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Vol 2 4th Qtr 1993

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by Said Sadain, Jr.
December 1993

With the Yuletide season fast approaching, a lot of people are warming up to a holiday mood.

Not that the Yuletide matters to us Muslims. We do however feel that Yuletide is generally a nice season. We feel good about Christmas just as the millions of Christians feel good about it. Not exactly for the same reason, and certainly not because Islam condones Christmas. On the contrary, Muslim scholars will argue that Christmas celebrations border on the shirk (idol worship) and will resolutely advise Muslims not to even return the Christmas greetings of the Christians.

The truth of the matter is that the Christians are doing a very good job at marketing their religion and their culture. This, combined with the fact that modern-day progress is being measured by the standards of the mainly Christian West, is like putting up that colorful glass window of a candy shop for the children to behold.

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Muslims, especially minority Muslims in a Christian society, have to live by these same standards and measure up against these standards to gain acceptability. Precisely because Islamic society uses different metrics for measuring itself , sometimes with values that directly clash with western society, that Muslims are looked upon by the rest of the world indifferently, and at worst, contemptuously.

A lack of knowledge of what Islam is really all about is at the heart of this predicament. Muslims can be faulted in two ways for this predicament while non-Muslims can be faulted in only one way:

Firstly, a lot of Muslims are taking their own Islamic existence for granted and are often times less knowledgeable about Islam than they should be; secondly, Muslims take for granted the importance of reaching out and educating the non-Muslims about Islam. As for the non-Muslims, they simply do not take the time and effort to transcend above their preconceived notions of Islam which, having been formed through centuries of conflicts, are more often negative than positive.

For granted here is the key phrase for the Muslims' faults because Muslims do know about Islam and Muslims do try to educate the non-Muslims about Islam. Five times a day, the mosque, wherever it may be, gets filled up with worshippers in solemn prayer; in many corners of the world, da'wah (Islamic propagation) work is being carried out; in Islamic schools and universities and libraries all over the world, the Qur'an is being read by all kinds of people. But are these efforts adequate? Like the salesman who goes around selling his wares, at some point, he must ask if his effort is indeed yielding the desired profit margins.

In degenerative cases, a Muslim who believes that the mere fact of his being born to Muslim parents earn him the cognizance of being called Muslim and no less, would be insulted if somebody, especially a non-Muslim, suggests to him that he should open the Qur'an or read the Hadiths (Traditions of the Prophet) so he could better practice being a Muslim. To him, his being a Muslim is as plain as the sun in the sky; thus, he need not make any extra effort to prove this. He goes by superficially, learning what little Islam he can learn from the practices of his Muslim family and society. When that family or society happens to be ingrained on a corrupted Islam over decades and centuries of colonial subjugation, or imbedded in the midst of a very pervasive un-Islamic society, then such cases can only be retrogressive to Islam. This is particularly true for Muslim minorities, but generally true for all Muslim communities which have to measure their successes or define their developments against the benchmarks provided by the more progressive western culture.

In such situations, Muslims must first educate themselves about Islam, raise their own awareness of what God expects of Muslims, correct themselves if they must and conduct themselves as true believers of the faith. Hopefully then, their societies will at least survive the buffeting of outside forces much like a lighthouse against the waves. At this stage, the lamp of the lighthouse may pierce the darkness, though the darkness will remain dark. The Muslim society which can arm itself with the proper knowledge, behaviors and convictions may then attempt to reach out to the non-Muslims not so much to spread Islam as much as to simply make them aware about Islam as a viable alternative to their own systems.

Overcoming the negative attitudes of the rest of the world toward Islam will however entail more than the normal missionary and charity work of preachers and volunteers. A non-Muslim, steeped in the values of western society, will not be inclined to listen to an Arabic-chanting imam who would impose on him the duties of prostrating on the ground five times a day and abstaining from food, drinks and sex periodically. He will not easily open up to stories about the persecution of ancient prophets and the heedlessness of ancient civilizations he could hardly relate to in the context of his present realities. And since the perception that Islam is backward is already so deeply lodged in the western mind, he will not even be willing to listen to arguments about Muslims having a better life to offer.

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Even when Muslims have a better story to tell, a non-Muslim will not necessarily feel good about Muslims simply because Muslims have a better story to tell. And because feeling good about something is essential for the acceptability of that thing, it is therefore important for Muslims to understand what it is about Islam that Christians and other cultures can positively relate to, and primarily work up on these areas. It is also important to understand what non-Muslims feel good or bad about their own societies in order to deal appropriately with their strengths and weaknesses. These should then be the focus of efforts toward developing a strategy for educating the non-Muslim world about Islam, if Muslims can ever hope to bring down the barriers between them and the rest of the world.

In this respect, Muslims will likely find out that they may need media of mass communications like CNN or Times Warner, or an industry like Walt Disney, or a product such as Coca Cola or IBM PC, or a franchise such as MacDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken, or a jingle from John Denver or MTV, or a science such as the space shuttle or cancer therapy or waste recycling, in order to appeal to the western way of thinking and gain acceptability to a wider world. To be more effective, Muslims may even need a full-time organization as purposeful as the Vatican.

This is not a proposition for the corruption of Islam.

Definitely, Muslims do not need any of these trimmings - Christmas or Valentine's or otherwise - in order to practice Islam. These trimmings however are the very fabrics and institutions to which western societies cling in order to keep their sanity in a world that has relegated the worship of God to an hour-or-so Sunday exercise.

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These are the things that make the West feel good about its kind of living! If Muslims, in promoting Islam, can find a way of harnessing the positive energies knitted into these fabrics to work favorably for them, it will be like turning on the stars in the night sky to brighten up the darkness while the lighthouse lamp glows persistently till the light of dawn.
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