We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more The Oxford History of Islam - Introduction John L. Esposito - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
:
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

Introduction John L. Esposito

John L. Esposito

Although Islam is the youngest of the major world religions, with 1.2 billion followers, Islam is the second largest and fastest-growing religion in the world. To speak of the world of Islam today is to refer not only to countries that stretch from North Africa to Southeast Asia but also to Muslim minority communities that exist across the globe. Thus, for example, Islam is the second or third largest religion in Europe and the Americas.

Both the Muslim world and the West have experienced the impact of Islam politically, culturally, and demographically. Events in the contemporary Muslim world have led to an explosion of interest and scholarly work on Islam and the Muslim world. Much of this work in religion, history, and the social sciences has contributed toward the redressing of earlier imbalances of coverage and stereotyping. The Oxford History of Islam is part of this process.

The cognitive, ideological, political, and demographic map of the Muslim world changed dramatically in the second half of the twentieth century. Modern nation-states emerged from centuries of European colonization, often as a result of successful independence movements. However, contemporary Muslim history challenged the expectation that modernization would result in the progressive westernization and secularization of societies. Secularization of society has not proved a necessary precondition for social, economic, and political development.

Islam today is the dominant symbolic and ideological force in the Muslim world, informing social institutions (education, clinics, hospitals, social welfare services, and banks) and politics. In contrast to the expectations of only a few decades ago, Islam (Islamic symbols, ideology, organizations, and institutions) has reemerged as a significant force in public life. Mainstream Islamic organizations have become major social and political actors in society. The reassertion of Islam produced new Islamic republics in Iran, Sudan, and Afghanistan. At the same time, Islamic movements emerged as the major opposition in Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Yemen, Tunisia, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine/Israel, Kashmir, Central Asia, and elsewhere. Radical Islamic movements have used violence in attempts to destabilize and topple governments and attack Muslim elites as well as Western governments and interests. Of equal importance, Muslims are a significant presence in the West. In the 1950s and 1960s large numbers of Muslims emigrated to Europe and America as laborers, students, and professionals. Today they are a significant minority, addressing issues of identity (assimilation or integration), values, political and social participation, and pluralism in Western secular societies.

The Oxford History of Islam is designed to provide ready access to the history of Islam. Written for the general reader but also appealing to specialists, our goal is to present the best of scholarship in a readable style, complemented by a rich use of illustrations. Technical terms have been severely limited and diacriticals omitted. The approach to understanding Islam and Muslim history and civilization is interdisciplinary, relying on historians of Islamic religion, history, art, and science as well as social sciences. Contributors represent different disciplinary perspectives and include scholars from diverse national and religious traditions. As with The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, it has been especially important to include Muslim as well as non-Muslim scholars.

While it is not possible to cover this topic exhaustively in a single volume, The Oxford History is comprehensive in its coverage. The first part of the book provides an overview of the origins and development of classical Islam: its faith, community, institutions, sciences, and art. It also surveys the historic encounter of Islam and Christianity, critical to world history and to relations between the Muslim world and the West.

The Mongol invasion and destruction of the Abbasid empire in the thirteenth century appeared to bring to an end Islam's phenomenal expansion as faith and as empire. Instead, as seen in the next chapters, the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries saw a period of sultanates and empires, extending from Timbuktu to Mindanao. Sultanates from Africa to China and Southeast Asia emerged alongside great empires—the Ottoman and Safavid empires in the Middle East and the Mughal in South Asia. Within each, Islam expressed itself in diverse ways and flourished as both a faith and a civilization. However, by the eighteenth century, across the Muslim world the fortunes of Muslim societies were in decline.

The next group of chapters tracks the domestic and international challenges faced by premodern and modern Muslim societies, in particular movements of Islamic renewal and reform. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed the rise of premodern reform movements from Africa to Southeast Asia, including the Wahhabi, Mahdi, and Sanusi, which responded to internal causes of stagnation and decline. By the nineteenth century, much of the Muslim world faced an external threat, the onslaught of European colonialism. The colonial legacy and the history of Muslim responses to the political, economic, and religious challenges of European imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have had a profound impact on Muslim societies and upon relations between the Muslim world and the West.

The final chapters of the book provide perspectives on the contemporary landscape. The resurgence of Islam in the late twentieth century has been a testimony to the vitality of Islam. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Islam is indeed a global presence that blurs old distinctions between the Muslim world and the West. Islam is truly a world religion, necessitating coverage of both Islam and the West and Islam in the West. Islam is to be found not only in the more than 55 Muslim countries of the world but also in significant Muslim minority communities in Europe and America as well as such diverse countries as China, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines. As a result, Islam and Muslim history have played and continue to play a dynamic and major role in world history.

I wish to especially acknowledge my colleagues, the contributors to this volume, who have been responsive to my requests for revision and additions. I am indebted to James Piscatori (Oxford University), Tamara Sonn (University of South Florida), and John O. Voll (Georgetown University) for their invaluable assistance. Natana DeLong-Bas, my senior research assistant, was especially helpful in gathering the chronology. Shelia Blair and Jonathan Bloom were a pleasure to work with, invaluable in identifying the many illustrations to be found in this volume. Jean Esposito, as always, was there with advice and encouragement.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2018. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice