We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Daʿwah - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result


Paul E. Walker, Reinhard Schulze, Muhammad Khalid Masud
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam


    [This entry contains three subentries:

    QurʿĀnic Concepts

    The word daʿwah and the verb daʿā from which it derives have a range of meanings both in the Qurʿān and in ordinary speech. It can signify, for example, a basic act of invitation, as in a ḥadīth that says, in part, “and someone who enters without an invitation [daʿwah] enters as a thief.” The ṣāhib al-daʿwah (“master of the invitation”) is, in this context, nothing more than a “host.” But the lexical meanings extend from there to encompass concepts of summoning, calling on, appealing to, invocation, prayer (for and against something or someone), propaganda, missionary activity, and finally legal proceedings and claims. Most nuances displayed by such English renderings are important for differing religious ideas and understandings, some only vaguely represented in the Qurʿān itself.

    As would be expected in a revelatory discourse between God and the Prophet, certain amplifications of the concept of daʿwah had to await elaboration through historical events. Nevertheless, in modern thought, the Qurʿānic uses of this term retain currency, because for Muslims the Qurʿān preserves its own vitality and immediacy. The meanings of daʿwah in any given verse or in any accumulated context reappear frequently in modern literature.

    In the Qurʿān (2:186) a basic meaning for daʿwah—perhaps its cardinal meaning—is the single act of prayer: “When My servants ask thee about Me, I am indeed close by and answer the prayer [daʿwah] of everyone when they pray to Me.” Daʿwah, therefore, can indicate a certain personʾs prayer or an entreaty addressed to God; such are the prayers of Moses and Aaron (sūrah10:89) or of Abraham, Solomon, or Jonah (asserted in a ḥadīth reference to Qurʿānic passages). Prayer can also mean the call to formal prayer rituals, as in a ḥadīth that specifies daʿwah (“calling to prayer”) as an office of the Ethiopian, but it is more commonly an individualʾs invocation of God for a special purpose, such as the granting of a favor. In fact, many Qurʿānic passages are warnings or admonitions against trying to call on a god other than the One True God, and a primary lesson in the Qurʿān is that to make a daʿwah (“appeal”) to other gods is vain either in this life or in the next. Such a daʿwah cannot and will not receive an answer; it yields no result, and to persist in it once apprised of its uselessness is a wickedness.

    The Qurʿān is thus replete with examples of those who wrongly call on false gods and, naturally, of the correctness of directing a daʿwah to the True God, who alone grants the appeal of his servants. Equally, each servant must recognize that Godʾs own daʿwah, his summons, requires their response. The ultimate daʿwah is that of God himself. This double principle—that God both summons through his daʿwah and that He alone answers the daʿwah of his servants—results in a sense of the true daʿwah, the daʿwat al-ḥaqq of sūrah13:14: “To Him is the prayer of truth [daʿwatal-ḥaqq], and all those they pray to, other than Him, answer them not at all, no more than if they stretched out their hands to reach for water, which reaches them not, for the prayer of the unbelievers is futile.”

    From examples such as this, the fundamental meaning of the Islamic daʿwah emerges. This daʿwah is the declaration that there is no god other than the True God (Allāh). The daʿwah is Islam, and Islam is the daʿwah.

    Other, false daʿwahs, however, do exist, now as in the past. The Qurʿān, for example, speaks of Satanʾs daʿwah in sūrah14:22, where Satan says, “I had no authority over you, but to call upon you, and you answered me; so do not blame me, but blame yourself.” The daʿwah a true believer issues and responds to must follow closely the lead of those properly appointed to this task. An agent of the daʿwah is referred to as a dāʿī—the one who makes the call, addresses the appeal, or issues the summons. An important use of daʿwah in the Qurʿān is the calling forth of the dead from the earth, as in sūrah30:25: “Then when He calls [daʿā] you by a single call [daʿwah] from the earth, behold you come forth at once.” More precisely, the dāʿī (caller) on that august day is the angel Gabriel. The Prophet, too, is said to be dāʿī Allāh (Godʾs summoner) in sūrahs 33:46 and 46:31–32.

