The term Dawah (more correctly spelled Da’wah in transliteration from Arabic) means to prosletyze Islam. The term literally means “invitation”. There are different forms of da’wah, the main types being passive and active. Passive da’wah is the belief that living a life as a pious muslim will act as its own invitation to the faith (the philosophy that I personally follow). Active da’wah takes the forms of missionary activities by individuals or groups, such as the bus ads i scorned earlier.
I think it is interesting to consider how da’wah is practiced by muslims in the west, because i perceive a bit if denial at work. Consider this from the About page of the local branch of ISNA in the Bay Area (which is sponsoring the bus ads), about the WhyIslam project:
Post-911 has seen a drastic rise in Islamophobia and stereotyping of
Muslims as terrorists and war-mongers. Most of the general public think
and believe that Islam promotes violence and inequality of gender
without knowing about it. The WhyIslam project was initiated to remove
these misconceptions and promote a true and fair understanding of
Islam, and to educate the general public about Islam to bring about a
social and communal harmony. We believe that the reason for discord is
the ignorance people have about Islam and its teachings. WhyIslam neither seeks to proselytize nor is associated with a religious or missionary institue.
I have emphasized the last sentence, because it seems quite at odds with the actual title of the WhyIslam campagn itself, let alone the aggressive nature of the bus ads that essentially declare “all your prophets are belong to us”.
OK, so according to ICNA’s own site, the Why Islam campaign is not intended to prosletyze. But then elsewhere on the very same website, there’s a page dedicated to “Why the Bus Ad Campaign?” – and therein we find this:
Circle of North America with full trust in the goodness of general
American citizens has decided to presents its case to the general
American public by making sure that they are educated about Islam, that
they know the truth, and that they have the opportunity to speak to
Muslims directly if they wish to do so. (That’s one of purpose of
WhyIslam Hotline, 1-800-WhyIslam)
It is with this spirit coupled with our religious duty to do dawa
(inviting people to Islam or giving the message of Islam to people)
which has motivated us to start the WhyIslam project which contains
outdoor advertisings including Bus, and Billboard Advertising.
It should be noted that while it is the religious duty of every Muslim
to preach, teach, and invite people to Islam, it should be also noted
that Islam has specific rules and regulations that Muslims must
followed when doing dawa (or inviting others to Islam).
The duty of Muslims in this regard is clarified in the Qur’an itself,
“And our duty is only to tell (others) the clear message” (Qur’an,
36:17) and also very clearly spelled out, that “Let there be no force
(or compulsion) in religion: Surely Truth stands out clear from
error: Whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has held the most
trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah is All Hearing
(Sami’), and All Knowing (Aleem). ” (Qur’an, 2:256)
This is the reason why we are publicizing Islam through various venues and creative techniques.
There are two things here – one, a perfectly legitimate, timely, and necessary outreach campaign to help educate people about muslims, and two, a coordinated campaign to do explicit da’wah to non-believers, justified by Qur’anic verse. No wonder the ad campaign comes off as disjointed, unlike the Dial a Muslim project in florida which was simply focused on outreach. In a nutshell, the Dial a Muslim campaign was passive da’wah whereas the Why Islam project is active da’wah.
Now, I take no position regarding whether active da’wah is better or worse than passive da’wah. By all means, if ICNA wishes to engage in active da’wah, good for them. But why do they themselves feel the need to deny that they are engaged in it? Clearly, there is a feeling that admitting to engaging in active da’wah is bad PR of some sort (an interesting admission in its own right). But for active da’wah to succeed, it must be honest about its aims. The conflicting messages from ICNA itself are confusing the campaign and hampering its effectiveness on both objectives.
I think ICNA should either revise its About page to admit that active da’wah is one of their organizational goals, or should revise the bus ad campaign to focus on outreach or da’wah, but not both. I am willing to contribute my own idea for a bus ad to the cause, at no charge (though I’d appreciate a link back to this blog from ICNA’s main website
Related: debate on the theological arguments for da’wah at Talk Islam.