Dawah: How to Speak to People of Other Faiths

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Event Name: Dawah: How to Speak to People of Other Faiths
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Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 3/29/2019 8:40:57 PM
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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 the Arabian peninsula. There is a famous story about a man who once had such a gross breach of adab that he left the town he was in and he missed the town after 30 years of being away. He decided to come back and met a young man at the town. The young man asked the man where he was from. He said “I am from here but I moved away 30 years ago”. The young man said “were you here at that time when so and so did such and such?” and it was his breach.


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 fis