    In accord with this, the second duty of a Muslim, besides praying only to the True God, is to answer the daʿwah of Godʾs dāʿī, Muḥammad, the Prophet. Presumably, other prophets were likewise the dāʿīs of God in their time. Sūrah14:44 contains a confirmation of this point: on the Day of Reckoning the evildoers will say to God, “If You delay the matter a little, we will accede to Your call [daʿwah] and follow the prophets.” The concept of daʿwah thus passes from God to his representatives on earth. Muḥammad, like the prophets before him, issues his own call, his own daʿwah. Each individual prophet calls in some particular way to his own people. This concept appears in several passages regarding the former prophets, such as the account of Noah in sūrah71:5–8, which begins, “We sent Noah to his people,” continuing with Noah himself complaining, “Oh Lord, I have called [daʿawtu] to my people night and day, but my calling only increased them in flight.”

    The idea of a daʿwah aimed at a given community, rather than an isolated individual, is the most obvious message in the passages concerning Noah. Like Noah, Muḥammad summons his people to the true faith; he thus fulfills Godʾs daʿwah by instituting his own. Sūrah23:73 refers directly to Muḥammad: “Truly you summon them to the straight path.” With this affirmation of Muḥammadʾs mission, the daʿwah has become the “straight path” and is more than a simple invocation of the One True God. Although the opening sūrah of the Qurʿān, for example, is an invocation addressed to God, and as such the sūrah itself is called the daʿwah, it also contains the message of the “straight path.” Sūrah10:25 states similarly, “God summons to the abode of peace; and He guides whoever He wants to the straight path.” The daʿwah is thus equated with the straight path, which is true religion itself.

    Opposing connotations of the term daʿwah, as outlined above, come together in sūrah40:41–43, where the believer addresses his people: “How strange that I call you to salvation and you call me to the Fire.” The two daʿwahs are in conflict: one is true and the other not; one blasphemes, the other succeeds with a promise of salvation.

    These extensions of the notion of each prophetʾs call lead to an extremely important concept—that of “community” in the sense of “community of believers,” no longer merely the people summoned by a single prophet. Although those summoned by a single prophet may not respond to the summons, those who do henceforth constitute the ummah (“nation”) of Muslims (assuming it is the era of Muḥammad): “Oh you who believe, fear God as He should be, and die not except having become muslim” (sūrah3:102). The idea of daʿwah thus moves one step further. Sūrah3:104 continues this idea: “Let there be one nation [ummah] of you, calling to the good, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong; those are the ones to prosper.” In this verse, the daʿwah is an activity of the whole community; it is the command to promote good and fight injustice at large. Sūrah3:104 begins to articulate a sense of daʿwah as a synonym of ummah and of righteousness itself. And it is thus not far from this to the equation of daʿwah and sharīʿah (the divine law), which, like daʿwah, is the “straight path.”

    Another important indication of this trend is found in sūrah57:8: “And the apostle summons you to believe in your Lord; indeed he has made a compact with you, seeing that you are persons of faith.” Here the idea of a mīthāq (compact or covenant), entered into by the Prophet and the believer as a response to the daʿwah, formalizes the daʿwahʾs communal dimension. The appeal of God transfers into an appeal by the Prophet; whereon Muḥammad, in turn, organizes those who answer him, taking from each a covenant and creating thereby an ummah that, ultimately, assumes the responsibility of the daʿwah on its own.

    The classical concept of daʿwah as put forth in the Qurʿān is that daʿwah and Islam are so intertwined that one can hardly be separated from the other. It would be wrong, moreover, to conclude that the idea of daʿwah grows and develops through stages in the Qurʿān. Rather, the whole complex scope of meaning should be taken together. The ḥadīths, which might have elaborated a particular concept, do not, but instead embellish several themes already stated. In the ḥadīth literature, for example, the prayers of the oppressed and the prayer of a Muslim on behalf of a brother are always successful.

