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A Short History

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-0-307-43131-8
Published by : Modern Library Random House Group
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No religion in the modern world is as feared and misunderstood as Islam. It haunts the popular imagination as an extreme faith that promotes terrorism, authoritarian government, female oppression, and civil war. In a vital revision of this narrow view of Islam and a distillation of years of thinking and writing about the subject, Karen Armstrong’s short history demonstrates that the world’s fastest-growing faith is a much more complex phenomenon than its modern fundamentalist strain might suggest.



The external history of a religious tradition often seems divorced from the raison detre of faith. The spiritual quest is an interior journey; it is a psychic rather than a political drama. It is preoccupied with liturgy, doctrine, contemplative disciplines and an exploration of the heart, not with the clash of current events. Religions certainly have a life outside the soul. Their leaders have to contend with the state and affairs of the world, and often relish doing so. They fight with members of other faiths, who seem to challenge their claim to a monopoly of absolute truth; they also persecute their co-religionists for interpreting a tradition differently or for holding heterodox beliefs. Very often priests, rabbis, imams and shamans are Just as consumed by worldly ambition as regular politicians. But all this is generally seen as an abuse of a sacred ideal. These power struggles are not what religion is really about, but an unworthy distraction from the life of the spirit, which is conducted far from the madding crowd, unseen, silent and unobtrusive. Indeed, in many faiths, monks and mystics lock themselves away from the world, since the clamour and strife of history is regarded as incompatible with a truly religious life.

In the Hindu tradition, history is dismissed as evanescent, unimportant and insubstantial. The philosophers of ancient Greece were concerned with the eternal laws underlying the flux of external events, which could be of no real interest to a serious thinker. In the gospels, Jesus often went out of his way to explain to his followers that his Kingdom was not of this world, but could only be found within the believer. The Kingdom would not arrive with a great political fanfare, but would develop as quietly and imperceptibly as a germinating mustardseed. In the modern West, we have made a point of separating religion from politics; this secularization was originally seen by the philosophes of the Enlightenment as a means of liberating religion from the corruption of state affairs, and allowing it to become more truly itself.

But however spiritual their aspirations, religious people have to seek God or the sacred in this world. They often feel that they have a duty to bring their ideals to bear upon society. Even if they lock themselves away, they are inescapably men and women of their time and are affected by what goes on outside the monastery, although they do not fully realize this. Wars, plagues, famines, economic recession and the internal politics of their nation will intrude upon their cloistered existence and qualify their religious vision. Indeed, the tragedies of history often goad people into the spiritual quest, in order to find some ultimate meaning in what often seems to be a succession of random, arbitrary and dispiriting incidents. There is a symbiotic relationship between history and religion, therefore. It is, as the Buddha remarked, our perception that existence is awry that forces us to find an alternative which will prevent us from falling into despair.

Perhaps the central paradox of the religious life is that it seeks transcendence, a dimension of existence that goes beyond our mundane lives, but that human beings can only experience this transcendent reality in earthly, physical phenomena. People have sensed the divine in rocks, mountains, temple buildings, law codes, written texts, or in other men and women. We never experience transcendence directly: our ecstasy is always "earthed," enshrined in something or someone here below. Religious people are trained to look beneath the unpromising surface to find the sacred within it. They have to use their creative imaginations. Jean-Paul Sartre defined the imagination as the ability to think of what is not present. Human beings are religious creatures because they are imaginative; they are so constituted that they are compelled to search for hidden meaning and to achieve an ecstasy that makes them feel fully alive. Each tradition encourages the faithful to focus their attention on an earthly symbol that is peculiarly its own, and to teach themselves to see the divine in it.

In Islam, Muslims have looked for God in history. Their sacred scripture, the Koran, gave them a historical mission. Their chief duty was to create a just community in which all members, even the most weak and vulnerable, were treated with absolute respect. The experience of building such a society and living in it would give them intimations of the divine, because they would be living in accordance with God's will. A Muslim had to redeem history, and that meant that state affairs were not a distraction from spirituality but the stuff of religion itself The political wellbeing of the Muslim community was a matter of supreme importance. Like any religious ideal, it was almost impossibly difficult to implement in the flawed and tragic conditions of history, but after each failure Muslims had to get up and begin again.

