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Introduction
Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat
Chapter 02

How People Are Influenced by Contemporary Misconceptions

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When analysing a problem or a social phenomenon, many people tend to simplify its causes. They often cast a casual look at it. When some serious questions are asked,

such as: why do some of our young people turn to atheism; or, why do they reject the sunnah; some people give one or two simple reasons.

This is the wrong approach, because the problem is a complex one and has many causes, some of which overlap.

I have reflected on this problem for long and have identified many contributing reasons. These I have examined and classified under separate headings.

I am breaking down the various problems into those caused by external or internal influences. Other problems are the result of methodological and advocacy shortcomings.

Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat

Type One: External influences.

1. Social media

Everyone knows that there is much good, benefit, exchange of knowledge and mutual care that is done through social media, but such are also the principal mediums for transmitting misconceptions and problems.

They have also helped to put the misconceptions of old times in front of those who are easily influenced by dubious ideas. Social media provide easy mediums to those who want to spread misconceptions, without going through difficult and complex procedures. People who want to achieve fame have adopted dissident attitudes and odd ideas, using social media to gain publicity and fame. Moreover, social media spreads misconceptions to all sorts of people, thereby giving the problem an added risk dimension.

2. Cinema and fiction

Television and books rarely have the same appeal to young people, of both sexes, as films and novels. This tends to broaden the population group that are influenced by the latter. The problem here is that their influence is indirect, as they present a totally alien culture, with all that it involves of right and wrong, good and evil. There is no possibility here to exclude what is contrary to Islamic values.

3. Various direct contacts with foreign cultures, including education

The main problem here is that a young Muslim is taught by non-Muslim teachers, some of whom endeavour to spread atheist concepts. Some students, including postgraduate ones, have fallen prey to such attempts. If we ensure that our students go to educational establishments equipped with certainty of belief and a good standard of Islamic knowledge that enables him or her to evaluate new ideas and information, the situation would be much easier.

4. Availability of what is desirable yet forbidden

We live at a time that is characterised by widespread sexual temptation. The question then arises: is there any connection between the availability of illicit sex and susceptibility to misconceptions?

Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat
Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat

The problem with temptation in our times is that it has taken on different manifestations and attained several stages, one stage leading to the next. It can, thus, easily become predominant within a young person’s mind and emotional set. When they become so influential, a person may feel religious duties to be too demanding. They then seek some way to stop what detracts from enjoying such tempting desires.

They want to enjoy without facing the guilt for having resorted to illicit ways of fulfilment. One such outcome is to disbelieve or to deny accountability in the life to come.

This sequence of events may not be the most frequent in reality, but it is possible and its outcomes very serious.

From another point of view, frequent indulgence in sin without following it with repentance and a resolve not to revert to it leads to make one’s heart rusty, and when such rust accumulates, one cannot see the truth. This is as God says in the Qur’an: ‘Their own deeds have cast a layer of rust over their hearts’. (83: 14)

If barriers gather around one’s heart, the light of faith becomes dim and a person is likely to be influenced by even casual doubt or a flimsy misconception. An authentic hadith related by al-Tirmidhi and others quotes the Prophet as saying: ‘When a person commits a sin, a black spot settles on his heart.

If he regrets it and turns to God in repentance, his heart is cleared. If he repeats it, the black spot increases until eventually it covers all his heart. This is the rust God mentions as He says: “Their own deeds have cast a layer of rust over their hearts”

We must not ignore such abstract concepts Islam mentions when we try to understand any problem related to moving away from religion.

5. The material progress of the West and the influence of Western culture

The German author Sigrid Hunke wrote her famous book llahs Sonne über dem Abendland, or Allah's sun over the Occident. This book was published in 1960. She wrote another entitled Allah ist ganz anders, or Allah is Unlike That. In this book she defends Muslim and Islamic history and civilisation.

