"So brother," he asked me, "how did you become a Muslim?"
Now this isn't a rare question for one who embraced Islam. In fact, it seems this was the most often asked question in my first two years of entering the faith. Alhumdulillah, "born" Muslims always have a keen interest in how others have found their way into the fold of Islam.
Partly this is a reaffirmation of their own identity, ("Hey, if others are choosing it then it must be good") and partly it is often an unusual phenomenon not seen in the countries from where the average Muslim came. ("Hey, converts are like aliens from outer space in my country.")
Whatever the motivation, I sometimes lament being the only "revert" in a crowd or at a meeting. I don't have any prejudicial feelings towards my fellow compatriots in the deen, I merely wish there were more people who accepted Islam around me so I could experience the feelings of reaffirmation and say, "Alhumdulillah" too.
It's really amazing when you think about it. We have perhaps the least organized community in the world- even the Hindus are more organized world-wide- yet we are gaining "reverts" faster than anyone else. Some attribute this to the Mercy of Allah, others add that it is a testament to the truth of Islam.
But what if we were more organized? What if we had million dollar da'wah centers for the total work of spreading Islam? What if we rented out stadiums and did Billy Graham style conversion drives? What do you think? I tell you that in my gut I am convinced we would have so many "reverts" that we would be surprised if we met someone who wasn't Muslim.
Islamic teachings beat Christian hodge-podge doctrines any day of the week. You and I know this. Hinduism, Bahaiism, Buddhism and the new age movement have nothing on us. They can't even touch our coat-tails. So how can we utilize our resources to rival everyone even further and build the size and strength of our community?
To begin with, we have to get our act together and organize national standards for da'wah workers, literature and programs. Let me illustrate why: Have you ever attended the following type of da'wah gathering? The mostly-Muslim audience shows up late, the speaker can't speak English right, the sound system squeals horribly, the refreshment table is filled with warm milk-tea and half-eaten doughnuts and the da'wah literature, if there is any, is poorly written gobbledygook which wouldn't convince a mouse that it likes cheese.
I'm sure you can relate to such experiences. For all the good intentions, the entire atmosphere was skewed. Non-Muslims, if they could read the hand-scrawled announcements taped on telephone poles, leave with the feeling that there's nothing for them here.
But what would national standards encompass? It's nearly impossible to get anyone, especially our leaders, to agree on anything. So to solve this problem, I'm going to pretend I have the ear of every Muslim in the country and I'm going to impose national standards right now. So listen up everyone and take notes!
First, nobody will be allowed to speak in front of non-Muslims, or Muslims for that matter, unless they can speak the language of the people clearly. We don't want any thick accents, no Englabic or Urdulish. Only clear, understandable English. No exceptions no matter how "big" the man is.
Second, the only topics that will be allowed in any gathering where non-Muslims are addressed will be limited to subjects about life, our purpose, Allah' guidance/forgiveness, the Qur'an and its role in life and the example of the Blessed Prophet. There will be no lectures on fiqh, politics, tassawuf, Unani healing or the psychothematic paradigms found in the writings of obscure Persian or Urdu poets. No exceptions no matter how "big" the money behind the event is.
Third, women will be allowed to address non-Muslim and Muslim audiences on any of the above approved topics with the addition of the role and rights of women in Islam. (Men will not be allowed to speak at length about this topic but can mention it. You figure out why.) Women will be allowed to decide what they wish to speak about and will be given authority in the planning and carrying out of the da'wah program. Women will appear in proper, fashionable hijab. Duppattas and circus tents need not apply.
Fourth, all programs will be planned well in advance. Sound systems will be checked and rechecked many times for quality reception. Reliable people will be assigned duties in advance and will be briefed many times as to their function. Ushers will be present (not eleven year olds) and the program will not exceed two hours. Everything will proceed on time and the program will begin on time no matter how many "big-shot" community members are late. (Remember: today's big-shots are tomorrow's people of the grave. Don't fear them or the money that is temporarily in their hands.)
Fifth, all children under twelve- and babies- will remain at home. The only exception to this rule is when on-site day-care is available. In such a case, under no circumstances will these children be allowed in the main program area.
Sixth, only da'wah materials approved by native-English speaking Muslims will be distributed. For a current list of approved da'wah literature, see the book, "How to Tell Others About Islam" available from most Islamic bookstores. If you don't have your materials read for accuracy and readability first, don't use them.
Seventh, no da'wah program or effort can be initiated unless the following three criteria are met: 1) good, friendly da'wah workers must be utilized. 2) A follow-up plan for interested prospects must be developed. 3) A mentor program linking "reverts" with designated "mentor" families must be established.
Eighth, No door-to-door da'wah or street corner shouting will be allowed. We are not Jehovah's Witnesses nor do we want to be stigmatized as similar to them.
Ninth, all the latest techniques for mass-da'wah efforts must be studied and tested. Everything from mass-mailing, TV advertising, telethons, self-improvement seminar-type activities, videos, home-study courses, gimmicks, sloganeering, etc.. must be looked at in a specially created da'wah institute which will be established to facilitate the National Standards in Da'wah effort.
Finally, every Muslim and "revert" will be encouraged to move to areas where the majority of the population are Muslims. Islamic education programs for "reverts" and youth must be established that are fun and interesting, and the community must make every effort to find the "revert" a job, if they need one, a good husband or wife, if they're single, and a recognized place in the life of the community.
There, I've done it. National Standards have been enumerated. Now if you don't wake up and take a good look at how you're spreading Islam (or trying to) then you'll still find a new "revert" as an unusual, special thing to be admired and praised. I would rather find "reverts" as common as water, myself.