Muslims developed their own rituals, mysticism, philosophy, doctrines, sacred texts, laws and shrines like everybody else. But all these religious pursuits sprang directly from the Muslims' frequently anguished contemplation of the political current affairs of Islamic society. If state institutions did not measure up to the Quranic ideal, if their political leaders were cruel or exploitative, or if their community was humiliated by apparently irreligious enemies, a Muslim could feel that his or her faith in life's ultimate purpose and value was in jeopardy. Every effort had to be expended to put Islamic history back on track, or the whole religious enterprise would fall, and life would be drained of meaning. Politics was, therefore, what Christians would call a sacrament: it was the arena in which Muslims experienced God and which enabled the divine to function effectively in the world. Consequently, the historical trials and tribulations of the Muslim community-- political assassinations, civil wars, invasions, and the rise and fall of the ruling dynasties-were not divorced from the interior religious quest, but were of the essence of the Islamic vision. A Muslim would meditate upon the current events of their time and upon past history as a Christian would contemplate an icon, using the creative imagination to discover the hidden divine kernel. An account of the external history of the Muslim people cannot, therefore be of mere secondary interest, since one of the chief characteristics of Islam has been its sacralization of history.

From the Hardcover edition.
Karen Armstrong

About Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong - Islam

Photo © Michael Lionstar

Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous books on religion, including The Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and The Great Transformation, as well as a memoir, The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. In 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public, crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. It was launched globally in the fall of 2009. Also in 2008, she was awarded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal. In 2013, she received the British Academy’s inaugural Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding.  



“A small gem bristling with insight.” —The Washington Post

“A valuable corrective to the hostile caricatures of Islam that circulate in the English-speaking world. . . . Engaging and provocative.” —The New York Times

“Karen Armstrong, a respected and popular author of several books about religion . . . takes on a useful and formidable task in presenting the history of Islam in a single short volume. As many other such works have been written either by apologists or by those hostile to Islam, Armstrong’s comprehensive and sympathetic work is welcome.” —Los Angeles Times

“In Armstrong’s brisk narrative, the clichés evaporate fast. . . . A book like this is suddenly essential." —Entertainment Weekly
Discussion Questions|Teachers Guide

Discussion Guides

1. In Karen Armstrong’s view, what is the historical mission of Islam? What is the chief duty of Muslims according to the Quran? What is the Islamic notion of salvation?

2. What are the five pillars of Islam? Does Islam place more emphasis on right living or right belief? The community or the individual? In these ways, is it more similar to Christianity or Judaism?

3. At the time of Muhammed, what was the attitude of Islam toward other prophets and religious traditions? How were non-Muslim subjects, or dhimmi, treated in the Islamic empire? How does that treatment compare to what went on in the premodern West?

4. Is Islam a militaristic faith? What does the Quran have to say about just and unjust wars? Given the context of his times, did Muhammed set a particularly violent or nonviolent example?

5. What does the Quran teach about the importance of converting people of other faiths? Does Islam condone coerced conversion? How does its theological stance on conversion compare to the teachings and practices of the other major world religions?

6. What does the Quran have to say about the place of women? How forward or backward-thinking was Muhammed’s treatment of women for his time? What accounts for the persistence of a practice such as female veiling in the modern-day Muslim world?

7. What are the differences between Sunni and Shii Muslims? What were the origins of this split within Islam? Did it have theological underpinnings or was it merely politically motivated?

8. What is the primary meaning of the word jihad? Explain its significance in Islam. How did Muhammed understand it? How do some modern-day fundamentalists understand it?

9. What are the roots of Islamic fundamentalism? How does Islamic fundamentalism compare to fundamentalist movements in other faiths? Are there certain of its precepts that make Islam more prone to religious fanaticism? What historical factors have contributed to anti-Western fundamentalism in Islam?

10. What have been some of the successes and failures of modern-day Islamic nation building? What particular challenges do postcolonial Islamic states face? What has been a common problem with the way secularism has been imposed in the Muslim world?

