By Shamsudden Sani
Author: Tamim Ansary
Date of publication 2019
My observations do not serve as a book review in any way.
This book is a rich compendium of Islamic history that chronicles important events in a highly descriptive manner atypical of the regular history books we know. It explains major roadblocks and snippets in Islamic history starting from the Pre-Islamic era through the history of the prophet Mohammad (SAW) down to the modern times. It has a very lucid introduction-please do not skip it-which attempts to shine you the background light to the multi layered events, most of which are turbulent, that characterized Islamic history.
Personally, I highly recommend this book to folks who know little about Islamic history but keen to learn from an informed perspective devoid of primordial prejudices and biases. It opens a wide doorway for someone to be immersed in the world of Islamic history.
What I really like about the book is the writing style making it look like a novel. Tamim Ansary will take you along with him through the historic aha moments of Islamic history and make you feel as if you were truly there. Reading about the cringe worthy details of the Mongols invasion, for example, I almost felt as if I had already lived and survived that defining milestone.
Beautifully written in a very simple language, this book gives you the leverage to align with the side of Islamic history of your choice. It is noteworthy that, the author is an American Afghan who emigrated to the US in the 1970s and probably a muslim too. It was difficult for me to ascertain where Tamim belongs to from the Islamic sectarian perspective as he seems to be everywhere in trying to narrate the history.
This book might not be for you if you hate surprises and probably have a biased mindset about Islamic past and still want to live with the history painted by your Sheikhs.
One important area missing in the book is the little time spent dwelling on the major events during the Abbasid era such as the Baitul Hikma and all the tremendous progress made through the Islamic Golden age in sciences. If you need more about it then you probably have to consult another book I recently read called ‘The House of Wisdom: how Arabic Science saved ancient knowledge and gave us renaissance’ by the Arab-English and Baghdad born, unrepentant atheist Jim Al-khalili.
Another shortcoming of the book, in my opinion is the lack of treatise of an important milestone in the Islamic exegesis. This has to do with the advent of the 4 juristic schools in Islam, viz Hanafy, Maliki, Hanbaly and Shafii.
Overall, this is a great book in our chaotic era of social media where everyone seems to be his own sheikh but without solid background in Islamic history. Personally, this book deserves a 4 star out of 5.