Monday, March 08, 2010

Exploring the Future of Islam/Muslim World

Oxford University Press, 2010

Talk on the book at the Carnegie Council (1/27/2010)

Is Islam compatible with democracy and human rights?

Will religious fundamentalism block the development of modern societies in the Islamic world?

John L. Esposito demolishes some common negative stereotypes about Islam, the fastest growing religion in the world.

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.

J.Esposito's essay about the book in the Washington Post (3/4/2010)

My new book, "The Future of Islam," seeks to understand the struggle for reform in Islam, sometimes described as a struggle for the soul of Islam, to explore the religious, cultural, and political diversity of Muslims in Muslim countries and in the West, to clarify the debate and dynamics of Islamic reform, to examine the attempt to combat religious extremism and terrorism, and to look into the future of Muslim-West relations.

Among the many questions explored are: Is the future of Islam to be one of reformation or revolution? Are Islam and modernity compatible? How representative and widespread is Islamic fundamentalism? Is it a threat to Muslim societies and the West? Is Islam compatible with modern notions of democracy, rule of law, gender equality, and human rights? Can Muslim minority communities be loyal citizens in America and Europe?

Critical to understanding the future of Islam is its diversity, religious, cultural, and political. Chapter 1, "The Many Faces of Islam and Muslims," provides a brief introduction to Islam and Muslims. Who and where are Muslims? What do Muslims believe, and why? What is the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and does it matter.

Regrettably the impact of global terrorism has created a climate of fear and distrust of Islam and mainstream Muslims. It is important to address the questions: Why haven't Muslims spoken out? Is there a danger that Islam will sweep across Europe and transform it into what some have called "Eurabia"? Responding to these concerns requires a hard look at Muslims in the West. What experiences and challenges do American and European Muslims face? Have they adapted? If not, why not? If so, then how? And given attacks in the United States and England, Spain, and Scotland, what is the nature and extent of the threat of Muslim terrorism.

Part of the problem policymakers and the public have in understanding the diverse world of Islam and Muslims is that they are faced with contending and often diametrically opposed opinions of experts and pseudo-experts and the outspoken threats of the extremist or terrorist minority. The missing link has been the voices of the mainstream Muslim majority. Today, we do have direct access to mainstream Muslim views on a broad spectrum of topics. At many points, we will look at data from major polls, in particular those of the Gallup Organization, whose World Poll is the largest and most comprehensive and systematic poll of Muslim countries and societies globally.

Chapter 2, "God in Politics," provides the background and context for understanding political Islam, the role of religion in politics and society, and its impact on Muslim societies and the West. What are the major events that have shaped Muslim politics and our perceptions of Islam and the Muslim world? Are all Islamic political and social movements a threat now and in the future?What are the root causes of global terrorism, and what role does religion play? What events and actions influenced Osama bin Laden and the formation of al-Qaeda and its role in the spread of global terrorism? What is the significance and influence of Wahhabi/Salafi Islam, the role of Muslim authoritarian governments, the impact of Sunni-Shii sectarianism, and the influence of American foreign policy?

Critical to the future of Islam and Muslims and countering global terrorism in the twenty-first century is the issue of Islamic reform. Chapter 3, "Islam Needs a Reformation," addresses critical questions and issues in Islamic reform. Who are some of the major reformers, the major religious thinkers and televangelists of Islam? What do they identify as and say about key issues in Islam and in relations between Muslims and the West in the twenty-first century?

This chapter looks at the roots of reform and the extent to which it continues today from Egypt to Indonesia as a broad array of Muslim religious leaders and intellectuals, men and women, traditionalists and more modern-oriented reformists, discuss and debate in a dynamic process of reinterpretation and reform. A lively debate exists on issues as diverse as the extent and limits of reform, the role of tradition and its relationship to change, women's empowerment, legitimate and illegitimate forms of resistance and violence, suicide bombing and martyrdom, the dangers of fundamentalism, the question of Islam's compatibility with democracy and religious pluralism, and the role of Muslims in the West. The reformers debunk entrenched perceptions: that Islam is medieval, static, and incapable of change; that Islam is a violent religion that also degrades women; that Islam and democracy are incompatible; that Muslims do not speak out against religious extremism and terrorism; that they reject religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue, and they certainly cannot be loyal citizens of non-Muslim countries.

At the same time, a new breed of popular Muslim televangelists blend appeals to Islam with motivational speaking to mobilize young men and women, middle class and poor, urging them to combine faith and action to improve their lives. Like Christian theologians and preachers who have become religious media stars, Muslim televangelists reach millions, sometimes hundreds of millions, filling huge auditoriums and sports stadiums and spreading their message on DVDs, video and audio tapes, satellite television and radio, and the Internet.

Finally, hat are the critical issues and obstacles that face Muslims and that affect America's and Europe's relationship with the Muslim world? Chapter 4, "America and the Muslim World: Building a New Way Forward," looks at the challenges of Islamophobia, failed American foreign and domestic policies, the roles of militant Christian Zionists and the media, and the continued threat posed by religious extremism and terrorism. Is there a need for a new paradigm in Muslim-West relations? How can the Obama administration rebuild America's image, role, and influence in the Muslim world?

However different in orientation, a broad spectrum of religious leaders and Muslim intellectuals have come together and drafted major statements and undertaken projects to both address the threat of religious extremism and establish a stronger basis for better relations between Islam and Christianity, as well as Muslims and the West. At the same time, international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Economic Forum, as well as major religious organizations, have brought together groups of religious, political, corporate, media, and nongovernmental organizations in efforts to improve and strengthen Muslim-West relations and build a global culture of pluralism through international dialogue and jointly sponsored activities and projects.

Equally important, public diplomacy requires a new paradigm to rebuild America's image and role in the Muslim world. How best can the United States reach out to its target audience, the moderate mainstream, and respond effectively to the fears and concerns of potential radicals? What would a new approach to both America's authoritarian allies and Islamist groups look like?

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