The Future of Islam; Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts From al-Banna to Bin Laden

In This Review

The Future of Islam
by John L. Esposito
Oxford University Press, 2010
256 pp. $24.95
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Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts From al-Banna to Bin Laden
by Edited by Roxanne L. Euben and Muhammad Qasim Zaman
Princeton University Press, 2009
536 pp. $26.95
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Esposito, who has spent some three decades writing books that present Islam and Muslims to nonspecialists, is at his best here. He shows Islam as a sister religion to Judaism and Christianity and as equally diverse. And he addresses the hot-button questions suspicious Westerners pose about Islam and Muslims; the book's section headings include "Muslims in the West: Can They Be Loyal Citizens?" "Is Islam Capable of Reform?" and "What About Women's Rights?" The result is a sort of comparative religion catechism. Although Osama bin Laden and his ilk are given their space, Esposito devotes many more words to modernists and mainline Muslims. (He also introduces Islam's "Billy Grahams," the several successful Muslim televangelists.) Some scholars and secularists would say that Esposito's interpretation of Islam and Muslims today is too rosy. But he rightly shows that Islam and Muslims are not some strange and frightening "other."

Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought presents representative writings of that radical minority of Muslims who reject political quietism, resist alien intrusions, and call for a divinely mandated state and society as set out in the Koran and as exemplified in the early Muslim community. Included are selected texts of 16 individual Islamists (12 Sunni and four Shiite) and two radical Sunni groups (Hamas and the Taliban). Of the 16, only seven are from the ranks of the ulama (Islamic
clergy). Twelve are from the Arab world, two are from Iran, and two are from the Indian subcontinent. Two are female. All are moderns, none born earlier than the twentieth century. Six of the ten no longer alive met a violent death: two were assassinated, three were executed, and one committed suicide (Mohamed Atta of 9/11 notoriety). The 55-page introduction and the substantial
introductions to each chapter deserve, and require, a careful reading, for this collection situates radical political thought within the distinctive Islamic intellectual tradition in all its complexity.