Three Da`wah Principles Governing the Formation of the Da`i and Da`wah in the American Context


 

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  1. The formation of the individual has priority over the reformation of the community as a whole and its institutions (derived from the seerah of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, peace be upon him).
  2. Knowledge precedes action (derived from Sahih Bukhari’s chapter heading).
  3. Judgment regarding a matter is a result of conceptualizing what is the case (derived from the fiqh (legal) maxims).

Introduction: 

Da`wah has a number of meanings and connotations that have developed with time. We can understand da`wah as an outreach effort focused on education and spiritual upliftment and refinement. The necessity of comprehending how da`wah was understood and carried out in the early model Muslim community is key to understanding the goals and aims of da`wah. The biography of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the Rightly-Guided Khalifs (Caliphs) serves as essential material for framing the tone of da`wah overall. In the American context, the Muslim community is in need of properly comprehending how to formulate an authentic da`wah that serves the unique needs of the context which is occupied by both Muslims and non-Muslims.

In this reflection we put forward a number of sound principles that can inform a da`wah effort which seeks to engage the American context. To begin with we are not only in need of understanding Islam but also of understanding ourselves, others and American society. To consider this task seriously we need to re-examine our discourse on Islam and living in American society. American life is experiencing profound changes that affect the way the individual relates to others, whether economic or social; the individual is taking the brunt of social change. Many feel disconnected, and many more experience a sense of loss, while others suffer from mental health issues. The person engaged in da`wah is in need of understanding what is affecting the individuals of our society and gauging the mental, spiritual and social health of the individual and community. This understanding will support the person engaging in da`wah in such a manner that he or she can connect to people intimately and effectively. To this end (being effective in da’wah), the role of the individual needs to be reconsidered in Islamic American discourse so that our discourse is authentically addressing the needs of the members of the society we live in whether they are Muslim or not.

Reflection Outline:

This reflection will focus on three principles for guiding da`wah in the American context, principles which will support the da’i (person engaging da’wah) in personal development as well as in his or her outreach effort. A principle for reorienting our understanding of the role of the individual in relation to our institutions and the community itself is the focus of Part 1 of this reflection. Part 2 will proceed to highlight the role of knowledge in da`wah and how knowledge was understood in the early generations of the Muslim community, and the necessity of knowledge for individual and communal revival. Part 3 will highlight the need for understanding the role of comprehension in relation to judgment, and how “judgment” has a significant role that affects the quality and pulse of an outreach effort.

Part I

Principle #1: “The formation of the individual has priority over the reformation of the community as a whole and its institutions in specific.”

Source of this Principle:

This principle is extracted from a close reading of the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the practice of the early Muslims during their Meccan experience.

Key Daw`ah Concepts: 

  • Tawhid (the belief in the Oneness of God) is the key for personal development, which is essential for empowerment.
  • Empowerment of the individual is key for living life.
  • Living life means generating good deeds that cultivate a high quality of life that affects this world but extends beyond death.

Desired Da`wah Outcomes based on these concepts:   

  • Having and building a culture of individual empowerment in our institutions.
  • Recognizing, acknowledging and welcoming the participation of individuals in our institutions so that individuals are connected and properly integrated and learn to excel and transcend their potential through our institutions
  • Engaging in constant well-being and performance assessments of individual members of our institutions and community so that our da`wah addresses and is informed by the real life needs of individual at all levels – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, socially and economically. In turn, individuals benefit from our institutions.

Explanation of Principle 1:

What we learn from this principle is that the educational model that formed the early Muslim community focused its energy and attention upon cultivating a relationship between individuals and the Qur’an. Dar al-Arqam served as an institutional vehicle that supported the educational model of the early community. It was there that a qualitative change in individuals was instigated and achieved. This qualitative change was instigated and achieved by way of cultivating a profound, intimate and dynamic relationship with the Qur’an.

Dar al-Arqam was not institutionally complex, and was devoid of stifling politics; a small number of clear, consistent practices gave it an identity. This made it an institution devoted to personal change and empowerment. Individuals found refuge and orientation there. Mecca was a hostile, confusing and lawless world, but the simple practice of congregating with others for study and worship to imbibe  Qur’anic principles gradually transformed and empowered individuals for a humane life wherein the human being was valued and honored. The uniqueness of Dar al-Arqam as an institution was its lack of internal complexity and simple specialized mission: “Instigate deep, personal, multilayered change through Qur’anic study.”

