Da'wah, conveying the message of Islâm to non-Muslims, is an obligation upon Muslims. Allâh I the Almighty commanded and guided us in the Qur’ân to perform da'wah (in a specific manner):
"Invite (call) to the way of your Rabb with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. " (Qur'an 16:125).
The 4 key words in this verse are "invite", "all", "wisdom", and "beautiful preaching". Many da'wah workers and organizations around the globe have successfully based their da'wah activities on this verse.
To them, to "invite" implies to gently pursue, attract, be polite, be friendly, be caring and understanding, amongst other things. We cannot, for example, "invite" a non-Muslim to listen to anything about Islâm, let alone study Islâm or become interested in it, by calling him Kafir, unclean, or other hurtful names. The Holy Prophet r did not allow even the pagans (who, by the way, not only refused to follow the Prophet’s teaching, but dumped camel intestine on him, boycotted the Muslims for three years and killed his closest companions, amongst other things) to be lampooned in satirical poetry by, Hassan bin Thabit by saying "what about the fact that I have common descent with them?" (Bukhari, from Aisha)
We should follow the example of the Holy Prophet r by not reviling others. In this way, we portray a highly civilized form of behavior, as demanded by Islâm, and therefore become the best advertisement for Islâm, which is exactly what a true da'ee should be. Muslims who give the religion a bad name and image by behaving in fanatical, violent, highly emotional, not receptive to reason, narrow minded, dogmatic and other un-Islâmic ways, do, unfortunately, make the work of the da'ee that is much more difficult. They simply reinforce the already negative image of Islâm in the world today.
Remember also the command from Allâh to the Prophets Moosa and Haroon, peace be upon them:
"Go both of you to the Pharaoh. Lo! He has sinned. Speak to him a gentle word, so that he may listen or feel fear." (The Qur'an 20:43 -44)
So even to the Pharaoh, who boiled people in cauldrons of oil, proclaimed himself God, etc., we are required to say a gentle word, let alone those less evil than him.
The next important word is "all". This means ALL, with no exceptions. Every non-Muslim is a potential Muslim how so bad or anti-Islâm he may seem to be. Remember Umar bin Khattab t, Khalid bin Walid t, before their conversion to Islâm, for example. Muslims should not be very choosy in who they are willing to interact with. There are at least three reasons for this:
I. It is better for us to explain Islâm to everyone, however hostile, hypocritical and cynical they may seem to be, rather than let them teach themselves and perpetuate the misconceptions, or worse, the distortions, misrepresentations, etc. By participating, we can at least make known to them the true Islâm. 'Waste of time', you say? See reason no. 2.
2. The ******ive of da'wah work is not to convert the non-Muslims, but simply to deliver the message of Islâm to them, in the best way we can, and that means with "wisdom and beautiful preaching". Acceptance or rejection is up to the individual concerned. The success of any da'wah activity is not in your hands. Only God has the power to give hidayah (guidance) to anybody or any people. Not even the Holy Prophetr was given this power. Remember the case of his beloved uncle Abu Talib t.
3. A Muslim da'ee who has tried to get the attention of non-Muslims (or for that matter, uninterested converts or born Muslims) will know how difficult it is to succeed. Certainly it is not as "easy" as carrying out da'wah only to Muslims who are already committed, e.g. those who regularly go to mosque, attend Islâmic talks, seminars, da'wah programmes etc., and whose attention are not difficult to obtain.
The next key words in verse, 16:125 are "wisdom" and "beautiful preaching". Let us consider them together, for the sake of brevity. They require that we prepare an effective strategy to make the invitation successful. One strategy that has been quite successful is reproduced here in the form of a set of guidelines:
GUIDELINES FOR TALKING TO NON-MUSLIMS ABOUT ISLÂM
AIM: To convey the message of Islâm, and to share one's love of Islâm.
The aim should NOT be to convert the non-Muslim, since the non-Muslim must make that decision of his own free will, with no pressure from others. Of course, if he chooses to accept Islâm, Alhamdulillah; and we will give every help he needs during and after his conversion. Our role is to help the person to discover himself, and to find a true direction or purpose in his life. Getting to know about Islâm is a spiritual journey for him, and he will receive help and guidance in it from Allâh I; our role is merely to assist him in whatever way we can in that journey.
