Author: John L. Esposito
Publisher: Oxford University Press
explains various misconceptions of the west about Islam. The book also provides
a detailed history and Islam’s interaction with the west during various times in
Contemporary Islam: Reformation or Revolution:
starts by discussing the basic worldview on Islam. The main idea projected is
that fundamentalism is the main term attached to Islam by the world, whereas
there is only a small fraction of Muslims who actually belong to this specific
group. Islam in general is more of a diverse type than one that only promotes
terrorism and killing.
of brilliant Muslim doctors, teachers and engineers etc provide solid examples
of diversity and safe nature of Islam. With advancement in technology and
communication providing more and more exposure to Islam, and with the prayer and
the fast acting as good sources of re-awakening, more and more people are
turning to this safer side of religion which is generally thought to be a
religion of fundamentalists and terrorists.
further continues by explaining the general trends in the recent history of
downfall of Islam is marked by 1967 when Israel beats the Arab forces followed
by the loss of Jerusalem. This is remembered as a major disaster and also a
turning point in Islamic history.
The downfall of
the Muslims continued and in 1969 when the Chinese and Malay Muslim riots reach
their peak, this proved to be a major threat to Islamic revivalism.
Bangladesh civil war (1971) further weakened the Muslim positions as Bangladesh
is separated from the rest of Pakistan.
deterioration of the Muslim community doesn’t end here. Shiite Muslim riots in
various parts of the world further divided the Muslims into smaller sects
weakening their position as a whole. During these years, Islam went through a
period of major crisis, westernization and modernization widened the gap between
the rich and the poor. Worsening economic conditions and the increasing conflict
between the Muslims reached its peak.
ever-deteriorating conditions of the Muslims changed their trend during the
1970s. Main highlights included the 1973 war of Egypt against Israel. The war
was never won but the Muslims considered it to be a victory for them as they
thought that an American backed Israel could never be defeated.
The Arab oil
boycott also provided the Muslims with that economic muscle, and also proved the
dependence of the west on the Middle East.
important event in terms of demonstrating the power of a resurgent Islam was the
Iranian revolution of 1978-1979. Shah used the oil revenues to bring about a
wave of modernization in the Muslim world. Large scale modernization activities
took place including the setup of an army whose strength could be compared to
that of the Israel away.
Chapter 2: Islam
and the West: Roots of Conflict, Co-operation and Confrontation
discusses the history of Islam and its comparison with Christianity. It then
explains Islam’s early interaction with the west.
fact that Islam and Christianity have a mutual message and mission for the
world, due to the early success of Islam there was never any mutual co-operation
between the two religions. Islam initially was a minority, and then slowly
became a majority with many of the Christians actually converting to Islam. As
the author explains, the major reason for this change was that Islam is a very
tolerable religion and all non believers are allowed to practice their religion
freely. Another reason highlighted is that of Islam’s emphasis on equality of
people and no discrimination in terms of race, colour, creed or cast.
continues to summarize the major events in the history of Islam including times
of initial boom when Islam had a vast empire and the high caliphal period which
was a time of cultural fluorescence in areas of philosophy and science with “Ibn
Sina” and “Ibn Rushd” as prominent names.
This period was
followed by the crusades and the Ottoman Empire after which the Islamic empire
lost its strength leaving the Muslims on the defensive side. This was followed
by a period of moral reconstruction amongst them Muslims.
Chapter 3: The
West Triumphant: Muslim Responses
explains the activities of the Muslims and their interaction with the rest of
the world during the nineteenth century.
nineteenth century, a clear shift of power had occurred and European
colonization and the large scale spread of western power were on its way. The
Muslim world reacted differently to the challenge of colonialism. Some Muslims
resorted to complete rejection and withdrawal with western education and foreign
languages boycotted. Others adopted the path of secularism and westernization
which resulted in a class of highly educated Muslim elites modernized and
western in thought.
In between the
two extremes, fell the people who took the middle path of Islamic modernism. The
author summarizes the role of people like Jamal al-din al-Afghani (1838-97),
Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849-1905), Iqbal, Taha Husain and many others in developing a
better Muslim attitude towards the west.
