Wednesday, July 16, 2008

12 Characteristics of an Effective Da'ee

When Muslims talk about Islamic Da'wah, or inviting people to the way of Islam, they are basically talking about three different stages of promoting Islam. The first (of three) is inviting people to Islam by conveying the message. That is only one stage, which is followed by teaching Islam to the people who accept the message. And the third stage is actually helping people to implement Islam in their lives. So when I talk about da'wah in this post, I am referring to all three of these stages collectively, and not only the first (as many people perceive.) Therefore da'wah is not directed only to non-Muslims but to Muslims as well, at various levels of knowledge and iman.

Now basically there are three pillars of da'wah. Just like there are pillars of Islam (5), pillars of iman (6), and even pillars of salaat, there are pillars of da'wah, and they are three (3). This almost seems like a common sense breakdown, but is useful when trying to understand and analyze the concept of da'wah and methods of it. Of the three pillars of da'wah, the first is the caller to Islaam, or the da'ee. The second pillar is the audience of the message, the people who are being called to Islam. And the third pillar is the message itself, what the da'ee is calling to--Islam. Although I'm reluctant to use this analogy, the pillars of da'wah can be likened to sales, where there exists a salesman, a buyer, and a product being sold. It's a useful analogy, but I don't like thinking of Islam as being literally 'sold,' especially as salesmen (analogous to the da'ees) are often considered to be liars in this culture. Or maybe it's just that I have a bad experience with salesmen. Anyway, these are the three essential pillars of da'wah.

Now, as was mentioned above, the da'ee is the person who is basically calling people to Islam, conveying the message, and trying to teach the people and help them to apply Islam. The first da'ee or messenger was Nuh (i.e., Noah, pbuh), and the first da'ee in our ummah was Muhammad, saaws. Because the da'ee is calling to Allah SWT, he is in the highest and most honorable role, and is promised a great reward. But in order to be an effective da'ee, there are essential characteristics, even required attributes which a person must possess--they have been summarized here into 12, the 12 characteristics (or requirements) of an effective da'ee.

1. Iman - The first essential characteristic mentioned is to have a strong faith or belief in what the da'ee is calling to, which is Islam.

2. Good Relationship with Allah - The second characteristic is to have a good relationship with the One to whom the da'ee is calling, Allah SWT. This characteristic can be broken down into two parts: sincerity, and love.
  • Ikhlaas means sincerity, and the da'ee must be pure in his intentions. He should be worshiping Allah SWT with sincerity and purity, and not be maintaing what could be called merely a superficial relationship. It should be sincere.
  • Love for Allah SWT is the second part, and a da'ee should love Allah SWt in his heart in order to be an effective da'ee or even a strong Muslim. There are ways to cultivate love for Allah SWT which can be reviewed in my post entitled Loving Allah.
3. Knowledge - A person calling to Islam should also have strong, solid knowledge of what he is calling to, which means the da'ee should know Islam, and also know why Islam is better than any alternative paths.

4. Application - The da'ee must also implement what he calls for, as it is not appropriate to call people to do what he himself cannot apply in his own life. Sometimes this is called 'practicing what you preach.' It is very important for the da'ee to implement Islam in his own life before calling others to it.

5. Awareness - The da'ee should have awareness of basically three principles:
  • Awareness of the reality of da'wah in his lifetime and place, such that he knows the means of giving da'wah in his particular circumstances and time.
  • Awareness of the reality of the condition of the people he is calling to Islam, such that he understands their experience and their options.
  • Awareness of his personal capabilities, as a person cannot give da'wah beyond his capabilities so he should be aware of his own limits.
6. Wisdom - Wisdom in the way of da'wah means that a da'ee can give the message gradually, at the level which people are able to understand. Giving them more information than they can grasp will lead to more confusion and fitnah, so it is better to give people only what they are capable of understanding. We can see of course that the message of Islam was delivered gradually, for over two decades, as the people were able to progress in their understanding and iman.

7. Good Manners - While good manners attract people, poor manners repel them, and manners attract people much more than speech, so it is essential that the da'ee has good manners. The most important of the good manners is patience, as Muhammad (saaws) was advised to have patience as the messengers before him had patience.

8. Giving Muslims the Benefit of the Doubt - The da'ee should give the Muslims the benefit of the doubt, and respect, because if he doesn't, people will always have the worst interpretation of a person's actions. The da'ee needs to show respect so that people will open their hearts.

