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The Practice of Tolerance in the Muslim World

December 2011

Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore serve Me (and no other). But (later generations) cut off their affair (of unity), one from another:  (yet) will they all return to Us. Whoever works any act of righteousness and has faith - his endeavor will not be rejected: We shall record it in his favor.
(Qur’an: 21:92-94, Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali)

Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians- any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness: shall have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
(Qur’an: 2:62, Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali)

The Qur’an abounds in verses that are more or less similar to the passages quoted above. It is transparently clear that the Qur’an stands for tolerance and religious pluralism; whatever may be the received understanding of the faith in Muslim theology or history. It is also clear that the conduct of Muslims in history has much deviated from Quranic teachings. However, this is the universal story of all religions.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, was a model of loving tolerance and universal compassion. He never nursed any grudge, anger or hatred against his bitterest foes. He took up arms only in self-defense. It is true that after he was compelled to migrate from his home at Mecca to distant Medina he ordered several raiding expeditions against the desert caravans of his Meccan persecutors. These raids were not defensive in the literal sense. However, several objective and impartial world historians, both Muslim and others, now accept that such raids were, indeed, defensive in the functional sense, because of the severe economic and social restrictions under which the early Muslim refugees in Medina were compelled to live. Moreover, the traditional pre-Islamic desert ethos permitted adventure raids upon caravans and also on the property of tribes who were outside mutual friendship pacts. It was a great achievement of the Prophet to unify the notoriously volatile and vengeful tribes of almost the entire peninsula into some sort of political union. Finally, his farewell speech from atop Mount Arafat, after performing the first and the last Islamic Hajj of his life was a great humanist legacy to all Muslims. A few months after his Islamic ‘sermon on the mount’ the prophet of universal tolerance and human brotherhood bade farewell to the human family. The year was 632 CE.

The term of office of his first successor (Caliph) as the temporal head of the Islamic commonwealth was only about two years, just sufficient, first, to consolidate the border area of Tabuk adjoining Syria, and, second, to quell internal rebellions from some Arab tribal chiefs who also claimed to be prophet’s in their own right. These battles or wars were certainly not expansionist or aggressive in nature.

The expansionist phase of Islamic history, however, began with the second Caliph Umar, and the third Caliph Uthman continued it. The expansion, however, was purely the extension of political power over the areas conquered by war. It should not be equated with the forcible imposition of the Islamic faith on the peoples living in the conquered lands. No further expansion took place during the tenure of the fourth and last pious Caliph Ali, who, most unfortunately, was denied full acceptance and real cooperation from his own people right from the beginning to the end of his life that ended with his tragic assassination. Every fair minded observer, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, cannot but lament that he had to fight against his own near and dear ones almost immediately after his accession. This happened in 656 CE, a mere twenty-four years after the passing away of the Prophet. Just five years later in 661 CE, the most spiritually evolved, idealistic and intellectually gifted among the closest companions of the Prophet was assassinated by a Kharji fanatic on the charge of apostasy. This was the height of unreason. This monstrous aberration and tragedy took place only twenty-nine years after the Prophet. No words can describe the closeness of Ali to the Prophet, for he was beloved cousin, son in law of the Prophet and son of Abu Talib, the ever loyal and fearless patron and protector of the Prophet during the earliest period of the Prophets mission, though Abu Talib could never find his way to accepting the Islamic faith. The Prophet, however, ever prayed for his guardian uncle, willing to die if anybody harmed Muhammad. The bond between pagan uncle and the Prophet beautifully reveals the universal reach of the Prophet’s compassion and humanistic love. It also shows that truthfulness, integrity and character are qualities not confined to any particular faith or creed. And this is what tolerance means in action.

The philosopher-king among the four Pious Caliphs was succeeded by Amir Muawiyah (d.680) who was an astute, dynamic and competent administrator and military commander, but not at all bothered by considerations of ethics or loyalty to values that, to Ali, were dearest of all. Muawiyah consolidated his power and hold over empire for almost twenty years and also ensured the succession of his own son, Yezid, to the seat of sovereign power, but the Caliphate lost its soul and fell from the high pedestal of the rule of the moral law to the rule of brute force. A mere forty-eight years after the passing away of the Prophet civil war again broke out, and in 680 CE his grandson together with almost the whole of the household perished because they refused to accept the legitimacy of Yezid’s succession. First, the general body of Muslims was fractured into two adversarial camps and then slowly and silently subtle doctrinal differences began to grow upon the stem of a common faith and vision corrupted by the lust for power. The poison of distrust and hatred entered into the spiritual arteries of the Prophet’s legacy. The poison persists till today.

