Six Attitudes That Muslims Adopt While Interacting With Non-Muslims

Every Muslim has an obligation to establish the Deen of Allaah on earth and to convey the message of Islam to non-Muslims effectively, efficiently, thoroughly and tactfully. Both of these responsibilities involve interactions with non-Muslims, one way or the other. It is evident that the message cannot be conveyed to non-Muslims without interacting with them. As for the establishment of Deen, any effort to establish Deen will always invoke a strong reaction from the majority of the leadership of non-Muslims and they will aggressively deploy all their means to hinder its establishment. So what kind of attitude and behavioural attributes should Muslims adopt while dealing with non-Muslims, whether for the purpose of conveying the message of Islam or while striving to establish the Deen of Allaah in society?

There are six attributes that every Muslim needs to clearly understand without confusing them with each other. Three of them must be practised while the other three must be shunned. Without a clear concept of both sets of attributes, one may adopt an attitude that may be strongly disapproved of by Islam and may be lethal for one’s faith or an attitude that may hinder the Islamic work. Many Islamic workers tend to confuse attributes from one set with the other and thus end up adopting an incorrect/improper attitude. Considering that Islamic work is Muslims’ most important duty on which their salvation depends and considering that having an inappropriate attitude may severely impact their success in their mission, it is essential that a Muslim gain a proper understanding of both sets of attributes without confusing one set with the other.

We will first describe each of these attitudes/attributes and then put them in table format to compare and contrast them to clarify any confusion that may arise in practice.

Authoritative Firmness and Power – The Basic Requirement of True Faith

Muslims must be firm, confident, resolute, authoritative and forceful; standing up like a rock for their beliefs and their principles; powerfully persevering, unyielding, unwavering and uncompromising regardless of the relentless pressure, cruelty, persecution, aggression, ridicule, humiliation and the disrespect they are subjected to; without falling for the bribery or worldly benefits offered, without being scared of any negative reaction or consequences, and without being fooled by the cunning, social engineering, psychological manipulations and trickery the non-Muslims may use to entrap them or distract them from their goal. Such firmness and forcefulness is called Shiddah and feeling of power and superiority is called ‘Izzah in the Qur-aan. True Muslims are expected to have the quality of being ‘Azeez as per Al-Maaidah 5:54 and Shadeed as per Al-Fatĥ 48:49 in their dealings with the disbelievers. Without these qualities, Muslims cannot fulfill the responsibility that Allaah has put on their shoulders in terms of establishing the Deen of Allaah on earth.

This is applicable to all Muslims in all circumstances, whether they are in the East or the West and whether they are a small vulnerable minority or they are a powerful governing entity, and whether they are at peace or in a battlefield. There is only one exception. When Muslims are a minority in a society and the Islamic work invokes violent persecution, a person who has been persecuted so much that he is unable to bear any more persecution is allowed to say un-Islamic things to save his life from the persecutors. The example is that of ‘Ammaar bin Yasir and this permission is only a Rukhŝah – temporary leave under extreme circumstances. Even under tough circumstances, the best course of action is still not to give in and continue saying/doing the right things. This is called ‘Azeemah and the examples of this behaviour were demonstrated by most of the companions of the Prophet such as Bilaal, Khabbaab, Ŝuhaib and other Ŝaĥabaah. Islamic goals cannot be achieved unless there is a majority of people in the Muslim ranks who practice ‘Azeemah. Aboo Bakr and Abdullaah bin Mas’ood’s recitation of the Qur-aan in front of Makkans, despite being brutally beaten by them, are just two examples of this courage and commitment. In the battle field, the companions showed this attitude through unparalleled fearless bravery and complete disregard for any genetic/blood, parental or filial ties with their pagan relatives.

Harshness – It Does not Behove a Believer

Firmness mentioned above should not be confused with harshness; that is not an attribute of a true believer. Muslims must never be harsh. Harshness implies having a bad attitude, using harsh tones or words, practising bad manners; displaying anger or frustration; and ridiculing, quarrelling and arguing instead of educating and informing in a calm but firm manner. This requires letting go of one’s ego, demands extraordinary patience and superior skills in anger management, and needs a strong spirit of forgiveness for the personal hurt that the non-Muslims may cause.

Softness – that Compromises one’s Faith

The deviation from the desired state of being shadeed and ‘azeez can be at different levels. The first level is called Mudaahanah or Idhaan, i.e., showing softness. This includes all situations when people are reluctant to declare the truth openly to avoid upsetting the disbelievers, when they do not openly declare what should be declared about the Islamic position on the issues at hand, when they avoid criticizing what should be criticized in the society and when they keep quiet instead of pointing out the errors in beliefs or violations of Deen. The motive for this softness is to ameliorate the disbelievers. The Prophet had started his mission by clearly criticizing idol worship and challenging every existing authority’s right to have power/authority over people. He demanded that every one submit completely to One God, abandoning any concept of authority in favour of the authority of Allaah and His Messenger. There was extremely violent opposition in response but the Prophet never relented. There was a time when the Kuffaar were willing to let him do whatever he wanted, if he stopped criticizing them and their idols and refrained from challenging the existing power structure. When the Prophet was under pressure from the Kuffaar to relent and agree to these conditions, Allaah SWT advised him not to soften his stance and his attack on their wrong beliefs and practices (Al-Qalam 68:9).

