Errors in the Current Mode of Preaching
By: Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Preaching), the word instantly calls to mind the methods and devices long since popular among Muslims for propagating Islam. When a certain approach to a problem becomes time-honoured, people find it almost impossible to think of that problem without at the same time thinking of that approach to it. The approach looks so natural that anyone wanting to solve that problem automatically adopts it. Even a person who resolves to avoid taking it, sooner or later finds himself insensibly drawn to it. We, therefore, think it necessary to point out first the shortcomings of the prevalent mode of preaching Islam.
The shortcomings are of two types: conceptual and practical. In other words, the philosophy and the methodology are both wrong. That is the reason why most of the efforts made to spread Islam, far from advancing the cause of Islam, have actually damaged it. We shall begin by examining the theoretical errors.
1. Communalistic Angle of Vision
The most egregious mistake of the propagators of Islam consists in their failure to understand correctly the stance of Islam, and, consequently, in their failure to present Islam in the light in which the Qur’an had presented it. According to the Qur’an, Islam has been the religion of God since the world was made. Every prophet that came, no matter where and when, preached Islam. Peoples of the world kept disfiguring Islam and playing tricks with it and God kept renewing and reviving it by sending more prophets until, through Muhammad, the last of the Prophets (pbuh), He revealed it in its complete and finished form, making it proof against any kind of change, garbling, or interpolation. Contained now in the Qur’an, this religion of Islam is not the religion of any one particular community, but the religion of the whole mankind. He who believes in it is a Muslim, he who does not is a non-Muslim. It does not discriminate against any prophet, does not deny the other books revealed by God, and does not assert its absolute superiority over the other divinely-revealed religions. It only claims to be an accurate and reliable compilation of the teachings — brought to perfection — of all the prophets.
Our preachers and writers, however, presented Islam as the religion of the Muslim community only and, as such, as a religion hostile to the other religions. To prove its authenticity they poked fun at the other divine books and ridiculed even those of their teachings which, as Muslims and as believers in all the prophets, they ought to have been the first to affirm. With the Holy Prophet (sws) they compared other prophets and sought to establish their inferiority to him whereas the Qur’an explicitly forbids Muslims to accord any prophet absolute superiority over the others and tells that each prophet was endowed by God with some distinction peculiar to him only. The distinctive aspects of the prophethood of Muhammad were described by the Qur’an in specific terms and the Holy Prophet warned Muslims against claiming for him absolute pre-eminence over the other prophets.
But it was with a blind communalistic zeal that Muslims presented Islam and Muhammad (sws) before the world. The blunder was made not only by the ordinary preachers, pulpiteers, and writers but also by those illustrious authors whose books were, for Muslims and non-Muslims, the only means of understanding Islam. Take a look at the books written by these authors and you will find in them so many venomous utterances about the other prophets that you will be driven to conclude that, like Jews and Christians, Muslims too have developed the pernicious habit of discriminating against certain prophets. Literature and oratory of this brand were enthusiastically received by the Muslim masses because they humoured their communalistic pride and vanity. On the contrary, men whose books and speeches lacked this seductive quality failed to win a name or even to attract the attention of the people. They remained unesteemed by the populace and unappreciated by the elite.
It is true that this poisonous literature was produced largely in response to the provocation offered by certain foul-spoken non-Muslims, but the blame really rests on Muslims in so far as they returned evil for evil. Their imprudence bred ill-will in the hearts of non-Muslims, rendering them incapable of regarding Islam as a religion which was only meant to remind them of the truths they have forgotten and to make over to them the legacy of their own prophets; they took Islam as a rival religion which desired to rob them of their own religion and impose itself upon them.
