I actually have permission from Studio Ghibli to use this, so there!
A much needed and wonderfully articulate plea from Adil on the need for sharing Islam in the way it is mean to be done – this guy is all killer no filler, as evidenced by this, his third essential piece in a row.
Most faiths would accept that it is difficult or impossible for practitioners to get everything ‘right’ and observe everything they should without fail. Not inherently a bad thing; if getting everything right were tenable, many people would have nothing to strive for. However, most religions contain some core values which should really be observed in order to be a consistent adherent, and one of these may be sharing the faith. Already this might sound sinister to readers of a secular persuasion, but there should be no cause for worry. I cannot speak for other religions, but in Islam, sharing the faith need not entail ”pushing” your beliefs onto others, nor any sort of violent establishment of an ‘Islamic’ utopia facilitated by Creeping Sharia and a Stealth Jihad with some Taqiyya on the top. Sharing Islam, or ‘Da’wah’ can be well (I would argue, best) achieved by simply being a good human person and, by necessity a good example for your faith i.e. practicing what you believe in as confirmed by the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions:
And who is better in speech than one who invites to God and does righteousness and says, “Indeed, I am of the Muslims.” (Qur’an 41:33)
“BEHOLD, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards [one’s] fellow-men.” (Qur’an 16:90)
[The truly virtuous are] they [who] fulfil their vows, and stand in awe of a Day the woe of which is bound to spread far and wide, and who give food – however great be their own want of it – unto the needy, and the orphan, and the captive, [saying, in their hearts,] “We feed you for the sake of God alone: we desire no recompense from you, nor thanks: (Qur’an 76:7-9)
There is no compulsion in religion (Qur’an 2:256).(*Certain*Muslims are good at recalling this verse when defending Islam as being morally sound, but in practice may embody it to a very questionable extent.)
Here I suggest ideas for Muslims to consider regarding our behaviour leading to our becoming better Muslims and better people (which should be synonymous) who can show people (as opposed to just telling) that Islam has a valued place in the modern world. These are merely my opinions, but I feel that they are fairly in line with Islamic teachings, and certainly worth reflecting on. Do I consistently uphold the virtues below all the time or anywhere near? Of course not; but I would like to try, far away as I am from succeeding, and I think many of us could do much worse than having a go. Here, in no particular order are my top ten suggestions.
*(Throughout this article I refer to sections of the Qur’an and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). The bracketed names like ‘Bukhari’ and ‘Muslim’ are the names of the people who recorded the sayings.)
1) Have a moral code which actually translates into real life personal ethics
This can sometimes be a little awkward and people aspiring towards this in various ways sometimes have to be careful not to sound what people would term ‘preachy’ (I think many people have a slight guilty conscience which puts them on hypersensitive ‘detect preachy talk’ mode), but ultimately people will respect you if you do have a consistent and meaningful moral code. The sorts of things I have in mind are day to day things like: recycling, not dropping litter, picking up litter, boycotting battery eggs, voluntary work, giving blood, driving sensibly, buying fair-trade, supporting local family businesses/farms and so forth. Extend your ethics beyond just not buying stuff from Israel! There are endless possibilities. Show that you want to leave the world a better place than it was before you got there. Just imagine if being Muslim was synonymous with this sort of mindset and behaviour? How many Muslims today actually contemplate this, let alone care? Some, to be sure, but compare their numbers to the swathes of supposedly practicing Muslims who are virulently materialistic and subscribe to chav/’rudeboy’/’gangster’ culture as soon as they leave the Masjid? Try telling them that relationships with tens of ”kuffar” girls with a low self esteem and then marrying their illiterate cousin from a village in Mirpur is morally ‘questionable’; that speed limits exist for a reason; or that sovereign rings are a revolting waste of money which could be used to help others, or, more generally that there is nothing in their lifestyle whatsoever which is conducive to helping anyone barring perhaps their immediate family at best! ”But I pray Bro, I does Jummah Friday innit. And I eat halal too.”
What does it tell people when ‘practicing’ religious persons are not significantly and very obviously better in their ethics and moral choices in life then their non practicing or non religious counterparts? What does it say about the value of having a religion?
”And they give food, in spite of their love for it to the poor, the orphan, and the captive (saying): ”We feed you seeking Allah’s Countenance only. We wish for no reward, nor thanks” (Qur’an 76:8-9)
“What actions are most excellent? To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the sufferings of the injured.” (Bukhari)
Anas Ibn Malik quotes the Prophet (PBUH) as saying: “There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him.” In a narration in Sahih Muslim, it reads: “If any Muslim plants something or sows seed from which man, bird, or beast eats, it counts as sadaqa for him”.
