A REFLECTION AND RESPONSE TO ISSUES ON ISLAMIC DA’WAH, CHRISTIAN EVANGELISM, INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE, CONTEXTUAL USE OF ISLAMIC TERM, APOSTASY, REFUTING ALLEGATIONS AND CLARIFICATION ON PREVAILING MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ISLAM AND IT’S APPROACHES ON DA’WAH
- “I am referring to the recent controversy (May 2008) in Malaysia regarding the request by the Catholic Church, for their use of the term ‘Allah’ in their translation of the Bible and other religious tracts for their congregation (in Bahasa Malaysia) and the objection of the Malaysian Islamic Authorities. The court there has now allowed the matter to be forwarded for a judicial review in the civil court.
- My question for you is: ‘Does Islam have any objection for others of different faith from using this term? If it does object, (it seem obvious for most people to interpret from the Malaysian case which imply that only Muslims can use the name 'Allah'), why is this so? And if Islam does not object to this, how would you then explain the basis for their objection to it? Are they wrong? Or perhaps are there other plausible explanations to this issue which may not have been considered?
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.
Allow me to firstly lay down some fundamental points and background pertinent to discussing this issue so that we can have a clear overview of the matter, including explanations of other subjects, especially da’wah and inter-faith dialogue, which I feel is relevant that one needs to know, as it may clarify why certain views are held by Muslims – before directly answering your question. Things just do not occur without some historical background to it, and our understanding of things must not be left truncated. There has arisen much confusion on both sides, perhaps because too often we did not seek nor give clarification when terms are used by the other or by us, assuming that theirs and our understanding of it are similar, correct and sufficient since both sides use the same terms. Given the obvious that each religion do have philosophy and perspective, exclusive and unique to itself, such clarifications of any distinction (if present in terms commonly used) is very necessary in any inter-faith dialogue. I beg your indulgence with patience and tolerance as this exercise (elaboration) would only enrich us, if our purpose is in seeking truth and illumination, rather than engaging in mere disputation. We trust that every right thinking individual have the capacity to understand, so let each strive to have access to the truth, and have the courage and sincerity to face it and make their own conclusion, as no one else can compel us to believe in anything but ourselves. Be assured as the Qur’an states: “Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith; for the right way (truth) is distinct from error, (Qur’an:2:256)” and the Biblical adage: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. (John: 8:32)”
2.0 Proselytizing: Christian Evangelism and the Islamic Da’wah
Both Christianity and Islam are religions which seek to gain new converts through program towards “proselytizing” others. Christians usually use term like evangelism (from the Greek word which means “to convey the good news”) and for Islam; it is “Da’wah” (from the Arabic which means “call or invite”). And both regard these as part of their religious practices and can support their claim to these rights, respectively with clear scriptural sources. We are not disputing these rights.
When we are living in a multi-religious society, religious sensitivity has to be taken seriously and the manner of proselytising has to be looked into so as not to cause friction that can flare up into civil strife or even bloodshed. There must first be rules, to be adhered to by those who wish to engage in this, so that it can avert any possible conflict, enmity and chaos. It is because of the absence or lack of these ‘ground rules’ which those intending to propagate their faith have to abide by – as assurance against abuse that can be detrimental to social harmony - that prompted authority to simply disallow any such activity in some Muslim countries. It is not that Islam disallows other faith from proselytizing while allowing Da’wah to be done, as some people misinterpreted.