Chapter 4: Islam
and the State: Dynamics of the Resurgence
summarizes the recent history of various Islamic states highlighting their
internal activities and their relation with other countries.
can be divided into three different types namely Islamic, Muslim and Secular. On
one extreme, lies Saudi Arabia as the only example of an Islamic state with all
laws and rules set according to the shari‘ah. On the other extreme are the
secular states with Turkey as the leading example where Islam is only restricted
to personal life. Other countries that lie in the Muslim category fall within
the two extremes. There are several states discussed, a brief summary of a few
important ones are as follows.
initially a poor and west dependant country till oil was discovered there in
1959. Mu‘ammar Qadhdhafi comes into power in 1969. With the introduction of the
green book and an intense islamization, Qadhafi’s support for terrorism worsened
its relations with the west and this is when Islam was firstly associated to
Islamic Organizations: Soldiers of God
gives a detailed explanation of the nature and roles of various Islamic
organizations in recent history. The chapter starts with introducing “the Muslim
Brotherhood” and the Jama‘at-i Islami as the main Islamic organizations and
gives some history about their founders (Hasan al-Banna and Syed Qutub of
brotherhood and ‘Abu al-‘A‘la Mawdudi for the Jama‘at). The chapter then
continues to provide detailed information about other organizations that sprung
up later in various parts of the world. These organizations include Lebanon’s
AMAL and Hizbullah, Algeria’s FLN and many others. The chapter carries immense
detail about these organizations which is hard to summarize in a few pages.
conclusion of this chapter mainly is that Islam is a diverse religion and so are
the Islamic organizations with different goals and attitudes towards the west.
Apart from a few stereotypical ones, the majority shares a common view on the
transformation of society. These organizations are well disciplined and highly
motivated, while some engage into violence others have made their way into
politics. These organizations may not be successful as a whole but have been
very successful in responding to people’s problems; answering issues related to
identity, faith and authenticity.
Chapter 6: Islam
and the West: A Clash of Civilizations
This is the
last chapter of this book. Here the author compares Islam to the west and
explains the western viewpoint on Islam. Even though Islam and Christianity
share the same roots, the two have always been in a state of struggle against
each other. Majority of the west views Muslims as terrorists; they consider
Islam to be a political, cultural and demographic threat to the west. Bernard
Lewis’s “Roots of Muslim Rage” and P. Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations”
have been influential in prompting this idea.
The author also
explains that the Muslims settled in the west are constantly being “othered”
unlike other minorities present in the same region. The reason explained is that
the Muslims are considered to be a threat for the west. The author quotes
several examples that prove this as incorrect. As one Muslim leader noted in
France “Our only ambition is to become good Muslims and good French
citizens….But as long as people wage campaigns on the peril of Islam, as long as
we let rancour and frustrations accumulate, we will encourage all forms of
emphasizes that the Islamic movements need to show the world that Muslims are
effective problem solvers and not just critics. They need to keep aside their
internal power struggles and re-emerge as single and united.
States need to avoid portraying itself as an intervening state in Islamization
programs. They should recognize ideological differences between the west and
Islam, and should accept or tolerate them to the greatest extent possible.
finally concludes by explaining that Islamic countries have been on a path of
change especially during the nineties. With no other Iranian style Islamic
revolutions and the emergence of new elite that is educated and more Islamically
oriented, with greater pressure for political liberalization and
democratization, Islam is moving towards prosperity and not towards
fundamentalism and terrorism.
Keeping in mind
that the book is written by an American author, it is a brave attempt to go
against the normal western view on Islam. The book provides convincing facts and
arguments about the difference in the western view on Islam and the actual
reality. However I also see the book as a mere narration of facts about Islamic
history that complicate the reader to a large extent. I feel that the author
should have provided with more of arguments and his analysis of the history
instead of narrating what had happened in the past.
It is quite
possible that I am only feeling that the book is a mere narration of history
just because I have studied Islam throughout my life and the content provided by
the author is not new to me. This may however not be the case for the western
audience who have little or no knowledge about Islamic history.