The Concept of Mission in Islam

The Concept of Mission in Islam (Matiullah Dard) In essence every religion possesses a missionary character. It starts with an individual and seeks to persuade and convince others of its truth and of the beneficent nature of the values it propounds. It must, therefore, stand for freedom of conscience, including the freedom to change one’s religion and the other freedoms which are conducive to the beneficient adjustment of human beings. The Holy Quran explains that it is only within the competence of God, the All Knowing, the Almighty, to make a person believe, but even He does not force anyone to believe. He leaves everyone to exercise his or her reason and judgment. “If thy Lord had enforced His will, surely, all who are on the earth would have believed together. Wilt thou, then, force people to become believers?” (The Quran, Ch. 10 v. 100). It is clear beyond any shadow of doubt that Islam does not allow the use of force for its propagation. It is worth noting that the first revelation that came to the prophet of Islam commanded, him “Recite in the name of thy Lord”. The Arabic word “Iqra” connotes both recitation and conveying by word of mouth. The call was Muhammad’s first experience of verbal revelation. A tremendous concept is conveyed by the verses revealed to him on this occasion. Muhammad is warned that God has chosen him as the instrument for conveying His message to mankind.’ Professor Max Muller defined what the term — a missionary religion — should be taken to mean viz. one . . . in which the spreading of the truth and the conversion of unbelievers are raised to the rank of a sacred duty by the founder or his immediate successors . . . It is the spirit of truth in the hearts of believers which cannot rest, unless it manifests itself in thought, word and deed, which is not satisfied till it has carried its message to every human soul, till what one believes to be the truth is accepted as the truth by all members of the human family.2 1. Khan, M. Z., The Excellent Exemplar Muhammad, (London, 1962) p. 14. 2. Arnold, T. W., The Preaching of Islam, (London, 1913) p. 1. THE CONCEPT OF MISSION IN ISLAM 15 Sir T. W. Arnold observed: “It is such a zeal for the truth of their religion that has inspired the Muhammadans to carry with them the message of Islam to the people of every land into which they penetrate and that justly claims for their religion a place among those we term ‘missionary’. . . the spread of this faith over so vast a portion of the globe . . . is due to various causes, social, political and religious: but among these one of the most powerful factors at work in the production of this stupendous result, has been the unremitted labour of Muslim missionaries, who, with the Prophet himself as their great example have spent themselves for conversion of unbelievers.”3 Professor Arnold has also suggested in his introduction to the “Preaching of Islam” which is highly esteemed by orientalists: “Moreover it is not in the cruelties of the persecutor or the fury of the fanatic that we should look for the evidences of the missionary spirit of Islam, any more than in the exploits of that mythical personage, the Muslim warrior with sword in one hand and Quran in the other, but in the quiet, unobtrusive labours of the preacher and the trader who have carried their faith into every quarter of the globe. Such peaceful methods of preaching and persuasion were not adopted, as some would have us believe, only when political circumstances made force and violence impossible or impolitic, but were most strictly enjoined in numerous passages of the Quran.”4 Another research scholar writes: “It is ironic then that Western Christendom should have represented Islam as the religion of the sword. The impression given by much Christian polemic is that of Muslims converting by the sword in a savage and bloody attempt to extend their spiritual and temporal sway, and such biassed readings of the early spread of Islam have been used to interpret the religion of Islam, and even the Quran itself, as war mongering. And yet the Quranic instructions about the manner of preaching and propagating Islam are clearly set forth in terms which introduce social and spiritual criteria into the discussion and which remove the subject from the simply military or polemical level to that of mutual responsibility, respect, reason and patience.”5 In the history of the Christian Church missionary activity is seen to be intermittent, and an age of apostolic fervour may be succeeded by a period of 3. Arnold, T. W., op. cit., pp. 1-3. 4. Arnold, T. W., op. cit.. Introduction. 5. Craig, David A., “The Military and Spiritual Aspects of Jihad in the Quran”, (M.A. Dissertation. University of Birmingham) 1969. 16 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS apathy and indifference or persecution and forced conversion may take the place of the preachings of the Word; so likewise does the propaganda of Islam in various epochs of Muhammadan history ebb and flow. But since the zeal of proselytising is a distinct feature of either faith, its missionary history may fittingly be singled out as a separate branch of study, not as excluding other manifestations of the religious life but as concentrating attention on an aspect of it that has special characteristics of its own. Thus the annals of propaganda and persecution may be studied apart from one another, whether in the history of the Christian or the Muslim Church, though in both they may be at times commingled.6 Islamic Jihad The word Jihad is entirely misunderstood by most people and it is often translated as Holy War. Islamic Jihad is to strive with the help of the Quran. It is to expound by word and deed the beauties and. wisdom of the Quran. “So obey not the disbelievers and strive against them by means of the Quran with a mighty striving.” (25:53). The real Jihad is to preach the Message of Islam, to invite all people to accept and promote the teachings of the Quran. Etymologically the root is JHD which means the using or exerting of ones utmost power, effort, endeavours or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation whether it be an actual human enemy, the devil, or oneself; all of which are included in the term as used in the Quran.7 Basically Jihad is of two kinds: (a) Jihad against ones evil desires and propensities; and (b) Jihad against the enemies of truth which includes fighting in self-defence. Jihad in the sense of actual fighting is allowed only against those who choose to suppress free belief by violence or the use of arms. Jihad against any other people would be contrary to Islam. The first kind of Jihad may be termed “Jihad in Allah” and the latter kind of Jihad, “Jihad in the way of Allah”. The Prophet of Islam has termed the first kind of Jihad as the greater Jihad and the latter kind as the smaller Jihad. “There shall be no compulsion in religion, for guidance and error have been clearly distinguished.” (2:257). This verse not only forbids Muslims in most emphatic words to use force for converting people to Islam, but also gives reasons why force should not be used 6. Arnold, T. W., op. at,, p. 8. 7. Lane, E. W., Arabic-English Lexicon. THE CONCEPT OF MISSION IN ISLAM 17 for this purpose. Because truth stands out distinct from error, so there is no justification for using force. “And if any one of the idolaters seeks protection of thee grant him protection so that he may hear the Word of Allah: then convey him to his place of security. That is because they are a people who have no knowledge.” (9:6). The verse shows that war with idolaters was not undertaken in order to force them to embrace Islam, even when a state of war existed, idolaters were permitted to come to the Muslim camps if they wished to investigate the truth. Then after the truth had been explained to them, they were to be safely conducted to their place of security, if they did not feel inclined to embrace the new faith. In the face of such clear teachings, it is the height of injustice to accuse Islam of intolerance or of using force for its propagation. “Proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord: so whoever sees it is for his good; and whoever becomes blind it is to his own loss. And I am not a guardian over you.” (6:105). The duty of a divine prophet is confined to conveying what is revealed to him by God. It is not his concern to compel people to accept it. The verse refutes the allegation that Islam encourages the use of force for the propagation of its teachings. “If thy Lord had enforced His Will, surely all those on the earth would have believed, without exception. Will thou, then, take it upon thyself to force people to become believers.” (10:100). “And if Allah had enforced His Will, they would not have set up gods with Him. And We have not made thee a keeper over them nor art thou over them a guardian.” (6:108). In His infinite wisdom God has made man a free agent. The verses make it clear that Allah does not compel any person to accept the truth but leaves it to his option. Just as God does not compel man, so Muhammad cannot compel anybody, for he is only a Messenger of God. The words “keeper”, “guardian”, or “disposer of affairs”, are intended to signify that Muhammad is neither responsible for the actions of disbelievers nor is he the disposer of their affairs. “Those of the believers who sit at home excepting the disabled ones, and those who strive in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their persons are not equal. Allah has exalted in rank those who strive with their wealth 18 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS and their persons above those who sit at home. And to each Allah has promised good. And Allah has exalted those who strive above those who sit at home, by a great reward.” (4:96). This verse explains the different categories of believers only and not of hypocrites. Believers are of two classes: (1) Those who sincerely accept the truth and try to live up to the teachings of Islam but take no part in the struggle to defend and propagate the faith. Those are passive believers •— “sitters” as the verse names them. (2) Those who not only live up to the teachings of Islam but also actively participate