Book Review: Destiny Disrupted

Destiny Disrupted:  A History Of The World Through Islamic Eyes, by Tamim Ansary

The author of this book is a well-connected Afghan historian and the book itself is a rather interesting perspective of the world told from the point of view of Islam rather than the usual perspective of Euro-American modernists.  A great deal can change about one’s perspective of history based on how one looks at it, and the author clearly views the last couple of centuries or so as a disruption of what had been a long period of Muslim strength.  Obviously, this highly colors the history so that certain periods and places within history are emphasized and others focused on far less (obviously, those areas like Subsaharan Africa and the Americas are not focused on much at all because they have little to do with the Muslim story).  Still, this sort of bias does tend to exist no matter what perspective one has, and it is intriguing to see history from the biased perspective of other people in the world so that one can understand how these biases would differ from one’s own.  If this is not a history I can endorse, it is at least a history well worth reading and understanding.

This book is over 300 pages long and is divided into 17 chapters that span the course of human history.  Beginning with a list of maps, names and dates and their conventions, and an introduction.  After that the author begins with a discussion of the Middle World (1) and then moves on to the Hijra (2) and the birth of the Caliphate (3), showing the focus of the book on the Muslim world from the start.  After that the author talks about the schism that took place between Shia and Sunni (4) and the empire of the Umayyads (5) and Abassids (6), moving along through a couple hundred years of history focused again on the Middle East under Muslim rule.  The author discusses the culture of the Abbasid times with scholars, philosophers, and Sufis (7), before discussing the entrance of Turks into the Middle East (8) as well as the havoc caused by the Mongol invasion (9).  This leads to a detour of Europe to discuss the High Middle Ages and afterward there (11) to introduce what happened when Europeans took over parts of the Middle East (12).  There is then a discussion of various reform movements in Islam (13), the industrial revolution and nationalism (14), and the rise of secular modernism in the Middle East (15).  Finally, the book concludes with chapters looking at the crisis of modernity (16) and the rise of Islamism (17) before the afterword, an appendix on the structure of Islamic doctrine, notes, a bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index.

Again, those who are familiar with Western books about history, especially those from authors who at least attempt to provide a more full picture of the world, will recognize the large amount of space and time that must be ignored in order to center world history on the Muslims.  Not only does this book show little interest at all in ancient history, given the typical Muslim rejection of insights from pre-Muslim periods, but any area where Islam remained peripheral is ignored here so that the authors can focus on the glorious aspects of Muslim history.  The author shows himself remarkably unaware and uninterested in even the Muslims of Central or Southeastern Asia, which is remarkable given that these areas are similarly not focused on when one looks at the history of the world from a European or North American perspective despite the importance of spices to European efforts at imperialism.  If this book is not a very good history on objective terms it certainly explains the blind spots that exist in the Muslim view and interpretation of history and is worth knowing on those grounds.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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