The phenomenon of ‘global jihad’ has plagued the world for many decades now and has consequently initiated a discussion about Islam. How Islamic are the Islamists? And most importantly, can there be a ‘moderate Islam’ compatible with modern values? A quick observer might say no, but I would not concur. The fact is that scriptures do hold value and meaning of their own but they do not always speak for themselves. The manner in which one may interpret the text depends not only on the text itself but also on the person’s intellect, intentions, motivations, methodology, and the geopolitics. I would like to elucidate by citing the example of Islamism.I regard Islamism to be a specific totalitarian exposition of Islam. Islam is a faith similar to other Abrahamic faiths. It addresses various spheres of life related to our personal and social lives. Politics too, is an indispensable and inseparable part of our lives. Ineluctably, Islam also focuses on politics. Islamism, however does not simply emphasise the political dynamics of Islam but it actually interprets the entirety of Islam through a political prism. Therefore, what was actually a single component of Islam, has become the most dominant aspect in Islamism. In order to understand Islamism, I believe it is absolutely imperative to explore the religious thought of Syed Abul A’la Maududi, the most influential Islamist scholar of the 20th century. Marxism is referred to as the economic interpretation of history because in Karl Marx’s understanding of life, the economic factor dominates everything else. In the same way, Maududi projected Islam in such a way that every aspect of it acquired a political hue. He was one of the first Islamic thinkers to develop a systematic political reading of Islam. Accordingly, one can term the religious ideology of Maududi as the political interpretation of Islam.Unlike Maududi, who considers political struggle to be the underlying meaning behind the Islamic pillars, most Muslims believe that it is the only a way to achieve God’s leniency and salvation. In this excerpt, one thing is cardinal, i.e. politics. Maududi, unlike the traditionalist scholars, has defined the Islamic pillars politically.The view that apostates deserve the death penalty is very common in traditional interpretations of Islam. But the modernist Pakistani scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi has proposed a very different understanding of this issue. He believes that Islam does not assign death penalty for thisNow the most important question is what compelled Maududi to interpret Islam in such a political way. The answer is that it was the political and social circumstances. Maududi’s whole discourse was based on castigating Western secular ideologies. As a young Indian, he too was anguished to see his country being run by an external force. He saw the infiltration of Western secular thought in the Islamic world and that had such a huge impact on him that he went on to propose a new understanding of Islam, an Islam that is political, totalitarian and that could confront and serve as a counter-narrative to Westernisation. Maududi sought an interpretation of Islam that would preclude the kind of cultural coexistence that Indian National Congress promised. An ordinary Muslim or scholar would not concur with Maududi’s views because at the first glance this is not what the scriptures suggest. But according to Maududi, politics is the underlying meaning behind all the fundamentals of Islam. He was not dishonest, but so obsessed by his intentions that he came up with this view.Now I will come to the main argument. I believe Islam can be turned into something more moderate to coincide with democracy and freedom of expression. Just as Maududi due to the socio-political circumstances proposed a new understanding of Islam that rejected westernisation, it is also possible for the contemporary scholars to come up with an antipodal understanding of Islam that tends to accept and welcome western ideas.The view that apostates deserve the death penalty is very common in traditional interpretations of Islam. But the modernist Pakistani scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi has proposed a very different understanding of this issue. He believes that Islam does not assign death penalty for apostasy. He asserts that when prophets are sent to any nation, they are obligated to deliver the message of God. A time has come when the people of that nation have been presented the message of God in the most utmost and truest manner. He describe this process as the ‘fulfillment of truth’. He believes that because the people of Arabia were presented with the message of Islam by the prophet himself and there were no doubts about its validity, so according to God’s verdict they were punished when they renounced Islam. Ghamidi argues that the same concept cannot be applied today and the apostates today do not deserve any punishment as per the Islamic law.The fact is that Ghamidi, while interpreting Islam’s stance on apostasy, has contextualised the whole scenario unlike the traditionalists who propose a literal understanding.In the eighth century, a group called the Mutazilites advocated free will over fatalism and cited Quranic verses showing God’s displeasure at an inactive mind. According to one such verse, ‘the worst of creatures for Allah are the deaf and dumb, those who will not reason’ (8:22). They also argued that the Quran was not co-eternal with God, but had been created.There are so many sects and jurisprudence in Islam, each proposing a slightly different understanding of the doctrine despite the fact that Islam is a Unitarian religion: one God, one book and one Prophet.As it was possible for the Islamists, driven by the cause of Islamic revivalism, to propose a totalitarian understanding of Islam, it is also possible for progressive Muslims today, driven by their admiration for Western values, to propose a relatively liberal understanding of Islam. The writer is a journalist and human rights activist based in Islamabad, Pakistan Published in Daily Times, July 28th , 2017.