    There are other views of daʿwah that receive their most important amplification beyond the sphere of the holy scripture. These are, first, daʿwah as a particular cause, either political or religious, within the domain of Islam and between contending Muslim factions; and second, daʿwah as the external mission directed broadly toward non-Muslims. It is true that the second notion derives powerful support from sūrah16:125, and indeed from the whole Qurʿānic depiction of Muḥammadʾs mission, but the first notion of daʿwah assumed priority in earlier times.

    Although daʿwah and Islam can be viewed as a single concept, the lexical denotation of daʿwah as “a special appeal” or “summons” to or on behalf of a certain cause allowed factional interests to adopt the term for the rights of one party against another. Thus daʿwah becomes the instrument by which one Muslim calls another to a specific purpose, such as the Shīʿah or the ʿAbbāsids and their claims in support of a specific imam. The Ismāʿīlīyah developed this concept, institutionalized it, and built out of it an elaborate notion of a cosmic daʿwah, arranged in hierarchical order, all members of which call those below to faith in the One True God above it all. But even the Ismāʿīlī idea of daʿwah, though generously amplified by philosophical ideas and other additions, is an amalgamation of Qurʿānic suggestions. The Shīʿah, in fact, claim basically that the daʿwah of each imam merely extends and completes the Prophet. Nevertheless, the intensity of special-interest pleading gave rise to the understanding of daʿwah as “propaganda” and dāʿī as “political agent provocateur.”

    That sense of the term does not necessarily find support in the Qurʿān, except distantly. For example, unlike the term tablīgh, meaning to “fulfill” or “implement” a mission—that is, to cause or bring about a given task, or to convey successfully a specific message—which is an active requirement, daʿwah is a passive invitation, a summons, a call, or a prayer. It is perfectly possible, therefore, to speak of the “implementation” of the daʿwah that is, tablīgh al-daʿwah. See TABLīGH. The Qurʿān, however, makes it abundantly clear that some persons respond to a daʿwah and some do not; some hearken to the call, while some put their fingers in their ears (sūrah71:7) and do not hear it. Moreover, sūrah16:125 and the verses that follow put the gentlest face on the whole idea of daʿwah. In modern apologetics this passage has, accordingly, become one of the most widely cited Qurʿānic descriptions of daʿwah and how it must function. These verses run, in part, as follows: “Call [or invite] to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and dispute with them in the better manner… and if you chastise, chastise even as you have been chastised, but if you show patience that is best.”

    This is an exhortation to Muḥammad and refers to his own opponents, but it has become a favorite text in support of the external mission of Islam. The missionary daʿwah once followed military conquest, but it now bears no direct relationship to that method for the spread of the Islamic domain. Even where conquest occurred in former times, Islam followed slowly through individual conversions, and this concept of daʿwah was still applicable. Then, however, the governing powers, politically and economically, were already Muslim before the daʿwah commenced. In modern periods, this need not be the case, and hence the daʿwah can lead rather than follow, thus placing great stress on the propriety of methods, which is exactly what this verse urges. It is, moreover, a succinct Qurʿānic answer to the charge of forcible conversion and directly rules out all methods of coercion. Thus its importance as a stimulus for missionary activities and also as a tool of interreligious apologetics cannot be underestimated.

    Because the Qurʿānic concept of daʿwah is so basic and therefore flexible, the term itself has many uses, each of which can be emphasized without violating the intention of the revelation or deviating widely from the original context. One common theme of modern literature, for example, is the universality of the Islamic daʿwah: it was addressed to all peoples, in the past as in the present. If Islam is the religion of God, if Muḥammad is its dāʿī, then no person or people is exempt from the reach of its appeal, its daʿwah. As another example, a more restricted view sees daʿwah as an appeal to true Islam—the Islam of the Prophet—in distinction to the vast elements of innovation that have crept into Islam. Militant Islamic submovements, therefore, employ the idea of daʿwah as the original call by Muḥammad to a pure religion. Daʿwah is both the call—as in the title of the Muslim Brotherhoodʾs periodical journal—to recreate that Islam and also the separate, individual efforts to preach and practice true Islam in various times and places. The daʿwah might thus become a movement in itself. As with other uses of the word, these usages carry a general Qurʿānic resonance in reminding Muslims of Muḥammadʾs situation and the trials he encountered in issuing and sustaining the first Islamic daʿwah.


