TALKING TO non-Muslims about Islam can sometimes be enormously satisfying. People are surprised and amazed and walk away from the conversation understanding more about the world.
But at other times it can be incredibly frustrating and extremely upsetting. For the sake of our future, you must keep speaking up anyway. This is where the battle will be won or lost — in personal, private, often upsetting conversations. That's part of the price we will pay for freedom.
When you feel upset, and your heart is pounding, and you just can't believe your own family member can be so stupid or arrogant or whatever, just remember, this is war. It's not a war against your family member. It is an ideological war, and war is unpleasant sometimes. You are a warrior and you've got to be brave. Take a deep breath and tough it out. This is what has to be done.
Throughout history, whenever something truly game-changing has been attempted, there was STRONG opposition to it. It's hard to believe, but there was strong opposition to the Declaration of Independence, to women getting the right to vote (that fight took 70 years — in the United States!), to establishing and enforcing laws against drunk driving, to gaining basic civil rights for African Americans, and on and on.
If something is good and right and needs to be done, it is not only possible, it is likely there will be intense opposition to it. Otherwise it would have been done already.
So expect it. Expect resistance. Expect objections. Expect people to argue with you and try to put you down and do anything other than listening to what you're saying. It's part of the sacrifice in this war that you'll have to put up with, but you must not return like for like. You must not insult people or get angry at them. You must find a way to remain relaxed.
Think of what you're doing as a kind of "salt works protest." Remember the movie, Gandhi? If you haven't seen it, you should. The salt works protest is one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. Gandhi organized a protest against the "salt works," a processing plant that made salt. Britain had an absolute legal control over salt, the most important commodity in India.
The campaign was organized by Gandhi. The plan was for the protesters to walk up to the salt processing plant, four at a time, and try to walk past the guards in order to claim the salt works as India's natural right. When they got in front of the guards, the guards pummelled them with their batons.
The four marchers were bloodied, knocked out, knocked down, and fell to the wayside as four more Indians walked up bravely only to get knocked down. Four by four they continued through the day and into the night, walking up with their heads held high, not raising their arms to protect themselves and not fighting back. But not stopping.
They knew they would get hurt, but they also knew it would have open peoples' eyes. And it did. It galvanized the world. It showed the British rulers that the Indian people would not accept British dominance any more. They were determined to resist British rule until the rulers of Britain saw the truth for themselves.
The lesson for us here is that you must understand, going into these conversations, that you will get abuse. You must absorb the pain for the sake of freedom, without giving any abuse back, without getting angry or sarcastic, without personal insults, without condescension or bitterness, and continue to speak the truth until the non-Muslims you are talking to see the truth for themselves.
This is difficult. It may be the most difficult thing you've ever done. And it may also be the most meaningful and important thing you've ever done. Below are some principles and coaching for you to help give you courage and guidance on this brave endeavor you have embarked on:
1. Talking about Islam is not necessarily upsetting. And arguing a point with someone you love is not necessarily upsetting. But arguing about Islam with someone you love can be extremely upsetting. But it is worth doing for many reasons. First of all, it will help motivate you to learn the information really well, and to learn to explain it more clearly. It "ups your game." It makes you take your learning and your articulation more seriously. It is trial by fire. Use that upset to make yourself better, more determined, more informed.
In military training they push recruits to extreme limits. Why? It makes them better warriors.
2. Try to see your pounding heart as not necessarily a bad sign. How often do you ever do anything so courageous and meaningful that it makes your heart pound like that? Do not wish your conversation would end. Stay in it and keep educating. It's good for you even if you don't actually change that person's mind — the process helps you increase your ability to handle these conversations; it's good for increasing your skill at articulating points; and it's good for your motivation to learn.
3. Having a conversation in writing (through email or Facebook) is better in some ways than a face-to-face conversation (worse in some ways, too: they both have their advantages). In a written conversatioin, you can take your time to answer, and you should take your time. If you are upset and obsessing about it, don't try to get your mind off it. Print out the conversation so far and read it. Then re-read it and make notes. Look up facts. Write out your responses and edit them before sending. Get through to the person. Do your best. Think of it all as training.
4. Err on the side of understatement rather than overstatement. You might think that overstatement is more powerful, but in its persuasive impact, it is less powerful.
5. Try to be as accurate as possible. Your listener often strongly wants what you're saying to not be true. They will desperately grasp at anything you say that they can invalidate so they don't have to accept the disturbing truth. So don't give them anything to grasp onto. Tell the strict truth.
6. Focus on teaching about Islamic doctrine, and how that doctrine is being used today. Always keep aiming your responses back to that one thing. Don't get sidetracked on other political issues. Keep your focus.
7. Be as kind as you can, as forgiving as you can, and as charitable as you can. Don't respond to their sarcasm or condescension if you can help it. Be bigger than that. Answer with facts as unemotionally as you can (except for empathy). Showing empathy for Muslims or empathy for the person you're talking to is a good thing to show. But if you can avoid it, restrain yourself from being angry or upset or intense in any way. Stay relaxed and stick to the facts.
8. Keep your class. Conduct yourself with honor. Take your time and think out your answers so you don't say something you'll regret.
9. Stick with what you know for sure. In writing, back up what you're saying with good links.
10. Use the Answers to Objections list to help you make your arguments.
11. Do not overwhelm your listener. In writing, don't send fifteen-page responses or a hundred links. Keep it simple and basic. Be selective and use only the best you can come up with.
12. Don't let people divert the conversation into a topic they want to debate. Stay clear on what you want to get across and use whatever they say as a jumping off point to get your message across. Make it your forum, follow your agenda, not theirs. This can be done without seeming obstinate or without the other person even knowing what you're doing. Just keep steering the conversation to what you want to talk about. People will often try to steer the conversation to some other issue because they're "losing."
13. If you can see your listener is starting to grasp the situation, and maybe feeling depressed, anxious, or upset about their new understandings about the supremacist nature of Islam (all of which are understandable responses), explain to them there are smart people working on this, and some good solutions have already been developed. Maybe explain Spencer's idea. But then say, "But of course none of these solutions can happen with so many of us in the dark about Islam. More people need to know about Islam." Turn your listener into an educator. Help them respond to their disturbance with purpose. Tie their intense reaction to a motivation to do something about it, and then tie that to the urgent need of more people to know about Islam's prime directive.
14. Think about your task like this: If you don't educate the person you're talking to, that person will be unwittingly on the side of the enemy. Personal conversations are probably the only way these people will be reached. Not many politicians have the guts to speak honestly about Islam. Not many mainstream media sources have the guts either. And most people who don't already know about Islam's prime directive are ignorant because they only expose themselves to sources of information that agree with what they already think. The only way for them to find out is to find out from you. Think about it that way to strengthen your determination.
15. This will be one of the most difficult and challenging things you've ever done. Don't get down on yourself for getting upset about it, for losing sleep over it, or for losing your cool. That all comes with the territory. You could keep your mouth shut like so many others do, and you wouldn't have so much trouble. But you're not like that, are you? So accept the difficulty and the challenge. Expect it. And cut yourself some slack when you feel powerful emotions about it. This is serious stuff. Powerful emotions are completely appropriate.
16. Push them to read the Koran. If you can see that your listener is never going to believe you, turn the conversation in a new direction. Focus on why they should read the Koran. Tell them about good versions of the Koran, explain why they are good versions, and explain how they can stop listening to anybody's opinion about Islam and find out for themselves.
17. Get help. If you're having a particularly difficult time in a conversation, share it with us at Talk About Islam Among Non-Muslims, or share it on the CW Facebook page and ask people how they would deal with it. People will be glad to share their hard-earned experience with you. We can help each other.
18. When the approach you're using isn't working, use a different approach. If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten. Here are some ideas for different approaches. Everybody is different. Maybe an approach that worked well with one person won't work with another. So stay flexible and creative.
19. Print out this article and keep it around. Read it when you are upset by a conversation you've been involved in.
If you have coached yourself successfully for this kind of work, if you have found things you tell yourself, or ways of looking at these interactions that make you more effective or give you courage, please share them with us at Talk About Islam Among Non-Muslims, or send them to me via email and I can post them for you.
We must tell our fellow non-Muslims the disturbing truth about Islam. Nobody else is going to do it. It's up to us. And they must be told in a way that will penetrate their already-existing barriers to listening. Let's get it done.