Tom holland in the shadow of the sword review
In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire by Tom HollandThe acclaimed author of Rubicon and other superb works of popular history now produces a thrillingly panoramic (and incredibly timely) account of the rise of Islam.
No less significant than the collapse of the Roman Republic or the Persian invasion of Greece, the evolution of the Arab empire is one of the supreme narratives of ancient history, a story dazzlingly rich in drama, character, and achievement. Just like the Romans, the Arabs came from nowhere to carve out a stupefyingly vast dominion—except that they achieved their conquests not over the course of centuries as the Romans did but in a matter of decades. Just like the Greeks during the Persian wars, they overcame seemingly insuperable odds to emerge triumphant against the greatest empire of the day—not by standing on the defensive, however, but by hurling themselves against all who lay in their path.
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I n his sprawling new book Tom Holland undertakes to explain nothing less than the origin of Islam. This is a subject as relevant to today's world as it is controversial within it. How Islam began was obscure right from the start, above all to the surprised Christians who first succumbed to the Arab armies that surged out of the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century. They had seen themselves as confronting a different threat. After all, the Persians had captured Jerusalem in and soon moved into Egypt. At that moment they appeared to be the principal antagonist of the Byzantine empire based in Constantinople. No one could have imagined that a little over two decades later the Persian empire would be in its death throes and that the Patriarch of Jerusalem would be turning over the city to an Arab caliph.
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In the Shadow of the Sword is a history book charting the origins of Islam. In this book, following the research by scholars of Oriental studies such as John Wansbrough and Fred Donner , Holland suggests that Islam, rather than originating in the arid deserts of Arabia , was born further north, "in the borders of Syria-Palestine, a region that had long been devastated by plagues and wars — the usual precursors of apocalyptic scenarios and millennial hopes. While researching the book, Holland found that the oldest extant biography of Mohammed was written nearly two hundred years after he had died, and that scholars were unsure on how much early Islamic history could be considered accurate. The book sharply divided critics, with some lauding Holland's take on the subject matter and others accusing him of dismissing centuries of Muslim scholarship. Dan Jones, writing for the Telegraph , praised Holland for "a work of impressive sensitivity and scholarship". He described Holland as "one of the most distinctive prose stylists writing history today, and he drags his tale by the ears, conjuring the half-vanished past with such gusto that characters and places fairly bound from the page. Anthony Sattin , writing in The Guardian , called Holland a "skilful and energetic narrator" and said "The lives of some people who have dared to question the historicity of the prophet Muhammad and the Qur'an have been ruined, even ended.