My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Islam,
Our Khutbah today concerns our relations with people of other faiths. This topic has become especially important, given the delicate and dangerous situation that we Muslims find ourselves in, these days. Our modern world has brought together people of diverse cultures into a global village, and we Muslims in the West have to make some crucial choices about our relationship with our neighbours in the wider community.
In Britain today, there are some 2 million, some say 3 million Muslims in a total population of about 60 million. That's about 4 or 5%. We are a small community in terms of numbers. However, we are not the first Muslims to face the challenge of living as a minority in a western secular environment.
In the 17th Century, in Southeast Asia, the Dutch colonisers of Java and Sumatra sent their political exiles to the Cape of Good Hope. These exiles established the first Muslim presence in Southern Africa. This community, which numbers about 3% of the total, is now just over 300 years old. It is probably the oldest and most experienced Muslim minority in the western world.
Let us also remember that Nabi Muhammad [sws] was the leader of the first Muslim minority in a very hostile tribal society. The Quraish of Makka were bitterly opposed to Islam, they persecuted Muslims quite severely, and there was a real danger that Islam could have been wiped out completely. As a precaution, therefore, Nabi Muhammad sws sent a small delegation to Abyssinia...They became the 1st Muslim minority in a friendly Christian society. It was here that a wise, just and tolerant King, welcomed them and guaranteed their safety.
Over the past half-century, labour shortages in Britain and Europe has brought large Muslim immigration. Turks came to Germany, Algerians and Moroccans to France and Pakistanis and others to Britain. Added to this, there has been a steady flow of students and professional Muslims seeking to advance their careers as well as political asylum seekers who have fallen out of favour with their own governments. While Europe and North America benefit from this inflow of skilled human resources from Muslim countries, the new communities have to face some difficult choices: Many of them are not familiar with western ways. Often their arrival is not welcomed. How should they respond?
Muslims coming to the West have generally chosen one of 3 options:
- Selective interaction.
Those who choose to assimilate, usually suffer from a massive inferiority complex. They abandon their own identity, they imitate the culture of the host community in every possible way. They feel ashamed of who they are and where they have come from. They deny their origins and they try to be little brown Englishmen or Little brown Europeans.
The second group, who have chosen isolation, are horrified with what they see has become of the first group. They do not want to disappear in the cultural melting pot. They want to preserve their Islamic identity, which they often confuse with their cultural and ethnic identity. Further, they think the best way to protect Islam, and their Muslim identity, is to have no contact, or minimal contact, with their non-Muslim neighbours.
This fear of these isolationists is understandable, but it cannot be a solution. Islam cannot be hidden away like some precious relic in a museum. It was never intended to be a religion of the ghetto, And, Islam is not a religion only for "ethnic minorities." It is a religion for all mankind, for all times and places.
3: Selective Interaction:
The third group has chosen the middle way, of selective interaction. They believe that, Muslims can and should freely associate with people of other faiths, or of no faith, as the case may be. They feel at ease with their neighbours, at home, at work and leisure, so that they can cultivate a friendship that benefits both sides. This group seeks to adapt to western society by absorbing good influences and avoiding bad influence. Also, this group feels that their interaction allows Muslims to generate an Islamic influence on our neighbours and fellow citizens.
What is the correct choice for us?
In Sura Al Anbiyyaah[21:127] The Holy Quran, describes the mission of our Nabi MUHAMMAD, salallahu aalayhi wasallam, in these words:
Bismillarhir Rahmanir Raheem
"We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], but as a mercy unto all the Nations"
Clearly, Islam was never intended for any one race or group. Islam is for all mankind, for all time, and in all places. It is our duty as Muslims to share it with others. But how do we do this? How do we show others the beauty of faith? How do we convince them that Islam has the best solutions to the problems of our time?
Let us take our clues from our own history. If Nabi Muhammad had confined his attention to Muslims only, Islam would not have grown as it did. Our Holy Prophet Muhammad, sws, started his mission and continued it to the end of his life, by preaching, teaching and setting an excellent personal example, to his friends and enemies, to Muslims and others alike,
"Verily in the Messenger of Allah, we have the finest of examples".
There was no contradiction in what he said and what he did. Both word and deed were of the same substance. In fact, the deed was the word made visible.
In the same way, for us, the best da'wah is to set a shining personal example, which others will want to follow. Debates and discussions have their place, but even there, we must be careful. So easily debates become mere intellectual gymnastics, a contest to see who is cleverest with words. Or, like political debates, it can lead to heated argument, rising tempers, abusive behaviour and causing offence and injury.
Some over-zealous Muslims forget this, in their eagerness to convert others to Islam and to earn Thawaab for themselves. As Muslims, we must at all times observe the Islamic ethics of debate. How should we discuss religion with people of other faiths?
