Louis's Reviews > Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think

Who Speaks For Islam? by John L. Esposito
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Aug 22, 2012

bookshelves: to-read
Read from September 09 to 11, 2010

"Critical to the fight against global terrorism is an ability to move beyond presuppositions and stereotypes in our attitudes and policies and to form partnerships that transcend an 'us' and 'them' view of the world." (p. 135)

"Who Speaks for Islam?" is by far the best book I have read on Islam. I believe that if a large number of people would read this book and take it to heart, maybe some progress could be made toward peace. The primary basis of the book is reviewing portions of the largest research project ever done on the beliefs of Muslims around the world. Many in the media, politicians, and religious leaders in the West have made claims about what Muslims believe -- this demonstrates it. In doing so, the research clearly debunks many of the prejudices that serve as the basis for Islamophobia and hate messages against Islam.

One interesting thing the book does is frequently compare two groups: the politically radicalized and the mainstream or moderate Muslims. The politically radicalized are a minority of 7%. To be clear, these are not the extremists or terrorists, but rather individuals more radical than most Muslims. Those that would support or engage in terrorist acts, as hopefully is evident, is far less than the 7%.

One finding that was demonstrated over and over was that there were not significantly different religious beliefs between the moderates and the politically radicalized. Instead, the difference was in their political beliefs. This alone provides strong evidence to show the more extremists views are not due to religion, but rather politics. In supporting more radical views, these individuals appealed to politics, not religion. It is quite clear that Islam has been falsely blamed for terrorism. This, too, is demonstrated by the simple fact that more terrorist acts in the the last 10-years in the United States have been committed by Christians claiming religious reasons for their actions than by individuals who were Muslim.

The authors, too, are deeply aware of the attempts to paint Islam as a hateful and violent religion. There are some verses in the Qu'ran that encourage violence against non-believers. However, they point out that this is true in other religions, too. In the Old Testament of the Bible, God commanded genocide against people from other cultures to protect the Israelites from the beliefs of these groups. Christians, in responding to this, say it is different and that you have to understand the meaning of these verses from inside (i.e., as Christians versed in Biblical interpretation) and that the theme of the Bible is love and justice. However, when reading the Qu'ran, they assert their authority to know what is meant even when Islamic scholars provide different interpretations more informed by a knowledge of the history of Islam and its theology. This is a very clear double standard. The Bible and the Qu'ran have difficult statements that, if read literally, demand violence against those who are different. However, the more dominant theme of both books is peace, justice, and love.

Another common misunderstanding is that "they hate us for our freedom and democracy." This statement was used as regular rhetoric by the Bush administration and has continued to be used by many in political and religious settings. However, the results of this study shows that Muslims around the world would like democracy and more freedom, especially freedom of speech. However, they do not necessary want an "American Democracy." Many Muslims see the democracy of the United States as one that is quite corrupt. From the viewpoint of Islam, the United States democracy has a bloody history of colonization and occupation of other countries for selfish motives, such as oil and exploitation of the resources of other countries. They also are concerned about many "American" values, such as sexual promiscuity. Furthermore, and quite interestingly, they are concerned about the mistreatment of women. While many view Islam as not respecting women, many Muslims see people in the United States as disrespecting women by treating them as sex objects and dressing scantily for the pleasure of men.

It would be easy to go on and on about the importance of this book, but instead I hope many would choose to read it. It only takes a few hours to read z(even with excessive underlining) and it is quite enlightening. It is evident that if we want to improve relations between the Unites States along with the rest of "the West" and the Middle East and Islamic countries, we need to begin with more interest in who they are, willingness to work past prejudices and stereotypes, and demonstrate greater respect.
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Quotes Louis Liked

John L. Esposito
“But blaming Islam is a simple answer, easier and less controversial than re-examining the core political issues and grievances that resonate in much of the Muslim world: the failures of many Muslim governments and societies, some aspects of U.S. foreign policy representing intervention and dominance, Western support for authoritarian regimes, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, or support for Israel's military battles with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. (p. 136-137)”
John L. Esposito, Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think

John L. Esposito
“As we have seen in the data, resentment against the West comes from what Muslims perceive as the West's hatred and denigration of Islam; the Western belief that Arabs and Muslims are inferior,; and their fear of Western intervention, domination, or occupation. (p. 141)”
John L. Esposito, Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think

John L. Esposito
“Interestingly, the more Americans report knowing about Muslim countries, the more likely they are to hold positive views of those countries. (p. 155)”
John L. Esposito, Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think


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