This is an invaluable talk for anyone interested in effectively communicating the teachings of Islam to people of other faiths. Hamza Yusuf describes the gentle style of the Prophet, peace be upon him, when speaking to people about Islam and his emphasis on talking to people at a level they can comprehend according to their own state. Hamza Yusuf reminds us to look at people of other faiths with the eye of mercy, to be tolerant and respectful of people’s views, and to remember that being a good example to others speaks more than a thousand words. An excellent speech for Muslims who want to share the beauty of Islam with other people of other beliefs.
Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
That was an interesting inroad what was just said to what I wanted to talk about, talking to people. That introduction was actually for non muslims, not for muslims. The reason for that is non muslims have a different criteria that muslims have for instance if I was talking to a non muslim a person is given credibility based on his prominence in a society often for muslims a person loses credibility based on his prominence in a society so these are very different ways of looking at a person. If somebody in the West met with a leader of a state that would be seen often as a sign of credibility. In the muslim world, it is often seen as a loss of credibility. That is very important in understanding the psychology of the people you are dealing with. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said “the best of kings are those who are at the doors of the scholars and the worst of scholars are those who are at the doors of kings” so it is actually the Islamic tradition that it is seen as a negative and not a plus. That again relates to criteria and how we assess things. That was an interesting sidenote but what I wanted to talk about today was looking at two aspects of dawah.
Dawah is misunderstood by many muslims to include muslims. The idea that we make dawah to muslims. There is no such things as dawah to muslims if we use dawah in the technical term that scholars use it in terms of calling people to Islam because muslims are already muslim so they do not need to be invited to Islam. The term that is used for dealing with muslims who are wereward and need to be reminded and that includes the majority of us is called “commanding to good and forbidding evil” or forbidding what is wrong. So that is what a muslim does with another muslim. That has conditions and that is what Shaykh Yusuf was talking about. This idea of knowledge before you actually engage in dawah or in enjoining good and forbidding evil in calling people to Islam and in commanding to what is right and forbidding evil. There are many people who do not know what is right or wrong. An added nuance to that is what is called in Western civilisation “situational ethics” because there are things that are wrong in certain situations, they are not wrong in other situations. So we are not Kantian, if people have studied Western philosophy, they know something about the categorical imperative which is an ethical theory in Western society.
To tell a lie is always wrong and in any situation. That is not true in Islam. There are actually times when it is not only permissible to prevaricate it is actually considered an obligation. That would be if a tyrant is trying to unjustly kill or persecute somebody, it is actually permitted for you to divert that tyrant away from that innocent person through a lie and there are many examples of that, it can be looked at in the books of fiqh. But generally lying is a heinous wrong in Islam. One of the things about lying is that it relates very much to dawah. The muslims in many ways, before I get into that, what I want to talk about is two aspects of dawah because I would say in many ways dawah does apply to muslims today and the reason I would say that is that there are many muslims that have deviated so far from Islam that even at the basic rudimentary beliefs of Islam that make you a muslim have been lost on many muslims so that in a more traditional period of time many muslims would actually be considered non muslims because of the erroneous beliefs that they hold. Now time is always taken into consideration and that is something very important in Shariah.
The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) during his early period, the way that he treated people was very different to his later period not because he changed but because the level of consciousness of the people had changed. For instance there are many hadith in which the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) excused the most gross breaches of courtesy. During the time of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) there was somebody who yanked his coat. He was a bedouin man, he literally yanked his coat. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) was light skinned and because of that a red mark appeared on his neck and the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) dealt with this man in a very beautiful way partly because he understood that he was a bedouin and the bedouin are very rough in their behaviour. Also partly because the man was ignorant and when people are ignorant, there is a different level of understanding.