9. Covering the Faults of People - When a doctor treats a patient, there is a strict rule of confidentiality, which is essential for a patient to be able to trust his physician. He needs to trust that the doctor will not reveal the person's shortcomings and weaknesses to others. Similarly, the da'ee should cover people's shortcomings so that they are able to trust him, not fearing that he will reveal their flaws to their friends or community.

10. Mixing and Isolating Appropriately - This characteristic means that the da'ee mixes with the people when it is best to mix with them, which is when he can help them. But at the same time, it means he refrains from mixing with them, or isolates himself, when mixing with them would be harmful. It is good to mix with the people, but isolation is preferred if the mixing would allow the group to bring down the da'ee.

11. Giving Due Respect - This implies that the da'ee gives everyone the respect which is due to their position, which means respect the scholars, the elderly, and people who have been given authority. This way the disrespect will not block the haqq from reaching their minds. We have an example of this behavior in the Prophet (saaws) who at the conquest of Mecca said that anyone inside the Haram or staying in their homes would be safe, as well as anyone staying in the House of Abu Sufyan--this showed respect to Abu Sufyan.

12. Cooperating with other Da'ees - This final characteristic is that the da'ee should cooperate with others who are calling to Islam (plural is du'aat by the way) and this is because they are working for the same objective, and working for the same ilaah. So they should help each other, give each other advice, and make consultation, instead of competing and trying to defeat each other.

Now it's important to note that just because a person might not have all of these characteristics doesn't mean he cannot be a da'ee, it just means that he won't be as effective, and perhaps that he is not giving da'wah correctly. So what a da'ee should do if he finds himself lacking in any of these attributes, is to improve himself. If he has bad manners, he should improve his manners. If he lacks knowledge, he should acquire knowledge. And if he has been accusing Muslims instead of covering their faults then he should try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

To give da'wah is to be on the sabeel or way of the Prophet Muhammad (saaws), as Allah SWT says in the Qur'an

Say, "This is my way; I invite to Allah with insight, I and those who follow me. And exalted is Allah ; and I am not of those who associate others with Him." (12:108)

So May Allah make us among those who follow this Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (saaws) and increase in those attributes where we are weak.

This post is based on my notes from a class with the imam on da'wah, but the commentary is pretty much my own words--so please forgive me for any mistakes as they are my own, while anything good is from Allah SWT and all praise is for Him.

part 1 / part 2 / part 3


Faraz said...


Masha-Allah! I found this post very beneficial. It is also very consistent with many of the lessons I have learned about da'wah, and the key qualities that the earlier generations of Muslims had.

Surah Taha is a really great surah that describes many of these qualities, as it shows how Allah trained Musa Alayhis Salam before he was sent to Firawn. The du'a of Musa before heading off to Firawn is something we should all learn, and recite whenever we take on the noble task of da'wah.

You know, all your great posts make it very difficult for me to select just one every two to three weeks from your site for Ijtema!

Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam Faraz

Alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah. Jazakallahu khair for this really nice comment. :-) I'm glad you found the post beneficial, and thanks for the reminder about the du'a of Musa in Sura Taha. :-) said...

MashAllah a good post. I just had one thing to ask isn't love, hope and fear kind of tied in together?

Amy said...

Love, hope, and fear are tied together, that's true, and altogether they make up taqwa.

I took these notes in a class on the subject and the imam did not mention fear. I think this is because a person gives da'wah to earn the reward of Allah SWT, moreso than to avoid punishment. I don't know of any evidence which suggests that a person who isn't actively giving da'wah is sinful or misguided. And a person doing it sincerely does it out of love for Allah swt more than fear in this case--wouldn't you agree?

Faraz said...

I don't know of any evidence which suggests that a person who isn't actively giving da'wah is sinful or misguided.

Actually, there are a few hadith in this regard. In one, the Prophet mentioned that the people of one city were punished due to their disobedience, but there lived one pious man who worshipped Allah there. The angels asked whether he should be spared, but Allah chose to punish him first for seeing disobedience all around him, but doing nothing to counter it. I don't remember the exact references, but it is a fairly well known hadith. I can look it up later if you like.

So we should assume some level of responsibility for the people around us, lest we be held accountable for our inaction in the face of the disobedience and neglect in our community.

Amy said...

Salaam Faraz!

Looks like you're right! Thanks for correcting me. Also if we remember the people of the Sabbath who used to lay out their nets on Friday and pull them in on Sunday because they weren't allowed to fish on Saturday, but they would do that to still catch the fish. There was one group of people who were telling them that they shouldn't do that, and another group telling the other to leave them alone and let them sin if they wished. The people who laid out the nets and those who didn't try to stop it were then punished.

