Invitation to Islam: A Survival Guide
- :Thomas McElwain
Invitation to Islam: A Survival Guide
There is nothing entertaining about this book. It is not a book to sit down with and enjoy, but to be used. It can be handled by individuals, pairs, or small groups, but to do so will require hard work and concentration. It will demand commitment. The material is somewhat easier to follow in a seminar context.
This is a series of studies providing material designed to make Muslim contacts with non-Muslim people more productive. Its purpose is to help Muslims avoid being influenced by subtle attacks on Islamic behaviour. It also points out pitfalls in religious discussions. Finally, it provides material for attaining a goal-oriented, effective means of actively doing da’wa, or inviting people to Islam.
These studies are not for the one who wallows in love and tolerance, maintaining that all religious traditions are equally valid and that all ways lead to God. It may well be that all ways lead to God, but then all will stand before Him to be rewarded or punished according to what they have done with the revelation of truth given to them. The philosophy behind this book is that there is a faith that is right and true, and all other faiths are deviations to a greater or lesser degree. Furthermore, all people have the obligation to find and follow that faith. Finally, all people have the obligation, once having found faith, to propagate it in appropriate ways.
Three sources make up the basis of these contemplations. The first is the theoretical framework of academic Comparative Religion, and Missiology. The second is the context of missions targeting Muslim populations. The third is the Qur’anic advice on how to meet the people of the Book.
The most important question of the reader will be how to use this material. First of all, this book presents a theory and philosophy. This means that the careless reader, looking for quick and brief advice, may be disappointed. In the long run, this will save time and energy. It is also more effective to gain a deeper understanding of what one wants to do, than merely to pick up a few tips without actually changing one’s approach.
This study is based on the philosophy that the Bible can be used effectively in dealing with the people of the Book, for the very good reason that the Bible more consistently teaches Islam than it does Christianity. Working with Jews is another matter, since Judaism, both in teaching and practice, is very close to Islam. It is of little use to point out to Jews that the Bible does not support the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. They do not believe in it anyway. Although there is a focus on Christian-Muslim relations, much of the material in this study can be applied especially to secularized people, who unconsciously maintain many Christian misconceptions, and even to people of other religious traditions.
The chapters of this study will describe the true faith to some extent, and point out ways in which other traditions have deviated from the right path. Finally, they will give several models of ways of propagating the faith, ways that are based on experience and research, on a realization of the contemporary challenges met by Muslims, especially as targets of Christian evangelization, and on some Qur’anic passages giving guidance in how to deal with the people of the Book. This study presents the theory and practice, but not all of the essentials. It is meant to be used in conjunction with the Qur’an, other Islamic literature, and insofar as people of the Book are concerned, the Bible and Islamic studies of the Bible.
This material is designed to be used by individuals, partners in doing da’wa (invitation to Islam), and small, informal groups established with the purpose of inviting people to Islam. The expertise can be best acquired through participation in seminars focusing on the material in a systematic way, and dealing with the questions of the participants as they come up. The greater focus is on what an ordinary person can do with very limited means. This is not to neglect the importance of the grand message or mass movements. Rather, it hopefully prepares the ground for things more effective. Great movements start with a few people with dedication and who grasp the opportunities.
A number of methods of da’wa are dealt with and evaluated. Some of them are simple, and require little preparation. Among these is distributing literature in various ways. Some, though important and needing great preparation, are barely mentioned, because they require great resources. Among these are medical, social, and educational work. So the main emphasis here is on what one or several dedicated individuals can do. This does not mean that the matters presented here are not of interest to those doing a more extended work. The matters discussed are actually vital for all Muslims.
The first chapter points out that different beliefs require different approaches, so that the style of presentation must change according to the content of the information. Examples are drawn from the three primary beliefs in which Christians and Muslims differ: the oneness of God, the prophethood of Muhammad, and the Imamate. Each doctrine because of its content requires its own kind of presentation.
It cannot be overemphasized that work should be done systematically. A written file should be maintained for each individual for whom da’wa is being made. The second chapter notes various spiritual types and ways of approach, changing the focus from differences in the content of information to differences in the kinds of people who receive it. A written evaluation of each individual’s spiritual typology should be made. This means that one must find opportunities to ask the individual what his beliefs and practices are. A second sheet should be taken to evaluate the ways of approach and plan specifically in what situations they can be implemented.
The third chapter argues for setting goals of spiritual change. This should also be evaluated for each individual, based on the spiritual profile that has already been made. It is no use to spend time convincing people of what they already believe. On the other hand, unless a systematic plan is made, important goals will be forgotten.
The fourth chapter points out the differences between Islamic and Christian beliefs, while the fifth chapter points out the differences in practice. These chapters are valuable for refining the spiritual profile and the goals already made in chapters two and three. Chapter six provides similar material from the point of view of the secular challenges of the modern world as well as from non-Christian traditions.
Chapter seven gives a survey of the missionizing practices of Christians. It evaluates them, showing why most of them are inappropriate in Islam. However, some tips on da’wa can be gleaned from them. But for the most part, they are useful to know in order to avoid them. Chapter seven also proposes an Islamically based model for doing da’wa. It is not meant to be followed literally, but as a point of departure for developing a working and effective program that takes little time and money. It can be adapted to the needs of individuals, partners or couples, or small, informal groups.
Chapter eight is a study of the passages in the holy Qur’an that contain the expression “people of the Book” and give guidance on how to relate to them. This guidance is in sum an excellent rule of da’wa outlined in sixteen points. Anyone attempting da’wa should memorize this sixteen-point da’wa plan and keep it constantly in mind while dealing with the people of the Book.
