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Arab News
Islam In Perspective Article
13 August 1999

WHAT THE QUR'AN TEACHES

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent

Call people to the path of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the most kindly manner. Your Lord knows best who strays from His path and who are rightly guided. If you should punish, then let your punishment be commensurate with the wrong done to you. But to endure patiently is far better for those who are patient in adversity.

Endure, then, with patience, remembering always that it is only God who helps you to be patient; and do not grieve over them, nor be distressed by their intrigues. God is indeed with those who remain God-fearing and those who do good.

(An-Nahl, The Bee: Ayah 16, Verses 125-128)

The Best Method Of Islamic Advocacy

Commentary by Sayyid Qutb
(Appearing in Arab News issue of August 13, 1999)

These are the final verses of this Surah which has been the subject of our commentary over the last few months....

The Prophet is told to continue with his efforts, calling on people to follow the Divine faith, but utilizing wisdom and good exhortation, and making his argument in a kindly manner. If the other side go on the offensive and launch an aggression, the penalty should be of the same type as the aggression, or he may choose the better way of forgiveness and patience in adversity, despite the fact of being able to exact punishment. That is sure to bring him a better outcome. He need not grieve over those who reject God's guidance, nor should he be afflicted by their scheming against him and his followers.

"Call people to the path of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the most kindly manner. Your Lord knows best who strays from His path and who are rightly guided." Such are the basic rules of Islamic advocacy and such are its appropriate methods. The proper approach is being shown here to the Prophet and to all who succeed him in advocating the Islamic faith. The advocate must make it clear that he simply calls on people to follow the path outlined by God. He is not calling for any personal or national cause. He is simply discharging his duty toward his Lord. He claims no credit for himself, nor does he have a favor to curry with the message itself or with those who respond to his call and follow Divine guidance. He receives his reward from God alone.

Advocacy must be undertaken with wisdom. The advocate of the Divine message must take into consideration the situation and circumstances of the people whom he addresses in order to determine what to tell them each time he speaks to them. He must not make things appear difficult to them, nor should he overburden them with a long list of duties before they have been prepared for such duties. He must also consider how he should address them, and how to diversify his method of address in accordance with different circumstances. He must not let his enthusiasm carry the day so as to overlook the prerequisites of wisdom.

Together with wisdom goes goodly exhortation which addresses hearts gently, seeking to kindly arouse good feelings and responses. No unnecessary reproach or remonstrations should be thrown at them. An advocate of Islam does not publicize genuine mistakes which people may commit with good intention. Kindly exhortation often attracts people to follow God's guidance, achieving good results that cannot be achieved through reproach or rebuke.

The third element in this proper approach to Islamic advocacy is to argue "in the most kindly manner". This means that there should be no personal criticism or humiliation of an opponent. It is important in such an argument to make the other party realize that, as advocates of the cause of faith, we have no vain desire to win an argument or to boast about having an irrefutable case. Our aim must always be clear, namely, to arrive at the truth. Human beings have their pride, and they would not give in on any point unless the argument is carried in a kindly manner. No one likes to be in the position of one who is defeated in an argument. People often confuse their own prestige with the value of their opinion, considering that they are humiliated when they have to admit that their view is mistaken. It is only when argument is carried out kindly that people's sensitivity may be tempered, as they would realize that their own dignity is preserved. They would then realize that an advocate of Islam seeks only the truth and has no desire to press home any personal advantage.

In order to help the advocates of Islam to restrain themselves and not to allow themselves to be carried away by their enthusiasm, the Surah mentions that it is God who truly knows who follow His guidance and those who are in error. Hence there is no need to press an argument beyond what is reasonable. Issues should be stated clearly and matters should then be left to God: "Your Lord knows best who strays from His path and who are rightly guided."

This is the proper method of advocacy as long as it remains within the realm of verbal address and making an argument. Should the advocates of Islam suffer an aggression, the whole attitude becomes different. Aggression is an action that must be repelled with similar force in order to preserve the dignity of the truth and to ensure that falsehood does not triumph. Response to an aggression, however, must not exceed the limits of repelling it. Islam is the faith of justice and moderation, peace and reconciliation. It repels any aggression launched against it or its followers, without committing any aggression against others" "If you should punish, then let your punishment be commensurate with the wrong done to you." This is indeed part of the method of advocacy. To repel aggression within the limits of justice preserves the dignity of the Islamic message so that it suffers no humiliation.

A humiliated message has no appeal to anyone. Indeed no one will accept that humiliation could be suffered by a Divine message. God does not allow that His message should suffer humiliation without repelling it. Those who believe in God do not sit idle in the face of persecution and humiliation. They are entrusted with the tasks of establishing the truth in human life, maintaining justice between people, and leading mankind to the right path. How are they to fulfill their tasks when they do not reply to an aggression or respond to unjust punishment?

Yet at the same time that the rule of equal punishment is established, the Qur'an calls on the believers to endure patiently and to forgive. This applies in situations when the believers are able to repel aggression and to eradicate evil. In such cases, forgiveness and patience may be more effective and of greater value to the Islamic message. Their own personal position or prestige is of secondary importance when the interests of the message are better served by forgiveness and patient endurance. However, should such forgiveness compromise the position of the message and lead to its humiliation, then the first rule of equal retaliation is the preferred one.

Since patience requires resisting one's feelings and impulses, restraining one's emotions and control of natural reactions, the Qur'an relates it to faith and earning God's pleasure. It also assures the believers that it brings them good: "But to endure patiently is far better for those who are patient in adversity. Endure, then, with patience, remembering always that it is only God who helps you to be patient." It is God who gives a believer the strength to be patient in adversity and to control his instinctive reactions. Seeking God's pleasure is the one thing that restrains the impulse to retaliate and punish.

The Qur'an encourages the Prophet, and every advocate of Islam as well, not to grieve when they see people turning their backs on God's guidance. They have their duty to fulfill. Guiding people aright or leaving them to go astray are matters determined by God, in accordance with His laws of nature which control people's souls and their striving to follow guidance or to turn away from it. "Do not grieve over them, nor be distressed by their intrigues." The Prophet should not be distressed when he sees such people scheme against him. God will protect him against their scheming and intrigue.

He will never let them have the upper hand over him when he conveys his message, seeking no personal gain for himself. He may have to endure harm inflicted on him, but that is only to test his patience. He may feel that victory is slow in coming, but that is only to test his trust in God's support. The ultimate outcome is known in advance: "God is indeed with those who remain God-fearing and those who do good." He who has God on his side need not worry about anyone's scheming or intrigue.

Such is the constitution that the advocacy of God's message should follow. It is the only way to ensure victory as promised by God. That is what God tells us, and God always tells the truth.

 

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