“There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” This simple statement is the most powerful declaration ever devised. For beyond the words themselves lies a powerful concept and a compelling ideology. Whole societies, cultures and empires have been elevated with its application, or ruined by its rejection.
And yet, away from grandiose movements and campaigns, the lone spiritual wanderer can attain to the highest levels of wisdom and insight, in the contemplation of its mysteries.
This Declaration of Faith, the Shahadah, captures the essence of what Islam is all about: peaceful surrender to the will of the Divine.
Same Message…Same Declaration
But Islam is not a new religion that began in the seventh century with a great Prophet. Islam is, rather, the latest declaration and installment of a Message brought by all the previous Prophets. The specific circumstances of the age and culture determined the structure of those teachings, but the basic declaration; the basic directive was always the same: surrender to the Universal Will and do what is morally right.
If, over the course of time, a people came to forget, ignore or change the teachings bequeathed by their Messenger, Allah, in His mercy, would renew His Message by sending fresh guidance. In this way, every age had access to divine precepts. Allah says:
Certainly, We have raised among every nation a Messenger who declared, ‘Serve Allah and shun false objects of worship.’ Thus were some guided by Allah, while ruin was justified on others. Travel over the earth and see what befell those who rejected their Messengers. (An-Nahl 16:36)
This process of revelation and correction went on unabated through human history. Some of the Messengers brought major revelations and scriptures, while most were teachers of wisdom and morality to their community or tribe.
But at long last, after many thousands of years, humanity finally reached a point in its development when one final Messenger would be sufficient: when a last Prophet from Allah could deliver a way of life applicable to all. This last Prophet was Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Allah says concerning His last Messenger:
O followers of earlier revelation! Our Messenger has come to you bringing clarity after a break (in the chain) of Messengers. This, lest you might claim, ‘We never received any announcer of good news nor any Warner.’ Now you have received an announcer of good news and a Warner. And Allah has power over everything. (Al-Ma’idah 5:19)
Muhammad (peace be upon Him) lived in the full blaze of history’s lamp. His life, deeds and teachings are well known and authenticated. He neither claimed to be a demigod nor did he put himself among the ranks of the angels. Instead, he insisted he was only a man among men chosen by the Creator for His service. Allah specifically instructed him on this point:
We sent Messengers before you, (Muhammad) and appointed for them spouses and children. It was never the place of a Messenger to bring a sign save when Allah allowed. For every age there is a scripture. (Ar-Ra`d 13:38)
From these verses it is evident that Islam was taught from the beginning of history, though it may have gone under different names and guises. It is also clear that Islam is not merely a set of rules and rituals, but a way of life (deen). The final, perfect form of this way is enshrined in God’s last Revelation. The rise and fall of previous nations is a testament to this truth.
How many peoples have We destroyed which gave themselves to wrongdoing? They fell from their roofs! And how many wells lie idle and neglected, and castles high and strong also? Don’t they travel through the land so that their hearts may learn the wisdom (in all this) and that their ears may learn to hear? Truly it’s not their eyes that are blind, but the hearts within their chests! (Al-Hajj 22:45-46)
The scripture revealed to Muhammad, the Qur’an, contains directions for every important aspect of life. It also includes instruction in wisdom, ethics, philosophy, economics, politics as well as science.
Furthermore, the recorded deeds and sayings of the blessed Prophet provide us with additional, detailed information about the specifics of living life properly and peacefully. The requirements of our faith, however, are wider than our merely practicing it ourselves. Allah says in this regard:
There should be a number of you who actively call people to righteousness; who encourage goodness and forbid evil. These are the ones who shall prosper. (Aal `Imran 3:104)
Thus, we see that promoting good in society and forbidding wrong are also requirements of the faith. Allah makes it clear in other verses that only by following His Laws can true justice and order be established.
We must therefore give the call to those around us that they might desire to lead lives of goodness and faith. With this understanding in mind, how do we go about our task?
Allah, the Exalted, gives us direction saying:
Call people to the path of your Lord with wisdom and inspiring speech. Reason with them in a superior and respectful manner. Certainly, your Lord knows best who strays from His path and who is guided. (An-Nahl 16:125)
In Cause of Islam
The purpose of this manual is to equip the eager Muslim with the necessary information for calling others to Islam (an activity henceforth to be called Da`wah,) in North America. No Muslim is required to leave his or her job and family and shout on street comers.
All of us are capable of making our own small contributions in the cause of Islam. A small percentage of the work of one hundred is more effective than one hundred percent from one. So do not feel that Islamic da`wah is a daunting task best left to the “professionals”.
There are no priests in Islam, only a society of men and women united by the bonds of a potent ideology.
An important saying of the Prophet is that, if there are at least three Muslims in an area away from the Muslim community, then they must make one of them their leader. Many Islamic groups in North America seek to assist Muslims in this task by helping them to organize locally, while at the same time making them a part of the national and international Islamic movement. Branches and units of many of these activist organizations exist in nearly every major city of the U.S. and Canada and they work eagerly in the cause of Islam.
Upon completion of this manual, you may begin to become more interested in the Islamic movement and in inviting others to the path. You can look into getting involved with ISNA, MYNA, ICNA. MAS, CAIR or a local masjid, or you may promote an organization of your own creation. Any of these avenues may provide you with a channel to carry out this essential requirement of the faith.
Whether or not you become involved with an Islamic group, however, we hope that this manual influences you in the right direction and provides a solid foundation for all those involved in da’wah everywhere.
The article is an excerpt from the book How to Tell Others About Islam, 1994- by Yahiya Emerick, a former President of the Islamic Foundation of North America, vice-principal at an Islamic school, and a Muslim author.