She quotes an interesting and important text which describes an attitude similar to what many Muslims experience today as they look with admiration at Western civilisation. She quotes the Bishop of Cordova as he speaks of the superiority of Islamic civilisation. He laments the status of his people, saying:

Many of my co-religionists read tales of the Arabs and study the writings of Muslim philosophers and religious scholars. They do not do so to refute them, but to master the Arabic language and be able to express themselves in good and fine style. Where do we have today a non-specialist Christian who can read Latin exegesis of the Bible? Where do we find Christians who study the four Gospels and the Books of Prophets and the Acts of the Apostles?

Many of my co-religionists read tales of the Arabs and study the writings of Muslim philosophers and religious scholars. They do not do so to refute them, but to master the Arabic language and be able to express themselves in good and fine style. Where do we have today a non-specialist Christian who can read Latin exegesis of the Bible? Where do we find Christians who study the four Gospels and the Books of Prophets and the Acts of the Apostles?

What a disaster! Christians have even forgotten their mother tongue. You can hardly find one in a thousand among them who can compose a simple letter in good Latin, while those who have mastered written and spoken Arabic are countless. Indeed, some can write poetry in Arabic. They even excel the Arabs in that regard.

I mentioned the cinema and fiction as the second factor that helps to introduce Western values indirectly into our community. On its own, this factor is not strong unless coupled by a sense of defeatism among Muslims.

In al-Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun stated a maxim that became world famous. This concerns the influence of the victor over the vanquished. I may summarise it as follows: The vanquished will always try to emulate the victor in his dress, transport and weapons and how to make and use these. Indeed the vanquished emulates the victor in all situations… If two communities are geographically close and one of them is superior to the other, the weaker one will import much of the stronger’s habits and practices.

Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat
Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat

Abdullah al-Ujayri’s book Yanbuoo al-Ghiwayah al-Fikriyyah tackles this subject in an interesting and appealing way. In his Introduction, the author says that many of the erroneous ideas that have been floated in our times are due to a combination of two things: the dominance of foreign culture and the lack of submission to God and His Messenger. He then adds:

When you reflect on the different ‘intellectual trends’ that have swept through the Muslim community in recent history, you will realise the impact of dominant cultural patterns on the formation of concepts and ideas. You can then explain the attempts to give an Islamic guise to some Western or Eastern ideologies.

When socialist ideology was on the rise, a socialist reading of Islam was presented, and when military values became predominant, Islam was given a military outlook. As the democratic political pattern gained ground, Islam was seen from a democratic angle.

It is only natural then that when liberal philosophy is in vogue, Islam will be given a liberal colour. Today, liberal values are sweeping the world and creating a general liberal mode. Indeed, this liberal mode is like a pressure cooker which produces an increasing conviction requiring the adoption of some or all these liberal values.

Islamic religious texts are then interpreted in the light of such liberal values and concepts in an attempt to revise the Islamic outlook so as to fit liberal values.

It is certainly important to analyse liberal concepts and explain the problems and wrong ways they imply, as well as their incompatibility with many Islamic values. However, such efforts are bound to be of little effect because these liberal concepts and values have the support of Western civilisation which is predominant in our modern world.

When I discuss protective measures, God willing, I will mention that rearranging the major priorities from a human perspective is an important factor in neutralising the effect of this factor. Another very useful work in this area is Ibraheem al-Sakran’s book Sultat al-Thaqafah al-Ghalibah, or Hegemony of the Dominant Culture.

Type Two: Internal Influences

The external factors that contribute to the impact of the attack on Islam and its fundamental principles cannot produce their real effect unless they find a response from the target population. This means that they need to find loopholes and weak points in the target group. I will list here only six of these internal influences.

1. Lack of certainty

I am not going to discuss this factor at length despite its great importance, because I will be talking about it when I discuss protective measures. I only wish to raise here the following point:

All Muslims agree that attending to obligatory prayers on time is the most important practical Islamic duty. Muslims also agree that delaying prayers until their time range has lapsed is one of the most serious sins. The question that arises is: How do we explain the fact that a substantial number of Muslims neglect to offer their obligatory prayers on time?

I claim that lack of certainty of belief is the paramount reason, even though there are other reasons.

