Islamic History: A Very Short Introduction

Denis Judd on an introduction to Islamic history


Reviewed by: Denis Judd
Author: Adam Silverstein
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price (RRP): £7.99


In terms of introductions, Oxford University Press has here played its part in providing us with a high-quality fast track towards the comprehension of what is one of today’s major global preoccupations, at least from a western perspective: how to understand and live with one of humanity’s major religious faiths. The book is extremely lucid and readable, sensibly organised, and wears its considerable learning, as they say, ‘lightly’. It is, moreover, and somewhat surprisingly, often fun to read. It contains, for me at least, much new and surprising information. Nowhere are we immersed in the literary equivalent of sackcloth and ashes, or in the high-minded tedium that too often characterises the discussion of religious history. I cannot imagine any reader not profiting from the tight-packed and intelligently presented text.

The big question that the author, in his admirably tough-minded fashion, will not let his readers escape, though, is: “Why, despite sharing common roots in [the] Semitic monotheism of the Near East, do Muslim societies and western ones appear to be heading for a clash?” Among the cogent answers offered by Dr Silverstein, these appealed especially to me: that Muslim engagement with western, particularly, European, culture has traditionally been, and alas still is, dominated by antagonism; that Islamic legal sources urge Muslims to practise their faith with all the assertiveness of a dominant religious culture, and to try at all cost to avoid living under ‘foreign’ rule; and that Islam has never experienced a Reformation.


Professor Denis Judd’s books include Empire: The British Imperial Experience