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How To Build People Up, Not Destroy Them While Teaching Faith

Dawah strategy for these troubling times based on the superiority of asserting Allah’s perfection (saying: Alḥamdulillāh) to glorifying Him above imperfection (saying: SubḥānAllāh)

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In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Grantor of Mercy. All praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.

A Golden Principle

When the Prophet ﷺ entered Mecca victorious, after 20 years of abuse and rejection by the Meccans, he recited the following blessed verses as he removed the idols from around the Ka‘ba, “And say truth has arrived, and falsehood has perished. Indeed, falsehood is bound to perish.” {17: 81} And from that moment onward, people flocked from every direction to embrace Islam in waves. Of course, a person may wonder: if falsehood is “bound” to perish, then why did it remain for so long? It is because truth had not yet arrived, at least not in equal force. Once the truth of Islam became manifest, allotting it an equal playing field with falsehood, there was no contest. Badiuzzamān Nursi (d. 1960), the great Turkish reformer and author of Rasāil-i-Nur (a 5,000 page commentary on the Quran), predicated his awe-inspiring contributions towards restoring Islam in modern Turkey on this golden principle; Muslims are more in need of building what is absent than demolishing what is present.

This is the Quranic formula for returning the ummah to health; focus on developing the good, more than destroying the evil. Similarly, when Allah listed for us which specific elements make this ummah so great, He said, “You are the best community ever raised for humanity – you promote good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah.” {3: 110} It should beg our consideration how the Quranic sequence always places promoting good before combating evil, perhaps hinting again that just as they must work in tandem, one should be a greater priority than the other. Our call to Allah – to be Quranic – must primarily cultivate good in people and society, and secondarily demolish the evils that plague them. If these proportions are not observed in our efforts, we will continue to struggle at transforming people’s hearts and minds the way the Quran once did, and the fruits of our labor will continue not resembling those of our Prophet (ﷺ). If this ratio is observed, perhaps we will soon realize – with many people, at least – that the presence of evil was merely a symptom of their problem, while the absence of good was its root cause.

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Online and in-person, we often find ourselves hurriedly responding to falsehood in uncalculated ways, squandering true opportunities for incremental positive change by the lure of a presumed quick-fix. Too often do we overlook the prophetic “haste is from Shayṭān” rule, lock ourselves into a cycle of reactionary rhetoric, and allow our protective passion for Islam skew our strategy. In management, experts commonly stress the importance of avoiding the ‘firefighting’ approach, where you are always consumed by the emergency at hand. It is a horrible approach, not only because it stunts progress, but more importantly because its endless nature renders it unsustainable and will eventually fail. Similarly, they say in sports that the best defense is a good offense because a boxer blocking in the corner will inevitably find a punch landing past his defenses. Likewise, the maxim in medicine has always been that prevention is better than any cure, because even effective treatment may leave behind irreparable damage.

The Awe of God

Our Prophet ﷺ brought the world a Quran that invested the bulk of its narrative in establishing God’s oneness, not in delegitimizing polytheism (though it certainly does). This Quran also nurtured in its reader’s spirit the magnificence of God, far more than it illustrated the futility of idol-worship, all because deepening your understanding of who Allah is will always outperform identifying who Allah is not, and because the second will naturally happen once the first has been secured. Similarly, Muslim theologians would traditionally highlight how consistently the Quran tends to assert the perfection of God in detail while negating imperfection from God in brevity, for obvious wisdom. Among this wisdom is that lingering on qualities wrongly attributed to God, even for the purpose of refuting them, can actually confer a degree of validity to them – for only if they were imaginable would they need to be disproven at such lengths. If while lauding a king or emperor, you began saying amidst your flattery, “Your highness, you are not a lowlife, nor a heathen, nor an idiot, nor a sewage worker, nor sexually impotent, nor are you repulsively ugly…” you may find yourself dismissed from the royal court for an extended tour of the dungeons below. ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) once flogged a poet for slander because he would say in his poetry, “And my two parents are not fornicators”. Though his words may seem to be defending his parents’ honor, volunteering them prematurely insinuates the possibility of this being imaginable about his parents, and hence required addressing. This would be identical to a child out-of-nowhere swearing he did not eat the chocolate in the cupboard, before anyone ever accused him, drawing by that great suspicion around himself.

Returning to the discussion on God, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ informed us that the “best of duā’” is asserting Allah’s perfection (saying: Alḥamdulillāh), deeming it superior to glorifying Him above imperfection (saying: SubḥānAllāh). I personally cannot help contrasting that model with the divinity polemics so prevalent in Muslim forums today, where too much of the discussion is a lifeless, doctrinal, checklist approach geared more towards offering sectarian membership than spiritual vigor.

