On Missionary Work [Archives:2001/37/Focus]

September 10 2001

Common Sense
By: Hassan Al-Haifi
Throughout human history, no subject has taken more of man’s time and energies on this planet then the effort to satisfy a spiritual mission for his being on Earth and thus leave this short span, during which man has been allowed to finagle with the Earth and its resources, with the satisfaction that there is some reward awaiting him in another expanse of the universe, or perhaps in another universe, that is far out of our mundane reaches. Because of this inkling to tie man’s destiny with that of an even more overpowering force, the world saw much bloodshed and much turmoil over the ages. Man being what he is and the different environs he settled in being as diversified as they are, the spiritual directions of men took on different manifestations. The obvious phenomenon that was a source of encouraging credence to an obvious tie – up between our existence and the supernatural was that there were those shining beacons of men who obviously saw to instill in their fellow men that indeed there are answers to many of the questions that relate to the real purpose of our being and that they have been blessed with the vision and the drive to clarify some of the misconceptions, which evolved about this relationship over the ages and across the Earth. In fact, some went on to insist that they were ordered by the Divine to set mankind on the right path to spiritual awareness and social justice, because the Divine sees these as inseparable and sacrosanct, if life was to ever become meaningful for man, and if man is ever to have continuity in that realm of the unknown that remains much in the knowledge and possession of the Creator, but where great reward awaits him, for having been a continuation of the ongoing parade of human beings who have dedicated their life to fulfill the Divine requirements of a world in which spiritual awareness and social justice prevail universally These series of philosophers, prophets and messengers could never be underestimated in terms of the role they had in shaping much of the present social and moral suasions that have taken shape here and there in the world.
As we come closer to our time, we are less prone to find men claim direct guidance and instructions from the Divine, especially as Islam came and produced the creed that entailed a direct relationship between all worshippers and the divine and insisted that all the past efforts are part of one and the same religious culture brought down in a series that accommodates to man’s perceptive capabilities, which evolved along with the human experience. Its different manifestations (even within Islam itself) are no more than corruptions introduced by men that arose out of deviations inspired more out of worldly quest than spiritual drive, and a full comprehension of the simplicity and an appreciation of the true powers of the Divine, Al-Mighty.
Because of man’s strong desire not to break from the spiritual aura that must be a part of his being, men are bound to attach themselves with any calls to enliven this spiritual connection and indeed many people take it upon themselves to ride on the bandwagon of this missionary zeal.
Missionary activity has taken on different forms over the ages, and it was Islam that insisted that all worshippers are missionaries of the faith by, first of all, living Islam and then by portraying Islam to others, through convincing dialogue and good deeds – with obvious good intent – and by showing the logic of the creed and the natural link between Islam and life.
Missionary activity for Christianity became more intense after the separation of the state and the church, and the state could no longer be expected to impose Christianity on the subjects on behalf of the Church.
Because of national interests and other worldly aspirations, sometimes missionary activity was tied to political momentum, such as the “White Man’s Burden”. On the other hand, because of people’s attachment to the spiritual could not be easily relinquished, even after the separation of church and state, there were many who saw in this an opportunity to make easy money and achieve glory and power, and went on to solicit support for their “missionary quests”. The matter was made easier, because these missionary efforts were seldom subject to transparency or accountability, and the efforts were not under evaluation by any form of public scrutiny.
It is worth mentioning that there are around half a million active Christian missionaries throughout the world!
While it is true that the exploitation of religious sentiment is a widespread phenomenon, in both Christian and Islamic constituencies, it goes without saying that it is much more institutionalized in the West than in the Islamic East, where until fairly recently, most missionary work was individually undertaken or was the work of genuine believers, whose humble way of life was clear testimony to their sincerity and truth of purpose, and whose faith provided strong guarantees of the seriousness of their quests and the honesty of their intents, not to mention the wisdom they projected.
Many Moslems have voiced concern at the large scale missionary work undertaken by Christian missionary organizations in their midst, even before the Taliban of Afghanistan have decided to intervene, if we can assume that the Taliban are not doing this to project an overzealous advocacy for Islam, for the sake of public relations.
Whatever the case, we must also take care and guard ourselves against all suspicious missionary work, whether for Christianity or Islam, for there are those Moslem “missionaries” who evoke a very dubious front, as well, projecting a public image of religious piety – but little enlightenment – and when, in fact their methods and their own personal lives reveal them to be far from the class of missionaries, who spread Islam in Africa and Asia by relying on the simplicity of their own lives, their actual good deeds and the power of the message they were delivering in its appeal to common sense. The new breed of organized missionaries in Islam are living extremely well, if not lavishly, and their political aspirations are rigorously pursued as part of their “missionary” work.
Yes, we must do all we can to protect Islam and Moslems from any foreign efforts to guide our religious persuasion, whether by people from other faiths or people who wear the cloak of Islam, but to the open – eyed observer are more after their own mundane aspirations and seem to be working diligently to create friction among Moslems, by insisting on their own rigid standards, which they themselves fail to apply, except in exaggerated surface renditions, such as appearance, clothing, etc., and forgetting that Moslems should work together to find unity of purpose and destiny, before the other missionaries find the right climate for propagating other religious persuasions. To defend Islam, we must first live Islamic, not show Islamic”
To the person(s) who sent me the literature on some of the non-Islamic missionary work in Yemen, I thank you for the literature, which I did find interesting. I would like to share your concern, but I would have liked to see from who (no signature or even name) and from where I was being communicated (no return address).