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,
The Best Method Of Islamic Advocacy
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb
These are the final verses of this
Surah which has been the subject of our commentary over the last few months....
(Appearing in Arab News issue of August 13, 1999)
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
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.§