in the work of its propagation are the “strivers” or “Mujahids” as they are called. The Mujahids are far superior to the former in the sight of God. There is, however, a third category of believers who even though they do not join their brethren in actually fighting disbelievers get an equal reward with those who take part in the actual struggle. These are mentioned in the words “excepting the disabled ones”. Their inability to participate in actual fighting is due to circumstances over which they have no control. They are heart and soul with the Mujahids but their particular circumstances; disease, poverty, etc., do no allow them to join the expeditions in person. It is with the Jihad for preaching that this essay is mainly concerned, to justify the missionary zeal of Islam, according to the Holy Quran and precepts and example of Muhammad. Jihad in the context of fighting is beyond the scope of this study, however, the following verses will show that the Islamic war is allowed only in self-defence and the Quran has also taken care to explain the necessary conditions and limitations of this kind of Jihad before permitting it. “Permission to take up arms is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged. And Allah, indeed has power to help them. Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly, only because they said ‘Our Lord is Allah’.” (22:40-41). “Do not transgress, surely Allah does not love the transgressors.” (2:191). The conception and allegation of Jihad (Religious War) —which sanctions the use of the “sword” to spread the faith — is definitely and entirely un-Islamic and recent research does prove it. Mission and Preaching Methods in the Quran The following Arabic roots BLGH (deliver, convey); DA’A (call, invite); THE CONCEPT OF MISSION IN ISLAM 19 BSHR (expose, glad tidings); NDHR (warn); and QWL (say, proclaim) used in different contexts in the Quran amply elucidate the concept of mission and various methods of preaching since the very inception of Islam. BLGH The word BLGH as used in the following verses means: The bringing, conveyance, delivery or communication of a message. It often occurs in the Quran as meaning the communication or announcement of what is revealed.8 “O Messenger, proclaim widely that which has been sent down to thee from thy Lord; for if thou do it not, thou will not have conveyed Has Message at all. Allah will safeguard thee against harm by people.” (5:68). “On the Messenger lies only the conveying of the Message. And Allah knows what you disclose and what you hide.” (5:100). “My responsibility is only to convey what is revealed to me from Allah and His Messages.” (72:24). “And if you reject the truth then the generations before you also rejected it. And the Messenger is only responsible for the clear delivery of the Message.” (29:19). “This is a sufficient admonition for mankind that they may benefit by it and that they be warned thereby, and that they may know that He is the only one God and that those possessed of understanding may ponder.” (14:53). This is a sufficient admonition for mankind, means that the truth has been properly communicated and brought home to men by means of this Book, and now it is up to them whether to accept or reject it. The Quran on the one hand, warns erring people of their errors, and on the other hand, it exhorts those who have shown the right path to make further progress in wisdom and knowledge. DA’A “And let there be among you a body of men who should invite to goodness and enjoin virtue and forbid evil. And it is they who shall prosper.” (3:105). 8. Lane, E. W., ibid. 20 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS The words “And let there be among you a body of men who should invite to goodness” do not mean that the duty of preaching is confined to a few only. What is meant is that, whereas all should try to preach and propagate the truth of Islam, there should be a party of men among Muslims who should be entirely devoted to this work. Every Muslim is not enjoined to devote himself wholly to the preachmg of Islam: for if it were so, Muslims could not earn their livelihood nor take part in other healthy pursuits of life. So, though all must contribute their quota, only a section of the community is required to devote itself exclusively to the work of propagation. “Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortations and argue with them in a way that is best, surely thy Lord knows best who has strayed from His way; and He knows those who are rightly guided.” (16:126). The word “Hikma” (wisdom) in the verse means: (1) Knowledge or science; (2) Equity or justice; (3) Forbearance or clemency; (4) Any saying or disclosure dealing with the exigencies of the occasion; (5) Gift of prophesy; and (6) What prevents or restrains from ignorant behaviour.9 The word may be used in all these senses. Taking it in the first sense, the verse would mean that Muslims should invite others to Islam by argument based on knowledge and reason and should not confine themselves merely to making appeals to sentiments and emotions. Using it in the second sense would be that, when