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Since the late nineteenth century, conceptions of da˓wa have re-emerged as central in the formulation of Islam. Da˓wa is increasingly associated with socially vital activities, such as edification, education, conversion, and charity. However, the term also alludes to the Qur˒an and the normative Islamic history. Due to this combination, da˓wa has become a functional tool in face of the challenges of modernity. Da˓wa is sometimes equated with Christian ideas of mission and evangelization. Muslims themselves are, as a rule, wary of that comparison; and indeed, such translations tend to overlook the variations and socio-political specificity of da˓wa. 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 da˓wa. This is true, for instance, of the significant Sufi ventures of recruitment, which historically largely appear to have been disinterested in da˓wa terminology. Thus, da˓wa 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 da˓wa, paying attention to scriptural occurrence, historical development, and, finally, modern understandings and organizations.

Scriptural Occurrence

The word da˓wa 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 da˓wa has a number of connotations too. In the Qur˒an and the sunna, da˓wa 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, da˓wa 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 da˓wa of Satan (14:22). Conversely, da˓wa refers to the human call directed to God in (mental) prayer or invocation. The One God answers the da˓wa 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 consonant-root. 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 da˓wa is intimately interconnected with shari˓a, the sacred law. As illustrated by verse 3:104, cited above, da˓wa 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 da˓wa. 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).

All in all, the Qur˒anic conceptualizations of da˓wa conjoin a number of fundamental principles of Islamic theology. First of all, da˓wa animates Islamic doctrine into an effective vocation, by interconnecting and urging humans to recognize the two core principles of the creed, as rendered in the shahada: "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God." Acknowledging and responding to God's da˓wa further means recognizing the sacredness of the umma and implementing shari˓a. Last but not least, da˓wa refers to the invitation of humankind to afterlife. It is, thus, hardly surprising that da˓wa sometimes is presented as interchangeable with the concept of Islam itself.

Historical Development

After the death of Muhammad (632 c.e.), the leadership of the Muslim community became a controversial issue. A group called Shi˓at ˓Ali, later to be known as Shi˓a, argued that ˓Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, and his descendants were the rightful caliphs, that is, vicegerents of the Prophet. ˓Ali was eventually appointed caliph, and he is included as the fourth among the first four caliphs who Sunnites generally celebrated as righteous. In 661 he was killed, however, and the Umayyad dynasty, based in Damascus, established a hereditary rule. During the eighth century, the legitimacy of the Umayyads was increasingly put into question. Based in Baghdad, the Abbasids were accusing them for claiming kingship, mulk, thus vesting human leadership with an attribute and power that only God possesses. The lavish customs of the Damascus court underscored the anti-Umayyad da˓wa.

In this sense, da˓wa came to inherit a religio-political dimension, being the call to accept the rightful leadership of a certain individual or family. Da˓wa in the religio-political sense aimed at establishing or restoring the ideal theocratic state, based on monotheism. Here da˓wa can be understood as political propaganda inflated by Qur˒anic terminology. In spite of variations in the use of the term throughout history, this has been a recurring tendency.

Da˓wa thus became mainly an internal Muslim matter. However, the external aspect of da˓wa, "calling mankind," acquired increasing juridical importance in connection with the military expansion of Islam. According to the classical theory of jihad of the early Muslim conquests, warfare against non-Muslims could not be undertaken, nor could the protective tax of non-Muslims, jizya, be levied, had not a summons to Islam, da˓wa, been issued. During the late eighth century four madhahib (madhhab), schools of Sunni law (fiqh), developed. Here da˓wa was formalized into a set of judicial principles and rules included in martial law.

An important example of the application of da˓wa in history is the case of the Shi˓ite Fatimids. Between 969 and 1171 they ruled a vast empire, with Cairo as the capital. For the Fatimids, who belong to the Isma˓ili branch of Shi˓a, da˓wa meant the appeal to give allegiance to the seventh imam, Muhammad b. Isma˓il. Initially, their propaganda was directed against followers of the main branch of Shi˓a, the Imamis or Twelvers. As their power grew, the Fatimid da˓wa turned against the Abbasid Sunnites, challenging their caliphal authority.

The Fatimids amplified the concept of da˓wa in accordance with Shi˓ite doctrines of permanent revelation through the imams. The da˓wa of the imam was held to complete the da˓wa of the prophet Muhammad. The Fatimid da˓wa differed from the Abbasid da˓wa in that it did not cease after the establishment of the dynasty. Rather, it became increasingly organized and extensive. Da˓wa was thus institutionalized, integrating political claims with theological elaboration, centered around several educational institutions, most notably the al-Azhar University of Cairo. In areas controlled by the Fatimids, their da˓wa propaganda was overt, while the message was transmitted more secretly in other regions.

