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The Future of Islam 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0195165210
ISBN-10: 0195165217
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Editorial Reviews Review

John L. Esposito is one of America's leading authorities on Islam. Now, in this brilliant portrait of Islam today-- and tomorrow-- he draws on a lifetime of thought and research to provide an accurate, richly nuanced, and revelatory account of the fastest growing religion in the world.

Here Esposito explores the major questions and issues that face Islam in the 21st century and that will deeply affect global politics: Is Islam compatible with modern notions of democracy, rule of law, gender equality, and human rights? How representative and widespread is Islamic fundamentalism and the threat of global terrorism? Can Muslim minority communities be loyal citizens in America and Europe? The book also turns the mirror on the US and Europe, revealing how we appear to Muslims.

Recent decades have brought extraordinary changes in the Muslim world, and in addressing these issues, Esposito paints a complex picture of Islam in all its diversity-a picture of urgent importance as we face the challenges of the coming century.

John L. Esposito and Karen Armstrong: Author One-to-One
Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous works on comparative religion, including the critically-acclaimed The Case for God. She spoke with John L. Esposito about Western perceptions of Muslims and the issues facing the world’s fastest growing religion.

Armstrong: How did you view Islam before you began to study it seriously? How did study affect your understanding of Muslim faith and culture?

Esposito: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, surrounded by Italian Catholic neighbors, I knew little about the one Irish girl in my class, and much less about Arabs or Islam who were invisible in the American landscape. And what I did know (much of it, I discovered later, was the product of bias and stereotypes) did not attract me to “these strangers”. In addition, since most theology and religion departments did not teach Islam, the prospect of getting a teaching position in this area were indeed bleak. When the department chair of religion at Temple encouraged me to take a course in Islam with a newly hired Muslim professor, I declined. However, he was “gently adamant” and I, reflecting on my precarious position as a grad student, finally agreed to “take just one course.”

When I first encountered Islam in graduate school, I was astonished to discover that Islam was another Abrahamic faith. While the Judeo-Christian connection was well known, no one ever mentioned a Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. Why? If Muslims recognize and revere many of the major patriarchs and prophets of Judaism and Christianity (including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus) and God’s revealed books, the Torah and the Message (Gospels) of Jesus, why had I not been aware of these similarities after all my years of liberal arts and theological training?

Armstrong: Western feelings about Islam have certainly intensified since 9/11. But do you think that the Western perception of Islam has fundamentally changed? If so, how has it changed? If not, why not?

Esposito: There certainly has been more coverage of Islam and Muslims are more visible in the public square. However, during the past decade continued terrorist attacks, the sharp politicization among experts and political commentators, the influence of neocons and the hardline Christian Right have fed a significant increase in anti-Islam and anti-Muslim (Islamophobia) attitudes and policies. The Gallup World Poll and other major polls have demonstrated the impact on public opinion. When Americans were asked in 2007 what they admire about Islam, 57% (that figure dropped to 53% in 2009) said “nothing” or “I don’t know.” The critical missing link in our information and the key question in understanding Muslims ought to be “What do Muslims globally, the mainstream majority, really think?” To chart a new way forward, we in the West need to know not only what experts and pseudo-experts say about Muslim attitudes, beliefs, grievances, hopes, fears, and desires but also and most importantly what the often silenced Muslim majority have to say. I believe we’d discover many commonalities in their values, hopes and dreams.

At the same time, there has been an exponential growth in information and knowledge regarding Islam and Muslims, in books and media. It’s not clear that this has led to greater understanding. Toward that end I have seen an increase in inter-civilizational and inter-religious dialogue initiatives and media and popular culture projects that reach a broad audience, especially youth who are the future of Islam.

Armstrong: What are the particular challenges that Islam faces in the modern world?

