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What They're Reading in American Mosques, Pt. 2 – 'Tafhim al-Qur'an'

NOTE: In addition to the alarming results of the survey, Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques– where 81% of mosques in this country contained texts that advocate violent jihad- the survey presents a standard that can give law enforcement a way to monitor or potentially to predict where violent jihad may take root. The mosques surveyed contained a variety of texts, ranging from contemporary printed pamphlets and handouts to classic texts of the Islamic canon. Of these, seven Islamic texts were selected that either ‘moderately’ or ‘severely’ advocated violent jihad. Nearly a decade after 9/11, Americans need more than ever to know what is being read in this country’s mosques. This series will provide a beginning guide to ‘the Islamist bookshelf’; readers will see that, rather than being old, dusty or obsolete religious tracts, the seven books described here are currently in use and, critically, form the basis for how modern Muslims actually understand Islam. In gathering materials and research for the Mapping Sharia website, we assessed the importance of each of the seven books, described their availability- usually, their ubiquity- in print and online. For those curious, we have attached links to PDFs of the complete works. At the end are samples of quotes advocating violent jihad found in the book.

2. Maududi’s Tafhim al-Qur’an

Maududi's book in English and Urdu

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi (September 25, 1903 – September 22, 1979) was a Muslim political philosopher, theologian, journalist and activist. In 1941, he was the founder of the Pakistani political party Jamaat-e-Islami, dedicated to Iqamat-e-Deen, the establishment of a pure Islamic state, governed by Sharia law.

Maududi is one of the most popular and well-respected ideologues in the Muslim world. His 120 books include Muslims and the Present Day Political Struggle, Jihad in Islam, and the Rights of Muslims in an Islamic State.

Like Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Maududi’s Tafhim al-Qur’an is a surah-by-surah explanation of the Qur’an. Originally written in Urdu, the book has been translated and released in many languages. An English-language version is available in print under the title, Towards Understanding the Qur’an, published by The Islamic Foundation in 2006, in both a single-volume and multi-volume set.

Maududi, in the Introduction to Tafhim al-Qur’an, expressed ideological similarities with political Islamists like Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood. In his discussion of “the Islamic Movement” and the “stages” of progressive revelation, Maududi makes plain that his expurgation of the Qur’an has a definite political– rather than personal and piestic- intention:

One cannot understand fully many of the topics discussed in the Qur’an unless one is acquainted with the background of their revelation. One should know the social, historical or other antecedents or conditions which help explain any particular topic. For, the Qur’an was not revealed as a complete book at one and the same time; nor did Allah hand over a written copy of it to Muhammad at the very beginning of his mission and command him to publish it and invite people to adopt a particular way of life. Moreover, it is not a literary work of the common conventional type that develops its central theme in a logical order; nor does it conform to the style of such a work. The Qur’an adopts its own style to suit the guidance of the Islamic Movement that was started by Allah’s Messenger under His direct command. Accordingly, Allah revealed the Qur’an piece-meal to meet the requirements of the Movement in its different stages.

Maududi’s book, Four Basic Qur’anic Terms, is endorsed by The American Muslim website in its “List of Recommended Books on Islam.” The list also contains works by several writers included in the Mapping Shari’a Project’s survey of texts which advocated the use of violence in the pursuit of a Shari’a-based political order or advocated violent jihad. The American Muslim recommends books by al-Nawawi (author of Riyad-us-Saliheen, al-Misri’s Umdat al-Salik, the Tafsir Ibn Kathir, and the Qutb’s explicitly political tract, Milestones.

[In addition, The American Muslim recommends work by the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. It is no surprise that the website and its author, Sheila Musaji, have been highly critical of US anti-terror policy and any negative criticism of Islamism, the Muslim Brotherhood.]

Maududi is also the author of Jihad in Islam, another text classified as “severe” by the Mapping Sharia Project.


Because of Maududi’s stature as one of the giants of 20th Century Islamist politics and theology, his many of his works are readily available online and in print. hosts a total of 39 of Maududi’s books in PDF format, including Understanding the Qur’an, Understanding Islam, and The Economic System of Islam.

An English-language version is available in print under the title, Towards Understanding the Qur’an, published by The Islamic Foundation in 2006, in both a single-volume and multi-volume set. contains several listings for the text, in abbridged, complete and even pocket-sized versions.

Maududi’s Tafhim al-Qur’an is available online in English, in an HTML format, organized by surah at and


Tafhim al-Qur’an (Towards Understanding the Qur’an)

This book is divided into three volumes: Volume 1 (PDF, 399 pages, 17.7MB); Volume 2 (PDF, 370 pages, 16.8MB), and Volume 3 (PDF, 346 pages, 15.4MB).

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