“When you see a person who has been given more than you in money and beauty, look to those, who have been given less.” (Muslim)
“Women are the twin halves of men.” (Tirmidhi)
“Once a man, who was passing through a road, found a branch of a tree with thorns obstructing it. The man removed the thorns from the way. Allah thanked him and forgave his sins.” (Bukhari)
“Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.” (Muslim & Bukhari)
“Conduct yourself in this world, as if you are here to stay forever; prepare for eternity as if you have to die tomorrow.” (Bukhari)
“The human being does not fill up any vessel worse than his stomach.” (Tirmidhi)
2) Be ambitious and high achieving in a field which is conducive to Islamic ideals
Something pleasing to me about my own former University is the high proportion of Muslim PhD students there (albeit not as many in the pure sciences as I would like to see). There are many great careers out there but I think that academia is actually one of the best yet still overlooked one a Muslim can enter; would at least help expose the silly cliché held that religion stagnates people’s thinking; it is a genuinely helpful and useful career; certainly no shameless money grabbing escapade (in other words, the cashflow isn’t inexhaustible- but the role is respected!) and we raise the overall level of thinking in our communities. This is no elitism; there are many non academic jobs which are excellent and rewarding but I think I speak for more than myself when I say there needs to be more Muslim representation in academia; though ultimately what matters most is not our job titles but our personal and work ethics. Let’s make them good.
Another example of a job requiring greater Muslim representation is teaching (my own profession). Consider how many fewer young people would grow up to be Islamophobes if one of their mentors and role models as youths was a Muslim? Suddenly the credibility of the Daily Mail headlines would begin to wane compared the reality of the consistently practised values of a real life and caring but just person. Contrary to what many laypeople assume, even the most troubled and belligerent children actually look up to teachers much more then you would imagine.
But back to reality; how do many born Asian Muslims value non business, non medical, non engineering careers? Repetition that ‘this Dunya is a drop in the ocean’ is white noise when it comes from a person who won’t marry their offspring to someone suitably ”secure” i.e. without the income of a high paid doctor or equivalent. Unfortunately the way many Muslims view the ‘status’ of jobs is an absolute disgrace.
Vet: Wet? ”It pays like a doctor? Mashallah”
Businessman: Vat is ethical business? No matter. Brings in the cash. Mashallah.
Care worker: ”I would rather marry my daughter to an illiterate landowner from Mirpur with a penchant for bestiality and wife beating then let her set foot in the same room as that.”
Prior to my teaching career one of my aspirations was to be an environmentalist, and you would not believe the barely concealed disdain it received from supposedly otherwise pious Muslims because it wasn’t typically Asian friendly (Which sadly in practice usually takes precedence over what Islam says…but they pray so it must be fine!). One would think even the most dim witted ignoramus would put two and two together…something about saving God’s ever threatened creation? Making a world more habitable for God’s creation? Nope. It’s Not medicine, not engineering, not dentistry, not banking, not business. Not acceptable.
From personal experience even my current (I like to think perfectly respectable) profession is considered by some upper middle/upper class Muslim Asians to be a deficient one! An anecdotal piece of evidence to be sure but I was once told by a Pakistani girl that as an aspiring teacher I would not suitable husband material in the eyes of her family (and her own) because of the reputation and social status associated with the job! What effect did pointing out the clearly un-Islamic reasoning featured here have? Call out any Muslim who puts class-ism and their own cultural practices first and you’ll hear nothing but a variation of ”I know but…..” and nothing. That’s if you’re lucky. I have heard condemnation of marriages to people with perfectly secure, stable and professional but sub £50,000/year jobs on religious grounds that the man has to provide. Seriously.
(Clearly the author has no bitterness or personal baggage here. I assure you. None. Honestly.)
