John L. Esposito - What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam

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How Much do you Know about Islam?

Apr 9, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Easy to follow question and answer format

Cons:No debate or analysis

The Bottom Line: This book is a good reference guide for those who want to know more about the Islamic faith


Did you know that the world’s population of Muslims is generally divided into two groups, Sunni and Shii?

Did you realize that Muslims consider themselves to be descendants of Abraham, just like Jews and Christians?

Did you know that the Quran (the Muslim Holy Book) permits a man to have as many as four wives provided he can support them and treat them equally?


These questions and many others like them are answered in this book, What Everyone Should Know about Islam, a question and answer guide written by author John Esposito, Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University. Esposito wrote this book as a simple- to- use guide that can help the world’s people gain a better understanding of Islam. Let’s take a closer look at what this book has to offer:

Basic Contents of This Book:

This 204- page book is divided into the following 7 chapters:

Preface
Acknowledgments

1. General Information
2. Faith and Practice
3. Islam and Other Religions
4. Customs and Culture
5. Violence and Terrorism
6. Society, Politics, and Economy
7. Muslims in the West

Glossary
Suggestions for Further Reading
Index


Each of the chapters in this book is approximately 20 to 30 pages in length and helps to divide the book into more narrowed down topics for easy reference. Chapter 1 is a short introduction, with three simple questions and answers about what people need to know about Islam, whether or not Muslims are all the same, and where most Muslims live. This leads into the second chapter- the longest one in the book- which covers faith and practice, answering questions like what Muslims consider the core beliefs of their faith, the origination of the religion, the role of Muhammad, and other basics.

Chapter 3 then discusses the relationship that Islam has with other world religions, pointing out similarities and differences among the different monotheistic religions and how Muslims perceive those of other faiths. Chapter 4 gets into the cultural issues, discussing the role of women in Islam, the wearing of turbans, the growing of facial hair, marriage and divorce, etc.

In chapter 5, Esposito talks about something that many people want answers to nowadays: the perceived characteristic of Muslim men as being violent and prone to using terrorism to get what they want. Jihad, suicide bombing, and other interesting questions are presented here, with Esposito answering each issue to the best of his knowledge.

Chapter 6 moves into the areas of society, politics, and economics, with questions and answers about the Muslim view of abortion, homosexuality, birth control, separation of church and state, capitalism, democracy, banking, the charging of interest, and other economic controls. Chapter 7 then discusses the growth of Islam in the western world and how these Muslims have been acclimated to the culture of the U.S and other nations.

The book finally ends with an eight- page glossary of key terms and a six- page list of suggested books for further reading. If the current book hasn’t answered your questions in a satisfactory manner, you can consult the glossary for definitions and the reading list for titles of books on more specific topics relating to Islam.

Final Thoughts:

John Esposito has authored a few books on the subject of Islam. He is one of the authorities on this subject and he is a man who has studied the facts and made a conscious effort to uncover the known truths about this faith and why its members believe the way they do.

Like most non- Muslims, I don’t really known all that much about this religion. Oh sure, I know about the Quran, the daily prayers, the abstinence from eating pork, and a few other bits of trivial knowledge. But I didn’t know much else beyond these basic facts until I read this book. And while some of the information was typical of religion in general and didn’t really grab my attention, other things caught me by surprise. For example, I did not know that Muslims regard Jesus Christ as one of the three most important prophets (along with Muhammad and Abraham) and I did not know that they also believe in the virgin birth of Jesus through Mary. Another surprise was that the Quran makes mention of Jesus and Mary even more than the Christian Bible. I’ve never opened up a Quran, so there is little that I know about the Muslim holy book. Most of what I “know” is from listening to the rants of anti- Islamic leaders. So it doesn’t surprise me that these opposing leaders never made any mention of these facts about the Quran.

The importance of Abraham in the religion of Islam was another surprise because this is taken directly from the Jews, whom many Muslims regard as the force of most of the world’s evil. I found this unusual that Islam would hold Abraham in such high regard and yet consider the Jewish people to be “subhuman” forms of life. I knew that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were cousins in the religious spectrum and I knew that, along with being monotheistic, they have more in common than people think. But I didn’t know anything about certain specific facts like this one.

Probably the most pressing question/issue of the day about Islam is whether or not this religion condones the use of violence and force to achieve its goals. Esposito agrees that this is an important topic, given the incredible acts of violence that took place on September 11, 2001- acts that were committed in the name of Islam. He dedicates a full chapter to the subject of violence and terrorism with a total of ten questions and answers. Key among all of them is the second and third questions in the chapter: 1. Does the Quran condone terrorism? and 2. How can Islam be used to Justify terrorism, hijackings, and hostage taking? All ten questions relate to violence, but these two are the most critical because they form the basis of the other questions. And the answers given by Esposito show us that the Quran is a little fuzzy on these important issues. While the Quran doesn’t directly condone the use of violence, it doesn’t necessarily condemn it, at least in certain situations. For instance, there is a passage in the Quran that states clearly the duty of Muslim men and women to defend themselves and their families, religion, and community from aggression. Depending on how one interprets this, it does seem to give the green light to commit acts of violence. More moderate Muslims feel that this message is telling them that it is a duty to defend, but only against direct acts of aggression, like during wartime. But the more radical elements interpret this to mean that they should defend their families and faith at all times from aggression. This “aggression”, in the eyes of an extremist, can mean almost anything. Taken to the limits, it can mean that anyone who is a threat, even an indirect threat, to the faith should be attacked and killed. Thus, for instance, the proliferation of western culture in Muslim countries could be perceived by some as an attack on the faith and therefore deserving of a direct and violent response.

Many things in the Quran seem to contradict, which is common among many religions. Based on interpretation, it is easy to see why some of the more radical Muslims believe that certain passages in the Quran mean something much more radical than more moderate Muslims. This theme of contradiction pops up in other religious traditions, too. Thankfully, the other two monotheistic religions have managed to purge out the majority of the more radical elements among them. Also, most countries in the western world (which have a high percentage of Christians and Jews) have established governments that are more or less secular, which has helped tremendously in curbing acts of religious violence.

One thing that should be noted about this book is that it does not contain any analysis. There is virtually no attempt to decipher what makes Muslims believe the way they do. Esposito intended this book as more of an educational guide, and thus he sticks with the concrete facts. In those instances where there is disagreement and the facts are not so solid, Esposito tries to explain a few of the possibilities. But he doesn’t get argumentative at any point and he doesn’t act like a know- it- all. He just tells you what is already known about Muslims- what they believe, what is revealed in the Quran, what traditions they follow, etc.

Islam isn’t as old of a religion as either Christianity or Judaism. It doesn’t have quite as much history as these other monotheistic faiths and its member nations have not achieved the level of economic success and general achievement as their Christian and Jewish cousins. But there is still much to be learned about this religious faith, from its beginnings with the prophet Mohammad to the present- day world and the new problems and concerns that Muslims face each day. Esposito’s book won’t answer any interpretative issues that you might have with Muslim customs and it won’t try to psychoanalyze the way Muslims think. But what it will do is provide direct answers to direct questions about this religion of Islam. It makes a good reference guide for those who are either curious or who would like to expand their knowledge level of the world’s second largest religion.


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