Situation, Problems and Scope

Three Questions

Let us start by stating an obvious but disturbing truth. We are doing almost no Da'wah among non-Muslims in the West, indeed, to be truthful, anywhere in the world. Why? That must be the first important question we should try to answer. At the macro-level, as an Ummah of one billion Muslims or as Muslim countries and nations, the objective of Da'wah has no place among our goals and priorities. Almost none of our national resources are spent on this immensely important task. Similarly, at the intermediate level of Muslim communities living within non-Muslim countries, we live totally indifferent to this primary duty to our neighbours. Neither do we make an Islamic impact on them, though we are more than a million strong in some Western countries (more than 130 million in India). At the micro-level of small Islamic groups and persons, with few exceptions, again, Da'wah among non-Muslims commands little of our attention, time or resources.

Secondly, whatever little we are doing is not very effective. Again, why? That should be the second important question before us.

The third question should be: Are our present concepts, approaches and methods appropriate and correct for Da'wah among non-Muslims, or do they need to be modified or altered? If so, in what ways?

Basic Framework

Before I attempt to answer these questions, let me state three principles which form the basis of my entire discussion.

Firstly, Da'wah among non-Muslims cannot, and should not, be treated as an isolated phenomenon. We will not undertake it properly unless we recognize its proper place at the centre of the Islamic life that we as Muslims must live. We will not devote our energies to it as we ought to unless it forms an integral part of our total endeavour and struggle (Jihad) that we must undertake in recognition of our mission of witnessing to the Truth and justice (Shahadah and qist) .

To make things more clear: Da'wah among non-Muslims must not be merely an appendage attached to our Islamic existence. It cannot be pursued as a contingent activity. It should not be incidental to any special circumstances, or a fortuitous activity. For example, it should not be taken up as a response or reaction to missionary activities by other faiths. If approached in this fashion, it will suffer the fate that it is suffering now.

Secondly, we will not, therefore, succeed in identifying and discussing the conceptual and methodological problems of Da'wah among non-Muslims, and their solutions, correctly and fruitfully, unless we put it in its proper place in Islam, and unless we consider the whole question from the perspective of the total Muslim situation. Thirdly, the Qur'an and the life of Da'wah lived by the Prophet Muhammad, and all other Messengers, peace be on them, should provide the best guidance to us for formulating our concepts, approaches and methods.

Total Muslim Situation

There are certain realities of the total Muslim situation which are, and will remain, a crucial factor in any Da'wah activity. By understanding them, by placing things in their context, we can make some progress in understanding the nature of our problems, as well as their solution. Five of them we can identify immediately as more important. Most of the major problems that we encounter in Da'wah to non-Muslims are caused by them.

The first is the state of the Muslim mind and attitude, individual and collective, towards Islam, towards their mission of Shahadah, towards Da'wah to all mankind in fulfilment of that mission. What it is and what it ought to be? Little doubt that it is one of unawareness, indifference, or neglect. Is it not, then, that we often fail to address ourselves properly to the task of Da'wah among non-Muslims simply because this state of mind and attitude is faulty, foggy or diffused? And, without attempting to set it right, simultaneously, our problems with respect to Dawah will remain.

The second is the state of actual contemporary Muslim witness, by words and deeds, to Islam. How much does this witness correspond with the reality of Islam? The gaping discrepancy between Islam as it ought to be and Islam as it is witnessed in Muslim life is there for all to see. We need not go into details here. At every level, whether that of the Ummah, or of Muslim groups, social institutions and structures, or of the individual person and everywhere, whether in Muslim countries or in non-Muslim countries the witness given by Muslims has little to do with Islam. Indeed it goes mostly against Islam. With this contradiction between Islam and the Muslim example, and with this state of near hypocrisy, how can an average non-Muslim feel any attraction towards Islam, let alone choose to follow it? How can it happen, merely by listening to sermons and reading books (except for a few good souls, of course)?

The third is the burden of history both Muslim and non-Muslim. Abstracting Islamic Da'wah from it is an uphill task. Burdens of misgiving and misunderstanding, of misperception and misrepresentation, of mistrust and hostility, of images, both false and true, which seem to have become permanently lodged in hearts and minds. Some of them may be genuine, some ill-founded, some deliberately believed and planted. Some may be a result of our failures and follies, some of what was done to us by those whom we want to come to Islam. Others may be a product of obduracy, born of general human arrogance, greed, self-interest, and envy. Some may date back to the days of expansion of early Islam, some may be as recent as the Western colonialism of our time.

Da'wah must strive ceaselessly against these walls of ignorance, prejudice and hostility, and either admit defeat or find a way to overcome them. Whatever the outcome, these obstacles cannot be avoided or wished away. They all will need to be kept in view, they all will need to be taken care of in some way or other.

