Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Opinions on Da'wah

I seek refuge in Allah from my own misunderstandings of Islam, and from the misunderstandings of those around me.

This post, I think, will be pretty much useless. But after watching a video which claimed to be about da'wah (in a humorous way), and having a conversation with someone who has very different views than I have, I just feel an urge within me to actually express my viewpoint. It might be wrong. And if I am wrong, please correct me.

It has bothered me for a little while that some people consider da'wah to just mean talking to people about Islam. That is, da'wah to Islam--just talking to someone about Islam? For example, Person A says, "I'm giving da'wah to PersonB." Asking about how PersonA is giving da'wah, he shares some of his statements to PersonB, like this one, "Your KKK grandfather must be rolling in his grave knowing you're working with a Muslim!" It escapes me--how is that da'wah?

Here's another one, PersonC is maashaaAllah strongly opposed to dealing with usury (riba), and while conducting a financial transaction (among non-Muslims) makes a point to explain that he cannot do this for religious reasons. Now first this caused a tremendous amount of heartache to everyone involved until, and alhamdulillah, Allah resolved the issue in such a way that PersonC would not have to deal with riba in the transaction. The non-Muslims noted how simple and sensible the response was, and PersonC reports this as da'wah. Please--how so?

And another example, where PersonD explains that he won't be having lunch with non-Muslim PersonE because he is fasting, and then later describes the conversation as giving PersonE da'wah. I don't see it--do you?

I have this idea--and really, I might be wrong!--that da'wah is not telling someone about Islam. Or more precisely, telling someone about Islam is not necessarily da'wah. Because one non-Muslim could tell another non-Muslim something about Islam. For example, "Yeah, Ramadan starts in September so the Muslims are going to be fasting. This means they can't eat or drink until sunset." Is that da'wah? I wouldn't say so--it's just a conversation between one non-Muslim and another. Nobody is inviting anyone to Islam. What if the person repeating the line was a Muslim? Would it be da'wah then? I actually don't think it would. So at least in my opinion, someone talking about Islam doesn't make his speech da'wah.

And I have another opinion--that everybody is entitled to receive da'wah. Whether they ask for it or not. Whether they are our bosom buddies or not. I've heard someone say that Muslims shouldn't give da'wah (and they might even consider some of the above to be da'wah... ouch) unless they have been solicited for it. Like, don't tell them about Islam unless you're good friends. Don't tell them that Allah created them unless you've known each other a while. Don't mention what you believe unless they are comfortable with you, and they are asking you. Why, why, why?

And no, I'm not advocating in the slightest that a Muslim should hammer strangers with the shahadah and if they reject it to cut their necks. And I think I have to even say this because some people might actually think I'm suggesting this extreme, when I'm not.

I just don't see the point in putting up barriers (which I consider to be excuses) that prevent us from giving da'wah. I can't tell him about Allah because it might hurt our friendship??? I mean, doesn't that show some distorted priorities? Some people might not understand this the way I do--and I repeat, that maybe I'm just wrong--but I understand that we give da'wah because that is what our Creator has told us to do. And because that is the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (saaws.)

And I'll say it again... this is my opinion, and it might be wrong. If you know better than I do, by all means I beg you to correct me.


Anonymous said...


I hope that this isn't an imappropriate or stupid question, but I was wondering.

Given what you list as not counting as da'wah, which, from my position outside of the issue I can see your point, what does count as da'wah?

I've read your previous posts on the nature of da'wah, so I've got a vague idea of the definition, but at what point do you think it changes from just random life or conversation bits to actual giving of da'wah?

If the answer is somewhere in the previous posts, I apologise for missing it. I did go back and reread them, but if it is there, I missed it.


Amy said...

Hi Amber,

Your question is neither inappropriate nor stupid. I haven't actually clarified what da'wah is in any post lately, so it's fair to ask for an explanation.

This post was really kind of a rant from my part, resulting from the friction of how I have come to understand da'wah (based on hours of lectures and such) and how other people understand da'wah. And after all my studying I've just come to a different conclusion than most people have (my conclusion I should say is only half-formed, since I'm still learning a lot, and maybe I am wrong while they are right.) My conclusion differs as to the definition of da'wah, the methods of da'wah, and even the obligation of giving da'wah.

But what is da'wah? :-)

Excellent question. In fact the imam asked this question on the first day of our class on da'wah. We are talking about Islamic da'wah, so what does it mean?

The word is Arabic, of course, and it means to call people, and more precisely to invite them.

Think about it this way, suppose you are having a wedding and you want all your friends and family to come and see it. What would you do to invite them? Protocol suggests sending a formal paper invitation in the mail. I've been invited to weddings in email as well.

