April 23, 2001

Dawa: Time to Come Out of Our Boxes!


“There is no god worthy of worship,
except Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”

Yahya Emerick, in his book How to tell others about Islam,
says, “This simple statement is the most powerful declaration
ever devised! For beyond the words themselves, lies a powerful
concept and a compelling ideology. Whole societies, cultures,
and empires have been elevated with its application, or ruined
by its rejection.”

A question then naturally arises, how come Muslims,
who possess such a precious gift or a Way of Life, known as
Islam, do not feel the need to share it with others? How come
we, who understand this powerful statement, do not realize
the state of those who find it difficult to believe in the
existence of God, or those who are too busy amusing themselves
in this world to even care about God or the Truth, or
those who live a spiritually-disoriented life devoid of peace?

Dawa: A State of Mind and Way of Life

The beloved companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him),
such as Abu Dhar al-Ghifari, Musab bin Umayr, Muadh ibn Jabal,
Jafar bin Abi Talib, and many others, may Allah be pleased
with them all, were ever ready to let the world know about
Islam. It was as if a fire was constantly burning
in their hearts. The spirit of Dawa, or calling others
towards the Truth, comes only from within; it sparks when
Muslims develop a feeling of dissatisfaction, restlessness,
and sympathy towards the hopeless and discontented people around
them. Islam is about giving people hope and noble principles
to live by. Dawa is about change and revival in the hearts
and intellect of the society. Khurram Murad, a great passionate
intellectual and author, elaborated, “Dawa, prior to
everything, is a state of mind, a world view, an attitude
to life, indeed a kind of life. The critical prerequisite
to Dawa is a consciousness, personal and collective, imbued
with a true vision of Dawa in Islam.”

The People of the Boxes

There exists a great deal of evil and chaos in our communities,
such as young drug addicts, youth in prisons and hospitals,
teenage pregnancies, rise in suicidal rates, disintegration
of the family system, and more. Nothing, however, seems to
move our hearts, souls, and intellect to action!

Indeed, as Dawud Wharnsby Ali, a Canadian Muslim educator
and vocal artist, explains, “We Muslims have become
a people of the Boxes. We have hid ourselves inside
a box called ‘Islam’, which has been locked, preventing
anyone else from observing our beautiful way of life and communicating
with us.” It’s so comfy in our box that we are
too lazy, and at times scared, to open the lid to let some
sunlight in. Like a gorgeous flower that decays in a tightly
sealed box, devoid of any air, nourishment, light, and ‘communication’
with the nature, the Muslim community has undeniably become
stagnant and reluctant to communicate the message to those

12 Principles to Consider in Sharing Islam

After realizing the responsibility of doing Dawa at individual
and collective level, the following few concepts
and tips may be useful for Dawa in university campuses,
schools, neighbors, malls, and workplaces.

1.      Dawa is an obligation,
not an option
. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Convey
this Message, even if only one sentence (or verse)” [Bukhari].
He also said, “Learn the required precepts of Islam and
the Qur’an, then teach to others, for I will not live forever”
[Bukhari]. Similarly, Allah commands us, “There
should be a number of you who actively call people to the
righteousness; who encourage goodness and forbid evil. These
are the ones who shall prosper.”
[Qur’an 3:104]
This verse, in a nutshell, may be considered the “Mission
statement” for a Muslim’s role in this life.

2.      Dawa is not just
about handing out pamphlets on streets, schools, or prisons
While distributing Islamic information is vital in communicating
our message, we have to realize that our Islam has to be lived
through our behavior. Therefore, if we do something immoral
or indecent in public, obviously it would harm our Dawa efforts.
Immodest clothing, usage of foul language, or interacting
with the people of opposite gender beyond the limits set by
Islam, will project a negative image to non-Muslims.

3.      We should practice
what we preach
, as Allah says, “O you who
(claim) to believe! Why do you preach that you do not practice?”

[Qur’an 61:2]. Thus, the least we can do is try our
best to avoid acts which we are not supposed to do

4.      At the same time,
perfection is not the pre-requisite for Dawa
, because,
had this been the case, then the Prophets (peace be upon them
all) would be the only ones allowed to do Dawa. Life is an
ever-growing circle of study, practice, and improvement!
As Khurram Murad, indicates, “We cannot wait to become
‘purified’ and ‘perfect’. For, at no point in time can one
consider oneself to be perfect.” Some companions of
the Prophet once asked him, “O Messenger of Allah, shouldn’t
we refrain from calling others to goodness if we don’t practice ALL
good things ourselves, and shouldn’t we refrain from forbidding
wrong things until we ourselves have abstained from ALL the
bad.” “No,” he replied, “You should call
others to goodness even if you don’t do all good, and
you should forbid bad things even if you don’t abstain from
all of them yourselves” [Tabarani].

5.      Use Wisdom and
speak only what is needed
. Often times, we explain
Islam to non-Muslims the way we were taught Islam traditionally;
as a result, the true spirit and wisdom behind the message
is not revealed. For instance, it is not wise to give
all the details of the rituals of Prayer and Wudu, to a seeker
of Truth, before even explaining why everyone should pray
to God, in the first place. In addition, keep in mind, the
more unnecessary information we give away, the more we confuse
others. As Dawud Wharnsby Ali explains, “If someone asks
us, ‘What do you believe in?’ it is more effective to say,
‘I believe in One God’, instead of saying, ‘I believe in Islam,’
because by doing that we automatically open the doors
for them to explore Islam. They would perhaps be more curious
to learn about this One True God, rather than this ‘label’,
called Islam”.