arguing with the followers of other Faiths, Muslim missionaries should not bring forward such objections against those faiths as can be advanced against Islam itself, for such a course is not only inconsistent with justice, but is also unsound. In the third sense, the verse would mean that Muslims should explain the beauties of Islam with patience. In the fourth sense the verse would mean that while inviting other people to Islam, Muslims should not say anything which is not true and is not in accordance with facts, for if they resorted to falsehood while preaching truth they would be ruining their own souls in order to save those of others. Moreover, their discourse should be conformable to the exigencies of the occasion and should not wound other people’s susceptibilities. Using the word in the fifth sense, the verse would mean that Muslims should invite men to Islam by using susceptibilities. Using the word in the fifth sense, the verse means arguments contained in the Quran and not arguments which are the creation of their own fancy. Lastly, in the sixth sense, the verse would mean 9. Lane, E. W., ibid. Book 1, part, p. 617. THE CONCEPT OF MISSION IN ISLAM 21 that the talk of Muslims should not be beyond the comprehension of those to whom the appeal is made. They should say things which may help to resolve the doubts of others and not display or demonstrate their own talents and learning. The words “goodly exhortations” mean “a discourse which softens the hearts of the hearers and makes a deep impression on them”. Thus the Quran exhorts its followers not to content themselves with mere cold and dry reasoning but to reinforce and support philosophical dissertations with an appeal to sentiments. This appeal, however, should be “goodly exhortations” i.e., it should be based on pure truth and there should be no prevarication or tampering with facts. The expression, “Thy Lord best knows those who have strayed from—-who are rightly guided”, contains a word of encouragement and good cheer for the Muslim evangelist. He is told that if in spite of his best efforts he finds that his preaching has not had the desired effect, he should not get discouraged and think that his preaching was defective, but should continue his noble work without slackening, leaving the result to God, because He alone knows who is deserving and destined to be guided to the right path. As Islam was to spread abroad and was to be preached to the people who claimed to possess revealed Scriptures, Muslims have been told in this verse that a much more difficult task lay ahead of them. While dealing with idolaters it was easy enough to refute idolatry, but in the case of “the People of the Book” the excellencies of Islamic Teachings would have to be proved regarding details and auxiliary matters also. “And who is better in speech than he who invites men to Allah and does righteous deeds and says ‘I am, surely, of those who submit?’ And good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with that which is best. And lo, he, between whom and thyself was enmity, will become as though he were a warm friend. But none is granted it save those who are steadfast; and none is granted it save those who possess a large share of good.” (41:34-36). There could be no better avocation for a person than to call men to God and to conform his own conduct to the teachings he preaches to others and to submit entirely to the will of God. This is the essence of Islam. Preaching entails many hardships, therefore, the verse enjoins bearing them patiently and with fortitude, and to return good for evil He receives at the hands of one’s persecutors. The very high standard of good moral conduct referred to in the verse can only be attained by putting up, without grumbling or fretting, with hardships one has to face in the way of God. 22 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS BSHR “Verily, We have sent thee with the truth as the bearer of glad tidings and as a warner; and there is no people to whom a warner has not been sent.” (35:25). The verse reveals a great truth which had remained unknown to the world till the Quran revealed it, viz.: that there had been sent to every people in the past a heavenly Messenger who preached to them the same Message of truth and righteousness. This great and noble principle leads to belief in the divine origin of all religions, and in their Founders as Divine Messengers. It is an article of faith with a Muslim to believe in and equally respect and revere all of them. With the introduction of this sublime truth, Islam has sought to create an atmosphere of amity and good will among different creeds, and to remove and banish rancour and bitterness which has embittered relations between the followers of these creeds all over the world. Thus Islam establishes peace among all religions. “And we have not sent thee but as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner for all mankind, but most men know not.” (34:29). Muhammad has been repeatedly declared in the Quran as having been sent as a Messenger to all mankind till the end of time.10 The Message of Islam is a universal message and the Quran is the last revealed Book which has laid claim to finality. “O people of the Book! there indeed has come to you Our Messenger, after a break in the series of Messengers, who makes things clear to you lest you should say, ‘There has come to us no bearer of glad tidings and no warner.’ So a bearer of glad tidings and a warner has indeed come to you. Allah has power over all things.” (5:20). “We have sent thee with the truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner.” (2:120). NDHR “O Prophet! Truly we have sent thee as a witness, and a bearer of glad tidings, and a warner, and as a summoner unto Allah by His command, and as a Lamp that gives bright light.” (33:46-47). 10. See also Holy Quran ch. 21:108 and ch. 25:2. THE CONCEPT OF MISSION IN ISLAM 23 In these verses five distinctive qualities of Muhammad have been mentioned to show that he possesses all the necessary qualifications which a spiritual leader, who is charged with Divine mission “to bring men out of darkness into light” should possess: (a) he is a witness, i.e. a promulgator of the law and a model; (b) he is a bearer of glad tidings, i.e. God has not lost interest in men and continues to send His Messengers and Prophets to reclaim lost humanity when there is need for one; (c) he is a warner telling men that if they did not benefit by his teachings and persisted in their evil way, they would come to grief; (d) he is a summoner unto Allah by His command, i.e. he is not a self-appointed reformer but a Divinely commissioned teacher; and (e) he is a lamp that gives light, i.e. now, he alone is “the light and the way”. QWL The word “QUL”—a derivative of QWL—has been used at the beginning of some chapters and in many verses of the Quran. It applies to every Muslim. Thus Muslims are enjoined to proclaim repeatedly in best ways the Truth of Islam. “And argue not with the People of the Book except with what is best as an argument, but argue not at all with such of them as are unjust. And say, ‘we believe in that which has been revealed to us and that which has been revealed to you; and our God and your God is one, and to Him we submit’.” (29:47). This verse expounds a sound principle to guide Muslims when preaching their faith to others. They should begin preaching and emphasising those beliefs and religious principles which are common to both. For example, while preaching to the People of the Book they should start with the two cardinal principles of the Unity of God and Divine revelation. According to Islam God revealed Himself to man in every age. Prophets have been raised among all peoples, but the followers of other religions claim to have the exclusive privilege of being: “Gods’ sons and His loved ones.” (5:19). “Say CO People of the Book! come to a word equal between us and you— that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with Him, and that some of us take not others for lords beside Allah’. But if they turn away then say, ‘Bear witness that we have submitted to God’.” (3:65). 24 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS “Say, ‘O People of the book, you stand on nothing until you observe the Torah and the Gospel and what has now been sent down to you from your Lord’. And surely what has been sent down to thee from thy Lord will increase many of them in rebellion and disbelief; so grieve not for the disbelieving people.” (5:59). “And say, ‘It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve’.” In this latter verse “let him who will, believe, andlethim who will, disbelieve”, clearly shows the peaceful and amicable way of Islamic preaching. Special Methods of Propagation The method of conveying Allah’s message has also been set forth in the Quran. Due regard has to be given to every factor which influences the conveying of “Glad Tidings” or “Warnings” in a preaching situation. The Quran furnishes ample guidance in this respect as well. 16:126; 29:47; 41:34—36 have already been commented upon previously with regard to preaching methods. The following verses particularly speak of the ways to be adopted by the preacher. Instructions given to Moses and Aaron are as follows: “Go, thou and thy brother, with My signs to be diligent in remembering Me, both of you to Pharaoh, for he has transgressed grievously; but speak gently to him, perchance he may take heed or be humble. They urged: Lord, we fear lest he commit some excess against us or press us hard. Allah reassured them: Fear not at all; for I am with you both hearing and seeing. So go ye both to him and say: We are the Messengers of thy Lord.” (20:43-48). A preacher should use gentle language and also show due respect to those in worldly authority. Sir Zafrulla Khan says in his introduction to the Holy Quran: “The Quran is uncompromising on the Unity of God and brooks not anything that may savour of ascribing partners to Him. Yet it makes allowances for the sensitiveness of those who are in error, for to them that to which they hold seems fair.”11 “Revile ye not those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they, out of spite, shall revile Allah in their ignorance.” (6:109). 