During the time of Imam
Malik, somebody once had a very gross breach of adab or courtesy in his
gathering and Imam Malik said something to him indicating that and the man came
back with an even grosser breach of courtesy. At that point of a group of
Malik’s teachers grabbed this man’s turban. They used to wear a tahneek, they
wore a turban and under the neck it had two tails. They grabbed this man’s
turban and dragged him out of the majlis or the gathering of Imam Malik. Now
obviously in this age that would be unacceptable but in the time of Malik the
level of knowledge in Madinah was so high. In this gathering if somebody
started screaming or shouting and became violent you would want people to come
in and control that person, remove them from the auditorium. That is because
that is our level of tolerance. As a society becomes more rarified, the levels
of tolerance in terms of breaches of courtesy become lowered which is a sign
actually of high civilisation when breaches of courtesy are rejected. That is
why if you look at traditional Japenese culture, very slight breaches of
courtesy would have been so gross and unacceptable that people would actually
have to leave the town or village that it occurred in. This is also occurred in
In those type of cultures, things like that were the earmarks of the year. Muslims today now have distanced themselves so far from some basic teachings that to apply the same hadith that we find in the sunnah of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) that relate to a later time now would be a gross injustice. This is something that takes knowledge and discernment of understanding the situation, the level of the person you are talking to of who is in front of you. There are many people who have tape recorders and have pre-recorded messages that they are going to deliver. It does not matter who you are, it does not matter what your level of education is, this person who is a dai’ee will come, will click and turn on a cassette that is in his brain and the same thing will come out. Then he wonders why he keeps getting the same responses from people because when you are dealing with a human being you are dealing with a very complicated creature.
Each human being is bringing with him or her an entire history. They are bringing with them their childhood. They are bringing with them their relationships with their parents which is the first authoritarian experience and some people have very traumatic experiences with their parents which leads to a certain type of response to any type of authority that they see in the world. There are other people who have very dysfunctional family situations with their siblings, uncles, aunts, there are people who are victims of incest. There are people who are victims of child abuse. There are people that constantly witnessed their parents fighting. There are people that were abandoned by their father. There are children with no legitimacy, they do not even know who their father is which is another type of trauma. There are people that are raised orphans so each one of these human beings that you see out there has an entire biography and if you do not take that into consideration when looking at a person, that is a unique human being that has a unique experience of the world. As human beings we have a common experience in the world in terms of being human of being conscious. We have very particular experiences that give each one of us a nuanced perspective on the world. There are some people that the world has been a wonderful place since they got into it.
There was a cartoon that had three fish, one was a little
fish about to be swallowed by a middle fish and then there was a giant fish
about to swallow the middle fish. The little fish says “life is terrible” the
middle fish says “it is not so bad” and the big fish says “life is great”. So
people have very different experiences. If you take for instance this culture,
minorities that grow up in certain areas they have a completely different experience
When I was in
When we look at
individuals we have to look at all those backgrounds. I have been in
So in looking at how we are dealing with dawah in terms of muslims and inviting muslims back to Islam we have to understand there are many people who have been so distanced from Islam that you cannot expect them for instance if you meet a woman now in America who grew up, she might be Palestinian or Afghani or an Egyptian or Pakistani woman but she has grown up in a very secular home but she knows she is muslim and if you treat her as if “why aren’t you wearing a hijab? Why don’t you cover your hair? Don’t you know that is haram?”. There was a muslim man who came to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) of Allah who gave him as a gift a bottle of wine. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said “didn’t you know that Allah prohibited wine?”. He said “I did not know that”. Then he whispered to the man who came with him a servant and then the man said “What did you just tell him?”. He said “I told him to go sell it”. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said “the one that prohibited its drinking also prohibited its selling. He said “In that case go dump it out”. Now the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) did not say to him “what is wrong with you, how dare you bring a bottle of wine as a gift”. There are muslims who would say “A’udoo billah, go to hell or something”. And slam the door on them. That is not what the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) did. That is not how he treated the person because he was looking at the level of a persons knowledge and consciousness.
