Great World Religions: Islam

Course No. 6102
Professor John L. Esposito, Ph.D.
Georgetown University
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Course No. 6102
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Course Overview

University professor and international government and media consultant John L. Esposito guides you through the facts and myths surrounding Islam and its more than 1.2 billion adherents. How familiar are you with the world's second largest and fastest-growing religion? Many in the West know little about the faith and are familiar only with the actions of a minority of radical extremists.

This course will help you better understand Islam's role as both a religion and a way of life, and its deep impact on world affairs both historically and today. It is important to understand what Muslims believe, and also how their beliefs are carried out privately and publicly as individuals as well as members of a larger community.

Learning about Islam: What Does the Future Hold?

What does the future hold for Islam and the West in the new century? How will it change under the influence of conservatives, reformers, and extremists?

"The focus of this course will be to better understand Islam's role as a religion and as a way of life," says Professor Esposito. "In 12 lectures, moving from Muhammad to the present, from the 7th to the 21st centuries, we will explore Muslim beliefs, practices, and history in the context of its significance and impact on Muslim life and society through the ages, as well as world events today."

You will learn about:

  • Muhammad
  • Jihad
  • Muslim beliefs about other faiths
  • Whether the Quran condones terrorism and what it says about God
  • The contributions to mathematics, science, and art made by a flourishing Islamic civilization
  • The role of women in Islam
  • Whether Islam is compatible with modernization, capitalism, and democracy.

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is one of the great monotheistic faiths that traces its ancestry to Abraham. Professor Esposito discusses the similarities and differences in the three great Abrahamic faiths and explores more closely the core beliefs that serve as the common denominators that unite all Muslims throughout the world.

"We will see that Islam is not monolithic," says Professor Esposito. "Although Muslims share certain core beliefs, the practices, interpretations, images, and realities of Islam vary across time and space."

The Stunning Growth of the Muslim Community and Its Golden Age

Within 100 years of Muhammad's death, the Muslim community became a vast, dynamic, and creative Islamic empire that stretched from North Africa to India.

Islamic civilization flourished under the Umayyad and Abbasid empires. Under Abbasid rule (750–1258 C.E.), the Islamic community became an empire of wealth, political power, and cultural accomplishments.

Muslims made original creative contributions in law, theology, philosophy, literature, medicine, algebra, geometry, science, art, and architecture.

Arabic became the language of literature and public discourse. Centers were created for the translation of manuscripts from Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Persian into Arabic.

Europeans, emerging from the Dark Ages, turned to Muslim centers of learning to regain their lost heritage and to learn from Muslim advances. Through Islamic philosophy, Greek philosophy was retransmitted to Europe.

Examining the history of Islamic civilization helps us appreciate the remarkable achievements of its Golden Age and to understand the sources of sectarianism, religious extremism, and the conflict between Islam and Christianity, epitomized by the Crusades.

Understand the Development of Islamic Law

Professor Esposito takes a closer look at the historical development of two great Islamic institutions: Islamic law, (the Shariah) and Islamic mysticism (Sufism).

Islamic law has been seen as the ideal blueprint guiding Muslims' correct action, that is, what to do in their public and private lives in order to realize God's will.

Sufism resulted from efforts to experience a more direct and personal sense of God. Both law, the exterior path to God, and mysticism, the interior path, developed as responses to what was perceived as the abuse of the enormous wealth and power in Islamic empires.

The historical tradition of Islamic renewal and reform was developed to fight internal disintegration and upheaval in the Muslim world caused by outside forces from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

Professor Esposito examines the variety of religious sociopolitical movements that struggled to address weakness and decline in diverse Muslim societies through the ages, and discusses how and why these efforts continue to inspire Islamic modernists and contemporary movements in our time.

Discuss the "Struggle for the Soul of Islam"

The lectures examine the worldwide "struggle for the soul of Islam" occurring today between conservatives and reformers, mainstream Muslims and extremists. Among these issues, few are more fraught with controversy than the debates about women and Islam.

Professor Esposito discusses women and their changing roles. Issues include diversity of dress, social status, education, and roles for women in the family throughout the world.

Professor Esposito expands this human dimension to spotlight the ever-increasing reality of Muslims as our neighbors and colleagues in Europe and America, examining how and why Muslims came to Europe and America, and the issues of faith and identity, integration and assimilation, that face them in their new homelands and how they are grappling with these challenges.

Harold McFarland, editor of Midwest Book Review, writes about this course: "This is easily the most accurate, even-handed, and thorough survey of Islam that I have seen to date. The extent of coverage, breadth, and depth of Professor Esposito's knowledge, recognition of the various groups and beliefs within Islam, and scholarly treatment of the subject makes this a very highly recommended lecture series and the only one on the subject that I could recommend to date."

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Islam Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
    The diversity of cultural and religious practices of Islam is reflected by the geographic expanse of the Muslim world. Islam's more than 1 billion followers live in 56 countries around the world, yet many in the West know little about it and are familiar only with the actions of a minority of radical extremists. This lecture outlines the second-largest and fastest-growing of the world's religions, which is part of the religious landscape of America and Europe, and has had a significant impact on world affairs. x
  • 2
    The Five Pillars of Islam
    All Muslims accept and follow the Five Pillars of Islam, the core beliefs that unite all Muslims across time and space and are the hallmarks that distinguish Islam from other faiths. This lecture describes them. x
  • 3
    Muhammad—Prophet and Statesman
    Muhammad's significance is the result of his dual roles as God's messenger and as the perfect living model of the Quran's teachings. After 10 years of persecution and resistance in Mecca, Muhammad and the early Muslims moved to Medina, where Muhammad served as prophet, political ruler, military commander, chief judge, and lawgiver. x
  • 4
    God's Word—the Quranic Worldview
    Muslims believe that the Quran represents both the original and final revelation of God to humankind, making Islam the oldest, rather than the newest, of the monotheistic faiths. The Quran reveals the compassion and justice of God, the role and responsibilities of human beings, and relations between men and women. x
  • 5
    The Muslim Community—Faith and Politics
    The development of Islam and Muslim history enables us to appreciate the remarkable political and cultural achievements of the Golden Age of Islamic civilization and to understand the sources of sectarianism, religious extremism, and conflict between Islam and Christianity, epitomized by the Crusades. x
  • 6
    Paths to God—Islamic Law and Mysticism
    Piety and the desire for reform resulted in the development of Islamic law (the Shariah) and Islamic mysticism (Sufism). Islamic law reflects Islam's emphasis on orthopraxy (correct practice), rather than orthodoxy (correct belief). Sufism emphasizes personal spirituality and devotion and has aided the spread of Islam through missionary activities. x
  • 7
    Islamic Revivalism—Renewal and Reform
    From the 17th to the 20th centuries, the Muslim world experienced both internal disintegration and upheaval and the external aggression of the European colonial era. Muslim responses to these challenges varied from jihad against European colonialism to acceptance and blind adoption of the West. Islamic modernists called for a synthesis of Islam and Western thought in order to achieve legal, educational, and social reforms. x
  • 8
    The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
    In the last decades of the 20th century, a series of political events and economic realities led to the desire of many Muslims to achieve greater authenticity and self-definition through a revival of Islam. Reformist movements have worked within mainstream society for change, but extremists have resorted to violence and terrorism to achieve their goals. x
  • 9
    Islam at the Crossroads
    Like members of other faith communities, contemporary Muslims face the challenge of defining the role, meaning, and relevance of Islam. At the heart of the "struggle for the soul of Islam" between conservatives and reformers, mainstream Muslims and extremists, is the question of who should interpret Islam and how reform should be achieved. Major issues include the relationship of religion to state and society, the role of Islamic law, the status of women and non-Muslims, the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and relations with the West. x
  • 10
    Women and Change in Islam
    The status of women in Islam is a hotly contested issue, both in the Muslim world and in the West. Muslim women are often viewed through Western stereotypes or the policies of extremists, such as the Taliban. Although some critics claim that Islam oppresses women, others view Islam as a source of women's empowerment. Even the wearing of the veil has diverse meanings for wearers and observers. x
  • 11
    Islam in the West
    Islam is now the third largest religion in the United States and the second largest in Europe. Muslims in Europe and America represent a cross-section of national, ethnic, and racial backgrounds and socioeconomic classes. They, like religious minorities before them, face issues of faith and identity, integration and assimilation. x
  • 12
    The Future of Islam
    At the close of the 20th century, it appeared that the future of Islam could be one of new opportunities for peace, democracy, expanded human and women's rights; political, social, and economic empowerment; and an increasing acceptance in Western societies of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. The September 11, 2001, hijacking of Islam by militant extremists shattered the hopes and dreams of many Muslims throughout the world. Thus, for Muslims, the 21st century requires educating, engaging in dialogue with, and finding new ways in which to work with and within the West and global civilization. x