Many Muslims tend to adopt Mudaahanah for fear of real or perceived dangers. They should learn from the example of the Muslim refugees seeking refuge in Abyssinia: despite being in so vulnerable a situation, they stood their ground and stated to the king their belief about ‘Eesa clearly and exactly without softening, knowing that they could be thrown out if their answer was disliked by the king.

Tact and Excellent Discourse – Good Qualities Expected of Believers

Islam wants the Muslims to deal with the non-Muslims with Ĥikmah and excellent discourse. Ĥikmah means wisdom and tact. It means that without compromising the essence and nature of the message, the Islamic message should be presented in a way that:
  • It matches the intellectual ability, intelligence, education and background of the audience to make it easy for them to understand it.
  • It uses the examples and similitudes relevant to the society and the background of the audience.
  • It helps people to move forward from what they already know or are familiar with, towards what Islam teaches.
  • It does not put the audience on the defensive. As soon as someone becomes defensive, his or her mind is closed to any message regardless of how clearly and rationally it is conveyed.
  • It does not turn argumentative. If it turns into arguments, the other person will become defensive because it now has taken the form of a win-lose situation. No one likes to lose an argument even if the person is clearly in the wrong.

Ĥikmah also includes:
  • Setting priorities and assigning time and resources to different aspects of Islamic work according to: What comes first and what comes later as per the needs of the time; what needs to be focused upon and what can be peripheral at a particular stage of the Islamic work; what is essential, what is optional and what is irrelevant for goals and objectives obligated by Islam.

The main source of Ĥikmah is the Seerah of the Prophet, in particular, and the seerahs of earlier messengers, in general.

Some people confuse Ĥikmah with Mudaahanah. They practise Mudaahanah thinking that they are using Ĥikmah. Such confusions are Shayŧaan’s way of making people compromise instead of standing up for the Islamic message. Some people think that keeping silent about the Islamic teachings that may upset Kuffaar is Ĥikmah. From such a perspective, the examples of Aboo Bakr RA and Abdullah bin Mas‘ood RA will be considered against Ĥikmah, while they were not. Using this kind of logic, all Ŝaĥaabah could have escaped persecution by keeping mum about Islamic teachings. The reality is that if something needs to be stated clearly at a certain point, but is not said for the fear of backlash from the disbelievers, it is not Ĥikmah, but Mudaahanah. The Qur-aan has given examples from the Islamic work of Prophet Ibraheem on how he used Ĥikmah without Mudaahanah. His preaching to his father was very tactful but uncompromising; his breaking of idols was an excellent way of explaining the futility of idol worship but was not soft or compromising; and his conversation with the king was extremely tactful but uncompromising.

Hypocrisy – Exit from Islam despite One’s Claim

Practising Mudaahanah or Idhaan is stepping on a slippery slope. Once people adopt Mudaahanah, they usually slip into making compromises. Compromising Muslims not only keep quiet or avoid declaring the truth, but eventually they are not bothered or irked by the wrong beliefs and violations of the principles of Deen. They become content with people as they are and the society as is without being concerned about their un-Islamic faith, morals and conduct. They do not feel compelled, anxious or restless for the attainment of the objectives of Deen. This leads them into hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy exhibits itself in different forms at different levels: cowardice and timidity in standing up for Islam, aversion to make any sacrifice for Deen, fear of the displeasure of the disbelievers, loyalty to non-Muslims against the interests of Muslims, worrying about relationships or friendships with non-Muslims instead of clearly siding with Islam and/or Muslims, etc. The Qur-aan has many sections dedicated to exposing and criticizing this kind of hypocritical practices.

The Desired Level of Islamic Excellence

Despite the best tact and wisdom and excellence in discourse, many people will still not accept the message or will still display their hate and animosity in the worse possible manner. They may, in fact, respond aggressively and violently. In that case, Islam teaches the Muslims to respond in the most excellent manner, instead of responding in kind. It was this response in the most excellent manner by the Prophet to the vicious attacks of the pagans that won the hearts and souls of the Arabs.

The abovementioned six attitudes or behavioural attributes can be tabulated as follows:

Do Practise But Must Avoid
Basic requirement of true faith Authoritative Firmness -- Shiddah and ‘Izzah Does not behove a believer Harshness – Ghilzhah
Good and Expected Tact and excellent discourse – Ĥikmah and Mow‘zhatu ĥasanah Compromising Faith Softening – Mudaahanah or Idhaan
Desired Level of Islamic Excellence Response with Excellence – Difaa’ bil Aĥsan Not a Muslim despite One’s Claim Hypocrisy – Nifaaq or Muhaafaqah

Another way of Looking at them

These attitudes can also be looked at from the perspective of who is affected by them. The following table divides them using that approach. One set is from the perspective of the inner mental state of the Muslims themselves when they are working for the establishment of Deen; the second set is from the perspective of impact of attitude on the non-Muslims who are being interacted with.

Mindset that Affects Personal Behaviour Attitude that Impacts Response of the Non-Muslims
Must Authoritative Firmness -- Shiddah and ‘Izzah Must not Harshness – Ghilzhah
Bad Softening – Mudaahanah or Idhaan Good Tact and excellent discourse – Ĥikmah and Mow‘zhatul ĥasanah
Worst Hypocrisy – Nifaaq or Muhaafaqah Best Response with Excellence – Difaa’ bil Aĥsan

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