By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam
03 January 2018
Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.
- (Quran 3: 104)
The Muslim world is admittedly in crisis and a biased media has brushed its own negative colour to the conflicts that are festering in the Islamic planet. This negative stereotyping creates an impression that everything Muslim is evil. But away from this glare is a silent revolution that is underway with a mission that Prophet Muhammad placed on the top of his priorities – the spread of the authentic message of Islam. Called Da’wah – the concept of propagation of Islamic faith-, the huge army of preachers is silently transforming the lives of those who have no perception, or perhaps a wrong understanding, of Islam.
Religions have jostled with each other for millenniums .many any of today's missionaries are returning to practices of proselytizing that were long ago abandoned by the mainline missionaries. Armed only with sleeping bags backpacks, and a simple message, Da’wah activists are going door-to-door in more than 200 countries. They are more active in Africa or the Caribbean, where evangelism and religious competition thrives. They can be easily recognised, and most are unfailingly polite. This mission evokes tales of Prophet Muhammad’s companions who trekked hundreds of miles and braved bandits and armies to spread the word of Islam back in the 7th century.
Now, in the age of modern technology, the hardships are fewer, but challenges and prejudices are much stronger. But, if the Prophet’s companions could sacrifice their lives for propagating Islam, surely present age Muslims can emulate them.
Da‘wah, means the issuing of a summons, call or invitation. It is an important duty of every Muslim to invite people to their faith or to recall nominal or lapsed Muslims to a deeper faith. A Muslim who practices Da’wah, either as a preacher, religious worker or someone engaged in a faith-building community work is called a Da‘i, plural Du‘at.
Islam’s propagation remains a cardinal duty of every Muslim .This is particularly relevant in modern times where negative stereotyping of Muslims has brought a bad name to the faith. It also underlines the importance of the participation of educated Muslims because the knowledge explosion requires more sophisticated intellectual equipment to navigate the complex environment.
For Islamic civilization, moral conduct is the rationale for its existence. It is this fundamental trait that distinguishes it from any other civilization in history. The argument that other civilizations, too, have a moral core is countered by the fact that Islam is a way of life -- ad-Deen -- and not simply a religion. Our values shape our lives; they are the qualities that define us. They make us who we are and guide us in our life choices, what we believe in and what we commit to. It is finally our conduct that will influence the perception of others about us
Islam has a simple but highly effective evangelical message that boils down to five points to mirror Islam’s five cardinal pillars of practice: grasp the true meaning and implications of the creedal statement that there is no deity except Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger; pray conscientiously five times a day; acquire learning and engage in the frequent remembrance of God; honour fellow believers; and participate in missionary work (Da’wah) by spreading awareness of Islam. Da’wah is God’s way of bringing believers to faith. Historically, missionary Da’wah accompanied commercial ventures or followed military conquests.
The “invitation”, or call, to accept Islam has be extended not just to non Muslims, but also to Muslims who do not observe Islam in its fullest form. Calling non-Muslims and “inconsistent” Muslims to Islam is considered by Muslim theologians to be an unconditional duty of every Muslim. Every Muslim is considered a missionary of Islam.
The Da’wah message is nonviolent and harbours no hatred for other faiths or peoples. Instead, it seeks to show Muslims that the injustice and oppression they face are symptoms of their waning morality. It insists that the solution lies in spiritual renewal. The aim is less about conversion and more about propagating their view of correct Qur’anic teachings about sin and salvation.
In their lessons, drawn from Qur’anic verses and the recorded sayings of Prophet Muhammad, Da’wah supporters lay out two simple aims. First, they encourage fellow Muslims to return to what they believe are the standards and morals of the prophet’s companions. Second, they recruit, asking worshipers to join Da’wah and take part in Kharooj. Kharooj is a the designated mission defined by the number of days involved in the spiritual journey ,typically 3 days,40 days or four months. Da’wah has to be pursued through writing, speaking and personal conduct. The best Da’wah is through demonstration of one’s good conduct.
The most accomplished modern missionary is Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalvi (d. 1944) .When he began his revivalist movement called Tablighi Jamaat (proselytizing group )in a rural setting in Mewat India in 1927, it was a response to a dominant Hindu culture that Muslims feared could sweep away centuries of Islamic norms and traditions. Kandhalvi wanted to take his teachings from the classroom to the common people. The Meos, who were Muslims, mostly followed several Hindu traditions. The members of the group are popularly known as “Tablighis”.
What began as a revivalist movement has over the past century transformed into a global phenomenon. It has seen a massive surge in recent time, heightened by a strong religious zeal in the new generation of Muslims. According to analysts, it has around 25 million members proselytizing around the globe. The Pew Research Centre’s Religion and Public Life project states that their number ranges from 12 to 80 million, spread across more than 150 countries. A number of influential personalities have joined the movement, including some popular Pakistani singers and several members of Pakistan's national cricket team. Although its members are from diverse backgrounds, all share one key common interest—the propagation of Islam for the salvation of souls. The movement has an amazingly well-oiled machine which nets hundreds of thousands of new followers every year.
