What is your advice for someone struggling to implement the sunna while in college, but worried that this may be bad for da’wa? (For example, wearing a kufi, or keeping a longer beard, or wearing shorter trousers.)
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
وصلى اللهم علي سيدنا محمد وسلم
I would like to personally give glad tidings to the questioner for being from, insh’Allah, the best of people. Allah Most High says: “And who is better then one who calls to Allah, works acts of righteousness, and says, ‘I’m from amongst those who submit?” In this verse Allah Most High has identified those who invite to Him as being from the most excellent of people. Therefore, it was with great pleasure that I received your question and hope and pray that your concern and love for the call of the Prophets will continue to grow in your heart until it blossoms and spreads in your home, campus and society.
Your question, may Allah have mercy upon you, is one of great importance for Muslims living amongst non-Muslims and it touches on some of the greater points of our Sacred Law. In addition, it brings to light some significant issues that Muslim in non-Muslim lands cannot afford to be ignorant of. Namely, what are the important qualities that a caller to Allah Most High should have? Also, how were these qualities utilized by our beloved Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) , His Companions, their students and the great imams and teachers of this umma? Our focus will be on one of those qualities, and that is the quality of taking things step by step, what is commonly called tadaruuj.
It is sad to see many people unaware of this important principle and many of the problems that our communities face can be traced back to its absence, or its application being used in the wrong way. I remember sitting in a masjid in the States and a visitor coming and inquiring about our noble religion. Suddenly a man said, “You must change your name!” One can only imagine the look on the face of the inquirer? In Other instances, people have asked about our faith and been told, “Islam is not to eat meat from McDonalds!” Again, the look on the questioners face was one of confusion and fear. Many times our new sisters accept Islam and are immediately given the 2 minute scarf training video. Again, although we all agree that the hijab is obligatory (fard), there is a time and place for everything. And perhaps getting to know the new convert, building the bounds of love and becoming aware of that person’s needs and difficulties would be a better way to start.
On the other hand, we see people using this principle in the wrong place and time. For example, “I’m not praying because prayer is in my heart.” Or, “I want to start over and build myself up over time, thus I’m not fasting Ramadan nor paying my zakat.” Some of the more famous ones used on campus are, “Man, I’m not really dating her! I’m given her da’wa.” Or, “We didn’t want to go to the club, however, someone’s gotta spread the message!” Both of the above examples represent a great lack of understanding regarding this important concept.
When we look at the life of the Prophet we find many examples of this taduruuj (step by step) process. One of the great proofs that our scholars use is the following hadith related by our mother A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) who said that the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Do you know that when your people (Quraysh) rebuilt the Ka`ba, they decreased it from its original foundation laid by Abraham?” I said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Why don’t you rebuild it on its original foundation laid by Abraham?” He replied, “Were it not for the fact that your people are close to the Pre-Islamic Period of ignorance (i.e. they have recently become Muslims) I would have done so.” (Related by Bukhari and Musilm)
Imam Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) commented on this hadith in his famous explanation of Sahih Muslim by stating that it points us to a number of important rulings: one of them being that if we have the choice between doing something good and something evil, then they should be weighed for their overall effect. Thus, if by doing something good a greater evil will take place, then we should leave that good. The imam states: “The Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) informed us that destroying the Ka’ba and rebuilding it upon the foundations of Ibrahim represented a great benefit. However, conflicting with this benefit was the potential for a harm whose impact would outweigh the benefit of destroying it and re-building it.” The harm that the Prophet was cautious of was that of the new Meccan Muslims who loved the Ka’ba dearly and would be unable to handle it being destroyed in front of them. The imam finishes his statement by pointing out that this does not apply to the obligatory matters. For example, one has an important final and decides that the benefit is in sleeping instead of observing Fajr. Indeed, according to our faith, this does not fall under the concept of tadaruuj, for one must pray.
In light of this important principle I would advise the questioner to do the following:
1. Refer your questions about specifics such as the beard and kufi to qualified imams who, preferably, live in your area or similar environment.
2. Share your concerns with your local MSA and Muslim friends and see if they share your feelings on the issue.
3. Ask a convert about certain societal trends, which might assist you in spreading our noble message.
4. Consider asking a Non-Muslim friend and get their feedback.
5. Pray salat al-istikhara(the prayer of guidance), for it is a medicine which cures every illness.
If after doing some of the above mentioned steps and after consulting qualified scholarship, it becomes clear that leaving a recommended act will prevent a greater harm, than by all means you are highly encouraged to do so. In addition, remember that this was the sunna of the Prophet(may peace and blessings be upon him) and by doing so you are following Him.
Finally, I would like to reiterate that this should by no means give someone the license to leave the recommended acts based on mere whims or desires. Indeed, the sunna of our Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) is a light sent to us by our Lord. The Companions and those after them made great efforts to observer and protect the sunna of the Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him). Therefore, I would advise our dear brother to try and observe some of the sunnas at different times and periods. However, if he feels that doing so will create a greater harm, he should talk with a qualified scholar and then, after verifying his feelings with knowledge, leave the recommended, doing so for the sake of Allah, to avoid a greater harm. However if he can observe some of the sunnas, such as wearing a kufi, that would be excellent for the following reasons.
1. By observing the sunna, a brother will share in the struggle of the righteous who came before him.
2. It will enable brothers to further understand the challenges that many of our sisters meet on a daily basis. For brothers, it is easy to simply disappear in society with not trace of Islam. But, for our sisters, they have no choice but to observe the hijab.
3. Finally, if a young man walks into a class-room wearing a black and red football jersey with the word M. Vick on the back. We immediately recognize his team or affiliation. Then what about the Muslim? He belongs to the greatest team, the team of the Prophets! Then, unless there is great harm, he should identify himself with that team and be proud of his affiliation.
I ask Allah Most High to bless this questioner, strengthen his resolve, grant him the light of sound understanding, plant his feet firm, and assist him in the noble job of calling to His lord.
And Allah knows best.