Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society

Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society

Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society

Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society


Reissued with a new introduction, Discovering Islam is a classic account of how the history of Islam and its relations with the West have shaped Islamic society today. Islam is often caricatured, especiallynbsp;in the West,nbsp;as aggressive and fanatic. Written by a leading authority on Islam andnbsp;in the tradition of Ibn Khaldun, this readable and wide-ranging book balances that image, uncovers the roots of Islamic discontent and celebrates the sources of its strength. From the four "ideal Caliphs" who succeeded the Prophet to the refugee camps of Peshawar, an objective picture emerges of the main features of Muslim history and the compulsions of Muslim society. nbsp;


On his death in Karachi my father implored me to write a history of Islam. It is dangerously misunderstood, he pleaded; it would be the greatest contribution any scholar could make. The message of the great scholars and saints of Islam, sulh-i-kul or ‘peace with all’, was in danger of being lost in the anger and hatred that could be seen in and around Muslim society. I loved and respected my father, a man of wisdom and gentle compassion. But I refused. As a straightforward social anthropologist bristling with the orthodox jargon recently acquired after my Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London I felt I was simply not qualified.

What I did not know at Princeton—where I was spending a year at the Institute for Advanced Study—was that my father was dying. When visitors came to see him he would become animated about the book on Islam he wanted me to write. When I rang from Princeton to talk to him I was stunned to be told he had passed away. I fought back the tears; the public exhibition of raw emotion must be controlled in the institutions of higher learning. A colleague walked into my office and asked what I was working on. In a daze, as if from far away, I heard myself saying: ‘A book on Islam’.

I embarked on a journey after that event to understand Islamic history and society. It has been a long, sometimes difficult, journey and it has not ended. The book that became Discovering Islam also started a journey twenty years ago, a journey I have been observing with fascination. Discovering Islam grew into the BBC six part television series called Living Islam and the accompanying book of the same title. From Living Islam came Islam Today: A Short Introduction to the Muslim World. Lord Nazir Ahmed launched Islam Today at the House of Lords in London in 1999. The cultural commentator, Melvyn Bragg and Chris Smith, the then Culture Secretary, spoke with warmth about the book and its value in building bridges between Islam and the West.

When on September 11, 2001, the hijackers of the four American planes caused

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