Muslims in the West: Challenges and Opportunities

Muslims in the West: Challenges and Opportunities

Interview with Shaykh Khalil al-Rahman Sajjad Nomani Nadwi

[Maulana Khalil al-Rahman Sajjad Nomani Nadwi is from Lucknow, India and is a prolific scholar and thinker of Islam.]

What advice would you give to Muslims in the West following the events of September 11, 2001?

Transforming challenges into opportunities is a Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad, Sallallaho Alayhi Wasallam. All Islamic progress has been made when challenges have been transformed into opportunities.

One positive aspect of the global situation is that the whole world is now discussing Islam. People are more willing to understand Islam. This is therefore an ideal opportunity to promote and propagate Islam, which can be done by practical example through one's behavior. At the same time try to dispel and allay fears and misconceptions about the religion.

In order to avail of this opportunity, a balanced psyche is needed. One should avoid being reactionary and adopt a positive approach. Otherwise there is the danger of being swept aside by the tide of hatred and extremism. There are greater harms than benefits of this to Islam. If we can transform the challenges that face us into opportunities, then ultimately we are going to prevail.

What advice would you give to Muslims regarding Dawah in the West?

Open up. Find opportunities and seize chances to convey the message of Islam to others. Create chances and try to invite people, whether at home or in public places. Try your best to allay fear and clarify any misunderstanding about Islam. All attempts should be made to remove doubts and misgivings about Islam.

Muslims also need to learn how to share their values, which they have been concealing for the last several decades. They had done this at the time as a precautionary measure to preserve their identity and this was considered necessary too. However, we can no longer afford to live in an isolationist manner. It is imperative to share your ideals with people. You need to discuss and explain your beliefs in schools, colleges, factories, offices etc. Wherever possible you need to promote a true understanding of Islam and Muslims. For this purpose people should take time off work if necessary. The media should be used appropriately in disseminating the true message of Islam. Proper use should also be made of the Mosques. The methodology of Masjidun Nabi will instruct us in this matter. Non-Muslims, including women visitors, would visit the Masjid and the Prophet would welcome them earnestly. Bear in mind that those people who have not yet accepted Islam are not bound by its rules and regulations, for example the rules of purity and cleanliness do not apply to them. Of course these rules only apply once someone accepts Islam. By understanding this delicate point it will become easy to open our Mosques to non-Muslims.

We should thereby draw public opinion more favorably towards Islam. We have to make the point clear that there is some Satanic force at work which, for its own vested interest, is creating unfounded hatred and misgivings about Islam and Muslims. It is creating a mutual hostility between Muslims and the rest of the world. We must be vigilant about this, and not let them succeed.

What advice would you offer to the Ulama, professionals and Muslims masses living in the West?

I would humbly request the religious scholars - as a friend and colleague - that they have so far succeeded quite admirably in preserving Islam among Muslims in the western world. Their sermons, advices and admonitions have made this achievement possible. When I visit western countries I am reminded about the Qur'anic Verse: "And lo! in the cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, from between the refuse and the blood, pure milk palatable to the drinkers." (Surah 14: 66). There is a parable in this verse in which Almighty Allah illustrates His signs by drawing pure milk between waste and blood. Similarly, you are living in an environment of immorality in the West yet preserving the spirit of purity and faith. This is highly commendable.

The next stage of our endeavor has begun, although somewhat belatedly. This relates to shifting from an attitude of preserving ones faith to actually propagating it to non-Muslims. If this opportunity is lost then future generations may not be so fortunate. It is my humble request, especially to the Ulama, to use whatever means to increase efforts in this regard. Please try to avoid and overlook differences, especially finer points stemming from the teachings of different schools of thought. Our challenge at this time is not against any school of thought, but against global satanic forces. Our attention should be focused in that direction. I can say no more to the Ulama but to remind them of the approach of Shah Waliullah, Rahmatullahi Alayh (1703-1762). He was born at a time when Kufr was in the ascendancy. But we can draw valuable lessons and wisdom from his methodology and efforts in uniting people of different affiliations. He managed to unite Muslims and confront the inherent dangers posed by the forces of Kufr. This resulted in the great movement of Syed Ahmed Shahid, Rahmatullahi Alayh (1786-1831), and later Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmudul Hasan, Rahmatullahi Alayh.

