Every one of us knows the meaning and the importance of da’wa especially in the West; we understand that it is the duty of every Muslim to explain what Islam is, and to invite people to learn about Islam. Every member of the ummah has to bear witness to the truth before all mankind as Allah says in the Qur’an:
“And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind, and that the Apostle might bear witness to it before you” 2/143
Bearing witness is what we have to do and especially in the West, where many of the people living in a secular society have forgotten the meaning of faith and religious practice, and hardly think of or speak about God. But first, following the example of the Prophet, we should start with our families, our relatives, and ourselves:
“And warn (whomever thou canst reach, beginning with) thy kinsfolk” (26/213)
This means that each of us, man and woman, brother and sister, must first pay attention to what is going on in his/her own family and between his/her relatives. This is the first space for ad-da’wa that is based on love, knowledge and good example. It makes no sense to go around speaking about Islam when our own children are left abandoned and lost. We know that, of course, but still it remains important to be reminded.
I want today to focus on both the fundamental principles and the methodology of ad-da’wa as a reminder so that we can ponder over this issue in our day-to-day life. Let us first speak about two major principles that we must not forget when we are speaking about da’wa:
First: To speak about Allah, Islam, Iman, and truth is by no means to speak about something new, even when we are speaking with some European people who seem to know nothing about Islam. Yes, they may have no idea about the Islamic way of life, but deep in their hearts, sometimes without being aware of it, the knowledge-the intimate feeling- of at-tawhid is written. This is what we find in the Qur’an:
“And whenever your Sustainer brings forth their offspring from the loins of the children of Adam, He thus calls upon them to bear witness about themselves: Am I not your Sustainer? to which they answer: Yea, indeed, we do bear witness thereto. Of this we remind you lest you say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘Verily we were unaware of this” 7/172
The original state of the human being is to believe in the oneness of God, while to deny it is abnormal, something like a disease. This is why we read in the Qur’an, of those who denied this: “God has sealed their hearts”, “In their hearts is disease” 2/68
Thus to speak about God, the creation, the destiny is not to speak about something new but, on the contrary, to awaken, to give a new life to a feeling which has been forgotten or seemingly dead. Allah says:
“O you who have attained to faith, Respond to the call of God and the Apostle whenever he calls you unto that which will give you life and know that God intervenes between man and his heart” 8/24
Our call adds nothing to our nature, our call gives life, awakens people and makes them aware of something their hearts have known but have forgotten. This must influence our way of speaking and dealing with people for we try to lead them back to the origin and not to a new and original knowledge. In Islam, to call is to recall.
Second: We must never forget the existence of a bond of brotherhood between all the human-beings. We are from the same origin and Allah says in the Qur’an “O men!” addressing all mankind for we are all ‘sons of Adam’ (bani Adam). As such we should develop in our heart affection towards every man and woman even if they are not Muslims. Even if they do not know it, they still are signs of the greatness of Allah and our brothers/sisters. We must like what they are even if we refuse and dislike what they do. With this state of mind we become able to change our way of speaking to them and avoid being judges and become genuine callers, du’at.
A well-known hadith quoted by Muslim and Bukhari says “None of you perfects his belief ( or truly believes) until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself”. We often reduce the scope of this hadith to our brothers in faith, our brothers in Islam. But this wish should concern, and especially in the West, our brothers in humanity and we should wish for them to be guided and to find the right path. To be a da’iya in the West requires that we avoid this conflicting attitude in order to present Islam as a reminder, a message of brotherhood, of love and hope. These are not simply words, but the genuine manifestation of a state of mind, of a state of heart.
