Communicating Islam

  • Why one must solely employ Quranic arguments


All of us, at one time or another, have been asked to account for our religion. The occasion may be a question from a curious non-Muslim theist, a fellow Muslim who doesn’t quite understand something, or an atheist who challenges you to come up with a rational answer regarding Islam. How one responds in such situations is important for one’s own conviction; as well as owing to its effects on the questioner or any interested bystanders. It has been observed that zealous Muslims, despite their best intentions, have often responded to such situations in a manner that has left a lot to be desired.

There are explicit instructions in the Quran about how to communicate Islam. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was instructed to use the verses of the Quran for his mission of warning the people about their answerability to God [6:19], an instruction he followed to the letter. He based his entire mission squarely on the Quran; and it was his practice to recite parts of the Quran in reply to any queries that came his way. It’s a safe bet that this approach cannot be bettered. Therefore, no matter how strong the temptation to come up with novel answers, one must resist it. The Quran claims that nobody ever asked a question the answer to which has not been provided in the Quran, as well as the best explanation [25:33]. Those who have followed the history of theological debates over the centuries know that it’s the same questions, whether they come from atheists, non-Muslim theists or Muslims, that keep getting repeated over and over. Yes, they are couched in different terminology depending upon the buzzwords of any given era, but there are only so many questions. So, if the best explanation is already given by the Almighty, why settle for anything less than the best?

Attempts to disregard this have all been counterproductive. Take fasting, for instance. “Why fast?” is a question anybody who has had any sort of contact with non-Muslims has surely been asked repeatedly. In fact, this is not any more a question faced by Muslims living in predominantly non-Muslim countries; more and more youngsters are asking it of their elders in Muslim-majority lands, since today’s children are less apt to acquiesce blindly than was the case even a generation ago. Common answers to this question are: To feel empathy for those who must endure hunger and thirst. The health benefits of fasts, often accompanied by much pseudo-medical science, are also offered as the rationale behind fasting. The shortcoming of these replies is that they are not derived from the Quran. The first one is open to the reasonable retort: Why must one go hungry to be able to empathise with the famished? As for the medical benefits, they may or may not be there, although that is science’s domain. However, even if, for the sake of argument, one grants that there are demonstrable health benefits of fasting, is that why Islam prescribes it? The Quran mentions the purpose of fasting in the same place it makes it mandatory: to enhance taqwa (God consciousness) [2:183]. That’s because during the fast, even some of those things that are otherwise permitted become forbidden, heightening the care and caution a Muslim is usually expected to exercise.

The tendency on the part of the Muslim enthusiast is understandable. He wants to make the best case for his religion that he is capable of and therefore wants to cover as many bases as possible. The goal is commendable; the means employed, not so. Which brings us to our second broader point: what is the subject of religion; and, as its last revealed text, the Quran anyway? When the Quran calls itself the exposition of all things [16:89], it cannot mean medical science– why, it doesn’t even mention germ theory! There is healing in the Quran, no doubt, but it’s for those ills that afflict the bosoms of men [10:57]. Medicine, science, economy and such have been left to the collective intellect of man, which is more than capable of figuring these things out. In economy, it forbids usury (which it maintains is a moral evil) but leaves the details of the economic system for men to figure out. Where the Quran is complete is in moral/spiritual matters where human beings could be expected to err with disastrous consequences; and in this respect it’s the last word that leaves absolutely no room for improvement. I am not for a moment arguing that material benefits like health and prosperity never accompany the spiritual benefits– they may or may not appear as by-products. Only that the reason for doing religious acts is spiritual, not material. To cite another example, the Quran prohibits alcohol not because it’s bad for health (which it undoubtedly is); but because it impairs one’s judgment and one’s capacity to face reality. What’s really under discussion then is the spiritual well-being of the individual. The domain of religion is nothing more and nothing less than that, which it covers perfectly.