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 11: Islam in the West
Currently about 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. according to a recent Pew Research Study and an estimated 44 million in Europe.
In the U.S. many groups have converted to Islam from Christianity citing their forced conversion at the hands of slave owners. Most notable of these groups is the Nation of Islam. Formed in Detroit in 1930, the NOI represents a splinter of Islam that is more or less completely divergent from core Muslim belief. They do not observe the five pillars and teach the superiority of the African American race and advocate for a separate Black Muslim nation.
In the mid-60s, there was a movement to align the group more with Islam proper under the leadership of Malcolm X, then a charismatic high-ranking leader in the NOI who converted to Sunni Islam. Unfortunately, before this revolution could full take hold Malcolm X was assassinated at the hands of the NOI and eventually leadership fell to Louis Farrakhan who holds closely to the original teachings of the NOI. The belief system of the NOI is diverse and makes for entertaining reading but I will not belabor this article with undo detail. Suffice to say that the movement’s alignment with Scientology is not merely promotional but at least somewhat stems from shared philosophical sentiment.
Problems for Western Muslims
Previously, Western Muslims were fairly invisible but now with increases in violence they are suddenly shoved into the forefront. Unfortunately, there seems to be little appetite for proper understanding of the religion and the majority of Westerners merely judge the whole of based on a few blurbs in the news. For the first time, the West is forced to deal with a group that is divergent from the typical Judaeo-Christian values that it has become accustomed to and therefore judges them all as primitive and violent.
France has gone so far as to outlaw the Hijab in public under the argument that it violates the country’s secular values. This despite the fact that no other religious icons or practices were impacted. Since the law was passed in 2011 very few, if any, arrests have been made but the negative impact has been felt by women who report being harassed and even physically beaten by passersby on the street.
The problems for Western Muslims also fall into the more practical. Muslims must eat Halal, food prepared and butchered according to strict Quranic guidelines but this is not always available in schools. Holding a job can be problematic unless allowances are made for required facial hair or time off for daily prayers and Friday Mosque. As we’ve seen in France the Hijab can be problematic as well as general bigotry and hate from the misinformed populace. To combat these issues, many Muslims have turned to opening Islamic schools and Homeschooling just as many Christian parents do.
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