2. Trivial Issues
Secondly, Islam was not presented as a system of life which binds in a unity all the problems — personal and collective, doctrinal and practical — of life and solves them in a rational and natural manner. Instead, our preachers and controversialists placed the greatest emphasis on a set of certain issues which had cropped up as a result of Muslims’ religious conflict with Christians and Hindus. The issues, for example, of the eternity of matter, reincarnation, the divinity of Christ, and the Trinity. Issues like these tickle only a handful of professional disputationists whose real achievement consists not so much in having solved them as in having made them more tangled. To try to convince such people is to waste one’s time and energy. But our preachers spent their lives in waging wars over such issues. They never for once stopped to think that these issues interest only a few polemicists who do not want to solve them but to further complicate them. They never realized that the world today is facing an altogether different kind of problem, upon the solution of which hinges its salvation, and that any religion which offers a satisfying solto them will become the religion of the entire globe. If, in a world which has depleted its stock of devices for tackling its social and collective problems, if in such a world Islam had been introduced not merely as a set of certain dogmas and rituals but as a complete code of life, it would have been a different world today. But those Muslims who preached Islam or wrote about it probably entertained a Christian view of religion, namely that it is no more than professing a few articles of faith and has no positive bearing on the practical aspects of life. No wonder that the intelligentsia of the world, who had closed their ears to the meaningless hair-splitting of the Christian thinkers, showed complete indifference to the propositions of Islam, and all that great hullabaloo about propagating Islam was ultimately reduced to an ineffectual clamour of a few individuals. Wastage of time and money was the only outcome.
3. Barren Literature
Thirdly, all our literature on Islam belongs to one of these four categories. It is either purely academic, or polemical, or apologetic, or theo-scholastic. None of these, it may boldly be stated, serves any useful purpose in the preaching of Islam. Academic works do have their utility for men wanting to attain mastery of some particular aspect of Islam, but they are not written with a view to spreading religion, nor do they possess the charm and merit which propagative literature must have. Polemical works deal with a few specific problems which afford no idea whatsoever of Islam. They contain all those qualities which repel instead of attracting men. By apologetic literature we mean the works of those authors who were over-awed by the West. Anything in favour with the West, they tried to prove, already exists in Islam, — even though it may be quite foreign to Islam. And anything out of favour with the West they wished to blacklist out of Islam, — even though it may be a basic tenet of Islam. Obviously, the works of such passive-minded writers could not be expected to depict Islam truly, nor could they have been imbued with that spirit of faith which sways the heart and persuades the mind. Theo-scholastic literature is the most disappointing of all. The scholastic approach is unnatural and irrational. It can add more knots to a problem bit cundo a single knot. The scholastic method of argumentation is ideally suitable for logic-chopping, but it is totally devoid of any grace or winsomeness and appeals neither to reason nor to human nature. To adopt it is to alienate men from Islam. The only right way of presenting Islam before the world was the one which was used by God and His Prophet (sws). But our scholastic writers were so deeply influenced by the Greeks that they paid no attention to the Qur’anic method of argumentation, they even criticized and found fault with it. This mistake was committed by our later as well as earlier scholastics. As a result, while it has become impossible to present Islam before non-Muslims in a cogent manner, the educated ones from among Muslims themselves who wish to remain Muslims, or at least to be counted as such, have started saying that Islam is something which one may believe in blindly but must on no account try to comprehend rationally. And some of the more dauntless among them are openly making fun of Islam, and except in so far as their names denote their religion, they have shaken themselves quite free from Islam.
No less glaring are the errors of practice. We shall point out some of them.
While on the one hand Muslims claim to be a principled community, that is, a community raised on the principles of Islam, they possess, on the other hand, all the qualities which might characterize a nation born of racial, historical, or cultural, homogeneity. They maintain that a Muslim is one who believes in God, in the books revealed by Him, and in the Hereafter, and also obeys the dictates of God and His Prophet (sws) in all spheres of life, but their ranks include men who are Muslims only by birth. They grant that Muhammad (sws) is their sole guide in every matter, and yet they have entrusted the reins of authority to those people who totally disregard the teachings of the Holy Prophet (sws). With loud professions they support the complete ethico-practical system of Islam and insist that one cannot deviate from it without ceasing to be a Muslim, but they themselves exemplify every vice and every immorality that can be found in other nations and still their Muslimhood remains unimpaired. They are all out for Islam, which, on their own admission, is inviolate, but then they call the entire history, from the Holy Prophet (sws) right down to Mustafa Kamal Pasha, Islamic, whereas a very large chunk of that history has not the remotest connection with Islam. They urge that the world’s only hope of salvation lies in adopting the comprehensive system of Islam, but in practice they beat the bounds of Europe and America in order to find out whether the British or the American system is the more Islamic.
