Critical essay : The future of Islam by John L. Esposito

 Here is one of three critical essays I had to produce when I was taking the class “ Islamic Religious Traditions ” with  Dr. Charles Kimball  at the University of Oklahoma. As you might be wondering, I am French and I had the chance to go to Oklahoma University as part of my exchange student program.
Please, let me know if you notice any mistake. And if you want to react to my articles, please keep in mind that respect is important.

The future of Islam

By John L. Esposito




America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.’ Barack Obama

‘Fanatics are wrongfully self declaring themselves being the true Muslims, and the ultimate weapons to fight against them are to be found in Islam itself.’ François Hollande, present French President.

In a world where globalization rules most of the nations, a concept of modernization emerges advocating the Western model. During the meanwhile, Islam, which is the world’s fastest growing religion, seems to maintain its traditional values, which are often considered as being too old and no more adapted to the modern days. Within thirty three years, how can we explain that Islam, that was almost an unknown religion for most of people, began the main topic in the media, and the most important preoccupation in western countries’ foreign policy? Can we talk about a demonization of the Occident by Islam, when much ink has been spilled on topics such as the American’s war on terrorism and terror after 9/11, the Arab spring, or Isrealo-Palestinian[1] conflicts or other Shiite and Sunni conflicts and revolutions in the Middle East?

In this book, John L. Esposito tries to give an answer to many questions concerning the spread, and future of Islam. In order to explain how today’s world situation, as well as tomorrow’s one is and will be neatly linked to religion issues, the author of The future of Islam, first provides us with historical facts, allowing the reader to understand values of the Muslim community, but also the general aspect of the different situations in different places and times. John L. Esposito studies upon the Muslim world and its influence over the world brings many answers to the reader, who might be completely unfamiliar to the subject, but also specialist. In its condensed, but complete attempt of prognosis concerning the future of Islam, the author also raises a lot of questions and interrogations when we take into considerations all the facts and stakes of such a complex and sometimes controversial subject.

            First of all, John L. Esposito introduces a real important concept, which is the pluralism in Islam. What seems quite destabilizing first is the paradox when we say that Islam has many faces, but that a certain unity in the Muslim community exists; For instance, in the past few years, we have been able to see how deeply moved and hurt were Muslims when a Danish cartoon depicted Muhammad, last prophet of Islam, with a bomb as a turban in 2005 – 2006 [2]. Directly referring to extremism, subject that we will obviously discuss later on, we have seen how united could be the umma (an Arabic term referring to the Muslim community, which can be described as a Diaspora of believers, in a worldwide aspect, without any ethnical or national distinction). The example has been reaffirmed with the ‘explosive’ polemic in France where this time Muhammad was represented with a bomb instead of his head in a newspaper, this cartoon has been subsequently banned by French authorities [3]. Those examples of unity show us that the umma shares strong common values and beliefs, so why would we talk about a pluralism in Islam, why John L. Esposito describes it as the ‘many faces of Islam’ ?

            While on one side many say Islam is definitely not compatible with modern societies, on the other side, many Muslims believe in preserving their traditions if they want to reach success and development. As the reality is never that easy to describe, John L. Esposito basically explains in a simple way that as a community, the umma cannot be perfectly united, that talking about an only one Islam, we should refer to several Islams. Indeed, as the umma is widely spread in the world, it seems logical that customs, cultures, economies and politics are shaping the religion, showing differences from a country to another for example. But sometimes, the differences might appear in the same country, for example, a Muslim that is living in a non-Muslim nation, is often brought to abandon in part his or her identity not to be discriminated, or to integrate to the society. What some would describe as a denial of religious identity is mainly constraint in societies where stereotypes are deeply rooted. John L. Esposito states that Islamophobia began to develop after the Iranian revolution in 1979, subsequently reinforced because of the media and what image they conveyed of other conflicts such as in Iraq, or bombings (notably 9/11). Many Muslims leaders point out the fact that there is an important need to forget stereotypes that deeply took roots in our societies and minds because they harm Muslims in general, but those who are also willing to live in occidental societies. What demographic studies have shown about the Muslim community in the USA, is that it is the first religious group without any majority of ethnical background, and that they perfectly share the same aspiration for religious, political freedom, for prosperity and education. Studies have also shown that this community is mainly composed of young worshippers, and that they are the most educated religious group in the USA, but were suffering from discrimination since the past thirty years, especially after 9/11 bombings.

