WHAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT ISLAM: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, from One of America's Leading Experts

John L. Esposito, Author . Oxford $17.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-19-515713-0

Georgetown professor Esposito has written an excellent primer on all aspects of Islam. The question-and-answer format allows readers to skip ahead to areas that interest them, including hot-button issues such as "Why are Muslims so violent?" or "Why do Muslim women wear veils and long garments?" In his answers, which are anywhere from a paragraph to several pages long, Esposito elegantly educates the reader through what the Qur'an says, how Muslims are influenced by their local cultures, and how the unique politics of Islamic countries affects Muslims' views. All three elements contribute to a fuller understanding of Islam. For instance, in answering the question on veiling, Esposito accurately clarifies that though the Qur'an instructs believers to be modest, it does not require head coverings. He continues by describing how the custom of veiling gained popularity in and after Muhammad's time as a status symbol. He ends by pointing out how some women who veil today feel they are making a social protest against judgment based on appearance as much as they are fulfilling the modesty requirement. Occasionally Esposito excludes some key information. He says that jihad is sometimes called the "Sixth Pillar" of Islam without pointing out that Western critics propagate the centrality of jihad, not Muslims. In his discussion of Qur'an 4:34, which appears to permit domestic violence in a disciplinary capacity, he omits new translations by feminist scholars that change the meaning and mitigate the controversy. However, overall, this book honestly and clearly answers the questions most non-Muslims have about Islam. (Nov.)

Forecast:Esposito has become quite the commentator, airing his opinions regularly on NPR, Nightline and Fox News, and being heralded in publications such as the Wall Street Journal. Such exposure should help this primer do very well, and enjoy a long life as a backlist title. Oxford plans an initial print run of 40,000 copies.

Reviewed on: 09/30/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
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