    • There is little, if any, literature specifically on Qurʿānic concepts of daʿwah in English, in part because it is seldom considered a separate theme in Qurʿānic studies. For specific verses other than those covered in the article, it is necessary to consult a concordance of the Qurʿān. Ḥadīth literature has likewise not been studied for this theme and the standard section of the major ḥadīth collections on daʿwat refer primarily to uses of the term as meaning “invocation.”
    •  For other uses of the term and for the general literature on daʿwah as a mission for proselytizing, the following items are useful:
    • Arnold, Thomas Walker. The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith. 2d ed.London, 1913. An older but still classic account of Islamic missionary activity.
    • Canard, Marius. “Daʿwa.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. New ed., Vol. 2, pp. 168–170. Leiden, 1960–.
    • Denny, Frederick Mathewson. “Daʿwah.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade. Vol. 4, pp. 244–245. New York, 1987.
    • Fārūqī, Ismāʿīl Rājī al-. “On the Nature of the Islamic Daʿwah.” In Christian Mission and Islamic Daʿwah: Proceedings of the Chambesy Dialogue.London, 1985.
    • Ghazālī, Shaykh Muhammad al-. A Thematic Commentary on the Qurʿan. Translated by A. A. Shamis. Herndon, Va.: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2001.
    • Hamdani, Abbas. “Evolution of the Organizational Structure of the Fatimi Daʿwah.”Arabian Studies3 (1976): 85–114. On the Ismāʿīlī daʿwah as an institution.
    • Levtzion, Nehemia, ed.Conversion to Islam. New York and London, 1979. A collection of essays on this subject with a particularly valuable and up-to-date bibliography (pp. 247–265) on general as well as regional developments.
    • Poston, Larry. Islamic Daʿwah in the West: Muslim Missionary Activity and the Dynamics of Conversion to Islam. New York and Oxford, 1992. An interesting recent study of daʿwah and of the process of conversion to Islam in the West. Includes an important bibliography of works in English.
    • Sharon, Moshe. Black Banners from the East.Jerusalem, 1983. One of several good introductions to the ʿAbbāsid concept of daʿwah.

    Paul E. Walker


    Since the beginning of the twentieth century, modern Islamic daʿwah has become a major issue of newly established Islamic institutions and organizations. The Ottoman sultan Abdülhamid II had already included the concept of daʿwah in his “imperial ideology,” supporting his claim to be the caliph of the Islamic ummah (“nation”). ʿAbd al-RaḤmān al-Kawākibī embodied the call to the righteous of (Salafī) Islam into the duties of his fictitious Society for the Edification of the Unitarians (Jamʿīyat Taʿlīm al-Muwaḥḥidīn). But whereas the classical Salafīyah had stressed the concept of tarbīyah (educating the Muslim believers), independent non-scholarly organizations of the neo-Salafīyah put daʿwah into the foreground of their political and cultural activities. During the 1930s in Egypt, two competing organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn) and the Association of Young Muslims (Jamʿīyat al-Shubbān al-Muslimīn), not only propagated a temporary withdrawal from society (hijrah) but also called on Muslim youth to join the new groups in accordance with the Qurʿān (3:104): “Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. These are the ones to attain felicity.” By using this Qurʿānic verse, they tried to legitimate their claim to independent authority in a nation-state community. In a way, daʿwah still meant the call to become a member of the only righteous Islamic community within the Muslim ummah.

    In a different manner, the Society for Teaching and Propagation (Jamāʿat al-Tablīgh wa-al-Daʿwah; more commonly referred to as the Tablīghī Jamāʿat) of the Indian Maulānā Muḥammad Ilyās (1885–1944) had already stressed the necessity of a missionary duty of daʿwah. Of Ṣūfī background, the Tablīghī Jamāʿat focused on Muslim communities in the peripheries as well as on neighboring non-Muslims. The large mystical organizations were better able to cover the needs of proselytes in the peripheries than the political associations of the neo-Salafīyah. In West Africa, it was mainly the Sanūsīyah and the Tijānīyah that helped to spread Islam in hitherto non-Muslim territories. Likewise, such sects as the Ahmadīyah and the Ismāʿīlīyah used the concept of daʿwah to campaign for proselytes chiefly in communities to which Muslims had migrated but constituted a minority.

