The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito. A few things are worth noting:
- I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material. You can do that on The Great Courses website. My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
- These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course. As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
- There is no third thing. I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.
Lecture 1: Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
This is just an introductory lecture so most if it centers on the question of “what exactly is this course about?” As it turns out, it’s about the basic fundamental questions that people tend to have about Islam and aims most keenly to clear up a lot of misconceptions that people have about the religion which is described by many as “THE misunderstood religion.”
Scope and practice of the religion: Worldwide it is the 2nd most practiced religion and arguably the fastest growing. It is the 3rd most practiced in the U.S. behind Christianity and Judaism. While we tend to associate it with Arab countries, only 20% of Muslims are Arabs. Most Muslims are from Asian countries.
Origins: More on this later but the high level is that Islam has its roots in the Old Testament. Those of a Christian bent may recall that Sarah and Abraham could not bear a child so Abraham bedded his servant Hagar (this was common practice in the day). Hagar bore a son named Ishmael. Unfortunately for Ishmael, not long after, Sarah conceived on her own and sent Hagar and Ishmael away to “Arabia.” Those of Muslim faith are said to be descendants of Ishmael.
Key similarities between Islam and Christian religions: In Islam, God is seen as having given the Earth to man as a trust. Christian thoughts on the topic aren’t far off, at least as I understand them. Both have the concepts of angels, Satan, Prophets, judgment, Heaven and Hell. Also, like Christianity, the writings of the prophet are interpreted by Ulamas or religious scholars rather than taken verbatim. Finally, Islam is a vast and complex religion with a variety of local practices and variations just like Christianity.
Key differences between Islam and Christianity: In Islam, religion, government and personal lives are much more tied together. Christians seem to take their faith much less seriously as a general rule. Muslims observe Islamic law in every facet of their daily lives and while they recognize Jesus as one prophet among many they do not give him special divine status.
Western view of Islam: During the professor’s youth in the 60s Islam was a bit of an unknown and unstudied backwater, lumped in with Eastern religions despite its clear associations with Christianity. Now, the West views Islam through the lens of the Iranian Revolution and sees every Muslim as an extremist. From the other side, Muslims look at the Christianity and have some rightful historical misgivings dating from the Crusades to the current day in what is referred to as American Neo-Colonialism. Add to this the American tendency to side with Israel and the support of the British colonial occupation of Pakistan (which is almost entirely Muslim) and … well, you get the picture.
A few key terms:
Islam – In Arabic, “Submission to God’s will”
Muslim – Also in Arabic, “One who submits”
Salaam – peace
Ummah – term for the transnational Muslim nation.
Ulama- a Muslim religious scholar
View back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam