Strategic Steps in Dawah and Dialogue

Da‘wah, very simply, means any effort made to communicate to other people the Message of surrender to Allah, whether through words or example. The most common method of communication is usually in the form of one-to-one dialogue. Hence, this section concentrates on making the best use of dialogue for da‘wah.

Many verses of the Qur’an and hadith encourage Muslims to engage in da‘wah.  The Qur’an says, “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation.  Reason with them in ways that are best and most gracious…” (Q.16:125), “This (Qur’an) is a Message to humanity, and a Warning for them, so let them know that He is One God. Let people of understanding take heed” (Q.14:52), “And We have made you a community of the Middle Path that you may be a witness to humanity even as the Messenger is a witness to you…” (Q.2:143), “Let there arise among you a group calling to all that is good, enjoining right and forbidding wrong. These are the ones who shall attain felicity.” (Q.3:104), “And who is better in speech than he who calls people to Allah, works righteousness and declares, ‘I am one of those who surrender to Allah’?” (Q.41:33) The Prophet (r) said, “Convey this Message, even if only one verse.[1], and “Learn the required precepts of Islam and the Qur’an, then teach them to others for I will not live forever.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Allah’s injunction on Muslims to “Say, O People of the Scripture, let us come to common terms between us that we worship the One God…” (Q.3:64) is an injunction not just to respond to those who question us but, moreover, to initiate dialogue with other faiths.  Indeed, da‘wah was the principal role of all of Allah’s Messengers and Prophets. Yet one does not need to be a Prophet, saint or even scholar in order to engage in da‘wah. No Muslim is perfect in faith.  Once the Prophet (r) was asked, “What is faith?”  He replied, “When doing good makes you feel pleasure and doing wrong makes you feel terrible, then you are a believer.” Then someone asked, “What is a sin?” to which he responded, “When something bothers your conscience, give it up.”

Da’wah from an Islamic point of view must not just concentrate on the objective but also on the means and the method, ensuring that wisdom – hikmah – and beautiful exhortation are always maintained.  In attempt to utilise such wisdom, the following steps are presented:

Considering the complex nature of human beings and their communities, it is logical that there can be no single most effective method of da’wah for all people of all times and places. However, a general procedure may be recommended to produce an effective da‘wah method to cater for the unique features of a particular audience/community. These steps may be divided into four:

  1. Rapport-building
  2. “Diagnosis”
  3. “Prescription”
  4. Follow-up
  1. RAPPORT-BUILDING

The Rapport-building stage is one where efforts are made to be known to others as honest, trustworthy and helpful, just as the Prophet (r) was known as “Al-Ameen” (the Trustworthy one) even before he began his mission.[2] Such efforts must be done sincerely and developed as good habits for one’s own personal development, not just as public relations gimmicks. Sincerity and good repute result in a high level of credibility when entering into discussions about matters of faith and reason. However, it should be emphasised again that pretentious displays of goodwill should not be made for da‘wah purposes. Hypocrisy is usually detected sooner or later and it will be the name of Islam that is tarnished in the end, with no good in it for anyone. In Islam the means and the ends both have to be good. Thus, everything done in rapport-building should be in conformity with Islamic guidelines, as it is itself a form of da’wah through behaviour.

Some General Suggestions for Rapport-building include:

