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Bibliography - Islam and the Middle East

Readers have asked me for a bibliography to help better understand Islam and the Middle East. Here are some English-language suggestions – many of them reviewed or discussed elsewhere on this site – starting with books on the religion and proceeding premodern history, modern history, and then to specific issues:

A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted: A Translation (London: Oxford University Press, 1964).
The translation I rely on - done by an accomplished orientalist just in time, before Middle East studies went south.

Stephen J. Shoemaker, A Prophet Has Appeared: The Rise of Islam through Christian and Jewish Eyes, A Sourcebook (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2021). Twenty contemporaneous texts by non-Muslims (all Christians and Jews) of exceptional importance about the first century of Islam.

Michael Cook, The Koran: A Very Short Introduction.
Very short, very interesting, very reliable, and very instructive.

Khalid Durán with Abdelwahab Hechiche, Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews.
Despite its name, a survey of Islam appropriate for readers of all faiths, by a committed and moderate Muslim.

Robert Spencer, Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins
Builds on 130 years of scholarship to offer a completely different history of Muhammad, Islam, and the Koran.

Bernard Lewis, The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years.
A survey of Middle Eastern history by the person who knows more about the region - and can explain it better - than anyone else.

Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization (3 vols.).
A deep history of Islam and of its role in the public sphere.

David Cook, Understanding Jihad.
A well-documented, convincing survey of how much the concept of jihad (which Cook defines as "warfare with spiritual significance") has evolved over fourteen centuries.

Efraim Karsh: Islamic Imperialism: A History.
Karsh argues for the existence of an Islamic imperial drive and traces it from Muhammad's time to current Islamist aggressions.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History.
An masterful interpretation of the travails Muslims have experienced over the past two centuries. The book that, more than any other, influenced my understanding of Islam and public life.

Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh, Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923.
A brilliant reassessment of the nineteenth-century Middle East, showing how, contrary to the usual assumptions, the people of that region actively shaped their own destiny.

V. S. Naipaul, Among the Believers.
A journey to four Muslim countries and some lively discussions about the nature and future of Islam.

Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam.
One of the first and still one of the best analyses of this subject.

Johannes J. G. Jansen, The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism.
A densely reasoned, brave attempt to explain militant Islam.

Bassam Tibi, The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder.
An even more densely written interpretation of militant Islam, but worth the effort.

David Pryce-Jones, The Closed Circle.
Perhaps the single most informative book on the cruel nature of contemporary Middle East politics.

Philip Carl Salzman, Culture and Conflict in the Middle East.
Places the social and political life of the region in its tribal context. Changed my understanding of the Middle East.

Lee Smith. The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations
It's simple: Politics in the Middle East boils down to seizing and maintaining power. But that central fact eludes Westerners.

Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Islam and Human Rights: Traditions and Politics.
An understated and powerful repudiation of the notion of "Islamic human rights."

Timur Kuran, Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism.
Exposes Shar'i compliant financing for the 1930s fraud it is.

Fatima Mernissi, Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in a Modern Muslim Society.
Explains the logic of Islamic ideas of sexuality, making sense of what is otherwise mysterious.

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