By Mustafa Laurence
We are living in particular times. Spirituality is encouraged in our society yet it must remain in the sphere of the private. The Human Rights discourse promotes religious pluralism yet encourages a strong separation between religion and state. As Muslims living in non-Muslim lands, we are constantly thinking about ways to engage socially in our communities. This engagement, in our religion, is usually translated as da’wah. This short essay seeks to shed light on some of the traditional understanding of non-Muslim lands and relate it to our method of our da’wah.
Practicing Muslims living in non-Muslim lands often seek out justification for their social engagement in the public space. It may be a search for a particular fatwā that allows for a smoother integration (see for example the Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qardawi’s ruling on the purity of gelatin). If one decides to delve deeper in traditional sources, one may be surprised at some of the opinions of leading scholars regarding the state of muslims in non-muslim lands. Andrew F. March, a leading scholar on the subject, found in his book Islam and Liberal Citizenship, that many North African/Andalusian Mālikī scholars prohibited Muslims living in non-Muslim lands. The jurist Ahmād b. Yahyā al-Wansharīsī ruled that “Hijra from the land of disbelief to the land of Islam is a duty until the Day of Resurrection, as is hijra from lands of sin and those tainted by injustice or sedition. […] God Almighty does not accept their excuses [for not migrating], for he demonstrated that they were capable of migration in some way. Rather, the weak and oppressed who are forgiven by God are only those who are incapable in every way. […] Only then is forgiveness due to them, for they become like the one who is coerced into pronouncing disbelief. But even then it is necessary that they have the abiding intention to perform hijrah if only they were able. As for him who is capable of migrating in any way of means, he is not forgiven and has wronged him soul.” (al-Wansharīsī quoted in A. March, Islam and Liberal Citizenship, p.294) This opinion was not uncommon at the time and for obvious reason. Al-Wansharīsī lived in the 16th century A.D. when the Christians were conquering Spain. Muslims, at the time, were feeling the consequence of being in an abode of war, which meant that there was no possibility of inviting to goodness. The only options were either to fight back or retreat back to North Africa. Thus, there is a strong duality between dār al-hārb (the abode of war) and dār as-salām (the abode of peace).
On the other side of the coin, the great Hanbalī scholar Ibn Taymiya when discussing the situation of Muslims living under Mongol rule he discussed a fatwā going beyond the duality of abodes: “As for whether it is a land of war or peace, it is a composite situation. It is not an abode of peace where the legal rulings of Islam are applied and its armed forces are Muslim. Neither is it the same as an abode of war whose inhabitants are unbelievers. It is a third category. The Muslims living therein should be treated according to their rights as Muslims, while the non-Muslims living there outside of the authority of Islamic Law should be treated according to their rights” (See Mardin Fatwa). Essentially Ibn Taymiya claims if there is no hostility between Muslims and non-Muslims, there is no need to leave the land (Muslim Matters published an article dedicated to the subject).
Ibn Taymiya’s claim is the oft cited ruling by scholars in the West. It is a ruling that follows the principles of soft secularism and pluralism. If a State allows for the Pillars of Islam to be manifested, then there is no need to leave that land. However, if one is to take that opinion, which most of us do, whether we like it or not, there is a great need for da’wah. However, I’ll be the first to say that proselytization doesn’t work. It is stigmatized and is no longer the effective means of nurturing someone’s spiritual nature. Religions that put too much effort on converting the other to their own tend to be ridiculed and even ghettoized where they spend time only with their own. To name a few who make the effort: Evangelical Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, etc. One may argue that by sending mass emails, propagating pamphlets with key theological principles (God is One, We believe in Jesus too!) and sharing motivational YouTube videos discussing our state on Judgement Day has been successful in bringing people to Islam. Sure, Islam is the fastest growing religion, but I am ready to claim that we are weighing our success strictly through quantitative measures.
God (Exalted is He) says in the Qu’ran:
وَلْتَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
And let there be from among you a community who invite to benevolence, enjoining good, and forbidding evil. Those shall be the successful. [Qur’an 3:104]
This verse speaks of the one who invites to goodness (al-dā’ī) as the one who is successful (al-muflihūn). Success (falah) in Arabic is the verb used to describe a farmer who reaps what he has sown. It is literally the fruit of one’s labour. Thus, the notion of success must be evaluated on both qualitative and quantitative terms. To paraphrase René Guénon, the Reign of Quantity are the signs of the end times.
There is a lack of dialogue with the other when one spends time proselytizing. The visitor comes knocking on the door of the other and decides to impose their beliefs hoping, with God’s will, that they will accept the message. More often than not, the door is slammed with great contempt. We are living or at least striving towards a post-colonial context, that is, a space where the power relation between the self and the other is evanescent. On the one hand, the very definition of da’wah, to invite, is to bring the other into a peaceful abode with neither host nor guest. On the other hand, by inviting, if the other is forever a guest and the host forever a host, there will inevitably be a destructive power relationship. Thus da’wah becomes just another form of violent colonialization; we tell the other that their ways are a perversion of God’s command, that they are disgusting and that they can only be good if they follow our ways. But no human being would want to hear such harshness. That is why, so many people are annoyed by the street preachers; it is a faint reminder of what the European settlers did to the Indigenous People across the world, of what the Arabs did to many Central African peoples, ad infinitum. We do not want to create another Spain, where Muslims are persecuted. If we do not successfully tend to people’s hearts, this persecution may happen. Islam is not about being a thug.
Imam Al-Haddad, May God have Mercy upon him writes in his Al-Nasa’ih al-
What I am urging is that we need to truly contemplate about how we think of da’wah, how we define da’wah and how we do da’wah. If we fall into a colonialist trap, the image of Islam, which so many human rights activists who fight against Islamophobia witness, will decay into a ridiculed and cultish religion of the past. But if our scholars, our thinkers, our visionaries and our youth define, translate and rethink da’wah then our religion will be able to prosper in both its cultural and spiritual form. Arrogance always causes conflict and inviting is not meant to be an attack.