The Muslims themselves may or may not have felt this duality of theirs, but there is no reason to suppose that it has gone unnoticed by the other nations. These nations are astonished to see how sharply the deeds of the Muslims are opposed to their words, and if any odd non-Muslim, by sheer Divine grace, gets attracted to Islam, he soon drops back because he concludes that it is no use joining a community which is not at all different from the one he is quitting. And if some good-natured non-Muslim embraces Islam in spite of our two-faced behaviour, we may rest assured that he has accepted the truth not because we presented it before him but because God, besides exposing the flaws of his previous religion, has also shown up, to him, the Muslims. That convert, we should make no doubt, has drawn a distinction between Islam and the Muslims, or how could he have been impressed by a community so unprincipled that its members have been known to have set up religious institutions and, having raised funds for that purpose, have loaned it out on interest, or, being employed in some Hindu or Christian college themselves, are getting their sons educated in some other Aryan or missionary college?
2. Wrong Targets
It was perhaps under the influence of the Christian missionaries that, in preaching, the Muslims always aimed at converting the downtrodden sections of society. This is a completely wrong approach. The first addressees in preaching must be those classes of the society whose thoughts and ideas are governing the societal system. It is these men who make or unmake a nation. It they are reformed, the whole system is reformed. And if they refuse to budge, then a reformation of the lower classes, if at all it comes about, is purely temporary, for the passive disposition of these classes soon gives way to the pressure of vices exerted on them from the really effectual classes above. It is just like the heart and the other organs of the body. A heart made wholesome would make the entire body healthy, but with the heart gone sick, plastering and massaging the body will be of no avail.
The only goal the Christian missionaries had in sight was that of swelling their numbers. And the method they adopted was quite suitable for that purpose. But Muslims do not preach with the sole end of increasing their numbers. Their job is to show mankind the right path, to bring about a wholesale reformation in the life of man. Now this end can be achieved only when the entire milieu is changed, and that can happen only when the intelligent and dominant sections of society accept the proposed change. Those with a knowledge of sociology will agree with that upstart and revolutionary movements rise from below and throw the structure above into disarray, but the solidly-based reformatory and rational movements take root only when they work from top to bottom. All those Muslims who have tried to spread the teachings of Islam, whether among their co-religionists or others, have generally make this mistake that they have kept their eyes on the lower orders of society and, having them the kalimah and the prayer, have thought that their job is over. No doubt a partial reformation does take place in this way, but life as a whole remains as it was. When it is the whole atmosphere that is contaminated, an attempt should be made to treat the contamination rather than the victims of that contamination. Otherwise it would be like giving an injection to a patient who is living in a town stricken with plague. The injection might check the malignant influence, but for how long? That is why the prophets never addressed the common people first but the influential classes of society. It was through the reformation of these classes that they sought to reform the masses.