The Love of Materialism

The Quranic method for rescuing people from the shackles of materialism was by flooding them with reasons to have a superior love for God, His company, and His reward. Consider the profound wisdom in not asking the human being to hate the pleasures of this material world, when Allah created this very human being with a hedonistic (pleasure-seeking) nature, and when he or she has not yet familiarized itself with any other form of fulfillment. Instead, what the Quran does is remind them of God’s perfect nature, His delicate dealings, His countless favors, His unique unparalleled nearness – evoking in people firm resolve to prefer Him and His pleasure over any inferior short-lived thrill. Ibn al-Qayyim raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) says in this regard, “If it proves too difficult for them to abandon sinning, then dedicate yourself to making Allah beloved to them by mentioning His favors, grace, kindness, perfect qualities, and majestic attributes. This is because the hearts were disposed upon loving Him, and so once a heart becomes captivated with loving Him, giving up sins becomes easy for it… The acquainted (with God) calls people to Allah by [devotion] through their material world, making it easy for them to comply. The ascetic, on the other hand, calls them to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) through abandoning their material world, making it hard for them to comply because being weaned off a breast that a person has been nursing from since he first came to his senses is extremely difficult.” [Al-Fawā’id: 1/169]

The Dilemma of Doubts

Solidifying faith in a person’s heart is exponentially more useful than eradicating doubt since the latter will never fully happen. Doubts are many time just blind spots in people’s understanding, and the things that we human beings understand will never surpass the things we do not; “and you not been given of knowledge but little” {17: 85}. It would be a perpetual project to dismantle every last doubt, as our lives are too short and our capacities too limited. This is not a call to blind faith or the illegitimacy of any doubt, but rather a recognition that some doubts can only be untangled by specialists and others may only be knowable to God. Therefore, the pragmatic solution is to verify the points of certainty and be anchored by those convictions as I learn further, so that life does not come to a screeching halt every time a new doubt surfaces in our minds. Our certainty would outweigh our doubt in those cases, and liberate us from the painful anxiety of always needing an immediate answer each time. We must focus on supplying ourselves and others with the concrete reasons for believing in the truth of Islam, as only that will immunize us against being rattled by doubts without end.

Numbness to Immorality

Perhaps many would agree that hardly any vice in our times contends with the hypersexuality that seems inescapable in every last movie, song, and advertisement. How then do we protect our families and communities from eventually finding this shamelessness normalized in their hearts? Certainly, cautioning against every last song and movie will not work, as the endless nature of this bombardment will outlast anyone’s endurance, and even his or her life. The only solution is in immunizing such hearts by cultivating in them the values of modesty, honest shame before God, and fear of His anger, through education and role-modeling. These may indeed be long-term solutions, but they far outperform the manual policing and constant condemnations that continue to fail us. We must trust that only this Quranic approach will deliver the desired results.

To that point, ‘Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said,

“The first to be revealed was nothing else than sūras from the mufaṣṣal (shorter chapters), which contain mention of Paradise and Hellfire. Then, once the people became inclined to Islam, the lawful and unlawful were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was ‘do not drink wine’, they would have said, ‘We will never give up wine’. And if ‘do not fornicate’ was revealed [first], they would have said, ‘We will never give up fornication’”. [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri: 4707]

Da‘wah: An Invitation

In the arena of calling non-Muslims to Islam, many sincere da‘wah veterans often express their regrets about spending much of their strongest years – their youth – in fiery argumentation. Their focus on identifying the inconsistencies of false beliefs dwarfed their effort in showcasing the marvelousness of Islam, and only decades later did they realize the futility of the former and the efficacy of the latter. As one prominent international caller said, “When someone has worthless sand in their palm and you attack it, this convinces them of its worth and increases their protectiveness of it. But when you simply present your diamonds, they usually tuck their sand-filled hand behind their back in shame and quietly loosen their fingers.”

In fact, this is precisely what the Prophet ﷺ would often do; when ‘Utba b. Rabi‘ā came offering the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ fortune, women, leadership, physicians, and anything else necessary to end his call – what was the prophetic response? He ﷺ was not thwarted by this array of personal offenses from his call to God, nor was he tempted to immediately disprove – though the Quran sometimes did – these baseless accusations of greed, lust, and insanity. Instead, he simply and respectfully said, “Have you concluded, O Abu al-Walīd? Then hear me out…” and proceeded to recite the opening verses from Surat Fuṣṣilat. ‘Utba did not just fail at the negotiation but was so moved by the Quran that he leapt at the Prophet ﷺ and placed a hand over his mouth, pleading with him in defeat to not recite any further. Considering the fact that we should all be calling to Allah in one capacity or another, we should critically consider if this Prophetic ratio of sharing-revelation versus crafting-refutation is reflected in our technique.

