When facing criticism, there are three possible reactions: accept it, ignore it, or refute it. But when it comes to Islam, the first option is void, since any criticism towards the religion that Allah has chosen for His servants is futile (However, it is important to note the difference between Islam and Muslims). Therefore, ignoring it or answering it are your choices.
Now, there are different degrees of response according to the level of criticism faced. And one must know how to answer if one is to answer at all. So, as a founding rule, a Muslim does not need to validate his religion; a Muslim does not need approval from anyone except from his Creator. The following verse sums up this attitude.
“… There is no [need for] argument between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and to Him is the [final] destination.”
Surah Ash-Shura (42 – 15)
Why is there no argument, because the truth has been made clear, and truth itself is self-sustainable, so it does not require justification (only explanation). Therefore, whoever refuses it, does so out of ignorance/arrogance or interest.
This however does not mean to keep all information to yourself, and not to respond to questions. On the contrary, all inquisitions (when asked out of curiosity and not disdain) lead to the truth. So answering these interrogations are essential in Islam. In the end, it is understanding that leads to belief.
On the other hand, discussing the issue of faith is important; not everyone is raised as a Muslim. When you think about it, practically every single Sahabi (Companion of the Prophet Muhammad ppuh) was an idolater. So spreading the word, discussing, exchanging points of view are primordial; and don’t think that with one answer, session, or argument, that that person is going to become the most pious in a snap. It’s a process.
So when discussing, this is the mindset to have:
The ˹true˺ servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk on the earth humbly, and when the ignorant address them, they respond with ˹words of˺ peace.
Surah Al-Furqan (25 – 63)
Therefore, for someone who is not aware (ignorant) of Islam, stay on topic, speak surely, don’t waver, keep speaking the message of Allah with his words and the words of the Prophet (ppuh). Just as Moses did when facing Pharaoh.
Pharaoh asked, “And what is ‘the Lord of all worlds’?”
Moses replied, “˹He is˺ the Lord of the heavens and the earth and everything in between, if only you had sure faith.”
Pharaoh said to those around him, “Did you hear ˹what he said˺?”
Moses added, “˹He is˺ your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers.”
Pharaoh said ˹mockingly˺, “Your messenger, who has been sent to you, must be insane.”
Moses responded: “˹He is˺ the Lord of the east and west, and everything in between, if only you had any sense.”
Pharaoh threatened, “If you take any other god besides me, I will certainly have you imprisoned.”
Surah Ash-Shua’ra (26 – 23-29)
However, when one starts acting ignorant (i.e. arrogant, aggressive, etc.), there is no more discussion to be had with that person. So in that case:
Be gracious, enjoin what is right, and turn away from those who act ignorantly.
Surah Al-A’raf (7 – 199)
Just ignore them. If they ever become receptive again, discuss once more. If they revert to the same attitude, ignore them once again. The Prophet (ppuh) did it for 23 years, I think we can put up with a few ignorant foes a couple of times.
This attitude actually reminds me of a proverb that my grandfather used to say often:
“If you were to throw a stone at every dog that barked, stones would be worth as much as gold.”
In sum, you answer rightfully and you ignore.
Next week, In Sha Allah, we shall talk about how to conduct a discussion/debate.