THE BLOG
06/14/2010 07:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Book Review: John Esposito, The Future of Islam

Don't let the fancy title of this author, Professor at Georgetown University, or the name of the publisher, Oxford University Press, fool you. The book is more of a propaganda pamphlet trying to make a case for political Islam and I only, and regrettably, bought it because I saw it reviewed in the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine.

This is the main theme of the book: John Esposito dwells on opinion polls - without presenting their methodology - to come up with conclusions about Western attitudes toward Islam and Muslims. He also includes polls for Muslims to explain their behavior toward the West.

Esposito argues that the majority of Americans knows little and is misinformed about Islam. This has caused American bigotry toward the community of Muslim-Americans, which should be viewed as no less American than any other ethnic group in the United States.

As American as Muslim-Americans can be, many of them maintain unfavorable views toward the United States, not because they are not allowed to integrate - which they are in general disregarding the anti-Muslim opinions of a few American radical right wingers - but because these Muslim-Americans, according to Esposito, have feelings of solidarity with their fellow Muslims around the world.

So Esposito, a "leading authority" on Islam as per the book's jacket, argues for Muslim-American integration in the United States, but at the same time sees no contradiction if these Muslim-Americans maintain their sentiments toward their "fellow" Muslims overseas.

Esposito does not run out of failing arguments. In this single volume, he writes that Muslims are angry with America over (a) America's support of dictators in Muslim countries, (b) America's sanctions against Iraq under Saddam Hussein, (c) "the attempt to manage the process of democratization in post-Saddam Iraq". So whether America befriends Muslim dictators, twists their arms, or removes them by military force, choices that cover almost all available options for US foreign policy, Muslims would still think unfavorably of the United States.

But wait, it gets better when Esposito presents the moderates among Muslim thinkers. He complains that Muslim "[p]reachers of peace or conflict resolution might, if lucky, get a little coverage buried somewhere in the back pages."

On page 32, Esposito writes: "On September 27, 2001, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (chairman of the Sunna and Sira Council, Qatar)...issued a fatwa, signed by American Muslim leaders and internationally prominent Islamic scholars. The fatwa condemned bin Ladin's actions of 9/11 and sanctioned Muslim participation in the United States' military response in Afghanistan."
On page 140, Esposito writes: "While majorities of Muslims reject suicide bombing in Palestine, prominent religious scholars and leaders like Qaradawi have been at loggerheads with religious authorities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt on this issue."

So according to Esposito, Qaradawi - whom he presented as a moderate Muslim - condemns in a fatwa suicide attacks on 9/11, but sanctions - in another fatwa - suicide bombings in Palestine.

Or consider this figure that enjoys "international influence" that Esposito presents: Frahat Hashmi. Esposito writes that Hashmi "asserts only religious scholars should reinterpret Islamic law and that the Quran should dictate the parameters of such reform." Fair enough.

But to Hashmi, reform still means the implementation of Shariah. "Hashmi says Muslims should focus on inculcating Islamic values in a gradual approach to implement Shariah."

In Hashmi's words: "I don't think that the Shariah should be artificially enforced... Unfortunately this is what has been happening in Pakistan. The Prophet (PBUH) first won the hearts of the people by giving them laws to live by and for Him to explain and achieve this took many years. Take the case of alcohol: it was first touched upon lightly, then after a while more strongly and then the third time it was banned. The purpose behind it was gradually explained so when the final ban came, people were ready to accept it. I feel it is important to first explain the concept to people and give them time to understand, debate, and accept it. Nothing should just be imposed arbitrarily."

Esposito simply fails to notice that the only difference between Hashmi, the so-called reformer, and the more traditional "religious scholars" is the way of introducing new rules and prohibitions. Whereas the traditional Muslim scholars want the bans instant, Hashmi prefers to "prepare" the people through more propagandizing, then coming with the same bans when the people are softened enough.

And by the way, Hashmi lives and preaches her version of Islam in Canada, where perhaps she plans to implement the Shariah once Canadians understand it enough and are recipient to it.

Esposito, the self-proclaimed leading authority on Islam, prints a book with the biggest amount of false arguments. Even in terms of style, his spelling of Arabic words (Esposito did not use proper academic transliteration but rather stuck with his own simplistic way of spelling Arabic words in English) makes me believe that Esposito does not even know Arabic well.

The book is a waste of money. It needs a whole rebuttal book to correct its errors. But if you live in the West and therefore know little about Islam or Muslims as per Esposito's polls, don't buy this book because it will only mislead you.

Islam is not tantamount to terrorism. This is what Esposito unfortunately failed to argue.