We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Letter from the Editor - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."

Letter from the Editor

John L. Esposito, Editor in Chief

One of the most renowned scholars in the field of Islamic studies in the United States, Editor in Chief John L. Esposito provides a regular commentary for visitors to the site. These letters discuss topics pertaining to this resource and the Islamic world, developments on the site and other issues.

Islam in the Public Square*

John L. Esposito

Dear Readers,

The study of world religions and the role of religion in politics and the public square have been transformed by the globalization of communications and travel. Our governments, societies, schools, universities, and the academy have felt its transformative impact. Many of us have witnessed and participated in this journey, both personally and professionally. In light of my scholarship and my experiences in the public understanding of religion, I want to address the impact of the globalization of communications and global conflicts on the development of Islamic studies in particular, and on attitudes and behaviors towards Islam—and Muslims.

Where we are today is very much affected by the religious landscape of the late 20th century. In 1955, the landscape of America was reflected in Will Herberg's book Protestant, Catholic, and Jew—full stop. But, by 1965, theologians were talking about the impact of secularization on religion and theology. It was signaled by Harvey Cox in Religion In the Secular City and reflected in what popularly came to be called the "God is dead" theology, discussed in Gabriel Vahanian's book The Death of God and the writings of other authors like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Altizer, Paul Van Buren, Richard Reuben, and others. The same trend could be found in the social sciences, which reflected the triumph of secularization. This was embodied in modernization and development theory, which conflated modernization with the westernization and secularization of societies.

In case you think that idea is dead, take a look at a good deal of the discourse about the Arab Spring and the transition of governments in Egypt and Tunisia. Immediately following the election of Mohamed Morsi, liberal leftist academics were on websites discussing whether or not there might be circumstances when a democratically elected president could be removed. This was long before we were seeing widespread opposition to Morsi percolating in Egypt itself. The belief, one might say dogma, of modernization and development theory reared its head once more: modernization and progress necessitates the secularization and westernization of society, and the adoption or adaptation of western-inspired models and institutions of political, economic, educational development. Religion should decline, so it's said, in the public realm; it should be marginalized, limited to private life, and even, as one anthropologist of religion (Anthony Wallace) has noted, the development of religion requires it to eventually go the way of magic and witchcraft, and be succeeded by science. As Daniel Lerner has characterized it, Muslims would thus have a choice between Mecca and "Mechanization". This was to be part of the passing of traditional societies. That belief had and continues to have a tremendous impact on questions such as: "Is Islam compatible with modernity and democracy?"; "Can Muslims or Islamic movements embrace a democratic process?"; and, more recently, "Can Muslims integrate and be loyal citizens in North America and Europe?"

I have often said that I have the best job in the world. For forty years I have been asked the same questions: What is Islam? Is it a particularly violent religion? How can it be a peaceful religion if it had a prophet who was a warrior? I recently had a conversation on the radio regarding these questions, and had to remind the audience that the Hebrew Bible also had prophets who were warriors. And the difference now is that I get paid for continuing to answer these questions or, as I like to put it—and I almost said this in Iran one time when I was speaking there—I owe my career and my Lexus to the Ayatollah Khomeini! So where did Islam, Muslims, and Islamic studies fit into this landscape?

It's difficult for many today to remember what it was like only a few decades ago in the US and Europe, and I am primarily interested with the US today. If you grew up in cosmopolitan New York as I did (actually Brooklyn, which is regarded as different than New York city if you're from Brooklyn), Muslims and Mosques were invisible. It's not as if there weren't Muslims in the country. In fact the oldest mosques in the United States ironically were in places like Iowa and outside of Boston, though not in Boston itself.

Coverage of Islam and Muslims in the media—and at most universities and colleges, let alone secondary education—was negligible. Scholars of Islam were few and far between, and most of the time they were seen as people who dealt with texts, not so much text in context. Our professional associations were the American Oriental Society (AOS) and the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). The American Academy of Religion (AAR) had little to no coverage, and did not get a task force on Islam until the mid-70s.

After the Iranian Revolution, three members of Georgetown's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (myself, John Voll, and Yvonne Haddad) became Presidents of MESA. Temple University was the first university, at least that I know of, to introduce the study of Islam in 1968 and offer a degree in a religion department. Before that, Islamic studies scholars were trained at the University of Chicago and many other universities, usually in history or history of religion programs.