3. Hollow Words
Then the Muslims have preached with words only, they have never tried to live Islam. It is clear, however, that there are only a few persons so intelligent and morally so courageous that they would embrace Islam simply on account of the excellence of its principles. A large part of the world will admit the truthfulness of those principles only when they see them producing beneficial results in practical life. But the preaching which has been done here over a long period of time amounts to no more than a dream trip to the paradise of the Islamic life arranged by eloquent speakers, inspired preachers, and potent penmen. The high irony is that while these men have been hymning the praises of the system of Islam, the whole Islamic society, with all its vices of jahiliyyah, has been giving them the lie. Silent action is much more effective than loud protestations. That is why all the sermons vanished into thin air and the world remained obstinate. If, instead of hollow bombast, a group of persons had actually tried to evolve a society on the basis of the principles they believed in, they would have, even if they had failed, rendered a nobler service to Islam than that which they failed to render with their successful sermons and writings. To prove that Islam is a blessing to the whole world, it is not sufficient to narrate moving anecdotes from the past, nor it would do to deliver speeches and compose articles on the logical possibility of Islam. The only way to accomplish this goal is that a group or party of men demonstrate in practice the worth of the doctrines they hold dear. Anprecisely has the lack been most conspicuous.
4. Cheap Tactics
In preaching, the Muslims also resorted to some of the base methods used by the Christians or A^rya Samajis. They tried to adopt the same techniques with which the Christians tried to convert the world or which the Aryans employed to gain their ends. In debates they exerted to beat their rivals at splitting hairs, heaping abuse, and committing outrages. If some Muslim turned Aryan on account of some temptation offered or misunderstanding caused, the Aryans trumpeted their victory, and so did the Muslims when some Hindu professed Islam. Adoption of cheap tactics, like misleading immature children and actually running away with them, was an important plank in the preaching methodology of others, and so it became in the preaching of Islam. If, from prurient motives, some Hindu woman eloped with a libertine Muslim, it was hailed as an invaluable preaching trophy, and wantonness and immorality of this kind was regarded as a means of advancing Islam. As a result, many dissolute men and women made a business out of changing faith. In the morning they would get a shoulder-ride from Muslims announcing them that they had joined them, in the evening they would extract money from Christians or Aryans by proclaiming that they had turned Christian or Aryans. In the days when the Hindu proselytizing movements of Shuddhi and Sanghatan were going strong in certain parts of India, a notable Muslim appealed to the `Muslim prostitutes’ of Delhi to preach Islam to their non-Muslim clients! Such an approach made Islam look worthless to non-Muslims. They started thinking that Islam is also a commercial enterprise meant to increase the size of a particular community. And they were justified in thinking so, for how could they have been convinced of the superiority of Islam when they noticed that the Muslim were using Islam for the same purpose for which they were using their own religion and in a manner quite like their own?
Whether they insist or do not insist that competence is required to do other kinds of work, the Muslims believe that there are two jobs for which no competence is necessary: Leading prayers in the mosque and preaching religion. There was a time when prayers were led either by the head of the state himself or by the man appointed by him, and there is a time when Muslims entrust this job to men who are incapable of doing anything else in the world. There was a time when every Muslim felt that the sole responsibility of this Ummah is to convey Islam to the world with the same zeal and concern with which the Prophet (sws) conveyed it to them, and when the Islamic Caliphate was, with all its departments and top executives, a means of performing the same function which was being discharged by the Prophet (sws) himself and was, after him, entrusted to it, and there is the time when the whole Islamic Community along with all its intelligentsia and leaders is serving the evil system of jahiliyyah. Occasionally it occurs to some virtuous people that preaching Islam is a good thing and so they raise some money and hire a few men to propagate Islam. The chief qualification of these paid workers is their random and scanty knowledge of the other religions and their ability to fire off a speech and bandy arguments. Getting hold of the platform of some organization, they start preaching Islam. Of Islam they are as ignorant as of the other religions, and they possess nothing in the way of Islamic character. Their principal trait is being loudmouthed and disputatious, and the result of preaching by such men is not difficult to predict.
We have talked about some of the major errors of theory and practice in the current mode of preaching Islam. A deeper analysis would reveal that there are many other points on which it is vulnerable. But we do not want to prolong this discussion. We only wanted to bring out the fact that what today goes by the name of preaching is least related to the preaching done by the prophets, that the two kinds of preaching are contrary to each other in purpose and method both, and that the present preaching is, in respect of its aims and techniques, an imitation of the preaching of non-Muslims.