Home  |  Contact  |  Bio  |  Interview  |  Essays  |  Latest Books  | Past Books  |  Buy Books



1.Where were you born and raised? Is anyone else in you family a writer?
I was born at Delhi, India, in 1928 and educated at Allahabad and Aligarh (Uttar Pradesh). I also studied at Cambridge University in England, from where I obtained an Honors Degree; subsequently I proceeded to Munster University, Germany, where I studied for one year.  Two among my maternal uncles were writers, one a jurist, and the other a journalist.

2.Tell us about your wife and children.
My wife, Hamida, likes to read novels in English and Urdu, biographies and social history. Among the children our eldest child, Jawahar has always been a voracious reader of books on a wide variety of subjects, apart from his professional studies.

3.As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? Do you recall how your interest in philosophy originated? How has your upbringing and education impacted upon your writing?
I wanted to be a scholar and teacher from my early youth. My bent of mind was naturally logical and reflective, though not mathematical or scientific. Perhaps, my interest in philosophy originated due to an ever-growing awareness of different views and opinions and I wanted to know which one and why was the real truth. I am very much the product of my exposure to different religions, sects, cultural and ethnic groups.

4.What’s the first book you remember reading?
Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

5.Who are your favorite authors and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Among my favorite writers are Bertrand Russell, Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru, Victor Hugo, Romain Rolland and some others. I am struck by their simple but elegant style, and by their intellectual honesty, universal compassion and large hearted tolerance. Among the philosophers I have been struck by William James, Wittgenstein, John Wisdom, Karl Jaspers, Erich Fromm, Kant, Spinoza, Ibn Khaldun and Plato.

6.If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? And why?
Karl jaspers. Perhaps because of his unique combination of intellectual sharpness, insight into human emotions, universal empathy and ethical approach to life.

7.After the Quran, which books have most influenced your life?
The books that first come to my mind are; H. G. Well’s “Outline of World History”, Fromm’s “Fear of Freedom”, Jame’s “Varieties of Religious Experience”, Bhagwan Das’s “The Essential Unity of All Religions”, Nehru’s “Discovery of India”, Abdul Kalam Azad’s “Commentary on Surah Fatiha”, Radhakrishnan’s “Translation and Commentary on the Gita” and selections from Rumi’s “Masnavi”.

8.When did you begin writing? How old were you? What and who inspired you? What is the most satisfactory part of being a writer for you?
My very first piece of writing to appear in print was an essay on “Materialism as a Philosophy” in a local Urdu weekly published from Aligarh. I was 22. Writing did not come easily to me, though I was fairly fluent in speaking. In fact, I was 39 when my first book, “Five Approaches to Philosophy”, was published. My father-in-law coaxed me to take the plunge into writing and give up my procrastination. Once my efforts were rewarded I lost my initial fear of failure. Now writing gives me the greatest satisfaction of my life – I have tried my best to express in writing what I strongly and clearly believe to be true or right.

9.Where do you get your information and ideas? What is the hardest part of writing a book for you?
I try to get information from sources, either original or most well informed and impartial and having the widest possible range of information.

10.Do you have a specific writing style?
I try to write as simply and concisely as I possibly can. The model before me is the style of Bertrand Russell and Khushwant Singh.

11.What is a typical writing day like for you? Where do you write? Typewriter, word processor or pen? How long does it take you to write a book?
Both typewriters and personal computers came very late in my life. Now my usual style is to use a pen for my very first draft written on 5”X9” sheets. I make copious corrections or improvements before using my laptop. The first lap top draft then becomes my base for further climbing the steep ascent to the top of my own level of clarity, conciseness and communicative power. I take rather long to be fully satisfied with the product.

12.How many books have you written? Which is your favorite? Why?
Seven books have been published to date. One is awaiting a suitable publisher. My favorite published work is Quest for Islam, 1977. It is my major work. It bears the stamp of my humble and honest quest for truth and reveals my inner struggles, rewards and failures. I have also written and/or published several long essays and papers. My latest work, “Living the Quran in Our Times”, is a continuation of my quest for truth and a companion volume to my earlier “Quest for Islam”.

