The following is a part apology, part letter to the community, that I hope that I will hear or read some day, from a brother who wrote dawah pamphlets, and delivered numerous talks on “____ in Islam” in different parts of North America. Yeah, it’s completely fictitious. But a sister can dream, right? Anyway, it’s an apology that I need to hear.
I know that his ideas about “what Islam is” and how Muslims should live definitely weren’t his alone. And, that he probably sincerely believes to this day that such interpretations are the most correct, and that Islam (as he understands it) is the One True Way that alone will save people from hell.
I also know why these ideas seemed to “make sense” to conservative immigrant Muslims like him, who were preoccupied with preserving their “Islamic identity” in North America, as they struggled to build a decent life for themselves and their families. They faced an unbelievable amount of prejudice and ignorance, and especially in the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution, they felt under a lot of pressure to “explain” Islam and Muslims to non-Muslims—and what better way to make yourself feel better than to go beyond merely trying to rationally justify your beliefs and practices to producing pamphlets and giving talks aimed at non-Muslim audiences, arguing that Islam is the truth?
But still. It cannot have been unknown to this Muslim pamphleteer (and many others, mostly male but sometimes female) that Muslim students groups and mosques were distributing these pamphlets to some pretty vulnerable people, as well as to some Muslims who would use them for their own selfish purposes. Any sensible person could anticipate that there would be some pretty bad results from doing that.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Islam, and in humanity,
Assalam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu. I greet you all with the greetings of peace, and wish for you the mercy and blessings of God.
Years ago, I wrote a number of booklets on aspects of Islam, and gave talks that further expanded on those ideas. I have come to realize that a number of the ideas and practices that I promoted have caused harm to others, and for that, I am deeply sorry.
While those pamphlets and talks were based on my knowledge of Islam at that time, I did irresponsibly exceed the limits of my knowledge, claiming to know what Islam says about issues that I did not have sufficient knowledge of, and without carefully thinking about how these teachings were likely to affect the Muslims in North America who followed them. I also drastically oversimplified some complex issues, particularly, on gender and sexuality (which requires a separate apology), to the point of being misleading.
Having seen the ways that these dawah materials have been used (and misused) by Muslims, I would like to apologize for having produced them in the first place. While as a believer, I do believe that the message sent by God to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is sure guidance and a mercy to all people, I also recognize that it is highly questionable and sometimes unethical to promote the conversion of people to Islam in certain situations. Therefore, providing would-be da’is with a ready-to-go dawah tool in the form of these pamphlets was irresponsible on my part.
Over the years, I have come to realize that dawah efforts tend to disproportionately draw in people who are vulnerable in a number of ways, and/or at a turning point in their lives. While it is tempting to me as a believer to assume that through converting to Islam their personal problems would be solved, the reverse is sometimes the case. Also, the conversion process itself and its aftermath can bring about significant problems.
When we take into consideration the fact that few of our Muslim communities have adequate resources or facilities for addressing pressing problems found among us such as abuse, domestic violence, addiction, or mental health, then we have to ask why some of us are so keen on dawah to outsiders when we have all these issues that urgently need attention. It is also true that we cannot give much if any help to converts who face (or end up facing) problems such as these. Unfortunately, for some doing dawah is not about trying to help or guide others, but about bolstering their own self-esteem. We tell one another that we are the world’s fastest growing religion, as if that proves anything.
It greatly saddens me to overhear young Muslim men rating the non-Muslim young women they go to school with, in terms of which is or or not “a convertible.” And to hear Muslim men who married North American women from non-Muslim backgrounds praised for having supposedly “guided” such women and in this way to have earned a reward in the akhira. These prospective or actual converts are human beings, and should be treated as such, rather than being treated as stepping stones for Muslim men to salve their consciences for having engaged in haraam with these or other women, or to bolster their own self-esteem. I am sincerely sorry for producing dawah materials that posed no real challenge to such unacceptable attitudes—and that if anything, they indirectly supported them.
It saddens me even more to read converts who have since left Islam writing about how they were initially drawn in by what they call “dawahganda” and that once they realized how inaccurate much of it was, they felt that they had been lied to. Since the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was known even to his enemies as “al-Amin” (the trustworthy), it is absolutely unacceptable that dawah should involve misleading anyone. This is an abuse of trust that can be in no way pleasing to God, and I deeply regret the part that I played in that.
Conversion to Islam in North America is often a life-changing choice, which can affect everything from the convert’s relationships with his/her birth family to his/her financial situation when they become old. Such a serious choice should only be made by adults of sound mind, who are in the position to make educated decisions, which are based on detailed knowledge of Islam that includes an appreciation for its rich traditions of discussion and debate. Literature or talks on Islam that present a one-sided picture, use emotional manipulation, oversimplify complex issues, or are frankly misleading are simply unacceptable. We need the courage to stand up and, as God says, “bear witness for justice, even against our own selves.”
In addition, I now realize that these pamphlets and talks of mine harmed those who were born Muslim in a number of ways as well, and for that, I sincerely apologize. I am appalled when I see how this type of approach to Islam has been and unfortunately all too often continues to contribute to the production of an atmosphere in mosques, Muslim communities and organizations, and perhaps worst of all, in Muslim student groups in which critical thinking is discouraged. This was not my intention. It is my hope that we can move beyond approaches to Islam that implicitly equate true faith with accepting easy answers and promoting conformist thinking.
Your brother in Islam,