Until about 1800, the West and the Islamic realm were like two adjacent, parallel universes, each assuming itself to be the center of the world while ignoring the other. As Europeans colonized the globe, the two world histories intersected and the Western narrative drove the other one under. The West hardly noticed, but the Islamic world found the encounter profoundly disrupting.This book reveals the parallel "other" narrative of world history to help us make sense of today's world conflicts. Ansary traces the history of the Muslim world from pre-Mohammedan days through 9/11, introducing people, events, empires, legends, and religious disputes, both in terms of what happened and how it was understood and interpreted.
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History books are frequently dry and factual, even when not written as textbooks, and when they're not, they tend to reveal the author's biases or axes to grind. Tamim Ansary, however, sets out to tell the history of Islam through Islamic eyes, not as an apologetic for Islam that ignores its less edifying historical episodes and its troubled present, nor as a Westerner viewing Islam as, at best, an exotically misunderstood Oriental tradition, and at worst, the religion of terrorists and women-in-burkas.
Tamim Ansary, an Afghan-American, suggests that Islam and the West have for much of history existed in two parallel worlds, only rarely intersecting until the violent last few decades. The Dar-al-Islam, or the entire region that Ansary calls the "Middle World," between the European-dominated West and the Chinese-dominated East, grew, expanded, experienced theological and political revolutions, technological and scientific and literary evolution, and several foreign invasions much more significant than those Crusades that everyone today thinks were the most significant East-West interaction before the modern day.
The vast majority of Muslims, even during the height of the Crusades, simply didn't notice the West, which for most of Islam's early history, was an impoverished backwater land of savage, squabbling kingdoms while the Middle East and North Africa was full of wealth and education and glorious cosmopolitan cities. The Crusaders seized some cities and killed a bunch of people and certainly left some profound historical legacies, but never really materially affected the Islamic world nearly as much as they think they did.
The Mongols, on the other hand... they messed the Islamic world up.
Before listening to this, I vaguely remembered the Ummayads, the Abbasids, the Ottomans, the various Caliphates and Sultanates and Emirates that rose and fell from immediately after Mohammad's death until the 20th century when Muslim nation states began to congeal into more or less their present forms. But Destiny Disrupted tells the entire sweeping epic with a historian's accuracy but a storyteller's verve. You will actually get caught up in the rise and fall of dynasties and the shifting epicenters of Islamic scholarship and Arab-African-and-Persian power, the changes in Islam as it goes from populist movement to institutional social paradigm to bureaucratic theocracy. Islam is a complicated religion, like Christianity, with its sects and schisms and interactions with the power of the state. Yes, to Muslims, religion has never been a separate entity from the state, as it came to be in the West, but still, Islam served the interests of rulers, got coopted by those in power, brought down those in power, caused fragmentation and changes in government according to different factions' understanding of how a proper Islamic state should be run, and so conflicts between clerics and kings did play out in their own way in the Middle East too.
If you want to have more than a superficial understanding of how Sunnis and Shias split off from each other, and why India has been the location of so much Hindu-Muslim conflict, and of course, how the United States went from a modern nation Muslims admired and respected in the early 20th century to the Great Satan it is today (yes, a big part of the reason is Israel, but that's not the whole story, and most of the rest of the reason is oil, but that's still not the whole story), then you will get it here, but as the title indicates, this is a history of the world through Muslim eyes, and so the West really only comes into the picture towards the end. There is a huge amount of history that took place between Europe and China that most Westerners know little or nothing about, and this book will not only tell you about it, but make it interesting.
The author's style is a great asset to this narrative. Ansary is not above tossing in wry commentary now and then, neither sparing Westerners nor Muslims from apt observations about historical hypocrisy and inconvenient truths. Ansary does not take a religious position — he obviously grew up as a Muslim in Afghanistan, but it's not even clear from his website whether he is a practicing Muslim today. So he doesn't try to "sell" Islam (and specifically calls out the historical revisionism of those liberal Muslims who today insist that "jihad" has never "properly" meant violent struggle against infidels — Ansary points out that yes it has, many times in history), but neither will he satisfy those of an anti-Islamic bent who insist that Islam is fundamentally and inherently a religion of violence and oppression and intolerance of unbelievers. Those who say that Muslims are incapable of peaceful, heterogeneous coexistence in societies that value reason and democratic principles ignore the fact that such Muslim societies existed for centuries.
If you are a history buff and are interested in this little-served area of history, then I think you could hardly do better than Destiny Disrupted. You will be truly educated about fourteen centuries of history spanning a huge chunk of the world. It's a really good read.
If you're looking for answers addressing contemporary issues - how Israel came to be and why it's an unending canker sore to Muslims worldwide, the origins of Wahabbism (Osama Bin Laden's brand of Islamic fundamentalism), the roots of the Taliban, how the West came to become the "Great Satan" and what Iran's problem is (and what Afghanistan's problem is, and what Syria's problem is, and what Iraq's problem is, and what Egypt's problem is....) then you'll find those here, mostly in the last few chapters, but this is not primarily a book dissecting modern Islam/Western issues. It's about the whole history of the world that happened before the West was important.
Excellent book, highly recommended, an unreserved 5 stars.
I would also like to single out Tamim Ansary's narration. Usually, an author narrating his own book is not a positive for me. Even great writers are rarely good narrators. But Ansary knows his material and puts all the right humorous and serious tones into his reading, and it really does sound like the author simply sitting there telling you this long historical tale, engagingly and interestingly.
This book is a must read for anyone attempting to understand the central news of our era - the ongoing clash between the Christian and Muslim worlds. This is not a history of the religion of Islam. It's a history of the people, events and society of the Islamic culture that presents a vivid road map of how the world has gotten to the place it is in today. This edition is beautifully narrated by the author himself, told to the reader as if you are sitting in the room with him and he's telling you a story. The effect is to pull you in completely as you listen to the founding of Islam with the life of Muhammad, the bloodbath that is the succession story of the generations that followed and splintered into various factions, the clashes with the Christian West and Mongol East, the impact of Western industrialization and colonialism on the Islamic world and the explanation of how we got to Sept. 11, 2001, the wars in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and the standoff with Iran. The book answers the question of why we are at the place we are in the ongoing clash of the Western world and Islam.