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Your professor

John L. Esposito

About Your Professor

John L. Esposito, Ph.D.
Georgetown University
Dr. John L. Esposito is University Professor, Professor of Religion and International Affairs, and Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He earned his B.A. at St. Anthony College, his M.A. at St. John's University, and his Ph.D. at Temple University. Professor Esposito is Founding Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding: History and International Affairs in the Walsh School of Foreign...
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Great World Religions: Islam is rated 3.2 out of 5 by 85.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing overview of a noble religion I sincerely wish I had this course 14 years ago. I recently retired form the Army and spent 2 years in Iraq, and 2 in Afghanistan. I thought I knew the basics of what Islam was about, but after this course I realize I was not even close. In retrospect, this course enlightened me on many things about this great religion that explains what I saw and experienced over there. Dr. Esposito does a phenomenal job of explaining the details of Islam, without losing the listener or going too deep into topics that might create confusion or detract from the overall goals of the course. I wish this had been required listening before I stepped foot in the Middle East back in 2003!
Date published: 2017-02-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Unneccessary apolegia for Islam I literally own dozens of Teaching Company courses (with plans to buy and use many more), and most are simply excellent. Indeed, these courses are so good that I have never felt the need to comment because I believed it simply went without saying that the quality was outstanding across the board, until now. After going through it twice, I now conclude that this course is the lowest quality one I own. Among the faults are: (1) numerous banalities, e.g., . . . recent activities have raised concerns about terrorism, (2) dialogue that simply goes nowhere, e.g., . . .some Muslims believe such and such, some believe the opposite and (3) continual references to the failings of Jews and Christians as a means of expounding on Muslim behavior. A couple suggestions for a new Teaching Company course on Islam would be: (a) just tell the facts about Islam (we all know that Jews and Christians have done bad things too, but that's beside the point in an academic type class on Islam), (b) the banalities and the dialogue that tread-water can be dropped and replaced by history, theology, personalities, etc. In essence, I was hoping for much more about Islam per the standard Teaching Company quality. Overall, my recommendation is as follows: if you want an unnecessary defense of Islam, this is your course, if you want to learn about Islam itself, try something else.
Date published: 2016-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So thats what Islam is all about Very good course, just wish there were more chapters... maybe next time. The professor is very knowledgeable and presents the subject very well. I just finished the History of the Catholic church and this is a perfect follow up.
Date published: 2016-11-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Overview on Islam The course is a good overview on Islam which has helped me understand more about what is happening in the Middle East. But also learning there are more variations to Islam or dominations to use a Protestant term than most of us are aware of. The only shortcoming with the course is the presentation. I believe the professor is actually reading his notes which took me a while to adjust to, but I did. I would recommend this course for an overview on Islam.
Date published: 2016-11-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great World Religions: Islam I was hoping for more of the practices and traditions and dictates of the faith. I thought in the last few lectures he spent to much time defending the lack of criticism of the faithful toward terrorism.
Date published: 2016-09-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Biased The course does provide an overview of the religion, but I got a distinct and unpleasant sense that the instructor sees himself as much an apologist for Islam as an objective scholar. He makes a point of mentioning in the first lecture that he only turned to the study of Islam because his grad school director basically told him to. Why does he mention this? Is it to create a presumption that he has no axe to grind? Well, the subsequent lectures give quite the opposite impression. In his version, problematic aspects of Islamic history seem always to be reasonable and justifiable responses to outside provocation of various kinds. There is an absence of balance. The overall impression is of a politically-loaded apologia, an effort to persuade rather than to inform.
Date published: 2016-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Islam The course was worthwhile and interesting. I knew very little about Islam and the course provided me with interesting insights into facets of the religeon that I did not previously imagine.
Date published: 2016-07-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Only Course of 41 I Could Not Finish I could only get through a few lectures and for the first time in 41 courses I had to give up. There seemed to be no cohesiveness to the lectures, I had a hard time getting engaged to learn anything, and unfortunately the professor's presentation style did not help matters. I really wanted to learn more about this great world religion but going to try "Cultural Literacy for Religion" instead.
