On the Nature of Islamic Call “Dawa”
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By Ismael Farouqi

Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, has commanded the Muslim: “Call men unto the path of your Lord by wisdom and goodly counsel. Present the cause to them through argument yet more sound” (Qur’an 16: 125). Da’wah is the fulfilment of this commandment “to call men unto the path of Allah.” Besides, it is the effort by the Muslim to enable other men to share and benefit from the supreme vision, the religious truth, which he has appropriated. In this respect it is rationally necessary, for truth wants to be known. It exerts pressure on the knower to share his vision of it with his peers. Since religious truth is not only theoretical, but also axiological and practical, the man of religion is doubly urged to take his discovery to other men. His piety, his virtue and charity impose upon him the obligation to make common the good which has befallen him.
A. Da’wah is not coercive
“Calling” is certainly not coercing. Allah (s.w.t.) has commanded “No coercion in religion (2 : 256).” It is an invitation whose objective can be fulfilled only with the free consent of the called. Since the objective is an exercise by the called of his own judgement that Allah is his Creator, Master, Lord and Judge, a forced judgement is a contradictio in adjecto and hence punishable with jahannam. Humanistic ethic regards coerced da’wah as a grave violation of the human person, second only to homicide, if not equal to it. That is why the Holy Qur’an specified the means of persuasion to be used. “Argue the cause with them [the non-Muslims] with the more comely arguments” (16: 125). If they are not convinced, they must be left alone (5 : 108; 3 : 176-177; 47 : 32). Certainly, the Muslim is to try again and never give up that God may guide his fellow-man to the truth. The example of his own life, his commitment to the values he professes, his engagement, constitue his final argument. If the non-Muslim is still not convinced, the Muslim is to rest his case with God. The Prophet himself allowed those Christians who were not convinced by his own presentation of Islam to keep their faith and return home in dignity.
From this it follows that the societal order desired by Islam is one where men are free to present and argue their religious causes with one another. It is a kind of academic seminar on a large scale where he who knows better is free to tell and to convince, and the others are free to listen and be convinced. Islam puts its trust in man’s rational power to discriminate between the true and the false. “Truth is now manifest from error. Whoever believes [i.e. accepts the truth] does so for his own good. Whoever does not believe [i.e. does not accept the truth] does so to his own peril” (39 : 41). Islamic da’wah is therefore an invitation to think, to debate and argue. It cannot be met with indifference except by the cynic, nor with rejection except by the fool or the malevolent. If it is met by silencing force, then that force must be met by superior force. The right to think is innate and belongs to all men. No man may preemptively deny it to any human. Islamic da’wah operates only under these principles. Thomas Arnold’s The Preaching of Islam is a standing monument to da’wah written by a Christian missionary and colonialist.
The principle that Islamic da’wah is non-coercive is based upon the Qur’an’s dramatization of the justification for the creation of man. The Qur’an represents God as addressing the angels in Surat al-Baqarah, verse 30, with the words: “Lo! I am about to place a khalifah (vicegerent) on earth. The angels replied: Will You place therein one who will do harm and will shed blood, while we sing Your praise and sanctify You? He said: Surely I know that which you know not.” In another verse of the Qur’an, Surat al-Ahzab, 72, we read: “Lo! We offered Our trust to heaven and earth. They shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. But man assumed it…” Both these statements are understood by Muslims as defining the purpose of man’s existence, namely, that he is God’s khalifah, carrier of the responsibility entrusted to him for the fulfillment of the divine will. That will is already fulfilled in part, within nature as natural law, and not yet fulfilled in another part, by man as moral law. This constitutes man’s distinction from all other creatures. Only he acts freely and thus enables himself to actualize the moral part of the divine will. His essence is his capacity for responsible moral action. Coercion is a violation of this freedom and responsibility, and is utterly inconsistent with man’s relation to the divine will.
B. Da’wah is directed to Muslims as well as non-Muslims
It follows from the divine commandment that da’wah must be the end product of a critical process of intellection. Its content cannot be the only content known, the only content presented. For there is no judgement without consideration of alternatives, without comparison and contrast, without tests of inner consistency, of general consistency with all other knowledge, without tests of correspondence with reality. It is this aspect of da’wah that earns for the called who responds affirmatively to its content the grace of Hikmah or wisdom. Allah (s.w.t.) described His prophets and saints as “Men of Hikmah” precisely because their Islam was a learned thing, not a narrow-minded addiction to a single track of thought, certainly not a “pre-judgement”. That is why da’wah in Islam has never been thought of as exclusively addressed to the non-Muslims. It is as much intended for the benefit of Muslims as of non-Muslims.