1. Personal one to one approach is the method of choice. It brings the non-Muslim closer to Islâm. Before embarking upon conversation about Islâm, take time to get to know the person ¾ about him, his family, work etc. (but of course only as much as he seems willing to tell). Be a sincere friend to him. Be caring about his welfare. This is a practical demonstration of Islâm and to be oneself good Muslim is the best method of Da'wah. By getting to know him, you can also plan the most effective strategy and approach to tell him about Islâm. Every individual is different, and needs at approach to suit his own needs. Try to find out also how much he already knows about Islâm, and about any misconceptions, problems or doubts he has concerning Islâm. As to the problem how to begin the conversation, a sharp and dedicated da'ee will find an excuse to start the dialogue about Islâm. A suitable opening question might be: “How did you first come into contacts with Islâm?” Or "How did you hear about our Center? Or one can ask a question about some news involving Muslims and its background and turn the question around by asking if he/ she knows about Islâm and Muslims. Do this in a gentle, friendly manner ¾ don't let it seem like an interview, or ever worse, interrogation. Try to draw him out, let him do a lot of the talking, and help him to feel as relaxed as possible. Depending upon the situation, continue the discussion or promise some literature.
2. With the people you meet regularly, never spend too much time discussing Islâm. Islâm in small doses is digested better than in large doses. Never give books or the Qur'an right away. Always begin with small brochures then booklets. A copy of the Qur'an or full size books should be given only after they are requested repeatedly. Never give more than one book at a time and follow up if the person has read the book and asks questions.
3. Try to get to know something about the cultural background of the major groups of non-Muslims and converts. This will also help us to plan suitable approaches in our da'wah. Non-Muslims are not a uniform, homogenous entity. They are not similar in all places. Each is very different from the other, each may pose a very different challenge, each may require a different approach. Westerners, for instance, tend to question everything and are often quite skeptical ¾ one needs to explain things in detail, reason things out, to convince them. Asian non-Muslims are more likely to face problems with their families if/when they convert. The Chinese especially, fear losing their ethnic identity ¾ one must reassure them that, in accepting Islâm, they become Muslims and do not switch over to another ethnic group.
Be rational (not emotional), and be gentle in your approach, even if he is aggressive or emotional, or even insulting. Be respectful toward him. Allâh I has given each person a mind with which to think and a heart with which to feel, and he is entitled to his own opinions and feelings. Avoid being confrontational, and don't feel that it is a "battle" or contest which you must "win".
5. Don't be overzealous or overdo your da'wah. When you see from his face or body ******** that he is losing interest, stop conversation. You could ease the tension by suggesting you both have a cup of tea, or by introducing him to someone else at the Center. Remember that da'wah is a long process, and cannot be achieved in a single session, or even in a few sessions ¾ it demands consistent effort and a lot of patience.
6. Let him set the pace. For each individual, learning about Islâm is a very personal experience, and it is essential that he takes his own time to go through it. Do not set any time limits, but gently guide him step by step as he is ready. It is very important that he does not feel any pressure, as this will put him in the wrong frame of mind for learning about the joy and inner peace of Islâm.
7. Da'wah is an exchange of ideas and perceptions. Let it be a real conversation, not a monologue by the da'ee. Many non-Muslims despite having very little knowledge of Islâmic teachings, have ideas and beliefs which are very close to the Islâmic ones. They also often come with some stunning and insightful perceptions and comments, which are truly instructive for the da'ee.
8. If the target audience happens to be a group of more than five persons, the relationship may become a bit more impersonal, like giving a speech to a group. In such cases, questions should be invited after the lecture and some brochures may be distributed. Those group talks are the best which avail opportunity to the speaker of developing personal contacts with new persons.
9. In most cases debates have not been found to be suitable means of da'wah. Debates work on the principle of knocking out the opponent by exposing and attacking his perceived weaknesses. Debates could be quite entertaining to Muslims but a torture to the opponent group; torture never wins hearts. Quite often, a Muslim da'wah worker wins the debate but loses the debater, rendering the whole exercise futile.