There is no point in blaming any individual or individuals or indulging in-group self-pity. However, distorted information and lingering hurts must never be allowed to fester in the heart. They should be examined with full intellectual honesty in the light of all reliable knowledge or information. Unfortunately, Muslims have become victim to the common sociological fallacy of blaming ‘the other’ for their own sufferings. The other may be a white imperialist/Jewish conspirator/a Shia or Sunni or any anonymous enemy of God.

However, despite the unfortunate retrogression of the Islamic Republic (Khilafah) into different monarchies under various races, tribes, ethnic groups or oligarchies in the course of time, the Arabs or Arabacized Iranians, Turks, various central Asians and North Africans functioned as the world leaders in the arts of peace and war, culture and civilization for almost four centuries. Brilliant scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, physicians, historians, geographers, architects in addition to philosophers, mystics and poets adorn the pages of the history of Muslims in various parts of the Islamic East and West. From the political angle the Muslims retained their dominance in world affairs right up to the end of the 18th century, thanks to the Mughal rule in India, and Ottoman rule in West Asia.

Several modern Western writers and a few Muslim scholars have made objective and impartial detailed studies of both the achievements and limitations of the age of Arabic dominance. The works of Shibli Nomani, Amir Ali, Philip Hitti, and Bernard Lewis et al are of permanent value. In what follows I want to point out that brilliant as was the achievement of Muslims in all fields of human activity, they, unfortunately, sidelined the great value of tolerance, despite the fact that the Qur’an and the Prophet give central importance to patience and tolerance.

I shall begin with the Abbasid Caliph, Mamun (d. 833 CE). He was one of the most intellectual and learned rulers ever in world history. His court at Baghdad was the cultural capital of the then known world. Himself an intellectual, he was a true patron of philosophy, science and the arts. He had come to accept the rationalistic and liberal views of the Mutazila School of Islamic Theology, which clashed with the orthodox Ashari School. Unfortunately, despite his professed rationalism and liberalism he thought it fit to severely persecute all theologians, scholar jurists, and officers who differed from him. This vice of intolerance unfortunately entered very early into the spiritual arteries of the Muslim body politic and persists there to date. Perhaps, the statement attributed jointly to Voltaire and J.S. Mill has captured the spirit of tolerance best—I do not agree with a word of what you say, but I shall give my life to defend your right to do so. Tolerance, in this sense, has been cultivated in the Muslim world only by a tiny section—Sufi thinkers and poets. With very few exceptions, the orthodox establishment never gave importance to the Sufi approach. This indifference has much harmed the growth of tolerance and mutual friendly dialogue between different Islamic schools or sects. The Sufi approach could have built bridges between different religions and viewpoints. The rigid orthodox style of Islamic piety gave dominant, if not exclusive, importance to conformity with the shariah. They did not bother about how to ensure inner growth and purification of the soul, perhaps because they thought that this would automatically follow from adhering to the shariah. This reasoning was wrong. The above fallacy led the orthodox theologians and jurists into making apostasy a sin or crime punishable by death. To my mind, this is the most repugnant form of intolerance. There is no sanction for this penalty in the Qur’an, just as there is no sanction for stoning unto death as a penalty for adultery. However, both these penalties were and still are included in the shariah. I have discussed these issues in some detail in my writings.

Coming to the times of Mamun, the most burning controversy related to two issues. The first issue was whether the Qur’an was eternal and uncreated or was it created in time after the scattered verses and surahs had been collected in a single volume in the time of the third Caliph, if not still earlier?  The second issue was: If nothing happens without God’s will then sin and evil too cannot happen without Divine will. If so, why should wrongdoers be punished?  There were other issues also, but the above two were the most debated.

