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Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam Paperback – November 13, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Notwithstanding the recent avalanche of popular writing on Islam, most Americans still know very little about this misunderstood faith and its 1.2 billion adherents worldwide. In American popular culture today, terrorism and Islam have become synonymous. In this engaging, evenhanded, and highly readable book, one of America's foremost experts on contemporary Islam seeks to correct popular misconceptions about this faith. A professor of religion and international affairs and director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, Esposito (editor, The Oxford Illustrated History of Islam) does an admirable job of explaining sociopolitical and cultural developments in the Muslim world in a fashion that is easily accessible to nonspecialist readers. Issues such as the rise of militant Islam and its key personalities, including Sayyid Qutb and Osama bin Laden, are fully explained. This is essential reading for every concerned citizen and all those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of contemporary Islam and its internal struggles. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Esposito (professor of religion and international affairs and director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University) has condensed the wealth of knowledge of the Islamic world evinced in his Oxford Illustrated History of Islam (1999), producing a book that can admirably serve as an extremely valuable primer in this new world order in which communists have been replaced by terrorists as the planet's resident evil. Esposito methodically leads the reader through the complicated history of Islam. He explains the various conceptions of jihad, or holy war, ranging from internal movements for community reform to the modern explosive threat to all things external to Islam. One of the more useful elements of this account is the author's review of the seminal thinkers of the Islamic world whose writings have given rise to the real-world events we have come to know all too well. Though Esposito's conclusions are somewhat platitudinous, his strength lies in his vast knowledge and in his ability to render it in an understandable format for the rest of us. Allen Weakland
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195168860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195168860
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 0.5 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
John Esposito is the author of one of the very best introductions to Islam currently available, ISLAM: THE STRAIGHT PATH, and is one of the most respected Islamic scholars currently working in the US. It was with enormous excitement that I discovered that Esposito had written a book that addresses the concerns that most Americans and Europeans have in the wake of 9-11.
This book is invaluable for understanding both the variety of traditions in Islam concerning Jihad, a term which means, simply, "struggle", and not, as many in the US imagine, something akin to "war". This "struggle" is most often, as Esposito explains, spiritual than military, and he is outstanding at showing the wide variety of views concerning the forms "jihad" can take. Even for those who believe in a military "jihad" Esposito demonstrates that there are many viewpoints. He is also superb at integrating these varying understandings with the origins of Islam. One of his great achievements is in showing that just as there is enormous diversity in Christianity (just compare the beliefs of Anglicans, Southern Baptists, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodoxy, Pentecostals, Unitarians, Jehovah Witnesses, and Presbyterians, to take merely a few Christian traditions, and the point is grasped), so also there is a vast amount of diversity in Islamic belief. He points out that the vast majority of Muslims do not countenance violence against innocent civilians. The focus, however, of this book is on that minority that embraces violence.
Esposito discusses not only traditional Islamic teachings on Jihad and the relations of Islam with non-Islamic individuals and countries, but also 20th century thinkers and activists. This was the part of the book I found most helpful.
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Format: Hardcover
Having read a few of John Esposito's other books I had come to appreciate him as one of America's most level-headed analysts of things Islamic. That is why the first chapter of 'Unholy War' was somewhat disappointing. The description of Osama bin Laden's career as a militant Muslim appeared not to differ very much from many other, superficial accounts of this new 'posterboy' of international terror. Thankfully this unease was dispelled by the remainder of the book, where Esposito shows himself again as somebody with a willingness to understand, without becoming apologetic.
For in the second chapter the author seems to regain his composure when he constructs a genealogy of the Islamic Jihad doctrine. The reader is guided through the earliest time of Islam, via the lone medieval figure of Ibn Taymiyya and the 18th-century revivalist Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, to three exponents of modern-day Islamic reformism: the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna, the Pakistani writer-activist Maulana al-Mawdudi, and the chief ideologist of Islamic radicalism, Sayyid Qutb.
As this chapter only gives a brief account of the development of the Jihad concept, there are certain unavoidable generalizations. Unfortunately the depiction given of Shi'ism is somewhat simplistic. However, with this historical account Esposito makes the less-informed reader aware of the fact that the past is of great importance for giving meaning and guidance to Muslim identity.
Crucial in this section of the book is the underscoring of the fact that Muslims disagree among themselves about the exact meaning of Jihad. The fact that until to date the United States government judged Islam's holy and unholy warriors by their goals is another excellent observation.
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Format: Hardcover
Esposito has done a good job in presenting the many facts that are not known to common public in the West. I feel Esposito has been very brave and upfront. He's been outspoken, yet also well balanced. He does not try to please anyone. Also, contrary to what his critics might say, he is not one sided. In fact, to put it more appropriately, this book fills up a hole in the western media, by presenting the other side of the story, which is largely missing from the media. It is a great read because it helps REALISTICALLY answer many questions the west has about Islam, rather than giving self-satisfying short answers which make no sense. The author also differentiates between terrorists, and Muslim activists all over the world. He explains how various rulers, Western and Islamic, have cleverly used the tag of terrorism to curb legitimate opposition in many Muslim countries. Wherever he has tried to correct a wrong western perception of a Islamic principle, he has given solid references and examples. If you don't already have your mind made up on blaming the religion, feel there are questions unanswered by the media, want to know the facts, or just want to hear the other side of the story from an unbiased resource, I would recommend this book to you.
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Format: Paperback
"Unholy War" offers what many longtime Esposito readers will recognize instantly: a straightforward assessment of Islamic society from the diverse perspectives of religion, politics, economics, and human rights. Moreover, it does a reasonable job of spanning the globe to embrace the diverse character of the Muslim world that is often portrayed monolithically by Westerners (including many Western scholars). The book is packed with information—remarkably so given its brevity (160 pages of actual text). Filled with descriptions of major figures and formative events in the history of Islamic culture, it also includes many Arabic terms and even Muslim idioms that are obviously intended to educate the reader.

Most pertinent, however, given the contemporary world's fixation on terrorism, is Esposito's exploration of the supposed theological foundations of terrorist activity within Islam, especially his description of the fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam exported from Saudi Arabia. Esposito posits that the association of Wahhabism with terrorist groups often has been exaggerated by governments (especially those in Central Asia) to deflect attention from their "failed economies, corruption, and self-interested power holders," and that this "blanket use of Wahhabi to describe militant jihad groups obscures more than it enlightens" (p. 111). What Esposito inserts in place of a direct connection between Wahhabism and terrorism are "unintended consequences" in the institutionalization of Wahhabi Islam, "as witnessed by the Taliban bin Laden alliance and jihadi madrasas" (p. 111).
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