General Principles of Methodology

The above three fundamental concepts should be enough to help us formulate most of the general principles of methodology that we seem to need in our present situation. Let us look at some of them, at the same time examining our prevalent concepts and attitudes, discarding what is not in conformity with or contrary to the guidelines given by the Qur'an and the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, and replacing them by what is more appropriate and correct.

  1. We do not invite people to a 'new' religion, we invite them to the oldest religion, indeed to their 'own' religion, the religion of living in total surrender to their Creator, in accordance with the guidance brought by all His Messengers. Indeed, if I am not misunderstood, we may be bold enough to say that we do not invite anyone to change his 'religion', to transfer his allegiance to a rival religion. For, by our own admission, Islam is not a new or rival religion among the many competing for human allegiance; it is the natural and primordial religion. All nature lives in submission to its Creator; all Messengers Adam to Muhammad brought the same religion.
  2. This does not mean any change in the basic position of Islam. It does not mean that all religions, as they are, are equally true. One will still be invited to follow the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, because he is the last Messenger, and to accept the Qur'an as the last revelation from God. But, I think, proceeding from the position I have outlined above, implies a radical change in approach, tone, and style of Da'wah, and the order in which the teachings of Islam are presented.

  3. The starting point and the basic core of our Da'wah should be, as the Qur'an makes very clear: total surrender to the One God, the Creator of all; accountability in life after death; obeying His Messengers; and building a new world, on this basis, where justice will prevail. This, we may boldly affirm, without going into the question of empirical verification, is the core of every religion. To this we invite all.
  4. And We never sent a Messenger, before you, except that We revealed to him that: There is no God but I, so serve Me alone (al-Anbiya' 21: 25).

    The only [true] Way in the sight of God is total surrender to Him (Al 'Imran 3: 19).

  5. We, therefore, do not start by repudiating what is wrong with others, but by inviting them to reflect on what is common between them and us. We ask non-Muslims to come to something they accept or which follows from what they accept: worshipping One God alone. The same approach was adopted with the idolators and Mushrikun (who created the heavens and the earth? . . .) and the same with the ahlu 'l-kitab.
  6. Say: People of the Book! Come now to the creed which is common between us and you, that we shall serve and worship none but Allah, and we shall not associate anything with Him [as god], and some of us shall not make others Lords apart from Allah (Al 'Imran 3: 64).

    Again this does not imply any change in our position. Believing in Allah as the only God must be in accordance with what He has instructed through all of His Messengers, which must include the Prophet Muhammad, as the last of them. But, again, following this order of priority will mean a radical change in approach, attitude, and polemic.

  7. Telling people that we are not asking them to change to a rival religion, inviting them to the One God and His Messengers as their own religion, whose last revelation was to the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be on him, should not be a mere semantic exercise. One important conclusion would be that we shall not be compelling anyone to accept all of 'historical Islam' as evidenced by Muslims over the last fourteen centuries, even if it deviated from Allah's guidance. And some of it did deviate.
  8. We need not own and justify everything done or said by Muslims in the past, or in our own times. We do not necessarily have to. We may not be able to change the forms of un-Islamic behaviour on the part of Muslims at large or of those within non-Muslim societies, but we can certainly refrain from acting on the precept of: 'my nation, right or wrong'. Indeed going a step further, we should not hesitate to acknowledge or repudiate anything in our past or contemporary conduct which is not in keeping with our norms in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Is this not the spirit of Istighfar? In this regard, we should mould our conduct according to the following Quranic verses.
  9. Say: Come, I will recite what the Lord has forbidden you . . . And fill up the measure and the balance with justice. We burden not any person save to its capacity. And when you speak, be just, even if it be [against] a near kinsman (al-An'am 6: 151-2).

    O believers, be you establishers of justice, witnesses for God, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents and kinsmen, whether the man be rich or poor (al-Nisa' 4: 135).

  10. The responsibility to guide all mankind to the path of God rests upon us as Muslims, as trustees of the Divine guidance sent down, and made clear, for all mankind, and as the followers of the Last Prophet, blessings and peace be on him. Today, if people are going astray, are we not, to a large degree, responsible for that? Today, if people are Kafirs, how much are they responsible for their Kufr and how much does the responsibility lie on those who are neglecting and failing in their duty to witness to the truth?
  11. Yes, there are Muslims, and there are Kafirs. And there should be no intention or effort to ignore or obliterate the dividing lines between them, or to change their definition. But is it appropriate, just, and Islamic to start our Da'wah from this premise? All Muslims of today are not really Muslims who are true examples of Islam; even their broad conduct is not Islamic. Kafirs of today are not really Kafirs who have heard the truth and who have rejected it after having known it, who have deliberately embarked upon a policy of hostility towards Islam.

