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Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society [Paperback]

Akbar S. Ahmed
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 29 2002 0415285259 978-0415285254 2
Now 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 as aggressive and fanatic. Written 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.

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Review

Instructive, entertaining and even stimulating. - Middle East International

Through an exploration of his experiences as a Muslim and his personal search for understanding, (Akbar Ahmed) sets before us the kindlier face of Islam and the dynamics of its history. - History Today

This is a most readable book which will set Muslims and non-Muslims thinking. - Islam, Christian and Muslim Relations

An in-depth analysis of Islamic history and society... required reading for students and researchers. - Colonel Ghulam Sarwar, The Voice of Islam

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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The holy Quran is a collection of divinely inspired utterances and discourses. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars an anthropologits in Jerusalem July 18 2004
Format:Hardcover
I have been meaning to read this book for many years and finally got around to it.
So much can be said about it. The most outstandning thing is that the book has withstood the effects of time very well: it is more relevant than ever and even prophetic. Some of Professor Ahmed's concerns have turned out to be extremely topical.
The book obviously has no agenda of being an instance in islamic scholarship and it is not surprising that some of the reviews written by readers take him to task on the detail. That was never the point. I think the purpuse of the book was to take on the "makro" issues and that is where its strength is to be found. Professor Ahmed, though a loyal member of Islam and one that has never failed to live and write and think exhibitin solidarity as such, does have the courage to take on some sore points. He focuses on the very uneasy seam between modern "rational" thought and Muslim thought and is trying to hold on to the good while exposing the harmful. Harmful to Muslim society itself.
Self criticism was not just a Communist mantra. It is such a marvelous tool for renwal and growth of any mode of thought and those who forgo it, harm, not only those they interact with (a thing inevitable in our global age) but much more clearly themselves.
That is the main point that Professor Ahmed Akbar makes and his muslim brethern would be so well advised to listen to him instead of confronting him. He clearly is on their side. His is Constructive Criticism.
The book is very well written and worth reading. It should appeal to specialist and non-specialist alike. Yes there are some inaccuracies but that is not the point.
Was this review helpful to you?
Format:Paperback
Having met Prof. Ahmad I can say that he is a very nice person and a good host and his commitment to Islam is not questionable but on the evidence of this book his lack of Islamic knowledge is evident. This is not meant to be a harsh criticism but the Prof. is an anthropologist and not an Islamic scholar and therefore his lack of in-depth knowledge of Islam is not surprising.
Though the book is well written it does suffer from factual errors and also many of the interpretations of history are not the traditional Islamic viewpoint as understood by the majority of scholars of the Ahle Sunnah w'al Jama'ah: in his evaluation of certain Muslim historical personages of great repute he has surprisingly-and regretably-followed the standard Orientalist opinion of them (or his own opinions are closer to that of the Orientalists than of the traditional ulama). For example, his contention about Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughals (and the sixth Mughal Emperor), that he may be reasonably compared with General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan is preposterous and false on two accounts: 1) Aurangzeb followed the traditional Maturidi/Asha'ri school of Islamic orthodoxy which is also known as Sunni Islam whereas Gen. Zia was a well-known admirer of the heterodox Wahabi movement which only sprang up in Arabia in the 18th century. Indeed, under Aurangzeb's orders the greatest compendium of Sunni fiqh [jurisprudence] was compiled, the Fatawa Alamgiri (or Fatawa al Hindiyya as it is also known.) (2) Prof.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Analysis About Islam Aug. 8 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Professor Ahmed provides a very accessible and informative account of Islamic history which is enlightening to the non-Muslim reader as well as the Muslim one. Especially relevant in current times, Professor Ahmed gives context to Islamic history, without which the religion and contemporary issues cannot properly and adequately be understood.
Criticisms in other reviews, such as those levied by Mr. Jehangir, are not to be taken seriously as they carry no demonstrable credibility. Such is to be expected by a follower of a fringe movement in the religion, nowhere near orthodox thought and mainstream practice; it would be akin to Jim Jones being authoritative about Christianity!!
