Strategy of Preaching

Strategy of Preaching


Islamic Law

ادْعُ إِلِى سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ وَإِنْ عَاقَبْتُمْ فَعَاقِبُواْ بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبْتُم بِهِ وَلَئِن صَبَرْتُمْ لَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لِّلصَّابِرينَ (16: 125-126)

Call men to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation and debate with them in the most befitting manner. Indeed, your Lord best knows those who stray from His path and those who are rightly guided. And if you avenge, let this be commensurate with the wrong that has been inflicted upon you. And if you exercise patience, then this is the best way for the patient. (16:125-126)

Although these verses address the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta), and as such primarily relate to the indhar of the Messengers, it is obvious that the directive stated in them is general and cannot be confined to them alone. Consequently, in all categories and types of preaching, these verses provide guidance regarding the strategy that needs to be adopted. If one deliberates on these verses, one can derive the following points regarding the guidance they provide us:

Firstly, wisdom, kindly exhortation and sound discussion should permeate the tone of this preaching. By wisdom (hikmah) is meant the arguments present in the verses and kindly exhortation and sound discussion means urging the adressees through sincere reminders. The implication is that whatever is presented should be supported by arguments and presented in the light of knowledge and intellect and one should not be aggressive and forceful in one's presentation. One's tone should reflect sincerity and affection. If the stage reaches that of debate and argument, then this should be done in a most befitting manner. If the opponent becomes hostile and antagonistic, then instead of responding in an even more belligerent manner, a true preacher should always remain polite and civilized.

Secondly, the responsibility of a preacher is that of preaching only: he should communicate the truth and elucidate it, and in no way show any slackness in urging and exhorting people towards it. If he discharges this responsibility in a befitting manner, he fulfills an obligation. It is the Almighty Who decides to give guidance to a person or to lead him astray. He knows full well those who have erred and also those who are rightly guided. He shall thus deal with a person in a manner he is worthy of. A preacher should not try to force the truth on others nor should he give verdicts about the fate a person shall meet in the Hereafter. This is the sole prerogative of the Almighty, and the only responsibility of a preacher is to communicate the truth, and he must not exceed this.

In the preaching of Muhammad (sws), this aspect is explained by the Qur'an in the following manner:

إِنَّكَ لَا تَهْدِي مَنْ أَحْبَبْتَ وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاء وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ (56:28)

You cannot guide whomever you please: it is God who guides [according to His Law] whom He pleases and He best knows those who are guided. (28:56)

إِن تَحْرِصْ عَلَى هُدَاهُمْ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يَهْدِي مَن يُضِلُّ وَمَا لَهُم مِّن نَّاصِرِينَ (37:16)

If you are anxious about their guidance [it should remain clear to you], God does not guide those whom He [according to His law] leads astray, and God does not help such people. (16:37)

اتَّبِعْ مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيْكَ مِن رَّبِّكَ لا إِلَـهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ وَلَوْ شَاء اللّهُ مَا أَشْرَكُواْ وَمَا جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَفِيظًا وَمَا أَنتَ عَلَيْهِم بِوَكِيلٍ (6:106-107)

Therefore follow what has been revealed to you from your Lord. There is no god but Him, and ignore these polytheists, and [remember that] had God pleased, they would not have indulged in polytheism and [remember also that] We have not made you their keeper, nor are you their guardian. (6:106-107)

فَذَكِّرْ إِنَّمَا أَنْتَ مُذَكِّرٌ لَسْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ بِمُسَيْطِرٍ (88 :21-22)

[O Prophet!] keep reminding; you are only one who reminds; you are not one to force [your message] upon others. (88:21-22)

فَإِنَّمَا عَلَيْكَ الْبَلاَغُ وَعَلَيْنَا الْحِسَابُ (40:13)

So your responsibility is only to communicate and it is Us who will take [their] account. (13:40)

Thirdly, if the addressees of preaching resort to oppression and inflict harm on the preacher, he is allowed to avenge it in a proportion commensurate with the harm inflicted while remaining within moral limits; however, in the eyes of God, it is better that a person bears this oppression without avenging it; he should not take any measure of revenge; neither should he change his stance after being overwhelmed with hardships. Those who show patience at these instances are promised great rewards. Not only will they face its good consequence in this world, they will also encounter good consequences in the Hereafter. At another instance, the Qur'an has urged the believers to refrain from avenging the harm inflicted on them, and, on the contrary, to display a befitting attitude:

وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الَّذِينَ صَبَرُوا وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا ذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ وَإِمَّا يَنزَغَنَّكَ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ نَزْغٌ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ (41: 34-36)

And good and evil are not the same. Requite evil with good, and you will see that he who is your enemy will become your dearest friend. [And remember] none receives this wisdom except those who patiently endure and none receive it except those who are truly fortunate. If [in this matter] Satan tempts you, seek refuge in God. Indeed, He hears all and knows all. (41:34-36)

This endurance can only sustain in a person when at the very outset, preachers of Islam are fully aware of the fact that in this endeavour, there can be trials and tests in which a person is robbed of his wealth, orchards are destroyed, hardships are inflicted, limbs are severed and even life is lost. At times, evil tries to allure a preacher and at times intimidate him. Avarice and fear are used to divert him from the right path. At other times, he is put behind bars and subjected to cruel punishments which dislocates his joints; he is suspended in a muddy well; he is stoned to death right between the altar and the holy of holies, and his head is cut and presented to dancing girls.