    Missionary activities of the new Islamic organizations were still marginal and restricted to sporadic activities of several centers of Islamic learning. Thus, during the sessions of the General Islamic Congress of Jerusalem in 1931, Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā (1865–1935) was able to revive his small Society of Call and Guidance (Jamʿīyat al-Daʿwah wa-al-Irshād), which he had founded in 1911 and which he had wanted to become a cornerstone of Ottoman Pan-Islamic activities. Only after the end of World War II did the political tendency to establish transnational Islamic bodies activate the idea of propagating Islam outside the sphere of the ummah as well. The short-lived Islamic Conference, established by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan in 1954, demanded that the spread of Islam become a major task of “Islamic work.” Daʿwah was now understood to be an integral part of the concept of waḥdah (unity): transnational organizations should simultaneously represent the will of the Muslim community to live in a single, at least culturally unified, ummah and to work to spread the true teachings of Islam.

    During the Arab Cold War (1957–1967), daʿwah work attained greater recognition in Saudi Arabia. Saudi politicians realized the possibility of broadening their political and cultural influence by “promulgating the word of God, promoting the message of Islam and bringing the Moslems back to the orbit of Islam” (see Mohammed Ahmad Bashmeel [Bashmīl], Nationalism in Islam; Beirut, 1962, p. 92). On October 24, 1961, the Saudi Government opened a new Islamic university in Medina, the task of which was to train Islamic workers for daʿwah in minority communities. In addition, the Muslim World League, founded in May 1962, included daʿwah in its covenant in order “to unify and to spread the Muslims’ word.”

    In the 1960s, Islamic daʿwah was promoted by at least three different types of organizations: interstate or state organizations, such as the Higher Council of Islamic Affairs (al-Majlis al-Aʿlā lil-Shuʿūn al-Islāmīyah), founded in Cairo in 1960, or the Islamic University in Medina; state-sponsored transnational organizations, such as the Saudi-based Muslim World League; and nongovernmental organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the Tablīghī Jamāʿat.

    However, the limited influence of transnational organizations was remarkable: in 1965, the Muslim World League had only fifty Islamic workers under contract, whereas the Higher Council of Islamic Affairs disposed of hundreds of students who had been trained at al-Azhar and who continued to work for the daʿwah policy of the university. Obviously, state-sponsored organizations, which claimed nevertheless to be “totally independent,” had difficulties in developing a profile of their own in the field of daʿwah. Divergent cultural and political tendencies assembled under the roof of a transnational organization competed for the contents of the true Islamic teaching and thus paralyzed daʿwah. By way of contrast, state organizations or nongovernmental groups like the Muslim Brotherhood possessed a clearer Islamic political program, either in the interest of the government or as a result of a specific ideology.

    In the early 1970s, when Islamic politics were becoming a major expression of political and cultural struggle, the daʿwah of the transnational organizations gained greater attention from the Islamic public. In December 1972, the Wahhābī community in Saudi Arabia organized an International Youth Conference for Islamic Daʿwah, which became the foundation stone of the new Saudi-sponsored World Assembly of Muslim Youth (al-Nadwah al-ʿĀlamīyah lil-Shabāb al-Islāmī). In May 1972, the Libyan Government inaugurated a new transnational daʿwah organization, the Islamic Call Society (Jamʿīyat al-Daʿwah al-Islāmīyah), which during the first ten years of its existence hardly exercised any influence in the field of international daʿwah politics. After having been reorganized in 1982, however, a new suborganization of this society, the World Council for Islamic Call (al-Majlis al-ʿĀlamī lil-Daʿwah al-Islāmīyah) became the most important competitor of the Saudi-based Muslim World League and a mouthpiece for Muʿammar al-Qadhdhāfīʾs Third Theory.