I would recommend this book to anyone seeking an understanding of Islamic history and its proper context. I would also suggest people read some of Professor Ahmed's other books, such as the excellent "Islam Today," one of the best Introduction to Islam books out there, and "Postmodernism and Islam."
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4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to Islam Oct. 29 2001
Format:Paperback
Professor Ahmed has provided an excellent anthropological introduction to Islam in this book. This book is not meant to be a theological treatise (as the other reviewer tries to belabor), but rather a clear and personable introduction to the Faith and people of Islam.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to Islam Oct. 29 2001
By Saleem Ali - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Professor Ahmed has provided an excellent anthropological introduction to Islam in this book. This book is not meant to be a theological treatise (as the other reviewer tries to belabor), but rather a clear and personable introduction to the Faith and people of Islam.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Analysis About Islam Aug. 8 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Professor Ahmed provides a very accessible and informative account of Islamic history which is enlightening to the non-Muslim reader as well as the Muslim one. Especially relevant in current times, Professor Ahmed gives context to Islamic history, without which the religion and contemporary issues cannot properly and adequately be understood.
Criticisms in other reviews, such as those levied by Mr. Jehangir, are not to be taken seriously as they carry no demonstrable credibility. Such is to be expected by a follower of a fringe movement in the religion, nowhere near orthodox thought and mainstream practice; it would be akin to Jim Jones being authoritative about Christianity!!
I would recommend this book to anyone seeking an understanding of Islamic history and its proper context. I would also suggest people read some of Professor Ahmed's other books, such as the excellent "Islam Today," one of the best Introduction to Islam books out there, and "Postmodernism and Islam."
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an anthropologits in Jerusalem July 18 2004
By M. Fliegelmann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have been meaning to read this book for many years and finally got around to it.
So much can be said about it. The most outstandning thing is that the book has withstood the effects of time very well: it is more relevant than ever and even prophetic. Some of Professor Ahmed's concerns have turned out to be extremely topical.
The book obviously has no agenda of being an instance in islamic scholarship and it is not surprising that some of the reviews written by readers take him to task on the detail. That was never the point. I think the purpuse of the book was to take on the "makro" issues and that is where its strength is to be found. Professor Ahmed, though a loyal member of Islam and one that has never failed to live and write and think exhibitin solidarity as such, does have the courage to take on some sore points. He focuses on the very uneasy seam between modern "rational" thought and Muslim thought and is trying to hold on to the good while exposing the harmful. Harmful to Muslim society itself.
Self criticism was not just a Communist mantra. It is such a marvelous tool for renwal and growth of any mode of thought and those who forgo it, harm, not only those they interact with (a thing inevitable in our global age) but much more clearly themselves.
That is the main point that Professor Ahmed Akbar makes and his muslim brethern would be so well advised to listen to him instead of confronting him. He clearly is on their side. His is Constructive Criticism.
The book is very well written and worth reading. It should appeal to specialist and non-specialist alike. Yes there are some inaccuracies but that is not the point.
16 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing effort reveals lack of Islamic learning. June 22 2001
By Mr. A. Jehangir - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Having met Prof. Ahmad I can say that he is a very nice person and a good host and his commitment to Islam is not questionable but on the evidence of this book his lack of Islamic knowledge is evident. This is not meant to be a harsh criticism but the Prof. is an anthropologist and not an Islamic scholar and therefore his lack of in-depth knowledge of Islam is not surprising.