11. What are some of the greatest challenges facing the Islamic faith today?

12. What are the most common misperceptions about Islam and the Muslim world in the West?

Teacher's Guide


In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, an understanding and appreciation for the history and practice of Islam–the world’s second largest and fastest growing religion–is now more important than ever. Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History provides a vital corrective to prevalent misconceptions and stereotypes about Islamic faith and practice. Succinct but remarkably comprehensive, the book surveys Islamic civilization from its roots in seventh-century Arabia to its contemporary global reach. Diverse and dynamic, Islamic history is marked by spiritual creativity, intellectual exploration, artistic expression, and cultural dialogue. Beginning with the life of the Prophet Muhammad, the book explores the consolidation of the early Muslim community in Medina in the seventh century. Subsequent chapters trace the origins of the split between Shii and Sunni Muslims; the emergence of Islamic law, theology and Sufi mysticism; the spread of Islam throughout North Africa, the Levant, and Asia; the shattering effect on the Muslim world of the Crusades and Mongol invasions; the flowering of imperial Islam in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries into the world’s greatest and most sophisticated power; and the impact of European colonialism and the origins of revolutionary Islam. The book concludes with an assessment of Islam today and the challenges now facing the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims in the wake of 9/11.



Karen Armstrong is one of the world’s foremost scholars on religious affairs. She is the author of several best selling books, including The Battle for God, Jerusalem, The History of God and Through the Narrow Gate, a memoir of her seven years as a nun. She lives in London.


Robert Rozehnal is a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic Studies at Duke University. He holds an M.A. in South Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has studied and traveled extensively in Asia and the Muslim world. His dissertation research examines how a contemporary Sufi order has repositioned its spiritual legacy to accommodate the multiple challenges posed by Pakistani politics and global forces, especially since September 11, 2001.




Beginnings surveys the life and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632) and the foundations of the Muslim ummah, or community of believers. Spiritual visionary, businessman, family man, military commander and statesman, Muhammad was an Arab prophet with a universal message. As the bedrock of Islamic piety and practice, the sacred book revealed to him, the Quran, teaches unity, equality, social justice and faith in the One God, Allah. In 622, Muhammad and his followers left their homes in Mecca to proclaim their own community of faith in the city of Medina. This pivotal event, the hijrah, marks the start of the Muslim era. From these humble beginnings, Islam spread with astonishing speed throughout the Arabian peninsula and into the lands of the moribund empires of Byzantium and Persia under the guidance of the rashidun, the four “rightly guided” successors to the Prophet: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali. After Muhammad’s death, however, leadership of the rapidly expanding Islamic empire was hotly contested. With the murder of the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, in 661, the ummah plunged into a period of civil war (fitnah). As Islam moved onto the world stage, factional struggles over the mantle of religious authenticity and political authority continued, creating a schism that persists even today.

Comprehension Questions:

1) Who was Muhammad, where and when did he live, and what was his message?
2) What is the Quran, how was it revealed and what are its basic teachings?
3) When was the hijrah, and what is its significance for Muslims?
4) In what ways does Islam resemble Christianity and Judaism? How did the early Muslim community interact with other faiths?
5) Who were the rashidun, and what were the causes and consequences of the first fitnah?
6) In the West, Islam has frequently been characterized as a "religion of the sword." To what extent were the early Islamic conquests "religious"? What were the motives for the expansion of empire, and what new challenges did the ummah face in moving beyond the confines of the Arabian peninsula?

Teaching Ideas:

1) The Quran: Divide students into groups and have them explore the sacred text by themes (God, acts of worship, women, social justice, etc). Webpages and CD recordings can add elements of sight and sound to these projects.
2) The Prophet Muhammad: Have students present research on multiple dimensions of the Prophet’s biography and the impact of his life and legacy on everyday Muslims, past and present. Examples of poetry and music from various Muslim cultures can add depth to the presentations.
3) The Hajj: Using maps, photographs and the Web, examine the history and meaning of the ritual practices of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Beyond the Book:

Islamic faith and practice on the Web: Have students explore Islam’s dynamic and varied presence on the internet and then present their findings in class presentations or as critical Web reviews of selected sites.