Besides stemming from the fact of all men’s equal creatureliness in front of God, this universalism of da’wah rests on the identity of imperative arising out of conversion to Islam. All men stand under the obligation to actualize the divine pattern in space and time. This task is never complete for any individual. The Muslim is supposedly the person who, having accepted the burden, has set himself on the road of actualization. The non-Muslim still has to accept the charge. Hence, da’wah is necessarily addressed to both, to the Muslim to press forward toward actualization and to the non-Muslim to join the ranks of those who make the pursuit of God’s pattern supreme.
The directing of da’wah to Muslim as much as non-Muslims is indicative of the fact that, unlike Christianity, Islamicity is never a fait accompli. Islamicity is a process. It grows, and it is sometimes reduced. There is no time at which the Muslim may carry his title to paradise, as it were, in his pocket. Instead of “salvation”, the Muslim is to achieve felicity through unceasing effort.
C. Da’wah Content
Islam’s view of other faiths flows from the essence of its religious experience. This essence is critically knowable. It is not the subject of “paradox”, nor of “continuing revelation”, nor the object of construction or reconstruction by Muslims. It is crystallized in the Holy Qur’an for all men to read. It is clearly comprehensible to the man of today as it was to that of Arabia of the Prophet’s day (570-632 A.C.) because the categories of grammar, lexicography, syntax and redaction of the Qur’anic text, and those of Arabic consciousness embedded in the Arabic language, have not changed through the centuries. This phenomenon is indeed unique; for Arabic is the only language which remained the same for nearly two millennia, the last fourteen centuries of which being certainly due to the Holy Qur’an.1 For Muslims, this essence has been on every lip and in every mind, every hour of every day.
The essence of Islam is tawhid or the witnessing that there is no god but God. Brief as it is, this witness packs into itself four principles which constitute the whole essence and ultimate foundation of the religion.
First, that there is no god but God means that reality is dual, consisting of a natural realm, the realm of creation, and a transcendent realm, the Creator. This principle distinguishes Islam from trinitarian Christianity where the dualism of creator and creature is maintained but where it is combined with a divine immanentism in human nature in justification of the incarnation. Tawhid requires that neither nature be apotheosized nor transcendent God be objectified, the two realities ever-remaining ontologically disparate.
Second, tawhid means that God is related to what is not God as its God, that is, as its creator or ultimate cause, its master or ultimate end. Creator and creature, therefore, tawhid asserts, are relevant to each other regardless of their ontological disparateness which is not affected by the relation. The transcendent Creator, being cause and final end of the natural creature, is the ultimate Master Whose will is the religious and moral imperative. The divine will is commandment and law, the “ought” of all that is, knowable by the direct means of revelation, or the indirect means of rational and/or empirical analysis of what is. Without a knowable content, the divine will would not be normative or imperative, and hence would not be the final end of the natural; for if the transcendent Creator is not the final end of His own creature, creation must be not the purposive event consonant with divine nature but a meaningless happening to Him, a threat to His own ultimacy and transcendence.
Thirdly, tawhid means that man is capable of action, that creation is malleable or capable of receiving man’s action, and that human action on malleable nature, resulting in a transformed creation, is the purpose of religion. Contrary to the claims of other religions, nature is neither fallen or evil, nor a sort of Untergang of the absolute, nor is the absolute an apotheosis of it. Both are real, and both are good — the Creator being thesummum bonum and the creature being intrinsically good and potentially better as it is transformed by human action into the pattern the Creator has willed for it. We have already seen that knowledge of the divine will is possible for man; and through revelation and science such knowledge is actual. The prerequisites of the transformation of creation into the likeness of the divine pattern are hence all, but for human resolve and execution, fulfilled and complete.
Finally, tawhid restores to man a dignity which some religions have denied by their representation of him as “fallen”, as existentially miserable. By calling him to exercise his God-given prerogatives, Islamic da’wah rehabilitates him and reestablishes his sanity, innocence and dignity. His moral vocation is the road to his falah. Certainly the Muslim is called to a new theocentrism; but it is one in which man’s cosmic dignity is applauded by Allah and His Angels. Christianity calls man to respond with faith to the salvific act of God and seeks to rehabilitate man by convincing him that it is he for whom God has shed His own blood. Man, it asserts, is certainly great because he is God’s partner whom God would not allow to destroy himself. This is indeed greatness, but it is the greatness of a helpless puppet. Islam understands itself as man’s assumption of his cosmic role as the one for whose sake creation was created. He is its innocent, perfect and moral master; and every part of it is his to have and to enjoy. He is called to obey, i.e. to fulfill the will of Allah. But this fulfillment is in and of space and time precisely because Allah is the source of space and time and the moral law.

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