Date published: 2016-07-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative Introduction to Islam I bought this course along with others years ago and finally decided to put the time in to power through this one in a week as a Muslim relative is coming to visit shortly. As someone that knows a little bit about Islam, I found it very informative and was able to confirm much of it with my husband who grew up in a Muslim family outside of North America. It gave me more insight to the culture, religion and the history. Given that it was produced in 2003 and its now 2016, it would be great to see a 2nd edition or as someone else commented, to add a more detailed sequel or advanced course on Islam culture, politics and religion, especially with all the world events and changes in the past 2 years, let alone 13 years. I also was a little bit disappointed there was not more of a visual aspect to the course given the rich culture and exotic places in the Muslim world, variation of dressing, and incredibly beautiful mosques around the world (eg. Turkey and Morocco). I do hope there is a follow up course to this one given there are so many courses on Christian and Jewish religious themes, there is no reason not to increase the material available on other religions.
Date published: 2016-07-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very basic Expected more depth especially regarding beliefs and practices. Even from a base of limited knowledge on the topic I don’t feel that I learned very much. Look forward to a more informative sequel.
Date published: 2016-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Timely topic Early in the presentation, I thought professor Esposito's delivery was too fast, and in trying to grasp the content, I became a little frustrated and consequently bored. But, the more I listened and focused on the professor's narrative, the more I realized he was just that comfortable with the material. During the last five or six lectures, I learned to simply listen and trust what I was hearing, I was enraptured by the information. It's a very relevant course, and a very capable teacher.
Date published: 2016-03-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A great topic but only moderate presentation I took the time to do a 12-part YouTube video series on this course and I'm glad that I did so. While the content is at times dated and does tend to drag along in spots, I think the topic is important enough to bear detailed examination. I'd like to see an extensive update bringing this up to date with more recent developments since the original recording. Also, I watched the video version of this series and cannot say that the video added all that much to the presentation. The few graphical components were rather redundant and not entirely useful in extending the professor's point.
Date published: 2016-03-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Many Dubious Political Generalizations The first half of the course provides a clear and concise overview of the basics (the life and example of the Prophet in religion and politics, interpretations of the Koran, legal interpretation or *fiqh* and the broadening out of Islamic culture during its intellectually vibrant Golden Age). Unfortunately, as the course moves towards, and then goes into the modern era, the prof lectures at a rapid clip, and trades more in generalities and abstractions than in rigorous case studies. I understand that you can't pack everything into 12 lectures, but Prof. Esposito seems determined to do so. There is something else which disturbed me toward the end of these lectures. Esposito, a respected mediator of Islamic and Western traditions, takes up the topic of Islamic Fundamentalism or Political Islam. Unfortunately, he discusses these in terms of abstractions like "the quiet fundamentalists" to imply that Political Islam CAN be a sound and peaceful basis for governance in the modern world. But he doesn't provide a case study of a benign Islamicist regime. The closest he gets is mentioning the FIS in Algeria during the 90s, but that divided the country creating a backlash which spiraled into atrocious civil war. Other countries the prof. name-checks in the section on "quiet fundamentalists" include Iran, Pakistan and Chechnya. If such places are the domain of "quiet fundamentalism" I wonder where the "noisy" fundamentalists reside! The fact is that there are few--if any-- nation-states where the "quiet fundamentalists" make up the majority and where Political Islam is not divisive. Going down his list, Iranian citizens are often clamoring for rights not derived from alleged divine law. Pakistan is pretty much a failed state because the fundamentalism (I'm not sure how "quiet") pervades not only the tribal regions but the military and the ISI to the detriment of the sizeable modernized moderates. The fundamentalists of Saudi (Wahabbi clerics and elites) are an oppressive minority with a penchant for supporting extremists (for example, in Syria). It is true as the prof. states, that not all fundamentalists are alike and that they are not all militarized. But those who *govern* as fundamentalists rely on force--often of the paramilitary variety. The Shia death squads of Iraq who fight as grotesquely as their enemies in ISIS are clearly in political and ideological competition, as are Saudi Arabia and Iran. Is there really a peaceful counterexample? While I'm open to being corrected here-- I don't know of any actual nation-state that has functioned humanely and peacefully since the 70s (when this ideological trend began with Iran). If there is one then the professor--having entered such loaded, controversial terrain-- really should have focused on it with some care to illustrate his concept of quiet and beneficial Political Islam. While there are fundamentalists (just as with Christianity) who do not take up arms, the larger question is who they support as their putative social and political leaders? Where are the peaceful Islamic Fundamentalist *leaders*? Further, in a largely secular world, what kinds of learning institutions and madrasses do the peaceful fundamentalists want their children to be socialized in? Esposito gave the example of the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan in the 80s. But the culture of fundamentalism, the madrasses and teachings on Holy War there resulted in regional warfare (fundamentalists from Taliban fighting the equally violent Northern Alliance) and the birth of Global Jihad terrorism perpetrated on legitimate nation states of the West. Meanwhile, these madrasses taught none of the skills necessary for viable development to these dirt poor families. Professor Esposito is clearly knowledgeable about the theology and early history of Islam, and I enjoyed the first several lectures. He probably knows a great deal about the contemporary situation as well but appears to me to too pressed for time in these lectures to state his case, and based on what he did say about Political Islam, he really does appear too charitable.
