The term Da’wah in Arabic translates to mean, ‘to call or to invite’. In the Islamic context, the word refers to the process of calling, conveying, inviting people towards the Message of Islam, towards God, towards the Truth, towards the right path prescribed by the Almighty for all of mankind. The call of Da’wah invites, inclines, and encourages people to voluntarily submit to the Will of Allah, by worshipping Him alone and following His commandments.
Da‘wah, in essence, was the call of all the Messengers and Prophets of God. They were selected by the Almighty to call people to submit and worship Allah, following the path of Islam. They called people out of darkness into light by summoning them to worship the One True God and shun false deities. Prophet Muhammad is the last and final Prophet and Messenger of God sent to mankind. Without any more Prophets to guide us, it becomes a noble obligation for Muslims to convey the Message of God; guiding mankind to the truth. In Prophet Muhammad's final farewell sermon, he ended this powerful message with the words, ‘Let those who are present convey to those who are not present.’ God states in the Quran:
"And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful" (Quran 3:104)
The person who engages in spreading the word of Islam is called a da’ee. However, not all means of spreading the word of Islam would require specialized training to conduct. Whereas the act of preaching to a group of people would require some training, dawah can be given by any Muslim-- simply by living and following the teachings of Islam as an example.
When it comes to dawah by speech, our prophet narrated, ‘Convey (my teachings) to the people even if it were a single sentence’ So, the act of calling people to the path of Allah is not meant only for scholars, rather it’s a general command to everyone to spread the message on a basic level. A Muslim most achieve four requirements to enter paradise, which includes having faith, performing righteous deeds, advising others to the Truth and righteousness, and being consistent and patient while doing so.
Muslims are blessed and honored to possess God’s Revelation and are directed to present this Message to mankind with Hikmah (Wisdom) to clarify the meanings and explanations of this Message in effective ways. They tailor the Message toward the listener, in ways he or she can understand based on his/her individual capacity and background.
"Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction and argue with them in the best manner possible. Indeed, your Lord is Most Knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is Most Knowing of who is [rightly] guided" (Quran 16:125)
The act of giving Dawah or spreading the word of Islam can come in different forms and is not delivered solely via speech, preaching, or passing literature. In fact, the most effective and significant way to demonstrate and teach Islam is by having a good character, strong personality, and kind manners, and by being kind, gentle, honest, truthful, and a good role model and living example. The caller of Islam must possess these characteristics, to effectively convey the Message.
In fact, before a person or a community invites others to join Islam, certain good qualities must be established in them to prove their creditability and strength--like truthfulness, good morals, manners, character, reliability, etc.--so that their Message can hold strong and be taken seriously by others. Without these qualities, the Message one delivers would not carry weight; nor will it be taken seriously by others. One’s message would not be taken seriously if their character or actions is disreputable and not coinciding with their sermons. Listeners would not believe their words, especially if they steal, lie, or cheat. Our Prophet was known as ‘the truthful, the trustworthy’ among his community decades before he started preaching Islam.
Dawah also involves helping and reminding other Muslims who may be lacking in prescribing to certain areas of their religion, by commanding good and forbidding evil.
It should be noted that not everyone is intended to be a scholar or preacher and that dawah comes in many different forms. People can engage in dawah in many ways to benefit people and society. It is the duty of every Muslim to better his or her family, community and society to the best of their ability. A Muslim should be involved in and committed to the forefront of battles and struggles against racism, injustice, poverty, aggression, etc. A Muslim is one that gives back to his community and society and is not one that is selfish and only self-serving.
A Muslim is one that serves something of value to others, making a positive change and impact on others; whether it comes in the form of volunteering, social work, helping local orphanages, helping the poor, counseling, political activism, building schools, or advising one’s peers or community youth. For example, a Muslim doctor should devote one day a week or month to give back to his community, by offering free services to those who do not have health care or volunteering at a free clinic.
One needs to ponder and reflect over his or her own talents, unique skills, strengths, education, background, and personality, discovering those specific qualities that God has gifted them that can be used to benefit others. That gift can come in the form of teaching others, creativity, leadership, knowledge, etc. Our ummah (Islamic community) needs help and services from all angles. God’s last and final prophet stated: ‘The most beloved to Allah are the most beneficial to the people.’
Whereas a Muslim does not perform these deeds with the intention to show off to others, their display in public can become a good means of dawah to non-Muslims--or even, for that matter, to weak or non-practicing Muslims. One can become inspired by and curious about Islam when seeing a female Muslim doctor or nurse--with hijab on--representing Islam by volunteering and offering complimentary services at a free clinic.
