The Overall policy of Islam in the Affair of Propagating Religion
By: Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi
In the previous two sessions about the attraction and repulsion in Islam and their limits, we have discussed many subjects. Of course, they served more as an introduction to and a background of our main discussion. The point which we highlighted in the previous session was that man as an evolutionary being faces two groups of elements along the course of his perfection: One consists of useful while the other is constituted by harmful elements, and like any other living creature, he has to attract useful elements and repulse harmful elements. In doing so, the first phase is that he has to identify these two groups of elements and distinguish one from the other.
Thus, the first step is recognition. Since this attraction and repulsion is not deterministic and is undertaken by the will and choice of man himself, the second step is that he has to strengthen his will so as to be able to perform good deeds and abandon the bad. It is not so that whatever is good and useful for man is interesting and pleasant for him and that whatever is bad and harmful is repulsive and unpleasant. In fact, in many cases it is incidentally the contrary and, for example, an element which is so harmful is very attractive for man like the fondness of some individuals to smoking or alcoholic beverage. As such, on the issue of attraction and repulsion, in addition to recognition, willpower of man also plays a pivotal role.
The Reference in Identifying the Useful and Harmful Elements in the Spiritual Perfection of Man
Now, concerning the recognition of useful and harmful elements, the question is: What is the reference that identifies and says which element is useful for our soul and spiritual perfection and to be attracted and which element is harmful and to be repulsed? Similarly, regarding the strengthening of will, which methods strengthen this will?
We, Muslims and religious ones, believe that it is God Who is supposed to solve this problem because it is He Who created man and is totally cognizant of the laws and properties of his body and soul and their effects on one another, and He knows what is useful and what is harmful for man and which actions strengthen or weaken our will in the affair of spiritual and religious attraction and repulsion. God does it through the Prophet (S) and the fundamental raison d’être of the mission of the prophets (‘a) has been this affair, and religion and the aggregate of its precepts are nothing but this thing. That is, if man wants to attain spiritual and religious perfection and growth, and recognize the useful and harmful elements along the way, he must turn to religion and the prophets (‘a).
The Overall policy of Islam in the Affair of Propagating Religion
Now, this question is posed: What should be done to attract people to religion? Merely the fact that the prophets (‘a) possess the prescription for the spiritual and religious perfection of man and that they know its correct path is not enough. Rather, in addition to it, you have to think of a way people can take and act upon. It is here that the issue of attraction and repulsion is again raised. But it is attraction and repulsion in this sense: To which method should the prophets (‘a) resort in inviting people toward religion and convincing them to accept it? Do they use attractive methods and through kindness and gentleness, should they try to attract individuals? Or, should they ask people to act upon their teachings through force and violation? Or, should they employ both methods? In sum, is there any specific law and rule in this context or not?
This is one of the three questions we have previously promised to deal with in this session. Of course, comprehensive and complete discussion of this issue or close examination of it requires many sessions, which are presently not possible in our program. Therefore, we shall try to state the gist of that which is related to this discussion.
1. Using Evidence and Preaching
The first stage of the mission of the prophets (‘a) is to invite people to the religion. At the outset, they had to see that people would like to listen to their speeches and see what the prophets say to them. Thereafter, it is the time for bidding and forbidding things. In this stage (i.e. the stage of invitation), there is no doubt that one should approach through the means of logic, proof and argument, and the text of the Qur’an also bears witness to this fact: Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good advice. (16:125)
Invitation [da‘wah] must be accompanied by wisdom, proof and logic in order to be attractive, and in this stage, repulsion is never discussed.
Yet, people are not equal in that they can properly understand signs of wisdom, logical proofs and philosophical evidence. Nevertheless, if we examine ourselves, we will see that from the day we became cognizant of ourselves, we heard that there is a religion called Islam and there is a school of thought known as Shi‘ism and we accepted them. Yet, are we really trying to find out their rational proof? The truth is that most of people have accepted Islam and Shi‘ism only under the influence of social factors, upbringing of their parents, instructions of their teachers, and the like, and they have never been in pursuit of finding out their proof.
Rather, sometimes they have read or heard something in the pulpit, or school and lecture. But it is very rare that at the beginning they had the motive to conduct research and act upon it. People are influenced more by feelings and emotions, and they move pursuant to some motivations and material and apparent things. They pay less attention to proof and evidence. Regarding human beings in general, the main stimulant is profit and loss as well as hope and fear the same thing which is known in the Islamic terminology as khawf [fear] and raja' [hope].
