Islam in Historical Perspective

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Nonspecific Binding
  • Copyright: 2010-12-30
  • Publisher: Routledge

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Islam in Historical Perspective, 1st Edition, organically integrates the history of Islamic societies with a discussion of how Muslim scriptures, laws, moral values and myths have shaped the lives and thought of individual Muslims and various Muslim communities from the rise of Islam until today. It provides readers with little or no prior knowledge of Islam and Islamic societies with a large body of carefully selected historical and scriptural evidence that enables them to form a comprehensive and balanced vision of Islam's evolution from its inception up to the present day. This book shows how Muslims have made sense of their life experiences by constantly interpreting and re-interpreting Islam's foundational ideas in accordance with ever-changing social and political conditions. In addition to its combined historical and chronological approach, Islam in Historical Perspective offers in-depth discussions of intellectual dialogues and struggles within the Islamic tradition. The author shows Islam to be a social and political force, while also addressing Muslim devotional practices, artistic creativity and structures of everyday life. The goal of this book is to help readers to develop personal empathy and enthusiasm for the subject of their study, which is absolutely essential for the success of any college course in the humanities. To enliven the narrative, the author provides a wealth of historical anecdotes and quotations from original sources that are designed to illustrate his principal points in a memorable, striking and entertaining way. way.

Author Biography

In This Section:


I. Author Bio

II. Author Letter



I. Author Bio


Alexander (Sasha) Knysh was trained as an Arabist and historian of the Islamic Middle East in the former Soviet Union. He combines expertise in Arabic literature (both pre-modern and modern) with the knowledge of the history, religions, and cultures of the Middle East and Eurasia. He has been teaching and conducting research in  these fields of academic endeavor over the past  thirty years. In 1994, Professor Knysh joined the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan as an Assistant Professor. In 1998, he was promoted to the rank of Professor of Islamic Studies. From 1998 until 2004, he served as chair of the department. In 1997-1998, he held the Sharjah Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Arabic and Middle East Studies, University of Exeter, UK. Although this was a permanent academic appointment, he chose to return to Michigan after one year in England.

More recently, Prof. Knysh has been working on several academic projects, including   the history of Islam in Yemen and a study of the changing representations of Islam and the Muslims in Russian academic and popular discourses and mass media following the collapse of the former Soviet Union. His latest project, "Islam and Empire in the Northern Caucasus," explores the history and ideological underpinnings of Muslim resistance to the Russian conquest and subsequent domination of the North Caucasus in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Simultaneously, he continues to pursue his longstanding interest in the history of Sufi movements and thought in Islam; thus, he currently serves as the section editor for “Sufism” on the Editorial Board of the Encyclopedia of Islam (3rd edition), E.J. Brill, Leiden, the Netherlands.


Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/alexander.knysh1 

Personal Webpage: http://www.umich.edu/~neareast/faculty/knysh.htm




II. Author Letter


Dear Colleague,


Islam in Historical Perspective is written in response to the requests of my former students, who wanted to see my numerous lectures and seminars on Islam and Muslim societies systematized and collected under one cover. Some of these students have since themselves become teachers and scholars of Islam and are in need of a general introduction to Islam that would be both historical and topical. However, while writing this book,

I envisioned a much broader audience than just college teachers and their students. I address my book to everyone who seeks to acquire a historically and factually grounded understanding of Islam and the experiences and aspirations of its practitioners.


Contrary to what the book’s title might suggest to an outsider, its principal character is Muslims, not the rather nebulous abstraction called "Islam." I demonstrate how they have made sense of their daily experiences by constantly (re-)interpreting and (re-)adjusting the foundational ideas of their religion in response to ever-changing social, political and economic conditions of their lives. Combining historical and topical approaches, Islam in Historical Perspective offers a concise account of the pivotal moments in the history of Islamic societies, while also addressing dialogues and struggles within the extraordinary rich and variegated Muslim intellectual tradition. I show Islam to be a powerful social, political and intellectual force, while at the same time exploring Muslim devotional practices, artistic creativity and structures of everyday life.


The goal of my book is to help readers to develop personal empathy and enthusiasm for the subject of their study (Islam and the Muslims), which is absolutely indispensible for the success of any college course in the humanities and social sciences. The same applies for any individual seeking knowledge of this subject. To enliven my narrative, I have availed myself of a wealth of historical anecdotes and quotations from original sources that illustrate in a memorable, striking and entertaining way the principal points of my historical survey of Islam and Muslim societies.


As any author, I am anxious to receive feedback from anyone reviewing, teaching or studying this book. Suggestions for improvements are particularly welcome and appreciated. My email is alknysh@umich.edu.


