Testimony

Islam and the West: Searching for Common Ground

Muqtedar Khan

Distinguished Chairman, Senator Richard G. Lugar and eminent members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it is indeed an honor to share my expertise with this august body.

1. Islam is structurally a dynamic religion and has always been epistemologically pluralistic. In simple terms Islam has a built in mechanism for continuous evolution, reform and self-rejuvenation through the engine of Ijtihad. Ijtihad is a legal tool that enables Muslim jurists to think independently on issues where scriptures are either silent or ambiguous. It is also a divine invitation to all Muslims and all human beings to think, reflect, and deliberate on God’s message and global realities in order to act in the most gracious, most compassionate and most just fashion. Ijtihad will always keep Islam relevant and meaningful to Muslims and others who are fortunate to be blessed with its grace.

Muslims have from the earliest period, after the death of the Prophet of Islam [pbuh], interpreted Islam in many ways. There have been many interpretations of what the Islamic Shariah – the essence of Islamic message – constitutes, some even contradictory but Muslims have recognized difference and diversity as a consequence of divine purpose and developed a culture of tolerance for different manifestations and interpretations of Islam.

Muslims have from the earliest period, after the death of the Prophet of Islam [pbuh], interpreted Islam in many ways. There have been many interpretations of what the Islamic Shariah – the essence of Islamic message – constitutes, some even contradictory but Muslims have recognized difference and diversity as a consequence of divine purpose and developed a culture of tolerance for different manifestations and interpretations of Islam.

So from the very beginning there have been different interpretations of Islam, Shia and Sunni, rational and traditional, mystical and philosophical, cultural and juristic. So it is more accurate to talk about Islams rather than Islam. For academic as well as strategic purposes, it is absolutely necessary to distinguish between different Islams and not paint with a broad brush for it will inevitably lead to bad analysis and bad policy.

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