In a functional perspective, the core of the Fatimid use of da˓wa was similar to that of the Sunnite Abbasids. The amplification of da˓wa among these competing groups involved an understanding of political propaganda and aspirations based on theological criticism against other rulers. In both cases, thus, the core concern was the leadership issue. The Qur˒anic term da˓wa was rendered relevant primarily in the context of claims to political power. The Fatimid idea that propagation and acceptance of Islam should not be regarded as a singular event, but as a continuous process, forebears central themes in modern uses of da˓wa.

From the time of the Fatimids to early modern times, that is the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there are surprisingly few references to the concept of da˓wa. Paradoxically, da˓wa discourses seem to have entered a phase of recession despite the significant expansion of Islam that occurred in both Asia and Africa. Two of the reasons for this recession may be the legal formalism and the development of Sufism. While the Abbasid and Fatimid regimes relied on an Islamic ambience in which da˓wa held a politically central and strategic importance, Sufis were able to spread their message without such an ambience. Authority was vested in their leaders or shaykhs, who were often victims of state-centered persecution. Such a model of authority facilitated the transplantation of Islam to new regions, where mass conversions could take place. It is true that, with the exception of the earliest period, when Sufis were largely individualistic and ascetic, Sufism has frequently been politically important. However, the logic of Sufi expansion has usually been essentially different from state-centered or establishment Islam and, as a consequence, not in need of conceptions of da˓wa in the religio-political sense.

Since da˓wa as early as in the eighth century was a formal concept included in martial law, it became part of the Islamic jurisprudence, fiqh. From the tenth century onward, Sunnite leaders held the apparatus of fiqh as finalized. Thus, the gates of ijtihad, (new interpretations based on the main sources of Islamic law), the Qur˒an, and the sunna, were regarded by many jurists as closed. Legal matters were henceforth to be guided by taqlid, imitation of previous rulings. With the rise of taqlid-oriented fiqh, the learned scholars, ulema and fuqaha, were installed as its lawful, if largely impotent, administrators. When the quest for authority through personal interpretation (ijtihad) and opinion (fatwa) was rendered impossible or at least heavily curtailed, there was little or no need for da˓wa discourse. In this sense, the authority of institutional law appears to have contributed to circumventing the centrality of the concept of da˓wa, which was primarily understood in terms of the connection between religious legitimacy and political power.

It should be noted, finally, that at least one example of da˓wa activity since Fatimid times has been recorded by scholars, namely a correspondence between the rulers of the Ottoman and the Safavid Empires during the early sixteenth century. This controversy over religio-political authority carries many similarities with the struggle between Abbasids and Fatimids. There may well have been others too. Thus, one cannot rule out scholarly omission or lack of interest as partly responsible for the silence of da˓wa after the early centuries of Islam.

Modern Times

European colonialism and Christian mission brought Muslims into intense encounters with non-Muslim ideas and practices. The processes of modernity (secularization, individualism, social reorganization, etc.) increasingly transformed Muslim societies. Technological, educational, and infrastructural changes made a lasting impact, and deeply rooted Islamic ideas and ways of life were put into question. Facing such challenges, many Muslims felt a need to reconsider or defend Islam, as well as to inform non-Muslims about Islamic principles and creeds. In this context, partly novel conceptualizations of da˓wa claimed a core position in the Islamic debates and practices.

A precursor for the modern use of da˓wa was the Ottoman sultan ˓Abd al-Hamid II, who ruled between 1876 and 1909. Claiming the title of caliph, he took on the responsibility for the umma. He included the concept of da˓wa in his "imperial ideology" and intended to lead Muslims like the Pope leads the Catholics. Hence, this is an example of a modern use of da˓wa discourse for the sake of religio-political authority.