11. Khan, M. Z., The Holy Quran, (English translation), Introduction. THE CONCEPT OF MISSION IN ISLAM 25 The verse not only inculcates respect for the feelings of others but also assures amity among peoples. The Example of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad “And We have not sent thee but as a mercy for all peoples.” (21:108). “From its very inception Islam has been a missionary religion, both in theory and in practice, for the^life of Muhammad exemplifies the same teaching, and the Prophet himself stands at the head of a long series of Muslim missionaries who have won an entrance for their faith into the hearts of unbelievers.”12 Muhammad was a mercy for his followers and a mercy for his opponents. He was a mercy for the Arabs whom he raised from the depths of moral depravity to the highest pinnacle of spiritual eminence as well as entitling them to worldly honours, and he was a mercy for the future generations in as much as he left in the Quran and in his teachings safe and sure guidance for them. The preaching of Islam, was vigorously carried out by Muhammad throughout his ministry at Mecca and Medina. The first converts included his faithful and loving wife Khadijah, his adopted children Zayd and Ali, and his bosom-friend Abu-Bakr, about whom he said: “I never invited any to the faith who displayed not hesitation, perplexity and vacillation — excepting only Abu-Bakr, who when I told him of Islam tarried not, neither was perplexed.13 Muhammad and his early followers had to face the cruellest persecution, especially the Muslim slaves who had no protector, in order to preach the doctrines of Islam. Muhammad went on a missionary journey to Taif, a small town about sixty miles to the south-east of Mecca, where he was badly treated. Pilgrims of the Khazraj tribe from Medina were converted by the Prophet in the Valley of Mina and through them the new faith spread rapidly from house to house and from tribe to tribe in Medina. Soon after the Hijra (migration), Medina became a Muslim town, from where many teachers and preachers were sent out at the request of neighbouring tribes. However, eighty of them were treacherously and cruelly murdered by two of the tribes. After concluding the Treaty of Hudaibiya, Muhammad instituted another plan for the spread of Islam. He sent ambassadors to different capitals, each with a letter from him, inviting the rulers to accept Islam. They went to Heraclius, the Roman Emperor, the Kings of Iran, Egypt, Abyssinia and other Chiefs. “But the message of Islam was not for Arabia only; the whole world was 12. Arnold,T. W., op. cit., p. 14. 13. Ibid. 26 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS to share it. As there was but one God, so there was to be one religion into which all men were to be invited. This claim to be universal, to hold sway over all men and all nations, found a practical illustration in the letters which Muhammad is said to have sent in the year A.D. 628.”14 It is clearly shown that from the very beginning Muhammad believed in the universality of the message of Islam as well. Thus, Islam is a missionary force inculcated by the teachings of the Quran. One of the cardinal duties of a Muslim is to convey the Message of Allah, taking into consideration all the factors which affect ones attitude, intellectual capabihty and position in society because it is the object of all missionary religions to convert mankind to the Truth. Holy Living Let all your power be exerted to establish His Unity upon earth. Be kind and merciful to the creatures of God. Let not your tongue speak evil against them or your hands do injury to them. Do not oppress them buttryyour bestto do good to them. Speak not the word of pride and vanity to any one though he be your subordinate or servant. Abuse not any one though he might abuse you. Walk upon earth in humility and meekness and sympathise with your fellow beings, that you may be accepted of God. There are many who show meekness outwardly but inwardly they are ravening wolves. There are many who are smooth in appearance but they have the nature of a serpent. You cannot be accepted of your God until yourtongue conforms with your heart. If you are in a high place, glory not in your greatness and do not look down upon the lowly but have mercy upon them. If you are learned, glory not in your learning, and do not despise the ignorant with vanity but give them a word of kind advice. If you are rich, glory not in your riches and behave not proudly towards the poor, but serve and assist them. Shun the paths that lead to destruction. Fear God and be righteous. Worship not the creatures but severing all your earthly connections, be ye wholly devoted unto God. Let not your delight be in this world. Serve God only, and devote yourlifeto His service. Hate every impurity and evil for God’s sake, for your Lord is holy. Let every morning bear you witness that you have passed the night with righteousness, and let every evening bear you witness that you have passed the day fearing God. (Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad) 14. Arnold, T. W., op. cit., p. 28.