To the minds of Muslims, the early Crusade of the Christians justifying use of force and terror in converting people are not easily forgotten. The expulsion and forced conversion of Muslims together with the Jews in Spain and the infamous Inquisitions are well-documented history. Nor does it help when the Church authority then, claimed divine right for it by referring to scriptures. We now know that it was indeed misinterpretations of the Church leaders then, that was to be blame, but, what assurance can be given that it will not be misinterpreted again (for lack of explicit commandments)? Furthermore, the Catholic Church is not the only Christian church today and she has no authority towards independent churches (Protestants and Orthodox) with evangelical agendas, which are known to interpret Biblical teachings themselves – sometimes even radically. Also, there are numerous records of evangelists gaining converts through deceptive means, unscrupulously preying upon the plight of the sick and poor, and taking unfair advantage of the weakness of people. Some are known to notoriously use mind-control programming and other forms of manipulation, social and psychological forms of coercion and emotional blackmail etc. All these are well-known. Such unethical methods of overzealous Christians; spewing unqualified condemnation upon people who do not subscribe to their faith, often with methods that include reviling others of what they worship, had invited much complaints, even by people of other faiths, viz. Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, etc. not just the Muslims. Their method it seems has nothing to offer of any rational discourse, reasonable reasoning and civility. Even between Christian churches, enmity and accusations of such malpractices in proselytizing by so-called Evangelists from other denominations commonly occur. Christian Orthodox countries for example like Greece were offended because of Catholics proselytising in their country and had caused friction that they imposed a ban upon the Catholics from proselytizing, to avert enmity between their adherents. Churches had even been known to engage ‘deprogrammers’ to help member of their congregation whom they purported had been kidnapped and manipulated by another group which they accused to using ‘brainwashing’ techniques. Some may dismiss these as the work of cults or simply that “they are not Christians” or “we don’t consider them Christians!”, but Muslims do not and cannot be expected to know any difference between cults and accepted denominations. How could they, when even between Christians themselves they do not seem to have any agreement.
Why are these points important? It is because of these factors that Muslims are rather suspicious and would require assurance before agreeing to requests by Christian in matters that have relevance to evangelism and proselytizing in their country. It would be important to know and appreciate that in Islam, for Muslim doing “Da’wah” (or inviting others to Islam) on the other hand; they are already governed by clear and strict rules, which is unlike that of other faiths. It is because the others, notably Evangelists, do not seem to have any such ethics, nor are there any assurances that they too would comply with rules and principles like that of the Muslims when evangelizing; compounded with the notoreity of known cases of abuse amongst some evangelists; that Muslim authorities is justified to be cautious and would either totally disallow their proselytising activity in some Muslim countries, or to allow towards others but strictly forbidding them from preaching or attempting at proselytising towards any Muslims. (For full elaboration of this Muslim’s stand, policy and rationale towards Christian evangelism, see below, topic on: “Dispelling some misunderstanding about Da’wah”)
For Muslims, the stipulations of how Da’wah is to be done are already ‘chiselled in stones’ in the Qur’an, like a written Constitution. One Book undisputed and unconditionally accepted as the authority unanimously by every Madzaahib (schools of thought) amongst Muslims. As such, those who abuse or tend to overstep the boundary in proselytizing can be effectively corrected by referring them to it. And in Da’wah it states explicitly that, in inviting people towards Islam, Muslims:
- (a) Cannot use force nor deception; must tolerate those who reject and respect their right of choice; task of Da’wah only to convey, to present with evidence or proof for people to confirm for themselves; and must eradicate ignorance by discouraging them from following any belief blindly. The basis are:
لَآ إِكۡرَاهَ فِى ٱلدِّينِۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ ٱلرُّشۡدُ مِنَ ٱلۡغَىِّ
“Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from Error;”
(Qur’an: Al-Baqarah: 2: 256)
وَلَوۡ شَآءَ رَبُّكَ لَأَمَنَ مَن فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ ڪُلُّهُمۡ جَمِيعًاۚ أَفَأَنتَ تُكۡرِهُ ٱلنَّاسَ حَتَّىٰ يَكُونُواْ مُؤۡمِنِينَ وَمَا كَانَ لِنَفۡسٍ أَن تُؤۡمِنَ إِلَّا بِإِذۡنِ ٱللَّهِۚ وَيَجۡعَلُ ٱلرِّجۡسَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعۡقِلُونَ
“If it had been the Lord's Will they would all have believed all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind against their will to believe! No soul can believe except by the Will of Allah and He will place Doubt (or obscurity) on those who will not understand.”
