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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam

Sanitization of Islam

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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam

What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam

Another example of the sanitization of Islam can be found in the section about Muhammad’s many wives. Esposito portrays Muhammad’s polygamy as being motivated at least in part to protect women who had recently become widowed. While that may be a fair assessment, there is a notable absence of any mention of his marriage to the girl Aisha, an event which appears to have occurred when she was six and which was consummated when she was just nine. Even a poor attempt at explaining this would be preferable to ignoring it completely.

To return to the question of Islamic violence, a further problem with Esposito’s account is that his answers to these questions differ little in format from his answers to much more mundane questions about what Muslim’s basic religious beliefs are. These are not simple issues which can be explained and packaged in such a textbook-like manner.

Esposito does at times describe the presence of diversity in how Muslims approach religious violence, and that is important, but he doesn’t go nearly far enough. It isn’t sufficient to merely state that progressive/liberal and conservative/fundamentalist Muslims disagree. Both Muslims and non-Muslims alike have a genuine moral interest in how certain aspects of the Islamic religious tradition are expressed. This means “what we need to know” includes how Muslims disagree, what their concerns are, and an evaluation of what the strengths and weaknesses of the positions are.

Taking these debates seriously requires giving readers a context in which the moral and religious issues can be considered. The absence of such a context implicitly communicates the idea that the issues are almost amoral in nature, resolvable by mere appeals to putative “facts” (like the idea that jihad was originally much more than just warfare). The reality, however, is that the “facts” are interpreted in the light of the values and morals of those engaged in the debate — and we need to know what those values are and how they inform the arguments offered in those debates.

What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam

What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam

Had such details been included, Esposito’s could have been fantastic book. As it is, however, it merely stands as a good presentation of the basic information about the beliefs and practices of Islam which everyone should surely try to become familiar with; when it comes to their more serious concerns regarding violence and terrorism, however, they will need to search elsewhere.

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