Date published: 2016-03-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Knew a Fair Amount, but Still Learned a Lot video download version I have lived and worked in majority Muslim countries and also in a significant minority Muslim country. I have had many Muslim employees and also a reasonable number of Muslim peers and colleagues. But never in the Middle East or in any Arab country. I have been to Muslim weddings and celebrations. So I assumed that I was pretty conversant with most of the issues and problems revolving around Islam, the workplace and the State. At least for a Westerner. Even so I learned a great deal in professor Esposito's eight short lectures. Not only the historical background of Islam and a bit more about the life of Muhammad and a considerable more about the Quran. Unfortunately with my Western background many of the references to Islamic scholars went by me too quickly. The names just did not resonate like St. Agustin or Thomas Aquinas. Still that is my lack and not Dr. Esposito's. Even so there was much to be gained in the historical background of Islam in the course. .But what I found most interesting was the discussion of the Sufis and how they came about and their relation to mainstream Islam, as well as the separation and distinction among Islamic modernists, conservatives, reformists and radicals. Very instructive. I also appreciated his putting the historical improvement of women under Islam in the early years, the discussion of women in Islam today, and especially the reasons than many, independent Muslim women choose to wear head coverings. On the downside, I thought that professor Esposito had a very stilted, almost up-tight delivery, that at times distracted from his lectures. However, unlike many reviewers I did find him at all to be an apologist for Islam. He often pointed out issues and problems, but did not dwell upon them, something that could be done with almost any religion or nation of long standing and things that, at least in my opinion were not important in the context of the course. Recommended.
Date published: 2016-02-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good course for a Muslim The professor assumes that the listener is already very familiar with Islam. He spends little time on the historical Muhammad and virtually no time on the Koran. (There apparently is a book called the Koran but, after listening to this course, I have no idea what it says.) If he taught a course on Christianity, he would say: "There was a man named Jesus who was crucified, and there is a book called the New Testament. For the rest of the course I will lecture on the development of the various Christian denominations, and on Christianity in the world today." As other reviewers have noted, he is obviously reading verbatim what he has previously written. I have bought a score of TGC courses on religion, and this is one of the two worst.
Date published: 2016-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Objective, laconic, and coherent I am an strident atheist, and I must admit that I go into any discussion of religion with a bad attitude. That said, Dr. Esposito's course helped me step outside my western myopia a bit and see Islam from an objective mythological, historical and cultural perspective. His presentation was clear, concise, organized and unbiased. While I'm still not a fan of ANY religion, especially radical Islam, this lecture series helped me understand the richness and complexities of the world's second biggest religion. Also, by breaking through some of my ignorance about Islam, I feel more empathetic towards and less prejudiced against the 1.2 billion or so (most good, decent) followers of this religion.
Date published: 2016-01-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Tolerance and understanding? Audio download. Before listening to this course I knew very little about Islam...unfortunately, I still don't (even after listening twice). I don't think is was Professor Esposito's knowledge or delivery, though he did come off as an apologist for is mostly likely the paucity of background, in the forms of histories, personalities and maybe even interviews of practicing imams. That's just too much to cover in six hours. The reviews presented on the Great Courses website (particularly JeffGulleson and marvmax) are revealing and definitely worth reading. These folks seem to have had real, practical experience and knowledge of Islam, including the history neglected of glossed over by the good professor. My main difficulty, however, given the recent atrocities in the name of Islam, is the practice of describing Islam as a religion of peace...Prof Esposito stressed this at every occasion, as many of our elected officials are prone to do. But the actual wording within the Quran is quite violent, especially focused on the non-believers. Those 'extremists' do not consider themselves to be extreme. Rather they consider themselves doing god's will, much the same as those god-fearing Christians, who are calling for an anti-jihad, demanding retribution. Politics and religious differences just don't seem to play well together. Good Muslims must follow the Quran and the five pillars of Islam...those beliefs relegate all non-Muslims to second-class status and hence little or no respect. It's a good beginning course with flaws. Get it on sale (and coupon) and don't listen in a vacuum.