People are on an evolutionary journey. We believe in evolution in a different way. People in this culture associate evolution with moving from lower order creatures to higher order creatures. But evolution of the soul is something very real. There are people at different levels. There are Arabs that say “the good actions of the righteous are the bad actions of the people in the divine presence” because the evolution is different. So somebody might be a very good muslim but he does not even know that his actual state, there are many muslims, that outwardly everything is fine but there is an inward fiqh and an outward fiqh. There are inward rules for the prayer. You could do a perfect prayer outwardly so your fiqh of the Dhuhr is perfect but your inward fiqh, the khushoo in the prayer, the sakinah in the prayer, the hudoor in the prayer, the presence of mind in prayer, you could be thinking about whether the Giants won the game yesterday. There are muslims in the Bay area that are concerned about that right now. But that might be where the heart is and where your heart is that is where you are. So your body might be in prayer but your heart is in sin. That is Bani Adam.
So you have to look at the level of the persons spiritual evolution in speaking to them and understanding. I have heard people years ago that got into these big arguments with me and then years later they met me and apologised. In fact that just happened to me recently from somebody who just came up to me and apologised. I said “don’t worry about it”. But where that person was, he could not see something that he was not able to see later about something he thought was wrong but later on he realised it was not wrong based on his knowledge and understanding at that age. That is something we all go through. There are things that we think are absolutely wrong and later on were learn they are right or they were at least possible, that there was room for interpretation but people that are hasty to judge, that is a sign of spiritual immaturity. Imam at Mazhari, it was said about him that his knowledge was so vast that he rarely saw anybody do something wrong because he would always find that is so and so’s opinion or maybe he is following so and so’s fatwa. So traditionally the ulema considered it a sign of immaturity for people that were so hasty to condemn other people. It was actually a sign of immaturity. One of the tragedies of the modern muslim condition is that because of mass education which is largely secular, people have been introduced into literacy and that enables them to read books that in previous periods of time they would not have been able to read.
One of the things about reading books without suhbah is that you take rules without realities. You will take the outward but not the inward with it and one of the signs traditionally of an auto didact in the muslim world is that they had a habitual condemnation of others. Ibn Hazam, he was a great scholar and I love his books but he was known for being really fierce with some of the other scholars, attacking them. He was also known for being didact. He was somebody that did not study with a shaykh. He had a brilliant intellect and he studied on his own. There are many scholars in the history of Islam that were like that. They were brilliant and the ulema actually debate whether you can acquire knowledge without a teacher or not and most of the ulema believe you can if you have enough brilliance or intelligence, natural gifts that you but you will always be deficient in tarbiyah that the person will not have those qualities that are associated with taking knowledge from people who have taken knowledge from people who have taken knowledge back to the Messenger of Allah because there is a tahdeeb, polishing of the soul, that goes with the knowledge because as that scholar you are studying with, he is breaking away ignorance because knowledge is already in the soul and what he is doing is sculpting what is already in the soul. You cannot acquire anything that was not already in you. That is what knowledge is. Education in latin means to bring out of. It means to lead out of. Alama means that Allah has already imprinted in the human being knowledge and that is why the Quran is called dhikr. It is the remembrance because what you are doing is you are remembering what was already put in you. If your heart is so encrusted, there is blockage and you are unable to recollect. It is like a person who lived through an event but he cannot remember. What will often prevent you from remembering things is trauma, trauma of the world. There are people who are unable to study or learn.