(Qur’an: Yunus: 10:98-99)
وَلَا تَقۡفُ مَا لَيۡسَ لَكَ بِهِۦ عِلۡمٌۚ إِنَّ ٱلسَّمۡعَ وَٱلۡبَصَرَ وَٱلۡفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ كَانَ عَنۡهُ مَسۡـُٔولاً۬
“Do not follow a thing, in which you have no knowledge (understanding) in; for your hearing and your sight and your hearts (thoughts), all of them will be questioned (in the Hereafter).”
(Qur’an: al-Isra’: 17:36)
وَقَالُواْ لَن يَدۡخُلَ ٱلۡجَنَّةَ إِلَّا مَن كَانَ هُودًا أَوۡ نَصَـٰرَىٰۗ تِلۡكَ أَمَانِيُّهُمۡۗ قُلۡ هَاتُواْ بُرۡهَـٰنَڪُمۡ إِن ڪُنتُمۡ صَـٰدِقِينَ
And they say: "None shall enter paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian." Those are their (vain) desires. Say: "Produce your proof if ye are truthful."
(Qur’an: al-Baqarah: 2:111)
As can be seen in the above verses, (which by the way has remained unchanged and cannot ever be amended or repeal by any Muslim anymore), these are already stipulated upon all Muslims to abide by viz. cannot use force or any forms of deception, and must be based upon knowledge i.e. to present with evidence and it forbids people from following blindly. In Islam, we acknowledge goodness in every religion, but our concern has all along been about Truth. Islam is also referred to in the Qur’an as: دِينِ ٱلۡحَقّ “the religion of Truth” (Q: Saff: 61:9) and invites all to abide by the truth, not just those in Islam but it may be present in others as well. That is why Islam especially refers to those following Judaic and Christian tradition as People of the Book (scripture). And we do not deny that others too may also possess truth, but these should be verified through analysis of the clear evidence, not to rely on mere claim; lest, myth, absurdities, superstitions, unverified assertions, innovations, whims, conjectures, etc. are also accepted as truth. And we Muslims are commanded to always uphold justice. This requires us to analyse evidence FROM them, from their own sources, to consider their explanations if any, with justice and not try to concoct or extraneously purport any lie just to win an argument, like what many have done towards Islam in their so-called ‘objective criticisms.’ They are engaging in mere disputation. We are never to be like them in our Da’wah. This is what is meant by the Qur’anic injunction, when debating them, Allah s.w.t. commands: “And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation) “(Q: 29: 46)
- (b) Must be with wisdom; educative (preaching, exhortations), and if need be, with debates or disputations but must be in fair (in the sense of justice – al-‘adl)) and gracious and goodly manner (al-iHsan).
ٱدۡعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِٱلۡحِكۡمَةِ وَٱلۡمَوۡعِظَةِ ٱلۡحَسَنَةِۖ وَجَـٰدِلۡهُم بِٱلَّتِى هِىَ أَحۡسَنُۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعۡلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِۦۖ وَهُوَ أَعۡلَمُ بِٱلۡمُهۡتَدِينَ
“Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. For thy Lord knows those who go astray from His path, and best He to know who are upon the Guidance.”
(Qur’an: An-Nahlu: 16:125)
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَأۡمُرُ بِٱلۡعَدۡلِ وَٱلۡإِحۡسَـٰنِ وَإِيتَآىِٕ ذِى ٱلۡقُرۡبَىٰ وَيَنۡهَىٰ عَنِ ٱلۡفَحۡشَآءِ وَٱلۡمُنڪَرِ وَٱلۡبَغۡىِ
“Verily Allah does command towards the upholding of Justice, the doing of good, liberality towards kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, injustice and rebellion.”