Sura An-Nahl, sets this out elequently in verse 125:
" and invite to the path of your Lord, using wisdom and beautiful preaching."
We can read books and observe preachers and we can learn how to master beautiful preaching, but how and where do we find wisdom? The Longmans Dictionary of the English Language defines wisdom as: "accumulated philosophic or scientific learning, the thoughtful application of learning; good sense; judgement."
It seems that wisdom is not something you can develop quickly or easily. True Wisdom comes, as a gift, from Allah, and is the culmination of a long process of seeking Knowledge, developing understanding. and seeking Allah's help and guidance. Should Allah find us worthy and sincere, he may grant us Wisdom. "Using wisdom" in preaching Islam means, being truthful, sincere and patient. Allah does not expect us to perform wonders. He only holds us accountable for our intention and our effort, not for the results. The results are entirely in Allah's domain, and on His timescale, not ours. We often become impatient to see the results of our work, when we should entrust it to Allah.
People have come to Islam in the most unexpected ways. It is often not our planned and deliberate efforts that will bring anyone to Islam. We must simply carry on setting a good example. It is Allah who works through us, if he deems our efforts fit for His Plan.
Sura Al Baqara, v212 says:"Allah guides whom he wills, to the straight path."
Once a Jew was having a disagreement with one of the Sahaaba. "Our prophet, Nabi Musa, was a greater prophet than your Muhammad," he said. The Companion replied, "No, Muhammad is the last and greatest of all prophets." The two carried on the argument until they came to Rasoolullah. Then the Companion said, O Rasoolullah, this man says that Nabi Musa, was greater than you!" Without hesitation, Nabi Muhammad added, "AND Nabi Ebrahim!" The Jew was delighted to hear this, saying to the Sahaaba, "Can you see,I told you! Your prophet wouldn't lie!" Later, when the Jew had left, the Sahaaba turned to Nabi Muhammad, saying he was puzzled by this answer. Rasoolullah explained that there was no need to hurt the Jew's feelings and high esteem with which he regarded Nabi Musa. In due course, this same Jew became a very devout Muslim.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Islam,
We should not be shy or embarrassed when people of other faiths ask us about our religion. Let us invite them to our homes. Let us tell them about Islam and our way of life. This is so much more important now that Islam and Muslims are in the spotlight of world attention. Some of us may feel uncertain or embarrassed to discuss Islam with others. Maybe we lack confidence because we feel we don't know enough.
How do we cultivate the confidence to speak to them about our faith and beliefs? This comes from knowledge and understanding. Fear and insecurity are caused by ignorance, . We need knowledge and understanding to build confidence and, if it pleases Allah, we may even acquire wisdom. The best way to improve our knowledge of Islam is to go directly to the source, and to study it with our family.
If we think of reading the whole Quran, it seems a difficult task. However, it becomes very easy, if we decide to read just a few verses every day, and to do this regularly. Just try this little exercise. Each night after Magrib or Eisha prayers, spend 10 minutes with your family, and take it in turns to read a few verses from the Quran, to discuss its meaning, and how it relates to your life today. Make this a daily habit. You will be amazed to see what little effort this takes, and how big are the benefits. Your children will ask questions and make comments that will surprise you. Within a short time you will see how the Quran becomes a part of your life, how verses you've read and discussed, come to mind in different situations. Without realising it, you and your family will grow in knowledge, understanding, confidence, and most importantly, you will strengthen your Iman. This is all part of our duty as Muslims, to seek knowledge, to better ourselves and become more effective instruments of Allah's plan. We are urged to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave, and to seek knowledge, even unto China.
As we grow in knowledge about our faith, so our fear and insecurity will disappear. As we grow more confident, so we become better equipped to deal with the many challenges of living in a multi-faith environment. We will become less concerned and less fearful about how this western society might damage our iman. Indeed, we will discover that our growing iman can produce change and even improve western society.
Let us pray to Allah, subhanallahu ta'ala, to awaken within us, the desire to improve ourselves, and to serve Islam better, the desire to move forward and become more effective Muslims. O Allah, help us in our efforts to seek knowledge, understanding and Wisdom, so that we can serve You, and seek Your pleasure. Help us, O Allah, to live as true and worthy examples for those who are not yet Muslim. Let the light of Islam shine through us, through our behaviour, as a beacon for those who are still lost in darkness. O Allah, let us, our children and all future generations of Muslims increase in number and quality. And, despite the terrible events of these past few weeks, that have damaged the good name of Islam, let Islam grow and prosper. Help us to do our duty, so that Islam can make its greatest conquest, not by physical force, but by winning the hearts and minds of all who love truth, beauty and justice.
Royal Holloway University of London
12th October 2001