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 9: Islam at the Crossroads
This lecture, more than the others, doesn’t try to provide answers so much as it attempts to frame the questions that face Muslims in the world today.
There are four Muslim orientations towards faith and the greater world:
- Secularists – They believe that the Muslim faith is a personal engagement and that it should have no impact on the larger governance of the world. “Keep Islam in the Mosque”
- Conservatives – Wish to follow tradition and allow for no change over time. They rely only on past doctrine under the argument that these laws were specifically laid down by God and therefore should be immutable. Leaders of conservative Muslim groups tend, therefore, to be high-ranking clerics.
- Mainstream or Fundamentalist – Beliefs based on Quranic teaching but more flexible and prone to interpretation in view of the world as it is now.
- Reformers – Liberal Muslims that borrow heavily from Western thought. Beliefs are still rooted in the Quran but they draw a distinct line between divinely proscribed law and those rooted in man’s interpretation of those laws.
These groups, and even subgroups within these groups, vary wildly on a few key questions:
- What is the role of women? In some countries, women can’t drive but in others women hold high-ranking political offices.
- What is the role of the democratic process in governing? Some countries hold free elections while others are theocracies.
- Where is the separation, if any, between the role of the church in society and that of the government?
- What is the status of non-Muslims, or dhimmi? In some countries, non-Muslims are treated as second class citizens forced to pay a head tax to remain in the country. In others, they are treated as equals in every way.
- Does the hudud, Quranically proscribed punishments such as amputation and stoning, have a place in Muslim culture?
- At its heart, all these questions seem to boil down to one: Is the law of God mutable over time as circumstances changes or is it written once and for all time never to be changed?
So while Islam is monotheistic, it is far from monolithic. There is much diversity and disagreement within the Muslim faith and debate continues daily on these and dozens of other points of view.
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