Posted on Saturday, April 5th, 2008 at 11:46 pm
Author: Jonathan Mok
This is a review of Who Speaks For Islam: What A Billion Muslims Really Think, by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. Gallup Poll Press. First Printing: 2007.
This book attempts a systematic survey of how Muslims generally view democracy, civil rights, the status of women, and the relationship between Islam and the West.
The most important message behind the book is the notion of how similar the citizens of Muslim nations and people living in the West are. For example, in the first chapter, “ Democracy and Theocracy”, 42% percent of Americans interviewed in a Gallup poll survey suggested that “ religious leaders should have a direct role in writing the constitution.” 55% percent believe that religious leaders should “ play no role at all.” According to the book, the Iranian population has presented similar opinions.
This book contains surprises. For example, it claims that 60% percent of pro-democracy Muslims went to a religious service in the past seven days before being interviewed. Clearly, such statistics force a re-think of the very definition of democracy. Is there only one form of democracy? Must a good democracy separate religion and politics? Is the Western form of democracy widely accepted as the only standard?
Most importantly, can a model of democracy which embraces religious principles and democratic values actually exist?
The book focuses on a lot of controversial topics, women’s rights being one of them. I found it a good primer on how a non-Muslim can engage with female Muslim activists to help improve women’s rights internationally. The authors use the case of Rűdiger Nehberg, a German who founded TARGET, an organization against female genital mutilation, to suggest that a successful attempt to improve the status of Muslim women must utilize the Qu’ran in illustrating that misogyny violates Islamic principles.
I was disappointed, however, by the absence of questions regarding Israel. Some Christians in the United States and Europe view Israel as a battleground between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, so why not ask how Muslims feel about the issue?
Furthermore, the polls should have included questions investigating Muslims’ opinions on global issues such as oil prices and global warming. For some reason, Muslim nations get left out of the discussion when the world considers the environment.
On the whole, this book provides original insights into the global Muslim community. It is a must-read for anyone who considers the teachings of Islam to only be a source of conflict – a reductive worldview that won’t solve our problems any time soon.
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