    The simultaneous foundation of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the Islamic Call Society demonstrates that the concept of daʿwah was now also applied to the propagation of specific ideological and theological currents that legitimated Saudi and Libyan rule, respectively.

    The disappointing effects of international daʿwah, the foundation of new state agencies, and the spontaneous emergence of new radical Islamic political groups stressed the need for coordination and cooperation. In 1973, the Muslim World League accepted volunteers from the Azhar Academy of Islamic Research (Majmaʿ al-Buhūth al-Islāmīyah), founded in 1961–1964, in order to fulfill the duties of Islamic work in Africa and Southeast Asia. In September 1975, the Muslim World League held the Mosque Message Conference, an international daʿwah conference, in Mecca. The league proposed the total reorganization of international daʿwah activities and the highlighting of mosques as the focal point of daʿwah. Accordingly, the World Council of Mosques was established in 1975. Within ten years, the league succeeded in founding several regional branches of this council, which was clearly regarded as a counterweight to the World Council of Churches. Nevertheless, the number of daʿwah activists increased only gradually. Although the Muslim World League boasted of cooperating with more than a thousand Islamic organizations all over the world, in 1985 it had only 1,000 Islamic workers under contract (360 in Africa, 473 in Asia, and 167 in Europe and the Americas).

    After this reorganization of the institutional field of daʿwah, the major transnational Islamic organizations were confronted with new developments resulting from the revolutionary propaganda of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranian leadership had set up an Organization for Islamic Propaganda (Munaẓẓamat-i Iʿlām-i Islāmī) with the rank of a state ministry whose purpose was to win non-Shīʿī Muslims for the Islamic revolution. Daʿwah was again aimed more at attracting supporters for a specific political ideology than at recruiting proselytes. Depending on the direct support of the patron regime, political daʿwah also followed fluctuations in the governmentʾs domestic and foreign policy strategies: in 1982, the Iranian regime began to emphasize its Shīʿī background, thus forcing the propaganda organization to join in this spirit.

    From 1982 on, the competition among the major transnational organizations created a new geographical distribution of daʿwah activities: the Iranian activists stressed the importance of working among Muslim communities in the Western world; the Muslim World League tried to consolidate its daʿwah activities in East Africa, Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan; the Libyan Islamic Call Society chiefly intervened in West Africa and in South America. The Cairo-based Higher Council of Islamic Affairs tried to steer clear from this competition and continued to recruit its activists from those parts of the Islamic world that kept traditional contacts with al-Azhar.

    In addition to these important daʿwah organizations, at least fifteen other bodies and agencies have hoped to gain recognition in the Islamic world by starting independent daʿwah activities. Most of the rich Islamic countries established daʿwah organizations of their own (e.g., Kuwaitʾs al-Hayʿah al-Khayrīyah al-Islāmīyah al-ʿĀlamīyah or Iraqʾs Munaẓẓamat al-Muʿtamar al-Islāmī al-Shaʿbī). The resultant social and cultural competition was to be countered by the establishment of a new coordination council. In 1988, seventeen organizations founded the World Islamic Council for Propagation and Relief (al-Majlis al-ʿĀlamī al-Islāmī lil-Daʿwah wa-al-Ighāthah). The Muslim World League had already started to integrate daʿwah activities with relief work in 1981. The idea was to direct daʿwah to those communities and localities that were affected by natural disaster, unemployment, or poverty. In this way, the dāʿīs (agents of daʿwah) would demonstrate that Islam also helps to cover the basic needs of humankind and that the Islamic ummah is a singular expression of solidarity and humanity.

    In general, however, several structural factors constituted a major obstacle to the success of institutionalized daʿwah:

    First, transnational daʿwah was not able to mobilize local forms of Islamic culture, as it had to follow the Salafī tradition, which demanded the abolition of local Islamic cults and cultures. Accordingly, daʿwah activists were able to gain influence only among those urban communities that were in a similar social and cultural position. The new Muslim immigrant communities in Europe, for instance, which had lost their traditional cultural bonds, were much more ready to accept the supremacy of one of these bodies than communities in Africa or Southeast Asia.