Most Muslims are free of disbelief and atheism, despite their weak faith, because they have not been targeted by someone who tries to raise doubts in their minds about their faith. Were they to be exposed to some hard questioning about one of the fundamental principles of Islam, however, they may not be able to withstand such an attack. Ibn Taymiyyah gives this beautiful description:

Generally speaking, when people embrace Islam after being unbelievers, or when they are born into Muslim families and adhere to Islamic values, obeying God and His Messenger, they are considered Muslims and they have faith in a general way. However, the truth of faith gets into their hearts gradually, if God grants them this. Otherwise, many people do not get to the stage of certainty or to jihad. If doubts are raised before them, they may become doubtful. If they are ordered to join jihad, they may not do so.

They are neither unbelievers nor hypocrites, but they simply do not have the inner knowledge and certainty that is necessary to prevent doubt. Nor do they have the sort of love of God and His Messenger that is dearer to them than their family or property. If such people are spared a trial and die in this condition of theirs, they go to heaven. If, on the other hand, they are faced with a situation that creates doubt and God does not grace them with what removes such doubt, they may become doubters and move into a type of hypocrisy.

2. Psychological problems and social pressures

I have had many discussions with different people about belief in God and often in situations whereby my interlocutors have been facing pressures and trials which they found difficult to deal with. It may often happen that a psychological problem or some pressure leads a person to be displeased with their lot or unhappy with God’s will. Such a person may then deny God’s existence or accuse Him of being unjust or unwise! This factor is certainly not peculiar to our modern age.

In the Qur’an, God tells us of people who worship Him but then revert to disbelief as a result of some misfortune that befalls them. He says:‘Some people worship God on the border-line [of faith]. If good befalls such a person, he is content; but if a trial assails him, he turns away utterly; thus losing this world and the life to come. This is, indeed, a loss beyond compare’. (22: 11)

bn Abbas is quoted in al-Bukhari’s Sahih interpreting this verse as follows: ‘A man may come to Madinah. Then if his wife gives birth to a son and his horse gives him a calf, he says:“This is good”.Related by al-Bukhari

If his wife does not give birth and his horse does not give him a calf, he says: “This religion is bad”.

Ibn Saadi, a fine commentator on the Qur’an, gives the following interpretation of this verse: ‘Some people are weak in faith: it has not settled in their hearts and they have not experienced its happy feelings. They might have embraced it out of fear, or through the force of habit. Therefore, it is shaken by trials. ‘If good befalls such a person, he is content’. This means that if he continues to have ample provisions and does not experience any adversity, he feels content at having such good fortune, not content with his faith.

God may spare such a person and may not expose him to trials that test his faith. ‘But if a trial assails him’, causing him to experience some adversity or suffer the loss of someone who is dear, ‘he turns away utterly’, which means he abandons his faith. ‘Thus losing this world and the life to come.’ Losing this world means that he does not gain what he hoped to gain by abandoning his faith. He cannot compensate for his original loss. Thus, his efforts are in vain and he gets only what has always been ordained for him to have. The loss of the life to come is clear, as he is denied entry into heaven and justly incurs punishment in hell. ‘This is, indeed, a loss beyond compare.’ And it is clearly so’.

3. Lack of attention to worship and spirituality

Whenever a Muslim pays special attention to the depth of faith and nurtures the love of God in his heart, totally relies on Him, and purges his heart of grudges, envy and conceit, such a Muslim will experience a sort of unrivalled happiness. Such a person will never entertain a thought of replacing this kind of happiness by any other feeling. The person who does not have such an experience may prefer any other type of attraction.

4. Lack of tools for research and documentation

When critical thinking prevails in a certain society and when the tools of research and study abound in it, it becomes more difficult for alien ideas to influence it. The reverse is also true. We see this clearly in the fact that a number of misconceptions have been circulated widely, although protection against them needs no more than critical examination or academic study to render them ineffective. We will see that protective measures include the promotion of critical thinking and the strengthening of the tools of research.

Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat
Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat

5. Lack of Islamic knowledge

I conducted a questionnaire in two of my courses on dealing with contemporary misconceptions, asking about the causes behind this spread of misconception. ‘Lack of Islamic knowledge among young people’ was among the top answers.