Date published: 2015-12-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good information, but too condensed I thought the information was solid and informative, but it had the feeling like it was cramming too much into 12 lectures. They were very dense and I think it would have been easier to absorb if it was 20 or 25 lectures. It also focused more on politics, history, and current social issues than I was expecting. It's all well and good to learn about those things, but I would have liked more on the Quran, the life of Muhammad, the fundamentals of the religion. I wouldn't recommend it per se but it was certainly not a waste of time either. Those issues may not be a problem for you.
Date published: 2015-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important and balanced I found this course to be particularly enlightening. A controversial subject to be sure, but the content was informative and balanced. The professor did not shy away from criticism where it was warranted. During a recent trip to Tel Aviv I asked one of my Israeli colleagues for his opinion on the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, and he said "It suits certain politicians on both sides, which is why it keeps going." Islam seems here to stay, so the sooner we in the west learn more about it, the better, that we can avoid the mistakes of the past and arrive at a more peaceful future. I highly recommend this course to anyone who does want to learn a bit more, warts and all. On technicalities, I thought the professor's delivery was rather good and quite engaging. He spoke directly at the audience and for the most part without reference to any notes, reflecting a deep knowledge of the subject.
Date published: 2015-06-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good information - mediocre presentation I definitely learned a lot about Islam in this course. The professor is clearly knowledgable and I believe the course was structured very well. My main complaint is the overall presentation. For a certain period of time, The Great Courses seemed to favor the style of simulating a classroom setting where we, the viewers are watching the lecture from the perspective of a single student. The professor would therefore speak to imaginary students off to the side. I imagine this was done so that the professors could read the lectures or notes off of cue cards placed in the studio (though that's just my guess). The style isn't too bad, but recent lectures with the professors engaging the viewers by speaking directly to the camera are a vast improvement. In addition, the professor seemed a bit overly serious & rarely strayed from a very stern demeanor. It came across almost as being very unfriendly, which is too bad. I don't imagine he's like that in person, but it can be a bit detrimental to the learning experience on video format. There are no unscripted moments of levity that you might have in a normal classroom setting. I feel like he never let down his guard & was too stiff as a result. Those criticisms aside, I want to reiterate that I DID learn quite a bit about Islam and I do recommend the course if you are also interested in learning more about the history, teachings and beliefs of this religious tradition.
Date published: 2015-03-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Was hoping for a lot more After listening to these lectures, I was greatly disappointed. I wanted to know a lot more about Islamic beliefs. After lecture 5, I had to force myself listen to the rest. Too much history (a good summary would be nice) and talk about diversity in beliefs held today. I have finally listened to all the lectures, Although I must confess, I may fallen asleep a few times. I really feel as though I still don't know much about the Islamic beliefs.
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Incomplete and Appeared Biased This course was presented with an apparent bias in favor of Islam. For instance, there were many verses n the Quran with which he did not even deal on the issue of the manner in which Muslims should treat non-Muslims. I understood that the course could not deal with all of them. But, what troubled me more was the incomplete presentation of some of the verses which were discussed. An example may be best. A principle woudl be asserted (e.g. Islam is accomodating of other beliefs). A Scripture passage would be presented in support of the principle, But, when the Scripture passage was fully presented, the attention to detail was lacking. So, if the Scripture said that tolerance was required of Muslims so long as the non-beliver submitted or paid a tax, there was no follow up discussion of what happened if that payment or submission did not occur. It thus was an incomplete study of the Scripture, and left me wondering what happened in those circumstances. it did not justify therefore the principle for which it was used. Further study will be warranted if you realy want to understand these topics. The incomplete discussion left a feeling that the Scripture was being misused to support the principle, but I have yet to reach a conclusion on this point.
Date published: 2014-12-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting presentation I had mixed feelings regarding this presentation. I felt the lessons were well organized and that a good overview of Islam was presented. It certainly increased my knowledge of this important subject in today's world. On the negative side, I did not feel inspired in any way by the presenter and I did not feel connected to him. Connection to the audience is found in many other courses. I also felt that this could have been a longer course with more details given regarding Islam.
