Da`wah: To whom and to what?

The title of this article may seem a bit odd to some. That is because the answers to these two questions are quite well known to anyone who is active in giving da`wah and teaching. However, I want to focus on something more important than the typical answers that may be given to these questions, as a reminder for myself and my brothers and sisters who are active in the field of giving da`wah and teaching.

Who are we to give da`wah to?

It is well known that we are required to give da`wah to everyone, which includes all types of people who come from all walks of life. But more importantly, giving da`wah means giving da`wah to one’s self by practicing what one learns and teaches and by reforming and rectifying one’s self, which also includes giving da`wah to one’s family and relatives. It is unfortunate that many who are active in da`wah and teaching place much importance in giving da`wah to others while forgetting or becoming heedless about themselves. This often happens as a result of a misunderstanding that the meaning of da`wah is confined to giving da`wah to others, whereas the reality is that giving da`wah to one’s self and one’s family members is as important, if not more important than giving da`wah to others. Allah says,

{ يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ }

“O you who believe, protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones.” [Al-Taḥrīm 66:6]

In some of the first verses revealed to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam), Allah commanded him to rise and give da`wah to tawḥīd and warn against shirk, while at the same time commanding him to cleanse himself from any acts of shirk, even though the Prophet (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam) never fell into shirk, not even prior to prophethood. All of this indicates that the one who undertakes the mission of giving da`wah and teaching others should not forget about his own self. Allah says,

{ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُدَّثِّرُ * قُمْ فَأَنْذِرْ * وَرَبَّكَ فَكَبِّرْ * وَثِيَابَكَ فَطَهِّرْ * وَالرُّجْزَ فَاهْجُرْ }

“O you who covers himself [with a garment], arise and warn, and your Lord glorify, and your clothing purify, and the idols avoid.” [Al-Muddaththir 74:1-5]

Allah also commanded His Messenger (ṣallallāhu `alayhi wa-sallam) to warn his close family members, even though he was sent as a prophet and messenger for all of mankind, and even though most of his followers were not from his family members. Once again, this indicates that one should not neglect his close family members while giving da`wah to others. Allah says,

{ وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ }

“And warn, [O Muḥammad], your tribe of closest kindred.” [Al-Shu`arā’ 26:214]

However, this does not mean that one abandons giving da`wah to others until he has reformed and rectified himself and his family members, for perfection is Allah’s alone and imperfection is from the nature of man. But what is required is for one to give importance to reforming and rectifying himself and his family members at the same time that he is busy giving da`wah to others, not neglecting either of them.

Furthermore, when one concentrates on reforming and rectifying himself, both inwardly and outwardly, he will see its fruits and results in his da`wah to others. That is because Allah places barakah and acceptance in his statements and actions, making him an example for others to live by, for people look at actions more than they look at mere words.

What are we giving da`wah to?

Most of us understand the meaning of giving da`wah to revolve around calling and inviting people to Allah, His tawḥīd, His obedience and His religion in general, as Allah says,

{ ادْعُ إِلَى سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ }

“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom.” [Al-Naḥl 16:125]

{ قُلْ هَذِهِ سَبِيلِي أَدْعُو إِلَى اللَّهِ عَلَى بَصِيرَةٍ أَنَا وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِي }

“Say, ‘This is my way; I invite to Allah with insight, I and those who follow me.’” [Yūsuf 12:108]

There is no doubt that this is a correct meaning and fundamental goal of giving da`wah, however there is a more subtle meaning to the understanding of giving da`wah that many neglect and don’t pay much attention to. That meaning is what Shaykh Muḥammad bin `Abdul-Wahhāb alluded to in his Book of Tawḥīd, when he mentioned under the important points of the “Chapter: The Call to testify that there is nothing deserving of worship besides Allah.” He said: “Point #2: Stress upon ikhlāṣ (sincerity of intention), for many who supposedly call to the truth merely call to themselves.”

This is something that every individual who is active in giving da`wah and teaching needs to ponder over, as it is something that many are heedless of and may be guilty of without even knowing. Moreover, if one does not pay attention to it and rid himself of it, it may be a cause for his deeds to be wiped out and efforts to be wasted.

So how does one know that his heart is plagued with this dangerous disease? The following are some signs and examples that indicate its existence:
  1. Attaching oneself and placing one’s loyalty to certain names, individuals and groups, while having enmity and hatred for all others, even though they are all his brothers and sisters working for the same cause of spreading the religion of Islam.
  2. Desiring fame and glory, and wanting the masses to gather around oneself, while at the same time hating others who are active in giving da`wah and teaching, feeling a sense of remorse when seeing people gather around them. The only reason for this being the desire to compete and having envy in the heart.
  3. Belittling the efforts of others who are active in giving da`wah and teaching, looking down upon them and distorting the good they have done, which in reality is a sign of one’s betrayal. That is because the one who is sincere in his da`wah supports every individual who is giving da`wah like himself, as they all have one common goal: the guidance of the people to Allah and His religion. Whether that is achieved through himself or someone else does not concern him, as long as they are all calling to the same correct principles and teachings of Islam.
  4. Falling into backbiting and spreading false rumours about those who are active in giving da`wah and teaching, smearing their reputation, accusing them of that which they are innocent of, even going as far as reporting them to the authorities with false allegations, all in order to afflict them with harm and cause people to leave them and gather around oneself instead, going beyond rightful criticism of what actually deserves to be criticized from the statements and actions of certain individuals who are active in the field of giving da`wah and teaching.
These are just a few quick examples that indicate one’s lack of sincerity in his da`wah, even though there are many other examples that can be sited as well. But the intent here is to simply point out the danger of this disease that has plagued many who are active in giving da`wah and teaching these days.

May Allah grant us the tawfīq to spread His religion while not neglecting ourselves, may He place barakah and acceptance in our da`wah efforts, and may He grant us sincerity in all our sayings and actions.

Buraydah, Saudi Arabia
22nd of Sha`bān 1434