Preachers should have faith that the Almighty Who has blessed them with guidance and imposed the responsibility of preaching upon them, will definitely help them in hardships and difficulties:

وَمَا لَنَا أَلاَّ نَتَوَكَّلَ عَلَى اللّهِ وَقَدْ هَدَانَا سُبُلَنَا وَلَنَصْبِرَنَّ عَلَى مَا آذَيْتُمُونَا وَعَلَى اللّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُتَوَكِّلُونَ (12:14)

And why should we not trust in God, when He has already guided us to our paths? We will endure your persecution patiently and [we know that] in God should all the trusting put their trust. (14:12)

It is these three points which form the basis of the strategy in preaching religion. The last of these two do not require much explanation; however, while presenting one's message with wisdom and with kindly exhortation certain aspects – the source of which is the example set by the prophets – should be kept in consideration. In the following pages, these shall be discussed in detail.

Consideration of Intellectual Ability

The first thing is that every preacher should present his message according to the intellectual ability of his addressees. People who are unaware of the fundamentals of Islam must not be preached principle directives which are based on these fundamentals. Similarly, people who are in the process of understanding the principle directives must not be presented their fine details and corollaries. If the topics of philosophy of religion cannot be presented before the masses, then without dealing with them, the details of the shari'ah will also not become attractive to the intellectual class. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

People who do not understand this system of religion and the benefits of this way of preaching of the prophets end up urging their addressees to not only adopt the obligatory prayers but also optional prayers like those of tahajjud and ishraq before they make an effort to create the true cognizance of God in a person. Instead of first making people aware of the need of a prophet and need to follow and obey him they start asking them to keep beards, trim moustaches and to keep their legware above the ankles. They want to see a person overwhelmed with humility and fear of God before he has any lasting and strong faith in the Hereafter. Because of their efforts, the size of the beards may increase, legware may be restrained above the ankles, artificial humility and modesty may pervade the countenance and mannerisms of people, strict observance of the Sunnah in eating, drinking, coughing and sneezing may become a punctual habit, yet since all this has been engendered in an irrational and unnatural manner, all the piety such people boast is tantamount to "straining out gnats but swallowing camels".[1]

This aspect must also be kept in consideration for the instruction and training of those who profess faith in the message preached. A study of the biography of the Prophet (sws) shows that the way he dealt with senior Companions like Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman, 'Ali, Mu'adh Ibn Jabal, Sa'd Ibn Mu'adh, Zayd Ibn Thabit, Jabir Ibn 'Abdullah, 'Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud would be very different from the way he dealt with the common Companions. He would require them to be at a certain level and would hold them accountable to a greater degree. The way he would teach Islam to a common Bedouin would be very different from the way he would teach the Companions of high stature. By merely studying the difference in his dealings with Mu'adh Ibn Jabal and Abu Dharr Ghaffari, the things which he kept in consideration in this regard become evident.

One aspect of this is that whatever he taught to people, he taught it gradually and piecemeal so that it could become deeply rooted in their hearts and minds and become part of their deeds. It is only after they had fully digested one directive that the next was given. The next directive was given in a manner that it would neither become a burden on the weak nor would it discourage and demotivate those who could digest more. While explaining this aspect, Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

The preaching of a true preacher can be compared to that of a farmer. Just as a farmer cannot achieve his objective by merely sowing seeds in a land similarly, a true preacher cannot accomplish his objective by merely counseling people; it is essential that he should have the same concern for his endeavour as a dutiful farmer has for the seeds he has sown. Just as a farmer is watchful that the seeds are firmly planted in the ground, they receive water at the right time, they are protected from inclement weather, weeds do not obstruct their development, they are protected from birds and animals – and it is after a long period of hard work and care in which he forgoes rest and sleep that he is able to reap the fruit of his labour – in a similar way, a true preacher is only able to reap the harvest of his labour when he has the strength and capacity not only to present his message to people but also to bear the burden of training and instructing them. Otherwise, just as the seeds sown by an unconcerned farmer become a target of foul climatic conditions and become fodder for animal and birds, in a similar manner, the preaching of a true preacher ends up in vain.[2]

The Almighty has affirmed that the reason for gradually revealing the Qur'an is to instruct and train people:

وَقُرْآناً فَرَقْنَاهُ لِتَقْرَأَهُ عَلَى النَّاسِ عَلَى مُكْثٍ وَنَزَّلْنَاهُ تَنزِيلاً (106:17)

And We have revealed the Qur'an piecemeal so that you may gradually recite it to people and We have painstakingly revealed it. (17:106)

Similarly, it is stated:

وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَوْلَا نُزِّلَ عَلَيْهِ الْقُرْآنُ جُمْلَةً وَاحِدَةً كَذَلِكَ لِنُثَبِّتَ بِهِ فُؤَادَكَ وَرَتَّلْنَاهُ تَرْتِيلًا (32:25)

And the disbelievers ask: "Why was the Qur'an not revealed to him in a single revelation? We have revealed it thus so that We may strengthen your heart and We have imparted it to you in a gradual manner." (25:32)