“Allah does not look at your appearance or your possessions; but He looks at your heart and your deeds.” (Abu Huraira: Muslim)
“The best richness is the richness of the soul.” (Bukhari)
“And (recall) when We took a covenant from the Children of Israel, (saying).. .. Worship none save Allah, be good to parents and kindred and orphans and those in need.. and speak aright and kindly to people, and establish salat and pay Zakat.” (Qur’an 2:83)
The Prophet said: Beware! Whosoever oppresses a non Muslim citizen or snatches (any of) his rights or causes him pain which he cannot bear, or takes anything from him without his permission, Then “I WILL FIGHT AGAINST SUCH A (MUSLIM) ON THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT” [Sunnan Abu Dawud, Volume No. 3, Page No. 170, Hadith No. 3052)
“The proof of a Muslim’s sincerity is, that he pays no heed to that, which is not his business.” (Abu Hureira: Tirmidhi)
“You will not enter paradise until you have faith; and you will not complete your faith till you love one another.” (Muslim)
“When two persons are together, two of them must not whisper to each other, without letting the third hear; because it would hurt him.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
3)Help people out and be reliable all the time
This should really be self explanatory and achievable with some effort and common sense, but the concept seems elusive to many Muslims who genuinely (I think) consider themselves very practising. True to the Quranic spirit we should strive to be helpful purely to benefit the other person(s) expecting no reward or even thanks. Regarding reliability, this one mainly goes out to my Pakistani friends…DROP THE CONCEPT OF PAKISTANI TIME! Yes, we laugh about it but in reality it gets pretty wearing. Turning up to just about everything several hours late gives the appearance of laziness, apathy, indifference and a vulgar lack of consideration. Some lessons from our European counterparts wouldn’t go amiss here (Half expecting an ‘imitating the kuffar’ based Takfir here). Let’s get punctual!
“No man is a true believer unless he desires for his brother that, what he desires for himself.” (Abu Hamza Anas: Bukhari & Muslim)
“The perfect Muslim is not a perfect Muslim, who eats till he is full and leaves his neighbours hungry.” (Ibn Abbas: Baihaqi)
“A father gives his child nothing better than a good education.” (Tirmidhi)
4) Show a good temper
The people I respect most in the world are the ones you can accidently bump into even if it means spilling their drink and they won’t bite your head off. They knew it was unintentional, so what justice would losing their temper bring? Even if someone does deliberately wrong them, they incline towards forgiveness. On some occasions, when people mess us about, we may not always get angry in the first place anyway because we are mellow. Which is great. But an even truer test of character is what we do when the red mist comes down. Let’s do the right thing, whatever people do. If someone say, insults Islam in the worst possible terms, if you do not rise to it, you either get their respect; or if the antagonist is a truly hard-line bigot who whose heart wont soften, they’ll just get really vexed that they couldn’t needle you; win-win. If you take nothing else from this point, heed and reflect on this:
No one rejoices in Muslim anger from insults towards Muslims as much as the insulters themselves. By having a tantrum over a petty insult all you do is alienate people from you and make the people who made you angry very very happy.
“Do not let your hatred of a people incite you to aggression.” (Quran 5:2)
“And do not let ill-will towards any folk incite you so that you swerve from dealing justly. Be just; that is nearest to heedfulness” ( Quran 5:8)
“Verily, it is one of the respects to Allah to honour an old man.” (Bukhari)
“I command you to treat women kindly…” (Bukhari)
“The strong person is not the one who can wrestle someone else down. The strong person is the one who can control himself when he is angry.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
“The most excellent Jihad is that for the conquest of self.” (Bukhari)
“Allah will not give mercy to anyone, except those who give mercy to other creatures.” (Abdullah b. Amr: Abu Dawud & Tirmidhi)
“Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith.” (Muslim)
5) Be a good listener
How pleasant does it feel when you have a conversation with someone who actually listens to you, and talks in terms of what you just said? How annoying is it when whatever you say is blatantly unacknowledged? A great way to demonstrate your character is to listen to what people have to say, and reply in a way which addresses and demonstrates that you understand them; and ask them what they mean if you are not sure instead of assuming what they mean, using it to ‘debunk’ them and then they get upset for you misrepresenting them. I am not specifically referring to debates or talking about Islam or anything here (thought it certainly applies; certain Muslim debaters seem to think wagging their head up and down saying ‘yeh yeh appreciate that’ and not trying to actually understand the other point of view counts as listening). Just anything.
“Allah has revealed to me, that you must be humble. No one should boast over one another, and no one should oppress another.” (Iyad b. Hinar al-Mujashi: Muslim)
6) Stand up for your convictions.
One of the weakest things I have done in life was to beat around the bush as a student when people asked me why I didn’t drink. ”In training for my next boxing match” ”Isn’t really my thing” ”I just love the taste of Orange juice.” All terrible excuses which people (understandably!) disregard and think ”Let’s get Adil wasted,” and then I would just have a much harder situation on my hands. What should I have said was: ”I’m Muslim, I don’t drink.” And that would have been it. Anyone who would then attempt to make me drink would be easily identifiable as poor friend material. We all have bouts of social awkwardness in our lives, but I have learnt from experience that the route of standing up for your convictions is usually the best.
