How to Talk to Us about Islam (Part 3)
While travelling to give talks and lectures around the world, I meet many people who are not Muslims and who are curious about my culture. Some of them have had wonderful impressions and want to share their stories and others share the lessons they learnt the hard way from less fortunate incidents.
This series is an effort to listen to the advice of non-Muslims for Muslims on how to best represent Islam, taking into consideration that not everyone who is curious about Islam wants to become Muslim, and that gaining the respect of non-Muslims is just as precious as gaining a new Muslim, particularly in non-Muslim countries where Islam is under constant attack.
This advice comes from non-Muslim women in Western countries.
In the previous article we have talked about being patient in answering questions and introducing Islam to others and never to push them or rush them to become Muslim. In this part we will talk about some equally important points:
Listen to Us
One of the basic communication skills that most of us overlook is effective listening. People think 4 times more when they’re listening in comparison to when they’re doing the talking themselves.
By listening to others we not only offer them a much-needed courtesy, we also get to know them better.
Effective listening is about focusing on what the other person is saying and thinking about it while listening. It’s not pretending to be listening while thinking about the argument to counter what they’re saying. In other words, effective listening is about focusing on the other person and their thoughts, feelings and worries, while pretending to be listening means focusing on ourselves and our own thoughts instead.
Unfortunately, most of us are very good at pretending to be listening, and unable to prevent our minds from wandering to what we will say next. When we’re in that mode, all we’re doing is waiting for the speaker to finish talking so we could say what we want to say, and we expect them to shut up and listen too. Many would even interrupt the speaker to start talking. This is both ineffective and unfair.
If we remember the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), we will see that he really listened with full attention to all kinds of speakers, even if what they were saying was ridiculous, offensive or totally contradicted his beliefs.
Prophet Muhammad listened courteously and patiently and never interrupted. And when the speaker stopped talking he even asked:
“Have you finished what you wanted to say?” before he began speaking himself. This way he made sure that the speaker also respected him and patiently listened to what he had to say.
We all need to follow these effective communication techniques -which are also basic Islamic manners of conversation when we’re presenting Islam or answering someone’s questions.
People who are asking you about Islam have probably started being interested because of specific reasons; listen so you could find them. They have probably collected all kinds of information from various sources; some may be correct and some maybe false, listen so you could know what they know and how they feel about it. Listen so you could understand their needs, fears, and requirements to address the issues that bother them or the details they want to know.
Linn, A Swedish lady who is helping translate for Muslim immigrants in Stockholm says: “Just as I listen to you when you talk to me, please respect what I say and listen to me. Because you will find something to build on in what I say and you will understand what I’m asking you. You might even learn something as well, not only about what I think, but a different way of looking at things in your own life. Maybe something I tell you will make you understand something in a way that makes even more sense to you than it did before. We learn more by teaching and we learn more from each other.”
I totally agree with her on this, and I add that I have learnt a lot from talking to all kinds of people, and I have also learnt from each of them how to talk to the next person in a better way.
Don’t Judge Us
By listening effectively we also prevent ourselves from being too judgmental of what the other person is saying. Effective listening means thinking about and evaluating the ideas and the words, and not the person.
One of the dangers of not listening effectively is that what a person says builds an emotional barrier between us and them. And when we try to communicate while in an emotional state the communication will never be rational and objective. For example, if a person has doubts about God or the prophets or the holy Books or the afterlife and they start explaining those ideas to someone who believes, who is not listening and who is waiting to try to convince them, chances are that he/she will become provoked, emotional and defensive. They will start using arguments to defend rather than to explain and to educate.
As soon as this is the mood of the conversation, it’s a lose-lose situation, there’s a wall that’s building between both speakers and none of them will benefit from the conversation.
Linn has encountered this situation and she advises:
“Please don’t judge me when I ask questions you think are simple or obvious. Do not answer with “just because…” or “the Quran says so and so” I need to learn and I come to you to find answers. Maybe what you tell me will make a huge difference in my life. Maybe the words you say to me are what will make me turn to Islam, or away from it. I know this is a huge responsibility, but please be patient with me I want to learn from you.”
When I asked about the issues she asked Muslims about she said:
“Maybe I wonder what book it is you read that holds such fascination to you. Maybe I wonder why you cover your head, why you hurry your steps when you go to the mosque. I want to understand. I don’t ask to make you uncomfortable, maybe something you did, or said just resonated inside me. Maybe I simply want what you have.”
But unfortunately, not all Muslims understand this delicate situation, and many interpret the responsibility as something to make them stern and harsh, rather than soft and approachable.
In the next articles in the series I will explain more of these insights, please share them with the Muslims in your community to help us spread love, respect and understanding.
Taken with slight modifications from Onislam.net.