The common believer does not raise such questions, but spontaneously performs what he takes to be Divine commands. However, believers, more sensitive to logical consistency and reasoning naturally do feel perplexed by such issues. The Quran itself exhorts men to think and reflect on nature and use the Divine gift of reason. Muslim theologians and thinkers were also exposed to Jewish and Christian thought currents more than a century before Mamun’s time. Later on Arabic translations of classical Greek and Indian works on various subjects made for the emergence of great thinkers and intellectuals of world caliber, beginning with Kindi, Farabi, et al in the 9th century and ending with Ibn Khaldun in the early 15th century. However, the Qur’an does not teach the use of force to convince others. Unfortunately, Mamun ordered dissenters to be flogged and imprisoned, though, mercifully, they were not executed. The most famous victim was Imam Hanbal (d. 855) who held Ashari views opposed to the Mutazila position of Mamun.  Hanbal endured great suffering for two or more years, but he remained adamant till the end. The public acclaimed his moral courage.

The same policy was carried on by Mamun’s immediate successors, Mustasim (d. 842) and Abu Jafar (d. 847). Matters improved subsequently but the germs of intolerance persisted. Ironically after a gap of several years the Caliph Qadir b’ Allah (d.1002) who favored the Ashari views started persecuting the Mutazites. Free enquiry, in the Socratic sense, without fear or favor, was thus not permitted to take roots in the Muslim world. The Abbasid Caliph, Mustanjid (d. 1170) ordered the works of Ibn Sina (d. 1039) to be burnt. Al-Beruni’s (d. 1048) genius was barely understood and appreciated by his contemporaries. The remarkable synthesis of religion and rational thinking of Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) was also not appreciated. The same happened with Ibn Khaldun’s (d.1406) book on sociologically oriented History. Only a few great creative individuals, like Al-Shafai (d. 820), Al-Ghazzali (d. 1111), Ibn Arabi (d. 1240), Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273) and Mulla Sadr (d. 1640) were venerated by their contemporaries and later generations.

Generally speaking, only theologians and jurists received recognition and acclaim and that too was sectarian rather than universal. Although the thinkers and intellectuals who established the society called ‘the brethren of purity’ (Ikhwan us Safa) were perhaps the first in history to produce an ‘Encyclopedia of Philosophy’. Their pioneering work did not produce many ripples on the placid and stagnant surface of religious conformity. For the ulema, rational sciences were of little consequence before the pure religious sciences. The works of the Ikhwan and the entire library of the famous natural scientist and physician, Abdus Salam, were publicly burnt to ashes in 1192 CE. Ever since this episode the spirit of free enquiry has been at a discount in the Muslim religious consciousness to date. Muslims have been more tolerant towards other religions than to philosophers or to different denominations or schools of thought within their own community. At times they indulge in polemics, but they hardly carry on friendly dialogue between opposing views in the atmosphere of loving tolerance. Genuine creedal tolerance has prevailed much more in India and China than in the Christian or Muslim worlds, though the caste system has been the scourge of India. However, while in the modern age the Christian West has gradually outgrown its former predisposition to religious intolerance, Muslims have yet to begin their journey on the path of loving tolerance and to appreciate the wisdom of religious pluralism. The Hindu mind has been enjoying and practicing this pluralism for ages, though they are still struggling to come out of the fog of the caste system.

The most glaring episodes of intellectual or ideological intolerance relate to the great mystic, Mansur Hallaj (d. 922) and the mystical thinker, Yahya Suhrawardi (d. 1191). Both were executed on the charge of heresy. Another thinker and reformer, (of an entirely different hue) Ibn Taimiyah (d. 1328) was imprisoned but he refused to give up his convictions and died of despair. He differed from the then Sunni orthodoxy, the Mutazila liberalism as well as the mystical-rationalistic views of Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd.

There are many other cases of intellectual intolerance. But sectarian intolerance and also political intolerance have been far more frequent. Mostly the two types of intolerance have worked together. The most dramatic form of ‘targeted terrorism’ was practiced by Hasan bin Sabbah (died sometime in the early 12th century). He was an Ismaili Shia who founded a highly organized secret society headquartered in the caves of the Alamut Mountains of Iran. This movement lasted for 150 years and caused havoc during the Abbaside period. Many of the top political, administrative and religious leaders of the era, including the outstanding statesman, Nizamul Mulk (d. 1091), were assassinated by specially dedicated and indoctrinated commandos. The movement was ultimately crushed by the Mongol invaders and also by the celebrated Muslim hero, Sultan Saladin (d. 1193).

