Let us reveal to others the common thread that unites us. And when we hear someone of our faith attacking another religion, let us gently defend our brothers and sisters in humanity, no matter what path leads them to God.
What do we do when someone criticizes our faith? Most of the time, we become defensive or we retaliate by criticizing the scripture the critic follows.
The way we respond, however, says a lot about our spiritual state. When Abdal Hakim Murad, the Dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, received queries from Joram Van Klaveren—a famous critic of the Quran and an ex-member of a far-right Dutch political party—who was doing research for a book he was writing against Islam, Murad answered his questions meticulously and in a composed manner. By the grace of Al Hadi (The Guide), the exchange, which taught Van Klaveren the true essence of Islam, was a catalyst for Van Klaveren’s conversion; and, of course, the anti-Islam book metamorphosed into an account of Van Klaveren’s journey to Islam.
This article, however, is not about converting others to Islam. It is about how we as Muslims are encouraged to invite peace into our encounters instead of trying to win an argument. In the Quran, God instructs the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): “Say: I am … a human being like you” (Quran 18:110). When he returned to Mecca, he forgave all those who rebuked him. If our Prophet did not hold grudges, who are we to act superior when ‘provoked’ by those outside our faith? When are we going to stop responding to critics (in a way many of us are guilty of) by asking: What about your religion?
No matter how different our faiths may appear, in essence, God’s signature of oneness is everywhere. All scriptures teach us kindness and mercy. Let us reveal to others the common thread that unites us. And when we hear someone of our faith attacking another religion, let us gently defend our brothers and sisters in humanity, no matter what path leads them to God.
“If God had so willed, He would have made [us] one community” (Quran 5:48) but He chose to “test [us] through that which He has given [us]” (Ibid). Furthermore, in the same verse, God tells us to “race to do good” (Ibid) and that we “will … return to God and He will make clear to [us] the matters [we] differed about” (Ibid).
If we find ourselves in an argument, however, let us “[a]rgue … in the most courteous way” (Quran 16:125). Thus, it is no longer an argument, but a discussion. Courtesy opens the doors to understanding. And if a discussion becomes heated, we can change the subject or turn away from the ignorant (Quran 7:199) by leaving the room politely or taking time out from responding to an email until we collect ourselves. This does not mean we ignore them forever, but at that moment, we diffuse the situation without being pulled into a vortex of negativity. And if we are the ones who behave ignorantly, we can turn away from ourselves and refuse to act from a place of darkness.
Yes, it may take time, but when we recognize the ploys of the lower self, we can awaken from this nagging, incessant need to feel superior to others. And the next time someone upsets or annoys us we remember to say: Bismillah Al Rahman Al Raheem (In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful) and realign ourselves with the awareness of God’s presence by acting with compassion and mercy.
It is never too late to transform ourselves, no matter how many times we failed to respond peacefully in the past. In fact, our past failures can become our best teachers if we set an intention to renounce pride for the sake of our Creator. Our failures, which fill us with regret and create divisiveness, remind us that we mistakenly sought the guidance of our ego. There is only place for contentment and harmony, however, when we are aligned to the guidance of God.
To attain spiritual success, no matter how defensively we behaved in the past—and even if the past was a mere minute ago—this moment is an opportunity to evolve in consciousness and surrender our ego to Al Wadood (the Loving).
Quran quotations were taken from M.A.S. Abdel-Haleem’s Oxford English translation and Sahih International.