RevNaomi - reader, knitter, lover of life, minister
The premise - to tell history through Islamic eyes - is exciting for those of us most familiar with the European-dominated world histories.
Addressing the development of Wahabbism, Ansary clearly put the movement in context and names ways it has continued to develop that matter greatly today, but were not obviously part of early teachings.
The story of the development of Sufism and the initial response of rulers to try and crush it.
I have a feeling that many westerners whom come across this title will not even give it a second thought. It will be their loss. While one could forgive the casual shopper for looking at a book with the dome of a Mosque on the cover and promising "A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes" and assuming that it is an anti-western book of Islamist propaganda.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Maybe there would be less conflict and greater understanding of foreign cultures if all nations wrote their cultural history with such an unbiased assessment of their deeds, crimes, and neglect.
For the record, I was raised in a Catholic house, but converted to Islam four years ago when I met my wife. A woman whom changed my life completely. I have always loved to learn about history, and suddenly having to submit myself to mandates of a culture that I had never understood, and one that is so maligned in popular culture left me with many questions, and no answers at all.
My wife was little help in answering my questions, because she had never had the need to ask them herself. And, for reasons that become clear in this book, many Muslims are largely ignorant of their own cultural significance in world history.
My wife is a Sunni Muslim, and so far I have resisted taking sides in a sectarian divide that I didn't even understand. Thanks to this book, I now know what it is that a Shi'a Muslim believes. However, understanding the differences in a fair and balanced manner, makes it much less likely that I will ever take sides in that conflict.
Tamim Ansary dedicates a large portion of this book to the development of Islamic society through the revelations to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and the subsequent rulers of Islam, both religious scholars, and the leaders of the empires. And it is spellbinding. It becomes clear just how the Islamic world authored its own fragmentation throughout history, and how that fragmentation of society made the Middle World easy for invading armies to exploit.
I won't give spoilers, but I was shocked to discover that my own understanding of the Middle World (Middle East) was wrong, wrong, wrong. Nobody told me to think these things, but I placed the blame for many of the problems in the Middle World squarely at the feet of Christianity beginning with the Crusades, continuing through colonialism, progressing through puppet dictators, the outrage of Zionist occupation, and resulting in jihadist hatred.
What I found in this book was that my beliefs were wrong, if not completely, at least partially, on every single one of those beliefs. Tamim Ansary spreads the blame around equally. If the Muslims acted in a way that brought misfortune upon them, he calls them out for it. At the same time, he does not shy away from talking about the horrors committed by invading forces. And to show that he is not simply making things up, he provides specific sources within the book as well.
I recommend this book to ANYBODY that enjoys history. It won't disappoint.
This book summarizes the historical events and helps you to understand the current ones;.
Listening the book from the author makes you feel like you are being narrated in front of him in a classroom.
I couldnt stop listening and finished the book in very short time.
I procrastinated listening to this for a while, but devoured it in less than a week once I started. Ansary reads his work well, the pace is fast enough to prevent sections from dragging, but he manages to fit in enough detail to tell the story. What makes this so interesting is that he is not trying to give a comprehensive, detailed account of history, and in some places, he's not even worried about accuracy, so much as he is trying to tell you the history and the stories that Muslims tell themselves. Well worth the listen.
My reading and listening tastes are eclectic.
This was an eye opening listen. I always figured different groups would have different perspectives on history based on their experiences, and this book certainly confirms that. It also gave me new insight on the "conflicts" between Western and Islamic cultures. The reader certainly added to the material presented. It can be a challenge to follow some parts, simply because of my own unfamiliarity with the area's geography, but that cleared up when I consulted a map.
I bought this with a bit of trepidation. I've read quite a bit in this area and almost all books seem to fall into one of two categories--either a shameless apologia of all things Islam, ala Edward Said, or a dry recitation of facts without interesting intepretation or comment, apparently in fear that any sort of serious criticism may lead to a fatwah--ala Karen Armstrong. I was pleasantly surprised to find in this book a knowledgable author who presents as balanced an approach as one is likely to find on this subject, presented in a most appealing style with relevant commentary and even serious criticism at a number of points. My only disappointment was in the author's approach to current issues. His clear bias toward almost a total Islamic view of curent events was a bit off-putting. For example, he makes no mention of the fact that Arab nations shamelessly and intentionally refused to allow Palestinian Arabs to assimilate into their countries after Israel was established for the express purpose of keeping alive the Israeli/Palestinian discord. He makes no reference to America's efforts to aid Muslims in the Balkans, Kuwait or ,yes, even Iraq and Afghanistan. He fails to say anything about the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the death sentence fatwahs placed on Salmon Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali or the shameless surrender of fundamental rights of free speech and free press (and the underlying reasons therefore) surrounding the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. Even after the Munich Olympics (which he never refers to), the Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy, the Lockerbie bombing and 9/11, he seems to imply that virtually everything the U.S. and the West in general has done for the last 50 or so years is totally indefensible and solely responsible for the current antagonisms between the two sides and that Muslims are just defenseless victims. (I probably overstated that last point.) Nonetheless, if you have an interest in this subject, it is not likely you will find a more informed, better written or more balanced and nuanced work on the subject than is here presented, given the current state of world affairs.
The author weaves a good story, which is what the book is all about. Namely, two conflicting cultural and religious narratives which inform and shape many aspects of life. Ansary does a good job depicting a whole tapestry, woven from both religion and culture and the ways in which they interact. He endeavors to retain an almost anthropological degree of objectivity. He provides explanations without necessarily approving of them.
I would recommend this to ANYONE seeking to understand this culture!
This book presented itself as being currently relevant on what the heck is this thing called Islam. Ansary introduces a common sense concept of the West, the East, the Middle and parallel world histories. He states his rationale for the concept and then proceeds to "tell the story" of the Middle while providing handholds and resting points for this citizen of the West. He takes you from year "Zero" and the first revelations to Mohammad. through the glories of the Caliphates, the great Schism, the conquests and empires; the declines in the face of the West's successful application of technology and current petroleum driven return. Ansary states his goal is telling the parallel Islamic story to an interested person. He more than meets that goal.
Tamim Ansary placed me well in the mind-frame of today's Muslim, looking back at nearly 1400 years of proud cultural heritage, and wondering what happened to such a promising place in global development. From the onset, this book challenged my preconceptions of a culture struggling against modernity and an ideology that western civilization is the goal toward which "developing" nations should strive. It defined for me what is Islam and what it means to have one's ancestry in this religion, ideology, and culture.
I found Tamim Ansary approach to helping one understand the Islamic early ideal of moral living very interesting. It makes it clear to understand why western culture know so little of Islamic history. Looking forward to part II.