But an actual invitation? My brother is engaged and I see how his fiancee is planning the wedding and worrying about all these invitations, how expensive they are. Because they are ornate, detailed, beautiful pages with people's names on them, and they give the basic things that a person needs to know to attend. Namely, who is getting married, and when, and where. That's an invitation.

On the other hand, a bride could be talking to her coworker about the wedding--what types of flowers she wants to use in the decor, and why she picked a certain color for bridesmaid dresses. It all has to do with the wedding, right? She's talking /about/ the wedding. But she isn't actually inviting the coworker to the wedding.

See the difference?

And as I understand it, da'wah should be along those lines of the invitation--personal, but the ultimate objective is to convey the message of Islam, and Islam means submission to Allah, submission to God. Surrendering to His will and obeying His commands. That's Islam in a very tight little nutshell.

Not to tell people all the ins and outs of fasting, for example, or Islamic history, or how to cook some popular Middle Eastern food. To me, that alone is not really da'wah. (And in my post, I think that some people's thoughts on da'wah are more like this, like just telling a coworker details about the wedding instead of inviting them TO the wedding.)

Instead, da'wah is telling people that they have been created, and that their Creator has made a path for them, and that they can follow it, and how. Da'wah is inviting the people to Islam.

Here is another way to think about it, that the objective or mission of this thing called da'wah is basically

(1) To nurture people's aqeedah (this means, to tell people what they need to believe)
(2) To nurture their hearts (that is, by bringing them closer to Allah) and
(3) To nurture their physical lives.

As you can see da'wah is a very broad term. I guess the point at which a conversation becomes da'wah instead of just talking is when the person talking about Islam is doing so with the intention to obey the command of Allah and earn His pleasure, and is conveying the message of Islam. And here by the message of Islam, I mean that there is nothing worthy of worship but Allah, and that Muhammad is His messenger.

Last example, suppose a Muslim is asked the question--Why do Muslim women cover?
The non-da'wah answer would be something like: they cover to protect themselves from the gaze of men, they cover to show modesty, they cover to foster their modesty, they are treasures and hide themselves from strange men who don't have the right to look at them, ETC. I'm sure you have heard some of these things before. Alone, these answers (while true, and correct) are not da'wah.

The answer that a da'ee would give would be something more along the lines of: Allah is the Creator who created mankind, and He has prescribed the best way of life for men and women in this world--that is the best way to worship Him and thank Him for His blessings in this life. So when a woman chooses to submit to her Creator in Islam, she covers because the Lord of the Worlds who created mankind has commanded her to be modest and to cover in front of strange men.

I hope the difference is distinct. This is kind of a long-ish comment. I might have to make it into a new post.

But please let me know if it makes sense now, or I can try to clarify further.


Azad said...

Assalam-o-Alaikum Amy,

We know that atleast being a part-time da'ee is obligatory on every muslim (surat al-asr). But according to your definition of da'wah, an illiterate muslim who can't speak (i.e. is dumb) may never be able to become a da'ee. Can she? One may argue that she can use sign language, but what if she doesn't know that either? I know a couple of muslims who are like that.

Going back to your analogy where da'ee is the salesperson, and the person receiving da'wah is the customer and the product being discussed is Islam; where would you place the 'advertisement' that actually brought customer to the salesman? For example, suppose the customer actually got interested in Islam by observing the good manners of one of her muslim colleagues. Say that muslim has best of manners and keeps all the commandments, is honest, has a proper beard, dresses like muslims, lowers his gazes when among females, always speaks truth etc. Now, although he may have never talked to his colleagues about Islam but if someone becomes interested in Islam just by observing him then would you consider that muslim a da'ee? If not, then why?

I work at Microsoft, and we've a fairly casual dress culture, but I know a few muslims who are always dressed-up according to sunnah and they've very nicely maintained beards and virually they look perfect muslims. Even if they don't talk to anyone about Islam, still they attract people due to their attire and manners. Won't you call them da'ees?

Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam Azad -

Jazakallahu khairan for your comments - I'm glad I can count on you to correct me inshaaAllah when I am wrong.

So let me answer. Of course a Muslim who is mute or unable to speak can give da'wah. In fact I know of an example of a person who wasn't able to speak but he gave da'wah--some people might be under the impression that da'wah is only giving lectures, so this is a good example, as because of his speech problem he couldn't give lectures. What he did was he spent his money to buy some literature and some tapes/CDs and he would give them to people as gifts. This is how he gave da'wah, and actually one time he ran in to someone in a store and the man was so happy to see him, "I know you, but you don't know me" and he explained that one time this man who was mute had given the other man a tape which he went home and listened to with his friends, and it inspired all of them to become better Muslims.

