Tamim Ansary’s Destiny Disrupted: A History Of The World Through Islamic Eyes Is The Best History Book On Islam I’ve Read
Thursday, 13th January, 2011 § 3 Comments
Most books on Islam focus on one subject; the life of the Prophet Muhammad or the khalifas who succeeded him or the origins of the schism between Sunni and Shi’a sects. Never before, at least not to my knowledge, has an entire book been dedicated to the history of the world from Islam’s perspective until Tamim Ansary decided to sit down and write Destiny Disrupted. Reading this book is like being told a good epic story by a friend or a favourite uncle over cups of tea. Tamim Ansary points out early on that he is not a scholar and his book is not a stuffy, academic treatise but a roller coaster journey from the early days of Islam up to the new millennium all in the context of world history.
‘World history’ is such a loaded term. When we say ‘world’ chances we mean history as seen from the western perspective when in fact when Europe was mired in the so-called Dark Ages, Muslim thinkers were making advances in mathematics, astronomy, medicine and refuting Aristotle’s writings in their spare time. When Shakespeare was writing some of his plays and sonnets, the world superpowers of his day were all located in Muslim territories. Yet Shakespeare and his contemporaries hardly ever referred to the Muslim world in any of their works. You wouldn’t know a Moor was a Muslim if you saw or read Othello, Ansary sighs in the introduction to his book. Whether this was a deliberate move or a horrible negligence on the western world’s part is not the issue but I am glad that someone qualified has finally addressed it. After all, even Muslims growing up today hardly know about the history of their faith and its place in world history. We know about the Ottoman Turks but how many outside of Iran and India know anything about the Safavids and the Mughal empires? Heck, some Muslims still think that the Ottomans were the direct descendants of Othman, the Prophet’s friend and son-in-law. What about the schism between Sunni and Shi’a? Anyone know what triggered that? It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t just because some people thought Ali bin Abu Talib should have been the only successor to the Prophet (though that was a major point) and finally, finally I found out why a culture that prided itself in knowledge and led the world in the pursuit of knowledge at one time ended up playing catch-up with the west today. Historians have acknowledged that the European Renaissance was built upon the shoulders of Muslim scholars. So what happened? Tamim Ansary tells all and does it in a well researched and balanced way.
Read Destiny Disrupted and see the history of the world from another less known but no less intriguing perspective and perhaps you will begin to understand why the Islamic and the Western societies eye each other with suspicion today. (Hint: it started with a monopoly on spices. Yes, really)