What pops in your head when you hear the word "dawah"?
You might picture a bearded man or a lady donning the higab with qurans and brochures in their hands, standing somewhere on a university campus or in a busy street, engaging in heavy debates with random non-Muslims. You might have even heard yourself of a few "success" stories that pushed that Robert or this Jane to convert to Islam. It's all fairy dust and rainbows in the world of "dawah."
Before I get into why I think we need to reinvent and reshape the way we perceive dawah, let me clarify some things. When I refer to "dawah" I am referring specifically to the full discourse and images of the da'ees that comes with what an average non-Muslim and Muslim not working closely with Muslim organizations sees. And as much as we would like to assume that dawah is just for education and awareness, the convert stories are the only measure of success and the only true reinforcement for someone who's been hard at work doing dawah for a long time. It's much easier to say that guidance comes from Allah then to practice it. And by practicing it, I mean letting people reach their own conclusions and not letting our implicit motivations to "guide" them to conversion be the end goal. I do not mean to belittle the hard work of those who stand for hours on end to preach a good word. But I've got to be honest, it just looks bad on us Muslims and frankly doesn't represent my notion of what Islamic dawah should be.
I will explain myself.
"And do not trust except those who follow your religion." Say, "Indeed, the [true] guidance is the guidance of Allah . [Do you fear] lest someone be given [knowledge] like you were given or that they would [thereby] argue with you before your Lord?" Say, "Indeed, [all] bounty is in the hand of Allah - He grants it to whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Wise."[Al-Imran: 73]
We are living in a new era of jahilliyah (ignorance) where the concept of God and religion is not the mainstream and it is certainly not the accepted or the norm. Nowadays, atheists who consider themselves intellectual have taken to new deities as the Arabs before Islam before did, but instead of idols they have taken science as their religion. This new scientific religion will not tolerate anyone who chooses to make any claim without referencing it appropriately (and not with Quranic verses either). This religion does not accommodate for other beliefs. So when a Muslim who looks visibly so, approaches a random stranger with this belief, what you've got is endless arguments and despite the few success stories we hear, is ultimately a waste of valuable and precious time. And it is not me who gave time it's value. Our religion teaches us so:
"Indeed, mankind is in loss" [Surat Al-Asr:2]
When a non-Muslim sees a Muslim and a stranger arguing passionately about religion, those with the atheist mindset will affirm their beliefs that religion is the cause of all of the problems and lack of peace in the world. I believe a Muslim should remain dignified and not put themselves out for display in public settings where it is not the right time and place to enforce ideas upon people. Add to that, if you've ever campaigned for anything, regardless if it was controversial, you've probably seen and felt first hand what it's like to be turned down by rude strangers. Why should a Muslim subject themselves willingly to this kind of treatment? Especially when a more dignified one is available.
During the early days of Islam, the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was forced to make his religion secret because of the small number of Muslims that existed and the risk that it imposed on them. Surely today, we don't have as much of a risk imposed on us but as minority members living in a mostly non-Muslim society, we must also show care and be intelligent in which spaces and at what time we decide to go public with matters that may harm us. Sometimes, its unavoidable. But when it is, it's safe to say that a Muslim should keep their own standing in mind and the society at large as well. I may be challenged on this one and I welcome differences of opinion.
"So if they argue with you, say, "I have submitted myself to Allah [in Islam], and [so have] those who follow me." And say to those who were given the Scripture and [to] the unlearned, "Have you submitted yourselves?" And if they submit [in Islam], they are rightly guided; but if they turn away - then upon you is only the [duty of] notification. And Allah is Seeing of [His] servants." [Al-Imran:20]
So in the spirit of saving our time, energy and for becoming stronger Muslims, we should consider other options that raise awareness and answer the questions that people might have of Islam, but in a more efficient way. And for that, I suggest integration.
Not assimilation. Not blind acculturation of mainstream society, but integration.
University clubs for Muslims should make their dawah committees meet every week to do visible acts that define our Islam within their larger context. For example, a trip to the food bank or the local school. We need initiatives that make the Muslim woman or man a represented member in student unions at large and on the round table of any major meeting that may concern them. We should not allow others to dictate who we are and decide what works and what does not for Muslims. We must choose to break stereotypes and teach people about Islam by being Muslims with Islam on our sleeves. I don't mean integrating while denying our Muslim identities, but integrating with full acceptance of ourselves and pride in our Islam. Such that, it becomes itself one of the main topics of discussion. We need proud Muslims to be at the important dignified places and to speak for themselves. We need Muslims working alongside non-Muslims for things they have in common besides religion. And there should would be no worry about whether religion might be brought up, cause if you're a visible enough of a Muslim that's established a level of comfort with a non-Muslim, they'll ask you themselves. And sometimes they won't ask, they might see your outwardly behavior and retract the questions and beliefs they had in mind earlier. To me, that is the best dawah that could be done.
Think, what would the Prophet (pbuh) do?
What do you think is the best way to do dawah? Do you agree or disagree?