'A'ishah (rta), mother of the believers, explains:

إنما نزل أول ما نزل منه سورة من المفصل فيها ذكر الجنة والنار حتى إذا ثاب الناس إلى الإسلام نزل الحلال والحرام ولو نزل أول شيء لا تشربوا الخمر لقالوا لا ندع الخمر أبدا ولو نزل لا تزنوا لقالوا لا ندع الزنا أبدا (بخاري رقم 4707)

The first thing to be revealed in the Qur'an was a surah from among the mufassal which mentions Paradise and Hell until when people entered the folds of Islam, then directives regarding prohibition and allowance were revealed and [in reality] if the directive: "Refrain from drinking alcohol" had been revealed earlier on, people would have said: "We will never refrain from alcohol", and if the directive: "Do not commit fornication" had been revealed, people would have said: "We will never refrain from fornication." (Bukhari, No: 4707)

Psychological Considerations

Secondly, the psyche of the addressees must also be kept in consideration. Just as rain at the wrong time has no effect on the land and may at times be detrimental to it, in a similar manner, preaching done without giving due consideration to the mental state and psyche of the addressees will find little response. Thus sole reliance should not be made on the fact that since truth has its own strength it will be accepted whenever delivered; it is essential that a preacher must assess if his addressees are in the right psychological state to listen and to understand his message.

In this regard, the situations which a preacher may have to face may not be comprehensively stated here, however, the principle guidance provided by the Qur'an and Hadith are explained below:

1. Whatever aspect of religion be presented before people should be presented in a manner that instead of feeling an abhorrence and loathing for it, people have a feeling of ease and fondness for it. The same thing can pose difficulty when presented from one angle and it can provide ease when presented from another. If, at the beginning of preaching, only those aspects of the message are presented which have an attraction for people who are at a distance from religion, then it can be expected that later on they will even gradually accept things which are averse to their nature. The Prophet is reported to have said: بشروا ولا تنفروا (Give glad tidings to people and do not spread hatred among them)[3]. Consequently, while stating a principle, he has also said:

فإنما بعثتم ميسرين ولم تبعثوا معسرين (بخاري رقم 4704)

You have been sent to create ease and you have not been sent to create difficulty. (Bukhari, No: 217.)

2. A preacher should not criticize the beliefs and cherished personalities of his addressees in a style which induces in them the feelings of adhering to their views even if these views have no moral basis. He should specially refrain from regarding his own cherished personalities to be superior to those of his addressees, and should focus all his efforts in explaining his point of view and in achieving his objective. While becoming overwhelmed for the cause of truth and the urge to subdue evil, he should not say something which annoys the addressees and makes them so desperate that they retaliate recklessly. The Qur'an says:

وَلاَ تَسُبُّواْ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ فَيَسُبُّواْ اللّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ (108:6)

And do not revile those which they invoke besides God, lest in their ignorance they revile God with rancour. (6:108)

3. A preacher should specially take into consideration the fact that since the leaders and chiefs among the addressees of a preacher always want themselves to be respected, he should not adopt a style that hurts their ego in this regard lest this may become a hindrance for them in accepting the truth. The Almighty directed two of His great prophets: Moses (sws) and Aaron (sws) to keep this aspect in consideration:

اذْهَبَا إِلَى فِرْعَوْنَ إِنَّهُ طَغَى فَقُولَا لَهُ قَوْلًا لَّيِّنًا لَّعَلَّهُ يَتَذَكَّرُ أَوْ يَخْشَى (20: 43-44)

Go both of you to Pharaoh. Indeed, he has transgressed all bounds. Speak to him with gentle words that he may yet take heed or fear [his Lord]. (20:43-44)

Thus if a stage arises that criticizing the base characters of their elders becomes a requirement of preaching, indirect styles of address should be adopted. The best example of this style is the Almighty's comment on the leadership of the Quraysh in Surah Qalam:

وَلَا تُطِعْ كُلَّ حَلَّافٍ مَهِينٍ هَمَّازٍ مَشَّاءٍ بِنَمِيمٍ مَنَّاعٍ لِلْخَيْرِ مُعْتَدٍ أَثِيمٍ عُتُلٍّ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ زَنِيمٍ أَنْ كَانَ ذَا مَالٍ وَبَنِينَ إِذَا تُتْلَى عَلَيْهِ آيَاتُنَا قَالَ أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ سَنَسِمُهُ عَلَى الْخُرْطُومِ(68: 10- 15)

And heed not [among them every person who is a] swearer of false oaths, despicable, maker of evil gestures, who goes about sowing seeds of dissension, forbidder of good, transgressor, usurper of rights, cruel and moreover is rootless. This is so because he has wealth and children. When Our revelations are recited to him he cries out: "These are but tales of the ancients." (68:10-15)

4. If at times, the addressees are in a mood of raising objections or have taken to jeering and ridiculing, then in this state not only should a preacher refrain from presenting his message before them but also if at times a similar situation arises after he has presented his message he should discontinue his effort and wait for some other opportune moment. The Almighty says:

وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ يَخُوضُونَ فِي آيَاتِنَا فَأَعْرِضْ عَنْهُمْ حَتَّى يَخُوضُواْ فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ وَإِمَّا يُنسِيَنَّكَ الشَّيْطَانُ فَلاَ تَقْعُدْ بَعْدَ الذِّكْرَى مَعَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ (68:6)