The one that engages in the work of da’wa needs to be patient and not surrender or lose hope. One does not know which of one’s words will be planted in the listener’s heart, growing and changing their life. The one that engages in the work of da’wa also needs to realize that he or she does not have the ability to transform anyone’s heart or mind. Rather, guidance can come only from God the Almighty. Allah knows who is worthy of and qualified for His guidance. God tells his Messenger in the Holy Quran:
"Indeed, [O Muhammad], you do not guide whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills. And He is most knowing of the [rightly] guided" (Quran 28:56)
The job and duty of God’s Messengers and Prophets, as well as ours, is to remind others of the Message in clear terms and as kindly as possible. The rest is up to God.
“Your duty is only to convey the message; and on Us is the reckoning” (Quran 13:40)
The one that engages in conveying God’s message needs an understanding of the Islamic discourse, as detailed in the Quran and Sunnah, and should be knowledgeable about the issues he addresses. If one is discussing or debating people of other religions, he or she must have an understanding of these faiths; thus, allowing them to build common ground and talk to them about Tawheed (Monotheism—the Oneness of God), which they might be neglecting in their religion. The Quran instructs Muslims to give dawah to people of the Book (Christians and Jews) by emphasizing the similarities between the different faiths and establishing common ground—while reminding them that we should worship None but Allah (the One and Only Creator) and to not associate Any partners with Him.
"Say, "O People of the Scripture, come to common terms between us and you - that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah." But if they turn away, then say, "Bear witness that we are Muslims [submitting to Him]" (Quran 3:64)
When engaging in a dialog with people of the Book, our main goal is to present and invite them to join our beautiful religion; and not to necessarily talk down or prove their faith or book wrong as there is a time and place for that. Our goal is to prove that what we offer is the true word of God and that our religion is the only faith acceptable to God.
The one engaging in dawah dialogue has a goal--not to win the argument--but to win over the person. Sometimes heated arguments serve only to distance a person from Islam. When giving dawah, one should not make the other feel worthless or denounce him. The attitude of the person inviting should be gentle, kind, and beautiful; the same one would offer if they were inviting them to their own home.
It becomes imperative that one conveys the Message with softness and gentleness because an attitude of harshness could discourage and further people from the truth. In fact, God tells Prophet Muhammad in the Quran that if he was harsh and stern in conveying the Message to his companions, known to be the best of people that ever lived, they would disperse from him.
"It was by the mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been stern and harsh (in speech and heart), they would have dispersed from you. So, pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely (upon Him)” (Quran 3:159)
God also instructed Prophet Moses and his Brother, Prophet Aaron (Harun in Arabic), to gently and softly convey the Message of Islam to the Pharaoh—despite his repute as the worst human being that ever lived, who proclaimed himself a god and killed babies and innocent people.
"Go, both of you, to Pharaoh. Indeed, he has transgressed. And speak to him with gentle speech that perhaps he may be reminded or fear [Allah]" (Quran 20:43-44)
The success of Dawah is measured by one’s intention and effort, and not necessarily from the number of people they convert. One might give dawah for years and not convert a single soul. In fact, Prophet Noah preached the Message of Islam for about 950 years and witnessed very few conversions. It’s important that one continues to constantly remember the intention of his work, which is all and always for the sake of God.
For those that feel they don’t have the time to spread the word of Islam, they must realize that those currently spreading the word are themselves busy people who make time in their hectic schedules for Dawah; an activity they see as an obligation. This is what God expects from them; something they do in exchange for the great rewards that await them. Additionally, God states that the best manner of speech one can utter in this world is those words of invitation that draw people to God’s religion; inviting others to grasp and comprehend the purpose of their creation. God states:
"And who is better in speech than one who invites to Allah and does righteousness and says, "Indeed, I am of the Muslims" (Quran 20:23-24)
Additionally, for the ones that spread the word of Islam and teach others well, our Prophet narrated: 'Indeed Allah, His Angels, the inhabitants of the heavens and the earths - even the ant in his hole, even the fish - pray for blessings upon the ones who teaches the people to do good.' In addition, our Prophet narrated: ‘Whoever directs someone to do good will gain the same reward as the one who does the good.’ So, if someone accepts Islam from you, you will receive great rewards from God for the effort.
On the Day of Judgement, non-Muslims will face Allah, the Ultimate Judge, and will be questioned regarding their faith. Your non-Muslim friends, colleagues, classmates, and neighbors can potentially incriminate you as the person who failed to give them the Message. This is why you must convey the Message of Islam, carrying it out in your daily life in speech and actions. God states in the Quran that He has made us a middle nation, so we can testify to all people. God has honored and chosen us to service humanity, guiding people back to God.
Oh, my dear brother and sister, you need to carry the message of Islam in your daily life. It should show in your character, your dealings with others, your business transactions, and in your everyday tasks; otherwise, our Prophet may serve as a witness against you on the Day of Judgment, and you could potentially get punished for your neglect of this vital and important life task.