The response of colleagues and family to my chosen career was interesting: Why study Islam? they asked. When I began to speak publicly, both Muslims and Christians asked why I studied Islam, but they had very different agendas in their mind. The best comment I heard was "You'll never get a job!" At that time, I was a young Catholic theologian teaching scripture and theology, and there would always be theology and religion departments.

When I was looking for a job in 1972, only one job advertised was narrowly in Islamic Studies, and the other was in World Religions at Holy Cross. When interviewed by the incoming chair at the Cross, I noted that Hinduism and Buddhism were my minors, (in addition to an MA in theology), and that my major was Islam. He pointedly answered, "We are not looking for somebody in Islam." Even worse, he added, "I prefer somebody in Japanese and Chinese."

Training in Islam was totally absent for the military and foreign service officers. And not only that, our foreign service officers in the field were not encouraged to look at religion. When the Iranian Revolution came along, a friend who had been in the embassy said that there was no contact with the ulama , no going into the universities and dealing with faculty or students in Islamic studies. Indeed, when you talked to analysts in the field reporting back to Washington or consultants on risk assessment in countries, they never considered the religion factor. And so when Iran came along, people saw it as an epi-phenomenon.

But, in reality, for ten years before the Iranian Revolution, Islam was being used by Nimeiry in Sudan, by Sadat in Egypt, by Qadhdhāfī in Libya, and by Ali Bhutto in Pakistan to legitimate their form of nationalism and mobilize support. And in Pakistan, before Iran, both secular socialist Bhutto and religious parties were calling for Nizami Islam, an Islamic system of government. All of that was under the radar.

What about book proposals? I sent out reams of book proposals. No answers. Three publishers, including Oxford, responded: "Great idea. No market." After the Iranian Revolution, I received three book contracts in five weeks. Books on Islam? The general consensus was: "No need to produce another one, we already have Gibb and Fazlur Rahman"—books that were originally cast in the early 1960s. The great reformers were seen as Muhammed Abduh and Mohamed Iqbal. Abdu died in 1905. Iqbal died in 1938. And those were the last people being talked about even when I did my graduate work in the 1970s.

The turning point then was the Iranian Revolution and fear of its export. That raised American and European interests in the Middle East, all of which had to do with oil, oil, oil, and the safety and security of Israel. These interests put Islam on the front burner both with publishing and with the media. But what was the state of knowledge of Islam in popular culture? I remember that every morning during the Iranian Revolution—we'd get a report on our hostages. Barry Serafin would go to the gate to talk to spokeswoman, referred to as Maryam (Mary). She would begin with Bismillahi al-Rahman al-Rahim and then recite a short passage from the Qurʿān. By about the third day, Serafin was telling her, in effect, could you skip the opening? So here we were worrying about what they might be doing to our hostages, but we didn't realize how insulting it was to say, "Let's cut to the chase here!" Our levels of ignorance were also illustrated by Tom Brokaw, who explained, "for our viewers, I should mention that Islam is one of the world's religions. It has a scripture called the Qurʿān and its prophet is named Muhammad". Think about that! So we faced big challenges.

What were they? To broaden more traditional notions of Islamic studies and scholarship, to pursue a more multidisciplinary approach in analysis of modern contexts as well as texts, and indeed many of our colleagues have done that. The challenge created a market for experts, a subject of vital interest for media, government, and congressional briefings. But there was a problem. Most of us were not educated to deal with the modern context, given the traditional curriculum for Islamic studies. And most of us did not deal with Shīʿah Islam. One of the truly first rate Iran scholars, Jim Bill, told me that he never took Islam seriously, that it was only studied as something in the distant past in his PhD program at Princeton. It was only when he did field research in Iran that he realized he didn't know anything about modern Shiism. So I literally can say that the advantage of answering machines at that time was that when the New York Times called, you didn't have to answer their questions immediately but could scurry to look up a relevant answer instead! How many scholars at the time could talk about what an ayatollah was, or how the ayatollah system functioned? In briefings that Fazlur Rahman, Michel Fischer, Bill Beeman, and I did together for the Secretary of State (we were asked to go to the National Security Council during the hostage crisis), it was appalling to discover how little was known. When someone said you have to be concerned about the influence of Khomeini and Shariati, a Foreign Service officer who had been in the Middle East for twenty-five years said. "Good, then we have to get to Shariati, the youth leader, to intervene for us. Where can we find him?" At first, I didn't answer him, but when he pressed I explained. "Actually, he was buried in Damascus quite a few years ago." Another challenge was trying to really understand how Khomeini, this bearded mullah who had been out of Iran for more than twenty years and lived in exile, could come back and be the head of a government, or that this revolution could take place without a bullet being fired. All of that was incredible for people to understand. Just as it was incredible that, after the Arab Spring, Islamists who were not involved in that first surge of the uprisings suddenly won the elections. All these years later we still do not understand the dynamics of the political situation.