And that is a pro-active approach to da'wah. There are other ways, such as communicating with others who are deaf/mute using sign langauge (very common.) They can also give da'wah by writing, and supporting the efforts of da'wah in other ways, including some behind-the-scenes work at events and things. For example, I know of a brother who is really shy about speaking in any presentation because his English is not very strong at all, but he comes to all the presentations and helps set up chairs and equipment and so forth. In that way, he is a part of the da'wah effort to convey the message of Islam to other people.

On to the idea of being a good Muslim to be a da'ee. The way I answer this question is to say, imagine if the Prophet Muhammad (saaws) never talked to anyone about Islam. Subhanallah, he was the best example, had the best of manners and the best character, and kept the commandments of Allah--he always spoke the truth, was known as Al-Amin, but if he never told people about Islam, would he have been a messenger?

It's almost like blasphemy to sort of suggest something like that maybe, but we have to consider it seriously. He (saaws) was a Messenger of Allah, and he had this job from Allah to tell the people about Islam. I.e., "Get up and warn." And in the Qur'an he is told to say, "This is my way (sabeelee), that I invite (ad'oo) to Allah with sure knowledge (baseerah), I and those who follow me." (12:108) So the Sunnah of the Prophet (saaws) is to invite people to Allah. And it's just not possible to imagine that Islam could spread without the Prophet (saaws) and his Companions (raa) inviting people to Allah.

And now I'm going to speak with the eye of the convert, because this is incredibly important. I believed in Islam because of the Qur'an, and I said shahadah because of a da'ee. I did know Muslims before that. There were some girls who covered in my high school--they were setting good examples of course but it wasn't da'wah at all. The Muslims I knew later--one even showed me how Muslims pray and really I could have cared less. So just being a good example isn't going to invite somebody to Islam, in my opinion. Being a good example is a prerequisite actually, but it is not sufficient I think to be called a da'ee--and again, just think if the Prophet (saaws) said that he is just going to be a good example. Watching a good example won't cause a person to be especially interested in Islam, I think--and I say this as a convert who was outside of Islam. And that's because there are many good examples of people in other faiths, and because many Muslims actually are bad examples or maybe not bad, but just not especially good. That will let a non-Muslim see that not all Muslims are evil, which might be his preconception thanks to the media and propaganda against Islam.

But will seeing a good Muslim make him interested in Islam? It's not very likely that that alone will motivate him.

And I know in my case that whether the Muslims I saw were good or bad (mostly I saw those who were bad), their behavior was not what interested me in Islam. (Unless you want to say it was their bad behavior that made me question whether what they did was even allowed in their own religion since I knew it wasn't allowed in mine!) But the da'wah? They didn't give me da'wah. The da'ee that I talked to tried to help me accept one fundamental point--that I am created by Allah and that it is my duty to worship him without any partners (in my case, partners being "Jesus" and "Holy Spirit.")

And that's how I entered into Islam.

I think we'd like to think that we can just be a good example and that Allah SWT will reward us for da'wah. But I am absolutely unconvinced that being a good example is what is asked, or that it is enough. Being a good example is not calling people to Islam or inviting them. And in fact, every Muslim (therefore every da'ee) should be a good example anyway. But they should also invite to the way of Allah with wisdom and good preaching.

Right? :-)

Anonymous said...

Hello Amy,

Your explanation makes sense, at least to me. :) I think I have the issue more clearly set in my own mind now.


Azad said...

Right :-). I wasn't negating your point of view, its just that I had these questions in my mind that I shared.

Although, I do leave some room for those muslims who have good manners and indirectly improve Islam's image in ones mind.

Thanks for the loooong reply :-).


Anonymous said...

I would just like to remind people that the use of the word "dumb" to explain non-verbal people is considered offensive and out-dated. The term comes from the Greek Philosopher Socrates out of his conclusion that since you don't have speech that you don't have language, and without language you are stupid.

Anonymous said...

Correction, it was Aristotle not Socrates.

Azad said...

Hi Anonymous,

I didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings with my comment. And I sincerely apologize for the unintentional but poor choice of vocabulary in my previous comment.

I stand corrected and thanks indeed for the reminder.

Honestly, I feel that our fellow human beings who can't speak are blessed because they can't lie/insult/backbite other human beings as often as I do. Not being able to lie or bad-mouth another human being is a huge blessing and we'll only know its real benefit on the day of judgement. It reminds me of a saying of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that reads

"A true Muslim is the one from whose hands and tongue other Muslims are safe."

I again apologize if past post hurt anyone's feelings. Insha'Allah I'll be more careful about the choice of words.


Anonymous said...

You're forgiven. Ramadan Mubarak.

Azad said...

Thanks :-). Btw, I don't agree with Aristotle's conclusion :-).