Sometime last week, a friend showed me the video clip of a religious preaching by a Muslim cleric. Unknown to me, it was not the subject matter of the preaching that my friend really wanted to bring to my attention but the style chosen by the cleric to pass his message to his audience.
After listening to the clip that lasted about 10 minutes, I was convinced that preaching is not all about knowledge. It became obvious that besides knowledge, a preacher who aspires to succeed in his job also needs wisdom.
The preacher in that clip spent 85 per cent of the videoed lecture insulting and denigrating individuals, leaders, groups and organizations; without sources to back his claims in many instances. Of course, he couldn’t have found basis in the Qur’an and Sunnah for his incivility.
Allah (SWT) has provided us in the Qur’an with a set of balanced principles needed to guide men of knowledge as well as others whose preoccupation is proselytization as they go out to preach the religion of Islam to fellow Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
These principles are codified in Qur’an 16:125 wherein Allah states “Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious…”
Although this verse requires that we carry out our preaching activities with wisdom and speak to people with illustrations from their own knowledge and perspectives; it is nowadays becoming a norm among some preachers to brazenly and absolutely flout the essence of this verse.
The speech of a preacher as he calls to the way of Allah (SWT) should neither be dogmatic, irritating, inciting nor self-regarding. Islam obliges preachers to be soft-speaking, gentle, and considerate as would attract the attention of listeners.
The manner of speech and even the line of argument of a preacher should not be acrimonious. Rather, it should be modelled on the most courteous pattern.
These principles are perfect for all times. The great challenge confronting us today in this area is the dearth of preachers with the right qualifications as defined by Qur’an and prophetic traditions.
Qur’an 4: 87 and 4:122 both interrogate us saying “Whose words can be truer than Allah’s?” Therefore, if Allah (SWT) whose speech is sincerer and firmer than the call by any preacher did not find it convenient to use obnoxious language or hate speech in inviting humanity to His religion, it would be ill-advised for a preacher of Allah’s word to deploy vicious expressions to propagate Islam. Imam Bukhari reports that the Prophet (SAW) said, “You have been sent to create ease and not to create difficulty”. Discretion and maturity are necessary requirements in the art of preaching.
When a preacher’s call is typically characterized with the castigation of personalities or the values they represent, he could end up not only estranging those he wished to convert into his creed but may also lose some of those who already professed his religion. Allah (SWT) states in Qur’an 3:159 “It is part of Allah’s mercy that you dealt with them gently. If you were harsh and hardhearted, they would have fled from around you”. It should not be in the character of a preacher to use vulgar language against his audience in a manner that will provoke them to react in a more uncultured way. This is why Allah (SWT) cautions us against attacking or ridiculing the sensibilities of others or their religion. Such acts could also lead those who profess a different religion to viciously insult Islam especially when their gods are molested. Allah (SWT) says in Qur’an 6:108 “And do not revile those whom they call upon besides Allah, least they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance”.
While a preacher would have conveyed his message and fulfilled an obligation after elucidating Allah’s word in the most beautiful manner, it is Allah’s prerogative to give guidance to a person or leave him astray. He fully knows well the righteous and those who have erred among us. Allah (SWT) reminds us in Qur’an 28:56 “Certainly, you cannot guide everyone whom you love; but Allah guides those whom he wills…” It is not for a preacher to give verdict about the fate that awaits an individual in the hereafter. A preacher’s responsibility is to communicate the truth and not to cast his audience into hell fire. Regrettably, some preachers these days are almost taking over this exclusive of Allah (SWT) who states in Qur’an 13:40 “…Thy duty is to make (the message) reach them: It is our duty to call them to account”. Qur’an 6:107 asserts that as a preacher, one has neither being made to watch over the actions of his audience nor has he been set over them to dispose of their affairs.
When Allah (SWT), the Omniscience, whose knowledge is without borders sent Prophet Musa (AS) and his brother Harun (AS) to Pharaoh who had transgressed every bound; He (SWT) said to them in Qur’an 20:13-44 “Go both of you to Pharaoh for he has indeed transgressed all bounds; but speak to him mildly perchance he may heed warning or fear (Allah)”. Would anyone say that Allah (SWT) who instructed the two prophets to speak to Pharaoh carefully couldn’t have advised or decided otherwise? Indeed, there’s so much wisdom in good speech, which is a product of the former.
Wisdom involves the ability to use knowledge, commonsense, and insight in providing answers to the critical questions of religion and indeed life. Besides objective judgment, discretion is also a product of wisdom. Allah (SWT) states in Qur’an 2:269 “He grants wisdom to whom He pleases; and he to whom wisdom is granted receives, indeed, a benefit overflowing…” A preacher that is blessed with knowledge and wisdom would succeed in his job better than the one in whom the latter is missing.
No matter how righteous a scholar or a preacher is seen to be in his preaching activities, and no matter how a preacher’s audience is seen to be unrighteous; it contradicts prophetic teachings for a preacher to deploy vulgarity instead of wisdom to convey his message. Disparaging comments by preachers especially against specific listeners is totally discouraged in Islam. Beyond the enactment of relevant laws by states’ houses of assembly is the necessity for an Act of the National Assembly to regulate preaching in the country. May Allah (SWT) grant religious preachers requisite knowledge and wisdom to carry out their task in the most decorous manner, amin.