That is, man has to fear something or gain something in order to move. Either there must be a talk about money, position and popularity or about starvation, unemployment, lashes, and prison in order to be persuaded to act. A famous maxim says that man lives by means of fear and hope. The usual case is that if someone studies, it is either because he wants to have a job with a high salary and as such, to be rich, or he does not want to lag behind his friends and relatives and not to endure the despises and contempt of his father, mother and others. Since human beings in general are like that, just as stated in a noble verse, the issue of admonition [maw‘izah] is raised alongside and after wisdom [hikmah] “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good advice.”
That is, in addition to proof [burhan] and argument [istidlal], the prophets (‘a) say, “If you do this, you will receive these rewards and if you don’t, you will incur these losses. On the contrary, if you do this, you will suffer from these harms, and if you abandon it, you will acquire these benefits.” If you examine closely the descriptions of the prophets (‘a) in the Qur’an, you will see in many instances that the prophets (‘a) are “givers of glad tidings” [mubashshirin] and “warners” [mundhirin] and that they have come for “giving glad tidings” [basharah] and “warning” [andhar]: We do not send the apostles except as bearers of good news and warners. (6:48)
In the work of invitation [da‘wah], the prophets (‘a) do not suffice themselves in merely showing proof and argument (wisdom); rather, because of the reason mentioned above, they say to the people, “If you accept what we say and act upon it, boundless and eternal blessings of paradise shall be bestowed upon you, and if you do not accept what we say and oppose us, chastisement and hell are waiting for you.” It is here that we can see people showing reaction. The impact of this warning becomes greater if practical and real examples which had happened before are brought to the attention of man.
For this reason, you can observe that in many instances the Qur’an narrates the final destiny of the previous communities and the chastisement sent down upon them, giving warning, thus: “Be careful not to meet the same fate of those people!” It is here that man will experience a sense of inner agitation and anxiety, and he will be stimulated. Of course, between hope for profit and fear of loss, perhaps that which induces man more to move is the latter.
That is, if he enjoys material and worldly blessings to some extent and he is told, “If you strive and exert efforts, you will acquire more blessings, wealth and fame,” since he is not in the mood to strive hard, he will possibly say, “Whatever I have so far is sufficient for me.” However, if he is told, “Should you not strive hard, your assets and wealth will be lessened and your position lowered,” since it is a question of loss, he will move in a bid to prevent loss. And perhaps it is because of this reason that, although “giving glad tidings” and “warning” are linked together, the Qur’an lays more stress on the element of “warning”: Indeed We have sent you with the truth as a bearer of good news and as a warner; and there is not a nation but a warner has passed in it. (35:24)
Therefore, at the beginning of invitation, attraction and repulsion are used side by side. There are wisdom and argumentation as well as promise of paradise and warning of hell and fire. Particularly in the traditions [ahadith], paradise and hell are sometimes described in a very attractive and stimulating manner while at other times in a very frightening and poignant fashion.
2. Preaching must be “Beautiful”
Now, the other point is that once the term of wisdom is finished and the turn of preaching or admonition comes, it must be “beautiful preaching” or “good advice.” That is, although preaching consists of threats and warnings and its content is not pleasant, the manner of expressing it must be good and pleasant even if the addressee is a corrupt person like the Pharaoh. God said to Musa (Moses) and his brother Harun (Aaron) thus: Let the two of you go to Pharaoh. Indeed he has rebelled. Speak to him in a soft manner; maybe he will take admonition or fear. (20:43-44)
That is, Pharaoh has rebelled and the substance of your speech must be such that he would be frightened but your threatening word must be expressed in a soft and mild manner. From the beginning, he should not be treated harshly and ruthlessly. In doing the Islamic call, if you shout and behave aggressively at the beginning, the addressee will close his mind and ears and never listen to what you say. But if you convey in a mild and soft manner the same repulsive message with threatening content, it may have an effect on him.
3. Debate and Argumentation
In the same verse, after preaching or admonition, debate has been mentioned: Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good advice and dispute with them in a manner that is best. (16:125)
In order to lead them toward the path of guidance, you debate and discuss with them, but in the debate, argue in the best possible manner. In engaging in disputation also, even if you subdue the other party and defeat him in an academic discussion, it must still not be done beyond the periphery of fairness, proper decorum and courtesy. In defeating him, you should not use any fallacious argument. Try to convince him so that the truth will be made clear to him, and not that you do everything so as to expel him from the scene no matter how.