Thursday, December 28

Guilty Preaching

Looking around, there are many different practises of Islam. Some express their faith practically, some wear it as a label and some keep it private when others are quite vocal. I'm not really going to write about which one is most correct (I'm guessing they all are on some level), but there is a particularly clich├ęd one that I've seen, and I'll explain why it kind of bothers me.

Remember that person who wasn't really that religious when they were younger? The ones that didn't pray, didn't read about the religion and generally didn't have any interest in Islam? This in itself isn't a problem - I myself have many friends who aren't even Muslim (gasp) so it's not the lack of piety that I'm talking about here.

Sometimes these people suddenly decide to become religious and I'm sure you all know someone like this. The guys start wearing thobes and growing beards while the girls whack on a headscarf and minimise contact with those of the opposite sex (sometimes they start growing beards too, but this probably won't happen that often till someone decides hair removal is unislamic too). Suddenly everyone is waking up for Fajr, attending talks and events all over the UK and performing all of the optional fasts.

As an aside, it seems that many on the rishta scene have just recently taken this step too - it's as if becoming religious comes hand in hand with finding a mate for them. And, understandably, the last thing they want is someone who may make their new way of life more difficult, although it is amusing how a potential who would have been too religious becomes not quite enough so within a relatively small time frame.

But anyway, I'm not sure prompts this religious change - perhaps the guilt of being irreligious becomes too much or maybe it's some kind of rebellion. For some it's in response to recently getting dumped by a long term partner, but I think for most it's just a maturing of opinion and for them, it's the right time to become religious. Fair enough, and good for them whatever the reason I say. As a Muslim, I obviously believe that it's better to be religiously conscious than otherwise.

But this is where it sometimes does becomes a problem. You see, for some reason, these people saving oneself from eternal damnation isn't enough. You have to save everyone else too. All of sudden, these enlightened souls have decided everyone around them needs to shape up, and that all of their friends can do with the same internal religious revolution that they had.

The thing is that not everyone needs or wants saving. No one likes being preached to (not really) or made to feel guilty. In fact it's pretty ironic, since if the above person looks inside themselves, they'd know this as it would be how they felt in their previous lives. They've become precisely the type of person they didn't like before - the kind that probably drove them away from religion in the first place.

As someone who's been praying regularly since they were a pre-teen I don't need to be told to pray. As someone who's never clean shaven their mug I don't need to be told to keep a longer beard. As someone who's been reading the Quran regularly every day for ten years or whatever I don't need to be quoted random verses each time I see you.

I don't need to be told to start or dot my MSN conversations with salams (which, literally, only means "peace" and nothing more), ASAs, iAs, mAs and all the other random letters which, in the context, don't actually mean anything.

I also don't need countless hadith forwards or invites to talks half way across the country in my inbox each day. And yes, that includes GPU events and the like too. Remember: no means no.

But most importantly, I don't need to be told any of the above by someone who just got the religious clue a few months or even weeks ago. Been there, done that, have done so for the most part of my life thank-you-very-much. I don't consider myself to be the perfect Muslim and despite how it sounds above am totally open to talking about my or anyone else's religious practice; if you think I could do something islamically better, then you just need to tell me once and I'll listen and decide whether to change or not. Any more than that and I'll just get irritated. There's something grating about people trying to cash in on their newly found enlightenment by assuming everyone else needs it too. It almost smacks of a pyramid scheme.

But please, don't get me wrong: I'm not against preaching or dawah per se. In fact, I think that it's a vacuously fundamental part of any religion that advocates proselytism. But (and this as someone who did the whole knocking on doors tabligh thing when they were younger) I do think that there is better ways to do it than others - I'm a fan of dawah-by-example, and I'll never tell anyone explicitly that they need to pray, or pay more charity, or wear a hijab; I won't ever directly tell someone how to preach either. Without appearing too saintly I do like to think I've done more to influence people by being quiet than in their faces.

So I guess, once again, it's all about balance. In my opinion preaching isn't about creating religious spam or just loudly letting people know about the message and then walking away thinking that your job ends there whether they change or not. It's about propagating actual change for the better and as effectively as possible, and then allowing people the freedom to freely make the choice that's best for them (which will usually be the right one anyway - if anything these people themselves are an example of that choice).


  1. Interesting blog shak :-) nicely written.
    Sometimes people come across in a way they dont mean to :-) can seem patronising, self righteous and preachy but maybe their intentions are good? I dunno.