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Great World Religions: Islam

Great World Religions: Islam

Professor John L. Esposito Ph.D.
Georgetown University
Course No.  6102
Course No.  6102
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

University professor and international government and media consultant John L. Esposito guides you through the facts and myths surrounding Islam and its more than 1.2 billion adherents. How familiar are you with the world's second largest and fastest-growing religion? Many in the West know little about the faith and are familiar only with the actions of a minority of radical extremists.

This course will help you better understand Islam's role as both a religion and a way of life, and its deep impact on world affairs both historically and today. It is important to understand what Muslims believe, and also how their beliefs are carried out privately and publicly as individuals as well as members of a larger community.

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University professor and international government and media consultant John L. Esposito guides you through the facts and myths surrounding Islam and its more than 1.2 billion adherents. How familiar are you with the world's second largest and fastest-growing religion? Many in the West know little about the faith and are familiar only with the actions of a minority of radical extremists.

This course will help you better understand Islam's role as both a religion and a way of life, and its deep impact on world affairs both historically and today. It is important to understand what Muslims believe, and also how their beliefs are carried out privately and publicly as individuals as well as members of a larger community.

Learning about Islam: What Does the Future Hold?

What does the future hold for Islam and the West in the new century? How will it change under the influence of conservatives, reformers, and extremists?

"The focus of this course will be to better understand Islam's role as a religion and as a way of life," says Professor Esposito. "In 12 lectures, moving from Muhammad to the present, from the 7th to the 21st centuries, we will explore Muslim beliefs, practices, and history in the context of its significance and impact on Muslim life and society through the ages, as well as world events today."

You will learn about:

  • Muhammad
  • Jihad
  • Muslim beliefs about other faiths
  • Whether the Quran condones terrorism and what it says about God
  • The contributions to mathematics, science, and art made by a flourishing Islamic civilization
  • The role of women in Islam
  • Whether Islam is compatible with modernization, capitalism, and democracy.

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is one of the great monotheistic faiths that traces its ancestry to Abraham. Professor Esposito discusses the similarities and differences in the three great Abrahamic faiths and explores more closely the core beliefs that serve as the common denominators that unite all Muslims throughout the world.

"We will see that Islam is not monolithic," says Professor Esposito. "Although Muslims share certain core beliefs, the practices, interpretations, images, and realities of Islam vary across time and space."

The Stunning Growth of the Muslim Community and Its Golden Age

Within 100 years of Muhammad's death, the Muslim community became a vast, dynamic, and creative Islamic empire that stretched from North Africa to India.

Islamic civilization flourished under the Umayyad and Abbasid empires. Under Abbasid rule (750–1258 C.E.), the Islamic community became an empire of wealth, political power, and cultural accomplishments.

Muslims made original creative contributions in law, theology, philosophy, literature, medicine, algebra, geometry, science, art, and architecture.

Arabic became the language of literature and public discourse. Centers were created for the translation of manuscripts from Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Persian into Arabic.

Europeans, emerging from the Dark Ages, turned to Muslim centers of learning to regain their lost heritage and to learn from Muslim advances. Through Islamic philosophy, Greek philosophy was retransmitted to Europe.

Examining the history of Islamic civilization helps us appreciate the remarkable achievements of its Golden Age and to understand the sources of sectarianism, religious extremism, and the conflict between Islam and Christianity, epitomized by the Crusades.

Understand the Development of Islamic Law

Professor Esposito takes a closer look at the historical development of two great Islamic institutions: Islamic law, (the Shariah) and Islamic mysticism (Sufism).

Islamic law has been seen as the ideal blueprint guiding Muslims' correct action, that is, what to do in their public and private lives in order to realize God's will.

Sufism resulted from efforts to experience a more direct and personal sense of God. Both law, the exterior path to God, and mysticism, the interior path, developed as responses to what was perceived as the abuse of the enormous wealth and power in Islamic empires.

