Reflections of an American Muslim
|INVITATION TO AL-ISLAM|
|Written by Dr. Shahid Athar|
"Iqra" or to recite, was the first command of God to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Several months had passed after the first revelation and no new revelation had come, which made him very depressed. Then the Surah Al-Mudathir was revealed "O you wrapped up, arise and warm." It was time now that Islam must spread from the first few, his family, his close friend and his servant to masses in general. The gift had to be shared with the rest of humanity.
Prophet Muhammad's role has been described in the Quran in many ways, but the verse which describes his duties in the best way is, "O you prophet, we have sent you as a witness, a news bearer, and a warner and someone who invites people towards to God, by His permission" (33:45). His responsibility was also made clear, "O Messenger, make known whatever has been sent down to you by your Lord and if you do not do so, you have not conveyed this message" (5:67).
Thus it became a responsibility for him and for all his followers to convey the message of Islam. However, his job was not to make people Muslim, but only to deliver the message. "It is not required of you (O Muhammad), to set them on the right path but it is God who guides whom He wills" (2:272).
Once we have correctly communicated the message, our obligation is over. Faith is a seed which God puts in the heart of the believer. It is up to us to nurture it to a mature plant or suppress it with weeds. After being given the permission to invite people to Islam, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was told how to do it. "Invite (all) to the way of Your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. For Your Lord knows the best, who have strayed away from His path" (16:125). The tools of Islamic Missionary Work are:
CHARACTER OF A MUSLIM PREACHER
The Muslim preacher has to show the example of highest level of character. The Quran could have been placed on the top of mountain and seekers of guidance could have climbed to seek knowledge. What was the need for a prophet. When, after death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), some folks who never met him, came to Ayisha, his wife, and asked her to describe his character, she asked, "Have you not read the Quran?" When they said they had, she continued, "He was a living example of the guide book revealed to him. "Verily in the messenger of God, you have a good example who looks towards God and last day and mentions God many times" (33:21). The Prophet himself has said, "I have been sent to perfect your moral conduct."
BELIEF IN THE PRODUCT
A Muslim preacher has to have highest and strongest level of faith in God in his or her heart which is reflected in his or her actions. There is no way a preacher can convince others about the product (islam) if he or she has some doubts in himself or herself about it. That is why a preacher has to strengthen his or her faith first before he or she sets out for missionary work as he or she may be faced with people who will put questions in his or her mind.
KNOWLEDGE OF ISLAM
This is essential especially from the Quran and sunnah. The Muslim preacher should know the Quran; if not by memory, then he or she should be able to know, i.e., what section deals with divorce, wine, etc. He or she should make his or her own notebook. A Muslim preacher should know the major Traditions, especially the situation of how the Prophet dealt with certain situations. He or she should also be versed in other religions so as to give a comparative analysis. He or she should be armed with the knowledge of The Quran and whatever else be needed; i.e., Knowledge of Science and Medicine to engage in intelligent scientific Islamic discussion.
PERSISTENCE IN MISSIONARY WORK
This is very crucial to success, never give up. Even if you spend all your life, never lose hope for Mercy of God. Even prophets were not successful in some areas, Noah for his son, Abraham for his father, Lot for his wife, Muhammad for his uncle. And when Jonah lost hope and left his folks out of despair, he was punished by God, so the message is keep doing what you are doing irrespective of rejection, but ask God for help. Let us discuss some of the qualities of a Muslim preacher.
Muslim Preachers are Teachers
They teach Islam to the ignorant. Good teachers never gets angry at their students, but encourages them even in their weakness. Teachers have to do lots of hard work and have patience. That is why in Surah al-Asr, patience is stressed, since without patience one cannot teach the Truth. And again, teachers have to have good knowledge of the subject.
Muslim Preaches are Soldiers
Soldiers are always ready, so should Muslim preachers be because this is a full time job. Soldiers are always armed, so should be and should arm Muslims with knowledge of Islam (the Quran and sunnah). Soldiers have a mission in life, so should Muslim preachers. The purpose of life on this earth is to establish God's religion.
Muslim Preachers are Salespeople
Muslim preachers are a salespeople, smiling and sweet-talking salespersons. If salespersons fight and argue with the customer, do you think people will buy the product. Salespersons are also persistent and never satisfied until they have sold the product. Good salespersons are the one who provides service for the product after they sell it. Thus, Muslim preachers should continue to look after the customer. Good salespersons are friendly, so should Muslim preachers be friendly. "God has purchased of the believers, their persons and their goods, for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise)" (9:111). Good salespersons should continue to service the product. As a result of our missionary work and guidance from God, if one becomes a Muslim, do we follow-up with that person? Do we help that person and support him or her in remaining a Muslim?
Muslim Preachers are Physicians
Like physicians, they should be able to diagnose the illness in the heart of unbeliever/disbeliever and be able to prescribe a remedy in an appropriate dose. They know the medicine is "Oh mankind! there has come to you direction from your Lord and a healing for the disease in your heart for those who believe in guidance and mercy" (10:57).
PROBLEMS OF ISLAMIC MISSIONARY WORK
Just as Islam is spreading in non-Muslim countries, Christianity is spreading in Muslim countries by two different methods. While we have a better product, they cater better to humanitarian needs of the poor and destitute in Muslim countries, which should have been our priority to begin with. Christian missionaries are spending thousands and millions of dollars in Muslim countries in relief work, in establishing schools, col- leges and hospitals. Are rich Muslim countries and individuals doing the same in non-Muslim countries? Most of the leaders of Muslim countries were educated in a missionary or western school. Thus taking care of the poor, the sick, the widow and orphan is and should be part of Islamic missionary work to non-Muslims.
Similarly, missionary work in the prisons need re-evaluation. Out of 1,000,000 inmates in this country, 200,000 are Muslims who entered prison as non-Muslims, but received guidance while serving. Their needs are more than lectures, books and brochures. They are human beings. Their families usually abandon them when they accept Islam. Someone needs to write to tell them: We love you and when you come out, we will help you re-enter the society and give you financial and social support.
Through "The Quran Account," a charitable organization for education, we have helped 4,000 of them in the last 10 years by providing them such support along with educational tools. We also need to fight for their Islamic rights of having permissible food, time for performing the prescribed fast, Friday congregational prescribed prayer, etc. If we do not absorb them into society, most likely they will go back to crime, prison and to disbelief.
The obstacles to the efforts of missionary work are not from the CIA, US. Government, or evangelists, but from we Muslims, in showing Islam in its true meaning and example: a) the secular Muslim who may be a good human being, but is devoid of rituals of Islam nor he can identify himself with Muslim cause, b) the traditionalist who does all rituals and details of sunnah, but does not know the philosophy of Islam. He has not come out of the first 100 years of Islam and cannot relate to problems of modem society. They have good intentions but not "the beauty and wisdom of beautiful preaching." While the second category is not fit to give missionary work, the first one himself is most deserving of our attention.