And when you see those that scoff at Our revelations, withdraw from them till they engage in other talk and should Satan cause you to forget this, do not sit with the wrongdoers as soon as you remember. (6:68)

5. It is essential for a preacher to abstain from presenting his message in an unconcerned and mechanical manner as well as from elaborating it too much and from being anxious to impart it at inappropriate times. He should also avoid repetition and monotony in this regard. Moreover, he should not present his message when his addressees are busy and it would be hard for them to listen to him at that time:

عن أبي وائل قال كان عبد الله يذكر الناس في كل خميس فقال له رجل يا أبا عبد الرحمن لوددت أنك ذكرتنا كل يوم قال أما إنه يمنعني من ذلك أني أكره أن أملكم وإني أتخولكم بالموعظة كما كان النبيe يتخولنا بها مخافة السآمة علينا)بخاري رقم 70)

It is narrated by Abu Wa'il that Ibn Mas'ud would instruct and remind people [about religion] every Thursday. A person from among them said: "O Abu 'Abd al-Rahman, I want you to remind us every day." He replied: "I don't do this lest it may be burdensome on you. I remind you at intervals the way the Prophet (sws) used to remind us at intervals lest we may become fed-up." (Bukhari, No: 40)

إن طول صلاة الرجل وقصر خطبته مئنة من فقهه فأطيلوا الصلاة واقصروا الخطبة وإن من البيان سحرا (مسلم رقم 869)

Prolonging the prayer and shortening the sermon is the sign of wisdom of a person, so prolong the prayer and shorten the sermon and be informed that some sermons caste a magical spell [on the addressees]. (Muslim, No: 869)

Ibn 'Abbas (rta), one of the Prophet's most celebrated Companions is reported to have said:

حدث الناس كل جمعة مرة فإن أبيت فمرتين فإن أكثرت فثلاث مرار ولا تمل الناس هذا القرآن ولا ألفينك تأتي القوم وهم في حديث من حديثهم فتقص عليهم فتقطع عليهم حديثهم فتملهم ولكن أنصت فإذا أمروك فحدثهم وهم يشتهونه (بخاري رقم 5978)

Counsel and remind people every Friday. If it is to be more than this, then do it twice and if you want to do this even more frequently, then do it thrice. Do not make people fed-up with this Qur'an and I should not see you going to a group of people while they are busy conversing among themselves and you start counselling and reminding them and in this manner you make them repulsive to it. This is not right; do not speak. When people wish to, then speak to them such that they are desirous of listening. (Bukhari, No: 5978)

6. Just as a true preacher should refrain from presenting his message at inopportune moments, in a similar manner, he should also be very eager to cash upon opportune moments. He should be very anxious to present his message at the right time in much the same manner as the prophet Joseph (sws) did, even when he got a chance while being imprisoned:

وَدَخَلَ مَعَهُ السِّجْنَ فَتَيَانَ قَالَ أَحَدُهُمَآ إِنِّي أَرَانِي أَعْصِرُ خَمْرًا وَقَالَ الآخَرُ إِنِّي أَرَانِي أَحْمِلُ فَوْقَ رَأْسِي خُبْزًا تَأْكُلُ الطَّيْرُ مِنْهُ نَبِّئْنَا بِتَأْوِيلِهِ إِنَّا نَرَاكَ مِنَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ قَالَ لاَ يَأْتِيكُمَا طَعَامٌ تُرْزَقَانِهِ إِلاَّ نَبَّأْتُكُمَا بِتَأْوِيلِهِ قَبْلَ أَن يَأْتِيكُمَا ذَلِكُمَا مِمَّا عَلَّمَنِي رَبِّي إِنِّي تَرَكْتُ مِلَّةَ قَوْمٍ لاَّ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ وَهُم بِالآخِرَةِ هُمْ كَافِرُونَ وَاتَّبَعْتُ مِلَّةَ آبَآئِـي إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْحَقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ مَا كَانَ لَنَا أَن نُّشْرِكَ بِاللّهِ مِن شَيْءٍ ذَلِكَ مِن فَضْلِ اللّهِ عَلَيْنَا وَعَلَى النَّاسِ وَلَـكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لاَ يَشْكُرُونَ يَا صَاحِبَيِ السِّجْنِ أَأَرْبَابٌ مُّتَفَرِّقُونَ خَيْرٌ أَمِ اللّهُ الْوَاحِدُ الْقَهَّارُ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِهِ إِلاَّ أَسْمَاء سَمَّيْتُمُوهَا أَنتُمْ وَآبَآؤُكُم مَّا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ بِهَا مِن سُلْطَانٍ إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلاَّ لِلّهِ أَمَرَ أَلاَّ تَعْبُدُواْ إِلاَّ إِيَّاهُ ذَلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَـكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ يَا صَاحِبَيِ السِّجْنِ أَمَّا أَحَدُكُمَا فَيَسْقِي رَبَّهُ خَمْرًا وَأَمَّا الآخَرُ فَيُصْلَبُ فَتَأْكُلُ الطَّيْرُ مِن رَّأْسِهِ قُضِيَ الأَمْرُ الَّذِي فِيهِ تَسْتَفْتِيَانِ (12: 36-41)