Date published: 2014-11-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Know your professor !! I read a number of negative reviews prior to engaging this course and agree with many of the comments that were made. Prof. Esposito condensed a lot of information into a 12 lecture course and raised many issues that have encouraged me to seek further study which is the reason for the 4 star rating. In the 11th lecture he listed current organizations that are involved with Islam in the West. One of these is the Center For the Study of Islam & Democracy. The following refers to that organization. "The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) was founded in 1998 in what appears to have been a cooperative effort among the US Muslim Brotherhood, the US State Department and Georgetown University academic Dr. John Esposito who served during the 1990’s as a State Department “foreign affairs analyst” and who has at least a dozen past or present affiliations with global Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas organizations." Knowing this information helps to explain a number of his positions throughout the course. Full disclosure of these affiliations would enable the viewer to appreciate the course through the lens of the Professor's personal sentiments.
Date published: 2014-11-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Average presentation on very important subject Historical perspective fairly done. Problem is age of course. With the rapid changes in the middle east this is very very dated. Presentor is reading his lecture with little emotion . Not up to GC standards
Date published: 2014-11-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Great World Religions: Islam I've taken nine other course from "The Great Courses" offerings and have invariably found them all to be helpful, engaging (especially Shai Cherry's "Introduction to Judism") interesting, and informative. I was therefore quite surprised and saddened to find the dullness of Esposito's course. There's nothing so mind numbing as hearing someone read the lesson start to finish, and Esposito certainly dulled my brain for the hours I struggled to get through this course. I missed most of the scant worthwhile content because of the mental rage I screamed during his wasteful recitations. That, coupled with his politicization of the course matter made this an almost complete waste of time. The first three lessons at least had some content, if you're hearty enough to endure the numbing recital. The latter course, "The Future of Islam" also has a nugget or two. Buy the Cliff Notes. Don't waste your time or money on Esposito. Great Courses, people want the content on Islam. Your audience will not however, tolerate a mediocre delivery. I strongly suggest you read the remaining reviews, take this course's criticism to heart, and find a better source than Esposito. The competition is strong out there, and missteps like this can do you in. I'd hate to see that.
Date published: 2014-10-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Don't waste your time This course is nothing more than a 12-hour cheerleading session and related excuses for Islam. The presentation completely lacks balance and perspective. Whatever puts Islam in a favorable light is repeated over and over, with no meaningful information presented as to alternate applications of the actual practices in various countries. Whatever problems do exist are blamed on the "European colonialists" and a very few extremists.
Date published: 2014-06-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Long on opinion, short on facts. I love the teaching company. I listen to many lectures, most on historical issues. I was disappointed in this course. These lectures are probably what is given to college students, but I was interested in education, not opinion/spin/propaganda. I want to have the history stated, not interpreted for me, I'll make my own connections and form my own views.
Date published: 2014-03-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Some Resevations When I saw who was giving this course I was prepared to hate the course. Dr. Espisito is a well know Islamic scholar who is an Islamic apologist. He will not even condemn Hezbollah or Hamas. He portrays them as a Sinn Fein type organization with an IRA arm. However, Sinn Fein never felt that the Northern Ireland shouldn't exist, just that Ireland shouldn't be under British Rule. Hezbollah and Hamas both think that Israel should not exist at all, and have that as a goal in the charters of their organizations. Granted some people in those organizations have thought they were violent enough against Israel and will broke away, but they are not like Sinn Fein. With that being said I didn't actually dislike the course as much as I thought I would, and I actually learned a few things, although not many. I agree with many who have said that it probably would have been better to have a believer give the course than an outsider. Dr. Espisito is Roman Catholic, which doesn't really matter, except that he's not Muslim. Also, he does give a biased presentation of Islam, but to be fair, he gives the presentation that most people in academia give of Islam, which I think is disturbing. I will give some examples. He doesn't present the crusades as an outright attack by the Christians on the innocent Muslims, he does give some background and that the Byzantine Emperor had called for help with the Muslim attacks. He also said that one reason the Pope called for the crusades was to increase his political position. I haven't heard that before, and it's probably got some truth behind it. He also said that there were hero and villains on both side on the war. Then he proceeds to talk about the Crusaders sack of Jerusalem and King Richards massacre of the prisoners at Ayyadieh. He then talks about how Saladin spared Jerusalem when he took it. He doesn't mention the account of Saladin taking Hattin. Saladin's secretary writes this account of how he treated the prisoners there: "[Saladin] ordered that they should be beheaded, choosing to have them dead rather than in prison. With him was a whole band of scholars and Sufis and a certain number of devout men and ascetics; each begged to be allowed to kill one of them, and drew his sword and rolled back his sleeve. Saladin, his face joyful, was sitting on his dais; the unbelievers showed black despair." He also doesn't mention that the Saladin planned to treat the prisoners at Jerusalem the same way. The reason he didn't it was because of an agreement he had reached with Christian commander of the city Balian of Ibelin who had threatened to kill all of the Muslims in the city of Jerusalem before Saladin