6.      Let’s move out
of our “boxes” and “loops”
. It
is quite unfortunate to find Muslims today, both young
and old, spending their lives on hair-splitting “scholarly” debates
over ‘Muslim identity’, ‘purification of
the Sunnah’, ‘Islamic spirituality and Aqeeda’,
and ‘ideology of revival’- at a time when Islam
is being attacked at all fronts and our Dawa is perhaps at
the most critical phase in the West.  Instead of us engaging
in a wise and intellectual discourse on pragmatic Dawa strategies,
we have reduced ourselves to rhetoric, still trapped in our
romantic ideals of Islamic revival and spirituality, not willing
to address the issues of Western Muslim reality. Surely, our
objectives and efforts need to be re-prioritized. As Imam
Khalid Griggs, a Muslim activist, author, and Da’ee
from North Carolina, once said, “Unfortunately, today,
majority of the members of ‘Dawa’ organizations,
simply do Dawa to each other, across the table usually.”
It is now high time to come out of this “box”, and
think of creative and dynamic ways of interacting with
the society. Dawa is about changing the lives of people before
anything else!

7.      Show them Islam
is relevant today and it is for them!

When speaking of Islam, dwell more on the broader concepts,
like Tawhid, Prophethood, the Hereafter, and Islam
being a solution to their problems. As Malcolm X (rahimahullah)
once said, “America needs to understand Islam, because
it is the one religion that removes the Race problem from
its society!” People in problem-ridden West, are more
willing to accept this message, if they see Islam has an answer
to their social problems, such as drugs, AIDS, crimes, teenage
pregnancies, deterioration of families, loneliness…etc.
and the fact that Islam is able to fill their spiritual void.
We have yet to see Dawa material on these greatly needed themes.

8.      Our approach towards
Dawa has to be modified to address the youth and the atheists

a category which includes a significant portion of the Western
Society, consisting of majority of youth today. Dawa traditionally
meant to us inviting Jews, Christians, Hindus, and ‘people
of faith’ to Islam- i.e. those who at least believed
in God, in whatever shape or form. Nowadays however, Dawa
could also mean inviting faithless people towards religion.
The students in schools, universities, and colleges,
are the potential recipients of this form of Dawa, as they
represent the height of secularism or atheism in North America! 
Often times, it’s challenging enough to convince them of the virtues
of religion itself, let alone calling them to Islam.
Therefore, in order to establish a belief in the existence
of God, before anything else, we should learn how to raise
questions about the belief in God and the defects in the theory
of evolution, through educational discourse.

9.      Remember, not to
assume beliefs and never tell someone what they believe.

Learn about other faiths as much as possible. It is a powerful
tool that would help us understand and reach
out to people more effectively. For example, if a Hindu or
a Christian friend inquires about Islam, it is wrong to begin
by tearing apart the concept of Trinity or polytheism or by
poking holes in their faiths. In fact, he or she may not be
able to even understand what you’re talking about, because
majority of people in this society do not even know much about
their own ‘religion’. Moreover, many don’t even agree
with every single principle that their faith advocates.

10.  Usage of proper language plays a great
role in Dawa
. Instead of using “Holy war”
to translate the word Jihad, use a more comprehensive
and proper term, like, “struggle” or “striving”.
Similarly, avoid using “worship” or “being
His slaves” for the word Ibada. Instead it would
be much more appealing to use, “service” or “obedience.”
Try to use a language that is more appealing to North Americans.

11.  Avoid generalizations. Our purpose
is to communicate, not convert; it is to share, not scare.
Avoid issuing ‘Fatwas? or labelling them, ie.
it’s better to avoid generalizations like: “all present
day Christians are atheists in practice”, “all
youth in the West are Religio-phobic”, “all
Jews are murderers”, “all Hindus hate Islam”,
“the media always portrays Muslims as terrorists”,
etc. We all know there are always some sincere and moderate
people in every faith and community. Similarly, media is merely
a tool, which could also be used for Dawa and educational
purposes. These generalizations can damage our Dawa work if
used just for the sake of it.

12.  Gender-consciousness is important!
Let’s not forget that Islam was the primary force of women’s
liberation, until some Muslims themselves began to adopt the
practices of Jahiliyya (ignorant societies) by locking
women up in homes. Point out the difference between Islamic
‘feminism’ and the Western feminism. Highlight
the freedom that Muslim women enjoyed throughout most of Islamic
history compared to the women in Europe. Despite all the stereotypes
in the media against the role of women in Islam, it is surprising
to see that, statistically speaking, more women are converting
to Islam today, than to any other religion. Avoid talking
about the virtues of polygamy, as there are less than 2% Muslim
males in the world who ever practice polygamy, so it shouldn’t
be a hot topic to be used as a “tool” of Dawa.

Most North Americans are searching for some spirituality,
as well as a purpose and direction in life. Let’s
not put our Islam in a separate compartment, box, or a loop,
to be pulled out only on Fridays or during Ramadan.

For further readings on Dawa and its tools, please refer

?         “Dawa
among non-Muslims in the West”
by Ustaad Khurram
Murad (rahimahullah)

?         “How
to tell others about Islam”
by Yahiya Emerick.

May Allah give us the ability to fulfill the mission of our
Prophet (pbuh), i.e. Dawa, and may Allah put peace and harmony
in our lives. Ameen!

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