And with him two young men also entered the prison. One said: "I dreamt that I was squeezing grapes." And the other: "I dreamt that I was carrying a loaf upon my head from which birds are eating." Interpret these [dreams] for us; we see that you are a pious man. Joseph replied: "I will interpret them for you before you are provided with food that you are fed with here. This is part of the knowledge my Lord has taught me. Indeed, I have left the faith of those who do not believe in God and they are the ones who deny the Hereafter, and I have adopted the way of my forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We have no right to associate others with God. This is the grace which God has bestowed on us and on all mankind, yet most men are not grateful. Fellow prisoners! Are many gods better than God, the One who prevails on all? Those you worship besides Him are nothing but names which you and your fathers have devised. God has revealed no sanction for them. Sovereignty rests only with God. He has directed you to worship none but Him. This is the true faith: yet most men do not know it. Fellow prisoners, one of you will serve his Lord with wine. As for the other, he will be crucified, and the birds will tear apart his head and eat it. This is the judgement about which you two were asking. (12:36-41)

While commenting on the Prophet Joseph's preaching initiative, Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi, writes:

Let us caste a glance at the whole incident: Two people are inducted into jail together with Joseph (sws). Both have dreams and are eager to have them interpreted. Among the inmates of prison, they think that Joseph (sws) could help them in this matter. They thus describe their dreams to him with great respect and reverence. In response, Joseph (sws), does not merely interpret their dreams for them or earn some personal benefit by taking advantage of the respect they have for him; on the contrary, taking this to be an opportune moment, he presents before them the basic message of Islam and the style he adopts is such that it seems that what he has to say naturally springs forth and not something intentionally and artificially raised. This conversation points to an important principle: Just as a farmer vigilantly waits for rain so that he is able to sow seeds in his land, similarly, a true preacher should be vigilant about his surroundings; he should be ready to grasp the opportunity of presenting his message whenever he sees that someone is willing to listen to him and the situation becomes conducive for sowing seeds of his message in the heart of his addressee. The second principle which becomes evident from this incident is that when with the grace of God such an opportunity arises it is not right to waste it or to use it to one's personal advantage. When selfish people get such opportunities they try to use them for their own personal interests instead of making the best out of them for the cause of preaching. In current times, most of our scholars and saints are generally involved in this despicable practice. When they find someone directing his attention towards them they become very happy, but their happiness is not the happiness of the Prophet Joseph (sws) upon seeing the attention of his companions; it is rather like the happiness of a spider who spins a web around itself to catch flies and when it sees a fly approaching its web, it swells with glee on the prospects of catching a precious prey.[4]

7. Preaching should begin with what is agreed upon and acknowledged. Differences should only gradually be discussed. A preacher should start by presenting facts his addressee does not dispute, which are not alien to him and are in fact the call of his own heart. Only once this is done should he proceed to present the corollaries of unanimously acknowledged facts in a gradual manner that the addressees are unconsciously attracted towards things they are not used to of and which a preacher wants them to admit. The Prophet (sws) has been directed by the Almighty to follow this principle in the following words:

قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْاْ إِلَى كَلَمَةٍ سَوَاء بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ أَلاَّ نَعْبُدَ إِلاَّ اللّهَ وَلاَ نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَلاَ يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنَا بَعْضاً أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللّهِ فَإِن تَوَلَّوْاْ فَقُولُواْ اشْهَدُواْ بِأَنَّا مُسْلِمُونَ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لِمَ تُحَآجُّونَ فِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمَا أُنزِلَتِ التَّورَاةُ وَالإنجِيلُ إِلاَّ مِن بَعْدِهِ أَفَلاَ تَعْقِلُونَ هَاأَنتُمْ هَؤُلاء حَاجَجْتُمْ فِيمَا لَكُم بِهِ عِلمٌ فَلِمَ تُحَآجُّونَ فِيمَا لَيْسَ لَكُم بِهِ عِلْمٌ وَاللّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ مَا كَانَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ يَهُودِيًّا وَلاَ نَصْرَانِيًّا وَلَكِن كَانَ حَنِيفًا مُّسْلِمًا وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ (3: 64-67)

Tell them: "People of the Book, come to what is agreed upon among us: that we will worship none but God, that we will associate none with Him, and that none of us shall regard any one other than God as our Lord." If they turn away, tell them: "Bear witness, then, that we are Muslims." O People of the Book! why do you argue about Abraham when both the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed till after him? Have you no sense? It is you who have argued about things of which you have some knowledge. Why do you now argue about that of which you have no knowledge at all? [In reality] God knows, and you know not. Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian. He was an upright man, one who submitted to God and he was not a polytheist. (3:64-67)

8. If one's addressee instead of responding to the arguments of a preacher through arguments resorts to foul play, then instead of pressing his arguments, a preacher should present his message from another angle so that if his addressee does not accept it then at least he has no way to counter it. The best example of this form of form of exchange is the encounter of Abraham (sws) with the Pharaoh in which the following dialogue took place:

أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِي حَآجَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ فِي رِبِّهِ أَنْ آتَاهُ اللّهُ الْمُلْكَ إِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ رَبِّيَ الَّذِي يُحْيِـي وَيُمِيتُ قَالَ أَنَا أُحْيِـي وَأُمِيتُ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ يَأْتِي بِالشَّمْسِ مِنَ الْمَشْرِقِ فَأْتِ بِهَا مِنَ الْمَغْرِبِ فَبُهِتَ الَّذِي كَفَرَ وَاللّهُ لاَ يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ ( 2: 258)

Have you not seen the person who argued with Abraham about his Lord merely because God had bestowed sovereignty upon him when Abraham said [to him]: "My Lord is the One who gives life and death." He replied: "I too have this power."Abraham at once remarked: "God brings out the sun from the east; you bring it out from the west." The unbeliever was confounded [at this remark]. And [in reality] God does not guide such evil-doers. (2:258)

Style of Preaching

Thirdly, since the objective of true preaching is not merely to explain the truth, but to explain it in a manner and style that the common man as well as the learned among men have no difficulty in understanding it, a true preacher should always try to present his message in such an effective and natural way that people who have the slightest of potential to understand it, are able to grasp it and it also becomes evident about those who evade it that they cannot be expected to benefit from it. For this very reason, when Moses (sws) was assigned Prophethood, he prayed thus:

رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي وَاجْعَل لِّي وَزِيرًا مِّنْ أَهْلِي هَارُونَ أَخِي اشْدُدْ بِهِ أَزْرِي وَأَشْرِكْهُ فِي أَمْرِي كَيْ نُسَبِّحَكَ كَثِيرًا وَنَذْكُرَكَ كَثِيرًا إِنَّكَ كُنتَ بِنَا بَصِيرًا (20: 25-35)

"Lord", said Moses, "open my heart for me, and make my task easy and liberate my tongue from its impediment, that men may understand my speech and appoint for me a helper from among my kinsmen, Aaron my brother. Grant me strength through him and make him share my task so that we may give glory to You always and remember You always. You are surely watching over us." (20:25-35)

Thus the preaching of a true preacher should have the following characteristics:

1. His preaching should be free from any ambiguity. About the Qur'an, which is the greatest manual of preaching, the Almighty says:

وَإِنَّهُ لَتَنزِيلُ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ نَزَلَ بِهِ الرُّوحُ الْأَمِينُ عَلَى قَلْبِكَ لِتَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُنذِرِينَ بِلِسَانٍ عَرَبِيٍّ مُّبِينٍ (26: 192-195)

And surely this is revealed by the Lord of the Universe with diligence and meticulousness. The faithful spirit has brought it down into your heart that you may give warning in an eloquent Arabic tongue. (26:192-195)

While explaining the style of preaching of the Prophets and other righteous people, Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi, writes:

The style adopted by them is so clear and lucid that their preaching penetrates every section of the society. It is neither too brief and ambiguous nor too lengthy. Similes and metaphors also do not abound in it. It also does not contain very many vague references. The words used are also not uncommon and difficult. The style adopted has nothing ungainly and despicable about it. The language is pure and articulate, the metaphors used are very apt and the similes very effective. Moreover, instead of anger, the style resounds with sincerity and instead of harshness it has softness; the words used are simple and clear; they are not pompous and ostentatious. Dignity and efficacy are the hallmark of their style which is well suited to the objective they intend to accomplish. Furthermore, the nobility of their soul, the earnestness and vigour of their preaching, the faith and confidence their knowledge produces in their addressees and most of all the intense desire to make others understand their message – all this enhances the style of preaching, so much so that it develops into a new style which itself becomes an example and standard for others. The real feature of this style is its attractiveness and its ability to be easily understood. However, besides this, its simplicity and fluency bestows on it such a literary splendor that the works of the literati appear lifeless before it. Every word of their preaching is pleasing for the ears and every sentence nurtures the soul. So profound is its influence that it changes the destinies of nations what to speak of a few individuals. Such is the power it wields for a preacher that armies equipped with weapons are helpless before it.[5]

2. A preacher should not think that he has discharged his duty after merely presenting his message in just one style and manner; he should in fact try to present his message in various styles and ways to the extent that his enemies as well as his followers vouch for the fact that he has done the utmost in this regard:

وَكَذَلِكَ نُصَرِّفُ الآيَاتِ وَلِيَقُولُواْ دَرَسْتَ وَلِنُبَيِّنَهُ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ (105:6)

And in this way, We present Our arguments in various ways so that they are left with no excuse to deny them and that they may say: "You have thoroughly recited it out to us" and that We may explain this for those who want to know. (6:105)

3. The discourse of a true preacher should not merely be exemplary in the arguments and reasoning it furnishes, it should also be vibrant with fervor and enthusiasm. Such should be this enthusiasm that his addressees should feel as if he is speaking his heart out to them. The Makkan Surahs of the last two groups of the Qur'an are a very good example of this aspect. If one reads them, one can feel the fire and fury which pervades them. It is as if one can hear roars of thunder and the resounding of waves as they strike the shore. This feature emanates in a true preacher out of the strength of his ideology, his conviction and his sympathy and compassion for his addressees. It makes him a person possessed with the mission of communicating as far as he can the fact that people must make themselves ready for the Day of Judgement. It is narrated about the Prophet (sws):

