While all the messengers appointed by Allah were charged by Him with the responsibility to disseminate the revealed guidance with which they were entrusted, their respective nations too, were called upon to share in the fulfillment of Allah’s orders. Allah reminds in the Holy Qur’an:
“And remember Allah took a covenant form the people of the Book to make it known and clear to mankind, and not to hide it…” (Qur’an 3:187)
The position of the Muslim 'Ummah' (community), in this respect is clear in the Qur’an:
“You are the best ‘Ummah’ evolved for mankind; you enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong…” (Qur’an 3:110)
Thus Allah Almighty has honoured this Muslim Ummah by appointing it to share in the noble cause of its prophet by inviting people to follow the straight path. The Qur’an further stresses that:
“The believing men and women are each other’s protectors; they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.” While, “the hypocrite men and women are each other’s protectors, they enjoin what is wrong and forbid what is right.” (9:71)
Hence the truth emerges clearly that “to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong” constitutes a fundamental difference between a believer and a hypocrite who pretends to be a believer when he is quite the reverse. Consequently, all members of the Muslim Ummah, men and women alike, are individually responsible to further the cause of Islam with the zeal, determination and sense of sacrifice of the Prophet and his companions.
That the companions did their utmost, individually and collectively, to convey the light of Islam to all people even outside the Arabian Peninsula is demonstrated by the lengthy and dangerous journeys they took reaching the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Wall of China in the East. Countless distinguished companions breathed their last in faraway and foreign lands preaching Islam, for which their sacrifices knew no bounds.
At this point some commonplace misconceptions ought to be cleared. To call all peoples of the world to Allah is the duty of every responsible and conscientious Muslim. Since there is no priesthood in Islam or sacerdotal class among Muslims, the duty of the call to Allah cannot be transferred to an ill-conceived and imaginary group called “men of religion.” In Islam everyone is a man of religion and every man will be accountable to Allah as to whether he fulfilled his obligations sincerely and to the best of his abilities or not. The following verse of the Qur’an should be very enlightening in this respect:
“Say (O Muhammad) this is my way I do invite unto Allah, on evidence clear as the seeing with one’s eyes, - I and whoever follows me. Glory to Allah! And never will I be of those who associate partners to Allah.” (Al-Qur’an 12:108)
Thus, anyone who rightly claims to be a follower of the Prophet peace be upon him, cannot evade his duty to call people to Allah.
The following prophetic traditions amply elucidate this point:
“Let those who witness inform those who are absent.” (Bukhari)
The word “witness” here is taken to mean anyone who possesses some Islamic knowledge. The Prophet is reported to have said:
“Preach on my behalf even with just one verse.” (verse here is referring to a verse from the Qur'an)
Therefore, one does not have to be a profound scholar or a great jurist to call people to Islam. No doubt a person well-versed in Islamic sciences would be able to speak more authoritatively and he would be in a position to explain matters of religion to the minutest details. However, a high level of scholarship is not a prerequisite to call others to Islam. Everyone’s effort has a definite gap to fill. A Muslim scholar will address his counterpart with a refined style and scholarly content while a Muslim layman will have to reason out with his equals in practical terms, each having a role complementary to the other’s.
Every individual of the Muslim Ummah is obliged to be actively engaged in whatever way he can to guide people to the right path and support, morally as well as materially, those who labor to discharge this responsibility. A common misconception that found appeal even among earlier Muslim generations and which still lingers on to this day stems from failure to comprehend the meaning of the following Qur’anic verse in the proper context:
“O you who believe! You are responsible for your own souls. The misguided one will not harm you if you are guided on the right path.” (5:105)
In all fairness to oneself, the above verse does not connote, by any stretch of imagination, that a so-called pious or saintly person may absolve himself of the responsibility to call mankind to truth simply by thinking that evil would not knock at his door, on account of his being pure and peaceful. Regardless of how pious one may appear to be, he can never equal the Prophet or excel his companions in their moral perfection, sincerity of worship and religious devotion.
None of the Prophet's companions ever dreamt of resigning from the noble task of inviting nations of the east and the west to eternal bliss and salvation offered by Allah through Islam. It was precisely to correct this wrong notion about the verse that Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) issued the following warning:
“O people, verily you read this exalted verse and put it in a place other than its own. Whereas I heard the Apostle of Allah saying: ‘Verily if people see a cruel person and they do not prevent him, Allah may punish all of them.”'
So fulfill your obligation to Allah and His Messenger. Learn what you are able and convey the Truth – Islam – to those whom you come in contact with. Because calling to Islam is truly the Duty of all Muslims.
Dr. Talib Ali
[Excerpts from: Proceeding of the Fifth International Conference of WAMY on “Islamic Da'wa”. Held at Nairobi, Kenya 20-24 April 1982]