How To Present Islam
Living as a Muslim among non-Muslims, whether a majority or a minority, imposes the duty by Allah of conveying the message of Islam. This duty is documented in the Qur'an and Hadith at many places. For example, Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala says: "Thus you are appointed as the model community so that you become witnesses against humankind and the Messenger is witness against you." The Qur'an 2:143. It is reported that the Messenger(S) of Allah said, "Convey for me even if it is one ayah!" (Bukhari and others)
How to present Islam? The answer to this question has two parts:
1) How to approach non-Muslims, and 2) how to present Islamic beliefs and practices in a rational way without total dependence upon the Qur'an and Hadith. This brochure deals with the approaches to non-Muslims and another brochure titled, Introduction to Islamic Beliefs and Practices deals with the second part of the question. We are living in a time and age that provides us with many new methods of communication, some of them not available only twenty-five years ago. All knowledge of the sciences, inventions and technology is God-given, which makes it necessary for us to use the entire technology to spread His Word worldwide. New methods of approaching the non-Muslim population are already being used by da'wah workers at one place or the other with a measure of success. The following methods are suggested. However, a visionary da'wah worker should use his knowledge, experience, vision and imagination to invent his own methods of reaching out to the non-Muslim population.
Personal Approach, One-to-One
This is the method of choice which brings a non-Muslim closer to Islam and frequently he reverts. The question is how to begin the conversation. It is true that at most work places and educational institutions it is considered a taboo to talk about religion and politics. However, a sharp and dedicated Muslim da'wah worker will find an excuse to start talking about Islam. For example, Muslims are frequently in the news because there are problems in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, India and other parts of the Muslim world. One can ask a question to a colleague or a fellow student or a neighbor about the news involving Muslims and its background. Turn the reply around and ask the person if he/she knows anything about Muslims or Islam. Depending upon the situation, continue the discussion or promise some literature. Do not give any literature on the spot if you expect to see the person again soon because it may look like a set up. If it was a casual encounter, like a fellow traveler, give a brochure. In metropolitan cities in the U.S. many Muslim taxi drivers keep Islamic brochures with them and if the situation allows they hand over one or two brochures as the passenger disembarks.
With the people you meet regularly, never spend too much time discussing Islam. Islam in small doses is digested better than large doses. Never give books or the Qur'an right away. Always begin with small brochures then booklets. A copy of the Qur'an or small introductory books should be given only after they are requested repeatedly. Never give two or three books; always one at a time and follow up if the person has read the material and asks questions. Always have someone with better knowledge of Islam available for referral whenever difficult questions arise. Never give to a Christian video tapes of debates or those talks which appear offensive to them because such material does not open hearts and minds. The person will build defensive walls around himself rendering it impossible to penetrate. Through debates, a Muslim da'wah worker may win a battle but surely will lose the war. Intellectually presented arguments about the fallacy of Christian dogmas are frequently helpful.
If the person takes shahadah it is the beginning of a closer relationship not the end of it. There must be some plan for the education and integration of the new Muslim into the Muslim community at large. A new Muslim leaves behind relatives and friends and is in need of new relatives and new friends in the Muslim community. Frequently, there are many social and financial needs of a new Muslim which must be met by the Muslim community. Failure to meet the needs of a new Muslim will cause his/her drifting away into the wilderness and darkness of hypocrisy (nifaq) or apostasy (irtidad).
Personal Approach, One-to-Group
A group means two or more persons. In case of a small group, such as under five persons, the method of one-to-one applies as given above. With larger groups the relationship may become a bit more impersonal, like giving a speech to a group. Such groups may be arranged with a church or a secular community organization or at a school, college or a university. After the lecture, some brochures on Islam should be distributed and questions invited. When the function is over some interested persons may surround the speaker giving an opportunity to exchange phone numbers and addresses for follow up and going into the one-to-one mode. Those group talks are the best which avail opportunities to the speaker of developing personal contacts with new persons.
In general, once a week class at a permanent location is ideal to maintain continuity. Muslims are asked to bring their non-Muslim friends with them to the classes; concurrently, newspaper advertisements or distribution of flyers helps bringing new people. Subject matter of presentation to the class must begin with the verses from the Qur'an and one may bring in the Bible quotations for comparison, to refute or confirm, as the case may be. There should be enough time allotted for questions and comments. Some refreshment with cold and hot drinks adds to the interest of the people.
Seminars for Executives
One day seminars with a fee have been organized and work well. However, seminars are a formal affair which require proper preparation and the speaker must be a professional, preferably a professor in a college or a university. A manual with audio and video tapes must be given to supplement talks of the day. The location of the seminars should be carefully selected, preferably in a high class hotel's seminar room with audio-visual facilities, tea, coffee, cold drinks and lunch. A fee of $150 to $250 may be charged and advertised appropriately, preferably by direct mail to various companies, media, politicians, government officials, school teachers and college professors. If promoted and conducted properly, employers of prospective attendees may sponsor and pay the required fee. Such seminars should be arranged and announced at least three months, if not six months ahead of time. Keys to success are publicity, speakers, subject matter, material handed over in the seminar, location and environment and fee (neither too small nor too large). The style of presentation should not be preaching nor a lecture but giving information and pointing to the sources of further information. The interactive format has been found to be the most effective.