Our methodology, our fiqh ad-da’wa, is based on these principles and is also constituted by three important elements. Our religion teaches us that the knowledge of the tawhid is written in the heart and in the soul of every human being but some have forgotten this truth. The function of the Prophets – and ours as we follow in their footsteps – is to remind people by spreading the knowledge and the understanding of Islam. This is the function of ar-rasul, an-nadhir and ad-da’iya and it is only when this recall has been carried out that we can say that the people are kuffar. Al-kufr is to have been recalled, to know, and then to deny. The keepers of the hell will ask:
“Has no warner ever come to you?” and the kuffar will reply “Yea, a warner did indeed come unto us but we gave him the lie and said, Never Allah sent down anything” 67/8-9
The first dimension of our methodology is then to spread knowledge and especially in these secular societies. As Muslims we are taught that two things have to be avoided: ignorance and forgetfulness. Today we are witnessing a great lie: the people in general and the youth in particular think that they are free to choose and very often they know nothing about their religion. But freedom cannot be based on ignorance for they are antithetical words. The ignorance of faith and religion in our societies works as a constraint, as a coercion and as such this fact sheds a new light on the well-known ayat: “No coercion in matters of faith”. Coercion through power and might is not the only way of compulsion, for there is a more pernicious one that uses ignorance to deceive people and lead them astray. As Muslims we have to spread the message to give the people the opportunity to choose in full knowledge.
To explain, what the fundamentals of Islam are, is important but the real message of Islam will be the manifestation of how our faith transforms us and help us to be sincere, trustworthy, confident and at peace. To be a da’iya is to be an example, a model as the Prophet was (quduwa). Good words, books, and theories do not change or guide people, the example does. To bear witness to the truth is to act as a model and not necessarily to speak so much.
“And who could be better of speech than he who calls unto God, and does what is just and right and says “Verily I am of those who have surrendered themselves to Allah” 41/33
For this purpose, we need to live among the people, to be in touch with them and not to be isolated from the society we live in. There is an important verse, which give us a specific teaching on the way we have to be and to interact with people and it reads:
“As for such (of the unbelievers) as do not fight against you on account of your faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably” 60/8
As noted by Az-Zamakhshari “does not forbid you” in this verse implies a positive exhortation. Allah gives us two keys: kindness (al-bir, same root as the word used for our parents, bir al-walidayn) and equity. The kindness is related to our heart and manifests in our sensitivity in our day-to-day life. Kindness and our generosity are means through which people can understand the intimate meaning of our religion based on faith, peace and brotherhood. This is the language of the heart and it comes first in this verse. Then, we find the language of the mind and action: one of the great signs of our religion is to promote, to defend and to maintain justice in all circumstances. This has to be our distinctive characteristic: to be fair, equitable and just, intellectually, socially, and financially. To be Muslim is to respect both the heart and the mind of our fellow human, to be both kind and just, with both Muslims and non-Muslims. Our message is love, our message is justice: not only the words ‘love’ and ‘justice’, but by their real translation in our day-to-day life.
You may know the story of the Prophet with the young Jew, who stayed with the Prophet for several years and whom the Prophet loved. He once fell seriously ill and was about to die. The Prophet – who had never forced him to become Muslim – went to visit him and after a while asked him to utter the shahada. The young turned his eyes towards his father and asked: “May I, father?” The latter said “yes” and the young Jew said the shahada. The Prophet was so happy for he loved him and was very attentive and thoughtful towards him. This is an example for us. To be kind, to go along, to be patient and humble and never to constraint or push and to give to everyone the attention he or she deserves.
To believe is a grace and blessing of Allah and ‘we cannot guide aright everyone whom we love’ so we must be aware of our limited role. But our role remains of a great importance, nevertheless, and we will be called to account by Allah as to the way we bear witness to and transmit the message of Islam to the societies in which we live. Asked about the destiny of those who did not know anything about Islam a ‘alim answered “I fear that we may be called to account by Allah for having not convey the message as we had to”. Every one of us is a da’iya and should be a light for the people around, by reminding people of Allah by being living example of how He should be loved and served.
This was a khutbah (sermon) presented by Dr. Ramadan at an Islamic centre on 20/6/97