Advice to those discussing with non-Muslims

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[16:125] Invite (people) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good counsel. And argue with them in the best of manners. Surely, your Lord knows best the one who deviates from His way, and He knows best the ones who are on the right path.


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Advice to those discussing with non-Muslims

By Defending-Islam.com Team

It is natural nowadays to see a large number of discussions, queries, and objections to Islam as a religion. Sometimes these objections and questions come from non-Muslims who do not understand parts of the Islamic religion, while at other times the Muslims themselves have a hard time understanding aspects of Islam.

It is also normal that the committed Muslims, whether they are knowledgeable or not, will look for ways to defend their Islamic religion, since it is their way of life and the center of all their efforts. Before we Muslims decide to discuss any given matter though, it is vital to note that the matters brought up by non-Muslims are divided into:

 

a The type of allegations that are directly connected with the truth of Islam and how truth is established in Islam

 

And

 

b The allegations that are not connected to the means in which the truth of Islam is established, but rather are objections to the practices and rules of Islam.

 

The types of objections then are either those that are essential for the truth of Islam to be known without a doubt, and those things which are merely possible for Allah to have legislated for humanity. So our aim should be to answer the first type of allegations and involve ourselves in learning as much as we can about these topics and how to refute any issues that may be brought up[1], while explaining that the second type of situations are a product of accepting the truth of Islam and without accepting the truth of Islam all explanations and elaborations from our side will not amount to much at all, since the basis of the laws, and the origin of these laws is being contested.

We do acknowledge that for the allegations brought up with respect to the laws and regulations of Islam, there are a good number of responses from different Muslims, both from among the scholars and the laymen, which do explain the rules of Islam in the best way possible. Indeed, we plan for this site to contain a collection of such writings, and they will, Insha Allah, help a lot of people to discover the truth of Islam.

Nevertheless, the Muslims and non-Muslims should always remember that the reasons provided in the various articles dealing with "difficult" subjects are tentative and speculative at best, in that they appeal to science, customs, history, culture, personal experiences, etc. to show that there is sense in the laws legislated in Islam. For example, we may read in some works that the reason why homosexuality is strictly prohibited in Islam is because "it leads to a non-reproductive union between two persons thereby removing the most procreating element in marriage", or because "the incidence of possible diseases increases in such relationships", and other similar reasons. However, the non-Muslim (and even some Muslim) readers may come away with the impression that the main reason why Islam prohibits such unions is due to such tentative reasons, especially since such articles and works try to avoid injecting the divine nature of the Islamic rules when presenting such arguments.

However, such probabilistic reasons do not deal with the crux of the issue, which is that the non-Muslim has a standard for looking at things as true and false which is different than the Muslim standard. Since this guideline is different to begin with, any given non-Muslim person will always have some or the other problem with the laws of Islam, because Islam is by default different from the non-Muslim ways of life, and the non-Muslim cannot be fully convinced about the correctness of the Islamic guidelines unless he comes into the fold of Islam.

 

A "Universal inner morality" does not exist as such

 

There are among the people those who insist that it is impossible for them to agree to certain aspects of Islam, since according to them it is universally agreed upon that some of the laws legislated by Islam are abhorrent and evil. They say that the "universal inner morality" as to what constitutes right and wrong has to be the yardstick against which to measure any given religion, and that Islam fails this test. There are those who are not satisfied with only this, but claim that animals also have "natural and universal rights" which Islam is violating according to their view.

To this we say that a "universal morality" is only partially true, in that only some very vague principles are agreed upon by human beings in a truly universal manner, while almost all the details are subject to some or the other disagreement among humanity. So it is no surprise when we receive complaints about certain aspects of Islamic law from non-Muslims. The Muslims who seek to support and defend the Islamic religion through their discussions should not lose heart when the non-Muslims seek to undermine aspects of Islamic Shariah Law through their objections, since such protestations are ultimately the product of a worldview and a belief system very different from the Islamic one.

In fact, there are thousands of ways in which any given Islamic law may be different from what the non-Muslim thinks as normal, and in many cases two non-Muslims may dislike the same Islamic law based on totally opposite considerations. When we consider that the potential viewpoints of various non-Muslims in the past or the future were and will be different from what they currently are, then the scope for divergence increases manifold.

For example, let us take whom Islam allows for marriage and for legal sexual intercourse: Islam allows marriage (and intercourse within marriage) between cousins but disallows marriage (and intercourse) between siblings. Some non-Muslims may see cousin marriage as incest and conclude that Islam is a wicked religion which allows very close relatives to live together intimately, while others may see it as normal[2]. Another person from some other part of the world may be fine with sexual interaction between brother and sister on the grounds that in their view, consenting adults should be allowed to be with each other if they deem it fit.[3]

Thus, if we analyze the views of marriage and sexual intimacy for only the two groups mentioned above (cousins and siblings), we see then that there are different possible outlooks in this respect:

 

1 Those who disagree with marriage or sexual intercourse between cousins, as well as to marriage or intercourse between brothers and sisters.

 

2 Those who disagree with marriage between cousins but see nothing wrong with sexual intimacy between them, but see it wrong for there to exist any sort of sexual relationship (or legal marriage) between brothers and sisters.

 

3 Those who agree that marriage between cousins is allowed and intercourse should only be done in the context of marriage between them, but who disapprove of any relationship (marriage or sexual intimacy) between brothers and sisters.

 

4 Those who are largely apathetic to whether cousins or siblings should be allowed to marry and show no visible preference either way, but who strongly believe that any two consenting and able-bodied adults should be allowed to make decisions about their sexual lives without any outside interference. The question of intercourse is not related to marriage for such individuals.

 

5 We can also imagine a situation where both cousin and sibling marriages are allowed and intercourse is kept within the confines of such "marriages". The fact that almost no one exists who approves of this nowadays is no barrier to us imagining that perceptions may change in the future in some part of the world allowing such a view to take root. Indeed, the example presented earlier from South Indian society is somewhat similar to this, in that sexual intimacy is restricted to marriage only, but a type of marriage that is seen as unacceptable to many people outside of that region (between an uncle and his niece) is practiced in such a society.

 

From these five groups mentioned, only the third one corresponds to the Islamic viewpoint. Yet there exist hundreds of millions of people all over the world having the other four views mentioned above. We should remember that this is only in the context of the two groups brought up by us as an example. If we include other examples such as relationships between people of the same gender, etc., we would end up with dozens of different opinions, with most of the world probably falling outside of what Islam deems as acceptable marital and sexual conduct.

So in all these cases, trying to explain why one form of marriage and sexual intimacy is prohibited (not only disliked but prohibited) while another one is allowed will be difficult if our opponent does not accept the divine nature of Islamic laws, since at the most we may partially convince him of the rationality behind our position, as the "rational" reasons for laws in Islam are speculative in nature, and the decisive reason for their prohibition or allowance is that such a law has been decreed by Allah.[4]

The same issue can be brought up with respect to what the Muslims are allowed to eat, and shows that a common approach cannot even be reached with respect to how human-animal interactions should take place:

Some people will argue vociferously that killing any animal for food is ethically wrong and disallowed according to them, while others will clamor as to why they are not allowed to eat pork, or dog meat (if it is popular in their culture), etc., since this is part and parcel of their culture.

Thus, among Hindus the cow is seen as sacred, a symbol of selfless giving, wealth and prosperity, which has translated to the banning of cow slaughter in most of the Indian states. This can be contrasted with the attitude of several far Eastern people (let us take the example of China), for whom pork, dog meat, rats, snakes, and other animals are simply part of their cuisine.[5]

In the first case then, something which is allowed and permissible in Islam (slaughter and consumption of cows) is considered as prohibited and is forbidden by law in many areas. In the other case though, something which is forbidden in Islam (eating of pork, dog meat, rat meat, etc.) is seen as normal dietary custom for people, hence their slogan: "If it flies in the air or walks on the land then it must be good to eat."[6]

So we see that the objections to the Islamic dietary laws come from totally opposite points of view and outlooks of life, and it is truly impossible to satisfy both sides through the exclusive use of rational evidences to support our views, without their first accepting that Islam is the correct religion.

We could go on showing many more examples of how different nations and cultures, both past and present, have radically different ideas on a plethora of issues related to every conceivable matter that may come up in man's relationships to each other, to non-human creatures, and to his individual self.

All of this shows that talk of a "universal moral code" existing within ourselves is incorrect, and that we Muslims should never accept such logic against our pristine religion. If such "codes" were truly existent, everyone would immediately know what types of marriages should be allowed and which ones should be disallowed, what types of sexual intimacy should be permitted and which ones should be curtailed, and on and on for the thousands of issues confronting mankind and his relationship to the world at large. Such at-large consensus would be visible not only for our present point in time, but it would have also extended to the period of the beginning of mankind and continued until the end of the human race on Earth.

Thus the need for finding out the theological proofs for the correctness of Islam

So by now, the Muslim should know and realize that there is no way of speaking about the parts of Islamic Law deemed objectionable by any given non-Muslim without steering the conversation towards the absolute truth of the Islamic religion. After all, our aim as Muslims should not be for mere outward tolerance to be shown by the non-Muslims towards our way of life.

Such "outward tolerance" is probably already being shown by the non-Muslims towards us in many parts of the world, but such non-Muslims are not bringing up that which they consider disagreeable with a "live and let live" mindset, but rather with a mindset that deep inside they believe this Islamic Law to be wrong even if they can show tolerance towards it. So our responses should be geared towards examining the basis of "right" and "wrong" and how such matters should be determined universally as we know that Islam is a universal religion intended for all of mankind. This examination can be done only by us encouraging the non-Muslim to set aside his objection to the law itself, and telling him to study the Divine Basis upon which the law has been decreed, since this is the only decisive factor behind all the laws of Islam.

This is not to say that such a realization will come easily to the non-Muslims. Some of the people, when faced with some of the realities of Islamic Law, talk about it being impossible to "believe in a God who would allow such a thing" or to "believe in a God who would disallow such a thing and allow suffering due to it"[7]. In this case, the objector has imagined that (for example) "allowing a man to have multiple wives" is one of the "absolutely impossible" matters to attribute to God, and that a Deity with such characteristics (that is, the ability to legislate that a man can have multiple wives) cannot possibly exist.[8]

In this case, the objector has muddled up in his/her mind the "absolutely impossible" characteristics that can never be attributed to Allah with those qualities that are "merely possible" to attribute to Allah, such as "legislating that a man may marry multiple wives".

Whenever discussing with anyone then, the Muslims must know that when talking about the attributes and characteristics of Allah one has to have a clear idea of (a) what is absolutely necessary to attribute to God, (b) what is absolutely impossible to attribute to God, and (c) what is merely possible to attribute to God.[9] For this article, it will be sufficient to say that Islam is unlike other religions, where logical contradictions and the explicit muddying between truth and falsehood are accepted as normative parts of such religions[10].

This is one of the parts of the Islamic religion which have to be presented to the non-Muslim as much as possible. Thus, the scholars of Islam will encourage those who are discussing with non-Muslims to first learn the proper Islamic beliefs to a high level of proficiency, along with the proofs that decisively show the correctness of the core Islamic beliefs, before moving on to present the correct Islamic belief, how it differentiates itself from the belief systems of other religions, along with the proofs for the correctness of the Islamic belief system when compared to other religious systems we see in the world. Only then can the Muslim move forward with discussing matters related to the contents of Islamic laws and regulations, since he knows that any rational answer he can think of and present is not the real and decisive reason why the Islamic injunction is to be followed, but is rather a tentative and approximate reason that could conceivably have certain weaknesses. Such a Muslim will also be prepared to take every discussion he has beyond a mere list of reasons as to why such a law could make sense to the non-Muslim, and will rather steer the non-Muslim towards examining the analytical proofs for the truth of the Islamic religion at large.