In terms of dealing with muslims, the basic premise has to be compassion. We have to have compassion for our brothers and sisters. We have to recognize that all these ayahs and hadith that are brought such as frowning in the face of an innovator, those hadith were all related when the ummah was filled with knowledge and they applied to times when people’s deviancy is clearly unacceptable. When you have times where nobody knows anymore what the truth is, I mean, our books are now being manipulated. Last night I was showing people that I have in my library the same book that was printed in 1970 and it has things in it that were taken out in later editions. The publishing house was purchased by a certain sect that did not want those ideas being disseminated in the ummah so people do not even realise that their books are being manipulated. The tradition of Islam is being changed in computers and things are being blocked out or deleted, just retype set. You read a book and you think you are reading what the author said and people have removed from it. That is one of the things that Allah says “those who change or alter words from their appropriate places”. So people do not even realise that the deen is being changed before their very eyes although the deen is protected and we believe that but that does not mean you cannot have a type of treachery. Historically it has occurred also, in the time of Imam Sharhari who said people put things in their books. There are people on the internet who write things about people that have never happened and then it becomes a lie. One of the hadiths in the sahih, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said “there is coming a time when somebody will tell a lie and it instantaneously it will reach the corners of the earth”. The hadith says a man will speak a lie and he did not say thumma, he said fa, it will immediately thereafter be all over the world.
One of the things about liars in Shariah, you are a liar if you tell something that you have not confirmed its veracity. A lot of muslims do not know that because they have not studied the rules of the tongue. Kadhab in the Arabic language is somebody that continually tells lies. It is different from Kadhur. In the hadith literature, a person would be declared a liar if he did not verify the sanad. There are people who read the books of hadith now and it says the narrator was a liar and they do not understand that the ulema meant he was not someone who fabricated hadiths, he was somebody that did not verify the truthfulness of the hadith and would relate it as if it were true which is a liar in Shariah. So if somebody tells you something about somebody and you go and tell somebody else and it is not true then you are written as a liar and if you keep doing that you become a liar with God because you can tell a lie in your life but if you do it consistently you become a liar with Allah and a liar is the worst of creatures and the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said “it is enough to consider a man evil that he relates everything he hears”. The Quran says if a fasiq comes to you with some news you should immediately find our whether that is true or not and in a riwayah it says to find out what is being said and to understand it and to find out whether it is really from that person. There are things that you hear and you do not know what they meant by it. So and so said such and such. You do not even know, you have to ask the person what they mean. A qadi does that, even in the rules of apostasy, the qadi has to ask the person, “what did you mean?” because he might have meant something completely different.
There is a hadith that says “if a person drinks wine, he is flogged, if he does it again he is flogged, if he does it again he is flogged, the fourth time it says kill him”. Even though it is a sahih hadith, none of the fuqaha accepted the hadith as a ruling. They leave it on the books because it has a sound sanad but it is not the fiqh of this ummah, it is not the jurisprudence of the Shariah. There are other many hadiths like that. There is a sahih hadith that says “may Allah cure the thief that steals an egg and loses his hand”. So someone who has his Muhsin Khan Bukhari and reads it, so if you steal an egg and you get your hand cut off, none of the fuqaha took that hadith. That is why ibn Abdul Barr in the 6th century was complaining in his age, a man who memorized 100,000 hadiths by heart and is called Hafidh al Maghrib with all the isnae and has a 30 volume book on Maliki fiqh and another 20 volume book on the Muwatta. He said “what a terrible time I am living in, these people memorise the hadith and they do not study fiqh” so he was already complaining about people who were reading books of hadith thinking they knew what they meant.
I mean there are people who think ahle dimmah
are just the Jews and Christian and they go round telling people if you are not
Jew or Christian you cannot live under Islam. That is not true, that is one
opinion. That is not a universal opinion. It was not the practiced opinion of
the ruling powers of Islam. The Ottomans did not do that, the Hanafis in
Going towards dealing
with non muslims. One of the basic policies of muslim states was that they did
not have conversion policies. The Ummayads actually discouraged conversion to
Islam and that is historically documented. They discouraged conversion to
Islam. They way they did it was you had to join an Arabian tribe in order to
become a muslim. That was stopped by Umar bin Abdul Aziz, the fifth rightly
guided caliph. He ended that system. The Abasid who were much more tolerant
than the Ummayids and they dropped the total war policy because the Ummayads
had a war policy. They believed in this idea that it is historical destiny that
Islam has to conquer the entire planet and they basically destroyed their
empire in attempting that, it imploded. They just expanded too quickly, too
far, too fast and it imploded. The Abasids recognizing the fallacy of that
argument adopted a much more tolerant approach and this comes also from the Bar
Meccads who were Afghans who came from an extremely tolerant background who
were the dominant ministers and they had been Buddhist prior to being muslim.