I now turn to an extraordinary and perverse case of religious intolerance in India during the reign of the pre-Mughal Sultan, Sikander Lodi (d. app. 1517). It so happened that one learned Sanskrit scholar, Pandit Buddhan Brahman, publicly expressed his admiration for Islam and the Prophet. Thereupon a section of the ulema thought it fit to ask the Pandit why does he not convert to Islam if he was sincere. Buddhan did not accept the logic of this question and declined to convert. The matter was reported to the Sultan who was known to be an aggressive Muslim evangelist. He supported the perverse stand of the ulema that Buddhan’s act of publicly praising Islam and the Prophet implied he had accepted Islam. But his refusal to accept this fact made him guilty (according to the shariah as understood by the jurists concerned) of apostasy, which is punishable by death. The Pandit, however, remained adamant and preferred to sacrifice his life rather than his integrity. This incident is reported in Sheikh Muhammad Ikram’s well-known Urdu work, in three volumes, on the social and cultural history of Muslim India.

I shall conclude this section by making a brief reference to some other instances of intolerance in relatively more recent Muslim history. First is the execution of Bahaullah of Iran in the mid 19th century. He was the founder father of this extremely liberal humanist reform movement in shia Islam. To my mind, Bahaullah was an authentic Shia Muslim radical reformer who might have brought about a genuine internal shia reformation in Iran and West Asia if Quranic tolerance had been meted out to him and his followers. As we all know, it was British liberal humanism at its best, as exemplified in persons like E.G. Browne, famous author of The Literary History of Persia, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, the conscience-keeper of the liberal British nobility, and (perhaps) John Stewart Mill, eminent philosopher-statesman, who gave moral and material support to the Bahai movement out of genuine humanistic sympathy rather than any ulterior imperialistic designs.

Again the same unfortunate streak of intolerance and the predisposition to the politics of violence rather than persuasion prompted the former Shah of Iran in the 20th century to suppress the Islamic reform movement inaugurated by Ayatollah Khomeini (d. 1989). The new Islamic regime, again, labeled numerous liberal and Communist fighters for human freedom and justice as ‘enemies of Islam’.

Another instance relates to Mustafa Kemal Ata Turk’s (d. 1938) forcible imposition of Western values on his own people after he had emerged as the hero-savior of the Turkish people after Turkey’s defeat in the First World War, 1914-18.  His (probable) complicity in the plot to sink a Turkish ship carrying a large number of extremely conservative ulema, resistant to liberal reform, was the total negation of liberalism and tolerance.

Many irrational and intolerant acts of the Taliban government in Afghanistan were also a caricature and mockery of ‘the Word of God’ even though their actions were done in the name of God. The atrocities frequently committed by Sunni militias in Pakistan against shia worshippers praying in their mosques or against pilgrims (both Muslim and others) gathered at Sufi shrines come in the same category.

Concluding Reflections:

There was no sectarian cleavage during the Prophet’s lifetime or even during the early phase of the pious Caliphate. There is nothing in the Qur’an to corroborate or contradict any Shia/Sunni/Kharji/Mutazili/Ashari theological or juristic interpretations in a definitive or conclusive manner. All these theories or schools of thought were much later developments or conceptual elaborations of their ‘take’ from the Quranic source or different narratives of the putative sayings and doings of the Prophet. The process had started in the time of the second Caliph and gathered momentum with the passage of time. Thus, there are no specific texts in the Qur’an to support or refute issues or theories of the created or uncreated nature of the Qur’an, the freedom of the human will, the relationship between the essence and the attributes of Allah, the mode of revelation to the Prophet, as all these issues are debated in theology or philosophy. There are only some verses in the Qur’an, which appear to lend support to one view and sometimes to a contrary view, as the case may be. That is why theological controversies arise and persist. The same hold good of reported sayings of the Prophet. Thus it is patently clear neither the Qur’an nor the Prophet’s sayings give any definitive guidance on who should have succeeded the Prophet, whether the office of imam is necessary to complete the functions of any prophet, or whether the succession should be confined to the house of the Prophet or be open to others, and so on.