  • Introduce yourself warmly and be genuinely interested in others, without prejudice or making immediate judgments.
  • Be a humble learner of local/indigenous ways, knowledge and religion(s).
  • Have respect for the unique elements of the culture, heritage and customs of people, e.g. language, food, dress, etc. Allah says in the Qur’an that He “made you into nations and tribes …” (Q.49:13) “…the variations in your languages and your colours; verily, in that are signs for those who know” (Q.30:22) “…Who taught mankind by the pen, taught man what he knew not.” (Q.96:4-5) However, one should not compromise any Islamic values or injunctions in one’s behaviour. Pay special consideration to appropriate customs of social exchange, courtesy, respect and greetings. Learn to remember people by their names and titles. A person’s name is said to be the sweetest sounding word in any language!
  • Show neighbourliness, and be involved in festivities, important ceremonies, and public occasions and gatherings.
  • Be concerned about welfare and community problems without discrimination. Exercise consultation in decision-making or planning for matters that involve the community or others in a place of work.  Try to use your skills and energy towards being useful to the community, since the Prophet (r) said, “The best among mankind are those most useful to others[3]
  • Remember that cordial visits, outings, sending of cards and casual phone calls can be significant customs that help with social bonding. The giving of gifts which may be useful to a person or his/her relations, as well as hosting dinners, cement ties, increase your generosity, and may encourage others to get to know you better. This is especially useful with leaders, opinion-makers and other influential persons who appreciate attention and may otherwise not have any incentive to receive you as a guest for discussion.
  • Avoid negative mannerisms, defamation, sarcasms, direct insults, or anything that would hurt others. The Prophet (r) said that “The heart has been fashioned such that it loves whoever shows goodness towards it, and dislikes whoever hurts it[4] The Qur’an also states, “Do not revile those whom others invoke instead of Allah, lest they in retaliation revile Allah out of ignorance” (Q.6:108).
  • Be open to scrutiny of your ideas and practices as an individual and as a member of society, and stand clearly for Islamic ideals of justice, truth, honesty, peace and mercy, “even if it be against yourselves, or your parents…” (Q.4:135) Attempt to correct misbehaving Muslims constructively.
  • Be well-informed on current knowledge of human relations, and make acquiring such interpersonal skills regular habits.
  • Ensure that you are familiar and recognized by the local authorities, or gain their consent to be among their community.
  • Be approachable and available for others to interact with you and learn from and observe you, and ask you questions and permit them to express their problems and issues of interest to you without reservation.
  • Keep away from whatever may lend suspicions towards one, and be honest and open in one’s dealings with people.
  1. “DIAGNOSIS” (INQUIRY AND LEARNING)

Da‘wah entails helping others to understand Islam and practice it better and thereby helping them to come closer to God. Da‘wah also involves correcting misconceptions about Islam and helping others to find and embrace Truth. In order to perform da‘wah well, one needs to discover what a person already believes, whether any misconceptions exist, what these are, and whether there may be any stumbling blocks that impede him/her from finding and accepting Truth or understanding and applying certain aspects of Islam. Such a process of observation, learning, inquiry, analysis and discovery is termed “Diagnosis”. Appropriate Diagnosis involves serious examination of all overt and subtle “symptoms” of misunderstanding, ignorance or difficulty – in order to deliver an appropriate “Prescription”. Da‘wah usually fails when an inappropriate “Prescription” has been applied, due to faulty Diagnosis or an absence of it altogether.

Some General Tips to Aid in Effective Diagnosis are as follows:

  • Take care not to violate customary rules of dignity, privacy, and respect.
  • Concentrate on asking questions to probe into the person’s views and ideology as well as the strength of these views and his/her interest in Truth as well as intellectual capacity. Examples of such questions include: “What do you believe/think about …?”, “Where do you get your information from?”, “How can you be sure that it’s true?”, “Why do you say that?”, What do you mean by …”, etc.
  • Questions could also be used to expose misconceptions and wrong assumptions as well as priority areas for “diagnosis”.
  • Diagnosis requires active listening and genuine interest in understanding the other person’s views and reasons for such views. Active listening implies willingness to listen and understand before being listened to and understood, giving verbal and non-verbal signs of genuine interest and understanding. Questions should be asked and what one understands should be confirmed by one’s partner in dialogue so as not to make a flawed or hasty conclusion.
  • Be prepared for frustrating responses and react calmly when confronted with them. Unless doubt is created/identified in the person about his/her existing belief(s), dogmatic reactions and assertions are to be expected.
  • Diagnosis may reveal the need for improved Rapport-building.
  • Both Rapport-building and Diagnosis in a community are usually best done by an indigene or convert of the area. Prophets were usually chosen from their own people.
  • Diagnosis should aim to comprehend what needs addressing or clarification,what method to utilize, as well as how much time and resources (e.g. certain books, opinions of more authoritative people etc.) may be necessary to be expended in the effort.

In summary, Diagnosis helps in deciding the best form of hikmah in calling to the way of Allah – i.e. deciding what to say, who should say it, whom it should be said to, how to say it, when to say it, where to say it, and whether to say it or not!

  1. “PRESCRIPTION”

Once misconceptions and difficulties in understanding and practicing Islam have become known, and once reasons of deficiency in knowledge of a subject matter, defective reasoning, or other factors have been deduced as the source of such misconceptions, an effective “Prescription” to solve the problem may be decided upon. It must be noted again that da‘wah does not always have a 100% success-rate – nobody is, or becomes, perfect. Some may be convinced of Truth once it is presented to them; others may not be immediately convinced but may be so later on through more knowledge and/or life experiences, while others may never be convinced.  There is also a difference between helping someone to understand, and helping someone to believe.  An argument that is understood may not always mean the person is convinced of it.

One’s role as a dā‘iyah is only to convey the Message, not to compel anyone to accept it. Allah says, “Let there be no compulsion in religion; Truth stands distinct from error…” (Q.2:256) and to never cease to “Reason with them in the best and most goodly manner, for indeed your Lord knows best who strays from His path and who is guided.” (Q.16:125).  Unknown to one, a seed of faith may be planted but which may take many years yet to bear fruit, while a person may continue to appear an unbeliever or reluctant Muslim.  The method of prescription is very important to facilitating the Message being internalized.  An analogy is that a nice meal, if poorly presented or thrown at one, may easily be rejected even if the recipient is hungry.

Some General Tips for Effective “Prescription” include:

  • It is preferable to engage in dialogue to eradicate misconceptions, if at all possible, only when rapport has been effectively established.
  • Sustain a dialogue and do not allow it to evolve into a heated debate, in order to adequately address priority issues.
  • Be subtle, inoffensive and apply Prescription in the appropriate “dose” (not addressing too many matters at once, with consideration for sensitive issues, and without consuming too much of a person’s time). There is a limit to what can be digested at a time, and few conversions happen instantaneously – no overdose. Handle priority and more serious problems (or “pains”) first.
  • Prescriptions could be delivered through questions to the conscience/fitrah/common sense which would help the person to find his/her own agreement with one’s views without directly perceiving them as ‘Islamic’. E.g. “Do you really believe that …?” “What is your personal view on women taking the initiative to wear what promotes their spiritual commitment in public?” “Don’t you think that the impact of interest rates on Third World debt has resulted in severe injustices?” “What is your opinion of those who say that the time over which changes in life forms have appeared on Earth is too short for a Divine force not to have guided it?” “Do you feel comfortable with the belief/view that all children inherit the sin of their ancestors which prevent them from God’s acceptance?” “How do you reconcile that verse with the example of the Prophet” “What would you respond to those who say…?”, etc.
  • The Qur’an encourages people to think, and this is the most effective way of attaining conviction. Therefore, avoid using the words, “why” and “how” to begin questions as they tend to elicit justifications and uni-directional (usually defensive) responses, and inhibit broader consideration of alternatives.  g. “Why do you want to be a Christian?” tends to make the respondent think of reasons for being Christian, rather than considering what issues may be involved in a choice of religion to follow.  A better question may be “What criteria are important to you in choosing a faith?”
  • Following the Qur’anic technique, it is best to allow and, indeed, encourage others to think and arrive at Truth for themselves. Give food for thought, and be thought-provoking without being provocative.
  • Ensure that rapport is maintained throughout and that a meeting/dialogue session does not jeopardise willingness on either side to meet again.
  • Dialogue does not necessarily have to start with “religious”/doctrinal topics – the focus could start with issues of social welfare, sports, current affairs/news, justice, family relations, social problems, environmental degradation, ‘developmental’ issues and other common topics of discussions (ensuring that one presents the solutions or positions posited by Islam to each).
  • Once trust in the intellectual and moral integrity of the da’iyah is established, the handling of more personal/sensitive issues may become easier.
  • Prescription may also be by general conversations, lending books or cassettes, invitations to attend other people’s presentations, etc.
  • This implies the need for, and availability of, good quality literature and articles through the print media, as well as quality multi-media programs on diverse topics addressing issues of concern to Non-Muslims.
  • Explain all Arabic terms used, or avoid using them excessively so as not to confuse or break the attention of the listener. A dā’iyah should take great care with his/her language and choice of words, always remembering what certain expressions mean in the usage of the people, so as not to be misunderstood
  1. “FOLLOW-UP”

One should try to ensure that the Prescription does not undermine Rapport-building or continuous opportunities for interaction.  If the previous encounter was positive, there is need to follow up and to build upon what was previously established.  If the previous encounter was not positive, there is need to follow up both to re-establish some rapport, and to see if there are any other thoughts that have occurred or any rethinking in the minds or hearts of the individual concerned.

If one has promised to return or to find answers to questions, then it is important to keep those promises, as breaking promises is itself a form of negative da‘wah. Never give up hope even when things appear to have ended on a low note or a person appears unconvinced. He or she may have had greater reflection or time to obtain more information after being stimulated by the discussions. In a less emotive atmosphere, previous antagonists have been known to change the weight which they attach to their own arguments.

Different aspects of da‘wah requires the use of different skills – intellectual, sometimes emotional, etc. These numerous resources are not necessarily in the possession of the most knowledgeable.  A continuous relationship should be built so that one becomes a facilitator for any further assistance towards the Truth, in order to sustain da‘wah even if one is not the primary giver of information or assistance.  This facilitator role is very valuable.  Follow-up also entails personal growth. Live up to the impression so that the confidence and trust established in one is maintained.  A Muslim’s own personal, educational and spiritual development should be a continuous exercise as Allah says, “O you who believe, why do you say that which you do not do yourself?” (Q.61:2)[5].

Finally, be aware of the significance of good company and do not lose contact with or neglect a person with whom one has engaged in da‘wah successfully. A supportive social network is vital to maintaining faith.

Da‘wah methodology depends on many factors and this procedure is only a guide among many others. An important principle is that the order of these steps should be appreciated. However, sustaining the three steps simultaneously and on an on-going basis is usually necessary for best results. In other words, “Diagnosis”, “Prescription” and “Follow-up” should always be done in a way that does not threaten but actually enhances continued Rapport-building.

[1] Bukhari: 3461, Musnad Imam Ahmad: 4686, Musannaf Abdrazak: 10157, Sunan Timithi: 2669.

[2] Safiyu rahman Mubarakphury, Arrahiq almakhtum p.48

[3] Al qudai, Muhammad bn salama bn jafar. Musnad Shihab 771, v.2 P.223 Muassasatu risala Beirut. 1407 AH 1986. Sahih al jamiu sager no:3289.

[4] Alasbahani, Abu Nuaim Ahmad bn abdullahi, Hilyatul awliya wa tabaqatul asfiya, v.4 p.141. Dar alkitab alaraby, Beirut. 1405. Al qudai, Muhammad bn salama bn jafar. Musnad Shihab 390, v.1 P.350 Muassasatu risala Beirut. 1407 AH 1986. Sahih al jamiu sager no:3289.

[5] Ibn Kathir, Abul Fidai, Tafseer alquran alazem, 1420AH. Dar Tayba Madina. V.8P. 105