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Approaches to Islamic Work part 2: Specific Means

Approaches to Islamic Work – part 2: Specific Means
Sheikh Muhammad b. `Abd al-`Azīz al-Thuwayni
The ways and means that can be employed for Islamic work are numerous and diverse. There are new approaches coming about all the time. We will look at some of them.

1. The written word:

People read. There can be no doubt about it. We cannot believe the popular claim that people have given up reading when we can see bookstores opening all the time and book fairs being held everywhere. This shows us that there must be readers out there. It it were not for readers, there would be no books.

Books are not all that people read. They read newspapers and magazines as well. What is important is that the written word must be read and that it is also something that can be preserved. People keep libraries in their homes. Even those people who keep books in their homes merely for decoration are inadvertently providing the visitors to their homes an opportunity to read. Haven’t we all experienced being to people’s homes where our host has left us for a while and we picked up a book or magazine lying about and started to read it?

The written word comes in many forms. Each has its own merits and unique qualities.

Books: Writing a book is a serious undertaking. A person should not write a book merely to write one and take up shelf space with it. An author needs to have a good reason for doing so. Hājī Khalīfah enumerates the reasons why someone should want to take the trouble to write a book:

The task of writing takes seven valid forms. No rational scholar would pursue any other. The first of these is a topic that no one has dealt with before and needs to be addressed. The second is a topic that has been insufficiently dealt with and needs to be supplemented. The third is something that is difficult to understand and needs to be explained. The fourth is something that is long and drawn out and needs to be abridged without its content being made to suffer. The fifth is a topic that is scattered about in different references and that needs to be compiled together in one place. The sixth is a topic that has been handled only in a disorganized manner and that demands to be arranged in a systematic and orderly manner. The seventh is a mistake hat needs to be corrected.

Every author who would write on a topic that someone else has already written about should make sure that his book provides at least one of the following five benefits: It should draw forth or introduce some idea that had heretofore either been problematic or had gone unnoticed. It should bring together some related ideas that had previously been kept separate. It should explain and clarify difficult concepts. It should present the material in a better, more organized manner. It should dispense with unnecessary material that unnecessarily draws the topic out. [Kashf al-Zunūn (1/35-36)]

Islamic work is a business that we engage in with our Lord. It is not something we do for money. Worldly business is a competitive arena where only the fittest survive. Islamic work is different. If one of us sees that his brother has already carried out the task that we had wished to perform, we should praise Allah that the need has been fulfilled and look for some other contribution that we can make. It must not be the goal of Islamic workers to take to pieces or disparage the efforts of others. Instead we must lend our support, assistance, and encouragement.

Letters and mailings: Some organizations involved in Islamic work as well as some private individuals draft letters, often personally addressed to their recipients. This correspondence can indeed be on the level of a very direct personal interchange. For some people, letter writing is a hobby that they enjoy and people seek out pen pals from far afield for this purpose.

Pamphlets and booklets: These are short written tracts devoted to particular topics. They might discuss Islamic beliefs, some issues of Islamic Law, some points of morality, etiquettes, or some other topic suited to this format. Publications of this nature abound these days. From one angle, this can be seen as a good thing. It shows a healthy level of activity. However, there is a downside to it as well. For some people, booklets and pamphlets have become their only source of Islamic knowledge. People have begun neglecting the important source works from which the information in those pamphlets is taken.

SMS: One of the newest ways of disseminating the written word is the short messaging system that works via cell phone. If these messages are used properly, they can prove to be a very effective means of influencing friends and acquaintances.

Periodicals: Periodicals are of two kinds. First, there are journals, magazines, and newspapers devoted to Islamic issues. Contributing to publications of this nature is not problematic. Then there are magazines and newspapers that target a general audience. They are devoted to various topics. Contributing to such publications is generally a good idea. However, those who wish to do so should adhere to the following guidelines:

1. The place of publication of any contribution should be clearly predefined. Periodicals are of many kinds and it important that any contribution is only published in a suitable publication.

2. Another necessary condition is that no modification or alteration should be made to the contributed article that could in any way change the author’s intended meaning.

An author who wishes to write for these publications has to be able to put some vitality into his writing. We often find while reading articles about Islam that, in spite of their being well supported with references from the Qur’ān and Sunnah, are quite weak in their presentation and fail to hold the reader’s attention. The readership has to see clearly how the references from the Qur’ān and Sunnah support the point the author is trying to make. Muslim readers, for instance, already know the Qur’ān and Sunnah and have direct access to these two sources. What they need to read are articles that will give them deeper insights.

The Internet: This is one of the modern means of conveying the message of Islam. Though it is a multimedia vehicle for information that can be used for the dissemination of audio and video materials, the written word predominates. The Internet can no longer be ignored. It has become indispensable.

It should not be viewed as something evil concocted by the West to corrupt the Muslims. That is a bad attitude to have. And why should we have such an attitude? Experience has shown us that the Internet is something that we can use to our advantage. If we turn our backs on it, we are wasting a golden opportunity for calling people to Islam.

Those who wish to engage in Islamic work using this medium should be people who have at least a reasonable degree of Islamic knowledge. They should also have the ability to discuss matters in a convincing manner.

The Internet accommodates articles of all lengths as well as dialogue. It is an ideal medium for the propagation of Islam. A Muslim needs only to put his trust in Allah and get involved.

2. The spoken word:

The spoken word can be heard on its own or it can be part of a broader visual experience. In either event, it can have a great impact on the listener. It all depends on the strength of the topic and the strength of the delivery. There are many ways that the spoken word can be employed:

Teaching: This can occur in the classroom, an informal study circle, or the local mosque. The teacher can have a great impact on his students – no matter who they are - as long as he takes their needs into consideration and speaks to them on a level that they can understand. He can inspire them and help to shape them, no matter how young those students might be.

`Amr b. al-`Ās joined a study circle that had convened near the Ka`bah. He learned that they had forbidden children from attending their circles. He said to them: “Do not do that. Though they may be the smallest people in society today, they will be its leaders tomorrow, just as we had been the least of our people at one time but now we are leaders of others.”

Ibn Muflih, after relating this event in one of his books, makes the following observation:

It is true what he said, without a doubt. Knowledge acquired while one is young is more firmly retained. Therefore, special attention should be given to the teaching of young students, especially those who are bright and alert and eager to learn. Their youth, poverty, or weakness should not be hindrance to our considering them and accommodating their needs. [Ibn Muflih, al-Ādāb al-Shar`iyyah wa al-Manh al-Mar`iyyah (1/244)]

A successful teacher is one who strives to open his students’ minds. He should take every possible opportunity to make them relate what they are learning to their Creator, regardless of the subject being studied. This should be one of the fundamental goals of teaching. Ibn al-Qayyim writes:

It is a blessing for a man to teach goodness whenever he can and impart advice to those who keep his company. Allah informs us about Christ (peace be upon him) that he said: “And He made me blessed wherever I was.” [Sūrah Maryam: 31] He meant that he was a teacher imparting goodness, calling to Allah, reminding people of Him, and instilling in them the desire to be obedient to Him. This is from a man’s blessings. Someone who is devoid of this trait is bereft of blessing, and there is no blessing for someone else in meeting with him or keeping his company. [Ibn al-Qayyim, Risālah ilā Kulli Muslim]

Public addresses: This is one of the oldest means of communicating with the public. There has always been a need for leaders and people of knowledge to address the public about what they need to know and what they have to do. Anyone who wants something from the people has to be able to address them.

Al-Jāhiz observed that the length of these addresses has as much to do with the circumstances and the subject matter as it does with the audience being addressed. He noticed that the public addresses of the Arabs – regardless of whether they were nomads, tent dwellers, or city folk – could either be short or long. It all depended on the situation and the topic.

When Islam came, it added beauty and richness to public speaking. It infused it with the words of the Qur’ān and the sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him), which was added the stories and poetry of the Arabs.

Moreover, Islam instituted the public address as a form of worship for both the speaker and the listener by making it an integral part of the Friday Prayer. The Prophet (peace be upon him) emphasized its importance by saying: “Whoever so much as rolls a pebble under his finger (during the sermon) has committed a vain act.” [Sahīh Muslim]

Since the listener has been obligated to pay close attention, he has a right to be listening to someone who has taken care with his topic and has taken both the time and the circumstances into due consideration.

Exhortations: The exhortation is a special mode of address, focusing on emotional impact. It requires a style of delivery that is extremely sensitive to circumstances. We can observe in the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him) how often he used to deliver sermons to his Companions and impart advice suitable for the particular time and situation.

Al-`Irbād b. Sāriyah relates the following:

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) delivered a sermon to us one day after the Noon prayer. It was a very eloquent sermon that moved our hearts and left us in tears. One man said: “Truly this sermon must be a farewell. So what do you enjoin upon us, O Messenger of Allah?” [Sunan al-Tirmidhī]

Generally an exhortation is delivered on an occasion where people are unprepared for it, like after the regular prayers or during some social gathering. Therefore, the person giving the sermon should take extra care to be considerate of the people’s feelings and avoid taxing their patience or boring them.

Lectures: Lectures differ from exhortations in that the people who attend them do so with the express intention of listening to them. Topically, it is more scholarly and generally of a longer duration. It is usually followed by an opportunity for the audience to ask questions, thus demanding from the lecturer a very high degree of preparedness, academically and psychologically. He has to be in a frame of mind where he will be able to respond effectively to the questions that are posed to him, and he has to be able to excuse himself from answering questions for which he does not have an answer.

Panel discussions: This is similar to a lecture except that there are a number of participants. This is a more exciting forum than a lecture since the discussion moves from one speaker to another. This distinction, however, can easily be lost if the host of the discussion monopolizes the floor and does not give the panelists sufficient time to speak.

Radio: The same guidelines that apply to periodicals apply here. This medium is has a broad public reach and is extremely important. A person wishing to participate in a radio broadcast should make sure that the type of program in which he is participating is suitable for his message so that it has the proper effect on its listeners. This is a decision that requires personal discretion.

Television: Participation in this audio and visual medium is not the unmitigated evil that some people think it is. Indeed, the message of Islam in this way can reach millions. The many opposing belief systems and moral values that are disseminated via the television pose a challenge for Islamic work that is quite demanding. Serious study must be undertaken in earnest to determine how to most effectively employ this medium to promote good and discourage evil.

Recorded media: Recorded lectures have been around for a long time now and Islamic cassettes have become an industry in their own right, with some foundations devoted exclusively to their production and distribution. The subject matter of these recordings varies from the thoroughly academic to emotional orations to Islamic poetry. Recordings are easy to circulate and easy for people to listen to. This makes them a very effective medium for calling people to Islam. All that is required is for us to work and make sure that good quality recordings are produced with appropriate content and then distributed in an effective manner.

3. Islamic organizations:

Whether the organization is academic or preoperational, the work of an organization has the advantage of being a collective effort. An organization can mobilize the efforts of the largest number of people so that each can make a valuable contribution. Thoughts and ideas can be pooled and improved upon. In this way, the skills and abilities of people can be employed to their maximum potential. The organization also makes the work being done less dependent on the individual. The work does not come to an end if one person becomes disinterested or unable to continue with it.

This type of work also enjoys the distinction of being managed, organized, and conducted with a degree of precision. It is not conducted in an offhand or arbitrary manner. Everyone works according to a pre-agreed work plan. Each person knows what he or she has to do and what he or she is entitled to expect. In this way, many conflicts are avoided. This is why an organization must have a board of directors to carry out its decision making so that decisions are not made arbitrarily. A properly managed organization is the most effective, beneficial, and error-free way of conducting Islamic work.

Included in these organizational efforts are summer youth camps and extra-curricular student activities that employ the idle time of our young people. These programs can be used to bolster confidence, teach skills, develop character, and show young people how to work together to serve society.

These are some of the specific means that can be utilized for effective Islamic work. In the next and final installment, we shall focus – Allah willing – on our personal conduct and how we can employ our dealings with others as a means of calling people to Allah.





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