. Nevertheless, the Umayyads dynasty continued to flourish alongside the establishment of religious movement such as the Kharajites, Qadarites, Shiis until the last years of the dynasty when change in the leadership of the ummah is inevitable. The Abbasids through the manipulation of the Shiis came to power and brought the ummah to the level which is oftenly described as the ‘Golden Age of Islam’. The author also explains the origin of split between Shiis and Sunni Muslims and the emergence of Sufi mysticism and the beginning of esoteric movement of Shiis at a time when there is influx of information, new scientific discoveries and the translation of the Greek and Roman scriptures were occurring.
On the other hand, like any other civilization, Islam had to face the shattering effects of new orders which divide the empire but has its benefit as well. They are the Mongols from Central Asia and the Crusades from Christendom in the early till mid second Christian millennium. However, Islam and its empire were able to rise from the deadly culmination period and triumphs as the Ustaziyatul Alam (World Order) in which the author named as the period of ‘Imperial Islam’ between 1500 to 1700. The worlds saw 3 huge Islamic empires; the Safavid (Shiism inclined), Moghul Empire (Sufism inclined) and the Ottoman Empire.
In the mean time, the rise of the West particularly forces from Europe and the USA which is industrial-based bloomed the ideas of secularism, colonialism, capitalisme, socialism, facism, and the mostly-affecting idea of nationalism by which the states in began to demand for a local authority instead of a central authorization. The First World War, in which the Ottoman Empire fought along Germany and lost, is an event so significant that it topples the caliphate in favour for a secularized modern state of Turkey led by Mustafa Kamal the Attartuk.
Since then, Muslims continuously tried to rise from the defeat of which we saw the founding of the hard-line fundamentalist such as movement led by Syed Qutb and the moderate such as Dr Yusof Abdallah Al-qardhawi. The history has seen transformation of Islam through time in which the tenets of the deen (way of life) should be uphold. The author also made a point at the end that Western did contribute to the extremism in Islamic faith.