Such lack of Islamic knowledge increases the possibility of being influenced by raised doubts and misconceptions. This is due to the fact that a good standard of knowledge gives a person a methodological basis to evaluate what he may receive of new information or analysis. By contrast, a person who lacks such a methodological basis is prone to confusion and serious errors of knowledge.

6. Time, mental and spiritual emptiness

I remember a woman who suffered one of the worst cases of obsession I have ever witnessed or heard of. I tried hard to persuade her to follow the methods of getting rid of her obsession, but none was effective. I think she consulted a psychiatrist, but he was not of much help either. I identified for her certain ways of study and acquiring knowledge, so as to fill her time and occupy her mind with, because she had absolutely nothing to do with her time. The result was quicker and better than I expected. Her questions, which used to be poured in quick succession, actually stopped in a very short time. I am not exaggerating and I have no need to exaggerate. What I want to say here is that mental and spiritual emptiness leaves one’s mind and heart receptive to any thought, including that which is evil. A person whose time is full, and whose mind and spirit are preoccupied with the pursuit of knowledge, action and faith has an effective shield that protects from deviant ideas and nagging thoughts.

Type Three: Shortcomings in methodology, advocacy, education and religious discussion.

Such shortcomings appear in many ways, such as:

1. There is a clear gap between many religious scholars and young people. This gap leads to an imperfect understanding of reality and the mental isolation of each group. What is worse is that it leads to the lack of role models who can play an important part in keeping the young on the right course.

We need only to remind ourselves of the Prophet’s personal conduct and how close he was to all sections of society. Imagine the effect of his behaviour on people who recognised his sublime character reflected in his generous heart, forbearance and patience. He won their hearts with his fine manners and good conduct.

2. There is a marked lack of variation in methods of advocacy that are suited to modern society and its development. The Prophet used to vary his address and his methods of imparting information. He used different styles, such as asking questions, drawing figures, giving effective addresses, and employing fine speech, etc. We know that he had the light of revelation and God’s support. These were more than enough for the task he was given, but he set the example for us. To follow his lead is very important, particularly in our modern world where the media play a very important social role.

3. Another shortcoming is the little room allowed for open discussion where young people feel free to put forward their questions and problems, whatever they may be, with complete impunity.

I often think of a situation that I love to see as a common feature of Islamic advocacy. I think of a large hall, full of young people being addressed by a scholar who is an accomplished debater and who combines broad-mindedness with profound insight and the ability to put his case clearly and convincingly. The audience are invited to express their views, put their questions and explain their worries without restriction. The scholar gives clear answers to their queries like Ahmad Deedat used to do and as Zakir Naik continues to do. It is in such a forum that countless positive messages will reach their audiences. Many misconceptions will be cleared, problems solved and hearts reassured. This is my dream, but will it come true? Will this be soon? How many advocates of Islam are able to undertake this task? Our Lord, help us!

4. Inadequate logical and well proven Islamic discourse. This is one of the most important reasons and is discussed below.

Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat

Features of the effective religious address on the contemporary intellectual stage:

I shall mention five features that will make the Islamic address highly effective in the intellectual arena. I am speaking at length on the first feature, which is very important, and I hope that my reader will not, as a result, lose sight of the other features.

The first feature: giving more importance to rational address

Some people think that Islamic religious texts do not include rational and logical proofs. This idea makes them give less importance to the evidence given in religious texts, assigning more importance to logical reasoning. They claim that certainty can only be achieved by logical reasoning and rational evidence, not by texts. All this is untrue. Islamic religious texts cite numerous rational evidence that prove the fundamentals of the faith based on God’s oneness.