Every day, thousands of groups of Da’wah followers go on Kharooj. Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, they trawl through the day with the aim of saving souls and finding new converts for their faith. They approach people door-to-door, give a two-minute speech, offer a blessing to the people they visit, and make one request: that they join them for prayer and a brief lecture at the neighbourhood mosque. Instead of adopting the frayed coarse discourses, the Da’is use interesting anecdotes from the Islamic scriptures to enthuse the initiates. With the enlightened elders they also engage in deep theological discussions. The two key books which serve as intellectual tools for these proselytizers are: Fazail-e-Amaal (Virtues of Deeds) by Maulana Zakaria Kandhalvi and Muntakhaba Ahadith (Selected Sayings of Prophet Muhammad).
Tablighi Jamaat acts as a beacon to those lost in Jahiliyyah (the state of ignorance of guidance from God), but it stops short of just that. As Travellers in Faith puts it:
“Man is a ship in tumultuous sea. It is impossible to repair it without taking it away from the high seas where the waves of ignorance and the temptations of temporal life assail it. Its only chance is to come back to land to be dry-docked. The dry-dock is the mosque of the Jamaat.”
Many proselytizing groups have seen a theological trend toward good works, such as improving education and healthcare as an add-on activity of proselytizing .But the Tablighis practice purely preaching and propagation of their faith knowledge. Transnationalism and travel are two distinct characteristics of this movement. It adopted transnational travel and physical movement as a means of Da’wah. The most important and frequent activity of an adept of the Jamaat is going out for God's sake. A combination of time and space, 'travel' has a special meaning in the Tablighi discourse. Tablighi Jamaat members leave the comfort of their homes for 3-4 months to serve God. During these self-financed treks, the members travel to different cities, villages or towns, stay at a mosque there and go from door to door reminding Muslims to study Quran and pay more attention to Islam. Intoxicants are off limits but missionaries are also expected to shun gossip and vain talks to concentrate their mind on the task in hand,
It is comparable with the concept of Hijrah, both in the sense of migration and withdrawal. It is travel within one's self. One temporarily migrates from Duniya (worldly pursuits) to din (religious concerns), a favourite dichotomy among the Tablighis. It is a migration from corruption to purity, drawing away from worldly attachments to the Path of God. A spiritual period in a Jamaat, in other words, reduces the desires for worldly pleasures and sets the individual on the path to the world hereafter.
An important point a Da’i must emphasize is that the Islamic concept of spirituality differs from that of other religions. In contrast to the renunciation of the world and physical self denial, the Islamic concept of spirituality lays stress on being in the midst of life, facing all the difficulties and hardships, and performing all the activities with the sole objective of seeking the pleasure of God. Man is God’s vicegerent and must fulfill the specified duties and obligations
Far from proselytizing and inducing others to change their religion or way of life against their free will, Islam does not permit use of coercive, aggressive or violent efforts even while exhorting people to the common good of whole mankind. To set an example, Da’wah followers attempt to emulate the social practices of Muhammad in all aspects of life, ranging from which foot should exit the mosque first to which direction to face when sleeping at night. They eat from communal platters on the ground, men sport beards of a certain length, and they use Miswak (teeth-cleaning twig) instead of a toothbrush as did the Prophet’s companions.
The Qur’an has made it explicitly and repeatedly clear that the method of both Islamic call (Da’wah) and preaching (Balagh) should be fair, balanced, moderate, peaceful and non-violent to attract listeners to their pitch. The Qur'anic term “Balagh” means "to convey the message”, and” not to convert”. It involves wisdom and prudence on the part of the preacher. The missionaries are expected to approach their audience with respect and treat them with love.
Before they start on Qur’anic matters, they must connect with people as humans. They should enquire about their families, their lives, their troubles. They must avoid being pedantic .These two Qur’anic verses are loaded with great wisdom for the missionaries:
• “You cannot guide whoever you please: it is God who guides whom He will” (Q28:56)
• “It is not up to you to guide them, but Allah guides whom He wills.” (Q2:72)
The proselytisation movement needs to guard itself against arrogance that bedevilled such movements in the past .The missionaries need to inculcate the highest ethical standards while staying on course with the guiding practices enunciated in the Qur’an. They must also use creative ways of leveraging business, humanitarian or educational platform through which they can be an incarnation witness and share the “gospel”
What we need in today’s complex world are innovative missionaries who are trained in strategic thinking to devise multiple ways of communicating the “gospel” through cultural filters and societal barriers. The overarching objective of the missionary must finally be to see that all people in the population segment become evangelized and have a pure faith planted in their mental psyche.
Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades.
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