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The Declaration of Faith: Between Text and Meaning

Islam is a spiritual reality that when embraced should be expressed quite naturally with no confusion.

Islam is a spiritual reality that when embraced should be expressed quite naturally with no confusion.

 

We have all witnessed the declaration of faith administered to a new Muslim and it is generally accepted as a compelling occasion. Naturally, some will be surprised by my usage of the phrase ’generally accepted as compelling‘ to describe the administering of the declaration of faith.

Don’t get me wrong, someone being guided aright is indeed a blessed and joyous occasion, but that phrase is indeed the subject of this article. That’s why we attempt to challenge accepted norms of practice here in the West regarding the Arabization of our identity. When judging anything, we should undoubtedly look to the pristine legacy of our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) and the distinguished tutelage of his noble companions.

In the time of the Prophet, there were multitudes of men, women, and children who were graced by divine light in embracing the absolute truth of our very existence, ‘I declare that there is no deity other than God and that Muhammad is His messenger’.

But the question is how did that take place? Did it ever happen that someone who indicated their interest in Islam would come to the Prophet or his Companions and then be brought in front of the people and be administered word for word the declaration of faith? The answer of any student of the Prophet’s biography and the early history of our lofty predecessors is no.

This article is not by any means attempting to call the declaring of faith in front of a crowd an innovation. Rather the hope is to reform the practice to make it in line with the example of the Companions of the Prophet, about whom Almighty God has stated:

God is pleased with the early Muslim immigrants, their helpers in Madinah and those who follow them to the best of their ability and God is pleased with them… (At-Tawbah 9:100)

Islam is a spiritual reality that when embraced should be expressed quite naturally with no confusion. It should appear as a sincere conviction coming from the heart of the person. The current process of the declaration of faith has an element which takes away from its glory. It brings down the person taking that great leap of faith, especially in today’s world.

By giving him/her the idea that although you have ratified your innate knowledge of Islam through the Qur’an and prophethood of Muhammad, you can’t truly express that unless it is in Arabic. Of course since he or she does not know Arabic this is often the beginning of an inferiority complex that is thrust upon the fresh revert from the get go.

One time in Kuwait, I administered a declaration of faith in front of an audience at a large mosque. The audience was about 200, maybe a quarter of them spoke English fluently and the majority understood basic conversational English. So first, in Arabic I summarized for the crowd his story and that the brother was going to declare his newfound faith. Then I asked him to repeat after me in English, ‘I declare that there is no deity other than God and Muhammad is His Messenger’.

Many people were elated and came to embrace their new brother while you can hear some objections rustling through the crowd. The Imam of the Mosque took me aside and began telling me that it is a condition or obligation for the declaration to be in Arabic. I asked the sheikh for some evidence and he said that it is well known. Of course well known is not a proof of Islamic Law so I researched the matter and, until now, to my surprise, I have found no such claim in the books of Islamic jurisprudence. That said, it is confirmed by various sheikhs as being ‘well known’.

Of course it doesn’t make sense to have someone declare their faith in a language that they don’t have the slightest clue about, but we should be fair to our legal tradition and not use our logic as an indisputable gauge. That being said, with the absence of any text or juristic precedence, I will now suggest how and why it should be done differently than the ‘well known’ way we are accustomed to.

In the history of our pious predecessors we find that the people who declared their faith to the Prophet and his Companions did so without any coaching necessary. It came naturally as a result of the certainty of their heart. Since they were Arabs that declaration was in their own language.

As mentioned before, the scholars of usul al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence) say: ’That which is significant is not in names or titles rather the meaning and implication behind them’. The meaning is completely rendered in the English translation and thus the intended action has been performed.

In reflection, the form which I followed in Kuwait is still faulty! The Prophet said something quite crux to this article:

“Anyone who declares that there is no deity other than God and that and that Muhammad is the messenger of God genuinely and sincerely from his or her heart will be saved from the Hellfire.” (Al-Bukhari)

It is my hope that when someone enters Islam they do so with conviction and sufficient knowledge and understanding. So if they feel comfortable with it, I would encourage them to stand in front of the Muslims and tell their story and make their declaration in confidence and clarity without the help of any Imam.

This would be keeping in line with the generation that carried and conveyed this message which is, after divine blessing, why we are all able to be Muslim in the first place.

All praise and gratitude go to our beloved Guide and may He bestow His peace and blessings upon the Prophet and the early generations!

_________________________

Source: suhaibwebb.com

John (Yahya) Ederer is the Imam and Religious Director of the Muslim American Society (MAS) Community Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was born in Oklahoma, USA. He accepted Islam in 1998 on a quest for spirituality and meaning in his life. He worked as the head of the English Department for the Islam Presentation Committee (IPC) in Kuwait.

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One thought on “The Declaration of Faith: Between Text and Meaning

G manjra

Slmz very good n informative article bt im nt sure whether i fully understan wt u mean.i understan dt ur sayin dat da shahadah shud be made wid conviction as in our glorious history bt r u also sayin dt da shahadah cn b sed in any language other den arabic only? Recently i’ve heard an aalim revert a sister he made her declare it in arabic followed by english translation.

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