Distribution of Simple Brochures
When seeds are thrown from an airplane, some will fall on rocks, some in lakes, some in a desert and some in fertile land and grow; the same fate results with the distribution of brochures. Brochures should be simple in language and presentation. Concise brochures may be in two sizes, (a) one-minute literature which may be read within one to three minutes, and (b) five-minute literature which may be read within five to ten minutes. The cost of such literature is minimal and may be distributed by the millions. The name of the organization, address, phone and fax numbers, and if available, e-mail address must be provided on all brochures.
The venues of distribution may be setting up a table on campus, street crossings, subway or tube station exits, shopping centers, Islamic centers and mosques, conventions and conferences, county fairs, doctor's office waiting rooms, hospital chapels and waiting rooms (by permission only), airports, house-to-house in a small plastic bag hung on the door knob or knocking on the door and handing them out. In addition, brochures may be mailed with a courtesy letter to known people. In case of impersonal distribution, the da'wah worker should walk around a couple of blocks in each direction and pick up all discarded brochures. Muslims should respect their own material before we expect others to respect it, besides we should not leave our litter at the area of our work.
Knocking on Doors
This method has also been tried with some success. At this time not much data is available to give detailed instructions. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons use this method and are spreading their religions very successfully. Even if one in a hundred houses responds positively it is a success.
Chaplaincy in the Hospitals
Patients in the hospitals take much comfort in consolation and prayers by a religious leader and it provides a permanent attachment. Many hospitals in the West are looking for Muslim chaplains. Since there is no ordination in Islam any knowledgeable Muslim can qualify for hospital chaplaincy. Chaplaincy in the hospitals is volunteer work for Muslims because of low demand at this time.
Letters to the Leadership
In society there are people who are considered "successful" and the rest of the population looks up to them and may even imitate them. Such leadership includes teachers and professors, mid to high level executives in business, the media and the government, professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, politicians, business owners and others. In this age of computers many directories on CD-ROM are available which may be used to send direct letters with brochures to the leadership mentioned in this section.
The Mass Media
Media includes newspapers and magazines, radio, television and Internet. It is up to da'wah organizations and da'wah workers to raise funds and use the mass media to reach out to large numbers of people at "low cost" per person or per household. It requires a lot of money to buy time or space but it reaches a large number of people thus lowering the cost per person of reaching out.
Internet and E-mail discussion groups is the media of the nineties. Almost every religious group has a web page and informative literature posted on it.
Debates work on the principle of knocking out the opponent by exposing and attacking his perceived weaknesses, thus a very negative approach to da'wah. During the debate each side closes its mind and heart and builds walls to make themselves impenetrable. It has been heard some Christians saying that the Muslim debater was better prepared than the Christian side. The best of arguments fail to win hearts. However, debates make Muslims very happy about Islam and helps to reinforce their faith. Debates are entertaining to the Muslims and torture to the Christians; tortures never win hearts.
Dialogues work on the principle of each side presenting what it perceives to be the best and strongest arguments in his religion. There are no jibes and no attacks, if conducted correctly. The problem lies in organizing dialogues. Frequently, it is the Muslim side which organizes dialogues in their Islamic centers where 95% or more of the audience is Muslim. The Christian side gets a Muslim audience but Muslims get almost no Christian audience. If a dialogue has almost fifty percent or more of Christians it is a good format. Dialogues serve to remove mis-information and dis-information from the minds of Christians but they rarely bring anyone into Islam.
Excellence of Character
A Muslim who excels in all aspects of his life is more likely to win many hearts than the one who is mediocre. Muslims are supposed to be role models for humankind, meaning they should excel in knowledge, dedication to Allah, applying the moral code of Islam, fulfilling duties to others, excelling in their professions, being courteous and humble, controlling anger and emotions. This is the most effective way of inviting people to Islam.
Knowledge Requirements for Da'wah Workers
Any Muslim with some elementary knowledge of Islam can be a da'wah worker but his effectiveness will depend upon his maturity in approach. One should be honest, do not fake what one does not know. When arriving at the edge of one's knowledge take or refer the person to a more knowledgeable Muslim or a well trained da'wah worker. In general a Muslim da'wah worker, to be independent and effective, should have correct knowledge of Islamic aqeedah and be able to find Qur'anic references, if asked. Also, he should know Islamic practices (a'malus salihat) according to the Qur'an and Sunnah. Frequently, it is helpful to have the knowledge of beliefs and practices of non-Muslims from their scriptural sources and be able to show their internal and external inconsistencies. Internal consistencies mean contradictions within their own scripture and external inconsistencies mean contradictions with common sense and Islamic teachings.
Individual Effort vs Organizational Effort
An organization multiplies the effort of a person many-fold. However, everyone is not able to start an organization, in which case, find an Islamic organization and work with it. If no such organization is found, work individually until there are enough Muslims who are willing to work together in an organization. Most of the countries in the world have at least one da'wah organization publishing Islamic brochures; contacting and obtaining their literature will be helpful to a da'wah worker.
Da'wah is a duty of every Muslim which he or she must discharge to the best of his/her ability and to prepare to face Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala. The tools of da'wah vary according to one's ability, whether working alone or within an organization and the availability of adequate finances. The term da'wah has only one meaning, that is, interaction with non-Muslims to convey the message of Islam in words and treatment.
The work to reform the Muslims to practice Islam is not da'wah but islah or reform, reeducation and providing motivation to be better Muslims. Similarly, the term tableegh has the only connotation of delivering the message of Islam to non-Muslims. It is unfortunate that some people use the term tableegh but they do not fulfil its requirements; they busy themselves only partially in islah.
Da'wah Training Program
The Institute of Islamic Information & Education (III&E) has developed a training program for da'wah workers which can be given on location in the U.S.A. and Canada.