Very truly yours,


Alexander Knysh


University of Michigan — Ann Arbor




Table of Contents

Islam in Historical Perspective, 1st Edition
What is Islam?
Multiplicity of Approaches to the Study of Islam
Islam as an Object of Interpretation and Source of Meaning
Arabia: The Cradle of Islam
The Arabs
Mecca: A Center of Arabian Trade
Bedouin Lifestyle
Social Structures
Raiding and Warfare
Mecca, the Center of Pagan Religion
Other Religious Communities of Arabia
Conclusions and Food for Thought
Muhammad and the Beginnings of Islam: The Making of the Muslim Community
Muhammad's Background and Early Life
The First Revelations
Muhammad's Public Preaching and Opposition to It
Migration (hijra)and the Formation of the Islamic umma
Muhammad as Political and Religious Leader and Private Individual
The Battle of Uhud
The Battle of the Ditch
Muhammad and the Bedouin Tribes of Arabia
The Conquest of Mecca and Beyond
Conclusion and Questions to Ponder On
After Muhammad: The Rightly-Guided Caliphs and the Arab Conquests
The Arab Conquests Under 'Umar
The Conquest of Syria and Palestine
The Conquest of Iraq
The Conquest of Egypt
The Death of 'Umar and the Succession of 'Uthman
The Murder of 'Uthman, thefitna
Wars, and the Rise and Consolidation of the Umayyad Dynasty
"Orthodoxy" and "Heresy" in Early Islam: Who's "Right" and Who's "Wrong"?
The Election of 'Uthman
Grievances Against 'Uthman
The Accession of 'Ali and the Battle of the Camel
The Contest Between 'Ali and Mu'awiyya
The Battle of Siffin
The Kharijites
The Last Years of 'Ali's Caliphate
Mu'awiyya Becomes Caliph
Death of Mu'awiyya, the Accession of Yazid, and the Tragedy at Kerbela
The Caliphate of 'Abdallah b. al-Zubayr
The Rebellion of al- Mukhtar
The End of 'Abdallah b. al-Zubayr's Caliphate and the Triumph of the Marwanids
The Consolidation of Umayyad Power Under 'Abd al-Malik and His Successors
Food for Thought
The Principal Sources of Islam: The Qur'an
The Qur'an as Revelation and Sacred Book
The Name and Structure
The Language of the Qur'an
The Collection of the Qur'an
The Central Themes of the Qur'an: God
The Judgment Day, Paradise and Hell
The Prophetic
Hadith and Sunna and the Emergence of the Shari'a
Hadith as the Muslim Gospel?
The Importance of Hadith
The Types of Hadith
The Science of Hadith
The Collection and Writing Down of Hadith
The Six Sunni Hadith
The Shi'ite Hadith
Hadith Qudsi
The Emergence of the Shari'a
The First Divisions Within the Community and the Problem of the Just Ruler
Opposition to the Umayyads
The Rise of the Mawali
The Kharijites
'Ali's Party
The Uneasy Loyalists
Some Early Theological Concepts
The 'Abbasid Revolution and Beyond
The Ideological Underpinnings
The Sources of Discontent
The Turn of the Wheel: The 'Abbasid Propaganda and the Beginning of the Third Fitna
The Triumph of the 'Abbasid Cause
The Consolidation of 'Abbasid Power
The Re-Articulation of the Doctrine of the Imamate
The 'Abbasid Empire at Its Prime
Food for Thought
Islamic Scholarship under the 'Abbasids: The Rise and Development of the Schools of Law
General Introduction
Major Stages of the Evolution of Islamic Legal Thought
The Qur'anic Roots of Islamic Law
Qur'anic Legislation Pertaining to Marriage, Divorce and Inheritance
Qur'anic Punishments of Homicide
Fiqh, the Fuqaha', Muftis and Judges
The Abrogation Theory
The Qur'anic Injunctions that are Not in the Qur'an
The Formation of the Regional Schools of Law
Muhammad al-Shafi'i and the Crystallization of Islamic Legal Theory
The Four Roots of Islamic Jurisprudence
Later Developments
Parallel Systems of Justice Under the 'Abbasids
Islamic Scholarship Under the 'Abbasids: Theological Debates and Schools of Thought
The Qur'an as the Foundation of Islamic Faith and Cult and an Object of Disputation
The Beginnings of Theological Reasoning In Islam
Divine Predestination Versus Human Free Will
The Emergence of Mu'tazilism
The Adherents of Hadith and Their Teachings
Ibn Hanbal and the Inquisition
The Theological "Middle Way": Ash'arism
Ash'arism, Maturidism and the Hadith Party
Issues to Ponder On
Twelver Shi'ism
The Crystallization of the Shi'ite Creed in Opposition to Sunnism
The Divergence of Sunni and Shi'ite Visions of Islam
The Vicissitudes of the Shi'ite Imamate Under the 'Abbasids