A common belief in government at that time was that you don't discuss religion. The State Department developed a program right after the Iranian Revolution that generated a great deal of debate. The AMPART, American Participant Program of USIA, was intended to send out scholars in American Studies, lawyers, and other experts to speak at US cultural centers. The idea of having someone going out and talking about Islam was very controversial. I went out, and fortunately it was successful, and as a result the USIA launched a program of non-Muslim scholars and Muslim scholars.

All of that has changed. The good news is the explosion of interest and coverage of Islam, as well as the development of a multidisciplinary study of the role of religion and religious movements and its broad dissemination. The bad news is that the primary lens through which we began to see Islam and Muslims has focused on the threat from "radical Islamic fundamentalism," starting with the Iranian revolution, the assassination of Sadat, all the way down to Saddam Hussein, the first Gulf War, and bin Laden. Throughout all of this we have had good media coverage, and then we've had problematic media coverage.

In the 1980s this was an issue, and in the 1990s, with the fall of the Soviet Union, both our senior government leaders and the media began talking about the passing of the red menace, and the possible rise of a "green" menace. The morning that I signed the contract for my book The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, I was literally at the State Department to talk to the Assistant Secretary of State who dealt with human rights. His first question to me was, "Is Algeria another Iran?" I explained, "They're two different countries and the last thing we want to do is develop this idea that Algeria is another Iran. Demographics are different; the role of the military is different." "Oh, I understand that," he said, "but you do realize that Islam could be the next global threat because it's a global religion? It's so large in numbers, and so it could be a global threat." Shortly after that we begin to see writings describing Islam as a triple threat.

Historically, the threat was defined as political and civilizational, in effect a clash of civilizations for over fourteen centuries. The last chapter of my Islamic Threat, discusses this idea, which I could be characterized simply as, "The Muslims are Coming, the Muslims Are Coming". I could have been accused of plagiarism, because before long the stereotypes of the desert—Arabia, A Thousand and One Nights —were replaced by images of the Qurʿān and the Kalashnikov. One lecture I delivered at that time was supposedly advertised by what the Dean described as "a terrific piece of art for the stage." As I walked into the hall, I saw a Qurʿān, and Bismillah, and then this vague image. As I got closer, I saw this arm holding a Kalashnikov! With this troubling symbol right behind me, I was set up perfectly to discuss the rampant misunderstandings and misinformation. So, this was the kind of message that was beginning to emerge. We saw it with Bernard Lewis' "The Roots of Muslim Rage" article—in which he used the word "clash of civilizations"—and of course in Huntington's article "Clash of Civilizations."

But, consider this quote:

For the general public of America and Europe today, Islam is news of a particularly unpleasant sort. The media, the government, the geo-political strategists, and although they are marginal to the culture at large, the academic experts on Islam are all in concert. Islam is a threat to Western civilization; now this is by no means the same as saying that only derogatory or racist characters of Islam are to be found in the West. What I am saying is that negative images of Islam are very much more prevalent than any others, and that such images correspond not with what Islam is, but to what prominent sectors of a particular society take it to be. Islam and the West: A Clash of Civilizations? Those sectors have the power and the will to propagate that particular image of Islam and this image, therefore, becomes more prevalent, more present then all others.

The speaker? Edward Said, in 1981, ten years before Bernard Lewis wrote his piece. I discovered that dating only when I was putting these comments together, and I thought, oh my God.

Charges of that triple threat then emerge, and in Sam Huntington's work it was seen clearly through his use of the phrase, "Islam has bloody borders." When his book of the same title came out, he left that sentence in. When Sam and I did a TV program together, both the moderator and I said, "You still use the phrase 'Islam has bloody borders,' rather than 'Muslim countries' or 'some' or even 'many have bloody borders.' Would you wish to change it?" There was no change, and I think he demonstrated where many people were coming from, though Sam was much more upfront about it.