The historical tradition of Islamic renewal and reform was developed to fight internal disintegration and upheaval in the Muslim world caused by outside forces from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

Professor Esposito examines the variety of religious sociopolitical movements that struggled to address weakness and decline in diverse Muslim societies through the ages, and discusses how and why these efforts continue to inspire Islamic modernists and contemporary movements in our time.

Discuss the "Struggle for the Soul of Islam"

The lectures examine the worldwide "struggle for the soul of Islam" occurring today between conservatives and reformers, mainstream Muslims and extremists. Among these issues, few are more fraught with controversy than the debates about women and Islam.

Professor Esposito discusses women and their changing roles. Issues include diversity of dress, social status, education, and roles for women in the family throughout the world.

Professor Esposito expands this human dimension to spotlight the ever-increasing reality of Muslims as our neighbors and colleagues in Europe and America, examining how and why Muslims came to Europe and America, and the issues of faith and identity, integration and assimilation, that face them in their new homelands and how they are grappling with these challenges.

Harold McFarland, editor of Midwest Book Review, writes about this course: "This is easily the most accurate, even-handed, and thorough survey of Islam that I have seen to date. The extent of coverage, breadth, and depth of Professor Esposito's knowledge, recognition of the various groups and beliefs within Islam, and scholarly treatment of the subject makes this a very highly recommended lecture series and the only one on the subject that I could recommend to date."

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    Islam Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
    The diversity of cultural and religious practices of Islam is reflected by the geographic expanse of the Muslim world. Islam's more than 1 billion followers live in 56 countries around the world, yet many in the West know little about it and are familiar only with the actions of a minority of radical extremists. This lecture outlines the second-largest and fastest-growing of the world's religions, which is part of the religious landscape of America and Europe, and has had a significant impact on world affairs. x
  • 2
    The Five Pillars of Islam
    All Muslims accept and follow the Five Pillars of Islam, the core beliefs that unite all Muslims across time and space and are the hallmarks that distinguish Islam from other faiths. This lecture describes them. x
  • 3
    Muhammad—Prophet and Statesman
    Muhammad's significance is the result of his dual roles as God's messenger and as the perfect living model of the Quran's teachings. After 10 years of persecution and resistance in Mecca, Muhammad and the early Muslims moved to Medina, where Muhammad served as prophet, political ruler, military commander, chief judge, and lawgiver. x
  • 4
    God's Word—the Quranic Worldview
    Muslims believe that the Quran represents both the original and final revelation of God to humankind, making Islam the oldest, rather than the newest, of the monotheistic faiths. The Quran reveals the compassion and justice of God, the role and responsibilities of human beings, and relations between men and women. x
  • 5
    The Muslim Community—Faith and Politics
    The development of Islam and Muslim history enables us to appreciate the remarkable political and cultural achievements of the Golden Age of Islamic civilization and to understand the sources of sectarianism, religious extremism, and conflict between Islam and Christianity, epitomized by the Crusades. x
  • 6
    Paths to God—Islamic Law and Mysticism
    Piety and the desire for reform resulted in the development of Islamic law (the Shariah) and Islamic mysticism (Sufism). Islamic law reflects Islam's emphasis on orthopraxy (correct practice), rather than orthodoxy (correct belief). Sufism emphasizes personal spirituality and devotion and has aided the spread of Islam through missionary activities. x
  • 7
    Islamic Revivalism—Renewal and Reform
    From the 17th to the 20th centuries, the Muslim world experienced both internal disintegration and upheaval and the external aggression of the European colonial era. Muslim responses to these challenges varied from jihad against European colonialism to acceptance and blind adoption of the West. Islamic modernists called for a synthesis of Islam and Western thought in order to achieve legal, educational, and social reforms. x
  • 8
    The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
    In the last decades of the 20th century, a series of political events and economic realities led to the desire of many Muslims to achieve greater authenticity and self-definition through a revival of Islam. Reformist movements have worked within mainstream society for change, but extremists have resorted to violence and terrorism to achieve their goals. x
  • 9
    Islam at the Crossroads
    Like members of other faith communities, contemporary Muslims face the challenge of defining the role, meaning, and relevance of Islam. At the heart of the "struggle for the soul of Islam" between conservatives and reformers, mainstream Muslims and extremists, is the question of who should interpret Islam and how reform should be achieved. Major issues include the relationship of religion to state and society, the role of Islamic law, the status of women and non-Muslims, the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and relations with the West. x
  • 10
    Women and Change in Islam
    The status of women in Islam is a hotly contested issue, both in the Muslim world and in the West. Muslim women are often viewed through Western stereotypes or the policies of extremists, such as the Taliban. Although some critics claim that Islam oppresses women, others view Islam as a source of women's empowerment. Even the wearing of the veil has diverse meanings for wearers and observers. x
  • 11
    Islam in the West
    Islam is now the third largest religion in the United States and the second largest in Europe. Muslims in Europe and America represent a cross-section of national, ethnic, and racial backgrounds and socioeconomic classes. They, like religious minorities before them, face issues of faith and identity, integration and assimilation. x
  • 12
    The Future of Islam
    At the close of the 20th century, it appeared that the future of Islam could be one of new opportunities for peace, democracy, expanded human and women's rights; political, social, and economic empowerment; and an increasing acceptance in Western societies of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. The September 11, 2001, hijacking of Islam by militant extremists shattered the hopes and dreams of many Muslims throughout the world. Thus, for Muslims, the 21st century requires educating, engaging in dialogue with, and finding new ways in which to work with and within the West and global civilization. x

