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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Gentle Ways to Present Islam

By Adil Salahi


While inviting people from other faiths, to Islam, it is wise if Muslims today follow the gentle ways of Hazrath Abu Bakr (RA) and Hazrath Umar (RA).

Advocacy of the Islamic message is the central duty of all Muslims. God has given them His message as a trust. To be true to their trust means that they should make Islam known to mankind, calling on them to submit themselves to God, which is the essence of the divine message. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the first advocate of Islam in its final form embodied in the Qur’an. His companions were fully aware of their duty and went about its fulfillment as best as they could, setting for us a wide range of examples of approaching people and putting to them why they should submit themselves to God, the Lord of all the worlds. The best among them in this respect was Abu Bakr,(RA) the closest to the Prophet among all his companions.

Abu Bakr was a man with whom people got along very easily. They liked his refined manners, gentle ways and respectable character. He was well educated, and part of his education gave him thorough knowledge of all Arabian tribes, to the extent that he knew the ancestry of all Arabs, and the history of all people who lived in Arabia. Indeed, people of all ages went to him to benefit by what he said.

When Islam started, Abu Bakr was the first person outside the Prophet’s own household to accept its message and declare himself a Muslim. He then proceeded to advocate Islam among his numerous friends and visitors, but he was selective as to whom to approach. He looked for people of intelligence and rational thinking, concentrating on the young. Soon he was able to convince a few of them and he took them to the Prophet so that they could pledge their commitment to him as believers in Islam. Five of these were to be included among the ten of the Prophet’s companions to whom he gave the happiest news of being sure to be admitted into heaven. These were Uthman ibn Affan, Al-Zubayr ibn Al-Awwam, Talhah ibn Ubaydillah, Saad ibn Abi Waqqas and Abd Al-Rahman ibn Awf. Uthman was the eldest as he was around 30 years of age at the time, while the other four were still in their teens. With these the number of Muslim men other than the Prophet rose to eight. Thus, they were the nucleus of the Muslim community that was to carry the Islamic message into the wide world.

When these people are mentioned as the earliest Muslims, many of us think that they were approached together and they gave their response straight away. The fact is that the message of Islam was still in its early days, when secrecy was imposed on it. Hence we can only see Abu Bakr speaking to each one of them privately. He might have spoken to all of them on the same day, but most probably this was not the case. He must have spoken to them individually when an opportunity presented itself. Al-Zubayr and Talhah were very close friends, and he might have spoken to both of them at the same time, but we have no record of this. Anyway, we do not know who of these five was ahead of the rest in joining Islam, but they all became Muslims very early, and they formed a group of able men ready to support the Prophet in every way.

Muslims must always be aware that they will have to answer God’s question about their effort to make the message of Islam known to mankind. The task of Islamic advocacy stops at this: Presenting Islam and stating to people that God wants them to be Muslims, submitting themselves to Him. No coercion should ever be employed to compel people to accept Islam. Faith relies on conviction, and conviction cannot be the result of coercion.

Muslims must always be aware that they will have to answer God’s question about their effort to make the message of Islam known to mankind. The task of Islamic advocacy stops at this: Presenting Islam and stating to people that God wants them to be Muslims, submitting themselves to Him. No coercion should ever be employed to compel people to accept Islam.

When Hazrath Umar ruled the still expanding Muslim state, he had a talented slave called Asbaq who reports: “Umar was my master and I was a Christian. He used to speak to me about Islam and call on me to become a Muslim. He also said to me: ‘If you become a Muslim, I will get you to help me to discharge the trust God has given me in looking after the Muslim community. It is not permissible for me to put you in a position of trust with regard to the Muslim community when you belong to a religion other than theirs.’ But I refused. He used to say: ‘Well! I will not compel you, as no compulsion is admissible in religion.’ Shortly before his death, he set me free and told me: “You can go wherever you wish.”

It is important to recognize the significance of this report. The ruler of the Muslim state, which was soon to become most powerful on earth, yet dealing most fairly with all people, could not influence his slave to adopt Islam, even though he was prepared to offer him a position of responsibility in government. Yet Umar did not take it against his slave that he did not wish to become a Muslim. He only told him that he could not make use of his abilities in a public position, because it affected the Muslim community and anyone in such a position must share in its faith. He nevertheless set him free. This freedom of belief is supported by another report in which Umar, the caliph, was willing to speak to an old woman about Islam, inviting her to accept it.

Aslam, Umar’s servant, reports that when he accompanied Umar on his trip to Syria, he once brought him water for his ablution. Umar said to him: “Where did you get this water. I have never used a finer and sweeter water, not even rain water.”

Aslam said: “I got it from the home of an old Christian woman.”

When he finished his ablution, he went to her and said: “Old lady! You may wish to become a Muslim, because God has sent Muhammad with the religion of the truth.”

She uncovered her head to reveal that she had gone totally gray, and said: “I am but an old woman who is awaiting her death.” Umar said no more than: “My Lord! Be my witness.” There are two points to mention here. The first is that Umar took it upon himself to explain the message of Islam to an old woman, inviting her to accept it. The fact that she was very old, approaching death, did not cause him to think that her acceptance of Islam could be of little consequence to the Muslim state or community. The other is that he recognized her right to choose for herself. Hence, he only wanted God to witness the fact that he had done his duty by speaking to her about Islam.

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