Qur'anic Methods for Communicating Islam
Throughout history, Allah has sent messengers one after the other to provide the people of the societies of ignorance with clear explanations of His Existence and the hereafter, and to summon them to worship Him. Allah informs us that His messengers, as well as all believers, have been entrusted with this task:
Let there be a community among you who call to the good, enjoin the right, and forbid the wrong... Surah Al 'Imran: 104
Believers are obliged only to communicate Islam, meaning that they are to convey Allah's commands to people and call them to the Qur'an's morality. Allah guides and gives understanding to people. In this respect, believers are responsible only for using the methods indicated in the Qur'an; they are not responsible for whether they believe or not.
To make their task easy, Allah shows believers many methods through explicit commands and accounts in the Qur'an. Allah's messengers' practices also set an example for believers. In this chapter, we will dwell upon the Qur'anic methods of communicating the message and coping with changing situations while fulfilling this task.
Stressing that No Wage is Asked for
Those people to whom Islam is being communicated should be able to analyze the message with a free mind and conscience, and without being placed under the influence of any prejudice, doubt, or distress. To this end, they should be certain of the conveyor's sincerity.
People who are not acquainted with believers and thus know little about them may well be biased against them and doubt their intentions because they are under the influence of the society of ignorance. This may be considered acceptable to a certain extent. For instance, they might be curious about why believers work so hard to bring Islam to them. Since everything in their own world is based upon personal interest, they might be unable to grasp that people of faith only seek Allah's good pleasure. Or, they might have concerns about whether the information being provided is accurate. For these reasons, believers must do their best to dispel all doubts and concerns without waiting for the other party to express them.
Indeed, the Qur'an informs us that all messengers made this a priority of their mission, for they have certain faith in Allah's Might and the hereafter's existence, and thereby devote their entire lives to earning His good pleasure. Having certain faith in the existence of Heaven and Hell, messengers fear that everyone they meet will face an infinite and dreadful punishment in Hell unless they comply with Allah's commands. Their main mission is to enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and to tell people about Allah's might and greatness. In return, they seek only to earn Allah's good pleasure. Other than that, they expect no worldly benefit.
The Qur'an draws our attention to this point, and stresses that messengers strove to resolve their people's doubts. Some relevant verses are as follows:
I do not ask you for any wage for it. My wage is the responsibility of no one but the Lord of all the worlds. Surat ash-Shu'ara': 180
They are the ones Allah has guided, so be guided by their guidance. Say: "I do not ask you for any wage for it. It is simply a reminder to all beings." Surat al-An'am: 90
My people! I do not ask you for any wage for it. My wage is the responsibility of Him Who brought me into being. So will you not use your intellect? Surah Hud: 51
A man came running from the far side of the city, saying: "My people! Follow the Messengers! Follow those who do not ask you for any wage and who have received guidance." Surah Ya Sin: 20-21
Thus, in compliance with the signs mentioned in these and other verses, those who have undertaken such a noble mission have to clarify this point. The conditions of today's world have compelled people to be prejudiced toward everyone, since relations are based primarily upon material interests. For this reason, such clarifications will clarify the matter to the other party.
Making It Clear That the One Who Communicates the Message Is Reliable
As to how the message should be communicated, the Qur'an provides yet another message: Those who communicate Islam first should make it quite clear that they are honest and reliable people. Indeed, we understand from the Qur'an that all of the messengers used this method and stressed that they were reliable messengers sent by Allah:
I am a faithful Messenger to you. Surat ash-Shu'ara': 107
This is essential to remove the doubts of those to whom Allah's message will be conveyed and to win their confidence. If people are honest, sincere, and reliable, then their words deserve attention and contemplation. But any doubts about the reliability of those conveying the message will cause the other party to develop a self-defense mechanism. Once this point is crossed by the methods presented in the Qur'an, people become ready to concentrate on the message of Islam and are more open to it.
Refuting False Beliefs
After eliminating the concerns and prejudices of those to whom Islam is being conveyed, the next step is to refute their irrational and false beliefs. Explaining the erroneous nature of their beliefs should be done clearly and logically, for people will abandon their beliefs only after being convinced that their beliefs are mistaken. In order to remove the concerns that blur one's mind, Allah presents a method: Disproving false beliefs through rational, scientific, and visual methods by providing satisfactory explanations as to why the unbelievers' systems do not work. The method used by the Prophet Ibrahim (as) to spread the message to his people sets a good example:
When he asked his father and people: "What do you worship?" they replied: "We worship idols, and will continue to cling to them." He asked: "Do they hear you when you call, or do they help you or do you harm?" They said: "No, but this is what we found our fathers doing." He asked: "Have you really thought about that which you worship, you and your fathers who came before?" Surat ash-Shu'ara': 70-76
The Prophet Ibrahim (as) asked his people such questions in order to address both their reason and intelligence, and gradually made them realize the invalidity of their own beliefs. Meanwhile, with each question he appealed to his people's consciences and ensured that they would acknowledge the illogical nature of their beliefs. He followed this method because his people, who had been worshipping stone idols inherited from their forefathers, had never thought about it. However, once he exposed the facts, they realized how unconscious and feeble were the beings that they worshipped.
He then introduced Allah through His sublime attributes and thereby revealed the incomparable difference between the stone idols that lacked any strength and the being of Allah, the All-Mighty and All-Wise:
They are all my enemies, except for the Lord of all the worlds: He created me and guides me. He gives me food and drink. When I am ill He heals me. He will cause my death and then give me life. He in Whom I sincerely hope will forgive my mistakes on the Day of Reckoning. Surat ash-Shu'ara': 77-82
This method enabled his idolatrous people to grasp the irrational situation they were in, but its influence lasted for only a certain time.
Using a Question-and-Answer Format
Similarly, people can be encouraged to inquire further about that which they are not convinced. Doing so will enable them to understand how well they have understood the information provided, and thereby allow them to provide further explanations. Offering more information before clarifying what has been presented already only confuses people.
In addition, it is a Qur'anic method to refute distorted thinking by presenting the Qur'an's sound and rational reasoning. Another verse enlightens us about this method:
What about the one who argued with Ibrahim about his Lord, on the basis that Allah had given him sovereignty? Ibrahim said: "My Lord gives life and causes to die." He replied: "I also give life and cause to die." Ibrahim said: "Allah makes the sun come from the east. Make it come from the west." And the disbeliever was dumbfounded. Allah does not guide wrongdoing people. Surat al-Baqara: 258
In an extremely concise and profound manner, the Prophet Ibrahim (as) exposed the unbeliever's weakness before Allah's infinite might and, through impressive examples, made him recognize this situation on his own. Prophet Ibrahim (as)'s proposal amazed and then completely silenced the unbeliever. This wise style sets a very good example for believers who are communicating Islam to others.
Calling Openly and Secretly
Allah informs us that all His messengers employed various methods and explanations to communicate Allah's greatness and the need for religion. The example of the Prophet Nuh (as) in this regard can serve as a guide for all believers.
He said: "My Lord, I have called my people night and day, but my calling has only made them more evasive. Indeed, every time I called them to Your forgiveness, they put their fingers in their ears, wrapped themselves up in their clothes, and were extremely arrogant. Then I called them openly. Then I addressed them publicly and privately. I said: 'Ask forgiveness of your Lord. Truly He is Endlessly Forgiving. He will send heaven down on you in abundant rain reinforce you with more wealth and sons, and grant you gardens and grant you waterways.'" Surah Nuh: 5-12
This prayer reveals that, when necessary, believers can use both direct and indirect ways of explanation.
Reminding his people of the mundane things for which they felt a strong affection, the Prophet Nuh (as) stressed that Allah grants them all blessings so that they will think. He told them that Allah sends down rain to water their crops, gives them wealth and children, creates rivers and gardens with abundant yield, and that He is the Sole Possessor of every blessing that they enjoy. In order to draw them nearer to the concept of religion, he strove to explain to his people, who could not truly grasp Islam's beauty and their need for religion, that the worldly interests to which they were greedily attached also were under Allah's control. Their grasp of these basic facts would lay the proper ground for a better understanding of the hereafter's existence and Islam's commands.
Explaining the Signs of Creation
One method Allah tells believers to use while communicating Islam to their people is to acquaint their people with the signs of creation. Many prophets mentioned in the Qur'an led their people think about these signs. The Prophet Nuh (as) was such a prophet:
Do you not see how He created seven heavens in layers and placed the moon as a light in them, and made the sun a blazing lamp? Allah caused you to grow from the soil, (and) then will return you to it and bring you out again. Allah has spread the ground out as a carpet for you so that you could use its wide valleys as roadways. Surah Nuh: 15-20
These signs of creation hold so much and elaborate information that they could fill many volumes. Reflecting upon the seven layers making up the sky and their benefits to earth's living inhabitants and ecological system, the sun's and moon's influence on the seasons, climates, the alteration of night and day, and human life will broaden people's horizons and eventually add to their wisdom and faith. Pondering over the catastrophes that the slightest change in these systems could cause serves the same purpose. The universe abounds with such minute details, which the vast majority of people ignore. For this reason, drawing attention to them encourages people to think and is instrumental in leading them to assessing Allah's Power and Might. The Prophet (saas) stresses the importance of such a good deed: "Whoever guides someone to virtue will be rewarded equivalent to him (her) who practices that good action." (Muslim)
Indeed, the Qur'an calls upon people to appreciate the signs of creation that indicate Allah's Existence and Greatness, and to reflect upon them. Below are just a few of the many verses that draw one's attention to this subject:
Have they not looked at the sky above them, how We structured it and made it beautiful, and how there are no fissures in it? And the ground, how We stretched it out and cast firmly embedded mountains upon it and caused luxuriant plants of every kind to grow in it, an instruction and a reminder for every penitent human being? And We sent down blessed water from the sky and made gardens grow by it, and grain for harvesting, and soaring date-palms with layered spathes, as provision for Our servants. By it We brought a dead land to life. That is how the Resurrection will take place. Surah Qaf: 6-11
Have they not looked at the camel how it was created? And at the sky – how it was raised up? And at the mountains – how they were embedded? And at the earth – how it was smoothed out? So remind them! You are only a reminder. Surat al-Ghashiyya: 17-21
Do those who disbelieve not see that the heavens and the earth were sewn together and then We unstitched them and that We made from water every living thing? So will they not believe? We placed firmly embedded mountains on the earth, so it would not move under them, and We put broad valleys as roadways in it, so that perhaps they might be guided. We made the sky a preserved and protected roof yet still they turn away from Our Signs. It is He Who created night and day and the sun and moon, each one swimming in a sphere. Surat al-Anbiya': 30-33
A Sign for them is the dead land which We bring to life and from which We bring forth grain, of which they eat. We place upon it gardens of dates and grapes, and cause springs to gush out from it, so they may eat its fruits – they did not do it themselves. So will they not be thankful? Glory be to Him Who created all the pairs, from what the ground produces and from themselves and from things unknown to them. Surah Ya Sin: 33-36
In the heavens and earth there are certainly Signs for the believers. And in your creation and all the creatures He has spread about, there are Signs for people with certainty. And in the alternation of night and day and the provision Allah sends down from the sky, bringing the ground to life by it after it has died, and the varying direction of the winds, there are Signs for people who use their intellect. Those are Allah's Signs that We recite to you with truth. In what discourse, then, after Allah and His Signs, will they believe? Surat al-Jathiyya: 3-6
Communicating Allah's Existence to the General Public
As the foregoing makes clear, the Qur'an presents various methods for communicating Islam. The decision about which method to use depends upon the believers' conscience and wisdom. Many parts of the Qur'an refer to messengers conveying Islam to a single person. They also mention an open address to the general public.
The Qur'an implies that Allah's messengers called their people publicly by saying: "My people." One of the relevant verses is as follows:
And to 'Ad We sent their brother Hud, who said: "My people, worship Allah! You have no other god than Him. So will you not have fear of Allah?" Surat al-A'raf: 65
People generally find it humiliating to be influenced by someone who holds contrary views. Alternatively, although they may be convinced of the correctness of those views, they tend to reject them outright because of personal prejudice. This is why people who hold such an outlook might achieve better results by addressing the general public rather than talking to individuals, since the positive reaction of some people may have a favorable effect upon others. In brief, considering the community's general attitude, this method may prove to be more effective.