As far as professionals are concerned, I would ask them to use their position and power not only for the advancement of their careers but also for Muslims and humanity at large.

Regarding the Muslim masses, I would request them to become true Muslims and persuade as many people as possible towards Islam. If you do this collectively then a noticeable difference can be made. Everybody should contribute in this noble effort - males and females, young and old.

Finally and very importantly, don't become despondent. Don't become irritated or vexatious by world events. Try to understand that after every difficulty there is ease. The Qur'an alludes to this by saying: "Verily then along with every hardship is ease. Verily along with every hardship is ease." (Surah 94: 5-6). All nations have to go through these cycles. A human also goes through various phases, for example sometimes he is happy, sometimes he is sad. Nations too must go through different circumstances. If we become afraid then our recovery is hampered. It is therefore necessary to sustain ones will-power and self-confidence. May Almighty Allah grant the whole Ummah the understanding not to be despondent, irritated or vexatious but to channel their energies towards finding solutions, instead of creating problems.

What involvement should Muslims have in the political process to redress injustices in the world?

Islam has been ordained to establish justice on earth. The Qur'an refers to the mission of the Prophets, Alayhis Salam, saying: "Indeed We have sent Our Messengers with clear proofs, and revealed with them the Scripture and the Balance (justice) that mankind may keep up justice " (Surah 57:25). All efforts should be made, bearing in mind the political situation of a particular country, to ensure full participation in the political process. This is an absolute necessity. Muslims should not be reticent about their involvement in this regard. Rather, they should make progress in this matter. Obviously they do not have the ideal political process yet, as this can only happen when injustice is totally eliminated. We can however draw valuable guidance from the life and teachings of Rasulullah, Sallaho Alayhi Wasallam. He established alliances with various non-Muslim groups and signed treaties. These alliances were made with a view to combating the major evil. Keep this in mind and, whilst exercising caution and prudence, ensure your active participation in nation-building and social work. Only then will we be able to attract positive comments about our character. Otherwise, it is unreal to expect people to understand Islam simply by visiting our Mosques and reading Islamic books.

What can Muslims do to draw attention of the world to human rights abuses against minorities in India?

International politics has a bearing on the domestic life of any country. There is no doubt about this. Therefore you should try to galvanize international opinion regarding minority persecution in India through all means at your disposal, including the media. If there are any legal steps you can take under international law then these should be initiated. In this way considerable pressure can be exercised. The Indian government should be made accountable and reminded of its humanitarian obligations under the United Nations Geneva Convention of 1949. You efforts in this regard will certainly have a bearing on the situation in India.

What lessons can be drawn from the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, India?

What happened in Gujarat was a direct result of the extremist ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - and its sister organizations - Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). For a long time they had identified Gujarat as a laboratory for experimenting their evil ideology. This fact was never hidden. Their public slogan had always been "Gujarat Today, India Tomorrow!" They have always professed the Hindu state they ultimately envisage would first be experimented in Gujarat. For this reason the responsibilities of Gujarati Muslims were always great. They should have remained vigilant from earlier on. It is a matter of profound regret that, despite many laudable qualities of Gujarati Muslims, the absence of political awareness has been their fundamental shortcoming. The Gujarat genocide has been a wake-up call. The Ulama and masses in Gujarat now realize they have made mistakes, especially in their dealings with lower caste Hindus. These lower caste Hindus are no intellectuals. They have been bribed with petty financial inducements by the Hindu extremists, who in turn have preached and indoctrinated them with hate and rancor against Muslims. I am confident that the Gujarat genocide will serve as a form of awakening, and Indian Muslims generally will realize their shortcomings and plan for the future in a united way.

The above was translated and transcribed from Urdu into English by Sulaiman Kazi.