The war on global terrorism ratcheted up media coverage. 9/11, 7/7, and other attacks exacerbated Islam's negative image in popular culture and fed an irrational fear of the religion of Islam and mainstream Muslims, not just fear of extremists and terrorism. Domestically this fear, called Islamophobia in the UK, was rarely referred to as such in the US media until the construction of Park51, the Islamic center in downtown Manhattan. Time magazine was the first publication to do a cover story that asked, "Is America Islamophobic?", written by Bobby Gosh. If you read the article you'll know what the answer is. I have done long programs with media like CNN, or with the New York Times, and when we would take a break from recording, they would literally say, "What is this? What's going on in at Park51, this so-called mosque? Where's this all coming from, this charge that this building of a mosque is a monument to terrorism?" And I would respond, "It's the tip of the iceberg." Since we never had a name for this irrational fear, it was difficult to describe Islamophobic language as negative and unacceptable. There was a time when you could say anything you wanted about African Americans, but as soon as we began to apply the word "racism" to this language, to be called a racist became a problem, just as to be called an anti-Semite is a problem, forcing the speaker to back off. Baroness Warsi recently spoke at Georgetown on religious freedom. Most of it had to do with the threat to Christians in the Middle East, but she also talked about Islamophobia. Her speech was covered wonderfully by one of the newspapers in the UK that is usually very anti-Muslim in its approach. Although the reporter said, "What a great speech, and what courage it took to talk about Christianity", he couldn't help questioning her use of the term Islamophobia. "Is that really a reality?" he asked. "Does that really exist?"

A phobia, according to the dictionary, is an exaggerated, illogical fear of a particular class of objects, people, or a particular situation. It may be hard for those afflicted to sufficiently determine or communicate the source of this fear, but it exists. Now here I am not talking about criticism of Islam that is reasoned and empirically verifiable. I am not talking about criticism of Muslims. I am talking about hate speech. I am talking about a speech that engages in exceptionalism. So, what are the kinds of things that Islamophobes believe?

They believe that Islam, not just a small minority of Muslims and terrorists, is the problem and threat to the West. The religion of Islam has no common values with the West. Islam and modernity are incompatible. Islam is an inherently violent religion with an extremist, political ideology. Phillip Jenkins and Bishop John Shelby Spong have written very interesting books on violence in the Bible. Talking comparatively here, Phillip Jenkins said that there is a way you can look at certain passages in the Bible where God orders genocide. If you don't understand the Biblical context, that's what you would interpret. And yet when we deal with Qurʿānic texts, wherever I go people will ask, "What about the passage 'slay the unbelievers wherever you find them'?" without looking at what is said in the following verse: "When the enemy stops fighting you, you must stop." We must also ask who were the unbelievers at the time? The "unbelievers," weren't Christians or Jews, they were the Meccans. But the irony is that hard-line Christian Zionists or some of our neo-cons talk just the way that the Bin Ladens of the world do—they distort the meaning of the text. They don't interpret a text within its context.

We need to think about the impact of Islamophobia in the US. Take, for example, the 2008 presidential elections, as well as the 2010 and 2012 congressional elections. In 2008, when Barack Obama visited Dearborn, his campaign did not want him to be photographed with young women wearing hijab, and asked them to move out of the picture. If that's not astonishing, we know that today, six years into his presidency, Mr. Obama has never visited a mosque, has never even been photographed near one, even though he has been to mosques overseas. What does that tell you if he has not visited the religious institutions of the world's second largest religion?

Now, a little test: Name five major appointments of Arabs or Muslims in this administration? Name three major ambassadors with an Arab or Muslim background right now?

David Cole of Georgetown Law School commented on events right after 9/11 in his great book, Less Safe, Less Free. By its own account, he says, the US government immediately after 9/11 locked up over 5,000 foreign nationals in preventive detention. In the first two years after 9/11, they sought out 8,000 Arab and Muslim men for FBI interviews, and called in 80,000 Arab and Muslim foreign nationals for special registration fingerprinting and photographing. The idea was that we might find a terrorist, but the government's record in this regard was zero for 93,000. Not one of these men, at the time Cole wrote this, had been convicted of a terrorist act. Now that's not to deny that we have a problem with domestic terrorism, but I am talking only about that extreme reaction. And yet, in a discussion I had on NPR, someone who runs a major center on democracy at a major West Coast university responded to these numbers by saying, "But at the end they were all free. That should be good news for Muslims."

