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DAʿWAH . The Arabic term daʿwah (lit., "call, invitation, summoning") is used especially in the sense of the religious outreach or mission to exhort people to embrace Islam as the true religion. The Arabic root dʿw occurs frequently in the Qurʾān, where it can also mean calling upon God in prayer (as in duʿāʾ ). The Qurʾān contains many imperatives to spread Islam, as in sūrah 16:125126:

Call [udʿu ] thou to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and good admonition, and dispute with them in the better way. Surely thy Lord knows very well those who have gone astray from his way, and he knows very well those who are guided. And if you chastise, chastise even as you have been chastised; and yet assuredly if you are patient, better it is for those patient. And be patient; yet it is thy patience only with the help of God.

Daʿwah can also mean simply an invitation to a mundane affair, such as a meal, or propaganda for a political or sectarian cause. A specialized meaning of daʿwah has been the quasi-magical practice of spell and incantation through invocation of the names of God and his good angels and jinn, in pursuit of personal goals such as healing, success in love or war, avoidance of evil, and other things. This occult practice became highly elaborated and included astrology, a magical alphabet, numerology, and alchemy.

During the early centuries of Islamic history, daʿwah often had strong political orientations when used to mean a summons to support a claimant to Islamic rule. New movements would spread their ideologies of Islamic statehood through highly organized and disciplined networks of information and indoctrination. The most forceful and long-lived daʿwah enterprise was the Shīʿī sect known as the Ismāʿīlīyah, which insisted that the true Muslim community should be ruled by a politico-religious leader descended from the family of Muammad through the line of Ismāʿīl Jaʾfar al-ādiq (d. 756 ce), one of the great Shīʿī imams. The Ismāʿīlīyah developed daʿwah into a comprehensive political theology aimed at their ultimate dominance of the Muslims. The movement inducted converts into a fanatically devoted community that observed a hierarchy of degrees of membership, marked by initiation into ascending levels of esoteric knowledge. The leaders at each level were called dāʿīs, "summoners," who exercised authority by regions in which they preached and taught the doctrines of the movement. The dāʿīs were considered by the Ismāʿīlīyah to be the representatives of the imam. In some cases, the head dāʿī was the highest religious leader of a country, a sort of Shīʿī "bishop." More often, the dāʿīs functioned in an underground manner, spreading their doctrines in territories not under Ismāʿīlī rule. As well as preaching and propaganda, advanced theology and philosophy were major activities of the dāʿīs.

In the modern period, daʿwah most often refers to Islamic missionary activities, which are increasingly characterized by long-range planning, skillful exploitation of the media, establishment of study centers and mosques, and earnest, urgent preaching and efforts at persuasion.

Daʿwah as mission should never be spread by force (sūrah 2:256). If the hearers refuse to embrace Islam, then they should be left alone, at least for a time. But a committed Muslim should not give up the task of daʿwah. If nothing else succeeds, the silent example of a devout Muslim may be used by God as a means to someone's voluntary conversion.

In the strong Islamic revival the post-colonial period, daʿwah has a less specifically political and a more marked spiritual and moral emphasis than in earlier times. The ummah, the Muslim community, is believed to transcend national political entities, and the sharīʿah, the sacred law, is said to make claims on Muslims even when it is not embodied as the actual legal code (except in certain countries). Daʿwah, then, is the cutting edge of Islam and as such is directed at fellow believers as well as at the multitudes outside the ummah who nevertheless possess the God-given firah (sūrah 30:30), or "inherent character," also to be intentional Muslims and thus vicegerents (khulafāʾ ; s. g., khalīfah, "caliph") of God on earth (2:30). From North Africa to Indonesia, and beyond, Muslim individuals and organizations are strenuously dedicated to missionary activities, utilizing the media and other advanced means of communication and "market research." Daʿwah faculties are prominent in Muslim training schools and universities, and the hope is that the strong obligation to spread Islam will be felt by Muslims at all levels of society. Daʿwah, as well as migration, is responsible for the significant recent growth of Muslim populations in Western countries.

See Also

Shiism, article on Ismāʿīlīyah.


Maurice Canard's article "Daʿwa," in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed. (Leiden, 1960), offers a detailed analysis with extensive source citations, although it does not treat modern Islamic mission. A provocative collection of exploratory essays and discussions is Christian Mission and Islamic Daʿwah: Proceedings of the Chambésy Dialogue Consultation, edited by Khurshid Ahmad and David Kerr (London and Ann Arbor, Mich., 1982), first published as a special issue of the International Review of Mission 65 (October 1976). For an introduction to daʿwah as occult spell and incantation, see the article "Daʿwah" in Thomas Patrick Hughes's A Dictionary of Islam, 2d ed. (London, 1896). A standard survey of Shīʿī sectarian concepts and practices of daʿwah as propaganda is Bernard Lewis's The Origins of Ismāʿīlism (1940; reprint, New York, 1975).

Frederick Mathewson Denny (1987)