July 22, 2007
The Washington Post

Want to Understand Islam? Start Here

by John L. Esposito

Nearly half of Americans have a generally unfavorable view of Islam, according to a 2006 Washington Post-ABC News poll, a number has risen since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That climate makes it easy to lose sight of the fact that the majority of mainstream Muslims hate terrorism and violence as much as we do -- and makes it hard for non-Muslims to know where to begin to try to understand a great world faith.

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam originated in the Middle East. As F.E. Peters shows in "The Children of Abraham," the commonalities can be striking. Muslims worship the God of Abraham, as do Christians and Jews. Islam was seen as a continuation of the Abrahamic faith tradition, not a totally new religion. Muslims recognize the biblical prophets and believe in the holiness of God's revelations to Moses (in the Torah) and Jesus (in the Gospels). Indeed, Musa (Moses), Issa (Jesus) and Mariam (Mary) are common Muslim names.

Muslims believe in Islam's five pillars, which are straightforward and simple. To become a Muslim, one need only offer the faith's basic credo, "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God." This statement reflects the two main fundamentals of Islamic faith: belief in the one true God, which carries with it a refusal to worship anything else (not money, not career, not ego), and the crucial importance of Muhammad, God's messenger.

Muhammad is the central role model for Muslims -- much like Jesus is for Christians, except solely human. He is seen as the ideal husband, father and friend, the ultimate political leader, general, diplomat and judge. . . .


AUDIO: "QURAN EXPLORER -- English and Arabic

Allama Sir Abdullah al-Mamun al-Suhrawardy, "The Sayings of Muhammad," February 1905

Isma'il Raji al Faruqi, "Islam and Other Religions," American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 1985

In earlier times there was an aspiration toward a Norm, a perfection towards which we might strive but which we could scarcely hope to reach. The Christian ideal was summed up in the imitation of Christ, who represented the human Norm, as does Muhammad for the Muslim. Today normality means to be as like other people as possible. If the majority are in error, then to be in error is normal; if they are corrupt, normality takes the shape of corruption. The majority must be right. This assumption is the foundation of democracy. The trouble is that the majority changes its mind from one decade to the next.--Charles Le Gai Eaton, "Remembering God: Reflections on Islam," Kazi Publications, Inc. (April 11, 2000)

Enver Masud, "The Truth About Islam," The Wisdom Fund, 1995 -- a 600 word introduction to Islam

Enver Masud, "A Clash Between Justice and Greed," The Wisdom Fund, September 2, 2002

Jacob Bender, "Lessons From Three Wise Men: Averroes, Maimonides, Aquinas," The Wisdom Fund, December 20, 2003

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity," HarperOne; (August 17, 2004)

Paul Lewis, "Charting the Lost Innovations of Islam," Guardian, March 10, 2006

Mansoor Alam, "The Immutable Shariah," Alternate Voice, April/May 2007

Mirza Yawar Baig, "Tyranny of the Few," The Wisdom Fund, June 7, 2007

"Arab Conquests: For the Glory of Allah," The Economist, July 5, 2007

Mohja Kahf, "As American As You Are," Washington Post, July 22, 2007

Akbar Ahmed, "Bush Still Doesn't Get It," Washington Post, July 22, 2007

Mansour al-Nogaidan, "Losing My Jihadism," Washington Post, July 22, 2007

Leila Aboulela, "Restraint? Sure. Oppression? Hardly," Washington Post, July 22, 2007

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John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, "Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think," Gallup Press (February 28, 2008)

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[According to Sufism, the supreme goal of human life is to attain Truth, which is also Reality, the source of all reality, and whose attainment, as also stated by Christ, makes us free, delivering us from the bondage of ignorance.--Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam's Mystical Tradition," HarperOne; Reprint edition (September 2, 2008), p30]

Emile A. Nakhleh, "A Necessary Engagement - Reinventing America's Relations With the Muslim World," Princeton University Press (December 29, 2008)

"The Doha Debates," 2004 - 2009

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[The report, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, took three years to compile, with census data from 232 countries and territories.--"One in four is Muslim, study says," BBC News, October 8, 2009]

M. Shahid Alam, "How Eurocentric Is Your Day?," The Wisdom Fund, November 11, 2009

A Film by Georg Misch: "A Road to Mecca: The Journey of Muhammad Asad,", 2009

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POLL: "The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity,", August 9, 2012

POLL: "The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,", April 30, 2013

Farzana Versey, "Asghar Ali Engineer's Islam,", May 16, 2013

[Thomas Jefferson imagined Muslims as future citizens of his new nation. His engagement with the faith began with the purchase of a Qur'an eleven years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson's Qur'an survives still in the Library of Congress--Denise Spellberg, "Our Founding Fathers included Islam,", October 5, 2013]

John Andrew Morrow and Charles Upton, The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World," Sophia Perennis (November 2, 2013)

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Jane Ciabattari, "Why is Rumi the best-selling poet in the US,", October 21, 2014

John L. Esposito, "The Future of Islam," University of Kentucky, September 22, 2014

BOOK: Peter Manseau, "The Muslims of Early America,", February 9, 2015

Yasmin Khan, "Humanist vs Islamic perspectives on science and the modern world,", November 6, 2015

"Why They Hate Us," The Wisdom Fund, December 19, 2015

DOCUMENTARY: "The Sultan and the Saint,", 2015

The epic history of the crossroads of the world -- the meeting place of East and West and the birthplace of civilization--Peter Frankopan, "The Silk Roads: A New History of the World," Vintage; Reprint edition (February 16, 2016)

Ali Asani, Islam Through Its Scriptures," Harvard, March 1, 2016

The orient isle of Elizabethan England, for so long almost a confederate of the Islamic world, became an island of orientalism, as one set of myths and misconceptions of Islam gave way to another.--Jerry Brotton, "The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam," Viking (September 20, 2016)

Amal Kassir, "The Muslim on the Airplane," TEDx, December 14, 2016

Sahar Habib Ghazi, "The Muslims You Cannot See," TEDxStanford, May 19, 2017

Gary Wills, "What the Qur'an Meant: And Why It Matters," Politics and Prose, October 28, 2017

John L. Esposito and Natana J. DeLong-Bas , "Shariah: What Everyone Needs to Know," Oxford University Press (April 11, 2018)

Juan Cole, "Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires," Bold Type Books (October 9, 2018)

Robert Scheer: Juan Cole Interview , "The West Has Islam Dangerously Wrong,", January 18, 2019

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