Chapter nine is an appendix, giving general guidance to the use of the Bible and at the same time forming a bridge to the following parts, where the Biblical support for Islamic belief and practice is overwhelmingly copious. It points out some of the pitfalls in using the Bible.
These missiological essays were written not only to inspire commitment to inviting people to the right path, but to make people realize how important doing so actually is. It is a matter of survival.
While at an invitation dinner I met a man who invited me to come to a certain Islamic center to give a lecture on what Muslims have to offer Christians. The event took place just before the Christian holidays, and he hoped that I might make an effort to find common ground. As I thought about the abundance of the Christmas season, I began to smile. I thought that I did well to separate myself from a practice that I could not rightly afford! At the same time I remembered a text in the holy Qur’an that used at the beginning and end these two key words, abundance and bounties. I thought that if anything in the Qur’an referred to Christmas, it must be Qur’an Chapter 102, called Takathur.
“Abundance diverts you, until you come to the graves. Nay! you shall soon know. Nay! Nay! You shall soon know. Nay! If you had known with a certain knowledge, You should most certainly have seen hell; then you shall most certainly see it with the eye of certainty; then on that day you shall most certainly be questioned about the bounties.”
Considering that even Christians realize that Jesus, peace on him, was not born on the 25th of December, why should Muslims show any regard for the day? The answer is that they should not. They may, however, have regard for their neighbors who observe the day. In times when many Christians consider terrorism to be the fundamental feature of Islam, Christmas provides an opportunity for Muslims to demonstrate to their Christian neighbours that Islam, in its very essence, is a faith of peace and good will, and that this is not limited to any particular day. That is a value shared by Muslim and Christian alike.
At the same time, Muslims are justifiably famous for their hospitality. No matter how poor, a Muslim will do all in his power to entertain his guest with the best that he is able to acquire. The invited guest does not leave the Muslim household without tasting both food and drink. Furthermore, a Muslim is offended if anything is offered in return, as though by his hospitality he had laid an obligation on his guest. Considering the zest with which a Muslim provides hospitality, what more can he give the Christian as a Christmas gift?
The text from Suratut Takathur states that in the Day of Judgement we shall be held accountable for the bounties, the na’im. What are the bounties, these greatest of divine gifts, for which we are accountable.
It is reported that the eighth Holy Imam Ali ibn Musa ar-Ridha (as) has said that “a man does not like burdening anyone with any obligation about what is gifted to him. How could God ask for anything He has Himself granted out of His grace? But what God will ask man to account for is about the belief in Him and the belief in the truthfulness of the Holy Prophet and the Ahlul-Bait.” The Holy Qur’an trans. With notes by S. V. Mir Ahmed Ali, Tahrike Tarsile, Elmhurst, New York, page 1900. In a longer narrative the sixth Holy Imam Ja’fer as-Sadiq (as) poses a series of questions to Abu Hanifa in which he makes the same point. We are not brought to account for matters of food and drink, but on the matter of the unity of God or at-Tawhid, an-Nubuwwat, and the Imamate.
We are fortunate in having the Imamic commentary on this otherwise obscure passage of the Holy Qur’an. I fear that many of us might fall into the same trap as Abu Hanifa in his discussion with the holy Imam, and consider that the divine blessings about which we shall be held to account on the day of Judgement are the blessings of food and drink, health, wealth and well-being. The Imams teach us, however, that the bounties, the na’im of this text, are the knowledge of the one true God, His prophets, and divine guidance. What better gift can a Muslim give to a Christian than the bounties God Himself has chosen to bestow on humankind, the gifts of greatest value, the bounties for which we are to be held in account?
In offering these bounties, the most important of divine gifts, to our Christian neighbours, we are offering better things that food and drink, finer things than hospitality. Furthermore, we are offering not only divine gifts, far better than any we could provide ourselves, but we are only offering the Christians something of their own. Both Christian and Muslim might be surprised by such a statement. But the fact is that these three bounties are the subjects most extensively and most deeply dealt with in Christian Scripture. Indeed, many Christians may not realize this amazing fact.
Some years ago I was interim pastor in a church in Erie, Pennsylvania. At a prayer meeting I was scandalized to hear a woman pray for a brand new pink Cadillac. Upon further reflection, I began to realize that perhaps her petition was more sincere than my prayers for spiritual blessings. I cannot doubt that she was praying from the heart, and that if she had received a new pink Cadillac, she would have been overjoyed. My sincerity and joy in learning to love my enemy according to my Christian duty, for example, might very well be questioned. One should be overjoyed with the bounties that Allah has given.
The bounties were once the possession of Christians, who lost them many centuries ago. What joy it must be, then, to be given these bounties as a free gift, and find that one’s most valuable possessions, long lost, had been returned.
So there are several reasons why these are the gifts that Muslims should give to Christians. The first reason is that the bounties belonged to the Christians centuries ago and were lost. Muslims are responsible for returning lost property. The second reason is that we are accountable for the three bounties on the Day of Judgement, and not for food and drink. Muslims who are so hospitable with food and drink, for which they are not accountable on the Day of Judgement, should have a care about those more important things for which they will be held accountable. Thirdly, the bounties are better gifts than a pink Cadillac.