    There is no justification for us, then, in my view, to start our Da'wah work by looking at the world as divided into two hostile camps: Kafir and Muslim, where every Kafir is an enemy of Muslims, and therefore of Islam. Because of a long history of conflict, because of contemporary hostilities, because of our upbringing, because of our attitudes, we are prone to do so.

    We should ponder how Allah's Messengers handled their world. Their address was always: 'O my people' or 'O mankind'. In the beginning, they never addressed them as 'Kafirs' unless the Kufr was demonstrated to be entrenched and deliberate. Similarly the Qur'an treated the People of the Book as a category separate from idolators, and addressed them as such, despite laying bare all their Kufr and Shirk. Also, see how the Qur'an differentiates between those who are hostile to Islam and those who simply do not believe:

    It may be God will yet establish between you and those of them with whom you are at enmity, love . . . God forbids you not, as regards those who have not fought you in [the matter on Din, nor expelled you from your homes, that you should be kindly to them, and act justly towards them; surely God loves the just. God only forbids you as to those who have fought you in [the matter of] Din, and expelled you from your homes, and have supported in your expulsion, that you should take them for friends (al-Mumtahanah 60: 74).

  12. The history of encounter between Islam and the West, as long as fourteen centuries, is a history of conflict at all levels faith, morality, thought, politics, economics, etc. For the last three hundred years, the West has exploited and oppressed the Muslims. Muslims, therefore, have genuine reasons to condemn the West for its hostility and enmity towards Muslims and Islam in history, as in the contemporary world. (Though the Western perceptions of Muslim domination, too say in Sicily or Eastern Europe are not very pleasant.) We also have to expose the dangers of secular Western thought and ideas.
  13. But does that permit us to engage in emotive diatribe, abusive polemic, against the West, the white man or the Hindu? I think not. For somebody is not evil because he is Western, or white, or Hindu; he is evil because he is in rebellion against his Creator and His Messengers. Yet this abuse permeates our attitudes and language.

    Not that we should not provide an objective, powerful critique of Kufr, of Western thought and society. That is our duty (though this duty receives little of our attention). Not that we should not expose the Western powers' misdeeds in history or their present crimes. But with the compassion of a surgeon's scalpel, not with the brutality of a butcher's knife.

    We have some teachings in the Qur'an which we should reflect upon to provide policy guidelines in this respect. For example: it forbids us to abuse even the idols; it condemns no one by name, except one person; it does not condemn people, it condemns their deeds.

  14. Unless we have done our duty of Da'wah and unless the message of Islam has been rejected by him, every non-Muslim should be seen as a potential Muslim, not as an enemy. Except, of course, those who are engaged in open aggression and hostility against Islam and Muslims. This attitude is the obvious and logical consequence of our position that man has been created in the best of moulds (al-Tin 95: 4), that total submission to One God is the original and true nature of mankind (al-Rum 30: 30), that every Messenger brought the same religion.
  15. This one concept will have a radical effect on our devotion to Da'wah, and on our approach and methodology. This will spur us to carry our message to every man and woman without any reservation, preconceived notion, or prior prejudice. This will endow us with large-heartedness, empathy, and understanding all so vital for Da'wah. This will demolish many barriers which inhibit us from taking up the task of Da'wah.

  16. Language and themes are extremely important for Da'wah. The message remains the same, but it should be conveyed through a medium that is understood by its addressees. All the Messengers of God employed a language and took up the themes that were suited to their people. For example, the language of 'Islamic state' may not be a suitable language for a Western society; instead, a Just World Order based on surrender to the One God and obedience to His Messengers, is likely to evoke a more favourable response. Drinking may not strike a sympathetic chord, drugs may.
  17. We should be kind and compassionate, just and fair, to everyone, irrespective of one's faith, race, colour, or social status, and in all situations. God has commanded us to be just and kind. We are ambassadors of the Last Prophet, who has been described by the Qur'an as 'the merciful, the compassionate' and 'mercy for all the worlds' (rahmatul li'l-'alamin). Deep involvement in human welfare and service to mankind is basic to Islam and of central importance to Da'wah. The Qur'an places these values and conduct on a par with faith in God and His worship (68:27-37;74:42-6; 107:1-7). Why should a Muslim be indifferent to the uncared for, the lonely, the old, the hungry, who live in their societies?
  18. We should make our basic Da'wah the message of Tawhid, Risalah, and Akhirah relevant to the concerns and experiences of average Westerners as well as of their societies. For example, why should Islamic Da'wah remain unconcerned with the questions of nuclear weapons, unemployment, old age, etc. Indeed, Islam should be concerned with all matters of public policy and morality. Prophet Noah's message dealt with caste and class differences, that of Prophet Hud with imperialism, wastage of public resources and domination by tyrant rulers, that of Prophet Lot with permissiveness, that of Prophet Shu'ayb with injustice and economic maladies, that of Prophet Moses with the tyranny and oppression perpetrated by Pharaoh. In the same way our message must deal with the problems of our day.