Defending Islam with grace and sincerity
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
Islam is being attacked today from several angles, within and without, just as it was when it was first revealed. Believers have a collective duty to respond to these attacks, for the sake of the community and to protect the faith of each individual. However, the real test is in how we respond to attacks, especially those that are particularly vicious.
The proper response to attacks on Islam begins with a good intention in two respects: 1) to respond for the sake of Allah and seeking his approval, and 2) to respond with the intention to guide others to the ways of goodness.
Too often some Muslims respond to hateful attacks with more hatred, which only continues the cycle of vengeance. Rather, we must intend by our responses to guide and benefit the very people who launched the attacks in the first place.
Ibn Taymiyyah writes:
وَإِرَادَةِ الْإِحْسَانِ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلِهَذَا يَنْبَغِي لِمَنْ يُعَاقِبُ النَّاسَ عَلَى الذُّنُوبِ أَنْ يَقْصِدَ بِذَلِكَ الْإِحْسَانَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَالرَّحْمَةَ لَهُمْ كَمَا يَقْصِدُ الْوَالِدُ تَأْدِيبَ وَلَدِهِ وَكَمَا يَقْصِدُ الطَّبِيبُ مُعَالَجَةَ الْمَرِيضِ
وَهَكَذَا الرَّدُّ عَلَى أَهْلِ الْبِدَعِ مِنَ الرَّافِضَةِ وَغَيْرِهِمْ إِنْ لَمْ يَقْصِدْ فِيهِ بَيَانَ الْحَقِّ وَهُدَى الْخَلْقِ وَرَحْمَتَهُمْ وَالْإِحْسَانَ إِلَيْهِمْ لَمْ يَكُنْ عَمَلُهُ صَالِحًا وَإِذَا غَلَّظَ فِي ذَمِّ بِدْعَةٍ وَمَعْصِيَةٍ كَانَ قَصْدُهُ بَيَانَ مَا فِيهَا مِنَ الْفَسَادِ لِيَحْذَرَهَا الْعِبَادُ كَمَا فِي نُصُوصِ الْوَعِيدِ وَغَيْرِهَا وَقَدْ يُهْجَرُ الرَّجُلُ عُقُوبَةً وَتَعْزِيرًا وَالْمَقْصُودُ بِذَلِكَ رَدَعُهُ وَرَدَعُ أَمْثَالِهِ، لِلرَّحْمَةِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ لَا لِلتَّشَفِّي وَالِانْتِقَامِ
They desire goodness for them, and for this reason whoever punishes people for sins should intend by that goodness and mercy for them, as a father intends discipline for his child or as a doctor intends treatment for a patient…
Likewise in responding to the people of innovation among rejecters and others, if its intention is not to clarify the truth, guide the creation, and offer them mercy and goodness, then it is not a righteous deed. If he is harsh in condemning innovation and disobedience, his intention should be to clarify what is in them of corruption and to warn the servants of Allah, as in the texts (verses) of warning and others.
A man may be boycotted as a discretionary punishment, and the objective of that is to deter him and those like him as an act of mercy and goodness, not as revenge and vengeance.
Source: Minhāj al-Sunnah 5/237
Indeed, just as a doctor must sometimes supply bitter medicine to save his patient, Muslims should remember that those who attack Islam are people suffering from confusion or spiritual diseases, so the response should be an appropriate remedy. The key point is to avoid the lust for vengeance and the desire to harm others.
A benevolent intention is, in fact, the key to winning the hearts and minds to Islam. The purpose is not to destroy an opponent, but rather to see them arrive at the truth. Insulting and offensive language only makes Islam look worse in their eyes, not to mention that Allah strongly disapproves of it.
Hatim Al-Asam, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
معي ثلاث خصال بها أظهر على خصمي أفرح إذا أصاب خصمي وَأحزن له إذا أخطأ وَأحفظ نفسي لا تتجاهل عَلَيْهِ
I have three traits that give me an advantage over my adversary. I rejoice when he is correct, I am saddened when he is wrong, and I guard myself from insulting him.
Source: Tārīkh Baghdād 9/149
A helpful technique for maintaining a pure intention is to imagine yourself in the place of your opponents. What if you had been born into their life? Would you act the same? Doing so makes it much easier to prevent ourselves from transgressing against them in violation of Islamic manners. In short, we must treat them the way we would like to be treated if we were them.