The first of the bounties is the proclamation of Tawhid or the unicity of God. It is the central theme of the holy Qur’an in such passages as Suratu Aali-‘Imran 3:2 “God! There is no God but He, the Ever Living, the Self-Subsistent.” In the very next ayat it mentions that the one true God also sent the Torah and the Gospel, that is, the Christian Scriptures. Despite the fact that Christians had largely lost this first of all bounties before the coming of the holy Qur’an, this bounty is still to be found in their Scriptures.
Exodus 20:1-3: "And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
Deuteronomy 4:35. "Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him.
Deuteronomy 32:39*. "See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me."
Nehemiah 9:6. "Thou, even thou, art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee."
Psalm 86:10. "For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone."
Isaiah 44:6,8*. "Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his re deemer the Lord of Hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.... Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any."
Isaiah 45:5,21,22*. "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:... Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else."
1 Corinthians 8:6. "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things."
The second of the bounties is the prophetship. Qur’an An-Nisa 4:170. “O people! Indeed the Apostle (Muhammad) has come to you with truth from your Lord; Believe! It is good for you; and if you disbelieve, then to God is whatever is in the heavens and the earth; and God is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”
Prophethood in general is recognized by Christians. Even Jesus (as) is called a prophet in Luke 24:19 “And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people”
Hosea 12:10*. "I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets."
Amos 3:7. "Surely the Lord will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets."
Acts 3:21-23. "Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people."
James 5:10. "Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.”
But the prophetship of Muhammad (as) is also clearly announced in many earlier Scriptures. These can be a basis for giving the bounty to Christians and Jews as well. The best-known of these is Deuteronomy 18:18 "I will raise up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him."
Psalm 106:24 “Indeed they despise the land of Muhammad (Hebrew Hamda), they do not believe his word.”
Haggai 2:7,9.7 “And I will shake all nations, and the desired one (Muhammad, Hebrew Hamda) of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts. 9 The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace (Islam), saith the LORD of hosts.”
Song of Solomon 5:16 “His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely (Hebrew: Mahamadim). This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”
The other texts, a dozen or so, are a bit more difficult to present, as they require detailed explanation. The same is true of the reference to the Paraclete in the Gospel of John.
John 16:7-14. "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter (Paraclete, a Greek misreading of the Syriac source, which will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you."
The third bounty is the Imamate. It is also clearly announced in the Christian Scriptures. "Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?" Acts 8:30,31. In this text a man is reading the book of the prophet, and Philip asks him if he understands what he is reading. He says “How is it possible to understand, unless some man should guide me?” In this he shows how clearly every human being in actual fact understands the necessity of the Imamate in his or her own experience. It is a need conditioned by the essential psychological character of the human being. It is only denied for reasons of ulterior motives.
The name Ali is likewise mentioned in the Bible. Exodus 8:(5)9. “And Moses said unto Pharaoh, Glory Ali: when shall I intreat for thee, and for thy servants, and for thy people, to destroy the frogs from thee and thy houses, that they may remain in the river only?”
Numbers 21:17 “Then Israel sang this song, Ali is a well (of water); sing ye unto it.”
Numbers 24:6. “Ali is like the valleys that spread forth, like gardens, a river: as the trees of lign aloes which the LORD hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters.”
Let us note the process whereby Muslims generally present the Imamate. There are two sources, the Qur’an and ahadith. These are presented logically, appealing to reason as the basic argument. Yet generally speaking these arguments do not prevail. It is easy to say that Allah guides whom He will. However, that does not relieve one of the responsibility of presenting one’s case in the best possible manner.
At-tawhid (the oneness of God) and an-nubuwwa (prophethood) can be easily proven both from the Qur’an and the former Scriptures merely by presenting the texts. A reasoned approach appears sufficient with these matters without in-depth reference to the context. The matter of the Imamate is different. It is poorly presented in a proof-text manner. It is necessary to dig into the context of the verses. This is not because the Imamate is less clearly evident in Scripture, but because of the character of the Imamate itself. It is revelation in flesh and blood, rather than words. This characteristic makes it less susceptible to verbal evidencing. Context is required.
The process of presenting Imamate leads to a reevaluation of presentation altogether. Observance of our Christian neighbours will soon show us that a great deal depends on the wrapping. A gift is not really a Christmas gift unless it is wrapped properly. The Imamate often comes to the unbeliever without wrapping. Interestingly enough, the Imamate is experienced by the believer wrapping and all. Those who believe in the Imams experience that belief in terms of strong emotional experience. The believer more often focuses on his attachment and love for the Imams than he does on the rational arguments for accepting their authority. This leads one to wonder if a more emotional approach, adding the wrapping as it were, might be more effective.
Recent research on conversion indicates the important role of attachment. Attachment theory suggests that religious conversion takes place most readily in the individual who has not formed the proper childhood attachments at an early age, or has been traumatized by later events. Such individuals have a psychological need to reestablish normal human attachments. This realization has governed modern Christian approaches to evangelism. There is an effort to seek out individuals who are vulnerable or susceptible to the reestablishment of attachment, and take advantage of this by creating such attachments between the target individual and one or more religious authorities. The individual is thus drawn into the society of the church and kept there through the psychological, emotional attachment.
Observation of conversions to Islam suggests that a similar process often takes place. An individual with attachment problems may embrace Islam through having formed emotional attachments. The attachment may be toward an authority figure within Islam or within an amorous relationship. When the relationship to the Islamic community is based on such attachment, and the individual has expectations of the Islamic community that are determined by the church, difficulties often develop. When emotional expectations and dependencies are not met, the individual may become disillusioned and even detach him or herself from Islam. Therefore, even from a practical point of view, without contemplating the ethical and jurisprudential aspects of the matter, such attachment is questionable.