Esposito: The first challenge is time. In contrast to Christian reforms that grew out of and were influenced primarily by conditions in the West over several centuries, Islam and Muslims have decades, not centuries, to make significant progress in a globalizing world characterized by Western political, military, and economic hegemony. Secondly, many Muslims today pursue reform not from a position of power and strength but from one of relative weakness, struggling for change in the face of authoritarianism and repression, limited freedom of speech and the press, and in some cases war and terror.

Armstrong: What do you find most hopeful in current Muslim thinking?

Esposito: Post 9/11, the call to reform Islam, to strengthen its relevance in a rapidly changing twenty-first-century world, has intensified. If some say that Islam is a perfect religion that doesn’t need to change or adapt, many others stress that Islam is inherently dynamic and that reinterpretation and reform are critical in the struggle to respond to the demands of our times, to marginalize extremists, and to promote gender equality, religious pluralism, and human rights. This debate has been intensified by a modern technology and mass communications and by the growth of religious extremism and terrorism in the name of Islam.

An influential group of vibrant Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders, from Africa to Asia, from Europe to America, have addressed the role of Islam in contemporary society: How do religion and Islamic law contribute to the modern nation-state? Where do Islamic values apply to key issues of today, like democracy, secularism, gender equality, human rights, free market economies, modern banking? What is the role of the clergy (ulama); are they the preeminent authoritative voices who speak for Islam?

Reformists are clergy, as well as intellectuals and activists; rulers and citizens, both traditionalist and modernist. They can be found at Islamic institutes and universities, at academic and religious conferences, and in parliamentary debates. Reformist ideas proliferate in hundreds of books and articles, audios, videos and DVDs, in newspaper editorials, in muftis’ fatwas, and on the Internet. As in the history of Christianity and the Reformation, change in Islam is not limited to debates in theology and law but also involves struggles in politics and society, and at times violence and terror.

Read Karen Armstrong’s foreword from The Future of Islam [PDF]

(Photo by J.D. Sloan)

From Publishers Weekly

A Georgetown University professor and well-known scholar of Islam, Esposito analyzes the current and future practice of Islam in this short but insightful volume. He surveys a number of topics, including identity issues for Muslims living in the West. Esposito highlights the world views of modern Muslim thinkers, such as Tariq Ramadan (Esposito modestly omits mention of his mentorship of some of these scholars). He tackles head-on the myth of Muslim tolerance of 9/11 by pointing to polls showing that the vast majority of Muslims disapproved of the attack and that 358 Muslim employees at the World Trade Center were among the dead. As a senior scientist for Gallup, Esposito has at his command the results of numerous polls of and about Muslims. In this book, he goes beyond the numbers to showcase what Muslims really stand for and want in today's world. Esposito's enthusiasm for his topic makes his book an easy and enlightening read. For instance, he jokes that his job is the easiest in the world as he has only been asked one question for more than 20 years (Is Islam a violent religion?). Independent scholar and bestselling author Karen Armstrong pens a solid foreword. (Feb.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195165217
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195165210
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,168,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John L. Esposito is University Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He is the editor of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Modern Islam and The Oxford History of Islam, and author of Unholy War, What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, and many other acclaimed works.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By David Crumm on April 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Dr. John Esposito's work, over many years, has attracted extreme responses. Right now, with the wounds of 9/11 and two wars still fresh in our American communities, anyone who takes a moderate stance on engaging Islam globally can become a target. So, in this review, I simply want to reflect journalistic responses to Dr. Esposito's latest book.

First, the generally hard-nosed staff at the Financial Times declared the book a "handbook for this new age of engagement. Intolerant of the extremists bent on provoking a clash of civilizations--Western Islamophobes and violent Islamists alike--Esposito's book is a calculated appeal to the moderate middle ground." That's a staff widely respected around the world and that's their judgment.

I agree. Now, you may take a strikingly different political stance than Dr. Esposito, but at least we should know what he's saying, since it has gained a great deal of interest in important places.

