I admit John L. Esposito’s Who Speaks for Islam? came as a surprise to me because it painted a very different picture of Muslims compared to what I believed but I am glad I read it because it has also taught me several valuable lessons. The first thing I noticed about Muslims is that they almost desire the same things as us which is basically peace and jobs so that they can support their families. The book made me realized that we allow a tiny extremist minority of Islam to represent the whole religion. The degree of loyalty Muslims have to America also surprised me because their admiration for the country is almost same as any other religious group.
I like the book’s approach to understanding Muslims which was basically through direct conversations with them as well as objective data. The book’s approach also reminds us the power of communication and how lack of interaction leads to misconceptions and misunderstandings. People may belong to different religions but at basic levels, they almost desire the same things and have same dreams. They also hate conflict because they understand conflict rarely leads to positive outcomes. It is also evident from the book that Muslims do desire greater dialogue with the west because they feel the west is not interested in a dialogue. I also learnt that the majority of the Muslims are themselves not happy at their religion being hijacked by extremist factions.
The book made me wonder how my perceptions regarding Muslims have developed over the years and I discovered there was no single culprit but a wide range of factors and almost all these sources represented Islam in a negative light more or less. As far as our elected political office holders are concerned, they have traditionally portrayed Muslims as close-minded who hate the freedom and liberty available to western citizens. They have also portrayed Muslims as the enemies of progress who want Sharia to become the law of the land. As far as media is concerned, it has portrayed Muslims as sympathizers of terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda. Media has also portrayed Muslims as the greatest threat to western civilizations when it comes to ideals such as freedom of speech and greater rights for women. Some of my family friends portrayed Muslims as violent who always resort to terrorism to draw attention to them.
After reading this book, I have more positive perceptions of Muslims and have a greater desire to interact with them as well as visit Muslim countries. I am willing to acknowledge that I also made a mistake of believing most of what I heard, read, and watched and didn’t do any objective research. I now also believe that we all are quite similar whether Christians or Muslims because we both desire same things such as love, respect for others, and freedom of speech. I have also become better aware of bias that is presented in the media and have learnt that there are always two sides to a story. I now believe Muslims deserve better treatment from western media which holds immense power and if only western media give as much coverage to ordinary Muslims as it gives to terrorist organizations and their activities, the world will be much better. I have also gotten rid of the stereotype that Muslims hate freedom of speech because some rights are such that every human being, irrespective of his religious affiliation, craves them.