What is Islam?

I am Islam

I am orthodox

I am knowledge

I am here to spread the knowledge of faith

I believe in the invisible

There is nothing to challenge

I am Sunni


I am Islam

I am total authority

I am Wali

I am the basis of spirituality

I believe in the visible

There is always a purpose to suffering

I am Shia


I am Islam

I am the revival

I am a leader of peaceful propagation

I am a servant to God and his creation

I believe in the final religion

There is no greater power than God

I am Ahmadi


I am Islam

I am the soul

I am faithful to the light

I am always on this journey towards truth

I believe in an unconditional love with God

There is no place, no discipline

I am Sufi


I am Islam

I am the eagle

I am constantly evolving

I am a co-worker with God

I believe in eternal progress

There is no limit to my potential

I am Muslim


This poem emphasizes the multiple Islams that have emerged under different authorities. The ambiguity of Islam allowed different Muslim communities to develop their own definition of Islam with regard to their group interests. This ‘customization’ of Islam motivates many of the issues in South Asia today. Islam remains subject to manipulation by the range of Muslim authorities. There may never be an answer to ‘What is Islam?’ and ‘Who is Muslim?’, but there is always a place and need for acceptance. With this said, one major conclusion I have drawn from the overarching controversy regarding Islamic identity is the function of tolerance as a means of resolution. An incontestable tolerance of the many interpretations is the only way for the many Islams to co-exist in harmony.

My poem alludes to the different Islams that I have seen through the course that really stood out to me. I highlight five different Islams defined by the Sunnis, Shiites, Ahmadis, Sufis, and Iqbal (although Iqbal merely presented a philosophy/vision for the true Muslim). With each sect, I allude to some of their core beliefs to show the contrast and similarities between the different perspectives. Despite the areas of overlap among the varying interpretations, these Muslim communities and sects still believe their Islam is the only one and that their ideology embodies the true Muslim. There was no room for accepting the beliefs of the ‘other’ or the outsider. This toxic level of intolerance fueled sectarian conflict, particularly between Sunnis and Shiites, which Zaman analyzes in “Sectarianism in Pakistan”. Zaman mentions how each sect viewed their own faith in the pursuit of power. They clashed on various aspects of society that were critical during the process of Islamization in the emergence of Pakistan as a modern religious state. With this, Zaman stresses this form of religious nationalism that appeared as a means of reconciling religion and politics. But how may one establish a religious basis for an Islamic state when there remains no clear definition of Islam? With each clash of opinion and each attempt for change in South Asia, the matter goes back to the broader, more crucial question of ‘What is Islam?’.

3 thoughts on “What is Islam?

  1. The recently deceased scholar Ahmed (Ibn Tamiyya and His Times) offers a bold notion of what Islam is, one that stands in stark contrast to popular, traditionalist, and radical notions. Taking a cosmopolitan, far-reaching approach to millennia of Muslim history, poetry, music, science, philosophy, theology, and practice Ahmed reconceptualizes Islam as a hermeneutical engagement comfortable with the contradiction of its own diversity and immense variety. The book is as imposing as it is inspiring. It dives deep into heady discussions of philology, religious studies, aesthetics, poetry, epistemology, and fiqh—Islamic jurisprudence. A book that aims to present such an audacious hypothesis is likely to be long, but one senses Ahmed could have been less repetitive and protracted. However, his deft organization and outline are helpful for the fatigued reader. The big danger is that Ahmed’s re conceptualization marginalizes voices from other geographies, perspectives, and theologies. Nonetheless, this is an enduring and timely work well worth the effort for those interested in discerning the essence of Islam beyond the seeming paradoxes of its own representations.

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