Ibn Hazm writes:
مَن أراد الإنصاف فليتوهم نفسه مكان خصمه فإنه يلوح له وجه تعسفه
Whoever intends justice, then let him imagine himself in the place of his adversary, for he will be shown the manner of his own abuse.
Source: al-Akhlāq wal-Siyar 1/82
In that case, we would never accept for ourselves to be the target of hatred and malice. How could we then respond in the same way? True hatred for the sake of Allah does not mean to desire harm for unbelievers. Instead, noble hatred is to hate specific sins and evil in the abstract. We hate the sins of the sinners, but we love goodness for them of guidance, repentance, and forgiveness.
وَأَبْغَضَ لِلَّهِ لَا لِإِيذَاءِ مَنْ أَبْغَضَهُ لَهُ بَلْ لِكُفْرِهِ وَعِصْيَانِهِ
That he hates for the sake of Allah does not mean he harms the one he hates. Rather, the hatred is for his unbelief and disobedience.
Source: Awn al-Ma’būd 4681
Moreover, not every Muslim must respond to every attack against Islam. Only those who have knowledge and good manners should do so, as it is only a collective obligation. If some Muslims respond in a graceful way, others need not do so.
Good manners is, in reality, one of the most important aspects of responding to attacks against Islam. Not only should we know what we are talking about, but we must behave like true believers. This means to respond to attacks against Islam with erudition, kindness, and forbearance. Our manners often speak louder than our words.
Ibn Taymiyyah writes:
فلا بد من هذه الثلاثة العلم والرفق والصبر العلم قبل الأمر والنهي والرفق معه والصبر بعده … لا يأمر بالمعروف وينهى عن المنكر إلا من كان فقيها فيما يأمر به فقيها فيما ينهى عنه رفيقا فيما يأمر به رفيقا فيما ينهى عنه حليما فيما يأمر به حليما فيما ينهى عنه
Thus, there are three necessary qualities: knowledge, gentleness, and patience. Knowledge is before commanding and prohibiting, gentleness is during it, and patience is after it… There is no commanding good or forbidding evil unless he understands what he commands and prohibits, he is gentle in what he commands and prohibits, and he is forbearing in what he commands and prohibits.
Source: al-Amr bil Ma’rūf 1/20-21
Finally, it is best to begin with inspiring hope and interest in Islam (targhīb) instead of inspiring fear and aversion (tarhīb). Fear and hope are both important aspects of preaching Islam, but it is hope that brings people towards Allah. Fear will move people away from sins, which is good, but it does not bring people to Allah in the first place. Hence, whenever appropriate, we should focus our responses on inspiring hope and only appeal to fear when needed. If a person’s verbal attacks against Islam are so vicious, they can be boycotted as a last resort, but only with the intention of guiding them to stop such behavior.
وَالْكَافِرُ يُعْرَضُ الْإِسْلَامُ عَلَيْهِ وَالتَّرْغِيبُ فِيهِ بِرِفْقٍ. وَالْفَاسِقُ يَعِظُهُ بِمَا يُنَاسِبُهُ بِالرِّفْقِ وَيَسْتُرُ عَلَيْهِ زَلَلَهُ وَيَنْهَاهُ بِالرِّفْقِ فَإِنْ نَفَعَ وَإِلَّا هَجَرَهُ قَاصِدًا تَأْدِيبَهُ بِذَلِكَ مَعَ إعْلَامِهِ بِالسَّبَبِ لِيَكُفَّ
The unbeliever should be shown Islam and his interest in it is aroused with gentleness. The sinner should be admonished by what is appropriate with gentleness, his faults are concealed, and he is prohibited with gentleness, if it is beneficial. Otherwise, he is boycotted, intending by that to discipline him, along with informing him of the reason that he might cease his sin.
Source: Subul al-Salām 2/643
In sum, the proper response to attacks on Islam must start with the intention to benefit those who have lost their way. Many attacks on Islam are based upon misinformation or confusion, and patient kindness from knowledgeable Muslims can go a long way in correcting their understanding.
Even when attacks against Islam are savage and insidious, we must never return hatred with more hatred, falsehood with more falsehood. Sometimes the proper response is to boycott people for their bad behavior, but even then we should not give up hope that one day they will see the light.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.