Dr. Farida Khanam has been a professor at the Department of Islamic Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. A Study of World's Major Religions, A Simple Guide to Sufism are two of the books amongst others, of which she is the author. She has also translated many books on Islam authored by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. Currently, the chairperson of Centre for Peace and Spirituality (CPS International), an organization founded by her father Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, she is a regular contributor of articles to journals, newspapers and magazines. Dr. Khanam has edited Maulana’s English translation of the Quran and has also translated his Urdu commentary of the Quran into English. Under Maulana Wahiduddin Khan Peace Foundation, along with the CPS team, she has designed a series of courses on peace-building, countering extremism and conflict resolution.


DURING a seminar about ‘Understanding Religion from its Original Sources’ I said, “If you want to understand Islam in its original form you have to accept one fundamental principle; you have to differentiate between Islam and Muslims. You have to judge Islam based on its original text. And, you have to judge Muslims in the light of Islamic teachings and not vice versa.”

It is a fact that every religion is originally based on its text but after some time it is reduced to a mere set of traditions that are based on its community. That is, it is a universal phenomenon that after some time there emerges a parallel point of reference. First the reference point is the text and then later its community emerges as a reference point. Exactly the same thing happened in Islam. Originally there was only one person who was the point of reference regarding Islam and that was Prophet Muhammad. But then people started to accept the Muslim community as the point of reference. And steadily there emerged a parallel phenomenon, which was the community (of Muslims). People started to take this community as a point of reference to understand the religion of Islam. Then a time came that Islam and the community of Muslims both become synonymous. People started to refer to Islam and Muslims as alternative titles. And now after a long history this has become an established norm. People refer to Islam while they are trying to describe the community of Muslims.

To explain this point, let me give you an example. ‘Jihad’ is a term used in the Quran as well as in the Hadith. But Muslims generally consider this word synonymous with war. They use this word as though jihad and war are equivalent. While it is totally wrong. If you read the Quran objectively you will find that the Quran never uses jihad as synonymous with war. In fact, jihad simply means struggle and it is used in Islam as an ideological struggle rather than struggle by the sword. The other equivalent term of jihad is dawah, or the task of conveying the message of God to people. ‘Do jihad’ and ‘Do dawah’ are both equivalent terms. When the Quran tries to refer to war it uses another term, which is qital. So qital means war while jihad implies a peaceful struggle for the dissemination of Islamic principles which are essentially based on tawhid (the oneness of God).

To understand Islam, you have to judge Islam based on its original text. And, you have to judge Muslims in the light of Islamic teachings and not vice versa.

This is the basic problem regarding the understanding of Islam. If one wants to understand what Islam is, then one must differentiate between Islam and Muslims. They must know that Islam is an ideology based on the Quran and the prophetic teachings. Academically this is the first important principle for understanding Islam. Without keeping this in mind you cannot understand Islam. This differentiation is not only an academic requirement, it is also academic honesty. When Islam and the Muslim community both are different you must recognize this as a fact, otherwise you will be dishonest in studying this subject.

Dr. Farida Khanam
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