When discussing issues that are emotional and close to one’s heart, it is often difficult to accept what other people are saying without becoming overly emotional, upset, or angry. Because of this, Americans often avoid discussing potentially heated issues such as politics and religion. In fact, it is a well-known cardinal rule that those two subjects are entirely off-limits at parties and social events (particularly when people are drinking because physical fights inevitably ensue!).
Yet, who knows the nature of humankind best but our Creator Himself? God knows very well how easily upset we can become when discussing beliefs, which is why He instructed on how to do exactly that:
“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner; surely your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He knows best those who follow the right way. (Quran chapter 16 verse 125).
In other words, we are instructed to discuss our beliefs with wisdom and good encouragement (as opposed to sarcasm or criticism), doing so with the utmost of good manners. It is not our job to convince them or change their minds, as God Himself only knows those who will listen to truth and follow it, or who will reject it and turn away. Our task is only to speak the truth with good manners. We should never engage in personal attacks (i.e. “I can’t believe how stupid you are to believe that!”), nor disparage their belief system (“What kind of idiotic, illogical belief is that?!”). If we stoop to such behavior, the other person will automatically become defensive and immediately stop listening. Good manners, encouragement, and wisdom are the keys to opening a person’s heart. Yet, in the end, even if you do everything you can, the other person still may not respond the way you’d like them to. Thus, we must remember that what is in the other person’s heart and mind is between that person and God alone.
When I hear this verse, I am reminded of when I first heard the truth of Islam. I still persisted in arguing against it and pushing my own stated beliefs, but deep inside… I was listening. When I was alone throughout the day or laying awake at night, I was mentally replaying what I had heard, considering and reflecting on it. Externally, no one would have guessed that the truth was having an impact on me, because I was stubborn and steadfastly defending my views. Anyone interacting with me would have easily thought to themselves that there was no hope – I was too brainwashed, too senseless, too close-minded, too stubborn to let go of what I had been raised to believe was right. Yet God knew what was actually happening inside my heart. It is only He who guides us to the truth, and no one else.
When we are faced with someone who seems so close-minded and refuses to listen, just remember that despite all their blustering and fury, inside they just may be listening. And even if they aren’t listening now, they may remember what you’ve said much later down the road, and begin to reflect on it. Only God knows the path an individual will take. I heard a beautiful hadith of Prophet Muhammad (saws) the other day that made tears come to my eyes:
“The number of paths to God is equal to the number of human souls.”
SubhanAllah (glory to God). There is no one prescribed, set path that we all must robotically follow. No, God has designed it so that we each find the truth in the timing that is best for us. Perhaps one person finds the truth early on – and it is better for them. Yet someone else may find the truth much later, and it is better for them – because they had many lessons to learn and experiences to pass through before they were ready. My own path has been incredibly unique, and in retrospect I know that each step was crucial to taking me to where I am today. Alhamdilulah (praise God).