Islam for Viewers Like You
American relations with the believers in Islam run the entire gamut, from mutual cooperation to violent confrontation. Most films on Islamic history have a predictable format: lots of architecture, images from illustrated manuscripts, and a parade of "experts". The film emphasizes the unity and solidarity of the early Muslim community as the prime explanation for its lightning conquests. The dramatic expansion of Islam is remarkable precisely because it occurred despite very deep divisions among Muslims. Cutting out all references to the vengeful rivalries of early Islam makes it impossible to understand the early breakup of the empire and the process of dissent and rebellion that created new Muslim empires. The admiring portrayal of the renaissance of Islam, centered on Baghdad, renders a genuine service to the average American viewer, who may be unaware of the extent of medieval Muslim achievement in commerce, art, philosophy, and science. Like Islamic civilization itself, Gardner's film goes into decline thereafter.