Lecture Titles

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John L. Esposito
Ph.D. John L. Esposito
Georgetown University
Dr. John L. Esposito is University Professor, Professor of Religion and International Affairs, and Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He earned his B.A. at St. Anthony College, his M.A. at St. John's University, and his Ph.D. at Temple University. Professor Esposito is Founding Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding: History and International Affairs in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He has served as President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and the American Council for the Study of Islamic Societies. A specialist in Islam, political Islam, and the impact of Islamic movements from North Africa to Southeast Asia, Dr. Esposito serves as a consultant to the Department of State as well as multinational corporations, governments, universities, and the media worldwide. In 2005, Professor Esposito won the American Academy of Religion's prestigious Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion. This award honors a scholar who has been exemplary in promoting the public understanding of religion. A prolific writer, Professor Esposito is the author of over 25 books, including What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, and Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, The Oxford History of Islam, and The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.
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Reviews

Rated 3.1 out of 5 by 51 reviewers.
Rated 2 out of 5 by Great World Religions: Islam Having read extensively in Islam and having a knowledge of both strengths and weaknesses of this religion I was shocked at the one-sided presentation. It seems that Dr. Esposito is more of an evangelist for Islam than an objective observer. He speaks much about moderate Islam, about those who are not radical or radicalized. I agree that there are millions of moderate Muslims. They are moderate only because they do not follow all the teachings of their prophet. I heard one Muslim say that the last thing Islam needs is a "Reformation" that brings Muslims back to reading and obeying the Quran. Dr. Esposito fails to see that the content of the Quran as part of Islam's problem. Also Dr. Esposito implies or seems to agree that dictatorships in the Middle East were caused by colonialism. It is hard to understand why a scholar like Dr. Esposito would not acknowledge that throughout the whole history of Islam dictatorships have been the norm and in fact no other form of government was every tried until the modern era. To blame dictatorships on colonialism is absurd. Dr. Esposito makes it seem like life under Islam was a wonderful experience for the Christian, Jewish and non-Muslim communities. He makes no mention of the thousands of churches destroyed by Muslims hundred of years before the Crusades. He makes no mention of the tens of thousands of Christians massacred by Muslims and Muslim armies over the centuries. He says nothing about the fact that Christians, Jews and non-Muslims were always second class citizens of the meanest sort for centuries while under Muslim rule. He mentions that it took Christian countries hundreds of years to move toward equal rights for women but has only taken Muslim countries a couple of generations. He doesn't indicate that the women's rights movement in the Muslim world has been greatly influenced by the women's right's movement in the Christian world. He says almost nothing of slavery in spite of the fact that Muslims were dealing in slaves ever since the birth of Islam and up to the modern era. He says nothing of the hundreds of thousands, yes millions of slaves taken from east Africa and sold in the slave markets of Muslim states for centuries. In fact nothing was said of the what Arabs called "the harvest of the Steppes," the hundreds of thousands of slaves captured in Europe and Russia and sold in Arab countries. He fails to mention that much of the wealth and power accumulated by Islamic powers was built on the backs of slaves. He said nothing challenging the credibility of the Quran. Nothing about its sources. Nothing about its historicity. Nothing about the fact that no one can ever challenge to textual accuracy of the Quran. It would seem that a course meant to explain the religion of Islam would show how much influence the Old Testament, New Testament, Jewish legends and Arabic paganism had in the formation of the Quran. There is much more. I was disappointed because I felt Dr. Esposito was not objective in his presentation of the religion of Islam. September 6, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by Don't waste your time This course is nothing more than a 12-hour cheerleading session and related excuses for Islam. The presentation completely lacks balance and perspective. Whatever puts Islam in a favorable light is repeated over and over, with no meaningful information presented as to alternate applications of the actual practices in various countries. Whatever problems do exist are blamed on the "European colonialists" and a very few extremists. June 13, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by Long on opinion, short on facts. I love the teaching company. I listen to many lectures, most on historical issues. I was disappointed in this course. These lectures are probably what is given to college students, but I was interested in education, not opinion/spin/propaganda. I want to have the history stated, not interpreted for me, I'll make my own connections and form my own views. March 6, 2014
Rated 3 out of 5 by Some Resevations When I saw who was giving this course I was prepared to hate the course. Dr. Espisito is a well know Islamic scholar who is an Islamic apologist. He will not even condemn Hezbollah or Hamas. He portrays them as a Sinn Fein type organization with an IRA arm. However, Sinn Fein never felt that the Northern Ireland shouldn't exist, just that Ireland shouldn't be under British Rule. Hezbollah and Hamas both think that Israel should not exist at all, and have that as a goal in the charters of their organizations. Granted some people in those organizations have thought they were violent enough against Israel and will broke away, but they are not like Sinn Fein. With that being said I didn't actually dislike the course as much as I thought I would, and I actually learned a few things, although not many. I agree with many who have said that it probably would have been better to have a believer give the course than an outsider. Dr. Espisito is Roman Catholic, which doesn't really matter, except that he's not Muslim. Also, he does give a biased presentation of Islam, but to be fair, he gives the presentation that most people in academia give of Islam, which I think is disturbing. I will give some examples. He doesn't present the crusades as an outright attack by the Christians on the innocent Muslims, he does give some background and that the Byzantine Emperor had called for help with the Muslim attacks. He also said that one reason the Pope called for the crusades was to increase his political position. I haven't heard that before, and it's probably got some truth behind it. He also said that there were hero and villains on both side on the war. Then he proceeds to talk about the Crusaders sack of Jerusalem and King Richards massacre of the prisoners at Ayyadieh. He then talks about how Saladin spared Jerusalem when he took it. He doesn't mention the account of Saladin taking Hattin. Saladin's secretary writes this account of how he treated the prisoners there: "[Saladin] ordered that they should be beheaded, choosing to have them dead rather than in prison. With him was a whole band of scholars and Sufis and a certain number of devout men and ascetics; each begged to be allowed to kill one of them, and drew his sword and rolled back his sleeve. Saladin, his face joyful, was sitting on his dais; the unbelievers showed black despair." He also doesn't mention that the Saladin planned to treat the prisoners at Jerusalem the same way. The reason he didn't it was because of an agreement he had reached with Christian commander of the city Balian of Ibelin who had threatened to kill all of the Muslims in the city of Jerusalem before Saladin could reach it if he didn't agree to spare the prisoners. He also only "spared" the prisoners that could be ransomed to freedom, the rest were sold as slaves. Nice guy Saladin. If you go to the Wikipedia account of the massacre of Ayyadieh it ends with this ironic sentence "Aayadieh is perhaps the strongest refutation of Richard as a courteous and chivalrous warrior king. On this occasion his almost "theatrical" staging of the massacre showed that he was capable of using terror tactics in an attempt to terrify his opponents into submission. Ironically, Saladin's counter massacre did not hurt his reputation." Many people point out how well Richard and Saladin got along even though they were adversaries. Saladin even sent his physician, who was probably much, much better than anything Richard had, to treat him when Richard was ill. They probably got along well because they were kindred spirits. Why does Dr. Espisito not tell this, if he "has" to tell about the villains of the plot why only the Christian villians? Muslims know Saladin, and not the happy charitable Saladin the west is told about by Dr. Esposito. Dr Espisto also says that every one of the suras, or chapters, of the Quran, starts with the bismillah "In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful" That's mostly true, except that it doesn't start the 9th Sura, or the "so called", as Dr. Esposito would say, Sword Sura. That's what the "critics" of Islam call it, the name that Muslims give it is "The Repentance" or "The Ultimatum." As Dr. Espisito says, "Many, not all consider this the last word of Mohammed..." He says this about Quran 9:71-72 and says that this is how a man should treat his wife, as an equal. I didn't know that those ayahs were interpreted that way and were applied to marriage. So I learned something there. Dr. Esposito also didn't mention that there is another ayah in the Quran 4:34 that says that it's OK to beat your wife if she's disobedient, but that since the 9th Sura comes later it abrogates the former ayah. It's good to know that some Islamic scholars interpret the Quran that way. Dr. Esposito also talked about the ayahs that the "critics", as Dr. Esposito called them, always talk about. The so called "sword verses". I was actually surprised that he talked about these at all. Not to worry though. We just don't understand them in context. Many Christians understand that other Christians will rip proof texts out of the Bible and that when put in context they can sound different, so Dr. Esposito is going to set our minds at ease here. He quotes 9:5 "Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them and prepare for them each ambush." Yes you're right Dr. Esposito that sounds terrible, so here is the second line that puts it in context and makes it all OK. "But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free." Really Dr. Esposito, putting it in context makes it better!!!! If we convert and pay the zakat (which he talks about as one of the pillars of Islam) the Muslims are supposed to leave us alone, otherwise it's OK to ambush us idolaters? That doesn't seem to make it any better to me. Also, although he mentioned it with respect to marriage he doesn't mention that these so called "sword verses" are also in the last word of Mohhamad, and the only sura that doesn't start with the bismillah, the 9th Sura. He also doesn't talk about the ayahs that say that Muslims should not be friends with Christians or Jews. It's things like this that make people say that Dr. Esposito is giving a slanted view of Islam. Now that I've written how bad the lectures are, they actually aren't that bad. The lecture I learned the most on was lecture 4 about how the different law codes came about and the Sufis. Also, Dr. Esposito is a much better scholar of Islam than I am, or I hope he is, and he does seem anguished that there is no Islamic nation that is not plagued by terrorist unrest or civil war. He also seems to really believe that Islam has been hijacked by a violent minority. It does seem that way to me, however, I don't think that ignoring the reasons that there is that violent minority is the way to help reform Islam. Judaism and Christianity have changed over the years. Jews have worked out how their religion works without a temple. Christians, and Jews have worked out how to get around slavery and usury. There are plenty of ways that the Quran can be interpreted peacefully, and America should be a safe haven for all Muslims that want to take that path. Dr. Esposito says that is what he is doing, and I truly hope he is, but in my opinion, closing your eyes to all the bad things about Islam is not helping it reform, it's just letting the wolf into the sheepfold. February 17, 2014
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