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘The truth is stated by the early generations of Muslims and their scholars who combined knowledge with faith. They state that God has given all the rational evidence that people need. No one of those who make such claims appreciate such rational evidence. In fact, the Qur’an sums up all that they provide in the best form’.Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmoo‘ al-Fatawa

Ibn Abi al-Izz, a Hanafi scholar, said: ‘My good friend needs only consider the rational methods mentioned by philosophers and theologians. He will realise that all that is correct and valid in them echoes some of the logical proofs the Qur’an states in the clearest and most concise of forms. Indeed, the Qur’anic style is far clearer and more perfect than anything they come up with’. Ibn Abi al-Izz, Sharh al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah

When we read God’s book, the Qur’an, and study the Prophet’s hadiths, we will recognise that rational address features prominently in them. Take, for example, the Qur’anic verses that state the fact of resurrection after death. God says: ‘Do they not see that God, who has created the heavens and the earth, has power to create their like? He has beyond any doubt set a term for their resurrection’. (17: 99)

‘Are they not aware that God, who has created the heavens and the earth and was not wearied by their creation, has the power to bring the dead back to life? Yes, indeed. He has power over all things’. (46: 33)

This is a clearly convincing logical argument. The pagan Quraysh Arabs admitted that God is the Creator of the heavens and earth. Therefore, the argument to refute their claims is that the One who created the heavens and the earth out of nothing is able to create their like. Most certainly, He is able to create lesser beings: ‘The creation of the heavens and the earth is indeed greater than the creation of man; yet most people do not understand’. (40: 57)

Such rational address in the Qur’an includes the following: ‘Were they created out of nothing? Were they the creators?’ (52: 35)

Setting the question in this way makes the human mind consider the possibilities of either case being true. As it will never find any proof to support either case, it begins to look at the third possibility which is stated in the preceding and following verses in the surah. It then concludes that the Creator is undoubtedly God.

Reference works on this subject include: Al-Adillah al-Aqliyyah al-Naqliyyah ala Usool al-I‘tiqad by Saud al-Urayfi; Balaghat al-Ihtijaj al-Aqli fi al-Qur’an al-Karim by Zainab al-Kurdi, and Manahij al-Jadal fi al-Qur’an by Zahir ibn Awwad al-Alma‘i.

We also find in the Prophet’s sunnah situations where convincing logical argument is most beautiful and appealing. Al-Bukhari and Muslim relate the following hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah: ‘A man from the Fazarah tribe came to the Prophet. He said: “My wife has given birth to a black boy”. The Prophet asked him: “Do you have camels?” The man said that he had. The Prophet asked: “What colour are they?” The man said that they were reddish. The Prophet said: “Are any of them grey?” The man said: “Some of them are”. The Prophet said: “How come they are so?” The man said: “It might have inherited a certain quality”. The Prophet said: “And this boy might have inherited a certain quality”.’

Addressing People’s Minds

People’s minds are addressed in different ways. Some concentrate on the method and style of address, while others seek to make an argument, and some seek to predetermine the limitations of the human mind and its submission to God and the divine message.

The first type, which focuses on the method of address, uses various ways to alert the mind. One of these ways is to ask a question. The Prophet used this method in order to impart certain information. A hadith narrated by Ibn Umar mentions that the Prophet said to some of his companions: ‘Tell me which evergreen tree is like a Muslim?’[ The hadith mentions that they gave different answers, but the Prophet told them that it is the date tree, as its benefits are enjoyed throughout the year, and its fruit continues to be used all the year round. A Muslim is always ready to assist others and do good at all times.] In a different hadith related by Muslim, the Prophet asked his companions: ‘Do you know who is penniless?’ They said: ‘A penniless person is one who has neither money nor property’.

He said: ‘In my community, a penniless person is one who finds himself on the Day of Judgement having performed prayer and fasting and paid zakat. However, he had in life abused a person, levelled false accusations on another, taken away unlawfully some of the property of a third person, killed another and unlawfully beaten up someone else. On the Day of Judgement, he will pay this person and that person out of his own good deeds. If his good deeds are exhausted and he has not yet repaid what he owes, some of their bad deeds will be transferred to him and he will be thrown in hell’.

Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat
Misconceptions and refutations Sabighat

Another method is the use of analogy and setting example. The point of giving an example is to draw a logical analogy. Take for example the often asked question: ‘How can we believe in God when we cannot see Him?’ An example drawn from our modern time cites the ‘electron’ in answer. Scientists treat the electron as a scientific reality although they never see it. They only see its effect. Likewise, we believe in God without seeing Him. We only see His works.