To contrast that view, and reaffirm the differences existing in Islam, the European case is brought, showing a completely different context. Muslims in Europe mainly share the common historic fact, which is most of the time linked to colonial empires. For example in countries like France or the United Kingdom, Muslims were respectively welcomed from North Africa and South Asia after World War II and the end of colonial empires. While such countries needed workforce, they did not provide them with educational services, job-skill development which led them to unemployment or low qualified jobs, while they were placed in neighborhoods created only for them, for a temporary period of time. The second generation began to have access to education, and was raised with parents that barely spoke the language of the country they were living in, still transmitting their culture from their homelands while they were learning their new cultures. All these factors resulted in a third generation of Muslims that were completely torn between two different cultures, world and identities, rejected by both societies; finally the ‘temporary’ districts remained, and even if the educational level slowly increased from a generation to another, ‘ghetto’ atmospheres began to develop where the violence, and drug dealing jointly increased. The present day generations of Muslims in Europe are slightly changing, educated people are migrating to follow their studies, and important political reforms have been made to answer to these important issues, allowing upward mobility in the society, but stereotypes of uneducated and violent Muslims are still deeply rooted in European mentalities.

            During the meanwhile, movements of contestation began to develop, such as those in England for example, where leaders created divide between Muslims, preaching messages of hate and anger against the countries they were living in; some of them believed in such messages, others did not. This kind of divide created a threat for the religion in its whole, because it weakened the image conveyed to non believers, who where spectators of inner conflicts in the Muslim community.

In addition to these inner conflicts, other powerful leaders began to preach messages of hate against the Occident, leading to bombings and other attacks in the West. John L. Esposito carefully explains that media had an extreme important role in how the world received these messages. According to the Gallup World Poll, 91% of Muslims interviewed believed that the attacks of 9/11 were morally unacceptable and unjustified. What John L. Esposito highlights is that notorious Muslim leaders and organizations denounced those terrorists’ attacks, saying that terrorists were self declaring themselves Muslims, and that Islam (which means Peace and submission to God in Arabic) will never tolerate such unjustified acts. The question asked by many concerning the reason why those leaders were never heard, is answered by John L. Esposito, explaining that the problem came from the media’s failure to provide a balanced coverage. Many fatawa (Islamic laws created by Muslim scholars) were issued to respond and condemn such acts, even Hamas (literally translated as ‘enthusiasm’ and acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement in Palestine)   and Hizbollah (party of God in Lebanon) but once again, the media’s failure to provide a balanced coverage would explain why few were those who heard about those facts.

            After such events, Muslims feared to suffer from the image of Islam extremists conveyed to the world, and today we can obviously understand that their fear was legitimate as the increasingly suspicion and Islamophobia strikes occidental mentalities.

Religious differences have an important impact in the economical, political and theological spheres, we observe that for one faith, the multiple branches of Islam tend to create divides and is about to dig them deeper and deeper if we rely on the currents affairs in Middle East that occur for example with the Sunni-Shii rivalry. Occident that plays an important role in those conflicts unfortunately does not necessarily acknowledge about differences, and historical facts explaining why such tensions appeared, and are threatening the world. While the actors from the west cannot tell the differences between a Sunni (follower belonging to the major party of the muslim community, emphasizing the traditions) and a Shi’ite (follower of the party of Ali that was created after Muhammad’s death), they are in charge with military forces in countries where such rivalry occurs, some may understand the gravity of the situation. No wonder why then, Christian televangelist and Zionist movements are gaining consideration in the USA, with leaders like Terry Jones[4] , that are targeting Islam in general, unable to differentiate Muslim extremists to mainstream Muslims, and attacking the name of Islam describing the religion as being the evil and source of terrorist attacks and bombings that are occurring in the world. Even republican candidate John McCain was neatly linked to Christian Zionists and televangelists in 2008.

As the complexity of the whole subject tends to bring controversy, John L. Esposito says that Muslims are nowadays at a major crossroad, that their role is going to be really important in the next decades, and that the Muslim world certainly has to be studied in order to understand the whole community. While Muslims tend to stress their priorities and need in improving their economic conditions, job opportunities and skill developments, living standards, but also strengthening justice, law and order while promoting their democratic ideals and putting an end to conflicts with respect and improvement of education, social justice and religious freedom, we should no longer talk about a Judeo-Christian tradition, but a Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition as they share the same Abrahamic origins.

[1]  On the 11/29/12, the UN recognizes Palestine as a State, even if it will not be a member-state, hope of sustainable peace is emerging today. See:



[3]  See article on CNN website ; after the bombing of the newspaper offices last year, and the warning of French authorities, the newspaper continues to release controversial cartoons and articles:

[4]This fundamentalist pastor burnt the Qur’an in front of his audience during a speech, attacking directly Islam: