Rasulullah SAW bersabda: "Barangsiapa yang Allah SWT menghendaki kebaikan (Surga) baginya, niscaya ia dibuat pandai dalam ilmu agama." (HR. Al-Bukhari dari Muawiyah)

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Selasa, Oktober 28, 2008

Approaches to Islamic Work – part 1: General Precepts

| Sheikh Muhammad b. `Abd al-`Azîz al-Thuwayni|


The various approaches that can be taken to call people to Allah are indispensable for Islamic work. As any rational person is aware, a goal cannot be reached without there first being a way to reach it. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used the various means that were available to him in his day. He declared the truth from the summit of Mount Safâ. He presented his message in the markets and the meeting places of the tribes and the places where the rites of pilgrimage were carried out. In this way, his message got maximum possible exposure to the various Arab tribes.

An Islamic worker needs to know precisely what he is calling towards. Equally, he needs to know precisely the means he is going to use to carry out this task. A message cannot be conveyed without a means of conveyance. Therefore, anyone person who wishes to call someone else to an idea needs the following:
1. A purpose.

2. A means to achieve that purpose.
The purpose of Islamic work is to call people to Allah, either to believe in Him or to obey Him. The Islamic worker is required to adhere to the dictates of Islamic Law in undertaking this task. He needs, therefore, to be cognizant of the fact that matters of Islamic Law can be broken down into two broad categories:

(1) Acts of worship. These are the means by which our welfare in the Hereafter is achieved. These ways are dictated to us by the sacred texts in their essentials and in all their details. Allah says: “Or do they have partners who established for them in their religion what Allah has not permitted?” [Sûrah al-Shûrâ: 21]

(2) Transactions and customs. These are the means by which human welfare is achieved in this world. They include all interpersonal relationships, contracts, commercial activities, and the like. The basic ruling that should be assumed for such matters is that of permissibility unless there is specific evidence to the contrary. The proof for this is that Allah says: “Say (O Muhammad): Have you considered the provision that Allah has sent down to you and that you have declared of it what is unlawful and lawful? Say (O Muhammad): Has Allah permitted you to do so or are you fabricating a lie against Allah?” [Sûrah Yûnus: 59]

On the basis of these principles, anyone who wishes to assert that something is an act of worship is required to produce evidence from the Qur’ân and Sunnah to show that it is. It is not necessary, however, for him to produce evidence demonstrating that a certain worldly transaction or activity is sanctioned. By contrast, he must produce evidence only if he claims that an activity is unlawful.

Ibn Taymiyah illustrates this principle with the following examples:
If someone were to enquire with an Islamic scholar as to whether it is permissible for a person to traverse the distance between two mountains, the scholar would have to answer that it is. However, if the questioner were to specify that this activity is to be performed as an act of worship, just like when one performs the circuits between Safâ and Marwah, the scholar would have to answer: “If it is undertaken for this reason, then it is unlawful and sinful and its perpetrator must be called upon to repent…”

Likewise, if the scholar were asked about a man going about bareheaded, and about wearing a waistcloth and an unsown cloak, he would have to say that it is permissible for a person to do so. However, if the questioner were to specify that this mode of dressing was being assumed as part of a sacred state, like that assumed during the Hajj, then the scholar would have to answer: “If it is undertaken for this reason, then it is unlawful and sinful…” [Majmû` al-Fatâwâ (11/632)]
The purpose of Islamic work is to call people to guidance and to what is best for them. Therefore, based on the principle outlined above, every practical means to bring about this goal falls into the realm of what is permissible as long as it does not violate an express prohibition of Islamic Law.

Ways and means within the sphere of Islamic work are what an Islamic worker takes recourse to in order to facilitate calling other people to Allah. These means are of utmost importance…. The enemies of Islam – those who are bent on corrupting the Muslims and on keeping non-Muslims from embracing Islam – work to either bring people into the fold of what they themselves are calling towards or to keep them in the un-Islamic state that they are already on. If we observe their efforts, we find that they employ numerous and varied means to achieve their purposes.

Let us look at one example. Christian missionaries operating in the Muslim world have an interesting way of familiarizing people’s minds to their message. They do so through giving names to people and places. Often, European names are encouraged for Muslim boys and girls. Place names and street names found in the Muslim world are often the same as those found in non-Muslim countries. Foreign names have become especially common now for Muslim girls. This makes such names familiar and pleasant to the Muslims, blurring the distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims and making the Muslim mind more conducive to accepting their ideas. Naming is something that falls within in the realm of norms and customs and we have already said that these matters are “public domain” so to speak. However, we must understand that for them the ends justify the means; and in Islamic Law, ways and means take the same ruling as the goals and objectives for which they are undertaken.

[The distinction between these two concepts is as follows: The idea that the ends justify the means amounts to permitting recourse to actions that are immoral and wrong if doing so brings about the desired results. This idea is rejected by Islamic teachings. By contrast, the idea that ‘ways and means take the same ruling as the goals and objectives for which they are undertaken’ implies that the means must be lawful and morally acceptable in and of themselves. Then, if the goals for which they are employed are also noble and good, the lawful means to achieve those goals remain noble and good as well. However, if the goals themselves are unlawful, then the means employed to achieve them become equally sinful.]

Choosing the right approach is one of the secrets of success. Many ideas have become widespread simply on account of the means used to promote them, though those ideas may have been very bad and foolish. By contrast, there are places where Islamic workers meet with very little success – though the message of Islam is true, harmonious with human nature, and suitable for every time and circumstance. The reason for this failure is often at least partially attributable to a poor choice of approach.

We have already mentioned the Islamic legal principle that “ways and means take the same ruling as the goals and objectives for which they are undertaken”. Taking this principle as a point of departure, we must understand the general guidelines that must be observed so that we do not fall into error in developing and employing various ways and means.

The two most important ground rules for determining the approaches that we may employ are as follows:

1. The approach must be permitted by Islamic Law. This permission may be explicitly given by the sacred texts or it may fall under the general juristic principle that the underlying assumption for all things is that they take the ruling of being permissible (mubâh). Indeed, permissibility is one of the five legal rulings that Islamic Law can confer on an activity.

2. It must be acted upon in consideration of the good that can come of it. This means that it must be appropriate to the circumstances at hand. The good that will come of taking recourse to it must far outweigh any bad consequences that might possibly result from doing so. These considerations require a lot of forethought as well as a sincere heart.

We must keep these two principles at the forefront of our minds when developing and employing various ways and means for Islamic work. We can now begin to discuss some of these ways and means, which can be broken down into three broad categories:

1. Innate means: These are means that lie within the person who wishes to call others to Allah. They include qualities such as patience and fortitude and the ability to assess one’s own motives and to hold oneself to personal account. Included in this also is a person’s love for others and for their best interests. The Prophet (peace be upon him) exemplified this in his prayers when he beseeched Allah with the following supplication: “O Allah! Forgive my people, for truly they do not know.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

2. Ways and means that fall under particular jurisdiction. There are some ways and means that are not to be undertaken by the general public. They are the exclusive jurisdiction of the Islamic state and can only be initiated and carried out by the proper authorities. It is the responsibility of the Muslim political authorities to uphold, defend, and disseminate the faith. For instance, the defense of the faith includes jihad, which is no doubt the exclusive jurisdiction of the state.

Likewise, Islam is both upheld and disseminated through the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice. This activity is an aspect of Islamic work and was indeed one of the primary duties of the Prophets. Calling to monotheism is a promotion of virtue and prohibiting idolatry is a prevention of vice.

Allah says: “Those who follow the Messenger – the unlettered Prophet – whom they find written about in the Torah and the Gospel; he calls them to what is right and forbids them from what is wrong.” [Sûrah al-A`râf: 157]

The duty of promoting virtue and preventing vice must be carried out on different levels according to the steps outlined by the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he said: “Whoever sees a wrong act being committed should prevent it with his hand. If he is unable to do so, then he should do so with his tongue. If he is unable to do so, then he should prevent it in his own heart, and that is the weakest of faith.” [Sahîh Muslim]

From this, we know that some aspects of enjoining virtue and preventing vice do not fall under the jurisdiction of the general public, especially when it comes to prevention of vice by force. If the general public were to pursue such a course of action, it would lead to violence and general anarchy. An official officer will carry out this duty in a way a volunteer will not be able to. The political authorities have jurisdiction over those they govern that cannot to be presumed upon by others.

3. Ways and means that are public domain. These are the means that all people can take recourse to. This is what we shall be concerned with. There are countless means that we can take. Every era has approaches that are particularly suited to it that may not have been appropriate before and which may cease to be suitable in days to come.

Sheikh `Abd al-Rahmân al-Sa`dî had some very insightful things to say about this point. In his day, he was asked about the lawfulness of using telegrams and cannons to announce the arrival of Ramadân. His reply was as follows:
In brief, notifying the public by way of cannon or telegram or other means of long-distance communication, it is an expression of what is agreed upon by the governing authorities. They are among the means of conveying the message so that people will have no reason to question and that instill confidence in the veracity of the report. Whoever has proper understanding about Islamic legal matters will not doubt the certainty of this. The only problem that someone might have is that such means did not exist in earlier times. However, this is no reason for hesitation on the matter. How many things have taken place that did not exist in earlier times but have become more necessary and more deserving of consideration than those things that had already been around? And Allah knows best. [al-Fatâwâ al-Sa`diyyah (240-241)]
These general ways and means are what we may freely take recourse to. In order to do so, each of us must properly assess his individual capabilities. A person cannot have it always dictated to him what is best for him in his particular circumstances. Everyone has his own experiences and expertise to draw upon and everyone has a way that is best for him.

It is important for a person to understand his abilities and know what good he is capable of realizing for himself and for others. None of us should be like a hasty horseman who drives his steed to death before ever traversing any ground. It is therefore necessary for us, while discussing the ways and means of Islamic work, to point out that each person must use various means according to his knowledge and abilities. We are not talking here about formal academic qualifications, but the knowledge and abilities that a person actually possesses. A person cannot offer what he does not himself possess. Therefore, being properly qualified for the task at hand is a must. Every approach that we might opt to take has its own requirements. These may be with respect to knowledge, innate mental ability, or even physical abilities, depending on the situation.

In the next installment, Allah willing, we shall be discussing some of the various ways and means that we might employ in this day and age.

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