كان رسول اللهإذا خطب احمرت عيناه وعلا صوته واشتد غضبه حتى كأنه منذر جيش يقول صبحكم ومساكم (مسلم رقم: 867)

When the Messenger of God would deliver a speech, his eyes would become red, his voice would increase in pitch, his emotions would be stirred so much so that it would seem as if he is trying to inform [people] of the [danger of] an army onslaught. He would say: "It might come upon you in the morning or in the evening." (Muslim, No: 867)

4. Besides this enthusiasm and vivacity and this vigour in presenting arguments, a preacher should never resort to polemical debate which aims to belittle the views of his addressees. If his addressees adopt this attitude, he should ignore them and not worry about the fact that this evasion on his part would be counted as his defeat. He should know that there is a great difference and contradiction between true preaching and such disparaging debates that they cannot co-exist:

فَلَا يُنَازِعُنَّكَ فِي الْأَمْرِ وَادْعُ إِلَى رَبِّكَ إِنَّكَ لَعَلَى هُدًى مُّسْتَقِيمٍ وَإِن جَادَلُوكَ فَقُلِ اللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ اللَّهُ يَحْكُمُ بَيْنَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فِيمَا كُنتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ (22: 67-69)

So let them not dispute with you concerning this and you should keep calling them in this way to your Lord. Indeed, you are on the straight path, and if they argue with you, say: "God knows best all that you do. God will decide the matter in which you are differing from one another on the Day of Judgement." (22:67-69)

5. The discourse of a preacher should always strictly adhere to his objective and should be in line with the purpose he wants to achieve. His words should be such in harmony with each other and his discourse should be so cohesive and uniform that wherever he is heard it seems that the message that emanates from him is the same everywhere and the objective he eagerly wants to achieve is also the same everywhere. The Qur'an is the best example of such a discourse right from its beginning to its end. Preachers should keep consulting it from this particular angle.

Style of Reasoning

The fourth thing is that besides their style of conversation, true preachers should also try as best as they can to create in their style of reasoning the same characteristics as the Prophets of Allah. The Almighty has revealed the Qur'an as a masterpiece of literature imbuing it with these characteristics. A simple reading of the Qur'an shows that these characteristics are very apparent throughout its corpus. Following are these characteristics:

Firstly, the Prophets never adopt those artificial styles of reasoning which result from the formation of a formal discipline from simple facts of knowledge, and which interest only a few intellectuals who want to play and juggle with words. On the contrary, these prophets base their reasoning on data which is simple, natural and pure, and present them with reference to established facts of common sense in such a vibrant and living manner that it awakens the intellect and mind and rejuvenates dead hearts. It is because of this very natural style of reasoning that every upright person sees that it is the call of his own heart.

Secondly, embedded in the message of the Prophets is not mere reasoning but also cues and prompts which are able to create within their addressees the power of reasoning. Thus unlike the syllogism of the logicians they try to focus the attention of their addressees on the sources of their arguments. They would state certain corollaries of these arguments and just give a small hint of the others. In other cases, they would fully explain all the corollaries and leave their obvious consequences to the intellect of their addressees. Such would be the effect of this approach that their addressees would reach these consequences themselves through deliberation and observe the very facts in broad day light which the preacher wanted to take them to. In this manner, they teach and instruct their addressees to discover details themselves from compact expressions, grasp the corollaries and off-shoots of foundational statements, understand part from whole and the implicit from the explicit and the hidden from the apparent. Such is the extent of this training that the addressees finds the objective these preachers want to achieve to be already etched in their hearts. They find such radiance from the wisdom and insight imbued by this style of reasoning that every thing within the soul and in the external world becomes absolutely clear to him.

Thirdly, they neither base their arguments on some wrong views of their addressees nor on their irrational notions. On the contrary, the basis of their message rests on such sound arguments that changes in situations and circumstances and in views and ideologies do not effect these arguments. Their arguments are founded on premises about whose veracity they can fully vouch for, and because of this feature this premise is able to validate another truth. It is thus because of this characteristic that their discourse in every period of time and in spite of the changed circumstances is able to influence hearts and successfully conquer minds with the same potency.

Fourthly, they never retaliate with similar objections on the ideology of their addressees which these addressees had raised on them. Since this style of reasoning is totally incorrect and instead of validating the truth is instrumental in making it dubious, it is never adopted by the Prophets of Allah. They try to convince their addressees of their message on the merit of its own arguments, and adhere to this approach even if their addressees raise a thousand objections against them.

Fifthly, their reasoning initiates from commonly accepted realities and slowly progresses to what is different between the two. They first try to convince their addressees of what is accepted in this world as established facts in the world around man and that within him, historical realities, certain facts of knowledge and established norms of human nature and common sense about which no upright person has any grounds to reject. Thus, they begin their arguments on these foundations and bring out their own message as corollaries to these foundational and fundamental statements, and in this way gradually familiarize their addressees to the most unknown of things that they imperceptibly accept them and then after accepting them they are induced to accept their corollaries also.

