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The Great Arab Conquests: How The Spread Of…

The Great Arab Conquests: How The Spread Of Islam Changed The World We… (2007)

by Hugh Kennedy

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The spread of Islam immediately following the life of Muhammed in the early 7th century is a remarkable story. But there is a subtle difference which is easy for an outsider like me to miss, and which becomes apparent in a book like this. The conquest of various empires and lands that Arab armies led in the 150 years following Muhammed is one thing -- while the spread of Islam and the effect that had on modern life is another thing entirely, once non-Arabs started to convert. I was interested in the latter, but the book is about the former. Don't let the misleading subtitle mislead you!

The primary sources are not as reliable on the Arab conquests as one might expect, given the nature of the Islamic civilization that was to follow. The author (a professor in the field) points this out repeatedly, which left me wondering why he bothered writing the narrative of the conquests at all! I found many aspects of the story new and interesting: the contrasting views of the simple honest and poor Arabs vs the cynical weak luxurious Persians/Byzantines, the unwillingness of the Arabs in general to settle and integrate themselves into conquered lands at first, and what seems to be an intriguingly confused way they viewed non-Arabs, and non-Muslims in turn: Arabs must be Muslims, but non-Arabs are preferably non-Muslim, but taxed. It's a fascinating subject to me, but unfortunately not really explored in detail. In fact Islam is not really a major theme of the book.

As expected, the Kindle edition is not good. The accented characters didn't show up properly, making some of the transliterated Arabic names a complete mess. And the maps weren't there.
1 vote seabear | Sep 19, 2015 |
This book is a superb example of popular history that retains scholarly authenticity. Hugh Kennedy manages to not only write in an accessible, engaging style that is perfect for the layman, he also takes the time to address scholarly issues such as the historiography of the topic, the different sources we have about the conquests and their limitations, and finally the broad contours of some of the debates surrounding this time period. The book is well organised and the chapters concise. A bunch of maps up front make it easy to follow the events being narrated. Some may disagree with some of Dr. Kennedy's interpretations, but in the best scholarly fashion, he always presents his reasoning and looks at different interpretations. The narrative is based on various Arab sources, as well as Persian, Copt, Byzantine, Jewish, Spanish, Frankish, Nestorian and even Chinese accounts. Dr. Kennedy also refers to archaeological evidence from excavation sites, found artefacts, carvings and even a shipwreck. The author is careful to point out where accounts differ, where they agree and explains why one might be taken to be more authentic than the other. In some cases he points out why and how even obviously fanciful or apocryphal accounts may be of value to the historian.

The only quibble I would have is that the narrative can drag a little, particularly in the chapters on the conquests of Transoxonia and Iran. One can't fault Dr. Kennedy for being comprehensive but sometimes the litany of siege, raid, occupation and so on can become slightly repetitive to read. This minor quibble aside, this is a fine work and highly recommended for anyone seeking to to learn about how the Arabs came to conquer an empire as large of that of Rome at its height. ( )
3 vote iftyzaidi | Dec 5, 2010 |
Pretty dull reading, actually. You have to wade thru the whole book to reach the conclusion that the Arabs fell into some fortuitous circumstances, with the Persian and Byzantium empires having worn each other out, and a particularly gifted group of local military leaders appearing in their back yards. Emphasis on booty, taxes, and martyrdom. ( )
1 vote jaygheiser | Jul 28, 2008 |
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Not for a generation has anyone attempted a broad political history of Islam’s first century. Few writers are better equipped for such a task than Hugh Kennedy . . .

Kennedy’s reluctance to pronounce sweeping judgments may disappoint general readers. His preference for dwelling on lesser-known episodes like the conquest of Central Asia, rather than on such oft-related exploits as the capture of Spain, is also more likely to please scholars than laymen. Fellow historians may fault Kennedy, too, for relying on textual evidence more than on archaeology. Nevertheless, this brisk yet richly detailed account is likely to remain the best we have for many years.
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In the 680s a monk called John Bar Penkaye was working on a summary of world history in his remote monastery by the swift-flowing River Tigris, in the mountains of what is now south-east Turkey. (Preface)
Our understanding of the Arab conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries is based on written and, to an extent, archeological sources. (Foreword)
The Muslim conquests of the Middle East originated in Arabia, and most of those who fought in the first phases of the conquest came from the Arabian peninsula or the Syrian desert that lies to the north.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0306815850, Hardcover)

Today’s Arab world was created at breathtaking speed. In just over one hundred years following the death of Mohammed in 632, Arabs had subjugated a territory with an east-west expanse greater than the Roman Empire, and they did it in about one-half the time. By the mid-eighth century, Arab armies had conquered the thousand-year-old Persian Empire, reduced the Byzantine Empire to little more than a city-state based around Constantinople, and destroyed the Visigoth kingdom of Spain. The cultural and linguistic effects of this early Islamic expansion reverberate today. This is the first popular English-language account in many years of this astonishing remaking of the political and religious map of the world. Hugh Kennedy’s sweeping narrative reveals how the Arab armies conquered almost everything in their path, and brings to light the unique characteristics of Islamic rule. One of the few academic historians with a genuine talent for story telling, Kennedy offers a compelling mix of larger-than-life characters, fierce battles, and the great clash of civilizations and religions.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:08 -0400)

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Examines the history of the great Islamic expansion, reveals how the Arab armies were able to overcome almost everything in their path, and brings to light the unique characteristics of Islamic settlement in new lands and the conversion to Islam of vast populations.

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