Islam : A Short History, Paperback
4 out of 5 (5 ratings)


One of the world's foremost commentators on religious affairs on the history (and destiny) of the world's most misunderstood religion. In the public mind, Islam is a religion of extremes: it is the world's fastest growing faith; more than three-quarters of the world's refugees are Islamic; it has produced government by authoritarian monarchies in Saudi Arabia and ultra-republicans in Iran.

Whether we are reading about civil war in Algeria or Afghanistan, the struggle for the soul of Turkey, or political turmoil in Pakistan or Malaysia, the Islamic context permeates all these situations. Karen Armstrong's elegant and concise book traces how Islam grew from the other religions of the book, Judaism and Christianity; introduces us to the character of Muhammed; and demonstrates that for much of its history, the religion has been a force for enlightenment that promoted liberties for women and allowed the arts and sciences to flourish. ISLAM shows how this progressive legacy is today often set aside as the faith struggles to come to terms with the economic and political weakness of most of its believers and with the forces of modernity itself.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 224 pages, maps
  • Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: History of religion
  • ISBN: 9781842125830



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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

Review by

Karen Armstrong is one of the most balanced and knowldegeable contemporary western writers on Islam and this book is an excellent read for anyone who wants to understand Islam at a time when misleading stereotypes are very much in evidence.

Review by

I read this as I realised my knowledge of Islamic history / theology is pretty poor (i.e. non-existent).I thought this was a great introduction, going from the Mohamed's founding of Islam, via the caliphates and the crusades, through to the Ottomans and the modern Middle East. As you might imagine, Islam is not the monolithic bloc that some (both in the west and in the Muslim world) would like to have you believe. A great introductory text.

Review by

This should be required reading for everyone. In a quick 161 pages Armstrong explains the origins of Islam, its impact on society and traces it from the Prophet Muhammad to the "September Apocalypse." Reading this will make people rethink their Islamic bigotry and begin to understand the complexities of Islam as a religion and the politics of the Middle East.

Review by

I read this book because The Satanic Verses is on my bookshelf and I heard that one should have a cursory understanding of Islam prior to reading that. I don’t know that this book did the trick. The book starts in the year 610 with the revelations of Muhammad and touches on nearly every relevant piece of Islamic history up to the current century. All in 161 pages. There were some good parts, specifically the story of The Prophet and then the section on modern Islam, but there was way too much crammed into this slight book. A plethora of names, dates and places was not only a challenge to keep straight, but also detracted from the history. On the plus side, she does present a very middle of the road look at Islam and works to correct the stereotypes of violence and oppression. I was impressed with the origins of Islam and the beliefs that Muhammad was sharing concerning peace, social justice, and acceptance of other religions. Then, as with any religion, people got involved with their own agendas and interpretations of the Quran and mucked up some major stuff. Armstrong’s take on the fundamentalist Muslims was also insightful; her argument is that all religions have a fundamentalist offshoot that crops up as a direct response to the problems presented by modernity. Armstrong states that, “Fundamentalists nearly always feel assaulted by the liberal or modernizing establishment, and their views and behavior become more extreme as a result.” The book ends on a hopeful note even after a short postscript concerning the 9/11 attacks.

Review by

Islam details the life and writings of Muhammad (the Quran), and describes how his teachings were developed and refined over the ages. It also details the impact this has had upon world politics.At times the tone is clinical and detached as Armstrong details the distant past from a modern perspective; however she also seems to relish describing the various sects and the mysticism surrounding Islam.This book lives up to its billing as a short but punchy book which gives an overview of the history of Islam. Islam is written for non-academics and is an interesting read. It gives a useful context to the religious and political turmoil in present times.

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