“It is imperative that we Muslims adopt a scientific, proof-based, and rational daʿwah discourse… It is the weakness of our daʿwah discourse that turns people away from Islam.”
NOW THERE’S A claim I’ve heard countless times. And I confess to having no big quarrel with it. But whenever I do hear it, I’m always reminded of the debates on the scientific miracles in the Quran and the Sunnah and how little they achieve in drawing people to Islam as compared with fair admonition (mawʿizah), gentle counsel, and simple, uncomplicated rational discourse.
This realization makes me suspect the veracity of the “science-is-the-best-daʿwah” argument that we regularly hear Muslims make. Not that I slight or doubt the importance of rational and scientific discourse; far from it. I just feel that the import of the point for daʿwah is exaggerated beyond all proportion.
Seeking guidance for the right way to understand this issue, I referred back to the Quran and in this light started reading it from the beginning. No sooner had I finished a few rubʿs (quarter-halfs, or juz’ eighths) of the Book than I was struck by a number of truths.
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The truths were not new to me, nor do I suspect that anyone would miss them, but one quality that becomes clear in perusing the Quran with this search in mind is that the Quran immediately arranges priorities in the mind of the Muslim and restructures his outlook on issues such that each one falls into its proper place and context.
There is a manifest Sharʿî truth of which we ought to be mindful in our answer to the question of îmân (faith): Guidance to Islam is only a grace from Allah:
You yourselves were exactly like this before [Islam came to you]. Then Allah conferred favor upon you. So be duly discerning. Indeed, ever is Allah all-aware of all that you do (Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:94).
The good that befalls one in the world is a gift that Allah alone proffers to the recipients of His choosing:
But it is Allah who singles out for His mercy whomever He so wills (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:105).
Opening the hearts of people to Islam is something that only Allah can grant:
It is not incumbent upon you to ensure their guidance. It is Allah who guides whomever He so wills (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:272).
No one has the will to embrace Islam until Allah opens his or her heart to it:
Thus whomever Allah desires to guide, He opens his heart to Islam (Sûrat Al-Anʿâm, 6:125).
This is why the people of imân are wont to confess in gratitude saying:
All praise is for Allah alone who has guided us to this. Nor would we ever have been guided had Allah not guided us. (Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:43).
Rather, the truth is, that even the recipients of the gift of Islam cannot persevere along the path of the Sharîʿah without the succor of Allah:
Had it not been for the grace of Allah upon you, and His mercy, all but a few of you believers would have followed [the promptings of] Satan (Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:83).
Allah may block the way to Islam for some such that they will never understand its truth nor warm up to it:
Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing. And over their eyes, there is a veil (Sûrat Al-Baqarah: 2:7).
Moreover, We have placed sheathes over their hearts, lest they understand it, and in their ears an utter deafness (Sûrat Al-Isrâ’: 17:46)
—those whose eyes were shrouded in a veil [of unbelief] against My remembrance (Sûrat Al-Kahf, 18:101).
This truth is also implied in the terrifying divine threat:
And know that Allah interposes between a person and his own heart, and that it is before Him that you shall assuredly be assembled [for Judgment] (Sûrat Al-Anfâl, 8:24).
So if Allah intends that one shall never be guided to Islam, there is none that can avail him in any way. His fate is fixed:
What is with you, then, that you believers are of two parties, regarding the hypocrites, while Allah has subverted them for all they have earned? Do you hope to guide those whom Allah has led astray? Yet whomever Allah leads astray, never will you find for him a [rightly guided] way (Sûrat Al-Nisâ’: 4:88).
Addressing his people, prophet Noah said:
Nor shall my good counsel benefit you in the least—even if I intend to go on counseling you—if it be that Allah intends to subvert you (Sûrat Hûd, 11:34).
