A Critical But Missing Piece: Educating Our Professional Military on the History of Islam
Contributor(s)ARMY WAR COLL CARLISLE BARRACKS PA
KeywordsHumanities and History
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractBecause of its pertinence to our own time, the early history of Islam deserves equal, if not more, attention, ideally in our nation's high schools and colleges. A more acute problem--and one that could be readily tackled--is the absence of this immensely important period from war college syllabi. If the United States is to ensure its future policy makers and senior joint force leaders are adequately prepared to perform their duties effectively, Joint Professional Military Education needs to incorporate an objectively focused block of instruction on the formative period in Islamic history, beginning with the birth of the Prophet Mohammed in 570, and ending with collapse of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258. In advocating for this course, it is first helpful to recall the exacting price too often paid when strategists fail to consider--or understand--historical matters of context in their planning. A brief assessment of what the proposed block of instruction ought to include demonstrates how this record of past failures can be improved. Understanding Islam's early history is an essential foundation for anyone confronting the Middle East's most-enduring challenges, such as the Sunni-Shiite struggle, the future of the Saudi regime, and the dispute over Jerusalem. A review of the proposed curricula also helps explain how a proper appreciation of Islam's first centuries helps undercut essentialist, anti-Muslim narratives, thereby inhibiting misguided assumptions. Of course, teaching Islamic history could invite controversy; indeed there is an intense debate among academics about how to approach the subject. Nonetheless, the potential for disagreement cannot become an excuse for avoiding it, even if it does call for an important note of caution.
Published in Parameters, p71-85, Spring 2011.