Of more lasting impact with regard to the rethinking of da˓wa was the Salafiyya movement, the leading figures of which were Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1897), Muhammad ˓Abduh (d. 1905), and Rashid Rida (d. 1935). Inspired particularly by Ibn Taymiyya's (d. 1329) early critique of taqlid and legal formalism, they called for the reform of Islamic law by reopening the gates of ijtihad. The movement also took a decisively critical stance to the influence of secular and Christian ideas. Both al-Afghani and, later, Rida were connected to the pan-Islamic movement that aimed at uniting Muslim peoples under the Ottoman caliphate. Rida even attempted to launch his small organization, Jami˓yat al-Da˓wah wal-Irshad, as a cornerstone of pan-Islamism, indicating the constancy of the political dimension of da˓wa conceptions. Of more lasting impact, however, were the Salafiyya efforts to strengthen Islamic awareness and solidarity in face of modernity. Thus, da˓wa increasingly was understood in terms of edification and, most prominently, education, tarbiya.

The disruptive period of Islamic reformism around the turn of the nineteenth century also saw the birth of the Ahmadiyya, founded in 1889 in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (d. 1908). Due to its deviant doctrines (such as the claims of Ahmad to have received new revelations from God and to be, among other things, an incarnation of Krishna), most Muslims do not accept Ahmadiyya as a part of Islam. Nonetheless, the movement has persisted as a very active da˓wa organization, concentrating particularly on publication.

During the twentieth century, the Salafiyya ideal of tarbiya made a lasting impact on the understandings of da˓wa. As of the 1930s, however, the political as well as the educational and devotional aspects of da˓wa were understood and used in partly novel ways. A preceding event of paradigmatic importance was the abolition of the caliphate in 1924. Da˓wa increasingly became an endeavor to reform the individual, rather than the public, institutions of society. Thus, society was to be Islamized "from below." This vision can be ascribed mainly to Hassan al-Banna (d. 1949) and Abu l-A˓la˒ Maududi (d. 1979), who were both of towering importance for the conception of da˓wa among later generations of Islamists.

Founder in 1928 of the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin), al-Banna spoke of da˓wa as the call to "true Islam." With an allegoric reference to hijra, Muhammad's emigration from Mecca to Medina, al-Banna urged Muslims to abandon the materialism and superficial pleasures of society. By living in accordance with Islamic rules, Muslims will restore an "Islamic Order" and, eventually, establish an Islamic state.

Maududi was more favorable to direct political action and mobilization. His organizational base, Jama˓at-e Islami, was set up as a regular political party, although it has gained significance primarily as an informal network. Maududi agreed with al-Banna's da˓wa strategy of internal reform from below. However, instead of envisioning an Islamic order, he launched the popular concept of the "Islamic movement," al-Haraka al-Islamiyya. Here da˓wa is aimed at creating an Islamic state of mind and a matrix of life rather than an institutional order.

A different methodology of da˓wa was suggested by Tablighi Jama˓at, founded by Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas in 1927. This movement of Sufi background turns its back on political activity and concentrates on the devotional life. Yet, it emphasizes the centrality of da˓wa in terms of a missionary duty. The Sufi background is highlighted by the centrality of the form of prayer called dhikr (remembrance). By repeating prayers many times each day, an Islamization of daily life is envisioned. Ilyas himself distinctly deviated from the character of al-Banna and Maududi and did not stand out as a religious scholar, either as a speaker or writer. This he compensated by missionary zeal and novel strategies of organization and education. In fact, the theological simplicity of the Tablighi's da˓wa appears as a key to popular success. The prerequisites for acting as a Tablighi da˓i are based on familiarity with basic Islamic doctrines and traditions, the practice of salat and dhikr, respect of other Muslims, and sincerity in actions. Da˓wa is to be performed as voluntary preaching of the message in small groups. Instead of, for instance, publishing books or arranging publicly visible events and campaigns at university campuses, da˓wa is performed from door to door. The Tablighi communities, not least among Muslim minorities around the world, are built on close, personal relations and social support.

Some years after the Second World War, when the largescale process of decolonization started, modern da˓wa activities increased in an even more rapid speed. Gradually, da˓wa developed into a key concept for cultural identity and political change. Jamal ˓Abd al-Nasser, who ruled Egypt between 1952 and 1970, built up a da˓wa network in the Middle East and Africa. He championed the cause of Islamic socialism and pan-Arabism, which influenced nationalist leaders in many predominantly Muslim countries, such as Algeria, Syria, and Iraq.

