‘Who is better in speech than one who calls (people) to Allah, works righteousness, and says “I am of those submitted to God”? Goodness and Evil are not equal. Repel (Evil) with that which is better: then will that person between whom and you there was hatred become as it were your closest friend!’ (Surah 41.33-34).
It is vitally important for Muslims to do their best to draw others to belief in the One True God – this is a duty laid upon them. But there are so many questions. How can they do it? Do you need special training? Do you have to be a highly educated person? Are women allowed to preach to men, and vice versa? How can Muslims best pass on the word of our Lord?
One vitally important thing to realise is that what usually draws people to Allah is not listening to peoples’ words at all. All too often those with the most clever words, the most emotional speeches, the most fiery and ranting warnings, are not the most effective Muslim preachers at all. Far from it. In an age of hypocrisy, and political spin, the ‘street-wise’ know only too well that rhetoric is often empty and just hot air, and can even do more damage than good by swaying people with emotion rather than convincing with reason. The truth is that those who are wise in life will judge others by what they do and not by what they say.
Enthusiastic but obstreperous persons – bothering people with pamphlets and expressing opinions with raised voices – do more to drive people away from Islam than encourage them in. I have always felt that if what one is saying and doing is offensive to others, makes them embarrassed, makes them feel small or irritated, makes them cringe and back off – then there is something very askew about their Islam. The message, behaviour and example of the Prophet (pbuh) always attracted and drew people towards Allah – it never drove them away. Even his worst enemies, people who had no belief and no intentions of changing their minds, would grant him that.
Apart from his compassion, understanding and good humour, the Prophet (pbuh) was a highly practical man with a down-to-earth wisdom. He warned his preachers not to do inappropriate things like choosing the wrong time, or the wrong place. The wrong place can be your own front doorstep when a Muslim preacher is making a nuisance of himself by calling uninvited when it is not convenient.
Living as he did with little privacy, the Prophet (pbuh) taught that unexpected visiting callers might knock on a door three times, but if there was no answer (even if they knew the person was within) they should be polite and sensitive and go away. Inconvenient visiting is a well-known complaint against non-Muslim ‘callers’ such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, and now apparently some groups of Muslim ‘callers’. Their intentions are good, their hearts are in the right place – but preaching at an inconvenient time is a nuisance to others, and preaching to the already converted only irritates them and puts their backs up. It implies that the preacher feels he/she is on a higher level than them, and this may actually be very far from the case. The judgement they are using is their own standard. Only God truly knows us, and which of us is more virtuous, of more merit etc.
Ibn Masud commented:
‘The Prophet used to take care of us when he was preaching by selecting a suitable time, so that we might not get bored.’ (Bukhari 1.68).
Ibn Abbas instructed on the practice of the Prophet:
‘If you approach and join people who are already engaged in conversation, don’t start interrupting them with your preaching subject, lest you should cause them to be bored. You should rather keep quiet, and only preach to them if they ask you, at a time when they are eager to hear what you have to say.’ (Bukhari 8.349).
You cannot make people believe what they are not ready to believe. In a way, people are like fruits coming to ripeness. To preach to people who are not ready to listen is just like trying to eat unripe fruit – a disappointing experience. Or, it’s like the kids throwing up sticks to knock down conkers, only to find them small and undeveloped. When the time is right, ripe conkers will fall down of their own accord. You cannot force belief on anyone. We know the text: ‘There shall be no coercion in religion’ (Surah 2.255). Unfortunately, many people feel it is their duty to hector or threaten with hellfire, or try to bribe and cajole people into signing on the dotted line when they are not ready or willing to do so. History has been full of such missionaries, who feel it is perfectly OK to burn people’s bodies in order to save their souls. It is not what Allah wants.
It can only attract others to Islam if we genuinely act out our faith. Yes, we may have all the iman in the world – but if we do not have amal, what has it done to change the world in which we live? We may have fasted all day and prayed all night, but as Aishah recorded from the Prophet’s lips, there are many who do that, yet all they gain from it is hunger and sleeplessness.
How can we call others to Islam when we have fussed about praying according to time-table but it has been observed that we have exploited our workers, hurt our wives and abused those we should have helped? We have kept our fasts, but we have cheated in business, broken promises and betrayed trusts. We have covered from top to toe and may even have worn niqab, but we have been proud and kept those in need (whether Muslim or non-Muslim) at arm’s length.
Remember that you have no idea when and upon whom you will be having an influence. It is quite possible that it will not be your most brilliant sermon or lesson that took you hours to think out that will be remembered, but some insignificant little thing – some kind deed or compassionate word – that you did or said to someone in passing, completely unaware of who was watching or listening to you. Allah tried to make this clear. He said:
‘O Prophet, you cannot give guidance to whom you wish. It is Allah Who gives guidance to whom He pleases, and He is quite aware of those who are guided.’ (28:56).
I remember once returning from a lecture with no reserved train seat, and finding the train carriage pretty crowded. I was tottering along with my stick, wearing my black jilbab, so felt quite conspicuous. Most of my fellow passengers were noisy young football fans a bit the worse for wear. To my great delight, there was a young man sitting there whose beard and general appearance marked him out as a Muslim. With no hesitation he leapt up and insisted I had his seat while he would find one elsewhere. Now, that was dawah!
Those who raise their voices to speak in public should always be very careful that they are speaking for Islam, and not just for a small sectarian group of Muslims. The non-Muslim public cannot be expected to be aware of sectarian differences, and the minutiae of doctrinal and textual debate – they will judge Islam and Muslims by the opinions they hear expressed and the way they see Muslims behave.