Likewise, no clear distinction between a Messenger (rasul), Warner (nabi), Guide (hadi), Leader (imam) is made in the Qur’an. All refinements in basic concepts and values, all dogmas and beliefs gradually emerged in the mind of some creative group leader. As fresh needs and challenges arise the creative leader chooses the interpretation that he deems to be right and the group willingly follows. But the crucial question is how and why he makes the choice in the first instance. To my mind, he opts for a particular interpretation of the text because his intuitive wisdom tells him it serves some basic felt needs of the group more effectively than other alternatives. In this way, a particular interpretation becomes more ‘appealing’ to him than other alternative interpretations. Some other group is drawn to some other interpretation of the same Quranic text or saying of the Prophet due to a different life situation. This is exactly how and why the shia or sunni perspectives emerged in Islam even as they do in all religious traditions. In Sociology this phenomenon is termed the ‘situational determination of thought’. The natural and inherent ambiguity or opaqueness of the words and expressions in the various natural languages makes for still further confusion and controversy in the human family. I have discussed the above and other related problems in much greater detail in Chapters 2 and 3 of my work, Living the Quran in Our Times.

The crux of the problem is simply this: A Muslim believer may have unshakeable faith that the Qur’an is infallible and the ultimate authority. But can the believer honestly make the same claim for this or that (manifestly human) interpretation of the text? The text may be Divinely revealed but the interpretation is always a human activity, and men are, by definition, subject to limitations of various kinds. Plural interpretations are, therefore, inevitable. If so, tolerance, freedom of enquiry and innovation all become essential for human growth and welfare in an ever-changing world.

There can be no greater tragedy for Muslims than the shia-sunni adversarial relationship in Muslim history. To indulge in controversy over who should have succeeded the Prophet as head of state 1500 years after the event is to be mired in the past than be moving forward in the present towards a happier and more fulfilling future for all concerned. It would be a case of compulsive collective suicide. Similarly, to my mind it is painful that the sunni majority should remain rather insensitive to the sufferings and persisting anguish of those who were especially devoted to Maula Ali and his house and venerated them (for some reason or other) just next to the Prophet himself. What is wrong if one loves one parent more than the other so long as one respects both equally and fully and discharges all his obligations to parents and society?

It is high time that the regrettable and foolish cold war between shia’s and sunni’s should yield to the idea of total and universal brotherhood of humanity. All who care to identify themselves as Muslims should practice the art of agreeing to differ with dignity and grace and apply this maxim to entire humanity, including Ahmadi Muslims and even those who profess no religion but are morally on a high plane. To my mind, it is morally repugnant to deny to any individual or group the right to choose one’s own religious identity. The Ahmadis believe in one Creator God, Muhammad as prophet and messenger of God, Qur’an as Divinely revealed, and the Day of Judgment, though they differ from the Muslim majority view on the interpretation of some few Quranic verses. Did it not amount to the violation of human dignity and freedom of conscience when, Pakistan officially declared the entire Ahmadi community as a non-Muslim minority because a section of the Ahmadis believed that Mirza Sahab, though not a prophet was, nevertheless, a highly evolved spiritual leader, even a nabi. Unfortunately, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia do not permit Ahmadi Muslims to perform Hajj, while the Prophet ever stood for tolerance and universal compassion. When will the great Muslim world community fully appreciate the wisdom of the Quranic verse ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ (Verse 2:226).  Muslims must catch up with the perennial wisdom of the Qur’an through the prism of reliable and tested modern knowledge.

Modernity, as I understand it, does not repudiate religion or spirituality, but merely demarcates their function in the age of natural and social sciences and global technology. Sir Syed, Iqbal and Azad were all beacons of ‘Spirit-centered Humanism’. However, the age of Sir Syed was closer to the times of Shah Wali Allah (d. 1763) of Delhi, while the age of Iqbal (d. 1938) and Azad (d. 1958) was closer to the heritage of Voltaire (d. 17778), Kant (d. 1804) and Mill (d. 1836). This made for a major difference in the 19th century vision of Sir Syed and the 20th century perspectives of Iqbal and Azad. The seminal work of Mahatma Gandhi in Africa and India also greatly impacted Azad’s approach to religion and politics in his later post-khilafat intimate association with Subhash Chandra Bose and Nehru. Though the poetic genius of Iqbal will ever make him outshine Azad (specially for Muslim philosophical romantics) Azad will always remain the most sober, balanced and reliable guide for interpreting Islam in the age of multi-cultural and ethnically mixed states and societies. Speaking for myself, I would like to live with the ideas of Azad but would much enjoy frequently visiting the poetry of Iqbal. To me, there is no need for an either/or affiliation.