Here's what the book is not: If you've already read a good number of Esposito books, you'll find that this book is not entirely new. He spends a good number of pages summarizing points he's made in other books and articles and talks. Also, if you're really looking for a good introductory look at Islam from Esposito's perspective, I would recommend What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam That's a better overall "reader" as an introduction to Islam for new readers and also for small-group study and discussion.

Here's what this book is: It truly is a kind of "guidebook," summarizing the past decade of Esposito's own research and insight. The book is, indeed, intended as a sharp-edged look at the dilemmas the world faces right now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MoseyOn on April 26, 2014
Format: Paperback
John Esposito, one of America's leading academic experts on Islam, offers an informed discussion of the voices of reform within the Islamic world, as well as an analysis of the present state of, and future prospects for, relations between Islam and the West. His study suggests that the elements for improved relations are there, but that it will require vision, concrete actions, and the willingness for all sides to listen to multiple voices and understand multiple experiences in order to avoid reinforcing stereotypes.

The degree to which any of what Esposito says is new will depend on a reader's prior familiarity with Islam as a belief system , and with the history and politics of Muslim-majority countries and the foreign policies of the US and European countries. And let it be said up front that Esposito is not a smooth writer. At times it seems like the book was rushed, and the whole thing could have used one more careful going-over by a good editor. Another gripe is that while Esposito relies a great deal on opinion polls at certain points (he is co-author of the 2007 book Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, published by Gallup), he does not explain how the polls were conducted, who responded to the poll questions, and what the limitations might be. Poll data can be fascinating, but without more methodological discussion than Esposito provides here (he provides none), they must be treated with some skepticism. Still, the editorial miscues and questions on the use of polls are not reasons to avoid reading the book.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Susan Brown on April 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Future of Islam taught me alot about Muslims in America and Europe and the challenges they face. The book provides easy to read background info on how Islam is used in politics and society as well as on the root causes of global terrorism around the world today.

Esposito portrays Islam's future in terms of a diverse mosaic of Muslim reformers whose ideas on womens' rights, human rights, democracy, war and peace are eye-opening! In the last chapter the author's insights on how to improve the future not only for the Muslim world but for us in the West as well were inspiring. The book is a great read for anyone who wants a global understanding of terrorism and real alternatives for peace. I've also enjoyed Esposito's Islam: the Straight Path and look forward to more in the future.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jishione on August 29, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Future of Islam Excellent book to learn objectively about Islam and help us get red of the unjustified fear of Islam that is being spread by the media and right wing politicians
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mohammed Shadman on August 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
One of the understandably scholalry reviewers has charged John L. Esposito of intellectual fraud for omitting any reference to Ibn Ishaq's work: Sirat Rasul Allah - Muhammad's earliest biography that brings across the allegedly dark and dirty side of his character. Such a criticism, however, is unwarrented and baseless. Any matured and discerning scholar of Islam does not take the Sirat Rasul Allah on its face value. The manuscript, compiled at least 150 years after Muhammad's death, was based on poetic narrations of some of the popular poets of Muhammad's era, and passed down the generations by word of mouth. That was a time (seventh to ninth centuries of Christian era) when human mind was dominated by fairy tales, legends and bizarre speculations. The poets were thus culturally oriented to present facts in highly emotional, embellished, fanatacised and exaggerated manner, primarily to appeal to the emotions of the listeners rather than to leaving hard historical records for posterity. There were indeed some critical scholars who denounced him. "Malik, one of the founders of four schools of Muslim theology, who was a contemporary of Ibn Ishaq, called him `a devil'. Hisham bin Umara, another prominent theologian of the time said, `the rascal lies.' Imam Hanbal, one of the greatest jurists of Islam refused to rely on the traditions collected by him. There were many other learned men who held similar views about Ibn Ishaq's works. The same is more or less true of his successors like al-Waqidi, Ibn Sa`d..." - Muhammad and the Qur'an, London 1992, p. 12.

Hence, blaming Dr. Esposito for omitting any reference to Ibn Ishaq's work is unfair and unscholarly.
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