The Shi'ite Community in the Absence of a Divinely Ordained Guide
The Political and Social Aspects of the Doctrine of Occultation
The "Shi'ite Century" (945-1055): Political and Social Aspects
The Blossom of Shi'ite Theology and Jurisprudence
Shi'ite Attitudes Toward the Scripture
Food for Thought
Questions to Ponder On
Shi'ism as a Revolutionary Movement: The Fatimids, the Qarmatis, the Nizaris and the Zaydis
Who are the Isma'ilis
The Rise and Spread of Revolutionary Isma'ilism
The Teaching and the Mission
The Rise of 'Abdallah ('Ubaydallah) the Mahdiand the Qarmati-Fatimid Split
The Rise of the Fatimids
The Conquest of Egypt and the Expansion of Fatimid Power
Another Split: al-Hakim and the Druzes
The Crisis Over al-Mustansir's Succession and the Rise of the Nizari Community
The Hafizi-Tayybi Split and the Collapse of the Fatimid Caliphate
The Qarmati Revolt and the Rise and Fall of the Qarmati State in Bahrain
Zaydi Shi'ism
Food for Thought
Ascetic and Mystical Movements: Origins, Teachings and Practices
The Name and Beginnings
Basic Assumptions and Goals
The Founding Fathers: al-Hasan al-Basri and His Followers
Some Regional Manifestations
The Formation of the Baghdadi Tradition
The Systematization of the Sufi Tradition
The Maturity of Sufi Tradition: al-Ghazali the Conciliator
Sufi Literature
Sufism as Metaphysics: The Impact of Ibn 'Arabi
Some Intellectual and Practical Trends in Later Sufism
The Institutional and Social Aspects of Later Sufism
The Rise and Spread of Sufi Brotherhoods
Sufism and the Cult of Saints
Sufi Institutions in Regional Contexts
Sufism Today
Food for Thought
Intellectual Struggles in Pre-Modern Islam: Philosophy versus Theology
Falsafa as a Rational Discipline
Falsafa and Kalam
Falsafa as an Elaboration of Neo-Platonic Doctrines
The Beginnings of Falsafa
Al-Kindi, the Philosopher of the Arabs
Abu Bark al-Razi, the Physician and Freethinker
Al-Farabi, the Second Philosopher
Ibn Sina (Avicenna)
Al-Ghazali, "The Proof of Islam"
Ibn Rushd (Averroes), the Commentator
Issues to Ponder On
Transmission and Conservation of Knowledge: 'ulama', madrasas and Sufi Lodges
The Status, Venues and Bearers of Learning in Muslim Societies
Elementary Education: The Kuttab
The Muslim College: Madrasa
Sufi Lodges
Food for Thought
The Basic Beliefs and Practices of Islam
Islamic Life-Cycle
the Five Pillars
Visit to the Prophet's Tomb at Medina
How Religion Shapes the Lives of Individual Muslims
Issues to Ponder On
Islamic Art and Religious Architecture (Mosque)
The Qur'an as the Focus of Devotion and Means of Worship
Scriptural Evidence Against Figural Arts
How Did Artists Respond to the Restrictions
The Mosque: Architectural and Devotional Aspects
Food for Thought
The Status of Women In Islam
The Controversial Topic
Women in the Qur'an
Women in Hadith and Jurisprudence
Theorizing the Muslim Woman
Conclusion and a Question
Islam and the West
The Arab Conquest of Christian Lands
God's Wars: The Crusades and the Muslim Response
The Legacy of the Crusades
The Founder of Islam and His Image through the Christian Looking Glass
The Scandinavian Caricatures in Historical Perspective
The Curious (and Inexplicable) Rise of the West
The World of Islam vis-à-vis Modernity
The Gunpowder Empires
Napoleon's Conquest of Egypt and the Beginning of the Colonial Era
The Phenomenon of Modernity and Its Impact on the Muslim World
European Colonial Domination and Muslim Responses
Renewal and Reform in Islam
The Concept of Renewal and Reform of Islam
The Conservative Reform of Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792)
The Founding Fathers of Islamic Reform Movement
The Cornerstones of Islamic Reform
The Evolution of the Salafi Movement
Islam and Political Action
Islam as Vehicle of Opposition and Armed Resistance
The Rise of Political Islam: al-Hasan al-Banna
The Radical Program of Sayyid Qutb
The Muslim Brotherhood
Mawdudi's Jama'at-i Islami
Egypt Under Sadat and Mubarak (1970-1991) and the Proliferation of Radical Islamic Groups
The Conspiratorial Outlook and Social Roots of Radicalism under Islamic Banners
Jihad in Afghanistan and Palestine and the Rise of Usama bin Ladin, al-Qa'ida and Global Jihad
Conclusion: Whither Islam?
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