    Second, foreign Muslim activists were scarcely able to penetrate into the local culture of, for instance, the heterogeneous ethnic communities of West Africa. Although it was often stated that the Arabic language should be the language of daʿwah, communication between the dāʿīs and the community was most unlikely in such a case. Likewise, all publications of the transnational organizations were either in Arabic, English, or French. Yet those who were able to speak and read French or English were already connected to an international culture and thus were not predisposed to join the organizational field of Islamic daʿwah.

    Third, as all the transnational bodies identified daʿwah with an increase in the institutionalization of Islamic culture within the scope of their specific ideological tendencies, the success of their work was measured by an increase in membership. Consequently, daʿwah was far more able to mobilize already existing institutions, such as small mosques or political communities, which were ready to join a hierarchical, institutional system.

    Fourth, because political daʿwah favored the patronage of a single regime—be it Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Libya—new members also had to identify with these regimes. However, serious political problems often evolved out of the shifts in state politics.

    Whereas al-Azhar or the Muslim World League tried to reduce the political contents of daʿwah to a minimum, the Libyan and Iranian organizations, and to a certain extent the Saudi-sponsored World Assembly of Muslim Youth, acted far more politically. Consequently, they seemed to be able to mobilize communities on a specific issue (e.g., the Salman Rushdie affair in 1989), but failed to gain lasting influence, as spontaneous mass mobilization seldom helps to create an institutional basis. Thus, the influence of the Muslim World League in Sudan outlasted all political changes that took place during the years 1983 to 1990, and Libyan influence in Burkina Faso and Mauritania depended on the degree of consensus between the regimes involved.

    Institutional daʿwah carried out by independent nongovernmental organizations has had different objectives that have helped the organizations to surpass political difficulties. The Aḥmadīyah mission, for instance, was not encumbered with the patronage of a specific regime. Likewise the daʿwah of the Tablīghī communities was more successful in Western societies, since hardly anyone imputed to them propaganda in favor of a particular regime. Apparently, the Islamic mission outside Muslim communities is mainly supported by independent, often informal, Islamic groups, whereas the institutionalized daʿwah of the large Islamic organizations like the Muslim World League aims principally at integrating Muslim communities whose transnational affiliation is not clear. Thus, in a way, institutionalized daʿwah supports the regrouping of the heterogeneous Islamic culture.

    At an early stage, the Muslim World League had recognized the important role of modern media in the creation of an Islamic daʿwah network. In 1984, the League integrated its daʿwah apparatus within its Section Six (“media”). In 1977, on the occasion of a daʿwah conference in Medina, all delegates had criticized the poor quality of Islamic media. And it was stated that in almost all regions where daʿwah was to be carried out, Islamic media were practically nonexistent. In order to solve this problem, the League organized an international media conference in Jakarta in September 1980, during which the delegates passed a Covenant of Islamic Media. The major part of the conferenceʾs decisions dealt with institutional questions (e.g., the establishment of a Higher International Council for Islamic Media). It soon became clear, however, that by incorporating daʿwah within the field of international or regional media, the delegates were confronted with the question of how to deal with the ideological and theological contents of daʿwah. The only common ground was the so-called ideological threats to which the Muslim communities felt exposed. Thus, conference members agreed that media should fight against socialist and atheist ideas, Christian mission, and “pseudo-Islamic groups.” Nevertheless, ideas that could have marked the guidelines of the theoretical and practical contents of daʿwah were still missing.

    It is clear that institutionalizing daʿwah has not automatically guaranteed success. On the contrary, the more daʿwah has been made a task of the large Islamic organizations, the more it has been paralyzed by institutional hierarchies and neutralized by the divergent Islamic tendencies that these organizations represent. In fact, institutional daʿwah continues to be mainly a medium of the patron regimes for the establishment of an informal, but religiously legitimated, foreign policy.



