Search - Empires - Islam: Empire of Faith on DVD

Empires - Islam: Empire of Faith
Empires - Islam Empire of Faith
Actor: Ben Kingsley
Director: Robert H. Gardner
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2005     2hr 40min

ISLAM: EMPIRE OF FAITH, a three-part series, re-creates the spectacular sweep of Islamic power and faith during its first 1,000 years, from Muhammad's birth to the Ottoman Empire under Suleyman the Magnificent. Evocative r...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Ben Kingsley
Director: Robert H. Gardner
Creators: Regis Becker, Robert H. Gardner, Christopher Schultz, David Grossbach, Jonathan Grupper
Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Documentary
Studio: Pbs Paramount
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 03/08/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 2hr 40min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Quite good and quite biased
William Alexander | Los Angeles, CA United States | 12/31/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)

"First the good. This DVD is incredibly beautiful and Kingsley's voice is absolutely marvelous, he should narrate more documentaries. The grand sweep of Islamic history is presented in a succinct and eloquent manner, with accompanying visuals that are captivating. The story begins in the 6th century CE with the message of Muhammad's strict monotheism. Struggling to gain a foothold in Arabia, he eventually is victorious, conquers Mecca and gains thousands of followers. In one of the most spectacular rises of civilization in the history of man, Islam spreads its faith for thousands of miles from Western Europe to Central Asia. Muhammad's message is simple and profound, he unites the various Arab tribes into one cohesive group under the banner of one God, smashing idols and reciting God's words along the way. Muhammad co-opted one of the greatest innovations of man: the immense power of monotheism and its ability to unite disparate groups of people under a common polity and society. The new Arabic empire spreads rapidly throughout the peninsula, the Levant, Egypt, the Maghrib, Spain, Persia. There is absolutely no doubt that Islamic civilization during the Middle Ages was spectacular, rich, and more advanced than European civilization. They preserved Greek philosophy and expanded upon it, developed geometry and discovered trigonometry, and adapted Indian numerals to a decimal system, greatly advancing mathematics. Art and architecture under the empire was simply stunning, breathtakingly beautiful. Muslims also developed an anatomy that was used for centuries afterward by Europe, discovered inoculation and formed the precursor to modern hospitals. The Islamic empire was so rich and powerful it became a great threat to Christian Europe, who responded with the Crusades. Over one hundred years of conflict ensues in the Levant, until Saladin re-conquers and ends the Crusading campaigns. The account of the Crusades is short, and not historically complete. It is also quite biased in its presentation of details.The rise and spread of the Ottoman Empire is narrated in the third installment. Their power, spread into Europe, their great architecture, and their antagonism with the Iranian Safavid Empire are all included. By far the best part of this DVD is its telling of the life of Suleyman the Magnificent. He was certainly an extraordinary ruler and he receives his due attention in this documentary.Now the bad. This production is quite biased, sometimes subtly in its choice of pictures, other times not so subtly in its choice of language. What you will not hear about is the gruesome nature of the Arabic conquest. While, according to this documentary the Muslims were led by a noble faith in God, the truth is many people were slaughtered in the conquests. Many thousands of Zoroastrian Persians were slaughtered; the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) were allowed to maintain their faith, but were subject to a special Muslim toll tax that did not apply to Muslims. They also were not allowed to proselytize, and their legal testimony was not as valid as their Muslim overlords. Many people were given only three options: conversion, death, or slavery. All peoples have conquered and slaughtered the Other; neither Muslims nor Christians are exempt from such behavior. Nonetheless, some Christians received more toleration than they had had under the Byzantine Empire. But the fact of the matter is that modern religious toleration was birthed in the European Enlightenment, not in the Middle East or West Asia. Muslims did develop much philosophy and learning, however many of the scholars working in Cordoba and Baghdad were Jews and Christians, albeit studying in peaceful cooperation with the Muslims. Paper was discovered via Chinese slaves brought into the empire, and the slave trade formed an integral part of the economy of the Muslim lands. Although Muslims did not invent slavery, which has been around since the dawn of civilization, they did innovate the African slave trade. Several times we hear about Europe "languishing in the Dark Ages". No serious historian uses the term Dark Ages anymore, as the past decades have revealed a much more complex and intellectually interesting history. The term has been abandoned for the more appropriate Middle Ages, being as it is the bridge between the ancient and modern worlds.A great oversight is its short shrift of Iran. Iran is one of the centers of Islamic civilization, the center of Shiism, and a complex and interesting culture. The glory of the Safavid Empire and the beauty of its capital Isfahan are briefly mentioned, but there is no word on Shah Abbas, Iran's ruler at the height of this empire.Also, this DVD focuses on politics, not religion. You will not gain a deep understanding of the myriad forms of Islamic faith in this documentary, certainly a key point of interest for some individuals. The Sufi dervishes were only very briefly mentioned, which is a shame because Sufism is a fascinating expression of Islamic mysticism, looked at with great suspicion by more conservative Muslims. Neither will you hear much detail about the schism between the Sunni and Shiites. The roots of this split are told, but the theological differences are not discussed. It was the development of Shiism that was a great impetus for the conversion of the Zoroastrian Persians to Islam, as it incorporated Zoroastrian ideas, merging the Saoshyant with the Hidden Imam to be revealed in later times. So, it's biased, but extremely beautiful and informative. This could have been a four or five star documentary, but because of its political correctness it gets three."