A different method is to use the skills of delivery and persuasion. Advocates of Islam and scholars who give speeches and khutbahs should acquire such skills. Even a person who is gifted in this area may benefit by learning some additional skills. Yet another method of presenting information to addressees is to make sure of starting with acceptable introductions and proceeding from these to establish the result one wishes to state. This is hugely important. To give an example:

we may state at the beginning that the Qur’an was revealed for all mankind, not only for the Prophet’s generation and his companions. We proceed from this to establish that the verses that require believers to obey the Prophet apply to us and that we cannot implement them unless we follow the authentic sunnah and hadiths.

All the foregoing come under the first method of addressing the human mind. The second type aims to refute the arguments of opponents. There are several methods of doing so, such as highlighting the logical or methodological contradictions in an opponents’ argument. For example, an opponent may cite a hadith to support his rejection of the sunnah. This is an essential contradiction.

The sunnah includes all that the Prophet said, did or approved. Every report quoting his words or action or approval is a hadith. Therefore, rejecting the sunnah as a source of Islamic legislation means rejecting all hadiths. To use a hadith as evidence in support of rejecting the sunnah is to use what one does not consider to be valid. This means self contradiction.

Another method is to highlight the essential falsehood attendant on an opponent’s argument. For example, atheists and agnostics who deny resurrection and man’s accountability in a life to come may be asked about the fate of dictators who kill thousands or millions of people: will they be punished after they die? Will their victims gain redress for what they suffered at their hands? Atheists deny resurrection, which essentially means that there will be no difference between the oppressor and the oppressed, and this is false. Indeed, the oppressor will be better off, because he will have enjoyed his life which, according to him, is the only life. The victim, however, was deprived of the chance to enjoy life.

The third method of addressing minds is to speak about the mind as a source of knowledge. This requires speaking about the sphere within which it works, and the relationship between mind and religious text, and its attitude to matters that are beyond the reach of human faculties of perception, etc. This helps to place the human mind in its proper place and allows it to function well in both understanding and evaluation.

The second feature: clear awareness of the questions being asked and the nature of counter arguments

A scholar or an Islamic advocate may be unclear about the subject he needs to discuss when he addresses his congregation, or on social media. Keeping aware of what young people are asking or debating will remove all such lack of clarity. There are always new ideas and plenty of thoughts. When a person follows what is being discussed and evaluates it, he will know what to say and when to say it. If he notices that a particular religious question is becoming the subject of exchanges on social media, he may address it after pinpointing the essence of the debate concerning it. He will find his audience listening attentively, eager to know the truth and appreciating sound contributions.

The third feature: know your addressees

It is very important to know the type of audience one is addressing and their different levels. Further, one must be aware of what appeals to young people and what makes them turn away.

The fourth feature: argument is countered by argument, not by hurling abuse. Opponents must be fairly treated

A markedly negative effect is often produced when doubts raised about religious fundamentals are met with hurling abuse at the person raising them or placing him in a certain category, without citing clear and convincing evidence to explain that his argument is wrong. We live at a time that has set a certain standard for what is acceptable to young people. Therefore, we need to understand that in a debate, we do not discuss a speaker, but rather what he says. The focus of argument must be the information provided, not who provides it. This may not always be true, but wherever it is possible it should be followed because it is more effective.

Being fair to those who disagree with us and maintaining good manners with them make us more influential in the field of debate. It is very important in this regard not to accuse an opponent of bad intention simply because he expresses an erroneous view or makes an invalid observation. However, there remain some irritating exceptions that may lead to a loss of temper. Perhaps the nearest example is provided by those who claim to follow the Qur’an only.

The fifth feature: a genuine desire to help people see the truth

A true and genuine intention, coupled with enthusiasm and sincerity in the presentation of the Islamic message to people so that they may benefit by it will always be reflected on the advocate’s face. It also gives the audience a feeling of self-importance. Above all, God will help those with genuine intention by making their word well received and acceptable.