Development explores the consolidation of the Islamic empire, the rise of absolute monarchies and the codification of religious orthodoxy. The Umayyad dynasty (661-750) with its capital in Damascus restored order and expanded Muslim power, but it also exacerbated internal sectarian divisions. For Shii Muslims, the massacre of the Prophet’s grandson, Husain, and his family on the plain of Kerbala in 680 became an enduring symbol of betrayal and injustice. Umayyad power was soon eclipsed by the meteoric rise of Abbasid dynasty (750-1258) which reached its zenith under the rule of Harun al-Rashid (786-809). From his magnificent capital in Baghdad, the Caliph oversaw a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Challenging the political monopoly of the Caliphate, Muslim scholars (ulama) actively debated the parameters of piety and politics, eventually forming a distinct class. As the arbiters of religious orthodoxy, the ulama codified a religious law (Shariah) grounded on the Quran and hadith, the traditions about the Prophet Muhammad. At the same time, other groups pursued more esoteric forms of knowledge: from the Jafari madhhab (school of law) of the Twelver Shiis, to the rationalist philosophers of falsafah and the mystical orders of the Sufis. All told, it was a time of remarkable intellectual and cultural efflorescence.

Comprehension Questions:

1) Where is Kerbala and what is its significance for Shii Muslims?
2) Who was Harun al-Rashid and how was the Abbasid state organized?
3) Who are the ulama and what was their traditional role in Islamic society?
4) What are the basic teachings of the Twelver Shiis and how do they differ from the Ismailis?
5) Who are the Sufis? What are their teachings and practices, and what was their relation to the ulama and the Caliphs?
6) Was the rise of absolute monarchy under the caliphate compatible with the worldview of the Quran? What was the relationship between political and religious power under the Abbasids?

Teaching Ideas:

1) Mapping Empires: Have students create colored maps and historical timelines of the early Muslim conquests.
2) Sunni vs. Shii: Divide students into groups to research or debate the history and beliefs of Islam’s two sectarian communities. Where do Sunnis and Shiis live? What are their respective beliefs and what is the root of their conflict? Who are some of the key historical figures for each community?
3) The Ulama: How are Muslim scholars trained? What are the four schools of law? What are the foundations of Shariah and how is it put into practice? Have students research these questions and present their findings to the class or in writing.

Beyond the Book:

Great Muslim Minds: Have students explore the life and times of famous Muslim scholars, scientists and mystics (al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Ibn Rushd, Rabiah, al-Hallaj).



Culmination examines the dissolution of Abbasid hegemony, and the rise of local military rulers (amirs). While the Caliphs maintained important symbolic authority, a host of regional powers–the Shii Fatimid dynasty in North Africa, the Ghaznavids in eastern Iran and northern India, the Seljuk Empire in the Fertile Crescent–established autonomous dynasties. Amid these centrifugal forces, it was the ulama who held these scattered military regimes together. With the founding of the prestigious Nizamiyyah madrasah (college for the study of Islamic sciences) in 1067, the Seljuks cemented the independent power of the ulama. At the same time, Sufi brotherhoods (tariqahs) gained widespread popular support. The synthesis of Sufism and Sharia is embodied in the figure of the famous scholar, Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazzali (d. 1111). At the height of this period of cultural fermentation, foreign invaders appeared on the horizon. In July 1099, the Christian Crusaders from Western Europe attacked Jerusalem, sending shockwaves throughout Islamdom. In the thirteenth century, a far more dangerous threat came from the east as the Mongol chieftain Genghis Khan unleashed his war machine on Muslim lands in a quest for world domination. Muslim responses to the widespread devastation were varied: from the ecstatic mysticism of the Persian Sufi Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273), to the conservative reformism of Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328).

Comprehension Questions:

1) How did the Islamic empire change during the tenth century? What were the important regional dynasties, and how did they interact with the Abbasid caliphate?
2) During this period, what was the relationship between the ulama and the amirs?
3) Who was al-Ghazzali, and why is he considered one of the giants of Islamic history?
4) What impact did the Crusades and the Mongol invasions have on the Muslim world?
5) Who was Jalal ud-Din Rumi? How did his teachings differ from those of Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah?
6) What was the role of merchants and traders in Islam’s expansion into sub-Saharan Africa and throughout Asia? How was Islam able to adapt to such varied cultural settings and what was its appeal for such a diverse range of peoples?