(Qur’an: an-Nahlu: 16: 90)
وَلَا تُجَـٰدِلُوٓاْ أَهۡلَ ٱلۡڪِتَـٰبِ إِلَّا بِٱلَّتِى هِىَ أَحۡسَنُ إِلَّا ٱلَّذِينَ ظَلَمُواْ مِنۡهُمۡۖ
"And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation) unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury)."
(Qur’an: Ankabut: 29: 46)
The manner of calling or inviting are clearly specified, and as to whether people accept or not, Muslims are told leave the matter to the individual themselves, for Allah knows – so Muslims must not be emotional if rejected but respect the basic right of people to choose. After all it is to God that they will be accountable to. Another important aspect is the command to uphold justice. Dialogues should be civil and respectful, and can lead to debates and disputes, as long as it is done in kindly manner. Muslims are strictly reminded never to exceed the bounds of justice.
- (c) Must respect rights of others to their worship, although different from Islam, and commanded to safeguard social harmony by not reviling whatever is regarded as sacred objects which they worship.
وَلَا تَسُبُّواْ ٱلَّذِينَ يَدۡعُونَ مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّواْ ٱللَّهَ عَدۡوَۢا بِغَيۡرِ عِلۡمٍ۬ۗ كَذَٲلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمۡ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّہِم مَّرۡجِعُهُمۡ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُواْ يَعۡمَلُونَ
“Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance. Thus unto every nation have We made their deed seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return and He will tell them what they used to do.”
قُلۡ يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلۡڪَـٰفِرُونَ لَآ أَعۡبُدُ مَا تَعۡبُدُونَ وَلَآ أَنتُمۡ عَـٰبِدُونَ مَآ أَعۡبُدُ وَلَآ أَنَا۟ عَابِدٌ۬ مَّا عَبَدتُّمۡ وَلَآ أَنتُمۡ عَـٰبِدُونَ مَآ أَعۡبُدُ لَكُمۡ دِينُكُمۡ وَلِىَ دِينِ
"Say: O ye that reject Faith! I worship not that which ye worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your Way, and to me mine."
(Qur’an: Al-Kaafirun: 109:1-6)
With these principles as guideline, the basic and fundamental right of people to choose a religion of their choice must be respected; their forms of worship must not be reviled and the Da’wah approach must refrain from being offensive to what may be regarded as a religious sensitivity that when disturbed, may bring about rancour, blind rage and unleash similar taunting in retaliation. All these principles emphasise that, Islam regards harmonious and peaceful co-existence as a foremost concern to be guarded although we have to invite them all to the way. It is the manner of calling that must be our main concern, rather than the gaining of new adherent. Thus patience and tolerance are vital. In the Qur’an, Muslims are repeatedly told that it is Allah that guides people to the faith, and that the duties of even the Prophets (may peace be upon them) are only to deliver the message in the best manner.
Perhaps by understanding this background, it is hope that people do not continue to misinterpret Islam and Muslims; and not continue to simplistically conclude that the ways of Da’wah is exactly similar to Christian evangelism. For although both these religions (Christian and Islam) advocate efforts towards proselytizing as an agenda, yet between Muslim understanding and approaches of Da’wah and Christian’s Evangelism, there are differences that need to be noted and appreciated. Especially the concern for religious tolerance (termed “tasaamuh”) amongst people in a multi-religious society – as was demonstrated by the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. in Madinah. Too often Christian’s demand for fairness in proselytizing their faith in Muslim countries do not come with their assurance of abiding to similar rulings as that of the Muslims’, whereas Muslims are already under obligation to abide by these. How can the Muslim accede to Christian’s demand for similar right to doing it? To merely demand for equality to proselytize, without acknowledging the inherent dissimilarity in their method which needs to be corrected first, would not be doing justice. Without levelling the field and yet clamour to participate just because both seems to have similar agendas, it would be like insistence in ‘comparing apples with oranges.’
TO BE CONTINUED ..........."3.0 Da’wah and inter-faith dialogue"