Talking About Your Faith

There is a good chance that you may be asked to talk about Islam, either in your classroom or in some other public institution, in which case it is very important to keep in mind important guidelines when speaking about religions in the public square. The First Amendment Center has created guidelines to keep in mind that not only guarantee the freedom of religion but protect one from crossing the line from teaching about religion to preaching religion. These guidelines allow us to educate one another about religion in public institutions while adhering to the separation of religion and state. The following are guidelines for schools when teaching about religion:

  • The school’s approach to religion is academic, not devotional.
  • The school strives for student awareness of religions, but does not press for student acceptance of any religion.
  • The school sponsors study about religion, not the practice of religion.
  • The school may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose any particular view.
  • The school educates about all religions, and does not promote or denigrate any religion.
  • The school informs students about various beliefs; it does not seek to make students conform to any particular belief.

Talking about Islam is different when you are with friends and classmates from other faith traditions than when you are with your Muslim friends. Not everyone has the same background knowledge that you do, so the way you say something becomes very important. Here are some tips and pointers about how to present information about Islam and your experience living as a Muslim:

  • Preparing for the presentation: Think about who your audience is and what the purpose of your presentation is.
  • If you are giving a presentation as an assignment, then it will be a little bit more formal than if you are with some of your friends and sharing information about your respective faiths.
  • Recognize that you may be the first person that your classmates or the audience members are hearing talk about Islam, so they may have limited knowledge and many misconceptions.
  • Practice what you want to say, and make note cards with the main points you want to cover.
  • Begin by introducing yourself with background information and maybe a couple of fun facts about yourself (they don’t have to be related to Islam!) that help to convey the fact that you are just a regular young person like them.
  • Present the material that you have prepared.
  • If you want to add your own experiences, talk about them in the first person, using “I” statements.
  • Once you are done with the presentation ask your classmates and friends if they have any questions.
  • If someone asks you a question that you do not have the answer to, you can simply say “I do not know the answer to that, but I will find out and let you know.” Then you should ask someone who can help you find the answer. Check out our FAQs or submit your own.
  • If someone asks you a question that you are not comfortable answering, you can simply say, “I do not feel comfortable answering that question right now.”

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when answering difficult questions:

  1. There are no “stupid questions,” so don’t get upset or defensive if you don’t like the question.
  2. Understand the level of the person you’re addressing and speak to that level.
  3. Keep things simple – you don’t have to tell them the “whole answer.”
  4. Answer in terms they can relate to, not some theoretical or highly fiqhi answer.
  5. Compare Islamic stances to positions in other religions with similar rulings.
  6. Use wisdom in your answers, following the Qur’anic ayat, “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good advice.”
  7. Never denigrate or insult another’s faith in the process of explaining an Islamic issue. Avoid any kind of negative remarks about others.
  8. Be careful to differentiate between Islam and culture. Many practices of Muslims are more culturally based than Islamic.
  9. When addressing actions done by Muslims, acknowledge that they are human – not everything they do is right or part of Islam.
  10. Don’t whitewash the truth or defend the indefensible.
  11. At the same time, one should not be defensive or apologetic about Islam – one cannot compromise one’s faith to please others. There will always be aspects that are difficult to explain or rationalize, but are based on faith.
  12. Avoid denigrating other Muslims when clarifying their behavior – explain the diversity of thought and practice and the historical, political, economic, and other influences on Muslim behavior, without justifying it.
  13. Don’t preach – just as we dislike it when others proselytize or denigrate Islam, we should be very careful to avoid doing the same.
  14. Stick to First Amendment guidelines, which basically validate the teaching about religion in the public square, not promoting or imposing a particular religion. (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . “)
  15. Don’t get emotional – rational thought, facts, and logic are far more affective.
  16. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something – it’s better than giving the wrong answer.
  17. Win the heart, not the argument.