Focus Article: What is and isn’t Islam?

by Nikolaos van Dam

It is not only important to explain what Islam really is, but it is also important to make a distinction between what Islam involves, and what people have incorrectly associated with and attributed to it.

What is the relation between Islam and the actions of people that practice the Muslim faith? In my opinion there are many things which have very little to do with Islam as a religion, but are nevertheless ascribed to it because the people who are linked to it happen to be Muslims.

Certain radical actions have been carried out by Muslim individuals or groups in the name of Islam, but those actions are not supported by the majority of Muslims, and are generally disapproved of by them, although sometimes their disapproval is not explicit enough to create the impression that the radical Muslims that carry out these actions do not in any way represent any Muslim majority.

All this has contributed to existing misunderstandings. Many of these misunderstandings have to do with false perceptions, but not with academic reality. Although one might also argue that perceptions become academic realities if people believe their perceptions to be true.

The responsibility of scholars – both Muslim and non-Muslim – is therefore to subject these perceptions to a reality test, particularly if this can help in providing a global forum which would help create better mutual understanding, as well as a stronger cross-cultural friendship. Read more…

Spring 2009 Newsletter Released – Download PDF

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