Never did your Lord destroy the cities until He had raised up in their mother (-town) a messenger reciting unto them Our revelations... Surat al-Qasas: 59
Throughout history, Allah has sent His messengers to "mother-towns" to tell people about His ways. This serves as a guide for believers, for as a general rule it is more effective first to focus upon principle places and then to expand upon them. Indeed, the Qur'an relates that believers first spread Islam to their relatives. Once their relatives grasped its beauties, the believers targeted a larger group. This way, they made the most effective use of their talents.
As the Qur'an indicates, messengers generally are sent to densely populated areas where "the chiefs of the nation," those who are the most insolent, live. Allah's messengers summon such people first to the fear of Allah and Islam's moral excellence, for they are aware that such people's tendency toward Islam will have a positive impact upon other people.
The Prophet Musa (as)'s call to Pharaoh is a good example of this:
Has the story of Musa reached you, when his Lord called out to him in the holy valley of Tuwa? "Go to Pharaoh, for he has overstepped the limits, and say: 'Do you resolve to purify yourself? I will guide you to your Lord so that you may fear Him.'" Surat an-Nazi'at: 15-19
The wisdom here is self-explanatory: Refuting the rationale of the leading unbelievers' disbelief facilitates the conversion of their followers to truth.
The Influence of Wealth and Splendor
A beautiful physical environment is another important factor that contributes to the believers' success in spreading Allah's message. As a matter of fact, whether this is the purpose or not, trying to establish a beautiful place is the natural outcome of all believers' desire and endeavor to draw near to the beauties of Paradise, for believers try to apply the Qur'anic understanding of aesthetics and art to their surrounding environment. The Qur'an contains extremely glorious and impressive descriptions of mansions, gardens, rivers, couches, and other decorative elements that address themselves to the human soul. Thus, believers adopt the Qur'anic style of aesthetics.
Furthermore, the Qur'an draws attention to the positive effect that a glorious and splendid environment makes on those people to whom Islam is being conveyed. This way, people who have recently been introduced to Islam should be able to see the Paradise-like features inherent in the believers' lifestyle and surrounding environment. This brings their hearts closer to Islam and, as with all other aspects of the Qur'an, they can observe how this Qur'anic concept is practiced.
The Qur'an provides us with an example in the story of the Prophet Sulayman (as) and the Queen of Saba:
She was told: "Enter the courtyard." But when she saw it, she thought that it was a pool and so bared her legs. He said: "It is a courtyard paved with glass." She replied: "My Lord, I have wronged myself but I have submitted, with Sulayman, to the Lord of all the worlds." Surat an-Naml: 44
Having heard that the Queen of Saba and her people were worshipping the sun, the Prophet Sulayman (as) summoned them to submit to Allah and Islam. The queen, who came to Sulayman (as)'s palace after receiving his letter, was extremely impressed by the magnificence and wealth she saw there. Her admiration for this taste led her to submit herself to the true path.
The verse informs us that the palace's floor was so transparent that the Queen of Saba thought that it was an expanse of water and thus pulled up her skirts. This floor bore a striking resemblance to Paradise, which the Qur'an depicts as a place full of gardens "with rivers flowing under them," and, although it was built by people, it had an immediate effect upon the person to whom Islam was being conveyed. Recognizing that the beauties surrounding her were the result of great wisdom, she acknowledged Islam's superiority.
Moreover, a place's aesthetic appearance and cleanliness provides some relief to the human soul. Bright, spacious, and clean places possessing an aesthetic decorative touch display the believers' peaceful state of mind and positively affect the people to whom the message is being conveyed. On the other hand, dark, gloomy, and messy places depress everyone, even if they themselves are unaware of this fact.
