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 12: The Future of Islam
At the start of the 21st century it seemed that Muslim standing in the West was improving. That was, of course, until the 9/11 attacks cast a shadow over all the progress that had been made and caused many to view all Muslims in the light of the extremists who carried out the attacks. Almost universally, American Muslim groups condemned the attacks:
“American Muslims utterly condemn the vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. We join with all Americans in calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators. No political cause could ever be assisted by such immoral acts.”
Meanwhile, some Christian groups laid blame for the attacks at the feet of abortionists, feminists and the LGBT community. Even other non-US Muslim leaders, with the notable exception of Saddam Hussein, publicly condemned the acts.
This event strengthened the misguided belief that Islam is a violent religion and at the same time silenced alternative voices within the faith since extremists tend to target other Muslims much more frequently than any other groups.
Extremists use Islam as a justification for terror but this falls afoul of the Quranic doctrine which states that Jihad can only be called upon by a recognized head of state and that minimal force is to be used to defend but not attack. Further, the Quran states that non-combatants and their property cannot be harmed. Islamic extremists act without the backing of Muslim clergy and their Fatwas are therefore invalid and do not represent the larger Muslim faith.
The events of September 11th augmented divisiveness in a Muslim community that was already divided about many issues:
Should the faith adapt to the influences of the West or should it strive to stay true to its previous beliefs and resist “Westoxification”?
Is the faith compatible with Democracy?
Can Capitalism have a place in Islam? Given that The Prophet himself was a merchant, the answer seems likely to be yes. However, there is concern about the role that Capitalism might have in eroding fundamental Muslim values as concerns the treatment of the poor and disadvantaged.
The lecture closes by noting the delicate balance that must be maintained by Muslims living in the West today. On one hand they must coexist with their non-Muslim neighbors but at the same time adhere to their core beliefs. Esposito points out that Christianity and Judaism have had centuries to refine their policies and beliefs to arrive at what we now consider culturally acceptable. Islam, contrarily, finds itself thrust into a world that is increasingly hostile and will need to react quickly to adapt to the world.
Thus ends the content-based section of the series.
On the question of quality of this series overall, I’d say that it’s passable but dated. The copyright for the lectures is 2003 and given the fast pace at which this topic moves, that’s an eternity. I’d like to see a sweeping update to bring this up to the minute on what’s going on now and how attitudes have changed since the original recording.
Also, while the content is solid and breathtakingly important, it at times became extremely ponderous. Mr. Esposito is covering this material at such a high level that I think a lot of the impact is lost because he just cannot get into the details.
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