If you want to know what is Islam you must look to its original sources: The Quran and the Sunnah. This presents Islam as it is, drawing on its original sources rather than judging it by the later day interpretations and commentaries or the practices of present day Muslims in different parts of the world. A distinction is made between Islam as presented by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions (information about which is available to us in the Qur’an and the sunnah) and Islam as represented by later Muslim generations — both in theory and practice. This is what we call the scientific approach.
We are living in the age of the media. Before the advent of the modern media there were large numbers of people in the world who knew nothing of Islam. With the invention of the printing press and now the electronic media it is difficult to find today a single person who is unaware of it.
But there is a clear-cut difference. In previous ages it happened that wherever Islam spread people were so impressed with it that most of them accepted it as their religion. That is why today we find more than one billion Muslims throughout the world. Strangely enough the present day publicity given to Islam has produced only a negative effect. People are now generally allergic to Islam rather than being interested in it.
In previous centuries when Islam was introduced, people used to say: Yes, “Mr. Islam welcome to you!” Now when Islam is presented to them they say: “No thank you.” Why is there this difference? The answer is very simple. In previous centuries Islam was introduced to the people of the world through its scriptures, as it is — without the slightest change in its original message. Whereas in modern times, Islam is being introduced through the negative practices of certain Muslims as reported by the media.
There is a further and more severe problem that of selective reporting. According to their own criteria the media is interested only in ‘hot’ news, although so much ‘soft’ news is available about the Muslim people. Because of their ingrained professionalism, they do not allow this ‘soft’ news to find its way into their columns of their broadcasts.
Islam is the religion of nature. If it were to be presented in its original form, people would turn to it quite naturally. For example, when a recently converted American by the name of Gary Miller was asked why he had converted to Islam, he replied: “I didn’t convert to Islam I have rather reverted to my original religion.”
Unfortunately, a section of Muslims is engaged in violent and aggressive activities, wrongfully indeed, in the name of Islam. It is such news as, through the media, has a great impact upon the general public and creates serious misunderstandings. People have come to take Islam as a militant religion. Since modern man is in search of peace, he finds no appeal in a religion which, as presented by the media, is one of hatred and violence.
To understand what Islam is you must make a distinction between Islam and the practices of Muslims. Taking a scientific attitude, you have to see Islam in the light of the Islamic scriptures and not judge it by Muslim conduct.
For surely, if you want to know what democracy is, you will examine the ideology of democracy as established by its champions. You will not form an opinion about the democratic system merely on the basis of observing some self-styled democratic nation. Everyone who wants to know what Islam is, should follow this scientific method while trying to form his opinion on Islam.
We are living in an age of information. This is the age of the knowledge explosion. Today, everyone wants to know more and more about everything, including religion. The result is that, on the subject of religion, people are far better informed than ever before. But there is a difference. About other religions, people generally know what is enshrined in their religious books. Whereas the case of Islam is the opposite. Their information about Islam is derived from unauthentic sources. The reason for this lies with the Muslims and not with anyone else. The Muslims of modern times are engaged in violence everywhere in the name of Islam. Violence, however, is not limited only to Muslims. It is found in every community and in every group. But there is a basic difference between the two. When the adherents of other religions engage in violence, they do not do so in the name of their religion. But the violence engaged in by the Muslims is being done in the name of Islam.
These violent activities of the Muslims reach the people through the media. As modern media is a “hot news”-based industry, these violent events are flashed in the media. For this reason, people come to regard Islam as a religion of violence. It is only among Muslims that all violent activities are carried out in the name of religion.
In practice, only a tiny minority of Muslims is engaged in such violent activities. However, since other Muslims neither condemn these activities, nor disown them outright, it is but natural for people to attribute their violent propensities to their religion. But the scientific way of study is to distinguish Islam from the deeds of Muslims, just as the ideology of democracy is studied by distinguishing it from the acts of democratic countries.
To remove misconceptions in Islam we must present Islam as it is enshrined in its sacred scriptures, so that it may be brought before the people in its true form. The authentic source of information about Islam is the Qur’an. The Qur’an, according to Muslim belief, was revealed by God to the Arabian Prophet Muhammad. The second source of knowledge about Islam is the sunnah or the hadith i.e., the words, deeds and sanctions of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him. The lives of the companions of the Prophet provide another later source. Then, there is a full stop in this matter. No other person or historical record enjoys the status of source of Islam.
The following compilation attempts to remove certain misconceptions about Islam and present its true face as given in its original sources.