10. Wide distribution of simple brochures and knocking, at the doors are another two methods of reaching out. The first is like throwing seeds from an airplane some will fall on rocks, some in lakes, some in desert and some in fertile lands and grow. While using this approach, it is important to ensure that brochures are simple and can be read within three to five minutes. These must carry address(es) and phone numbers of some Islâmic centers in the area. A Christian missionary organization has applied the 'knocking at the door approach with some success. In this case, every care should be taken to be very polite in seeking permission to enter the house and during the conversation. The meeting must conclude as soon you notice such an indication from the face or the body ******** of the hosts. The follow up visit should depend on the willingness of the hosts and at their convenience.
1. Aim to demonstrate the beauty of Islâm such as oneness of God and man's direct relationship with Him. Begin with the positive aspects.
2. As far as possible, stick to the main or central principles of Islâm. Try to avoid the less important (ikhtilafi) issues, e.g. Sunni-Shi'a issue; if the person brings up such things, give a brief answer, and then try to steer him back to the more basic principles, so that he will not see things in the wrong perspective. At the same time, if there is a particular aspect of Islâm ¾ or more likely mis-understanding of it ¾ which seriously bothers him, take time to discuss it and help clear his doubts.
3. Emphasize the universalism of Islâm (e.g., Allâh as the Universal God, the only One worthy of True Worship) ¾ the fact that Islâm is a reaffirmation and perfecting of the whole stream of Revelations from God since the time of Prophet Adam; it thus teaches many of the same values and principles that also occur in other major religions. It is not therefore, a totally different and separate religion without any relationship to existing religions. Do not criticize or insult any other religion. As far as possible, avoid comparing Islâm to other religions; just explain the teachings of Islâm itself.
4. It is often appropriate to present Islâm as a way to find the answer to contemporary social problems, which upset many people. Explain that Islâm covers all aspects of life, the social as well as individual, the material (worldly) as well as the intellectual and spiritual; its principles are broad, enabling their implementations to be flexible and dynamic and thus suitable to all times and conditions.
5. Tell the truth always. Try to equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible about Islâm. Don't ever guess; if you don't know, or are not sure, say so, and either refer him to someone who does know, or offer to find out for him (and really do so!) from a reliable source. Always have someone with better knowledge of Islâm available for referral whenever difficult questions arise. Never give video tapes of debates or those talks which appear offensive to them because such material does not open hearts and minds but the person will build defensive walls around himself rendering it impossible to penetrate.
6. Don't be apologetic about Islâm - Islâm with all its aspects, principles and practices, is a perfect religion, given to humanity by Allâh ¾ there is therefore nothing to hide, apologize for or be ashamed of. Don't be upset if anyone criticizes or rejects any aspects of Islâm. Our role is to explain Islâm as best as we can ¾ whether or not he accepts it, is not our responsibility, but is entirely in Allâh's hands.
7. Don't be afraid to accept criticisms ¾ often people judge Islâm by looking at Muslims, and of course many Muslims do not follow Islâmic teachings fully (or sometimes at all). We should admit such failings, and point out that the "fault" is due to people's own weakness, whereas Islâm itself is a perfectly suitable way of life for man and brings him the fullest satisfaction, happiness and peace if followed conscientiously. Do not attack personalities of other religions. This is very unproductive, and only invites the listener to retaliate with attacks on Muslims. For the convert, the da'ee should first build up the person's aqeedah, his acceptance for love of Islâm. Teaching of the ritual practices of Islâm should only come later.
We should aim to make every person feel a comfortable and "at home" as possible at our centers, which should be places where he can simply be himself, and enjoy the company of sincere Muslims, as well as learn about Islâm. He should not feel in any way "out of place".
Any Muslim with some elementary knowledge of Islâm can be a da'wah worker but his effectiveness will depend upon his maturity in approach. We should always be respectful and polite towards non-Muslims, however far from the path they may seem to us to be. We must remind ourselves constantly that each human being has been created by Allâh with the same potential to gain the highest level of consciousness of Him. Thus they might well eventually become far better Muslims than our selves.
Finally, Remember da'wah is a duty which each of us must discharge according to the best of our ability and to please Allâh I. Don't be afraid! Although da'wah is quite a big responsibility, we must remember that we are not doing it alone. Allâh I is always with us. He gives tremendous help to His servants who are sincere and humble in their wish to please Him.