Let us return to the Imamate and consider its potential in terms of attachment. There are two types of attachment within the Christian experience that form a basis of contemplation. The first is the type of attachment that arises from the psychological damage just noted. The second is the type of dependency attachment that Christians have in relation to the church establishment and its authorities. Both of these are fruitful areas whereby the bounties may be gift-wrapped for Christians. If these two predispositions can be focused on the Imamate, they form a stable foundation that is able to persist even in the face of disappointment and disillusionment. It must at the same time be pointed out that even clearly secular persons often have one or both of these psychological conditions. The Muslim gift must find a way to transfer these feelings to the Imamate.
Furthermore, Christians are attached to Jesus (as) and sometimes Mary (ra) and other figures in ways that are reminiscent of Muslim attachment to the twelve Holy Imams and to Fatima (as). This emotional attachment is perfectly appropriate within the Islamic context. Islam does not seek to destroy the emotional experience of Christianity, but to broaden it. In this area Shi’ites in their relationship to people of Christian origin have an advantage.
At this point we have seen that there is a contrasting continuum between at-tawhid and al-imamah. At-tawhid is highly susceptible to textual proofing, logical analysis, and rational argument. On the other hand, al-imamah is highly susceptible to emotional attachment. The two should be wrapped in opposite ways. I believe there is evidence that Christians are not able to open the bounty of tawhid, because the presentation, which begins in textual examination and logic, fails to go on to the emotional response that the realization of at-tawhid creates in the human soul. In quite the opposite way, the Christian is unable to open the bounty of al-imamah, because the emotional attachment, loyalty, and love of the believer for the Imams is not presented first. The one giving the gift too quickly passes over into the area of proof and logic. Thus, in presenting at-tawheed, we should begin with Scriptural and logical arguments and proceed to love and attachment. By contrast, with al-imamah, we should begin with loyalty, love and attachment to the Imams, and proceed from there to Scriptural and logical arguments.
These conclusions are reached through a process of anthropological observation and open interviews on one hand, and a deductive analysis on the other. It remains for the reader to evaluate the concepts and try them in practice. I hope that these cogitations might provide gifts of bounties that Muslims may present to their Christian neighbours not only on Christmas but throughout the year.
“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: Whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.” The Qur’an, Al Baqara 2:256.
In the world today most of us come into regular contact with individuals who represent cultures, religions and life-styles different from our own. We are thus faced with challenges and opportunities that were rare in earlier times. Each time two people come into contact with each other, something happens. Neither individual remains exactly as he or she was before. People have an influence on each other.
If we ignore this fact of life and it continues to be operative, eventually we shall all conform to a common pattern. What that pattern will eventually be is determined by many factors, one of which is missionary endeavor, that is, activity which has as its goal to influence the religious life of other people so that it becomes more like one’s own. Seen from this perspective, the attempt to persuade others of the validity of our own religion is a vital survival mechanism. We do not have to be so altruistic that we are interested in “saving the souls of others.” The soul we save is first of all and primarily our own.
This realization must be an encouraging one. It implies that mission activity is successful even when we fail to persuade others to join us in our own beliefs and practices. Nevertheless, successful activity can be attained and measured in terms of goals. A goal-oriented approach to human contacts may seem mercenary, but it is a fact of life with which we must deal. We are surrounded by pressures to conform to often hidden agendas. That is why it is of value to think about one’s own agenda.
Before setting up goals, it is necessary to understand the situation. In the matter of religion, we need to know what kinds of forces confront us. Any model of spiritual types reduces reality to a caricature at best. Such models are more like maps than landscapes, but as such they may also serve as maps in a landscape where we might otherwise be lost. The model of spiritual types in Table One combines a series of degrees of social acceptance with a series of degrees of religiosity. These are not the only terms that might be used, but they provide twelve slots which can be used as a lense for both self-evaluation and the evaluation of those which whom we come into contact. The degrees of acceptance are based on those of Alan Race, Christian and Religious Pluralism: Patterns in the Christian Theology of Religions, Orbis, Maryknoll, New York, 1983. His three-part classification is a useful tool without necessarily accepting his rather liberal view of religion as such.
It is useful to evaluate both oneself and the individual with whom one is in contact in order to establish what the spiritual values of each person actually are. It is also useful to re-evaluate periodically to see to what extent the situation has changed. One’s spiritual profile may be made up of several slots, although some of them must be seen as mutually exclusive. If we evaluate an entire religious tradition in the same way, it may be possible to make some remarks in all twelve categories, because religious traditions are made up of various types of spiritualities beyond those that are generally considered typical of it. The reality of life is also that one individual may fit quite well into one configuration at one period of his or her life, and into another at a later period. The goal of missionary endeavor is to facilitate that happening.
Another possibility is that one individual may shift his or her spiritual profile slightly or even greatly, depending on the situation. This is commonly known as hypocrisy, but it is often used by missionaries as a vehicle. St. Paul himself noted that he is all things to all men. Although this approach is very common among Christian desiring to convert Muslims, it is highly questionable whether it is licit. This is a further reason for trying to define matters accurately. Otherwise, it is someone else who will determine the course of events.