How significant is the influence of the media on popular culture? A major study by Media Tenor, called "A New Era of Arab Western Relations," reviewed 975,000 news stories in US and European media outlets, and reported that they demonstrated an astonishing imbalance. What does that mean? In 2001, 2% of all news stories in Western media presented images of Muslim militants, while just over 0.1% presented stories portraying ordinary Muslims. Jump ten years later. In 2011 militant images went from 2% in 2001 up to 25% in 2011. Yet, coverage of ordinary Muslims remained the same as 2001 at 0.1%.

A more recent study by Media Tenor reveals that in the past three years, coverage of Islam, Muslims, and Islamic organizations has decreased notably, and Islam is portrayed primarily as a source of violence. What does that mean quantitatively? On balance three out of four reports painted a negative image of Muslims.

A major force in recent years is social media. Social media played an enormous role with Park51, which wasn't a major issue while it was being planned for a year or two. It was approved in New York, but then people like Robert Spencer and Pam Gellar—who run a host of websites including Jihad Watch and organizations such as Stop Islamization in America (SIOA)mobilized media, and particularly, social media. And what did we see? A tsunami of anti-mosque activities from New York to California: campaigns stopping mosque buildings, stopping expansions, hate crimes against mosques. And then, the shariah frenzy. So far attempts have been made in some 29 states to pass anti-shariah laws to prevent its implementation when in fact it's impossible to do so under our Constitution.

But why do they attempt to pass such legislation? Because political leaders like Newt Gringrich, Michelle Bachman, Rick Santorum, and others rush to judgment and foster irrational fears. During the last presidential election, every Republican candidate either at that debate, or in the two years before, had engaged in this kind of rhetoric of Islam and Muslim exceptionalism, focusing on domestic terrorism, the need to ban shariah law, loyalty to America, and whether a Muslim could serve in the cabinet.

Over the past decade we have seen an emergence of an organized "Islamophobia Network". It is a cottage industry that has been meticulously cultivated by anti-Muslim polemicists and their resourceful funders who master the domain of the internet with dozens of highly visible blogs and websites supported by hundreds of user blogs to which they link. So it's not just sites with names like Jihad Watch. This message also gets linked to outlets such as PJ Media, American Thinker, and Family Security Matters. Though not primarily concerned with Muslims, they happen to be neo-conservative,anti-Obama, anti-immigrant, and therefore also get into Islam and Muslim issues. If you look at ALEXA, which rates websites globally, approximately two years ago anti-Muslim blogs ran as high as 25,000 (worldwide ranking) whereas the most trafficked Muslim organizational website ranked in the 400,000, a 20-times difference.

How could that happen? Obviously we need both brains and funds. A 2011 study by the Center for American Progress found that, according to collected IRS tax returns, during a ten-year period, $42.6 million flowed from seven major foundations to these Islamophobic authors and websites. A recent study by CAIR, also with information taken from IRS returns, showed that between 2008 and 2011, $119,662,000 dollars total revenue were given to US-based Islamophobia networks. Now, why are they influential? Not only because of what I said. Read the manifesto of Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, and you'll find that he cites many of these people and websites, some of them over 100 times. I am proud to tell you that Breivik devotes a whole page attacking myself and the Center—quoting a writer from the other side on just how bad we are.

So what's the result? Just very quickly, more than four out of ten Americans admit that they have prejudice toward Muslims, some 43%, and that's a twice the feelings of prejudice twice that towards Christians and Jews. 33% of Americans disclose that they believe that Muslim Americans are more sympathetic to terrorists. 60% of those polled have negative feelings about Muslims.

Significant numbers, something like 40%, believe in things like special ID cards for Muslims—not only are Muslims more prone to negative rankings, but Islam itself gets an even more negative ranking, which is kind of interesting because what they are saying is that Islam is the problem.