‘Shall I tell you, O people, on whom the shaytans descend? They descend on every sinful slanderer, those who are convinced by hearsay – who are mostly liars, and those clever-speakers who are followed by people going astray. Don’t you see – how aimlessly they roam in every valley, preaching what they do not practice themselves?’ (26.221-226).
Don’t be put off by scoffing and mockery. This is nothing new. Think of how the Prophet was mocked and abused. Don’t lose heart, or become affected or depressed by apparent lack of success.
‘The fact is that Allah has set forth every kind of example for humanity in His revelation, but whatever sign you may bring, unbelievers will always say that you are preaching falsehood. Those who do not choose to use their common sense have what Allah calls a seal on their hearts. So, O Prophet, have patience: be sure that the promise of Allah is true; and do not let those who have no certainty of faith, shake your firmness.’ (30.58-61)
Two of the famous hadiths of the messenger Jesus (pbuh) taught about a farmer sowing his seed. In the first, the farmer scattered it out of his basket in all directions – some fell on the pathway, some on stony ground, some into thickets of weeds and some landed on good soil. The seed represented his message from God, and what happened to it represented the various things that happen to the message once we have given it. The seed that fell on the path got pecked up by birds and never even germinated. It never sank in. The seed on the stony ground burst enthusiastically into life because the ground was warm, but because it had no depth of root, it fizzled out and died just as quickly. This is like belief or conversion brought on by emotion rather than reason. The seed in the weedy soil did its best, but got choked – like those of us struggling in our harsh and busy world, beaten down by all the things that distract us – whether it be the alluring temptations to forbidden pleasures or the unremitting round of sorrows and worries and pains. But, at the end of the day, some of the seed got through and grew well, and bore fruit.
The second parable taught how the seed grew secretly. The farmer did the sowing, then walked on and left it to get on with growing. He did nothing more. Allah sent the rains and the sunshine, and the farmer knew not how but the seed germinated and grew – and in the end there was a wonderful harvest.
The Qur’an says: ‘Don’t you see how Allah sets out parables for us? A goodly word is like a goodly tree whose root is firmly fixed and its branches (reach) to the heavens. It brings forth its fruit at all times by the leave of its Lord. So Allah sets forth parables for humans in order that they may receive encouragement.’ (Surah 14.24-25).
Never regard your preaching as a waste of time. Never take the arrogant point of view that the people you are talking to are not worth saving, or are doomed anyway because they are so awful. ‘When some of them said: “why do you preach to people who Allah will destroy or visit with a terrible punishment?” The preachers replied: “(We do it) to discharge our duty to our Lord, and it may be that they will respect him.” (7.164).
Don’t be disappointed if you do not notice successful results. Remember, many seeds grow secretly.
The revelation was sent for a reason. It was not to beat people with and make them feel small and unhappy and inadequate – but to give them hope.
‘We sent down the revelation to you for the express purpose that you should make clear to your listeners those things about which they are confused, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe.’ (Surah 16.64).
Don’t make assumptions. You may think you are one of the saved, and the person you are preaching to is a lost soul doomed for all eternity – but you do not know how far you will slip before your time is up, or how high the chap listening to you will climb. Even the very worst of sinners might suddenly repent at the eleventh hour – and such is our Lord’s compassion that He has promised to all those who do that they will be forgiven and will enter Paradise. You, on the other hand, may have lived a saintly life for decades, and at the eleventh hour suddenly become corrupt and cruel. Is all lost? We do not know. We do not know how our Lord will judge us. But when we preach to others, we must be humble, and as straight as an arrow.
‘Invite (people) to the way of your Lord wisely, and preach to them in a suitable and attractive manner; debate with them in the best of ways and with good grace: for your Lord knows better than you who has strayed from His Path and who is receiving guidance……And be patient, for your patience is from none but Allah. Don’t fret over them, or become distressed because of their plots. Allah is with those who restrain themselves, and those who do good.’ (Surah 16.125-8).
Never feel as if you are pressing on alone, and that God is not aware of all that you are doing for His sake. He is always with you. There will come a time when ‘We shall question those to whom Our message was sent, and those by whom We sent it. Truly, We shall recount their whole story with full awareness, for We were never absent (at any time or place, for one second).’(Surah 7.6-7)
The best way to do dawah for Islam is to live it, all day and every day. There will be private moments between yourself and Allah when you pray or fast or travel to Makkah for hajj. Fine. But your dawah is your life and how you live it, your ‘gifts’ and what you do with them, your money and how you earn it, your clothing and how you wear it, your family and how you care for it and nurture it.
Do you try to help the less fortunate, comfort the sad, support the poor, visit the sick and the prisoner, welcome the refugee, invite the outsider, forgive the foolish? Do you live the noble life of the person submitted to God (the trye meaning of the word ‘Muslim’) to the best of your ability – are you honest, courageous, generous, truthful, unselfish, compassionate, modest? Or are you shifty, lazy, selfish, tight-fisted, abusive and arrogant? Do you sneer at and despise people for being kuffar (nonbelievers), or do you show them the smile of welcome, invite them in, and impress them by your hospitality? If you feel guilty, have a make-over. Remember, today is the first day of the rest of your life.
At all costs, do you avoid hypocrisy? The Muslim who causes most damage to the faith is the one who takes drugs, drinks and gambles, steals and cheats, neglects or even beats his wife, prevents his girl children from their full education, forces his daughter into an unwanted marriage, mutilates his daughter’s private parts, hijacks or bombs innocent bystanders for rage at the sins of others.
Only Allah knows how He will judge the prayerful person who has the above failings. But it is the Muslim with the noble life, whose every action is a prayer, that is the da’i, and who attracts people to God.
May God bless you, wasalaam,
Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood