Institutionalizing Da’wah in the West

Allah has blessed us the human beings with the instinct of knowing what is good and what is evil. But this primary instinct in and of itself is not sufficient to guide us through the relatively complex aspects of our life on this earth. And this is why Allah through His mercy sent Messengers to us to help us live our lives under the divine guidance. This was also necessary because we are accountable for our conduct in the hereafter and we could have pleaded ignorance if we did not know what the right path was.

This is explained in the Quran as:

Rusulam  Mubashshireena  wa  Munzireena  Lialla  Yakuna  Linnasi A’lalahi  hujjatum  Ba’dar  Rusul.  Wa  kanallahu  ‘Azeezan  Hakeema

Messengers who gave tidings as well as warnings that people, after the coming of the messengers should have no plea against Allah; for Allah is exalted in Power and Wise.

Responsibility of Doing Da’wah

Now each Messenger was sent to his own people so that he could explain the Message to them in their own language. But the Prophethood of Rasulullah (SAW) was different in the sense that since he was the last prophet, the responsibility for conveying the message of Allah to all humanity now rests on this Ummah. And this responsibility has been mentioned in the Quran many times so Allah says:

Ud’uo  ilaa  Sabeeli  Rabbika  Bilhikmati  wal  Maw’izatil  Hasanati wa  Jaadilhum  Billatee  hiya  Ahsan

Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching, and argue with them with that which is best

We notice here that when Allah gives the commandment of doing Da’wah, He uses the phrase ila sabeeli rabbik, i.e. to the way of your Lord which carries two nuances. By mentioning Allah’s special attribute, Rabb and then by annexing it to the Holy Prophet, it implies that the work of da’wah is connected with the attribute of nurturing, training and educating. Implicitly, it’s being suggested that the way Allah Taala has nurtured the Prophet (SAW), we too should invite people by nurturing them and educating them. 

Secondly, Allah clearly mentions that we should use wisdom to convey the message to the people. That when we talk to people, we talk to them in a manner that they could easily relate to what we have to say.

 Ibrahim (AS)’s confrontation of Namrood

 Alam tara  Ilallazee  Haajja  Ibrahima  fi  Rabbihi  an  Aataa hullahul  Mulk

Have you not seen the one who disputed with Ibrahim about his Lord because Allah had granted him power? Ibrahim said “My Lord is He who gives life and death”. He said “I give life and death”. Ibrahim said “But it is Allah that causes the sun to rise from the East, can you then cause it to rise from the west?” Thus was he confounded who rejected faith in arrogance. And Allah does not give guidance to unjust people.

We find many examples of these in the Seerah of the Prophet (SAW). The Prophet when he spoke to people was concerned about knowing which tribes the person came from. If he was a Kalbi or a Harbi, it was different in Arabia than from being from the tribe of Hawazim or from Quraysh. And that is true in every culture; you would always have those demarcations. It’s just a part of human nature.

Ummah of Muhammad – Best of Nations

In another verse in the Quran, Allah says:

Kuntum  khayra  Ummatin  Ukhrijat  Linnas

You are the best of nations commissioned for the people

 And immediately after describing this ummah as the best of people, Allah describes the distinguishing characteristics of this Ummah; the characteristics that make this Ummah standout from other nations.

 Ta’muroona  bil ma’roofi  wa  tanhawna  anil  Munkari wa To’minuna  billah

You enjoin the good and forbid the wrong and you believe in Allah

So our Muslim community is a community with a mission. And this is why we should be very cognizant of what sort of image we project as a community. Because when we read in the Quran about people accepting Islam in large numbers

Izaa jaa  Anasrullahi  Wal fath . Wa  ra  aytan  naasa  Yadkhuloona  fi  Deenillahi  Afwaaja

And you see the people entering the religion in Droves

This will happen when our Da’wah is not being made primarily as individuals because individuals call individuals to Islam; communities call communities to Islam. So our communal characteristics should be so positive that they are undeniable and people are forced to accept that ‘Yes, Muslims are the most honest, respectful, compassionate, industrious people I ever met’ as opposed to ‘Muhammad or Fatima is the most industrious person I ever met’. And in order to do that, we all have a part to play and when each one of us chips in and contributes, the strength of our Islamic centers will attract other communities to Islam. So we are distinct in that regard that we are a community that we have been commissioned by God to serve people. And we should therefore be preparing ourselves to do so.

Significance of Islamic Institutions

Now often times what happens is that despite realizing the significance of establishing strong Islamic institutions such as Islamic centers and Islamic schools, we do not participate to the extent that is needed for our institutions to make a meaningful contribution in the society. If we look into the history of African Americans in this country or more specifically the history of African Muslims here in the United States, they have come a long way in the last few decades. These people were suffering from severe forms of oppression, including enforced racial segregation and second class citizenship. If we look into the factors that contributed to the change that was brought about in the society, one of the greatest contributing factors was their emphasis on institutionalization. Its one thing to advance ideas, it’s another thing to build institutions that reflect those ideas and allow for the articulation of influence in the society.

So you can take any person you think is influential, divorce them from the institutional context of the government, of the military, whatever and see what you have. On the other hand, take a muslim with a PhD, no drinking problem, no drug problem, very stable emotionally, intellectually astute, personally strong, disciplined, five prayers a day without fail, fasting Monday, Thursday and Ramadan but take that strong muslim with no institutional context, what do you have? You have a strong person that’s unable to project any meaningful influence in the society. That’s all you have. Therefore it’s important for us to strengthen our Islamic institutions which form the backbone of our Muslim communities and to develop them so they could project a meaningful influence in the society insha Allah.

Flexibility in Shari’ah

Now we talked about the importance of undertaking this mission judiciously and with wisdom. As Muslims, we have a very flexible system; we are the ones who make it inflexible. The Prophet (SAW) says in a sound hadith:

Man ra’a minkum mankaran fal yughay yirhu biyadih. fa inlam yastati’ fa bilisanih, fa inlam yastati’ fa bi qalbih wa zalika ad’aful iman

Whoever sees something wrong let him change it with his hands. If he is unable to do so, let him speak out against it, if he is still unable to let him at least hate it in his heart. And that’s the weakest level of faith.

So we may not be in a situation to actually do something about it or the circumstance doesn’t call for us or it may not be wise for us to even try to do something about the wrong we see because of our weakness or the sensitivity of the issue. We should see can we speak out against it. Maybe we can’t even speak out; we should at least hate it in our hearts. So we should look at what Shari’ah dictates for us in our situation. As a Muslim minority in a predominantly non-muslim land, we should look at what Shari’ah says concerning our position because that would help us to determine or define the parameters of the possible in terms of what strategies should we employ to change things that we see are wrong. How we construct the strategies to introduce the message of Islam to people? So this is something that Shari’ah requires of us.

The nature of the human being is that our hearts are inclined towards those who do good to us. It’s hard for you to not like someone who is doing good to you. So if we are a source of good and a source of khair, people would know that and people’s hearts would incline towards us as a community.

Consequences of not Performing Our Duties

And to understand the significance of this responsibility

Yaa ayuhallazeena aamanu maeeny yartadda minkum ‘an deenihi fasawfa ya’tillahu biqawminy yuhiboonahu wa yuhiboonah

O you who believe, if any from amongst you turns back from his faith then Allah will bring another people whom He will love and they will love Him

One explanation is the obvious one that whoever turns back from faith to disbelief, then Allah will bring other people to take their place. Yet another explanation for this verse is given by Ibn Kathir who says that whosoever turns back from assisting His religion and establishing the divine law then Allah will bring another people who will be more suited for the job. So what does this tell us? It tells us that if we don’t undertake this mission, Allah will replace us with people who would. And if He willed and desired to do away with us and bring another people, that’s easy for Him.

Lauw  Anna  Awwalakum  wa  Aakhirakum  wa  Insakum  wa Jinnakum  kaanu  ‘Ala  Athqa  Qalbi  Rajulinw  Wahidinm  Minkum maa  Zaada  zaalika  fi  Mulki  Shaeeyan

If the first of you the last of you the men of you the jinn of you were as righteous as the most righteous heart amongst you that would not add to Allah’s dominion in anyway

So it is we who need Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala and not otherwise. So if we don’t do what He has commissioned us to do. He’ll bring another people.

Almunafiqoona wal munafiqaati ba’dohum minm  ba’ad. Ya muroon bilmunkari wa yanhawna a’anil ma’rufi

The munafiqun men and women are from one another; they command the evil and forbid the good.

We realize that as soon as a Muslim sees the word Munafiq, he distances himself. So if a Munafiq is described to command the evil and forbid the good, a Muslim does the exact opposite. So in order to not to have any level of Nifaq in our hearts, a Muslim commands the good and forbids the evil, and this is exactly what Allah subhanahu wataala says a few verses later in the same Surah:

Walmominoona walmominaat ba’dohum awliyau ba’ad. Ya’muruhum bila’roofi wa yanhauna anil munkar

The believing men and women are from one another; they enjoin the good and forbid the evil.

In conclusion, we pray to Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala that He develops within us this aspiration and desire to effectively utilize our Islamic centers for reaching out to the neighboring communities with the true message of Islam, and that He blesses the efforts of our brothers and sisters who actively participate and contribute in the community to whatever extent possible, Aameen.

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