By means of this article we hope to have shown many of the Muslims currently discussing with non-Muslims the more correct way to take when trying to present the truth of Islam to such non-Muslims, which topics to address first and which ones to leave for a later time, as well as what our approach should be when presenting evidences from various fields of experience to substantiate any given Islamic law and opinion. Lastly, we pray that Allah will embolden the Muslims towards working ever more to establish Islam on the Earth, and open the hearts of many towards the truth of Islam, so that they attain salvation in this world and in the Hereafter. Amin.


Footnotes:

[1] In this article we will restrict this to the topic of Allah and His Nature as being the main issue related to the truth of Islam, since the non-Muslim objections to the laws of Islam often translate to a misconception of what is and what is not within the sphere of possibilities to attribute to Allah. We know that other topics, such as the perfect preservation of the Qur’an, and how the Messengership of Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) was established are also within this realm of main “primary issues”, but these will be presented separately Insha Allah.

[2] One may find such attitudes within the same country at times. For example, in the United States, most individual states consider marriages to first cousins as null and void, with some going so far as to consider it a crime if sexual acts were committed between first-cousins. Most states do not criminalize intercourse between first cousins, and some states do not have any legislation prohibiting marriage between first cousins. In another country such as India, the same difference in attitudes is seen among the Hindu population: While in South India marriage between cousins is preferred (and even between uncles and nieces, something which is forbidden in Islam), in Northern India such a union would be scandalous and socially unacceptable. There are even cases of people being lynched due to marrying someone who is deemed as “too close” according to the prevailing culture in such areas (One may refer to the link:  (accessed February 26, 2012) to read one such example).

[3] Even though such a view is held by a small minority of people in even the most liberal of countries, it does exist. For example, Jeff Jacoby in his article “Hypocrisy on adult consent”  accessed February 26, 2012) argues that if homosexuals are allowed to have a “private, consensual, adult relationship” without fear of legal punishment (as we can see, something which is now becoming acceptable in the Western world), there should be no criminalization for consenting siblings to have the same type of relationship. There is indeed nothing stopping us from imagining that at some point in the future such logic may be accepted in the courts and among the populace at large and sibling couples may be allowed to have intercourse without any legal consequences.

[4] This is with respect to decisive matters of Islam that are acknowledged to be such by all Muslims, such as the prohibition of sibling marriage and the permissibility of cousin marriage. In Islam there are also some matters about which the expert jurists have differed in terms of their absolute permissibility or prohibition. There is a system for the lay Muslims to follow in such cases, so that they do not pick up any random opinion they personally feel inclined to and give preference to it above another opinion, since the lay Muslims in their capacity as non-experts are not qualified to deduce the legal rulings by themselves.

[5] Rats as food in China, accessed February 26, 2012

[6] Quote taken from , accessed February 26, 2012

[7] The “thing” referred to by the non-Muslim may be any matter that they dislike in Islamic jurisprudence and feel strongly about, whether it is the permissibility of cousin marriage or the slaughtering of animals for food, the prohibition on certain types of marriage and sexual contact. Since all types of foods, rituals, likes and dislikes may be held onto strongly by any given person, there is always a chance that a strong reaction against what Islam has dictated may ensue from our opponent.

[8] Usually the objection of the non-Muslim may be about something more “serious” than this, such as when some people say “How can God allow suffering and death in the world?”, something which is clearly and plainly visible for all to see and cannot be rejected out of hand, unlike the issue of Allah legislating the permissibility of polygyny, or any other Islamic injunction that can be dismissed by the non-Muslim objector by simply saying he believes Islam to be false. Nonetheless, both the former and the latter objection stem from the same misconception concerning the nature and attributes of Allah.

[9] For those who wish to know more about the matters of necessary, possible and impossible characteristics to attribute to Allah, a good place to start is with a work such as "Aqidah Tuan Guru" available online at .

[10] One can refer to the article “Where other religions get it wrong, Islam is correct” for a more in-depth presentation of this matter.