Not about Islam, but about the Islamic Empire
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This video gets five stars and I highly recommend it because:
* it's beautifully filmed and narrated
* it has a wealth of information in it
* it's a good overview of the birth of Islam and the Empire that was built by the Muslims from the 7th to the 16th centuries.
* it's totally hard to stop watching once you start!However, please note that the title is misleading: This is not about Islam. In fact, aside from the belief in one God, the beliefs of Islam are not discussed or explained at all. That's okay -- but the video doesn't make clear the distinction between Islam and the Islamic empire. It's like the difference between the Holy Roman Empire and Christianity. The ones ruling were Christians, but that doesn't mean that all their practices followed the tenets of Christianity. Similarly, although this is about the Islamic empire (including the Ottomans), not everything that the rulers did was Islamic (killing anyone for the sole reason that he has a claim to power is murder in Islam, but this is something some Ottomans did, anyway). So in watching this, please keep in mind that this video is describing an empire that was based on the Islamic faith, but which contained good and bad elements, just like any other empire in the world. Most of all, please do not assume that all that happened in history was sanctioned by Islam. Most rulers throughout the centuries have belonged to some religion, but it doesn't mean that they always complied with that religion.That's my only quibble -- that the distinction is not made clear. Otherwise, this is an excellent source of information, the best video I've seen, about early Islamic culture and achievements. I do recommend it highly."
Excellent but incomplete
Steven Ware | New York, NY United States | 02/15/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"First, the good news: ISLAM: EMPIRE OF FAITH does an apparently excellent job of what it sets out to do, which is to show the rise, spread, and maturing strength of Islamic faith and culture. It is wonderfully documented and illustrated, giving the viewer a sense of "being there," thereby engendering a true appreciation for these societies and their historical development. If for no other reason than viewing the many pieces of Muselim art and architecture, and being confronted with the intellectual accomplishments of Muslim culture, these videos are worth their price.Now the less-than-good news: The omissions and incompleteness of the presentation make it almost appear to have been produced for the purpose of trumpeting the superiority of Muslim society over all others. First of all, the small and select group of scholarly commentators and brevity of comments excludes any debate about the relative value of the events and ideas presented and/or other possible interpretations. Secondly, this presentation shows an all-too-obvious condescending attitude toward medieval "Christian" Europe and its "Dark Ages," which were not nearly so long as is often supposed. At the same time, it only very softly admits the fact that Islam was spread primarily by warfare for several centuries, while harshly criticizing the Christian Crusaders who attacked Islamic strongholds intermittently for nearly two centuries. Thirdly, while concluding the presentation at the height of Ottoman power in Asia and Europe shows a glorious point of culmination of Islam as an empire, it fails to address some important questions: It fails to answer why the Ottomans in particular and Islamic civilization in general fell into extended cultural decline by the late sixteenth century--just when several Western European nations were expanding in strength and commerce. As a result, it fails to address the question of what can happen within a religious group during a period of decline, as has been the case with every religion at some points in time. Finally, it fails to connect the glorious cultural past of Islam to its developments in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, which would be very helpful to modern viewers. But then again, perhaps these matters were beyond the range of the project.So . . . this is an excellent and helpful video for what it does, but it desperately needs a sequel."
Informative Tale of the Islamic Faith
Steven Dickison | United States | 11/10/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This really was a well made documentary. Informative and to the point. Its interesting how many of us consider ourselves to be religious, yet we dont really understand even the basics of other faiths. Islam is one of the major religions of the world along with Christianity, Judaism, Hindu and a few others. It is an ordered monotheistic belief very much like Christianity. The program was impartial and fair, giving rich history of Muslims without being overly for or against their beliefs. Muslim faith, ideals, conquest, commerce, city managment and daily life were discussed. The difference between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims was explained. And given recent world events in the Middle East, it was a timely program."