For more on this topic, see The Straight Path - Finding Guidance in an Age of Confusion
This essay has been summarized based on an intensive course delivered by Dr. Hatem Al-Haj entitled Islamic apologetics in December 2019 and presented in essay format by Dr. Nazir Khan with additions and final essay verified, edited, and approved by Dr. Hatem al-Haj.
And further evidence of this nature indicates that not every piece of knowledge is to be disseminated and spread, even if it were true. In fact, Imam Mālik reported concerning himself that he possessed some aḥādīth and information that he never disclosed or narrated. He used to dislike any speech that was not actionable, and reported that those who preceded him used to dislike this as well, so be vigilant about this concept.
And its governing principle (ḍābiṭ) is that you measure your issue against the shari’ah; if it conforms to its metrics, then consider its consequences with regards to the conditions of that era and its people. If its mention will not result in [greater] harm (mafsadah), then test it with your intellect. If [the faculty of reason] deems it acceptable, then you can speak about it—either publicly if it is an issue that the minds of the masses can grasp, or selectively if it is unsuitable for mass consumption. And if your issue is intolerable [to both], then silence regarding it is warranted in accordance with the shari’ah and sound intellect.
A young man came to the Prophet ﷺ and asked, “O Messenger of Allah, give me permission to commit ziná (fornication).” People began to rebuke the young man but the Prophet told him to come close and sit down. He then asked him, “Would you approve of that for your mother?” The young man replied “No, by Allah!” The Prophet replied, “In the same way, people do not approve of it for their mothers.”
[The Prophet ﷺ then proceeded to ask the same question regarding whether he would approve of such a thing for his daughter, sister, or aunts.]
Then the Prophet ﷺ prayed for the young man saying, “O Allah, forgive his sin, purify his heart and guard his chastity.” After that, the young man never turned his attention to anything of that sort again.
Reinforcing the centrality of the human perspective
Causing an ideological shift in the community
Damaging people’s respect for the tradition and its bearers
Damaging people’s perception of Islam’s relevance in our times by overstating the historical nature of fiqh
Conclusion on pitfalls
There has come to you from Allah a Light and a clear Book by which Allah guides those who pursue His pleasure to the ways of peace and brings them out from darknesses into the light, by His permission, and guides them to a straight path. (Qur’an 5:15-16)
1. Clarification - What does Islam say about this issue?
2. Justification - Why does Islam say this? Why is this the best view?
3. Application - How do these rulings apply to us today?
Intentions and prayer
Cultivating respect for scholarship
Good listening and wise steering of the discussion
The Quraysh selected ʿUtbah ibn Rabīʿah as the most learned amongst them to go and speak with the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. So ʿUtbah went to the Prophet and said: “O Muhammad, are you better than [your father] ʿAbdullah?” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ remained silent. ʿUtbah said: “Are you better than [your grandfather] ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib?” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ remained silent.
ʿUtbah said: “If you concede that they are better than you, they have worshipped the gods who you reject. And if you claim that you are better than them, speak until we hear your opinion, for I swear by Allah we have not seen someone who was a greater cause of misfortune for his people than you. You divided our people, dispersed our authority, and found fault in our religion, and disgraced us amongst the Arabs until they began to say that amongst Quraysh there is a sorcerer, or amongst Quraysh there is a soothsayer. We are on the brink of falling into a civil war that will eradicate us (lit. we await only a cry like that of the pregnant woman before swords are drawn upon one another).
If you seek leadership, we will select you as our ruler to reign over us as long as you live. If you desire wealth, then we will gather our wealth until you are the richest man among Quraysh. If you desire intimacy, then choose any of the women of Quraysh, and we will marry you to ten.” Then the Messenger of God, may God’s prayers and peace be upon him, said to him: “Are you finished, O Abū al-Walīd?” He said: “Yes.” Then the Prophet ﷺ began to recite Sūrat Fuṣṣilat.
Invoking the power of Qur’anic arguments
Were they created by nothing? Or were they themselves the creators? Or did they create the Heavens and the Earth? Nay, but they have no firm belief! Or do they own the treasures of Your Lord? Or have they been given the authority to do as they like? (Qur’an 52:35-37)
Say, ‘If there were other gods with Him, as they claim, they would have sought a way to the Lord of the Throne.’ (Qur’an 17:42)
Had there been within the heavens and earth gods besides Allah, they would have been ruined. So Exalted is Allah, Lord of the Throne, above what they describe. (Qur’an 21:22)
Who is your audience?
Does your answer change depending on the audience?
Narrated ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Indeed Allah will distinguish a man from my ummah before all of creation on the Day of Judgment. Ninety-nine scrolls will be laid out for him, each scroll is as far as the eye can see, then He will say: ‘Do you deny any of this? Have those who recorded this wronged you?’ He will say: ‘No, O Lord!’ He will say: ‘Do you have an excuse?’ He will say: ‘No, O Lord!’ So He will say: ‘Rather you have a good deed with us, so you shall not be wronged today.’ Then He will bring out a card (biṭāqah); on it will be: ‘I testify to Lā Ilāha Illā Allāh, and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger.’ He will say: ‘Bring your scales.’ He will say: ‘O Lord! What good is this card next to these scrolls?’ He will say: ‘You shall not be wronged.’ He said: ‘The scrolls will be put on a pan (of the scale), and the card on (the other) pan: the scrolls will be light, and the card will be heavy;, nothing is heavier than the Name of Allah.’”
And there are some people for whom, the more obscure, prolonged, and abstruse the method and the more numerous its premises, the more it benefits him. This is because his mind has become habituated to prolonged investigation into subtle matters, so when the proof contains fewer premises, or is self-evident, his soul does not rejoice with it. So for such a person, one could utilize philosophical kalāmī methods due to its suitability for what he is accustomed to, not because the desired knowledge is actually contingent upon such a method.
What is an eccentric (shādhdh) position?
Examples of answers changing depending on the questioner
If the enquirers are those with strong religious commitment who uphold that which is stricter and more cautious, he would answer them according to the stricter view. However, if they are weak and under the captivity of their self-interests, that he fears they may neglect the stricter position and fall in the abyss of disobedience of the rulings of the Sharia, then he should relay to them the lighter view.
Precedent for mentioning eccentric views in Islamic apologetics
Be a role model in your conduct and connect with your audience
Language and civility
Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most Knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most Knowing of who is [rightly] guided. (Qur’an 16:125)
Say, “You will not be asked about the sins we have committed, and we will not be asked about what you do.” (Qur’an 34:25)
Say: “If I have fabricated it, upon me be my crimes, but I am innocent of (all) those crimes which you commit.” (Qur’an 11:35)
Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’
We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness? (Qur’an 41:53)
Don’t magnify doubt
Resisting doubts and making a reasonable wager
After I began to present to him one allegation after another, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah be pleased with him, advised me as follows: “Do not allow your heart to be a sponge for every doubt and allegation so that it absorbs them and is saturated with nothing else. Instead, make your heart like solid glass; doubts pass over its surface but do not settle on the inside. Thus, the doubts are seen through the clearness of the glass but are repelled by its firmness. Otherwise, if you allow your heart to drink every doubt you encounter, it will end up affirming them.” Or he said something to that effect. I do not know of any advice that has brought me greater benefit in fending off doubts than this one.
One who bases their belief and love on many evidences that bring about certainty and reveal the invalidity of the passing misgivings is not like one who bases their belief on factors inferior to that. Moreover, the one who was granted some knowledge that compels them to believe is not like one who is exposed to misgivings and willingly seeks to remove them through contemplation and research. No sane person would doubt that knowledge that is based on a multiplicity of strong evidence—as well as proofs of the invalidity of the counter misgivings and the invalidity of the opponents’ arguments—is not like that which is based on one proof without knowing the counter-arguments.
Study after study has found that religious people tend to be less depressed and less anxious than nonbelievers, better able to handle the vicissitudes of life than nonbelievers. A 2015 survey by researchers at the London School of Economics and the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that participating in a religious organization was the only social activity associated with sustained happiness—even more than volunteering for a charity, taking educational courses or participating in a political or community organization. It’s as if a sense of spirituality and an active, social religious practice were an effective vaccine against the virus of unhappiness.
Hastening towards Allah and turning to Him, finding contentment through Him, filling the heart with His love, remembering Him continuously, experiencing happiness and joy with knowing Him—all of this constitutes a hastened reward, a paradise in the present world, and a life to which the lives of kings cannot even compare. I heard Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allāh sanctify his soul) say: “Indeed, there is a paradise (jannah) in this world. Whoever does not enter it will not enter the Paradise of the Hereafter.”