Understanding Islam

An Introduction

As some of you might already know, I am currently writing a book (series?) entitled: Understanding Islam. This book is intended for both Muslims and non-Muslims trying to make sense of Islam. The book, therefore, has the twin aims of:

It is my hope that by making Islam more accessible to people, they can discover how they can enrich their lives with Islam’s teachings, and come to understand the difference between what the Muslims believe and what Islam actually teaches.

Your Feedback

I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to write the Understanding Islam book in isolation, by imagining what the best approach for the book will be, given the subject and my target audience.

However, the subject, in itself, is extremely broad and covers a number of issues and branches off to other subjects, making it difficult to develop a structure that will do justice to the subject.

And trying to think on behalf of my audience adds to the complexity of the task, since I am not fully certain whether I have left something necessary out of my argument, or whether the point I am making is clear (or even relevant).

Therefore, if you are interested in trying to understand Islam, I would like to get your feedback: how do you think the subject of understanding Islam should be approached? What topics do you think should be included? Where do you think mistakes in understanding Islam arise? Do you think the points I have raised, or the argument I am making, is valid? If not, why not?

You do not have to answer these questions now, but I would appreciate if you can give me your feedback whenever you can as I post my thoughts on the subject.

I will not be posting the actual book on the blog, but my posts will form the general outline of the book.

I will be creating a special page for the book, so that people can read all the posts in sequence, and where they can leave me general questions, comments or suggestions about the book.

I hope this project will be beneficial for all those who take part in it, and for all those who read it.

Islam and the Muslims

To begin our discussion about, and study of, Islam, it is important to begin with a definition. It seems that today Muslims are offering different definitions of what Islam means, such as “Peace” or “Submission to the will of God.” What interests us at this point is not the linguistic definition of the word “Islam.”

This is because the word itself carries a range of linguistic meanings. Besides, the book isn’t dedicated to the study of the word, but of the religion referred to by the word. However, the distinction I would like to make clear is this:

- Islam, which is what we are trying to reach a better understanding of, is not the religion the Muslims are practicing, but the message God wanted to convey to mankind through His messenger Muhammad

[whether Islam is, in fact, a divine religion, or Muhammad is a true prophet is irrelevant to the discussion, as I will explain in the next post]

- What the Muslims adhere to is their understanding of Islam, whether their understanding is correct or not. Therefore, when the Muslims disagree over an issue, or an interpretation of a verse, we cannot say that the verse has contradictory, yet equally valid, meanings. Where there is a dispute over the interpretation of a verse, some Muslims would have interpreted the verse incorrectly, and so their understanding of Islam is not consistent with the message God is trying to communicate to us. Their interpretation is not the divine message we must follow

To understand Islam, we must be able to draw a distinction between what the Muslims believe, and what God wants us to believe. The gap between the two is what we try to bridge by using a valid method of interpretation that can extract the meaning conveyed by God, without any distortion to that message.

And for us to do that, we must determine whether the approach the Muslims are using for the interpretation of Islam is valid in the first place, and how we can prove the faults in their approach to their understanding of Islam.

What is clear at this point is that, given the differences that exists amongst the Muslims, and the fact that one group rejects the interpretation of the other, we cannot accept what the Muslims believe is Islam to be Islam (as intended by God). In the least, not all the Muslims are correct in their interpretation, and we must be able to determine which groups amongst them have used a valid approach to the understanding of Islam, and which ones have not.

Is Islam a Divine Religion?

I have already stated that, in order to understand Islam correctly, we must take into account the meaning God intended to convey to mankind, and the message brought by Prophet Muhammad as he understood it, and not as the Muslims understood it.

Our intention is to bridge the gap between the Muslims’ (and the non-Muslims’) understanding of Islam and the meaning God wants us to understand.

However, does this mean that we must begin with the assumption that Islam is a divine religion, and that God has conveyed it to Prophet Muhammad? What if someone, say a Christian, for example, doesn’t wish to base his understanding of Islam on such an assumption, but rather begins with the premise that Prophet Muhammad pretended to be a messenger to exercise (divine) authority over the Arabs. Can this serve as a starting point for the understanding of Islam?

The short answer is no. The long answer is also no.

Allow me to explain:

When you wish to understand the teachings of an individual, the validity of the teachings is besides the point. What you are trying to understand is how the individual himself understood his teachings, and what he was trying to convey.

We cannot say: Islam is what the Muslims believe, when what the Muslims believe conflicts with the understanding the founder of the religion had of the religion.

Similarly, you do not need to prove God’s existence in order to determine what God intends to convey through Islam. To understand Islam, you must form an understanding of what kind of deity is being presented in its teachings. Is the God of Islam a just God or an unjust God? If He is just, then we must interpret Islam’s teachings from that perspective (i.e. Islam cannot promote injustice, because the God of Islam is a just God).

Therefore, we need to form an understanding of what the attributes of the God of Islam are, so we can interpret Islam in a way consistent with His attributes. I will prove the validity of this approach further during our discussion of what the valid criteria for interpretation are.

To sum up, Islam is:

- The message God (i.e. the God of Islam) wants to convey to mankind

- The religion as Prophet Muhammad understood it

Our role is to determine what that message is and how it is to be understood correctly.

2 Comments »

  1. elberk said,

    October 2, 2008 at 5:04 am

    amazing article .. it really deserved a page not a blog .. i think a great follow-up, response, comment, or let me say an additive is this blog .. muslema.wordpress.com and maryam19.blogspot.com .. the blog owner is deceased .. she a new converter to islam .. those blogs are her way for sharing her experience with islam, a great guide for muslims and an amazing starts for newly converted .. hope you like them

  2. Haider said,

    October 5, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Elberk, thanks for stopping by and posting this comment. I checked out the blogs you mentioned, and will hopefully read through them more extensively in the future…

Leave a Comment