So yes, it is an obligation on all Muslims to give da'wah (at least to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.)

So maybe an element of fear should have been initially included. But it wasn't in the class so I didn't include it in the post.

Once again, jazakallahu khair for the reminder! :-)

Anonymous said...

Salam Amy,(this is probably a stupid question, so sorry in forward)you wrote that the first messenger was Nuh pbuh,but i think someone told me that Adem pbuh was the first.Can you explain

Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam Anonymous!

And that's not a stupid question, it's pretty good actually. Adam (pbuh) was a "nabi" which means "prophet." Muslims believe in "prophets" and "messengers." The word for a "messenger" is "rasool." Nuh (pbuh) was the first rasool. Every "rasool" was also a "nabi," but not every "nabi" was also a "rasool," if that makes sense! So Adam was the first nabi, and Nuh the first rasool, pbut. Muhammad (pbuh) was the last nabi, and the last rasool.


musafirfidunya said...

SubhanAllah! all three things need to be balanced out. We do all actions based on fear of Allah's punishment which is Hell(Allah Protect us), hope in Allah that he will forgive us and enter us in to the paradise of the succesful (amin) and love for what He has Given us and love for His Creation for Verily Allah is Al-Wadud. So comprehensive yet so simple. So it is this comprehension of the three that leads to good deeds with pur intentions. May Allah Guide us and help us!

Amy said...

Jazakumallahu khairan.

Anonymous said...

Salam Amy,thank you for the explanation, i didn't know that there is a difference between 'prophet' and 'messenger',i thought everyone(pbut) was messenger.Thanks for answering.

Amy said...

You're welcome, Anonymous. :-) Wa alaikum as-salaam.

Naeem: said...

AA- Amy,

Where does passionate concern for the well being of the one you're calling come into play?

Too often I've seen a very impersonal approach to dawah, where the da'ee is solely worried about getting the blessings (or avoiding the punishment), resulting in a detached attitude from the actual person.

We need to cry at night, worried about every person who hasn't returned to Allah. We need to have deep, relentless concern for not only getting the message out, but for the salvation of each and every recipient of our efforts...

Your 12 points are ALL important, but I believe that an internalized conviction rooted in a deep concern for our brethren is a most essential, indispensable ingredient.

ana_sajeeda said...


Subhanallah. I think all your posts really benefit me a lot.

I wanna know you more. Can i have your pic please.. ;]


Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam Naeem,

That's really a brilliant obervations. In other classes I have taken about da'wah, there is usually a shorter list of characteristics of the da'ee, but always they include rahma or mercy for the people.

The Prophet (saaws) gave us the analogy, that he was like a man who had started a fire and was trying to prevent the insects from diving in to the fire even though they kept trying to. An ordinary man wouldn't have cared for the insects and just let them die, but the Prophet (saaws) would be the one trying to save them.

So of course it is very important to have mercy and sincerely care about the people, but I'm not sure where or even if that fits into these 12 characteristics. InshaaAllah I will ask the sheikh next Tuesday for his take on it.

Amy said...

Salaam Naeem:

I asked the sheikh last night about that trait, and he said that even though it wasn't on that list, that we should probably include it and that it's very important.

And then we talked about the rights of the people receiving da'wah, and it also applies there--they have a right over us that we have mercy and compassion for them. :-) Jazakallahu khairan for asking!

Observer said...

Good stuff. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Asalaamu 'alaykum,
I thought that Dawa is given to non-Muslims, and Naseeha (advice) is given to Muslims?

Amy said...

Da'wah means inviting someone to Islam, so some people prefer that the term not be used to apply to Muslims, who have in a sense already accepted the call of Islam.

However, if we are generically calling people towards Islam, and improvement in their Islam, then everyone can be included in that call.

In Recipients of Da'wah I discuss this more.

Da'wah for Muslims could be called Naseehah, but couldn't Da'wah for non-Muslims also be called Naseehah? It's a general word meaning advice, if I understand correctly. I've heard some people say that Da'wah is for non-Muslims, and when it comes to Muslims, we should command to the good and forbid the evil. That's also true.

But in very general terms, the word Da'wah can be used to apply to everyone. And the content of the da'wah message is explored in the 2nd post, To What Does a Da'ee Call?

Umm Salihah said...

Assalam-alaikam Sister Amy,
what a useful article. I have re-posted with a link back here:

Hope this is okay, I just think it would be good to have as many people as possible benefit from this.