Review

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Johnathan P. Berkey examines the development of Islam in the Near East, its growth in the surrounding areas, and the consequent religious and social growth due to its influence. The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800 details twelve centuries of history while specifically focusing on the religious and social aspects. The primary theme, Berkey presents, is that the rise of Islam did not appear suddenly in the Arabian world. Instead, the rise of Islam was the result of a process which included outside influences from the various surrounding religions and cultures. This book is divided into four parts. The first part, entitled “The Near East before Islam,” details the historical background of the region as well as establishes the predominant religions that were prevalent in the seventh century. Berkey asserts that the Near East was a melding pot of cultures and religions. This region was influenced by Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Paganism, and Manichaeism. Consequently, the competition between cultures and religions ran high. Politics was also a major of contention in the Near East as the Sasaninan and Byzantine Empires exerted their influence over the region. A particularly important note to point out is that Berkey states that often these religions were intertwined with the fight for cultural dominance. He uses the examples of the Christian Roman Empire and Zoroastrianist Sasaninan Empire. All of these influences had a role in the development of Islam. The second part, entitled “The Emergence of Islam,” focuses primarily on the appearance of Islam in the seventh and early eighth centuries. During this period, Berkey suggests that the interaction between Islam and differing cultures led to... ... middle of paper ... ...n the Near East. The problem in this lies in the fact that these outside influences are not mentioned specifically and how they changed Islam. Because of this oversight, the reader is left to their imagination on how the Islam religion was changed due to these influences. Another problem is just how quickly the author glazes over the modernization of Islam. While this chapter is treated as an epilogue, Berkey leaves the interpretation unfinished. He provides the reader with a vague interpretation of over three hundred years of history in a mere sixteen pages. Because of this, Berkey provides the reader with vague generalizations. This vagueness leaves the reader wanting more. Perhaps it would have been best for Berkey to exclude this brief generalization of modern Islam as it seems unfinished in what is an otherwise decent work of analyzing the development of Islam.

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