Da’wah in Complex Settings (1) | Ra’d ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz

THERE IS NO question that there are few or no serious fiqhi (legal) problems connected with the Muslim individual’s living in a society where Islamic principles and teachings reign supreme. Difficulties, however, crop up when this society distances itself from Islam—and the more significant the drift, the more complicated the ensuing fiqhi problems. The Sharîʿah has treated this matter with heightened care so that Muslims may be able to carry their daʿwah mission to its desired end, as the Messenger of Allah has said:

A group from my Ummah will continue to rally around the banner of truth undaunted by the opposition with which they meet–-till Allah’s Divine Decree comes [to end worldly life and usher in otherworldly life]. (Bukhâri and Muslim)

The care which the Sharîʿah gives to the above-described situation is represented in a set of legal principles and proofs that religious scholars have developed and laid out over time to guarantee that legal injunctions are honored in a balanced manner and at a level midway between neglect and unnecessary excessiveness.

Shaykh Al-Islâm Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah have mercy upon him, was one of those scholars whose discourses on this matter were carefully nuanced and thoughtful. Two factors entitle Ibn Taymiyyah to his lofty rank:

1. His encyclopedic knowledge of Islamic legal Texts (al-nuû alsharʿîyyah) in addition to his profound grasp of the signification of these Texts and his fidelity to the methodology of the righteous early generations of Muslims; and

2. The eventfulness of the time in which he lived—the Islamic world at the time was plagued by two catastrophic occurrences:

a) The appearance of heretical doctrines and practices (and the concomitant oppression, by the proponents of those doctrines, against Ahl Al-Sunnah), and

b) The devastating Tatar invasion of the Muslim lands, which necessitated bringing Muslims together, without regard to their madhhabi differences, to repel the pagan Tatar hordes.

Despite the differences in circumstances between the time of Ibn Taymiyyah and the age in which we now live, his discourses on this vital issue are still relevant and instructive. In the following I present Ibn Taymiyyah’s elaborations on three situations in which ʿîs may find themselves today.

(1) When a Da‘i is in a Weak Position

The Qur’anic narratives and the Prophetic Sîrah are rife with lessons for the Muslim ʿî. In his practice of daʿwah, the ʿî finds himself in many situations to which these lessons are relevant, which makes him realize that the Qur’anic narratives are divinely meant to help believers in general—and ʿîs in particular—to remain firm in their belief, and to know that the path of daʿwah has been, is, and will be, the same; that this path is one of the unalterable, established ways of Allah (His sunan); and that the pain and tribulations which a ʿî  meets up with were experienced by ʿîs who were worthier than himself in the sight of Allah—Allah’s messengers.

These Quranic narratives and Prophetic Sîra accounts comprise some divine prescriptions (akâm) that address the oppression and trials which those righteous ʿîs sustained, and which apply to subsequent ʿîs who go through the same.

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah have mercy upon him, cited four instances of these lessons that concern the daʿwah labors of four ʿîs to Allah whom Allah mentioned in the Quran. These are:

(i) Prophet Yûsuf when he asked to join a government of non-believers for the purpose of inviting them to Allah and in order to alleviate some of the suffering of the believers living under the yoke of that non-believing polity. Yûsuf, however, because of his tenuous position, did not implement all the religious principles he knew.

(ii) The Abyssinian emperor, Al-Najâshi (the Negus), who embraced Islam and persisted as monarch of his non-Muslim subjects till his death. Al-Najâshi did not enforce any of the teachings of Islam in his dominion—his inability to force these teachings on his unwilling subjects being the reason why he did not try to do that. Notwithstanding Al-Najâshi’s failure to live by Islamic norms, the Prophet approved his conduct, made duʿa’ in his behalf, and joined his Companions in offering a funeral prayer in absentia for him when he passed away.

(iii) The believer from the Household of Pharaoh (Mu’min Âl Firʿawn). This righteous person concealed his belief in God and in prophet Moses’ divine mission and was not involved in any daʿwah activity, all because of the fact that he was not in a strong position to do so.

(iv) The Wife of Pharaoh. This oppressed and helpless believing woman remained to the end of her life a wife of one of the leaders of disbelief: a’immat al-kufr.

Ibn Taymiyyah remarked:

…The same applies to whomever of the unbelievers who: receives daʿwah to Islam in his non-Muslim country, knows that Muhammad is the true Messenger of God, believes in the Messenger and in all that was sent down to him from God, fears God as much as he is able to (like Al-Najâshi), is not able to migrate to a Muslim territory, is prevented from practicing his religion freely and openly, who has no access to someone who can teach him the entire rules of the Sharîʿah—such a person is a believer and, Inshâ’Allâh, will end up in Jannah if he persists in his belief till he meets his death. For his situation is akin to that of Mu’min Âl Firʿawn with his people, that of Pharaoh’s wife with her husband, and that of prophet Yusuf with the unbelieving court and people of Egypt. Prophet Yusuf was not able to impose on the Egyptian court and Egypt’s subjects all the dictates of his religion, and though he invited them earnestly to profess the doctrine of Tawîd and to believe in Allah, they rejected his call, as recorded in the Quran in the words of Mu’min Âl Firʿawn:

And Joseph had already come to you before with clear proofs, but you remained in doubt of that which he brought to you—until when he died, you said, ‘Never will Allah send a messenger after him.’ Thus does Allah leave astray him who is a transgressor and skeptic. [Sûrat Ghâfir, 40:34]

Similarly, Al-Najâshi, for example, though he was an undisputed ruler of his people, was not able to win his staunchly Christian subjects over to Islam. In fact, when Al-Najâshi died there were no Muslims present to perform the Islamic funeral prayer over his remains. But the memory of Al-Najâshi was paid homage to by the Prophet and his Companions on the other side of the Red Sea, in Madinah. At the Prophet’s behest, Muslims of Madinah joined him in a funeral prayer over the soul of the departed Al-Najâshi. Before the funeral prayer the Prophet broke the news of Al-Najâshi’s death to his Companions saying:

A righteous brother of yours from the people of Abyssinia has passed away. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Many Islamic prescriptions Al-Najâshi did not honor—some say he did not even observe the five ritual Prayers or the ritual fasting (of Ramadan) or the ritual payment of Zakâh. Had Al-Najâshi honored these Islamic religious duties, his steadfastly Christian people would have condemned him for it and he—for lack of enough auspicious power—would not have dared go against their will.

Al-Najâshi aside, many a times a Muslim judge working in a non-Muslim, or a even a Muslim setting, may not be able to enforce certain aspects of justice which he deems important, the reason being that certain tyrannical quarters prevent him from carrying his desire into effect. Caliph ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd Al-ʿAzîz, for example, though the supreme ruler of the Umayyad dynasty, was met by severe opposition and hurt (some said his death resulted from poisoning) on account of his strong inclination to justice.

So, people like Al-Najâshi and his likes, who though they did not observe the prescriptions of Islam—because doing so was beyond their ability—and who enforced only those religious rules they could afford to enforce, are divinely pardoned, for Allah will not charge any soul with more than it can deal with. (Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Fatâwa Al-Kubra, 19:217)

To be continued, Insha’ Allâh, in Part 2…




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