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Don't Compromise; Emphasize the Difference
The caller to Islam must first recognize and believe that Islam opposes some aspects of the western-style societies. They are opposites. He/ she must use this very difference and know that it is to his or her advantage.
Americans who embrace Islam are wanting a different and better life than this society provides. Therefore we Muslims will succeed if we present Islam (in all its differences) as the complete solution to countless present problems. On the other hand, if we compromise and try to make Islam more acceptable to non-Muslims, we lose in the long run. We will not be pleasing Allah by changing His Word. Indeed, anything less than complete Islam does not produce results. Allah has warned us against taking some verses (ayaat) and rejecting others.
This does not mean that we push new people to do everything required in Islam on the first or even the 100th day. The Prophet's (pbuh) sayings warn us:
This religion is powerful; enter into it gradually. Indeed the over-strict are lost, the over-strict are lost.
Every individual has a different rate of learning, changing and growing in faith. We have to accommodate their direction and pace, and try to ease their adjustment into the Muslim society.
Know what to Say
Before we can talk to non-Muslims about Islam, of course, we have to know where to start. When talking to Christians we can discuss two topics: Bible and Christianity or Qur'an and Islam. If you have good knowledge of both, then you should probably start with the belief of the person with whom you are speaking. It is very important that you do not talk about Christianity if you don't have a good knowledge about it; you may be made out a liar or stupid at best. You can win or lose trust and respect on just this point. Once you have made an obvious avoidable mistake, your credibility is shattered. Why should anyone believe you after that?
In general, I believe that for the goal of 'reverting' someone you must first lead that person to disown his own religion (i.e., belief that Jesus (PBUH) is Divine, etc.) before you can offer Islam as a replacement. Otherwise, he/she will most likely conclude from our discussion that Islam might be a good moral religion, possibly acceptable before God but for you and not for him/her because he/she still believes that Jesus died for his/her salvation.
The second option, talking exclusively about Islam and the Qur'an, would be preferred in two circumstances: first, if you don't have knowledge about Christianity and Bible; second, if the person being spoken to doesn't believe that Jesus is God or the Son of God or that the Bible is the answer. In the second case the person is ready or the next step: Islam.
Again, knowledge about Islam is very important. Start the talk with things which are less likely to cause disagreement (Ex. Tawhid, Greatness and Power of God, His Love and Mercy, etc; using the word 'God' instead of 'Allah' so the person will not think Allah is an idol or some foreign god; save explanation of God for another time; birth, miracles and the second coming of Jesus (pbuh); that Jesus is one of the five greatest prophets; etc). Subsequent discussions might include an introduction to the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the basic beliefs and salvation in Islam. Most of all, take it easy and don't try to 'revert' someone overnight! Besides, how anyone receives the message of Islam rests with Allah (SWT), and not with us.
The Best Approach
The best and most beneficial instructions we can give is our example. By our example Islam is proven to work. If we do not live by Allah's commands how do we expect anyone to trust our word that Islam possesses the truth and the solution to their problems? One of the most frequent excuses for leaving the church is the church members' hypocrisy. How do we expect to attract them to our mosques if we are no better at practicing what we preach?
We have a difficult task in combating misinformation about Islam and Muslims because the Muslims who tend to be 'visible' are those who date, frequent bars or parties, and may not even know about Islam. The practicing Muslims are in hiding. Many of them are afraid to speak up or speak out. Many continue their lives without any thought of their neighbors or colleagues.
Opportunities for Da'wah
Opportunities for Da'wah are limitless for the person whom Allah blesses with a love of Islam and a desire to share His Message. Every time someone stops me in the store and asks me a question, I have to thank Allah (for my hijab, my visibility (We have already talked about our example as Muslims). Places of da'wah can be in a supermarket while shopping or standing in line to pay, at work or at school. Even doctor's waiting rooms, airport lounges or anywhere you are waiting for something. You can start with talking about your country if you have immigrated. Make it obvious that you like to be questioned and that you won't think anyone rude to ask you anything.
How can you start a conversation with a stranger? First, if you make yourself approachable repeatedly, the other person will start the talking. Some of the ways to do this are to smile, say 'Hi', or 'cute child!' or 'working hard?' You would be surprised how effective just smiling can be! Begin a conversation about anything; the weather or something work- or job-related. If children are present ask how old they are, their names, etc.
Many Americans are curious about us but are too polite to ask. Most think that they will offend or bother us. Therefore it is up to us to show that we are happy to speak with them. Don't be insulted if people stare or ask stupid things. Just explain the truth politely and maybe joke about it to put them at ease so that they can ask more questions. Many children stare or say something to their parents about my hijab. I smile at the child and mother and say to the child, "You've never seen anyone dressed up funny like me before, have you?" This stops the parent's embarrassment, puts her at ease and allows further talk if desired. It's important for people to see Muslims as nice and happy with themselves and their religious duties, not bad-tempered and strict. They should look at us and develop a curiosity to know what makes us happy and content.