We must anchor the good more than we destabilize the evil

The Prevailing Paradigms

We must also trust this process when encountering the various secular philosophies of our modern era. Unfortunately, it is rare to find a Muslim focused on persuading people of the merits of a God-centric lifestyle, while many can be found fixated on combating atheistic liberalism head-on. Similarly, too few Muslims are dedicated to crafting compelling illustrations of how Islam best actualizes gender justice and social harmony, while many have endless energy solely for deconstructing secular feminism. Of course, we all see what this inverted strategy produces each time it is employed; more defensiveness and less willingness to embrace God’s guidance. Is this the desired result, or a bull’s eye on the wrong target? If we are truly invested in people’s wellbeing and salvation, we must recognize that it is not enough to critique the dominant narrative; we need to offer a better narrative. Colonialism and its foreign ideas, for instance, only invaded our worldviews after the collective Muslim heart and mind became colonizable. It was only after we deteriorated spiritually and intellectually did the political debacle of our civilization take place and the ideological invasions ensued. Recognizing this allows us to administer the proper remedy; reintroducing the reality of Islam and tirelessly reminding others about it, not attacking their current convictions and assuming they know better and are simply stubborn and defiant, or assuming that they will take a ‘leap of faith’ and resign to a directionless void before a superior alternative worth subscribing to is identified. It is noteworthy here to highlight the sad transitioning of the Muslim (and non-Muslim) world from one sociopolitical dogma to another in the past century, further proving that our vulnerability to endless -isms is more our disease than whichever particular ideology we are currently experimenting with.

Our righteous predecessors would prioritize educating the masses about the Sunnah, as teaching it will leave no room in Muslim practice for the infiltration of bid‘ah. But if we are duped into predominantly fighting each newly emerging bid‘ah, the few times we triumph may be followed with yet another bid‘ah replacing it to fill the void. It is also like telling our children “no” all the time, in that without detailing out for people where the “yes” spheres are, they will continue to expend their energy and curiosity in ways that you must object to, which further frustrates them towards rebellion, and the downward vicious spiral continues.

Final Thoughts

This is the way of Allah, and the way of His Messenger ﷺ, and I pray you develop your narrative around it as well.

Just as our testimony of faith contains negation (no God) and affirmation (but Allah), our narrative must never become one that is exclusively deconstructive or reconstructive. It must be a tandem, but in the proportions argued above – whether at a dinner table, on social media, or a podium. We must anchor the good more than we destabilize the evil. We must be credible and conversant in denouncing falsehood, but even more so in promoting truth. We must continue to be disapproving of darkness, but be even better at lighting candles. So much of our preaching falls short in that, and so much of our Islamic work is stifled by our delusions about its reality; a backbreaking feature of our ummah in the past century.

We must continue to be disapproving of darkness, but be even better at lighting candles.

It may be a simple oversight, but more likely the nature of our tense times and our pride for Islam tainted with egotism, which has produced this imbalance in us. The cure is to dig deep with difficult questions that nobody can answer for us; questions on our sincerity, the depth of our spiritually, and our distance from Prophetic compassion at heart.

May Allah help us stop seeing kindness as an endorsement of wrongdoing, and stop seeing sensitivity to people’s respective paces as compromise of our principles. May He accelerate positive change for this blessed ummah on our hands, and forgive us all for hindering that, especially the writer of these words whose actions that do not always match them, but reminding of the ideal will keep us feeling conflicted and working towards it inshā Allāh.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Graduate of English Literature; Translator for IIPH, AMJA, and Mishkah; Da'wah Director @ Muslims Giving Back; Student @ Mishkah University. More blessed than I know, and more than I deserve.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Sara E Huizenga

    April 26, 2019 at 11:38 PM

    This is so beautiful and true and I read this and comment here as a Christian, but more importantly as a believer in God and a part of all of His humanity. Thank you for the hope – may God and His goodness turn more hearts especially right now towards of most current importance the 1.5 million innocent children in Idlib, Syria whose lives are horrifically endangered by a godless global apathy world that focuses on division and betrays our most precious innocent gifts.

  2. Umm Al-Ameen

    May 2, 2019 at 9:33 PM

    Great article. Jazakumllah khayr.

  3. fouzia

    May 4, 2019 at 5:05 PM

    This is Alhumdulillah….May Allah reward the sincere intention..Ameen.

  4. Nunu

    May 5, 2019 at 8:36 AM

    Hamd allah Hamd Allah Hamd Allah
    Sub7an Allah Sub7an Allah Sub7an Allah

  5. Tahmina Haque

    May 7, 2019 at 1:57 AM

    Excellent article MashaAllah! Jazakumullah khair.

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