Table One: Types of Spirituality
|Mystical||Considers that only one faith is valid, and that it consists in direct religious experience.||Considers that the direct experience of faith is the only valid one, and that it occurs in all traditions in basically the same way.||Considers that there are many distinct ways of experiencing the divine directly, all of which are valid for those who engage in them.|
|Belief Oriented||Considers that only one faith is valid, and that its most important expression is in what people believe.||Considers that there is a fundamental truth at the core of all religions, and this common truth makes all religions equally valid and in fact one faith.||Considers that sincerity of belief is what is important, and that all beliefs as such are equally valid.|
|Action Oriented||Considers that only one faith is valid, and that its most important expression is in what people do.||Considers that the ethical element in all faiths is essentially the same, and it is this element with makes all faiths in reality one.||Accepts diversity of belief and organization, because what really matters is cooperation on social, ethical and spiritual essentials.|
|Secular||Considers the religious identity important, without participating in religious life; or strongly rejects sectarian identity.||Considers that all religions are the same, and serve the same functions for people who are dependent on them.||Maintains that all religions are expressions of human experience, and all are equally valid or invalid.|
In Table Two I have defined six basic methods of approach as combining the features of directness and indirectness with a unifying approach, a confrontational one, and an illicit one. Most goal-oriented situations will be characterized by one or more of these approaches. Illicit approaches must be recognized for what they are. The desire to persuade, especially when frustrated, often leads to one of these un-Islamic approaches. Neuro-linguistic programming has become common in not only selling, but in therapy, teaching and religion. It is not compatible with Islam, because it leads to a change in behavior which bypasses the conscious decision of the individual based on reason. From an Islamic point of view, that is immoral.
Table Two: Methods of Approach
|Unifying||Focus on common aspects of the different faiths.||Find common interests with a neutral faith content.|
|Confrontational||Confront differences actively, trying to persuade to change belief system and behavior.||Find ways to introduce circumstances which may cause reflection and self-motivated change.|
|Illicit||Direct force.||Manipulation, hypnotism, neuro-linguistic programming.|
The establishment of a spiritual profile is a dynamic process involving the individual in several types of influencing circumstances. Religious authorities, social and religious peers, and individual characteristics integrate in an individual’s experience to produce and reinforce a religious identity, a belief system, and a pattern of behavior. This is the template upon which all of the methods of approach noted in Table Two must come to bear.
Now let us approach some of these issues from a practical standpoint by way of illustration. I shall begin with a personal profile. Looking at the twelve slots, I find myself best described by the intersection of mysticism with exclusivity. My major form of spirituality is within the Islamic mystical tradition. However, I consider that the direct experience of the divine is necessarily dependent on an exclusive belief system, so I would add a secondary slot to my profile, the exclusive belief-oriented, defined as twelver Shi’ite Islam. In addition, I find that practice is essential, so I would add the exclusive action-oriented slot as well. A personal evaluation reveals that I do practice the duties of Islam more or less successfully. I have no particular interest in the matter of religious identity, and am willing to be called anything the observer likes.
Now let us suppose that there is a person who would like to persuade me to become more like himself. Let us say that the profile of this person is exactly like mine in belief and practice, but differs in rejecting mysticism and focusing on the importance of religious identity. What will be his goal? He will try to dissuade me from an interest in mystical matters, gnosis or cirfan as it may be called. Secondly, he will try to convince me of the importance of maintaining a high profile in terms of religious identity. He will have no goals in relation to my belief system or in relation to my actions, since I have the same beliefs as he and since I perform my prayers in exactly the same way that he does.
Let us suppose there is another person whose spiritual type fits into the same slots, but who defines their content differently. Let us suppose he emphasizes that he is a Christian and considers this identity essential. He may also typically emphasize belief-oriented exclusivism. His goal will be somewhat more complicated. He will try to get me to forget about Islamic mysticism. He will try to get me to identity myself strongly as a Christian. He will try to get me to change my beliefs from typically Shi’ite ones to those which he himself holds: let us say, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the doctrine of the Atonement (that is, that God exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that I must look to the vicarious, sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross in order to be forgiven for my sins and be saved). He may not emphasize actions very much at all, except that he will try to get me to stop praying in the Islamic way, stop fasting during Ramadhan, etc. He will try to get me to pray by kneeling and folding my hands and speaking to God or Jesus using the formula typical of his communion. He may try to get me to engage in some kind of Bible study program. He may try to get me to be baptized and attend church services. He will have a big job in front of him. It might be easier for him to invent a theology which permits my salvation without conversion, and then he will himself move into one of the areas of either inclusivity or pluralism.
One of the great challenges to Islam is the fact that Western society has gradually shed the requirements of reason and accepted absurdity in their place. This is the process of centuries. The early Church Father Tertullian is famous for having said that he believed in Christian doctrine because it was absurd. Reason is an essential characteristic of Islam and is becoming increasingly difficult to impose as a common parameter. In using direct confrontation, it is necessary to establish the law of non-contradiction as a bare minimum. Otherwise discussion is futile. Yet this is probably the biggest goal and the hardest to achieve. If Muslims could infuse the critical use of reason into Western society, they would have no other tasks to accomplish. Society would islamicize itself.
We have tried to establish the following points. First, that people can be roughly classed according to degrees of religiosity and degrees of acceptance. Second, that evaluating oneself and the other person according to such a classification is useful in determining goals for interaction and the process of achieving them. Thirdly, that ways of achieving goals through interaction can be classified as indirect and direct, and as confrontational and unifying. Which of these types of approaches must be used will depend on the type of person and situation. Fourthly, illicit approaches are noted, those involving some form of coercion.
