Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Dawa: Time to Boxes!


By Taha Ghayyur

"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 ‘outside’.

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 to:
· "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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