Irreconcilable Cultures in Our Homeland?

Kristen Moller, Tinley Park

What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, from One of America’s Leading Experts. By John L. Esposito. 204 pages; $17.95.

In the smoke rising from the rubble of September 11th, American’s discovered questions they never knew they had about a people group previously far from their minds. Questions like: Who did this? Why do they hate us? Who are these Islamic fundamentalists? If my neighbor is a Muslim, does that mean he supports terrorism? Are Muslims trying to take over the world?

In the days that followed 9-11, reports of terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, and jihad were the focus of news stories about controversy with and within the Middle East. Today, such references have become household words. But have our questions ever really been answered? Do we understand our increasingly numerous Muslim neighbors?

According to Esposito, a leading expert on Islam and a University Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University, Islam is the second largest religion in the world and will soon be the second largest in America. As we continue to think of Muslims as “strange, foreign, and frightening,” they will continue to increasingly be our neighbors, colleagues, and fellow citizens. Esposito urges readers to “put an end to the spiral of fear, hatred, and violence, spawned by ignorance, that no longer only afflicts other countries but has come home to America.” How, you ask? Option #1: read his book.

One of the best features about this book is that it is practically organized and accessible to the average-joe. The book is written in question-answer format, and is made up of the most practical and sought-after information we, as Americans, are asking. Esposito employs a clear and succinct writing style. His information is well balanced and thoroughly informative. And while the book is meant to be more of a reference source, its style and organization make it an easy read all the way through.

Information is outlined in five main sections: General Information—Faith and Practice—Islam and Other Religions—Customs and Culture—Violence and Terrorism—Society, Politics, and Economy—Muslims in the West. Special features include a glossary, index, and list of suggested further reading according to subject. This book is an excellent tool for an introduction to Islam and Middle Eastern Culture.

Some things to consider while reading the book include: it was published in 2002 and some information (such as current sitting presidents) is inevitably out of date; and Esposito does not cite sources for his information other than references to translated Islamic religious texts for cultural/religious perspective—however, if you are willing to take one of America’s leading Islam experts at his word this should not be a problem.

Esposito concludes his work by saying, “All are challenged to move beyond stereotypes and established patterns of behavior to a more inclusive and pluralistic vision informed by a multi-dimensional dialogue, to build a future based upon mutual understanding and respect.”

This book is a step forward in positive change that our American culture needs to act out. Understanding gained from this book will affect our country today, tomorrow, and far into the future.

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