Muslim peoples all over the world feel nostalgic about the intellectual, scientific, cultural and political heights they had reached during their creative period. All this was shattered in 1258 CE after the total destruction of the Abbasid power. Two centuries later the Ottoman Turks rebuilt the power of the Muslims in West Asia and North Africa, but this was mainly at the military and political level. The muse of scientific and intellectual creativity had shifted to Western Europe. Mughals in India and the Safavids in Iran, again spread cultural enlightenment, but this was not enough to match the rapidly growing technological and military superiority of Western powers over the various Asian peoples. At the military level the Austrians and the Russians decisively defeated the Ottomans in 1699 CE, and under the peace treaty of Carlowics, the Russian emperor became the protector of Christians living in the reduced Ottoman Empire. Only eight years later in 1707 CE with the death of emperor Aurangzeb, Mughal power in India blew up in smoke, as it were. Wali Allah endeavored to diagnose the causes of the decline, but his intellectual tools, sharp as they were in relation to his contemporaries in India and Egypt, were far behind the rising scientific and logical acumen of Newton (d. 1727), Hume (d. 1776), and Kant (d. 18o4). It was left to Sir Syed (d. 1898) in India, and Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905) in Egypt to offer fresh solutions to the causes of the decline of Muslims the world over.

The task is still continuing, but now the perspective has greatly altered. It is futile to think any longer in terms of the rise and fall of different religions or sects. Technology has led to the emergence of greatly mixed ethnic and religious groups all over the world. They live and work and grow under a more or less inter-connected economic system where all, irrespective of religion or race, are condemned to live as equals under the umbrella of secular democracy. In other words, Muslims are now called upon to think, not in terms of the rise and fall of the Islamic community, but rather to look upon all communities as different wings of one single human family whose welfare should be the common objective of the state and society. This is the essence of the transition from the medieval mindset to the modern. Its defining features are verifiability of truth-claims as the condition of belief, inner freedom and tolerance of diversity, governance with the consent of the governed, effective equality of opportunity, and human brotherhood including gender equality. The thought and value systems of all religious traditions, without any exception, will have to evolve and come to terms with the above values. I have discussed this and other related issues in my works on religion and spirituality in the modern age.

The partition of the Indian family in 1947 may or may not have been avoidable. What is certain is that, apart from causing tremendous suffering to the uprooted and displaced millions on both sides; it has not helped Muslims anywhere in their transition from the medieval to the modern outlook. The vision of the political founder of Pakistan was very different, indeed, from the conditions in Pakistan today. The idea of Pakistan in the mind of the founder lies shattered due to the Talibani reaction or regression in Pakistan and its export to neighboring Afghanistan. Unfortunately, while the civil war was on in Afghanistan in the mid eighties of the 20th century the USA, for reasons of their own, actively supported this export of a rather distorted Islamic ideology as projected by President Ziaul Haq of Pakistan. The entire human family is now paying a heavy price for Western realpolitik.  This shows the tyrannical power of ‘unintended consequences’ of unethical human decisions. It is time that the human family learns the wisdom of the ethical approach to politics as adumbrated in the actions of Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Nanak and Gandhi in preference to the realpolitik of East or West.


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Jamal Khwaja studied Philosophy in India & Europe. He was elected to the Indian Parliament in 1957. He retired as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Aligarh Muslim University. He is the author of seven major books. 

Khwaja’s work seeks to answer three inter-related questions: Firstly, What does it mean to be an authentic Muslim? Secondly, How should a believer understand and interpret the Holy Quran in the 21st century?  And finally, What is the role of Islam in a pluralistic society? 

Khwaja believes in judiciously creative modernization rooted in the Quran and firmly opposes shallow, unprincipled imitation of the West. His mission is to stimulate serious rethinking and informed dialog between tradition and modernity in Islam. 

Khwaja’s work is the definitive contemporary discussion regarding the collision of Islam and Modernity. Readers of his work will be in turn, informed, inspired, and intellectually liberated.