13.Can you tell us a little about your current work? What are your writing plans for the future?
I am currently engaged in writing a short memoir of my father, Abdul Majeed Khwaja (d. 1962) who, as an authentic modern Muslim, first taught me what being a Muslim means, though he himself did not write on the subject. I want to write brief articles/booklets on the spiritual way of life in the global technological society of our times.

14.What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Walking and talking with kindred souls, and enjoying the beauties of nature.

15.What books are you reading now? Are there any new authors that have aroused your interest?
I enjoy reading biographies of creative intellectuals, scientists, saints, statesmen and others who have practiced an ethical approach to life. I have recently discovered the writings of Karen Armstrong and they fascinate me.

16.Have you always believed in God?
Yes, I have, though I passed through a long ‘dark night of the soul’ starting from my going up to Cambridge University in 1949 when I was 23. However, I never became a complete skeptic.

17.How would you define religious fundamentalism?
This expression is highly misleading and ambiguous. It has become and emotive word though it was a descriptive label coined by liberal rationalist Christian writers of the 19th century to differentiate their own modern interpretation of Christian doctrine from the strict and rigid catholic position. I personally avoid using this expression as it hurts my co-religionists. However, religious fundamentalism is a definite attitude and approach to life, no matter what the religious context might be, and there must be some other word or expression to designate this approach to religious faith or any secular value system, including Communism.

18.How can we, as Muslims, deal with rising intolerance in public life?
We must strongly resist the temptation to pay back in the same coin. We must stick to the ethic of sweetness and light by joining hand s with the genuine protagonists and practitioners of tolerance among the human family. We must expose the root factors that breed intolerance, and by word and deed try to remove them as far as lies in our power.

19.How can we improve and energize interfaith relations?
We must produce suitable literature for different age groups, arrange for inter-faith youth camps and travel, and for mutual hospitality. We must not oppose inter-faith marriages when the concerned parties are temperamentally compatible.

20.Is traditional faith wrong about evolution? Can science and religion be reconciled?
I do strongly hold that opposition to the theory of evolution on religious grounds is a very irrational and futile approach. Insofar as evolution is a scientific theory or hypothesis, it should be accepted or rejected purely on scientific lines. Yes, I hold that they can be reconciled if we do not confuse scientific laws/certainty with certitude in the ethical, aesthetic and spiritual spheres of life. The great philosophers and savants of the human family have always done so.

21.How should American Muslims face up to the challenges thrown up by 9/11?
They must learn to look at matters from different points of view and to go to the roots of the problem instead of reacting in anger or depression. They must continue peaceful and cooperative efforts for social justice and take heart from the considerable rewards of peaceful fighters for justice such as Gandhiji, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela and many others. They must appreciate their advantages and blessings of living in the most powerful and developed segment of the human family and to cherish and creatively develop their spiritual tradition no less than their great democratic heritage as American citizens.

22.Is there a message in you new book “Living the Quran In Our Times” that you want readers to grasp?
No faith can be proved logically or scientifically. However, humankind must have some faith or other as a spiritual anchor. Every individual must discover for himself or herself what that anchor is in concrete terms without just repeating or proclaiming any creed or formula. This concrete interpretation must be truly authentic. Nothing else matters. The only other thing that matters, and matters as much as the faith itself, is genuine respect and empathy for the faith of others.

23.Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I have honestly come to believe, after a lifetime of study of the major religious and spiritual traditions of the world that every religion, at its best, is one among several languages of the human spirit, and that they all have the capacity to fulfill the human yearning for total peace and cosmic harmony, in the ambience of full tolerance.

Born in 1928, Jamal Khwaja, has devoted a lifetime to the challenge of living the Quran with integrity.

His forefathers worked closely with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, and with Mahatma Gandhi. Khwaja studied Philosophy in India, England, and Germany. In 1957 he was elected to the Indian Parliament.

His engagement with power politics was short lived. In 1962 he resumed his beloved, scholarly & contemplative lifestyle at the Aligarh Muslim University. He retired as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy.
    Jamal Khwaja has written seven major books. Anyone interested in the intersection of Islam and Modernity will find Khwaja to be a reliable guide. His work is magisterial in scope. It is full of passion but remains balanced in perspective. He believes in judicious modernization rooted in the Quran and firmly opposes shallow, unprincipled imitation of the West. He performed Hajj in 2005.

A Conversation with the Author Jamal Khwaja

Bookmark and Share