On Understanding Islam

“So I was surprised,” Mrs. Bowman was saying. “I guess I’d never talked to a Muslim about her religion before.”

“Considering that we see the conflict between Islam and the West as the central problem of our time,” Mr. Magundi remarked, “most Americans know extraordinarily little about what Muslims believe. I happened to be reading Sir John Mandeville—the famous medieval liar—the other day, and I noticed that, even though he tells us that cotton comes from a tree that grows literal lambs on the ends of its branches, and that lowers its branches whenever the lambs want to feed; even though he fills his book with extraordinary monsters and fabulous miracles—in spite of all that, he gives a far better account of what Muslims actually believe than your average American journalist could give. When it comes to Islam, we are more ignorant than the most notoriously mendacious medieval traveler—and that in spite of the fact that most of us live in places where, if we wanted to know about Islam, we could walk down the street and ask a Muslim.”