Though the book is well written it does suffer from factual errors and also many of the interpretations of history are not the traditional Islamic viewpoint as understood by the majority of scholars of the Ahle Sunnah w'al Jama'ah: in his evaluation of certain Muslim historical personages of great repute he has surprisingly-and regretably-followed the standard Orientalist opinion of them (or his own opinions are closer to that of the Orientalists than of the traditional ulama). For example, his contention about Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughals (and the sixth Mughal Emperor), that he may be reasonably compared with General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan is preposterous and false on two accounts: 1) Aurangzeb followed the traditional Maturidi/Asha'ri school of Islamic orthodoxy which is also known as Sunni Islam whereas Gen. Zia was a well-known admirer of the heterodox Wahabi movement which only sprang up in Arabia in the 18th century. Indeed, under Aurangzeb's orders the greatest compendium of Sunni fiqh [jurisprudence] was compiled, the Fatawa Alamgiri (or Fatawa al Hindiyya as it is also known.) (2) Prof. Ahmed contends that Aurangzeb was inimical to Sufism whereas in fact he was not only a murid [disciple] of the grandson of Imam al Rabbani, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (may Allah sanctify his secret), who was a Shaykh in the Naqshbandi Order but according to the ijma [consensus] of the scholars of Ahle Sunnah [Sunni Islam] he himself was a wali Allah-a Sufi who has reached the end of the Journey to Allah as Rumi would put it! In other words he himself was an accomplished Sufi and even his detractors admire his personal piety and adherence to the Shar'iah--which is the essence of Sufism as understood by the Sufis themselves. I think that this error by the respected Prof. may be due to his definition of Sufism. Perhaps he has the same definition of Sufism as that of most Orientalists of the past that anynone who claims to be a Sufi is one! Certainly this profound lack of understanding of Sufism (tassawuf to give it its Islamic name) is evident in this book!
Another glaring error was in the section which compared the differences between Deobandis and Barelvis (the two major groups of Muslims in the Subcontinent apart from the Shia). It was claimed that Barelvis believe that the Prophet is not human (!) (peace and blessings be upon him) and not flesh and blood but light and that he is semi-divine and that he is present everywhere around us all the time. As a Barelvi (the traditionalist Sunni, sufi, Muslims of the Subcontinent) myself I found this error not only surprising but offensive. These are the beliefs falsely ATTRIBUTED to Barelvis by the Deobandi school and the Wahabis. It is a pity that such an experienced writer like Prof. Ahmed should just accept this accusation as fact without checking the books of the Barelvi ulama for himself. Here is what Barelvis ACTUALLY believe regarding the Prophet of Islam (may Allah bless him and give him peace).
1.We believe He IS a human being made from flesh and blood [bashar] AND a noor [light] at the same time. This is like the example of when Gabriel, who is also noor [light], used to appear to the Prophet in the form of a man, flesh and blood. 2. He is infallible and perfect and free from all imperfections and sinless (as are all Prophets).He is human but not like other humans like a ruby is a stone but not like other stones! 3. Allah has GIVEN him the ability to see the whole of Creation in detail while he is in his blessed grave as if he was looking at it in the palm of his hand. This is called being "nazir" ("witnessing"). 4. Allah has GIVEN him the ability to go physically and spiritually to anywhere in the Created Universes he pleases whenever he pleases (peace be upon him) AND to be in more than one place at the same time. This is what is meant by "hazir" (present). This is not the same as believing that he (peace be upon him) is present everywhere all the time! The above definitions of the CORRECT meaning of what is meant by "hazir and nazir" can be found in any Sunni book on beliefs [aqa'id] in the Subcontinent by Barelvi ulama. e.g. Jaa al Haqq wa Zaahiqal Batil by Mufti Ahmad Yaar Khan Na'eemi (Allah have mercy on him).
The readers will notice how these beliefs differ from what is ASCRIBED to us falsely and which Prof. Ahmed unfortunately repeats in his book. And ALL of the above beliefs from 1 to 4 are found in all the classical works of the Sunni scholars throughout the world as they are firmly based on a classical and orthodox understanding of the Qur'an and hadith.
To end on a more positive note the general chronological events of Islamic history are more-or-less correct and Prof. Ahmed is undoubtedly a good writer but I sincerely believe that only qualified experts [Islamic historians, ulama, scholars] should write on Islam and Islamic history as the scope for unintentional errors is vast, especially in doctrinal matters.
His books which deal with contemporary Islam and South Asian anthropology and history (Postmodernism and Islam, Jinnah, etc.) are brilliant but this book alas does not do him justice.
A disappointing effort.
4 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Taqiyya Fest Dec 24 2008
By Objective Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is holy deception (Islamic Taqiyya).
For the truth about Islam, read the books:

Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out edited by Ibn Warraq
Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out by Crimp and Richardson
Jihad in the West by Paul Fregosi
Understanding Muhammad: A Psychobiography by Ali Sina
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam by Robert Spencer
Religion of Peace? by David Gregory
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