Dawah in Islam
Since the late nineteenth century, conceptions of dawa have re-emerged as central in the formulation of Islam. Dawa is increasingly associated with socially vital activities, such as edification, education, conversion, and charity. However, the Term also alludes to the Quran and the normative Islamic history. Due to this combination, dawa has become a functional tool in face of the challenges of modernity. Dawa is sometimes equated with Christian ideas of mission and evangelicalism. Muslims themselves are, as a rule, wary of that comparison; and indeed, such translations tend to overlook the variations and socio-political specificity of dawa. This term has been conceptualized, institutionalized, and applied for divergent purposes throughout the course of history.
Furthermore, Muslim endeavors to convert non-Muslims to Islam have often been understood in terms other than dawa. This is true, for instance, of the significant Sufi ventures of recruitment, which historically largely appear to have been disinterested in dawa terminology. Thus, dawa should be regarded as but one type of Islamic discourse of mobilization, sometimes in conflict with others.
This entry introduces the range of conceptions of dawa, paying attention to scriptural occurrence, historical development, and, finally, modern understandings and organizations.
The word dawa is derived from an Arabic consonant-root, d- _-w, with several meanings, such as call, invite, persuade, pray, invoke, bless, demand, and achieve. Consequently, the noun dawa has a number of connotations too. In the Quan and the sunna, dawa partly has a mundane meaning and refers to, for instance, the invitation to a wedding. Sometimes the mundane and spiritual meanings are interconnected. In one account of the sunna (Bukhari), the invitation to Islam is allegorically referred to as an invitation to a banquet. Spelled with a long final vowel, the word means lawsuit. Theologically, dawa refers to the call of God to Islam, conveyed by the prophets: “God summons to the Abode of Peace” (10:25). Like the previous prophets, Muhammad is referred to as “God’s caller” or “God’s invitor,” da_i Allah
(46:31). God’s call has to be distinguished from the false dwa of Satan (14:22). Conversely, dawa refers to the human call directed to God in (mental) prayer or invocation. The One God answers the dawa directed to Him, whereas the prayers of the unbelievers are futile. The human da_wa is the affirmative response to the da_wa of God. It is not to be confused with salat, ritual prayer. When referring to human prayer or invocation, the Qur_an makes no distinction between da_wa and du_a, a related form of the same consonantroot. During the course of theological history, however, the term du_a evolved into a particular, technical concept, described and regulated in philosophical and devotional works, not least in handbooks of prayer. Apart from affirming God’s call in prayer, however, humankind is invited to live in accordance with the will of God: “Let there be one nation (umma) of you, calling to the good, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong” (3:104). Thus dawa is intimately interconnected with shari_a, the sacred law. As illustrated by verse 3:104, cited above, dawa also has a social dimension in the Qur_an. The community of believers, the umma, who have received the invitation, shall convey the message to others. A commonly cited verse reads: “Call men to the way of the Lord with goodness and fair exhortation and have arguments with them in the best manner” (16:125). This verse, in turn, is commonly connected to the equally familiar verse: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Finally, there is an eschatological dimension of dawa. At the end of time, the archangel Jibril (Gabriel) will call humans from their graves: “Then when He calls you by a single call from the earth, behold you come forth at once” (30:25).