The Bar Meccad family was a famous priestly family in
In the same that in this
country we have what is called people’s courts. If people agree in private
arbitration, they can do that and that is a good aspect of this country whereas
with penal if you get outside civil code and into criminal code then the state
takes it authority and it was similar in the
So where did the spread
of Islam come? It usually came from individuals the people who are called
muhsinun and particularly from people that were associated with what was later
termed the Sufiyah. These people had probably and there is a book called “The
Role of Sufis in the Spread of Islam”. Anybody who is from the Indian
subcontinent and Pakistan knows that the spread of Islam is directly related to
the famous awliya, they call them awliya, who came into that country and just
by their presence and by their spiritual states many people became muslim. This
is also true like
That is not your business and if you have that hatred or animosity in your heart, you are missing something very important about Allah’s creation. So looking at people with compassion. I will tell you another very interesting thing. A lot of muslims do not know this. It is the opinion that makes most sense to me and because it is from an Imam Murshid and it is a valid opinion. It is from Imam al Ghazali from a book that he wrote. He categorises non muslims into three categories and places two of them in paradise so you think about that. He said non muslims fall into three categories:
1) Those who live under
the justice of Islam and see the beauty and truth of Islam and reject it. He
said these people are for hell. Or they live near the lands of Islam and know
the benefits of Islam because in those days Hungarians used to flee from
Christian rule to live in the
2) People who live far away from the lands of Islam and have not heard anything about Islam. That is the dominant Maturedi and Ashari opinion about those people. They are ahle-fitrah, they have the same hukm as the people between the messengers like the Arabs before Islam. That is the dominant opinion, there are other opinions but that is the dominant opinion. Ibn Rushid says when you talk about the rahmah of Allah, always try to expand it, do not try to restrict it. He said it is the nature of rahmah. He said the womb expands, it does not contract, it expands in order to accommodate the growth of the foetus. We want to contract it, that is called abortion. So that is the nature of rahmah, it expands to accommodate. A lot of people do not know what hell is and that is why there are so many people that are so quick to put people in hell because if you knew what it was you would not want your worst enemy to go to hell. But people do not know what it is so they just want to send everybody there, the guy who raised his rent, go to hell.
3) People who have been taught
since they were little that there was an impostor in the
So when you look at people out there, you should look with the eye of mercy. That is if you want to be effective. Allah says “God does not forgive that you associate with Him, He forgives whatever He wants after that”. That is important for us to remember. Now the other thing important to remember is according to our dominant theologians, shirk that you are taken to account for is the shirk that has been made clear to you because Allah says “do not associate with God once you know” and that is why when a man came to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) he said “Masha’Allah, Allah willed and you willed” (Ibn Majah, Tabarani) but the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) did not call him a mushrik or kafir. He said “say Allah willed and then Muhammad willed”. You see he taught him how to remove that dangerous shirk. That is something very important for people to recognise. It is haram in Shariah according to Abu Bakr ibn Al Arabi, in Ahkam ul Quran, he said it is prohibited to make dua against any specific individual because you do not know their khatimah whereas you can make dua against enemies that are attacking muslims. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) made dua for people to lose battles and things like that because they were persecuting. Persecution is worse than killing. Making dua against individuals specifically is not something you should do and the few hadith in which the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) specifically mentioned individuals is considered to be unique to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) because he knew some people, he was told. There is a hadith in the jariyah where a girl sang “we have a Prophet who knows what is going to happen tomorrow” and the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said “do not say that, just say what you were saying before”. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) did not say haram. We have all these muslims now that are ready to turn 90% of muslims into mushrikeen.