What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam

Bryan Carey

BOOK REVIEW
What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam
By John Esposito

Author John Esposito is a professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He has written books about the subject of Islam before, and he writes this one with a keen sense of education in mind. Most people know very little about the religion known as Islam, and Esposito seems like he is on a mission, in this book, to help enlighten the world's people about the facts and myths regarding the world's second largest religion.

I think it's safe to say that most people know very little about Islam. Until I read this book, I didn't really know much either. I knew some of the most basic things, like that the Quran was the holy book of Islam; the prayers that Muslims say each day; and a few other things. But my knowledge level ended right there. When I picked up this book, I began to learn things that I had never heard of before. Probably the greatest surprise was the fact that the Islamic religion regards Jesus Christ and Abraham as the second and third most important men to ever walk the face of the earth (after, of course, Muhammad). The next surprise was when I discovered that Islam teaches that the virgin birth of Jesus was real, and the Quran makes mention of Jesus and Mary even more frequently than the Christian Bible. Other facts were noteworthy, but not as shocking, like the fact that the Quran allows a man to have as many as four wives provided that he will treat them equally and support them.

The issue of the day with Islam is whether or not its religious creeds are conducive to violence. There is a full chapter in this book that attempts to answer this question. According to the Quran, violence is acceptable in certain situations, like when a man's family and/or faith might be threatened. Here lies the problem with interpretation. To a more radical member of the faith, this means that any threat at all to one's faith is deserving of retaliation (and that could include almost anything). But to a more moderate Muslim, this is interpreted to mean that only self- defense is permissible.

Esposito keeps this book on a factual level. There is no analysis or any open debate of the issues. Esposito wrote this book as a way to educate the world's people about the religion of Islam- what the Quran says, what Islamic tradition allows, what customs and cultural norms dictate, etc. There is no arguing on the part of Esposito. He just tells you what is known to be true and leaves it at that.

In the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, Islam has taken center stage in the world debate over religion and violence. Many people have taken sides in the debate, labeling Muslims as purveyors of hate and violence. But the truth is, very little is really known about Islam by the worlds non- Muslim population. Esposito's book attempts to change all of that, with a simple to read, question and answer type format. It makes a good beginner's book on the subject of Islam, with lots of facts about the second most common religion in the world, after Christianity.

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