Book Review: Muhammad: Islam's First Great General


by Richard A. Gabriel

Norman, Ok.: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. Pp. xxxii + 249. Maps, chron., notes, biblio., index. $24.95 . ISBN: 0-8061-3860-2

Muhammed's status as the prophet of Islam overshadows his role as a military commander, particularly among Westerners.  In this work, veteran military historian Richard A. Gabriel, although not a specialist in Islamic studies, tries to throw light on Muhammed's military career, and also on the ways in which he may have shaped Islamic ways of war.   He does a pretty good job.

The first three chapters cover the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century, providing the physical, political, and cultural setting, and recent political and military developments in the region, most notably the great Romano-Persian War of 602-629, which left both empires exhausted.  In these chapters he also provides a comprehensive look at the conduct of war in the region, from its political and cultural underpinnings to the organization and equipping of armies, and more.  Gabriel goes on to discuss Muhammed's radical reforms in Arab military practice that led to enormous success in the field.  A chapter follows on Muhammed's life, religious awakening, and the foundation of Islam.  The next eight chapters discuss, in considerable detail Muhammed's campaigns.  These are well described and the author has provided some fairly understandable maps.  The book ends with a look at Muhammed's legacy, religious as well as military, which laid the foundation for the Islamic conquest of a major chunk of the world over the next couple of generations. 

The work is readable, and often has critical evaluations of some of Muhammed's actions.  There is, however, no analysis of the reliability of the available sources on Muhammed's life and work, an important question when dealing with a figure so venerated that negative views may well have suffered selective editing from the historical record. 
Nevertheless, the work will be of use to anyone interested in Islam, ancient history, the Middle East , and the evolution of the art of war.          

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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