In present day America one of the most misunderstood things we encounter is Islam. The public often sees the glorified violence portrayed in the media and believes that it is an accurate presentation of Islam without delving further into the subject to uncover the facts. In his book Islam: The Straight Path, author and Georgetown university professor of Religion John L. Esposito delves into the history and practices of Islam from the early days when the Prophet received his divine guidance up until present time. Through his book we learn that Islam is not as one dimensional as the false representations make the public often believe but is in fact multifaceted and rich in diversity. Although the title of this book is "The Straight Path" it is very misleading because in fact it covers many paths and does not accurately explain how the majority of Muslims in the world actually are and what they believe.
To the average person who is looking at Islam from the outside all Muslims appear to be exactly the same and doing the same things, which is very far from the truth. From the onset of Islam all Muslims were instructed to follow the Quran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad who possessed a high moral character in which personal and tribal centered gratification was not allowed, this moral character combined with following other aspects of Muhammad’s life and the Quran was considered to be the straight path. Even as early as the era of the rightly guided caliphs started to end the Muslim community started to split and break into different factions and modify their beliefs and rituals of worship. Successive generations deviated from these teachings and examples, some went back to their pre-Islam tribal and Bedouin beliefs.
In modern day times numerous sects have flourished and become widely popular including the Sunni, Shia, and Sufi. As popularity rose so did the population of Muslims who were born to Muslim families or converted to Islam on their own free will. The majority of Islamic sects accept reverts except the Druze sect who do not allow converts to become part of their group. These cultural nuances often alienate others and make converts to the Islamic faith feel as if they are second class citizens, as was the case with the late Umayyad dynasty close to their downfall who preferred Arab Muslims over all others.
As often is the case with Muslims, Esposito also treads a fine line between distinguishing Islamic facts that are derived from the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet with practices that are derived from the cultural backgrounds of some Muslims. Esposito states in regards to Muslim marriage practices, “The preferred marriage is between two Muslims and within the extended family.” (Esposito, pg. 116), this is a purely cultural notion that dates back to the pre-Islamic era and does not coincide with the life and teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad which all Muslims must emulate. By broadcasting these cultural practices falsely as Islamic facts Esposito further corrupts the image and true practices of Islam.
In today’s world Islam is constantly changing because of the “reassertion of Islam into politics and society.” (Esposito pg. 247). Because the faith of Islam has been usurped in some ways be extremist groups and individuals who twist the teachings of the religion to suit their own personal needs Esposito states that Mainstream Muslims worldwide need to aggressively address the threat to Islam from religious extremists, but their jihad (struggle) is much a much broader multifaceted process: religious, intellectual, spiritual, and moral.” (Esposito pg.247). To counterbalance this burgeoning threat of extremist groups and individuals hijacking mainstream Islam and causing social disarray the public needs to be taught the truth about Islam through interfaith dialogues so that they do not have to rely on the portrayal of Muslims in mass media or in books such as this one who rely on cultural nuances outside of Islam and which often show only the unsavory individuals. Citizens of the world should not fear Islam, they should embrace the common ideas Islam shares with other Abrahamic faiths and work together to build a stronger, healthy community based on tolerance and respect.
*Note: This book report was written for my History of Islam and the Middle East class, I would not recommend this book to anyone who is trying to gain knowledge of Islam in any way. It is a textbook which makes it very a very dry read and very frustrating for those of us who know the differences between geographical cultures and Islamic culture.