But on the other hand, what do we know about these American Muslims. Who are they? They are totally integrated educationally, economically, and increasingly politically. We've got all the data out there, from Pew and from Gallup. Muslims, one of the most racially, politically, and economically diverse populations, come from 68 countries. In terms of education in religious communities, they are second to American Jews. 40% have college degrees, versus 29% of Americans over all. Muslim women are statistically as educated as Muslim men with college and post-graduate degrees. They span the socioeconomic spectrum: doctors, lawyers, all the way to cab drivers and NGO leaders. 31% are full-time students, compared to 10% in the general population. Due to an incredible youth bulge, 59% of adult Muslims are between the age of 18 and 39. The number of senior people who are Muslim is so small that Gallup couldn't even do a significant study of them. Regarding religion, 77% of Muslims surveyed say they worship the same God as Christians and Jews. 84% said Muslims should strongly emphasize shared values.

But, despite what real statistics tell us about the Muslim population in America, Islam and Muslims continue to be viewed as "the other," and both mass media and social media continue to perpetuate this trend. And this is the important thing: I believe that social media is most important today. Social media frames popular culture. And indeed now the driver for TV and print is social media. If you can get social media generating a whole mess of stories, then they are worthy of being put on television. And that happens regularly.

How do we respond to all this? Let's look at it on a positive note. It's true that we continue to make strides in developing reliable, scholarly coverage and media coverage. Looking at Muslim politics and societies and communities in the West, first of all, internet access to authoritative resources needs to be provided, and this is improving. You have Diana Eck's Pluralism Project, you have Karen Armstrong's Compassion Project, and in terms of understanding Islam, and you have Oxford Islamic Studies Online.

On another level, AAR members have shown an interest in the public understanding of religion, and many of them have reached out. The Academy itself got involved in the Tariq Ramadan visa situation. But secondly, there is clearly an expanding acceptance of and response to the concept of Islamophobia. And indeed many projects dealing with Islamophobia have been developed, among them by The Center for American Progress (through our Center at Georgetown) and at the University of California at Berkeley.

But much more needs to be done. Media Tenor just came out with another study that basically says that Islamophobia is growing in America and Europe, and if you talk to Europeans, that is definitely the case. There are major projects like Common Word which brought together 138 Muslim religious leaders (that number later grew to 400) and basically said to Christians: "We are the two global religions. We need to work together because we share an interest both religiously and also in issues of the security of our populations. And what do we share in common? What Jews, Muslims, and Christians share in common: love of God, love of neighbor."

Thomas Jefferson said, "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people." AAR scholars have been moved to lend their expertise to speak out, to engage in the public square. As an organization we took a position on Tariq Ramadan, but we need to move significantly beyond that and to ratchet up our concerns.

Scholars continue to be needed to speak out publically at conferences, at workshops, run by domestic and international organizations, to speak to governments, NGOs, religious and civic organizations, to participate in media, to serve as expert witnesses. I'm not saying that everybody has to do this; many of us don't work in a field that is relevant. Many of us don't have the disposition, so we can contribute in terms of the kind of things that we choose to write, but we may not want to speak out because there is a cost. Admittedly, one has to be aware of this fact. If you stick your head up, there will be those who want to shoot it off. Still, we need to be out there, because if we are not speaking out the resources we leave it to are those people who have no training, like best-selling author Robert Spencer. If you visit Amazon.com, depending on when you do it, sometimes four of the top five books on Islam will be written by people who warrant a response, who are making claims to which only trained scholars respond by saying, "This is simply a distortion of reality; this is not true."

The White House under both George W. Bush and this President has been told that 80% of our mosques are a threat. There is no hard data for it, but in Washington they say if you throw it up on a wall three times, it sticks. And it does stick. So, we need to be out there, we need to be responding, especially with regard to the current example of the Arab Spring, where Islamist victories in Egypt and Tunisia have been undermined by a military coup in Egypt, thereby raising many issues that require expert analysis. Whatever side we want to take, we need to be bringing to bear whatever we believe are principles that we know about the role of religion, politics, civil liberties, attitudes toward torture, etc. We are the ones needed to lead the way.

I close with the words of Archbishop Tutu, honored at this year's AAR convention with the Templeton Prize:

It is my conviction that if we are neutral in situations of injustice we have chosen the side of the oppressor. The world must learn about respect, listening, and forgiveness.

John L. Esposito
Editor in Chief
Oxford Islamic Studies Online
February 2014

*Adapted from Professor Esposito's Presidential Address to the American Academy of Religion, delivered November 2013.

Oxford University Press

© 2014. All Rights Reserved. Privacy policy and legal notice