Attack Dawah? *
By Sheila Musaji
For some time I have noticed an increase in what I call “Attack Dawah.” This is the sort of article or response to people which highlights all the bad behaviors or social problems of others and compares them to the ideal of Islam. This may make Musims feel wonderful but at what price?
There is a “dawah” organization that publishes a quarterly newsletter and mails it out to American non-Muslims. The last three issues have been devoted to a series about the terrible situation of western women. Ultimately, I suppose, they will get to an issue which points out what exactly Islam has to say about the injustices and immoral practices they have highlighted as being typical of this society. So far, they have only pointed out that this society is totally corrupt, immoral, lewd and indecent, women are not treated with respect and have no respect for themselves, families are falling apart, there is a high divorce rate, etc. The series has used hostile methods and language, stereotypes and generalizations, and blamed all the problems of the modern world on the west generally and American society specifically.
I can only imagine the reaction of the non-Muslims receiving this literature as I know what my own response was as an American Muslim woman. I was angry at the wholesale attack on everything in this society, I was embarrassed to be included as part of a group which would send out such junk. I was offended at the implication that somehow prior to becoming a Muslim I was immoral.
The same day I received part three of this series I received a copy of a local paper which is geared toward the Pakistani community, and saw a letter to the editor supposedly written by an American woman and signed only Lisa/ Washington D.C. The grammar, style and content of the letter caused me to seriously question that it was written by a person whose mother tongue is English and it raises and encourages all the stereotypes and clichés that many immigrants have abut American women and their morality or lack of it. The American woman is immoral, greedy and traps immigrant men who are somehow flattered by the attention. If she marries an immigrant, it is for an ulterior motive. Even our acceptance of Islam is suspect as being for the purpose of trapping a Muslim husband. It is a form of backbiting and slander and serves no constructive purpose.
As Sr. Samar Luberto wrote in an article called “Cultural Prejudices Among Muslims That is” in the July 1990 Issue ofThe Message International
“American Muslim women are consequently subjected to insulting questions and/or derogatory remarks about their former lives. I myself have been spared direct attacks on my pre-Islamic morality (more or less) but this is not the general case. One Muslim woman I know has been asked outright many times by muslimaat from other cultures whether or not she had committed adultery (euphemistically speaking) prior to embracing Islam and getting married. And naturally a negative reply meets with critical disbelief – we are, after all, “Americans.” …the Prophet has said: Avoid suspicion, for suspicion is the greatest lie. (Bukhari and Muslim.)”
This mentality which says Islam has the answers - you have the problems - let us tell you how to solve your problems might be believable if it were not for the fact that the problems in the Muslim world and within the Muslim community are just as great. No one is going to be influenced by such nonsense – except negatively. Making yourself feel good by making someone else look bad is an act of weakness and not of strength. Muslims should be ashamed to stoop to such tactics. Muslims should also be very aware of how this exact tactic is used against Islam and Muslims by some Christian “missionaries”, and we should know only too well what sort of a response it provokes.
As a Muslim involved in interfaith activities, I frequently respond to American media or to missionary materials protesting their use of just these sorts of stereotypes directed against Muslims or Islam. It is even worse for Muslims to stoop to such tactics because we have clear guidelines in the Quran as to how to reason with others, as to the only criterion for judging anyone, as to the appropriate attitude towards the people of the book.
Attacking others is not only un-Islamic, it is not sensible, not productive, not believable —unless you can show them something better, not in theory, but in practice. If you want to win people to Islam, show them a better way. Straighten out your own house, educate your own people, solve your own problems, create a working community that cares for its own, that practices what it preaches, where women’s rights are protected, where no one starves, where there is no corruption, where everyone is equal under the law. Develop a community that functions Islamically. Develop a reputation for cleanliness, honesty, integrity, love of education.
Get involved in local community activities, work for human rights or ecological issues, help house the homeless, and feed the hungry. Make your mosque a clean, well organized place. Every mosque should be the cleanest, most attractive place in the neighborhood. Develop a library-reading room open to the public. Participate in local interfaith projects (food pantries, disaster relief, homeless shelters). Be a good neighbor, have a health fair or offer the use of your center for community meetings, voting, whatever. Put together a program for free tutoring for neighborhood children, or to teach people to read, or to teach ESL. During Ramadan, invite all the neighbors to an iftaar.
Don’t’ tell people what they ought to do, show them how it’s done.
Don’t tell them their faults, correct your own.
Don’t point out the weaknesses of others – show them your strengths.
Don’t attempt to gain people’s attention by insulting them, their culture or their beliefs – show them the positive results of your beliefs.
Don’t tell people what they are not – show them what you are!
If all the people of the book – whether calling themselves Jews, Christians or Muslims would act on what they believe, and heed the advice of the Quran to “strive with each other as in a race” in the doing of good deeds, and leave the answers to who is right or wrong on technical theological issues to the decision of Almighty God on the Day of Judgment the world would be a better place.
Originally published in the Nov-Dec 1990 issue ofThe American Muslim