The fourth is the serious tension between two very important goals that we must pursue simultaneously, both a product of history. On the one hand, there is the requirement of building and reinforcing the Muslim sense of identity, self-assurance and confidence. This will need to be done in the face of deep scars left by at least three centuries of aggression, subjugation and exploitation of the Muslim Ummah by the West and its continuing hostility. On the other, there is the goal of bringing the same West to Islam, which would necessarily mean that it would become part of the Muslim Ummah. This will require lessening hostilities and tensions, not aggravating them. Thus we need to do two different, even opposite things, simultaneously.

The fifth is the contemporary situation: Muslims and non-Muslims, especially the West, locked in conflict over various political, economic and ideological interests, and Western hegemony over the world, both political and ideological. The consequences have a significant impact on Dawah among non-Muslims. How do the continuing interactions and battles hinder or help the cause? Do they not reinforce, modify, or distort our own images of ourselves, and of others, and our approaches and methods? Do they not serve as blockages on our communication path to our addressees' hearts and minds? How best can we take care of these difficulties, without forgoing our ideological, political and economic causes or compromising our interests?


It may be useful at this stage to state a few limitations under which we shall have to proceed to our task.

Firstly, problems for Da'wah among non-Muslims, whether as a part or a consequence of the larger problems outlined above, or as specifically relevant to the issue, obviously exist at various levels. We have already mentioned three levels, which we will list again: (1) at the level of overall Ummah and Muslim societies and states, or what we may call the 'macro level'; (2) at the level of very large groups, institutions and structures, or what we may call the 'intermediate level'; e.g. a Muslim community, a mosque, a neighbourhood, a school, a business; (3) at the level of the individual person, and small organization, or what we may call the 'micro level'. (I would include the existing Islamic groups and organizations under this category. By 'Islamic' groups, I mean organized groups which are committed to the mission of Islam.) The issues and problems at each level are different, and must be so recognized in order to deal with them sensibly.

There is no harm in admitting frankly that most of the problems, especially those at the macro and intermediate levels, are, and will for long remain, beyond our reach and competence to do something about them. For example, we may not change the broad behaviour of the Ummah as a whole into an Islamic one; we may not be in a position to point out even one place where Islam could be 'observed' with its full blessings; we may not have the strength to stop a Muslim country from doing something which is against Islam, whether it be Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran or Saudi Arabia; we may not be able to force the visiting shaykhs to behave in a proper Islamic manner; we may not turn Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries into living examples of Islam. All these we may find to be simply beyond our power.

Even at the micro-level, to be realistic, that point in time seems far away when a significant number of Muslim individuals will become Shahid (witness) and Da'iya, or the Islamic groups will accord the work of Da'wah among non-Muslims the top priority. It is only on the micro-level, and to a very limited extent on the intermediate level, that we can reasonably hope to achieve something.

Does this mean we should shelve or put off the work of Da'wah among non-Muslims until we have achieved some or all of the above? Not at all. Da'wah can still find its way, provided we take it up in the right manner. What is important is that we should take cognizance of these macro, insoluble problems, we should note their implications, we should remain aware of them, we should keep in view the limitations imposed by them. Doing so is necessary because it would help us formulate and follow suitable approaches and methodologies, which will make due allowance for, even if not solve, all such problems.

In the brief span of this essay, therefore, I shall confine myself to the 'person' and 'Islamic group' something which I believe can be, and will be, amenable to change. Also I shall concentrate primarily on the right type of mind and attitude which is required for Dawah, as well as on some broad principles for redefining our concepts and methodologies. That must be the first step. It is not possible to go beyond that at this stage, and lay down a more detailed, specific blueprint.

Secondly, in my view, most problems exist or become inflated because we take up the issue of Dawah in isolation from the Muslim situation. If placed in proper perspective, they will be reduced to a proper size or will dissolve. Some problems are not really problems; they become problems only because we look at them from the wrong perspective. Lack of suitable resources I consider to be the least important of all the problems. Lack of part-time or whole-time workers or professional Da'iyas, of suitable literature, of suitable psychological techniques may turn out to be not so important as we often consider them to be. Hence I shall be dealing only with conceptual and methodological matters.

Thirdly, problems also vary from situation to situation and from country to country. Non-Muslims are not a uniform, homogenous entity. They are not similar in all places. Nor has their history of interaction with Islam taken a similar course at all times and in all lands. A Christian in the West, in Nigeria, in Egypt, a Hindu in India, a black in South Africa, a Chinese in Malaysia, a Japanese each is very different from the other, each may pose a very different challenge, each may require a different approach. Indeed each individual must be looked at as different and special.

In this brief space, again, I cannot deal with each specific situation, nor am I competent to do so. The most I can hope to do, and propose to do, is (1) to consider such aspects as may have universal application, and (2) wherever I have to turn my attention to specifics, to confine myself to the West. Nevertheless, even certain specific references to the Western situation may have a wider application.