Qur’anic study, properly undertaken and digested, brought change to the thought, emotions, instincts and character of the early convert. Real conversion took place within the individual Muslim so that there was a metamorphosis of the person similar to that of the butterfly. The Qur’an in Mecca reoriented the individual toward the spiritual and permanent without negating the reality of the material world, teaching that the world is a time-limited arena meant for acting for good. Reorientation of the individual in the manner described shifted relationships, setting a new tone for understanding the self, the community, the Universe, and individual responsibility.

A new way of seeing, thinking and feeling was learned by way of Qur’anic recitation and study. The study of the Qur’an as truth and a disclosure of the reality of the world, history, life and Allah (swt) reordered the Muslim’s understanding of relationships, ordering them in such a manner that everything relates to the key teaching of the Qur’an regarding the Unique Oneness of Allah (swt).

In effect, Dar al-Arqam as a learning institution was a sacred safe space in which individuals gravitated toward each other based on their movement toward Allah (swt). The simplicity of internal structure of the institution and the clarity of its aim allowed for the spirit of brotherhood to be dominant but its aim was to nurture individuals. Because individuals were nurtured it was natural that they would learn to relate to each other in profoundly humane ways. Personal relationships evolved into more complex commitments with time and learning so that eventually a community of conscious, spiritually mature individuals was formed; these individuals later served as the foundation for the construction of the Prophetic city of Medina.

The individual was focused on nothing other than the Qur’anic teaching, and the understanding and practice of this teaching under the direct tutelage of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. What resulted from this education was real personal growth. The strength of this period was the clarity of the purpose, which guided the community, and the simplicity of task: “Study the Qur’an, understand it and learn to practice it.” The test of whether the lesson was imbibed and committed to heart, meaning internalized with understanding and devotion, was perseverance in commitment and practice while under the socio-psychological pressure that plagued the Muslims in Meccan society. The convert under pressure did not collapse; rather, they grew in devotion to Islam. Without focusing on grooming and guiding individuals in the community and in their relationship to the Qur’an, we do a great disservice to the principle of da`wah guiding this reflection and that is, “The formation of the individual has priority over the reformation of the community as a whole and its institutions in specific.”

Neglect of the individual is a fallacy in da`wah and the key problem of why communities are failing to actualize greatness. Institutions are the sum of their parts, and the parts referred to here are individuals. Without direct attention to the development of individuals, as was the case in the early phase of the Meccan da’wah, we run the risk of maintaining communities and institutions wherein the value of the individual is negotiable if not zilch. Consequently we see a great disconnect between individuals and institutions because institutions have failed to see that true collective growth takes place when individuals are growing. The early community balanced its relationship to the individual by focusing on his or her growth. In turn the individual, upon reaching a stage of growth, became a key asset to the community and its growth.

Upshot: 

Individual development and care is key in developing and caring for the community and paving a path for its maturation and growth. Neglect of the individual has a stifling impact on the community and contradicts the spirit and practical value of the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. The task before us is to care for individuals and their growth as this was the way of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ . Because American society is a society marked for its individualism, we find that the individual is in need of learning how to relate to the world, to community. We cannot assume that people understand what community is and what living communally demands. In fact, we find that the individual is in need of not only learning community life, but how to come to terms with the self. For these reasons (and others), in reflecting upon society and its needs from the vantage of the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, we determine that as a community we are in need of building individuals: spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and in a socio-economic capacity. Individuals must learn to participate in community life and enrich themselves by cultivating a connectedness to others based on a deep understanding and commitment to the Qur’an and society.

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2 Comments

  1. Maryam says:

    Powerful article Shaykh Yusuf! May God bless you! Looking forward to the rest in the series, inshaAllah.

  2. Yusra says:

    Jazak Allahu khayran Shaykh! Really looking forward to your series. The way you’ve laid it out is extremely relevant and practical.

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