Quick Tip for Talking with Missionaries

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,

Despite having been in this arena for a few years, I’m always finding new ways to interact with anti-Islamic polemicists. While attending a conference yesterday, I came across some invaluable advice in a book I’ve enjoyed reading for sometime (“How to Read a Book”, by Mortimer J. Adler). Many Ulama have recommended this book and I’m quite happy they did, it’s been very informative and extremely enlightening, it’s worth significantly more than you’d ever pay for it.

When we dialogue with missionaries, or conservative groups (EDL, BNP etc), sometimes even atheists, we find them claiming things of Islam that we don’t necessarily believe. Case in point, “Muslims worship a moon God“. As a Muslim, I’ve never been told to worship the moon, nor has Allaah ever been described as the moon, nor was the moon taught to me as being a deity. In fact, the Qur’aan directly speaks against anyone worshipping the sun or the moon:

“And the night, and the day, and the sun, and the moon are among His signs; do not prostrate for the sun or the moon, but prostrate for Allah Who has created them, if you are His bondmen.” – Qur’aan 41:37.

So, what should we do when we’re faced with someone who is claiming that Muslims believe X, when in reality we believe in….not X (let X be any arbitrary argument about Islamic belief – moon God, Injil is Bible etc)? It’s simple, you as the Muslim must declare: This is now what Islam teaches and as a Muslim, this is not what I believe. From this, we can take Mortimer’s advice, he says:

You yourself may remember an occasion where someone said to a speaker, in one breath or at most two, “I don’t know what you mean, but I think you’re wrong.” There is actually no point in answering critics of this sort. The only polite thing to do is to ask them to state your position for you, the position they claim to be challenging. If they cannot do it satisfactorily, if they cannot repeat what you have said in their own words, you know that they do not understand, and you are entirely justified in ignoring their criticisms. They are irrelevant, as all criticism must be that is not based on understanding. – How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler, Page 97.

In sum:

  1. Opponent makes claim.
  2. If this is not what we as Muslims believe, declare this to your opponent, clarify what we actually do believe.
  3. He will say you’re wrong (he will deny your declaration).
  4. Ask him to explain to you what you said you believed.
  5. If he can’t or refuses to, then his criticism is unfounded, as what he is attacking, has no basis in our deen.

It’s simple, but pure genius. How can you expect to carry on an intelligent and worthwhile discussion with someone who claims to understand your beliefs, but cannot accurately express them to you? Such a person is pretending to have knowledge that they do not have and you should inform them of their lack of knowledge and decorum.

wa Allaahu ‘Alam.



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  • Assalamualaikum, brother Ijaz! 😀

    You have said in the article:

    “Many Ulama have recommended this book and I’m quite happy they did, it’s been very informative and extremely enlightening, it’s worth significantly more than you’d ever pay for it.”

    I have some questions.

    Which Ulama recommended this book?

    Are they people who also engage in dawa?

  • wa ‘alaykumus salaam,

    Mainly Maliki scholars like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf have recommended it. However the book falls within the remit of ‘epistemology’ which is one of the fundamental subjects in Islam, Imam al Ghazali has written about this subject in his work, Kitab al Ilm.

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