Again, I do not advocate being ostentatious or judgemental; just honest and forthright. If you are in a group and someone sparks up a topic putting Islam or Muslims in a negative light, just pleasantly say ”oh I’m Muslim, I’m sorry you’ve had this impression/experience or whatever,” basically say whatever is relevant to address their point. Chances are they’ll back down. Seriously. Many people will say that they didn’t really mean it like that, or no offence meant, or something similar. And you should give them the benefit of the doubt and you can even kindly enquire about their concern in order to remove their discomfort and awkwardness which they are probably feeling. And if saying you are Muslim riles them; remain pleasant anyway, and politely excuse yourself if they really won’t speak to you objectively, saying that you don’t mind talking to them but not when they are this irate. Any bystanders will see that the moral high ground is yours. Easier said than done, but if you were silent or even reasoned back but not letting them know you are a Muslim yourself, the outcome would not be positive. Believe me, I know.
“The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then surely, he, between whom and you there was enmity(will become) as though he was a bosom friend.”(Qur’an 41: 34)
For, [true] servants of the Most Gracious are [only] they who walk gently on earth, and who, whenever the foolish address them, reply with [words of] peace; (Qur’an 25:63)
“Say what is true, although it may be bitter and displeasing to people.” (Bukhari)
“Strive always to excel in virtue and truth.” (Bukhari)
“He is not of us who is not affectionate to the little ones, and does not respect the old; and he is not of us, who does not order which is lawful, and prohibits that which is unlawful.” (Ibn Abbas: Tirmidhi)
“Be not like the hypocrite who, when he talks, tells lies; when he gives a promise, he breaks it; and when he is trusted, he proves dishonest.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
7) Avoid being ostentatious
This is a deal breaker. Yes we want to do good things, and yes we want to show that our beliefs are a driving force; but this does not provide licence to be obnoxious, bombastic or otherwise socially inept. If you consistently do gracious and helpful actions, people will see it, whether is apparent to you or not. If no person sees it, your maker does, and that should be enough. The same applies when debating or discussing Islam. For a (measured, I like to think!) rant about the way certain popularisers debate and conduct themselves please visit my article: 10 Problems with ”Dawahmen”
Worship God and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbour, the neighbour farther away, the companion at your side, the traveller, and those whom your right hands possess (i.e. Captives) . Indeed, God does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful. (Qur’an 4:36)
“The best of alms is that, which the right hand gives and the left hand knows not of.” (Bukhari)
8) Avoid causing discomfort to people
The rewards of causing discomfort or defensiveness to people in a debate or discussion might entail a cheap ‘ownage’ video but in reality, your cause goes nowhere and all you feed is your ego. So don’t do it. What do I mean by this? I mean that if someone enquires about the absence of wine with your meal why reply by telling them how revolting and satanic alcohol is and then reel out some statistics about alcoholism? ”No thank you, I’m Muslim, I don’t drink.” Easy. If they ask further, you can kindly and pragmatically answer any questions one by one. Again, this strongly applies in debates about faith. If your idea of Dawah is chasing someone on the street and cackling at them inanely because they cannot or will not define a philosophical term for you, what good have you actually done? Can you really tell God that you tried your best and reasoned using what is best?
9) Have fun and be sociable!
Yes, Islam prescribes many duties; but contrary to what some puritans seem to advocate, abstaining from fun is not one of them (maybe I am being harsh; they don’t say fun is Haraam itself just every activity that could conceivably lead to fun). If Muslims fail to socialise with people from all walks of life and have fun then what message is given? That the price of piety and is by necessity sacrificing any sort of personal fulfilment! So join in with social events, clubs, sports teams and the like and enjoy yourself! I am in no place to lecture anyone on Halal enjoyment here; use your conscience and Islamic understanding, know your limits, and people will respect the fact that you have a strong and defined world view which is no impediment to happiness and fulfilment.