Teaching Ideas:

1) The Crusades: Have students report on the history and legacy of the Christian Crusades through maps and stories.
2) The Mongols: Examine Mongol society (social organization, warfare, the range of Genghis Khan’s empire) and the impact of the devastating conquests on Islamdom.
3) Sufism: Using the myriad resources on the Web, have students report on the ritual practices, teachings and poetry of Sufi masters like Ibn al-Arabi and Jalal ud-Din Rumi.

Beyond the Book:

Regional Dynasties: In order to trace the geographical spread and cultural diversity of Islamdom, divide students into groups and have them create maps and present reports on the regional dynasties of the tenth century: the Umayyads of Spain, Fatimids, Seljuks, Mamluks, and Ghaznavids.



Islam Triumphant focuses on the return of absolute monarchy under three Islamic gunpowder empires: the Safavids, Moghals and Ottomans. In Iran, Shah Abbas I (d. 1629) transformed the Safavids from a fledging Sufi order into a powerful Shii state, suppressing the Sufi tariqahs and decimating the ulama in a concerted struggle (jihad) against Sunni Islam. From their majestic capital in Isfahan, the Safavids expanded their empire while patronizing artists and scholars. The mystical philosopher, Mulla Sadra (d. 1640) embodied the ethos of the age, calling for the unity of political reform and spirituality. In South Asia, the Moghals ruled an efficient and expansive dynasty within the heartland of Hinduism. Under Akbar (d. 1605), a unique cultural synthesis produced novel institutions and glorious architectural monuments. Conservative scholars like Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1625), however, condemned Akbar’s universalism and called for a return to the dictates of Shariah–a reformist zeal that was transformed into state ideology during the reign of Aurengzebe (d. 1707). At its height, the Ottoman Empire stretched from the Fertile Crescent to the doorstep of Europe. From the capital of Istanbul, Suleiman the Magnificent (d. 1666) expanded the Ottoman borders, bolstered by a vast ulama bureaucracy and a highly efficient army led by an elite corps of slave soldiers, the Janissaries. Centralized, bureaucratized and militarized, the age of Imperial Islam (16th-18th century) marked the apex of Muslim political power, sanctioned by Shariah.

Comprehension Questions:

1) What were the boundaries of the Safavid, Moghal and Ottoman empires? What was the relationship between political and religious power in these empires?
2) How did the Safavids integrate Shii doctrine into their state ideology and institutions?
3) Who was Akbar and what were his policies? How did other Muslims respond to his legacy?
4) Who was Suleiman the Magnificent and what is he famous for?
5) Who was Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and what reforms did he advocate?
6) What were the internal and external causes of decline for these three great Islamic empires during the eighteenth century?

Teaching Ideas:

1) Safavids: Have students organize a range of reports surveying the Safavid’s political, social, economic, and artistic accomplishments. A multi-media tour of the city of Isfahan, for example, would bring Safavid culture to life.
2) Moghals: Create a dialogue or debate between Akbar and Aurangzebe. How did each of these Moghal emperors define Islamic orthodoxy? How did each of them interact with the majority Hindu communities of South Asia?
3) Ottomans: Drawing on the Web, create a multi-media collage of the artistic legacy of Suleiman the Magnificent: music, painting, calligraphy, the mosques of Istanbul.

Beyond the Book:

(Mis)understanding Islam: Exploring Orientalist novels, travelogues, and paintings, have students research how Europeans viewed Islam and Muslims in the age of empire.



Islam Agonistes considers the profound impact of colonization and, along with it, the ideology and institutions of modernity on the Muslim world. Technologically advanced and militarily superior, the West’s ambitions presented a new and unprecedented challenge to Islam. In the face of European hegemony, Muslims turned inward, reflecting on their own history for answers to this crisis of identity. The ulama, for the most part, became increasingly insular, falling back on their traditions of piety and learning even as they were stripped of power and prestige. Others, however, argued that the times demanded a more proactive response. Inspired by the outspoken Iranian activist, Jamal al-Din al Afghani (d. 1897), the Egyptian thinkers Muhammad Abdu (d. 1905) and Rashid Rida (d. 1935) called for the modernization of Islamic educational, political and legal institutions. Islamic fundamentalism (usuliyyah), by contrast, viewed the West as morally bankrupt, the abode of barbarism and ignorance (jahiliyya). From the Sunni ideologues Mawdudi (d. 1941) and Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966) to the Shii revolutionary leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (d. 1989), fundamentalists resisted the secularist exclusion of the divine from public life. Rejecting nationalism, they called for the strict implementation of Shariah and the creation of an Islamic state. During their short-lived reign in Afghanistan, the Taliban embraced an extremist version of this activist ideology.

Comprehension Questions:

1) What factors led to the rise of modernity in the West during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?
2) How did European colonialism impact the Islamic world?
3) Who was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and what impact did he have on Islamic modernists?
4) How do Islamic fundamentalists view the West, and how do they propose to reform Islamic society?
5) How does the model of the secular European nation-state compare and contrast with the ideal of the Muslim ummah? Is Islam compatible with democracy? Are there alternative paradigms for political reform more in keeping with Islamic traditions?

Teaching Ideas:

1) Colonialism: Have students create maps and historical timelines to trace the spread and impact of European colonialism throughout the Muslim world.
2) Islam and Modernity: Have students examine how various Muslim groups (ulama, modernists, fundamentalists) have responded to the challenges of modernity and then present their research in class presentations or debates.
3) Women and the Veil: Drawing on multiple resources–the Quran, Web pages, the writings of Muslim women–have students examine the longstanding debates over gender. What does the Quran say about women’s rights and responsibilities? What is the history of the practice of veiling? What is the role of women in various Muslim countries today?

Beyond the Book:

The Contemporary Muslim World: In order to document the immense changes in the Muslim world in the twentieth century, have students create maps and reports on modern Muslim countries. What new Muslim nations emerged after World War II? What are the current demographics and cultural characteristics of these countries? What are some of the issues that both divide and unite the modern Muslim world?



9/11, 2001 may prove to be the defining event for today’s generation of students, and quite possibly for tomorrow’s as well. Its legacy is likely to permanently reconfigure the geo-political landscape, alter global security arrangements, redefine foreign policy, and test society’s commitment to freedom and civil liberties. Since 9/11, Islam has fallen under an intense and unrelenting mass media spotlight. With rare exception, the modern Muslim world is portrayed as a fossilized monolith: Arab, patriarchal, rigid, militant and utterly at odds with modernity. In the eyes of many, Islam and the West are on a perilous collision course. The Postscript critiques these prevalent misconceptions while raising serious questions about the consequences of 9/11 for all of us. Across the globe, the vast majority of Muslims have responded to the September apocalypse with horror and disgust. The terrorist attacks carried out by the radical followers of Osama bin Laden are seen as a violation of the most sacred tenets of the faith. In the wake of 9/11 the challenge now for Muslims and non-Muslims alike is to search for common ground. In this global age of shrinking boundaries we must foster mutual understanding and open dialogue if we are to avoid a future of endemic bigotry, injustice and violence.

Comprehension Questions:

1) Who is Osama bin Laden, and how do he and his followers justify the attacks of 9/11?
2) How did the majority of Muslims respond to the terrorist acts of 9/11?
3) What do the Quran and the Shariah say about jihad and violence?
4) How have Muslims been treated in Western countries in the wake of 9/11?
5) What can be done to promote understanding and education about Islam and the Muslim world?
6) Today Islam is demographically an Asian religion. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, followed by Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. In what ways does Islam in Asia confound prevalent stereotypes about the Muslim world? What are the implications of 9/11 for Asia’s diverse Muslim communities?