Other Muslim leaders challenged the socialist, nationalist, and secularist aspects of postcolonial development and took recourse to a more classic understanding of da˓wa. Most notably, Saudi Arabia's King Faysal challenged, and eventually took over, Nasser's leading role, by stressing the ideal of a transnational, Muslim solidarity based on Islam, not Arabism. In 1962, Saudi Arabia founded the Muslim World League, Rabitat al-˓alam al-Islami, for promoting international da˓wa efforts. This was one year after the establishment of an Islamic university in Medina for the training of da˓wa workers. The activities of the Muslim World League increased in the 1970s when several councils, such as the World Council of Mosques, were formed. The idea of promoting international Islamic cooperation through the Council of Mosques was partly inspired by the previous establishment of the World Council of Churches. The Muslim World League cooperated with the governments of certain countries, such as Egypt, after Nasser had been followed by Anwar Sadat. As a result, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth was founded in 1972. Due to the the oil boom of the 1970s, enormous oil revenues allowed countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to lend most substantial support to the Islamic movement that worked for the (re)establishment of "true" Islam. Funds were used for, among other things, Islamic research projects, charities, distribution of Islamic literature, international conferences, and festivals, not least in Europe. Notably, this support predominantly favored Islamist-oriented movements, such as the Deobandi-inspired communities of Britain.

Previously, Muslims had been largely opposed to relief-work and social-welfare concerns as part of da˓wa endeavors, criticizing Christian missions for using such efforts in order to make proselytes. Increasingly, however, charity directed primarily to Muslims has become an integral part of much da˓wa work. It may even be argued that the provision of social amenities is one of the main aspects of Islamism.

As a reaction to the Saudi influence on organizations like the Muslim World League, new da˓wa instruments were formed in other countries. In Libya, for instance, Mu ammar al-Qadhdhafi established the Islamic Call Society, Jam˓iyat al-Da˓wah al-Islamiyya, in 1972, concentrating on da˓wa efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. A decisive blow on Saudi Arabian hegemony was the Iranian revolution of 1979. The da˓wa efforts of the Iranian Islamic Information Organization once again highlighted the question of political legitimacy. During the war against Iraq in the 1980s, Iran increasingly emphasized its Shi˓ite foundation, thus loosening the slack on Saudi Arabia. The tensions between Saudi Arabia and the increasingly independent da˓wa organizations have increased since the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, when Saudi Arabia supported the military coalition led by the United States. Saudi Arabia was heavily criticized by Muslim organizations all over the world, and some lost the Saudi support of petrodollars.

In the late twentieth century, new da˓wa organizations cropped up all over the Muslim world, including in Europe and North America. Moreover, many governments set up da˓wa departments for education and propaganda, particularly in the universities. In Pakistan, for example, the University of Islamabad in 1985 created a Da˓wah Academy for training da˓wa workers, producing and distributing literature in several languages as well as organizing conferences, special courses, and other events. The academy has an extensive international network of cooperating da˓wa organizations, including the Muslim World League. Another important da˓wa organization, whose primary objective is to propagate Islam through missionary activities, is the Islamic Propagation Centre International (IPCI), which was started in 1982 by Ahmed Deedat in Durban. It was preceded by the Islamic Propagation Centre, founded in 1957. Particularly significant in Europe and North America, the IPCI has concentrated on polemics against Christianity. The increasing interest in social welfare as a part of da˓wa work was reflected, for instance, in the formation in 1988 by the Muslim World League of the World Muslim Committee for Da˓wah and Relief. Education and health care is on the program of many da˓wa organizations, like the Indonesian Diwan Dawat al-Islam and the West African Ansar al-Islam.

Among Muslim intellectuals, not least in Europe and North America, da˓wa to a significant degree has been associated with interfaith dialogue. Thus, Qur˒anic injunctions such as "Invite all to the Way of thy Lord" (16: 125) have been reinterpreted in an ecumenical sense. Proponents of interfaith dialogue such as Mahmoud Ayoub, Hasan ˓Askari, Khurshid Ahmad, Mohammad Talbi, Isma˓il al-Faruqi, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr agree on the need for ijtihad and the contextualization of shari˓a, and they have excluded proselytism from the conceptions of da˓wa.

However, the visions of al-Banna and Maududi are continuously present, especially in European and North American organizations. Two examples are the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in the United States, founded by al-Faruqi, and the Islamic Foundation in United Kingdom, an offshoot of the Jama˓at-e Islami, headed for many years by Maududi's disciple, Khurram Murad. The conception of da˓wa among such organizations combines ecumenical efforts with insistence on edification and mobilization among Muslims, predominantly by book publishing and, increasingly, by engagement in the political and educational systems of the Western societies.

See alsoConversion ; Expansion ; Jama˓at-e Islami ; Shari˓a .


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Christer Hedin Torsten Janson David Westerlund