How should a Muslim talk to a non-Muslim who is interested in Islam and a possible convert? What “angle” should they take in illuminating their minds on Islam?
The following are some of the major points that must be kept in mind while propagating Islam to people of other religions:
It is very unfortunate that propagation of Islam has become more of a debate between proponents of Islam and other religions. We are so used to this style of “propagation” that the very word of propagation brings to mind a hot debate in which two or more parties are trying to convince an audience that the beliefs of the other are unfounded and absurd. I would like to stress at the outset that such a style is not just “not propagation” but can be very harmful to the very spirit and objective of propagation. Every criticism on another person’s beliefs and every intellectual attack on his/her philosophy makes the other person prone to criticising our own beliefs rather than accepting them. It activates a strong defense mechanism inside the person and makes it difficult for him/her to be receptive to our call. The first principle that must therefore be kept in mind is that the style of introducing Islam to others should be such that the other person does not feel offended or insulted. To introduce a person to Islam, we don’t need to criticise his/her existing beliefs. We should try to present the teachings of Islam in a positive manner. Such a style is expected to face lower resistance from the addressees.
The primary object in propagating Islam is not to win a debate or to increase the number of registered Muslims in the world. It is an attempt to remove all excuses a person might have, on the Day of Judgment, for not accepting Islam. For every such excuse shall be a burden on the Muslims on that Day. It is an attempt to save a person from the eternal punishment. It is an attempt to answer all questions on Islam raised by others. Keeping this object of propagation in view, our style should only be such that the other person perceives us to be his sincere well-wisher. We should try to avoid confrontation at all costs.
For Muslims, propagating Islam really means propagating the Truth. The essence of this propagation, thus is to pursue our addressees to accept whatever is proven to be the Truth. Now, if this is really the case, then the person who is trying to convince others of his ideas, should first of all keep his own mind open to accept whatever is proven to be the Truth. If I am trying to convince others to keep their minds open to accept the Truth, I can never be effective if my own attitude towards the ideas of others is of apathy and outright rejection.
Propagation of Islam is not merely convincing someone intellectually about Islamic ideals, it is much more than that. It is to present the moral, ethical and philosophical teachings of Islam. This presentation can only be effective if the person presenting these ideals is himself a practicing Muslim. After all, how can I convince another person to change his life according to the views that are true in my eyes, if I am myself not living my life according to the propagated views.
As our experience shows, the primary response from a non-Muslim that should be expected in response to our efforts of propagation is that he would criticize on matters relating to Islam; this criticism is most likely to be on some of the verses of the Qur’an, some of the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) and a few events from Seerah (the life of the Prophet) and Muslim history. It is normally observed that in response to such criticism, we – the Muslims – start criticizing the books and the teachings of the prophet who holds a revered position in the eyes of our addressee. This may critically hamper the communication process. We must remember that if somebody has criticized the Qur’an or the life and teachings of the Prophet (pbuh), the correct response should be to give an acceptable answer to such criticism, not to criticize the beliefs of the critic. Such criticism on the beliefs of the critic may prove the beliefs of the critic to be wrong, but it would not, by itself, prove the correctness of the Islamic ideology. In view of this fact, propagation of Islamic ideals should only be taken up either after having deep knowledge about Islam and its teachings or under close guidance and supervision of someone who has this knowledge. We must also remember that the case of propagating Islam is quite different from that of the other major religions of the world, in the sense that in the case of Islamic propagation, we need not prove the other religions to be wrong. Our standpoint can simply be that Mohammad (pbuh) was the last among the prophets of the Almighty. Even if their respective beliefs are taken to be correct, still if Mohammad (pbuh) is proven to be a true prophet of God, his teachings, merely because he was the last among these prophets, must be followed. On the contrary, the case for Christianity, for instance, or Judaism can only hold ground if Islam is proven to be a false religion and Mohammad (pbuh) a false prophet. It is because of this reason that, in my opinion, we must concentrate solely on the positive presentation and replies to criticisms on Islam and try to avoid criticizing other religions.
While propagating our ideals, we must always try to find a common point of reference with our addressee from where we start our efforts. One must remember that the human mind can more easily adapt to and accept ideas that it is familiar with, than to those that are absolutely novel and new.
Another important principle is that the Islamic teachings should be presented in the correct sequence. A new convert or a potential convert should be taught only the most basic and primary teachings. Only after these teachings are fully accepted and adopted by our addressees should we move on. If the proper sequence in this process is not maintained, it may quite easily result in not only making these teachings incomprehensible for a new convert but also in disturbing the perfect balance of the total corpus of the teachings of Islam. In this case, a new or a potential convert should be considered as a child who starts going to school. He may plan on ultimately becoming a doctor, but no one would recommend that the child should be introduced to advanced medical concepts in its forming years.
I have tried to briefly enlist a few of the important principles in propagating and teaching Islam to those who are interested to learn. I hope this helps. In case anything remains unclear or any point needs further elaboration, please feel free in writing to me.
29th May 1998