“Mankind was one single nation, and Allah sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings; and with them He sent the Book in truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they differed; but the People of the Book after the clear Signs came to them, did not differ among themselves, except through selfish contumacy. Allah by His Grace guided the Believers to the Truth, concerning that wherein they differed. For Allah guides whom He will to a path that is straight.” The Qur’an, Al Baqara 2:213.
Once we have established the spiritual profile, we are ready to set a goal and form a strategy for attaining it. Each person will have to decide for him or herself what the proper goal is. It is perhaps not enough to decide that the goal is Islam. Islam ought to be clearly defined. I shall offer one such brief description here, but it is possible to take another from someone with better qualifications for defining Islam. I define Islam as follows: Islam is that body of belief and practice which logically follows the act of reason which takes place upon hearing the proclamation that there is no god but God. There are several implications of this definition. First of all, it emphasizes that Islam is fundamentally a reasoned response, rather than an emotional one. Secondly, it presumes that all of Islam can be reasonably deduced from one basic proclamation: There is no god but God. Thirdly, seeing the matter from the negative view, any other approach than a logical and reasonable one is by definition not Islamic, and any source of belief or practice other than the proclamation that there is no god but God is also by definition not Islamic. In sum, the final answer for any question of why this or that belief or practice should be believed or practiced is the unicity of God. Any other reason for believing or practicing such things is non-Islamic.
These premises will exclude a good many missionary practices found among Christians and Muslims. This matter should be understood clearly, because such practices have been widely used without thinking about their foundations. Let us take two examples, a Christian one and a so-called Muslim one. A feature of Christian missionary work is to invite people to meetings where nearly all of the activities appeal to the emotions. There is emotional, indeed, sensual music to begin with. This creates a frame of mind open to accepting matters for their emotional appeal rather than their cognitive content. Then there are sermons which appeal to emotions. In older, traditional approaches there is an emotional appeal to guilt, a feeling of having sinned. In modern approaches there is always an appeal to love, often with the additional note that God loves us even though we do not deserve it. Finally, there is the emotional appeal that Jesus suffered a cruel death on the cross for me and you personally, because he loved us so much. This act is supposed to make everything right, and to accept this is faith. There is rarely a reasoned explanation of why such a death is supposed to be necessary or how such a death can set things right, but even when there is such an explanation, the reasons put forth are nearly always allegorical rather than logical. Muslims who become Christians are always caught by emotions.
The second example is that of a modern Muslim approach. It is to make use of science in a special way. In brief, passages from the Bible are taken to show that the Bible is inconsistent with scientific fact, while other passages from the Qur’an are taken to show that the Qur’an expresses scientific truths that were unknown at the time of its writing. The conclusion to be drawn is that the Qur’an is superior to the Bible, and therefore Islam is superior to Christianity and shows evidence of divine origin. It must therefore be accepted. What is good about this approach is that it uses reason. What is bad about it is that the reasoning is false. First of all, Christians do the same thing to show that the Bible is true and the Qur’an is false. Secondly, the fact that scientific truths are expressed in the Qur’an, even though they were unknown at the time of writing, only implies supernatural intervention. The evangelical Christian will take this as evidence that the Qur’an was inspired by Satan (istaghfiru Allah). Thirdly, the appeal assumes that scientific truth is a criterion for judging the validity of the Qur’an. This is the area of false reasoning. First of all, scientific truth is not absolute, but is constantly under review. What is true today is shown tomorrow to be false. The result of this type of Qur’anic interpretation will inevitably be the need to revise. This whole process has been taken over from a Western point of view, and is the very reason why Christianity got into trouble with science in the first place. By accepting the Copernican theory of the universe to be reflected in the Bible, the Church was forced to deny scientific evidence for a later revision. This caused a conflict between religion and science which has not been completely healed to the present day. Islam has generally been associated with an enlightened, scientific approach, and thus has not naturally fallen into this trap. But well-meaning people who wish to appear to young people who have been trained in universities teaching Western-developed science have engaged in this dangerous exercise. The result may be a temporary attraction to Islam, but the results in the long run can only do to Islam what was done to the detriment of Christianity in the Middle Ages. Scientific evidence is not a criterion for judging the validity of the Qur’an. There can be no firm basis for Islamic faith but the one already given: there is no god but God. Any other basis, even a seemingly thoroughly scientific one, is false to Islam.
It is my opinion that the basic goal must be to establish tawheed, the unicity of God, on the basis of reason. Notice that the proclamation does not state that God exists. It states that there is no other god but God. The existence of God is an unending philosophical problem. The shahadat by-passes this difficulty. It presents a binary equation, a negative and a positive, a working hypothesis. Rather than asking whether God exists, we begin by stating All and Nothingness. The logical implication is what we can call reality as an exclusive unicity. This is philosophically much easier to maintain than the existence of God.
The next step in logic is to note that an exclusive, unified reality cannot be defined in parts. First of all, parts imply limitations or borders. But the reality of our working hypothesis is limited only by Nothingness. Secondly, parts imply internal limitations, which again is inconsistent with a unicity. There are no parts.
The next implication of this exclusive unicity is sovereignty. Considering that no parts can be defined, this sovereignty must be impartial rather than partial. Therefore, it is perfectly just, rather than arbitrary. Notice how an emotional response to the concept of sovereignty will lead us to conclude arbitrariness as evidence of sovereignty itself. As we relate emotionally to the events around us, we will be drawn to classify them as pleasurable or painful, and from this draw the inference that some events are good and others bad. Beginning with the idea that God is sovereign, we will conclude that since He is sovereign over both good and bad, He is therefore arbitrary. We shall see this as a crowning evidence of sovereignty, and being blinded by our emotions, fail to realize that the argument is inconsistent with the fact that there are no parts and there is therefore no impartiality.