As to the established sacred legal principle that
one whose trial Allah intends, you shall never acquire for him any measure [of saving grace] from Allah. These are the ones whose hearts Allah does not intend to purify (Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah: 5:41)
—such are divinely denied guidance to the Straight Path (hidâyah), for Allah knows their state. Thus He has sworn upon His Holy Self to divert them from His guidance:
I shall turn away from My signs those who have grown arrogant in the land, without any right. For even if they were to see even [natural and revealed] signs [of Heavenly truth, still] they do not take it as a way [of life]. Yet if they see the way of perversion, they take it as a way [of life]. That is because they have belied Our [revealed] signs and have been heedless of them (Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:146).
The two foregoing truths lift the veil from our eyes, enabling us to see that understanding Islam and being convinced of its corroborating proofs does not necessarily translate into accepting it. These truths demonstrate to us that some people reject Islam—not because they fail to grasp it, or because they are not sure of its truthfulness—but because of another more compelling factor: Divine Will.
Therefore, guidance to Islam is not automatically linked to the presentation of rational proofs in the sense that if a person rejects some proofs of the soundness of Islam which we offer him, that the problem is us, that we need only cast about for the right set of rational arguments that are more compelling.
Rather, guidance to Islam is a divine grace by which Allah opens one’s heart to Islam. This evaluative Quran-based approach situates rational proofs, in general, and as a daʿwah device, in their proper position within the hierarchy of Islam. It prevents us from inflating their value to the extent that they confound proper sharʿî conceptions and primacies.
Not all rational proofs are acceptable to all non-Muslims.
Some unbelievers demand proofs we can’t produce:
Then is it conceivable that you would leave some of what has been revealed to you—and that your breast become constrained by it—just because they say: If only a treasure trove were sent down to him [instead of the Quran]; or if only an angel had come with him [to confirm him] (Sûrat Hûd, 11:12).
And, indeed, they who disbelieve have said: Never shall we believe in you until you cause a fountainhead to burst forth for us from the earth! Or until miraculously there shall be for you a flourishing garden of date-palms and grapevines, such that you cause to burst forth all through it rivers in mighty bursts! Or until you cause the sky to drop down upon us—as you have alleged—in deadly patches! Or until you bring Allah Himself and the angels in a host before our eyes! Or until there shall be for you a house made of gold! Or until you ascend before our eyes into Heaven! Yet never shall we believe in your ascension until you bring down to us an inscribed Book from Allah, wherein we ourselves may read! (Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17:90-93).
These are the kind of proofs, they claimed, that would incline them to Islam. But they didn’t get them. And, of course, the Quran’s instruction to the Prophet ﷺ following upon these irrational requests from the Quraysh for “rational proofs” is perfect—and perfectly instructive:
Say [to them]: Highly exalted be my Lord! Am I other than a mortal messenger? (Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17:23)
So, proofs ought not to flatter the preferences and caprices of this or that person.
Many unbelievers think they are in the right:
Indeed, they have taken the satans as patron, apart from Allah. Yet they think that they themselves are guided (Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:30),
they are the ones whose striving has strayed [from Allah’s way] in the life of this world, while they think that they are doing most excellent work (Sûrat Al-Kahf, 18:104).
They are ever ready and able to argue in defense of their false pretensions because
the satans do, indeed, inspire their patrons to dispute with you. So if you obey them, then you, indeed, are most surely idolaters (Sûrat Al-Anʿâm, 6:121).
those who disbelieve argue using falsehood with which they seek to refute the truth (Sûrat Al-Kahf, 18:56).
In fact, the unbelievers’ steadfastness in their “belief” that they are in the right is one of Allah’s sunan kawniyyah, an unalterable, creative divine principle or plan. Thus, none of us has the power to furnish one rational argument or another that each and every disputant with Islam will find convincing.
In fact, according to this divine reality of sunan kawniyyah, the majority of humankind will persist in error:
But most people—even though we are eager [for them to believe]—will not be believers [in this Quran] (Sûrat Yûsuf, 12:103).
To be continued, inshâ’Allah, in Part 2…