However, we need to remember that Allah guides and grants insight to a person. Such environments can only serve as a prayer, for they do not guarantee that people will acquire faith in Allah. Meanwhile, what really matters for believers is striving to earn Allah's good pleasure and calling people to Islam as an act of worship. In return for this service, believers will be justly rewarded in the hereafter.
Through their physical appearance, believers show that they live by the Qur'an's moral principles. In the Qur'an, Allah calls the believers to pay meticulous attention to physical hygiene and grooming. Complying with all of Allah's recommendations and commands would make all believers, who convey the Qur'an's commands, impressive in people's eyes.
On the other hand, only a sound and relaxed mind can concentrate on a particular subject. Therefore, believers who call others to Islam should abandon anything that might distract the unbelievers' attention so that they can concentrate all of their attention upon the message and Allah's signs. An unkempt appearance produces a negative and unpleasing effect upon an audience, whereas believers who adhere to the Qur'an always are pleasing to the eye. Their neat appearance and cleanliness evoke admiration and respect, and call forth attention.
Meeting People's Needs
Another issue pointed to in the Qur'an is meeting the needs of those who have been introduced to Islam only recently. This is a natural tendency for believers, since the Qur'anic morality teaches them to be kind and thoughtful to others even if they do not know them. As we saw earlier, the Prophet Ibrahim (as) offered food to his guests promptly, although they were complete strangers to him.
Surat at-Tawba: 60, "those whose hearts are to be reconciled," mentions that such people are among the recipients of alms. Therefore, whatever is given to those whose hearts are to be reconciled to Islam is in compliance with the Qur'an.
On the other hand, concentrating on an important subject requires a great deal of energy both for the listeners and the speaker. Harnessing one's energy to a certain topic for a prolonged period of time may cause physical and mental weariness. Offering them something to eat or drink raises people's energy levels and helps them concentrate.
The Qur'an provides many beneficial methods to communicate the message. Yet, what renders all of these methods and endeavors effective is sincerity. The Qur'anic understanding of sincerity is quite different from that of the society of ignorance. Real sincerity is sensed only if those who preach the word believe in what they preach. Insincerity, revealed when a person's words do not conform to Allah's recommendations, can be recognized easily by how one speaks.
On the other hand, the attitude of those who truly believe in what they preach and live by what they preach is quite different. For instance, people who have a strong faith in the hereafter describe Hell in a naturally convincing manner. Their tone of voice, expression, and manner of talking convey their feelings and enable other people to perceive Hell's certainty and dreadful nature. The explanations of those who have not grasped its existence, on the other hand, may have a negative effect on others. Thus the values, attitudes, and life of these people should support their explanations.
We also need to remember that sincerity can be attained only through true faith. Allah draws attention to this attribute of His messengers in many verses. Indeed, in order to explain away the impact that Allah's messengers have had upon their souls, unbelievers throughout history have slandered them and called them magicians.
Communicating the message with wisdom, that is, with concise and effective speech, is another feature that is just as effective as sincerity. Concise speech means to explain a subject through a few striking words, mentioning only the necessary issues, and avoiding irrelevant details. The Qur'an relates the importance of wise speech:
Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and argue with them in the kindest way. Your Lord knows best who has gone astray from His way, and knows best who has been guided. Surat an-Nahl: 125
The key to wise speech is sincerity. From the verse below, we understand that wisdom cannot be counterfeited and that one can attain it only by the Will of Allah:
He gives wisdom to whoever He wills, and he who has been given wisdom has been given great good … Surat al-Baqara: 269
Allah draws attention to the importance of decisive speech, saying that it is a blessing from His sight, as we read below:
When he (Musa) reached full age and was firmly established (in life), We bestowed on him wisdom and knowledge, for thus do We reward those who do good. Surat al-Qasas: 14
We made his kingdom strong, and gave him (Dawud) wisdom and decisive speech. Surah Sâd: 20
… Allah gave him (Dawud) kingship and wisdom, and taught him whatever He willed … Surat al-Baqara: 251
… We gave the family of Ibrahim the Book and Wisdom, and We gave them an immense kingdom. Surat an-Nisa': 54
(Allah said:) "O Yahya! Take hold of the Book with strength." And We granted him wisdom while yet a child. Surah Maryam: 12