Having established that unicity inevitably implies justice, we are faced with the question of whether or not human beings can know justice. It would be not only illogical but an insanity to claim that human capacity can attain justice. No matter how much knowledge we have as humans, we can never come to the point that we are absolutely certain that we possess all knowledge relevant to a particular matter. A reasoned evaluation of human experience can come to only one conclusion: human beings are incapable of coming to a knowledge of what is right and wrong. We are capable of coming to the conclusion of reality as a unicity and the implication of impartiality or justice, but we do not have the capacity, if only because of the possible limitations on knowledge, of determining what is right and what is wrong. Why then do we propose to know what is right and wrong, even though it is clear that this is a human impossibility? There are many reasons, all arising from our psychological, social, and physical conditions. We experience the need to know what is right and wrong and at the same time the incapacity of doing so.
There are various ways of reacting to this situation. Having despaired of a coherent understanding of reality, some come to the conclusion that there is no right nor wrong. The best possible society in that case is the society in which the greatest number of people can experience the greatest amount of pleasure at the least possible expense of pain to others. The individual process involves the egotistical approach to get all pleasure for oneself at the expense of all others, that is, to become a despot over the rest of oppressed humanity. As many individuals strive toward that goal, they compress into a conformist, honey-comb society, forming an elite. To the extent necessary to preserve their position, they will alleviate the pain of those who are excluded from the elite. This is basically what we see around us. All of the liberal views of human rights, sharing of resources, and environmental concerns are fundamentally the products of this viewpoint, that there is no coherent reality and consequently no right nor wrong. It goes without saying that economic, political and social competitiveness are the result of the same outlook.
Taken from a logical perspective, the implication of justice in reality must come to the conclusion that human beings may, despite their inherent incapacity to determine right and wrong, still come to know right from wrong. The process of coming to know right from wrong in this view is what we call revelation. It is logically deduced in principle from justice and consequently from unicity. We find the process of revelation in two categories, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The first is revelation through verbally expressible means, which we call prophecy. The second is application of that verbal revelation by extra-verbal means in particular situations, which we call divine guidance. The final step of logic is that knowing through revelation what is right and wrong, human beings are accountable for what they do, whether right or wrong. We call this the day of judgment.
We noted in the last lecture that “the establishment of a spiritual profile is a dynamic process involving the individual in several types of influencing circumstances. Religious authorities, social and religious peers, and individual characteristics integrate in an individual’s experience to produce and reinforce a religious identity, a belief system, and a pattern of behavior.” This is also true of the changing or re-establishment of a spiritual profile. Despite the logical sequence that we have just established, the true factors which come into play are other ones. They are not necessarily logical, and yet they generally play the most important roles in the lives of all of us. The particular challenge in both one’s own life and in relationship to others is how to relate the rational necessity of Islam with the sociological and psychological realities with which we live. How can we escape the unnoticed determinants and function in terms of that rational necessity?
This question is a practical one as much as a philosophical one. This is where rational thought and practical existence intersect. The answer implicit in this study at this point in that one should make a conscious decision to believe and practice only what can be seen to derive from tawheed, or the unicity of God. This answer lies as the end of a philosophical treatment of the matter and at the head of a practical one.
The facile response is that Islamic practice reinforces the experiential awareness of tawheed. As such it in practice and reality does replace the determining influences about us, both the positive ones and the negative ones. It reinforces right-mindedness by going over the positive influences, such as the verdicts of a mujtaheed or Islamic scholar, the opinions of Muslim peers, the pressures of Muslim family members, and the weight of a personal psychology already formed to conform to Islamic life. It counteracts negative influences, such as the contact with people of other faiths or non-faiths who express non-Islamic ideas and behave in non-Islamic ways.
This being true, it is possible to suggest that Islamic acts are in themselves rich tools for propagation. Contact with a non-Muslim may give the opportunity of introducing him or her into specifically Islamic acts. While forming a close relationship with such a person, it is possible to invite such a one to share in an Islamic meal (at which time the concept of halal can be introduced, the avoidance of alcoholic beverages, etc.), to share in the experience of fasting during Ramadhan, and eventually to share in the experience of prayer in prostration. Christian propagation often works through friendship, and this can be turned in favor of Islam. Christians are advised to penetrate Muslim societies in order to bring their faith to Muslims, but in so doing, they become susceptible to Islamic spirituality.
The same method can be turned on secularized people as well, or on those of other religious traditions. The primary vehicle of propagation at this point is the Islamic act itself rather than discussion and argumentation. In many cases the first difficulty to be overcome is fear of Islam, and the proximity of an Islamic act can raise the heart-rate and the galvanic skin response of a non-Muslim. Exposure to Islamic acts in contexts of no violence is the best form of da’wa or invitation to Islam. This can be enhanced by participating in neutral activities in such a way that with growing familiarity the fear of Islam will decline and the influence of the Islamic actions will grow.