could reach it if he didn't agree to spare the prisoners. He also only "spared" the prisoners that could be ransomed to freedom, the rest were sold as slaves. Nice guy Saladin. If you go to the Wikipedia account of the massacre of Ayyadieh it ends with this ironic sentence "Aayadieh is perhaps the strongest refutation of Richard as a courteous and chivalrous warrior king. On this occasion his almost "theatrical" staging of the massacre showed that he was capable of using terror tactics in an attempt to terrify his opponents into submission. Ironically, Saladin's counter massacre did not hurt his reputation." Many people point out how well Richard and Saladin got along even though they were adversaries. Saladin even sent his physician, who was probably much, much better than anything Richard had, to treat him when Richard was ill. They probably got along well because they were kindred spirits. Why does Dr. Espisito not tell this, if he "has" to tell about the villains of the plot why only the Christian villians? Muslims know Saladin, and not the happy charitable Saladin the west is told about by Dr. Esposito. Dr Espisto also says that every one of the suras, or chapters, of the Quran, starts with the bismillah "In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful" That's mostly true, except that it doesn't start the 9th Sura, or the "so called", as Dr. Esposito would say, Sword Sura. That's what the "critics" of Islam call it, the name that Muslims give it is "The Repentance" or "The Ultimatum." As Dr. Espisito says, "Many, not all consider this the last word of Mohammed..." He says this about Quran 9:71-72 and says that this is how a man should treat his wife, as an equal. I didn't know that those ayahs were interpreted that way and were applied to marriage. So I learned something there. Dr. Esposito also didn't mention that there is another ayah in the Quran 4:34 that says that it's OK to beat your wife if she's disobedient, but that since the 9th Sura comes later it abrogates the former ayah. It's good to know that some Islamic scholars interpret the Quran that way. Dr. Esposito also talked about the ayahs that the "critics", as Dr. Esposito called them, always talk about. The so called "sword verses". I was actually surprised that he talked about these at all. Not to worry though. We just don't understand them in context. Many Christians understand that other Christians will rip proof texts out of the Bible and that when put in context they can sound different, so Dr. Esposito is going to set our minds at ease here. He quotes 9:5 "Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them and prepare for them each ambush." Yes you're right Dr. Esposito that sounds terrible, so here is the second line that puts it in context and makes it all OK. "But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free." Really Dr. Esposito, putting it in context makes it better!!!! If we convert and pay the zakat (which he talks about as one of the pillars of Islam) the Muslims are supposed to leave us alone, otherwise it's OK to ambush us idolaters? That doesn't seem to make it any better to me. Also, although he mentioned it with respect to marriage he doesn't mention that these so called "sword verses" are also in the last word of Mohhamad, and the only sura that doesn't start with the bismillah, the 9th Sura. He also doesn't talk about the ayahs that say that Muslims should not be friends with Christians or Jews. It's things like this that make people say that Dr. Esposito is giving a slanted view of Islam. Now that I've written how bad the lectures are, they actually aren't that bad. The lecture I learned the most on was lecture 4 about how the different law codes came about and the Sufis. Also, Dr. Esposito is a much better scholar of Islam than I am, or I hope he is, and he does seem anguished that there is no Islamic nation that is not plagued by terrorist unrest or civil war. He also seems to really believe that Islam has been hijacked by a violent minority. It does seem that way to me, however, I don't think that ignoring the reasons that there is that violent minority is the way to help reform Islam. Judaism and Christianity have changed over the years. Jews have worked out how their religion works without a temple. Christians, and Jews have worked out how to get around slavery and usury. There are plenty of ways that the Quran can be interpreted peacefully, and America should be a safe haven for all Muslims that want to take that path. Dr. Esposito says that is what he is doing, and I truly hope he is, but in my opinion, closing your eyes to all the bad things about Islam is not helping it reform, it's just letting the wolf into the sheepfold.
Date published: 2014-02-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Tricky Material Handled With Balance I belong to a group of retired people who take great courses together. We have studied, art, history, music and now religion. This time around we decided to do ALL of the Worlds Great Religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. I am going to leave our overall rating for each course in each of the five reviews I am writing here. Our final order as it turned out is the same order in which we viewed the courses: Judaism (4 Stars), Christianity (3 Stars), Islam (3 Stars), Hinduism (1 Star), Buddhism (No Stars), I read the many reviews here that refer to Dr. Esposito as an apologist....we did not see it that way. The professor provides historical context, an overview of the development of the faith community (and its divisions), the nature of life within the communities, and the very difficult questions related to Islam as an inspiration for terrorism, the role women with the faith, and its ongoing conflict with modernism in all its forms. We found him low key and tentative which seemed appropriate given the complex place that Islam has in the world. We found his efforts to explain the tensions and struggles of value. Of the five courses, his was second in generating very significant discussion.
Date published: 2014-02-15
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