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Islam summary

Karen Armstrong

A Short History

4.3 (235 ratings)
32 mins

Brief summary

Islam by Karen Armstrong is a comprehensive introduction to the history and theology of Islam. It explores the religion's origins, beliefs, and practices, while dispelling common myths and misconceptions associated with it.

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    Islam is a religion uniquely concerned with creating a just society in this world.

    What is religion? Well, it usually has two sides. On the one hand, there’s spirituality – a search for transcendence. Though believers might wish to withdraw from the world, a purely personal faith usually remains beyond reach. Religions also have an “external history,” in which they’re forced to confront the harsh realities of power politics.

    All religions take part in the global battle for survival and expansion, but most regard this struggle as a necessary evil that corrupts their sacred ideal. Take Hinduism. It regards historical events as meaningless compared to the eternal truths of faith. Christianity has a similar view. That’s why Jesus reminded his followers that the Kingdom of God wasn’t a blueprint for a new society in this world, but a metaphor for personal salvation. Even the Enlightenment philosophers who argued for the separation of church and state didn’t want to banish religion from public life. Rather, they sought to protect it from political rivalries. Belief, they thought, was a personal matter too important to be dragged into everyday conflicts.

    That said, every religion is a product of its time. After all, people usually turn to faith because they feel that the present is unjust. But transcendence is only possible by learning to see the divine in this world. This is what the author terms “earthing.” That’s another way of saying that real objects can become gateways to the ultimate truth. To understand this, just think of the role sacred rocks, temples, holy images and texts play in the great religions. These are earthly symbols through which the faithful encounter the divine.

    Islam, unlike Christianity or Hinduism, doesn’t have religious icons. The symbols that really matter are the deeds of Muslims in this world. For Muslims, making history is a way of experiencing divinity. Islam is thus a uniquely political faith. Its highest aim is to create a just society in the here and now, and political action to achieve that ideal is seen as a kind of sacrament imparting spiritual grace.

    That means Islam’s “internal” and “external” sides can’t be separated. To understand the religion, one has to grapple with its historical development, which is exactly what we’ll be doing in the following blinks.

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    What is Islam about?

    Islam: A Short History (2000) charts the meteoric rise of Islam from its birth as a small sect in seventh-century Arabia to a global religion with just under two billion followers. What makes Islam unique among faiths, Karen Armstrong argues, are its refusal to postpone justice to the next world and quest to create the perfect society in the here and now. She follows this thread in her fascinating tour of 1,500 years of Islamic history.

    Islam Review

    Islam by Karen Armstrong (2000) provides a comprehensive understanding of the Islamic faith and why it is crucial for readers to explore its teachings. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers a balanced exploration of the history, traditions, and values of Islam, allowing readers to gain a deeper appreciation for the religion's complexity.
    • The book dispels misconceptions by addressing common stereotypes and myths, providing a more accurate and nuanced view of Islam and its diverse followers.
    • Through engaging analysis and insightful explanations, the book allows readers to develop a richer understanding of the vast impact of Islam on world history and culture.

    Best quote from Islam

    One of the chief characteristics of Islam has been its sacralization of history.

    —Karen Armstrong
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    Who should read Islam?

    • Believers and non-believers
    • History and politics buffs
    • Whoever seeks to understand Islam is beyond the headlines

    About the Author

    Karen Armstrong spent seven years as a Catholic nun before becoming one of the most highly regarded experts writing on the history of major world religions today. She is the author of the bestselling A History of God as well as Jerusalem, The Battle for God, Buddha and Through the Narrow Gate. Armstrong currently teaches at the Leo Baeck College in London.

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    Islam FAQs 

    What is the main message of Islam?

    The main message of Islam is advocating for compassion, justice, and the pursuit of spiritual growth.

    How long does it take to read Islam?

    The reading time for Islam varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Islam a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Islam is worth reading as it offers insights into the history, beliefs, and practices of one of the world's major religions, promoting religious tolerance and understanding.

    Who is the author of Islam?

    The author of Islam is Karen Armstrong.

    What to read after Islam?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Islam, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • A History of God by Karen Armstrong
    • Why I Am a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor
    • What Is the Bible? by Rob Bell
    • The First Muslim by Lesley Hazleton
    • Secrets of Divine Love by A. Helwa
    • Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton
    • How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes
    • 13 Things Mentally Strong Couples Don't Do by Amy Morin
    • Mythology by Edith Hamilton
    • Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin