An Attempt to Capture the Broader Notion of Dawah In Light Of The Qur’anic Message.
By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
November 17, 2013
(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009)
In a restrictive sense, ‘Dawah’ connotes a missionary work for propagating the religion of Islam. This can be in the form of a preacher or televangelist lecturing an audience on Islam or comparative religion with the singular goal of gaining converts, or a group of Ulema going out as a preaching community (Tablighi Jama’at) across the country or continents to preach Islam or, for that matter, a Muslim country funding construction of mosques in its own or foreign lands with the goal of spreading the Light of Islam. The Qur’anic concept of Dawah is, however, broader and more grass rooted. It declares:
“Invite (ud‘u) (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and pleasant counselling, and debate with them in the best manner. Indeed God knows best who is straying from His path, and He knows best the (rightly) guided” (16:125).
This expressed instruction to all Muslims to invite people to the ‘way of Lord,’ comprehended with the following Qur’anic commandments and enunciations render ‘Dawah’ an integral element of Qur’anic message binding on each Muslim.
i. Enjoining good and restraining the evil (3:104, 3:110, 9:112, 22:41, 31:17)
ii. Acting on behalf of the Prophet as a witness to truth to humanity (2:143/ 42:3)
iii. Discharging the divine trust as the custodian of the divine speech (the Qur’an) (33:72, 59:21, 13:21) and sharing it with humanity (3:187)
How Do The Common Muslims Participate In Dawah?
A Muslim can imperceptibly extend invitation (Dawah) to the divine ways through personal example - his day to day dealings with the non-Muslims, excellence in lawful pursuits, cultivating an exemplary moral conduct and behaviour and drawing the attention and admiration of the non-Muslims as a model of virtue and benevolence. It can also be in the form of enlightening others on the different facets of the Qur’anic message, direct proselytizing or in any other form as long as there is no coercion, no trace of contempt, hostility or arrogance against the Madu.
This raises one fundamental question: What if a Dai (Muslim extending ‘Dawah)’ is ignored or simply dismissed by the Madu to whom the Dawah is directed. Is the Dai failing in his Dawah obligation or does the Madu risk perdition for rejecting the Dawah? This needs deeper reflection.
A Muslim person extending Dawah does not carry the noble Karamat of the Prophet, is no match to him in conduct, behaviour and manners, is not held in the eye of the Madu as the model of honesty and trustworthiness (the Prophet was known as al-Amin – the Trustworthy), nor does his speech or writing cast a spell on his audience (as the Qur’an did – 10:2, 21:3, 34:43, 37:15, 38:4, 43:30, 46:7, 74:24), or scare them like donkeys hearing the roar of a line (as the Qur’an did – 74:49-51), nor is he offering any uniquely noble or revolutionary paradigms as the Prophet did to his audience sunk in Jahiliya (ignorance of the dark ages), nor is he telling the priest and rabbis what was known only to the most learned among them, and above all he is not supported by the unparalleled utterances of the Qur’an. At the same time, the noble paradigms of the Qur’an, have, over time permeated the global human society. Those who burnt the widows on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands are now allowing them to remarry. Those who burnt women on stakes at the slightest offence or suspicion are giving them full liberty to develop themselves to their highest potentials, even as judges, senior diplomats and heads of states with the power to award capital punishment to a man, or authorize a war; and the world at large has left the medieval heritage behind and developed values and norms that are close to what the Prophet taught. Thus, the Dai this day is immeasurably handicapped relative to the original Dai of the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad and the Madu today, the non-Muslims, are, in many areas, far more enlightened than the Dai. Besides, the Dai – the Muslim preacher, has no revolutionary paradigms to offer and is held in suspicion, contempt and derision by the Madu. Hence, the non-Muslims not succumbing to a Dawah by a Muslim Dai or group cannot be paralleled with his counterpart of the Prophet’s era when both the Dai and the Madu were totally different, if not obverse of each other, and as such they cannot be categorized as Kafireen – wilful denier of truth, as was the case in the Prophetic era. There is, however, a universal redeeming factor in favour of the non Muslims who decline a Dawah, no matter how clear and convincing from the perspective of the Dai.
The divine judgment is contingent to one’s deeds, Taqwa and faith in God/ final accountability. A person who ignores or dismisses a Dawah initiative except out of prejudice, malice or arrogance will be judged based on his deeds and Taqwa and faith in God/ Final Reckoning, and not by his religion.
Ironically with the permeation of the Qur’anic ideals in the non-Muslim world and its remoteness from the Islamic societies, the Dawah can take a reverse path - from the others towards the Muslims. This is in fact happening, and there are numerous cases of conversion to Christianity .
Finally the following extract from the referenced article may be a fitting reminder on the reverse trend of Dawah today.
“Today’s Mullas, popular TV preachers and orthodoxy are bent on defying or rather killing the pluralistic vision, the noble social, moral and ethical imperatives and the liberating spirit of Islam and reducing it to a cult of five pillars with an Arab God (Allah) and world’s greatest man Muhammad (pbuh) as its Prophet – a cult that is rooted in the medieval theological discourses and bears all its cruel, vicious and atavistic hallmarks. The Christianity on the other hand has cut its moorings from the medieval underpinnings and restrictive customs and practices – thanks to the Reformation, and revival of a process of theological enlightenment. Islam on the other hand is only experiencing deformation as the foregoing list can amply demonstrate. Why then the Muslims should be surprised at the reversal of conversion process? Thus unless Islam delivers itself from its medieval theological prison, from the clutches of its hijackers [the Hadith venerating orthodoxy and the Classical Sharia law proponents] the pace of conversion to Christianity is bound to increase, even if the devout Muslims prayed fifty times a day or loved the Prophet (a hypothetical premise as the Prophet is no more with us) more than their own selves.”
As long as the Muslims do not earn the respect and admiration of the others by their conduct, behaviour, dealings and performance, and rid their societies of the hallmarks of Jahiliya - ignorance, misogyny, tribalism/ sectarianism, violence, anarchy and terrorism, and attain all round social, gender, and educational reform, improve human rights standards and evolve cohesive and pluralistic societies, they risk losing out to the Dawah of the others rather than gaining converts. So, the Islamic Dawah must at this stage focus inwards and not outwards.
The author acknowledges the vital inputs of a learned anonymous commentator (Observer) on this forum and is thankful to Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for his recently posted article on the theme that inspired this essay.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.