Methods of Preaching

The fifth thing is that a preacher should not insist on using just one method of preaching; on the contrary, he should adopt all methods of his times which are useful and effective for presenting views before people with wisdom and sympathy. A history of the Prophets shows that they always took into consideration the circumstances in this regard. When people were not conversant with reading and writing, the prophets of Allah adopted the method of verbally presenting their message, and this message was transferred as oral traditions to their people generation after generation. In those times, preaching was confined to personal contacts, oral presentation and adopting various means so that the message is etched in the minds of the addressees. However, once writing became a formal discipline, the Prophets of God used the written word also for this purpose. The Torah, The Psalms, the Bible and the Qur'an were revealed in those times.

Similarly, the prophets of God fully used to their advantage all means of interaction and discussion as well those which were needed to solve collective issues if these means were morally and religiously correct. Muhammad (sws) called his family members to a dinner and presented his message before them. He also presented his message from the hillock of Safa, as per the tradition of his people. He went himself to meet the chiefs of Makkah and Ta'if. In the time of hajj, he presented his message to the chiefs of various tribes. He also sent his envoys to certain important people and created opportunities to present his message in the various markets and souks of the Arabs. He also wrote letters to various people for this purpose. In short, he adopted all the ways that were available to him in those times in Arabia to present his message.

Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

In certain religious circles, God knows from where this notion has emerged that the prophetic and standard way of preaching is that a preacher should get hold of a staff and some nuts and embark upon preaching; neither should he cover his head nor wear shoes; he should roam about in various villages and wherever he finds someone he should start preaching to him whether or not he is interested to hear him; if he sees a couple of people standing in some place he should stop and commence his speech; if he sees people in a group whether in a train or in a market place or on roadsides his sermon should begin; he should barge into every gathering and forum; his addressees may get tired of hearing him but he would not get tired of talking to them; people might get weary of his zeal in pursuing them but he, on the other hand, would continue to be at their heals like a divinely appointed sentinel. People might start hiding from him for fear of his discussion, and at times because of distress may become insolent and rude but he continues with his ways with the same devotion and commitment. When he is requested for a sermon, he delivers it, when he is asked to read the milad, he readily obliges and when he is faced with people of adverse views, he plunges into debate with them. This then is the true picture of a preacher and his preaching as imagined by most religious people. It is possible that these people would not outright reject the fact that the developed and scientific means of education and preaching currently available have some advantages, however the real way of preaching which would earn the blessings of God is the one we have referred to above and which according to them was adopted by the prophets of God.

In my opinion, regarding this way of preaching to be that of the prophets is partly owing to a scarce understanding of the way they actually preached and partly because of the desire of the religious people that the way they have adopted themselves – apart from which they have no ability to adopt any other – should be regarded as sacred. As far as I have studied the methodology of preaching of the prophets, I have come to the conclusion that the ways which they have adopted in their preaching were the most developed ones of their times, and with the change of circumstances and evolution in civilization and society these ways also changed which is a proof of the fact that insisting on a particular way of preaching is not correct; true preachers should in fact make full use of the ways that their circumstances and times afford them and adopting which they can better make use of their abilities and skills.[6]

In this regard, certain things should be kept in consideration:

Firstly, immoral and unethical methods should not be adopted whatsoever in preaching. If this immorality exists in some method or means, then these methods should only be resorted to once the immorality is cleansed from it. Consequently, when the Prophet (sws) called upon his people from the top of the Safa hillock, he did adopt the very method of nadhir 'uryan (naked warner) that was in currency yet he never took off his clothes the way warners in those times did.

Secondly, methods which damage the honour of preaching or that of the preacher should also not be adopted. When at one instance such a situation arose in the preaching endeavour of the Prophet (sws), the Almighty said:

أَمَّا مَنْ اسْتَغْنَى فَأَنْتَ لَهُ تَصَدَّى وَمَا عَلَيْكَ أَلَّا يَزَّكَّى وَأَمَّا مَنْ جَاءَكَ يَسْعَى وَهُوَ يَخْشَى فَأَنْتَ عَنْهُ تَلَهَّى كَلَّا إِنَّهَا تَذْكِرَةٌ فَمَنْ شَاءَ ذَكَرَهُ فِي صُحُفٍ مُكَرَّمَةٍ مَرْفُوعَةٍ مُطَهَّرَة ٍبِأَيْدِي سَفَرَةٍ كِرَامٍ بَرَرَةٍ (80 : 5-16)

He who shows indifference, you go after him even though you are not responsible if he is not reformed; and he who comes to you with zeal and also fears [Allah], you neglect him. Certainly not! this is but a reminder so whoever wishes, can be reminded through it [set down] in honoured pages, exalted and untouched, in the custody of scribes, honourable and faithful. (80:5-16)

Thirdly, those methods of preaching should not be adopted which damage the objective of preaching and instead of being conducive for people make them even more averse to it. One prominent example of this are the polemical speeches and debates which are arranged by our religious circles in the same way as duels are arranged between wrestlers even though the Qur'an has directed us in the following words about this issue:

وَلَا تُجَادِلُوا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ إِلَّا بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ وَقُولُوا آمَنَّا بِالَّذِي أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَأُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَإِلَهُنَا وَإِلَهُكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ (46:29)

And do not argue with the People of the Book but in a befitting manner except with those among them who do evil, and say: "We profess belief in that which has been revealed to us and which was revealed to you and Our God and your God is one and to Him we submit." (29:46)

(Translated from Ghamidi's Mizan by Shehzad Saleem)




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