Teaching Ideas:

1) Muslim Responses to 9/11: Have students document the range of Muslim responses to the events of September 11 to consider the key issues and concerns for Muslims today.
2) Current Events: Using Web pages, newspapers, and magazines, have students survey the mass media coverage of hotspots in the modern Muslim world (the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the ongoing struggle over Kashmir between India and Pakistan, the continued crisis in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc). What are the key issues for Muslims in these places? How does the reporting of these events differ in America, Europe, and the Muslim world?
3) Terrorism: Divide students into groups to debate key issues. How (and by whom) is terrorism defined? What are its root causes? How is religion used to justify acts of violence? What can be done to prevent future attacks? What are the implications for security and civil liberties?

Beyond the Book:

1) Afghanistan: Have students create maps, historical timelines, and reports to survey a range of topics on the history and culture of Afghanistan: the colonial Great Game of Britain and Russia; the Afghan war of the 1980s; the rise and fall of the Taliban; the current state of affairs in the war-ravished country.
2) Islam in the West: Have students research and report on the growing Islamic presence in Western countries. Beyond the resources of the Internet and CD-ROMs, arrange a class visit to a local mosque or organize a series of guest lectures from local Muslim leaders.



Frontline: Muslims (PBS Home Video)

Islam: Empire of Faith. (PBS Home Video)


On Common Ground: World Religions in America by Diana Eck (Columbia University Press)


Resources for Teachers: http://menic.utexas.edu/menic/Education/K12_Resources/

Islamic Faith and Practice: www.islamicity.com

Muslim Responses to 9/11: http://groups.colgate.edu/aarislam/response.htm

Sufism: www.arches.uga.edu/~godlas/Sufism.html



Cleary, Thomas. The Essential Koran: The Heart of Islam. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994.

Sells, Michael. Approaching The Quran: The Early Revelations. Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press, 1999.

Islamic History, Faith and Practice:

Armstrong, Karen. The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism. New York: Ballantine, 2001.

_____. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. New York: Ballantine, 1994.

_____. Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today's World. New York: Anchor Books, 2001.

Maalouf, Amin. Crusades Through Arab Eyes. New York: New York: Schocken, 1989.

Renard, John. Seven Doors to Islam: Spirituality and the Religious Life of Muslims. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

_____, (ed.). Windows on the House of Islam: Muslim Sources on Spirituality and Religious Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Sufism (Islamic Mysticism):

Barks, Coleman. The Essential Rumi. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1995.

Ernst, Carl W. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism. Boston: Shambhala, 1997.

_____, (ed.). Teachings of Sufism. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.

Women in Islam:

Barlas, Asma. “Believing Women” in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Quran. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Fernea, Elizabeth Warnock. In Search of Islamic Feminism. New York: Anchor Books, 1998.

Wadud, Amina: Quran and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text From a Woman’s Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Contemporary Islam:

Belt, Don, (ed.). The World of Islam. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2001.

Esposito, John L. and John O. Voll (eds.). Makers of Contemporary Islam. New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 2002.

Feener, Michael, (ed.). Religions in Contemporary Societies: Islam. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, (forthcoming).

Kurzman, Charles. Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Lawrence, Bruce B. Shattering the Myth: Islam Beyond Violence. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia. London: I.B. Taurus, 2000.

Said, Edward. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. New York: Vintage, 1997.


Mahfouz, Naguib. The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2001.

Munif, Abdelrahman. Cities of Salt. New York: Vintage, 1989.

Pamuk, Orhan. The White Castle: A Novel. New York: Vintage, 1998.

_____. My Name Is Red. New York: Vintage, 2002.


Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History offers a window on one of the world’s most vibrant (and misunderstood) religious traditions. This guide serves as a roadmap, providing teachers with thematic signposts to mark the twists and turns of 1400 years of Islamic history. While no substitute for reading the book, the Summaries highlight the key historical figures and major themes of each chapter. The Comprehension Questions are meant to facilitate class discussions. They may also be used as essay topics or simply to quiz students for close and attentive reading. Teaching Ideas offer suggestions for research projects and class presentations designed to deepen students’ understanding and engage their imaginations. The Beyond the Book sections give students further food for thought on relevant issues and ideas beyond the purview of the book. Other Resources provides a variety of additional sources that teachers may find useful, including films, webpages and books. Collectively, these materials and exercises are intended to encourage students to think critically and creatively about Islam’s past, present, and future.

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