If at all possible, it is better to get people to read literature than to engage in arguments. The problem is that most Islamic literature, for various reasons, does not appeal to a Western audience. Part of the reason for this is that Islam generally appeals to reason, whereas Westerners relate best to advertizement, especially advertizement which leaves them unaware of the fact that they are making decisions. But part of the reason is also failure to evaluate the spiritual type of one’s audience and take this into account in writing. Perhaps one of the best ways of reaching some people is through a challenge to read a translation of the Qur’an from beginning to end. It is my experience that those who oppose the Qur’an have never actually read it. They have only searched through portions of it, looking for specific things. An actual reading of the Qur’an from beginning to end is an impressive experience. This is not limited to the cultivated and educated. There are uneducated people who have embraced Islam after reading even poor and biased translations of the Qur’an.
In the way of literature, the Bible is a largely untapped source. Without denying the allegations of scholars that the Bible is corrupted in a number of ways, it can still be used effectively in support of Islam. It supports Islam far better than it supports any of the various forms of Christianity, and Christians are forced to use it in support of their own faith. Muslims are in a far better position. The Bible is effective with people of all kinds. Nearly everyone believes that the Bible supports Christianity. Those who have left the practice of Christianity are often stimulated to a reawakened interest in the Bible when they realize that the Bible actually supports Islam instead. According to the Qur’an, one of the major uses of the Bible is in witness to the validity of the Qur’an. A Muslim must only take care not to give the impression that Islamic law is based on the Bible text, since no school of Islamic jurisprudence uses the Bible in that way.
Many people are more susceptible to brief articles than to books. It is therefore necessary to provide answers to their questions with these, despite the fact that many of them are deficient.
The more rational Islamic approach often causes difficulty in discussing issues with others. The normal situation is that a Muslim will bring forward a matter armed with a reason. The response will be an irrational denial or a sentence that turns on a completely different issue. The best way of dealing with this is to repeat the rational argument, and then leave the matter. One can always let the other have the last word. For some time the Christian will feel that he or she is getting the best of the argument in that way, and this will result in a situation in which he or she might be drawn into accepting rational thinking. For the most part Christians rely on repetition of a statement rather that rational argument. Constant repetition of a false statement wears down the hearer to the point that eventually he will accept it, even without supporting rational arguments. This is the major Christian means of communication. The same weapon can be turned on the Christian, and in a Muslim’s mouth may be even more effective, since it has reason to reinforce it.
In dealing with non-Muslims, Christian or otherwise, one has to be aware of their use of illicit devices. Attempts at mental manipulation are almost universal. Christian music often contains subliminal messages which by-pass the conscious mental processes and influence decision-making. This is in addition to the highly charged emotionalism and even sensualism in their music. In recent years Christians have begun dealing in neuro-linguistic programming, which is a form of hypnosis by which people attempt to control others. This can be identified generally by the practice of imitating gestures of the person they are trying to control, by their repetition of phrases taken from the person’s speech, and by their introduction into the conversation of irrational, unrelated topics and stories without a point.
It is good to begin a contact by showing an interest in the beliefs of the person in question. People are generally more interested in answering questions about their own beliefs than they are in hearing about yours. Of course it is not always possible to ask such questions, and many people, especially those largely disconnected from the traditional religions, consider their spiritual life to be a private matter. That possibility must always be taken into consideration. But showing at least an openness to such matters is often a good way to start, and it is actually necessary in order to make an evaluation of that person’s spiritual type. Most people in Europe have a Christian background, with the exception of certain parts of some large cities, where other traditions are better represented. But among all of these, only a small percentage practice traditional religions. All of them, however, are interested in some form of spirituality, although they may not call it by that name. Once that interest is identified, it provides a point of contact at which the Islamic message can penetrate.
At this point, we can make a summary of goals and means of achieving them. The goal is to change the spirituality of an individual toward Islam, which is defined as a system of belief and practice derived from a rational understanding of tawheed, or the unicity of God. The means of doing so is first of all to use reason in the form of literature and discussion to over-ride the negative social and religious influences to which the person may be susceptible. The second means of doing so is to make Islamic acts prominent and to get non-Muslims to be as closely as possible associated with them to the point first of losing their fear, and then through familiarity to find in them the source of an awareness of the unicity of God. These two approaches correspond in type to the two forms of revelation, prophecy (or verbal revelation) and divine guidance (active application). What we are actually suggesting here as a form of da’wa or invitation to Islam is that the Muslim take on in a small sense the role of prophet and divine guide toward those to whom da’wa is being extended. The purpose of da’wa is to get the message of revelation across. God Himself chose for that prophecy and divine guidance. We can do no better than to apply the same principles.
Task Checklist of Goals
The following checklist should be filled out for each person. On the left side there is a list of basic Islamic beliefs and practices. There is room for additional ones at the bottom. Each practice should be evaluated for the beginning level of acceptance (1=rejects completely; 2=doubts; 3=does not consider important; 4=considers valid for some people; 5=believes but does not practice; 6=believes and practices). Work should be done for each point separately, giving the date when you began to present the matter and the date when each point was accepted. In the column of notes on progress, reevaluation can be made periodically using the scale of 1-6, to document change.
|Belief or Practice||Beginning level of acceptance||Date presented||Notes on progress||Date accepted|
|Oneness of God|
|Jesus (as) not Deity|
|Son of God means simply Messiah|
|Jesus (as) did not die for the sins of the world|
|Spirit of God not a person of the Deity|
|Justice of God|
|Imamate in general|
|The 12 Imams (as)|
|Day of Judgement|
|Reward and punishment|
|Prayer in prostration|
|Alms in charity|
|Struggle in the way of God|
|Love of the righteous|
|Avoidance of wicked people|
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