Karen Armstrong's history of Islam reads like a fairy tale, and that's the problem. One senses that the Islam she presents is not the one readily accepted by most Muslims. Often speaking of the original spirit or intent of the religion, Armstrong leaves this reader/listener is left wondering how she knows what runs contrary to early Islamic belief or what complements the original spirit of Islam. It would have been nice to have the book before me, but it does not appear that she allows the sources to speak for themselves. Instead, the reader/listener is confronted with a series of generalizations and overstatements, particularly concerning Mohammed.
The apologetic tone of the book is frustrating. If Muslims are attacked, they are victims. If Muslims make war, they felt threatened. Not that the author defends aggression by any group, but she seems to slant history in favor of Muslims. Some of her assertions about Mohammed are extraordinary, particularly that he "single-handedly" ended the system of reprisals and vendettas in Arabia (Mohammed led reprisals and vendettas! and they seem to continue after his death).
She frames the story of Islam in the context of modernity, which is interesting and worth examining more closely. She sees the conflict between the West and Islam as being one between a modern society and an agrarian culture unable to keep pace.
The overall thesis of her book, that Islam is not an inherently intolerant religion, is, however, compelling. Islam is often presented as a wholly intolerant religion--which may be true in very many instances, but not comprehensively.
It would be interesting to read a Muslim response to her many assertions. (I don't know what religious persuasion Armstrong is, but she appears to be very liberal.)
My one complaint is that the text is abridged. The reading is excellent, superior to another unabridged recording at Audible. Having read the complete text, I note that the abridgement is faithful to Augustine's Confessions. Listening to the text is a very profound experience. I found myself often looking up passages to review the narrative, and enjoying the experience. Highly recommended.
This is a thrilling story, and quite engaging. This tale centers more on justice than mystery, though mystery is constant throughout. The characters are interesting, and though the ending is somewhat predicable, the novel is compelling. A good read.
Max McLean's narration captures the cadence of the English Standard Version nicely. The recording is not overly dramatic, and the reading is crisp and engaging. There are points where the method of narration offers an interpretation, which had me thinking, "Is that how those particular words might have been spoken?" However, the narrator never infringes on the meaning. The pronunciation of place names and biblical figures is creditable, though the pronunciation of some common words seems foreign (once I accepted the narrators style, I got past that quickly). I've listened to long portions of this translation (two and three hours at a spell) and listening to the Bible spoken enlivens the text.
As for the translation, the ESV is a good, conservative translation which compares favorably with the New International Version or the Revised Standard Version (the ESV revises the latter). The audio recording provides good instruction on how to read the ESV. Highly recommended.
Given the current political situation in the Muslim world, it's important for westerners to learn about the prophet Muhammad and the origins of Islam. This book presents a clear, concise account of the prophet and his religion, while stimulating thought--and, hopefully, discussion on the topic. Makes for good, interesting listening.
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