Steering the Conversation
After a conversation has been started, you can steer it to some aspect of religious practice. It is easy for me because I usually have my children with me wearing hijab (which stirs curiosity) and I am American. When I am asked where I am from I say, "Oklahoma". I continue to explain that "I am American but I dress the way because of my religion. Have you heard about Islam or Muslims?" There! Conversation started. It's a good idea to always carry a few good pamphlets with you for situations when there is no time for a long talk (like in the store).
Many subjects/news about Muslim countries can also lead to the subject of Islam; especially the politics right now.
Another helpful, educative way to introduce Islam to your non-Muslim guests is to, while serving refreshments, explain that generosity to guests, is from our Islamic manners, from Prophet Mohammad's (pbuh) sayings.
In all cases while talking to those who have not approached you for religious convention you must use your judgment on those most likely to respond. Anyone not interested is a waste of time.
The Way to Talk and Listen
Smile and speak simply. Be friendly and understanding of their viewpoint as well as respectful. Don't argue. Remember Allah says, "Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and discuss things with people in the best manner." (16:125) Try to always speak one on one. People are more likely to listen and accept if they don't have an audience (peer pressure).
When time permits (not waiting in a checkout line), ask questions to him/her to find out what he/she believes about the nature of God and Jesus. Listen to the answers and respond accordingly so you don't waste time disproving something they already don't believe in. Some people don't believe in the trinity. It would be futile discussing trinity from and Islamic perspective with such a person. But, if a person believes Jesus to be the Son of God, then this question should be answered before talking about Islamic prayer, fasting, etc. Keep control of the conversation without the person being aware of it. This doesn't mean that they shouldn't talk. It means steering the convention in the direction desired. Politely bring the topic to an end if the person begins trying to convert you, or when they are no longer receptive of the Islamic view.
Don't try to say or conclude everything at one meeting. There may be several years of teaching for the belief to change. Give them time to think about your words and the proofs you have brought.
Which Pamphlets, Booklets to give?
The type of literature you give depends on the individuals needs. If the person still believes or has doubts about the divinity of Jesus, give pamphlets or short books on that subject. If he/she is past that point, give pamphlets or simple books on the basics of Islam and the life of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). Of course, the depth of materials given should be commensurate with the age and background. The book you give to a college professor would obviously be different than for others less educated. In general, I do not like to pass out the Qur'ans to new prospects. I don't believe they are ready, and I think giving small books that discuss the Qur'an is better. Allah has told us that unless a person's heart is open to His message he/she will not be benefited from it. American Christians have been taught to interpret the scriptures for themselves. Just look at how these evangelists distort the Qur'an's message in debates. It takes more to see the wisdom of Allah's warnings. Small books or brochures such as "The Qur'an's Basic Teachings" or "Glimpses from the Holy Qur'an" would be adequate to guide the reader to a more effective study and understanding.
It's also very important how the information is presented in print as well as orally. Remember Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) admonition not to insult other's religion. Others would not say anything to insult Allah and Islam if we keep from insulting their religion. How would you react to someone sarcastically criticizing the Qur'an or Prophet or Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)? Would you keep quite and try to understand his viewpoint? Of course not! You would get very upset and your emotions would rule instead of your reason. The same thing is true for Christians. This brings us to the subject of Sheikh Ahmed Deedat. Masha Allah, he is a very good, active, and knowledgeable scholar. But in order to use his knowledge, you must change his language. For a person new to Islam, do not use debate videos or booklets by Deedat. Use his valuable information but put it in nice words. Sarcasm and insulting words put people on the defensive instead of making them think, understand, and accept. After you have spoken with the prospect a few times and have gotten to know him then you can give our Deedat's materials with an apology for the sarcasm.
The Real Task
Finally, we come to the most critical stage in Da'wah. When a person accepts Islam and recites the shahada, the easy part is over! After that, the struggle between Belief and Action has begun. Again, remember the hadith we began with:
He who makes this religion difficult will be broken by it.
This religion is powerful; enter into it gradually.
Go slowly. Don't' rush. Correct attitude as needed but don't criticize.
Praise small things and provide encouragement at every step. Allah told the
prophet Muhammad (pbuh): "It is part of the Mercy of Allah that you deal gently
with them. Were you severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken aeay from
about you; So pass over (their faults), and ask for Allah's forgiveness for
them" [Qur'an 3:159]. We have to follow the Prophet's example.
As faith and knowledge grow, practice grows too. Be patient and available to help. Try to understand any difficulties that may arise. For up to one whole year I myself could not say the word 'Lord' without thinking it to mean Jesus. In addition, I used to have 'panic' attacks asking myself, "What if I am wrong?". Years of memory and training cannot be erased overnight. Everything must be reprogrammed, and that takes time. Reassure the new Muslim that these doubts and problems are a normal part of shedding years of wrong training, and it will pass, inshaAllah. Try to find ways to ease problems by giving and using examples of proven solutions from other reverts or community practice. By all means, don't leave them alone. If you don't have time to spend with them ask another Muslim to help.
Don't encourage frequent non-Muslim family visits until his faith and knowledge strengthens. New Muslims need time away from the influence of western societies to gain strength. They need time for their new faith to take firm root in their heart.
May Allah guide and help us in our work. Ameen.