Archive for October 9th, 2014

In God's path Oxford

Order it on Amazon: In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire (Ancient Warfare and Civilization)

I am glad that Oxford University Press published this book since works by Middle East historians on early Islamic conquest (seventh to ninth century AD) are rare as the author stated in the introduction and the end of the book.  I thought this is a relevant book in light of the contemporary discussion about Islam, Islamic violence and the Middle East which lead some to ask the question of what the Islamic Arabic world was like shortly after Muhammad died.  It is indirectly relevant to those discussions because this book touches on the early Islamic movement and warfare.  The author has no intention of writing a book bashing Islam nor is he presenting an apologetics for Muslim.  The book’ main thesis is to challenge the common assumption made by many people today including historians that the Islamic Arabic empire expanded rapidly at an unprecedented rate and that these military expansion are driven to convert people to Islam.  Here the author points out that the Islamic expansion was at the same rate as those of other nomadic people such as the Mongols; the author also noted how few people converted to Islam during the military conquests during the early Caliphs as evidence that in the beginning the expansion was not about bringing about conversion of others to Islam per se.  In fact, there were strong incentive in the beginning not to convert people into the Arabic community of faith, as that would mean the distinction between conqueror and conquered would be erased and the profit of invasion for the conqueror would disappear (in later period the issue of conversion was controversial because of what it would mean for the original Arabic party).  I think the author’s citations of early Muslim political sources are solid in establishing this point.  I really enjoyed how the book describe the context of the Arabic/Islamic expansion as during a time in which much of the known world was going through a population decrease due to diseases and also the weakening of empires that allowed the Islamic empires to rise and fill in the vacuum.  Specifically those empires were the Byzantine, Persians and the Chinese.  What made this book unique to other works on the Islamic military expansion (some of which are mentioned in the bibliography) is that this particular work didn’t just study the issue from 9th and 10th Century Arabic Sources (some centuries removed from the actual events) but instead it focused on the earlier sources and it also looked into non-Islamic sources.  It is incredible to see the citation and footnotes of a wide array of cosmopolitan sources, from the Byzantines, Armenians, Christian monks, Persians, Chinese, Buddhist monks and travelers who wrote account, the author’s ability to cover such large and diverse sources make this a valuable work for decades to come.  The appendix must not be missed in which the author summarizes some of the primary sources he employ, so that readers will get a better understanding of what it was that the author was citing.  Excellent work and I recommend it for the history buffs, those interested in understanding the role of warfare and violence in Islam and those interested in the history of the Middle East.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Oxford University Press and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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