Islam has been one of the most powerful religious, social and political forces in history. Over the last 1400 years, from origins in Arabia, a succession of Muslim polities and later empires expanded to control territories and peoples that ultimately stretched from southern France to East Africa and South East Asia. Yet many of the contributions of Muslim thinkers, scientists and theologians, not to mention rulers, statesmen and soldiers, have been occluded. This book rescues from oblivion and neglect some of these personalities and institutions while offering the reader a new narrative of this lost Islamic history. The Umayyads, Abbasids, and Ottomans feature in the story, as do Muslim Spain, the savannah kingdoms of West Africa and the Mughal Empire, along with the later European colonization of Muslim lands and the development of modern nation-states in the Muslim world. Throughout, the impact of Islamic belief on scientific advancement, social structures, and cultural development is given due prominence, and the text is complemented by portraits of key personalities, inventions and little known historical nuggets. The history of Islam and of the world's Muslims brings together diverse peoples, geographies and states, all interwoven into one narrative that begins with Muhammad and continues to this day.
Few works of history make as well-structured a case for the importance of studying continuity, rather than change, than Albert Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples. Hourani’s work had three major aims: to refute the idea that Arab society stagnated between 1000 and 1800; to study the period through the lens of diverse Arab, rather than Muslim, history; and to stress intellectual and cultural continuity. All of these intentions were the product of the author’s evaluation of a great mass of secondary sources, many of them devoted to arguing for ideas that contradicted his, and it demanded considerable skill to synthesize from them a coherent and well-evidenced counter-argument. Hourani was able to do this largely because his grasp of the relevance and adequacy of his predecessors' arguments was second to none; his achievement lies in his ability to reject the reasoning of other historians while still making good use of their evidence. In this task, he was aided by an interpretative skill almost equal to his powers of evaluation; A History of the Arab Peoples is also a monument to the importance of properly understanding the meaning of available evidence.
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