“A Muslim who meets with others and shares their burdens is better than one who lives a life of seclusion and contemplation.” (Muslim)
“Mix with the people on the condition that your Deen is not jeopardized, and be jestful with the family.” (Bukhari, Chapter 81)
10) Have good knowledge and understanding of various Islamic issues
However excellent the example is which you set, you need to be able to explain how values which are universally considered as ‘good,’ are upheld in the Islamic tradition. If people do respect and admire your conduct and want to understand more about what makes you tick, you need to be able to answer their questions! Similarly, I believe that more of us (most certainly including myself) need a more comprehensive understanding of Muslim issues theologically, nationally and globally. If a non Muslim has concerns about Islam because he/she has seen articles and news footage showing Muslims killing, abusing and behaving in an ignorant manner, it doesn’t instantly make them a bigot and we need to remember that. Many misconceptions and misunderstandings about global issues are not actually that hard to explain, and open minded people will listen. It doesn’t take a scholar to explain say… the real roots of suicide terrorism; that acid attacks and ‘honour’ killings are by no means exclusive to Muslims; that the former Iranian president did not actually say that Israel should be wiped from the map; that the Israel-Palestine ‘conflict’ is simply one militarised state bullying and invading another which has no military whatsoever; and perhaps most importantly how most so called ”Muslim” countries are brutal secular regimes lead by corrupt dictators! One of the best sites for this information can be found here. I particularly recommend the articles on terrorism: http://www.loonwatch.com/
My Lord! Increase me in knowledge” [Qur’an, 20:114]
“The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” (Tirmidhi)
“Who are the learned? Those who practice what they know.” (Bukhari)
Many thinkers have devised arguments designed to prove that Islam is ‘true’ i.e. genuinely divinely inspired. And they are great, but in the absence of Muslims showing any of the above behaviours, what use are they? True, some people convert to Islam, in their words in spite of Muslims (”Thank God I found Islam before I found Muslims”- Cat Stevens) but if, from an outsiders perspective Islam doesn’t seem to have anything going for it anyway, then most people are unlikely to imagine that there is any remotely meaningful which warrants investigation in the first place.
Bertrand Russell said you should not judge a faith by its practitioners. And you shouldn’t; entirely. If someone does something clearly and blatantly contradictory to the commandments of the faith, then it obviously sheds no light on the religion. If you see someone munching a pork pie, drinking a bottle of wine and praying to a statue and claiming it to be in the name of Islam, no one would be inclined to attribute his behaviour to Islam (actions like terrorism and ‘honour’ killings are equally contradictory; in fact even more contradictory because in extreme circumstances i.e. starvation or extreme thirst alcohol and pork could lawfully be consumed while killing innocent people is never allowed). Still, this does not mean that the teachings of a religion and the actions of its followers are never interlinked. If doctrine and practice were never linked, then while one could not accuse a religion of causing problems, we couldn’t commend it for improving people either. Thus we have to accept that people will, at least partly judge a religion on what its followers do. Let’s forget about extremism, and terrorism and the overtly negative press that Islam sometimes gets for a moment and merely consider; if Muslims are ignorant, lazy, unhelpful or even indistinguishable from people outside the faith in terms of being valued human beings, what does that tell you? At the very very best it suggests to others that the religion has no particular value.
What if the adherents to a faith are overwhelmingly generous, kind, moral, fun, genuine and sensible too? If a man from the 7th Century could inspire people right here right now in to become the most valued members of society in the 21st Century, what better proof of the validity of his message could you ask for? At the very least, more people will have respect; not the tolerating sort of respect that most good people have for other ideas, but a specific appreciation of your faith and the way they see you follow it. Perhaps some of those people will be then inclined to ask about say, the intellectual basis of the religion, and you can demonstrate that too.
One thing I can confidently predict; you will NEVER make someone who is hostile or even indifferent to Islam miraculously convert, or even change their views by just trying to intellectually muscle them into a corner with lots of mathematical and scientific ‘proofs’ that Islam is correct. Either they will dismiss them on principle or search some anti Islamic sources for counterproofs, giving them far more credence and time, because they will want to believe them. I do not claim that arguments are useless, far from it, but they only work if the person respects your position in the first place. The only possible exception I might make is defending your beliefs from direct criticism made which if unanswered would undermine your position and vindicate the critic (but even this is not so much proving yourself right as much as showing criticism to be unfounded). But don’t think this will suddenly make them change their mind. Still, even if your critics do not suddenly share your beliefs, it may shake their conviction in their own arguments, and if you are kind and dignified they may ultimately respect you, after which you might find yourself in the previous scenario, where they have an open mind and an open conscience. But nothing meaningful will happen without genuine respect and modesty in my humble opinion. We should treat people better then what we feel they deserve and be willing to accept less then what we tell ourselves we deserve.
Asalamaleikum and have a most joyful and productive day