    • Anwar, Zainah. Islamic Revivalism in Malaysia: Dakwah Among the Students. Pelanduk Publications, 1987.
    • Draguhn, Werner, ed.Der Einf luβ des Islams auf Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft in Südostasien. Hamburg, 1983. Collection of essays on Islam and daʿwah activities in Southeast Asia.
    • Kramer, Martin. Islam Assembled: The Advent of the Muslim Congresses. New York, 1986. Excellent introduction to the history of the Muslim Congress movement, 1880 to 1939.
    • Landau, Jacob. The Politics of Pan-Islam: Ideology and Organization. Oxford, 1990. One of the best studies on Pan-Islam to date. The author concentrates on the earlier periods, 1880 to 1939.
    • Mattes, Hanspeter. Die innere und äuβere Mission Libyens. Mainz, 1986. Insightful analysis of Libyan missionary activities.
    • Nyang, Sulayman. Islam in the United States of America. Kazi Publications, 1999.
    • Otayek, René, ed.Le radicalisme islamique au sud du Sahara: Daʿwa, arabisation et critique de l'Occident. Paris, 1993. Collection of essays on daʿwah activities in Africa.
    • Piscatori, J. P.Islam in a World of Nation-States. Cambridge, 1986. Most useful discussion of the role of Islam in nation-state societies, with many important references to daʿwah organizations.
    • Schulze, Reinhard. Islamischer Internationalismus im 20. Jahrhundert: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Islamischen Weltliga. Leiden, 1990. Gives a history of Islamic transnationalism and of the Muslim World League.
    • Sharipova, Raisa M.Panislamizm Segodnia: Ideologia i praktika Ligi Islamskogo Mira. Moscow, 1986. Description and interpretation of the Muslim World League from a political point of view.

    Reinhard Schulze

    Modern Usage

    Literally meaning “claim, prayer, invocation,” daʿwah has been defined by Frederick M. Denny in the Encyclopedia of Religion (New York, 1987, vol. 4, p. 244) as “a religious outreach or mission to exhort people to embrace Islam.” The Muslim daʿwah literature generally agrees with this definition. In modern usage, however, daʿwah has acquired meanings other than “mission” and “conversion.” Studying modern manifestations of daʿwah, one discerns four obvious trends—political orientation, interiorization, institutional organization, and social-welfare concerns.

    Political Orientation.

    Daʿwah was used as a call to establish an alternative political order in the early history of Islam, for instance by the Khawārij and ʿAbbāsids against the Umayyads and by the Ismāʿīlīs against the ʿAbbāsids, but it became gradually divested of this political orientation in later periods. Muslim political theorists generally mentioned daʿwah as one of the duties of a caliph, but this duty was rarely realized in practice. This caliphal doctrine was used rather to redefine daʿwah in terms of preaching and to control daʿwah efforts, particularly to constrain them from seeking political objectives.

    The doctrine of daʿwah as a caliphal duty was revived in the nineteenth century by the Ottoman sultān Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909), giving it an entirely new meaning. Instead of referring to preaching and jihād, this caliphal duty was now defined to extend the caliph's authority over Muslims in other countries, analogous to the Catholic pope. Although Abdülhamid II used the idea for his own political purposes, it was also readily accepted by the West, largely because, as Thomas Arnold argued in The Caliphate (1924), many Western scholars had already compared the caliph with the pope. In addition, some European statesmen and scholars like W. S. Blunt found this doctrine of daʿwah useful in promoting Arab nationalism. Blunt, who believed that Muslims would have a better future if political power were shifted from the Turks to the Arabs, proposed in The Future of Islam (1882) that the Ottoman caliph should only be the spiritual head of all Muslims, while executive and administrative powers should be placed in the hands of regional Arab rulers.

    In this context daʿwah immediately became a political instrument to propagate Islamic unity. The doctrine of daʿwah as a caliphal function brought Muslims in different territories together under one spiritual head. Daʿwah for the unity of the Muslims was systematically developed by Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (d. 1897), who founded the Jamʿīyat al-ʿUrwat al-Wuthqā (Society of the Reliable Bond), a daʿwah organization promoting Muslim solidarity.

    Improved means of communication and news media in the twentieth century increased awareness among Muslim communities, which had remained largely isolated from one another until then. This awareness led to the growth of a sense of solidarity. The political context of democracy and nation-states heightened the importance of attracting large numbers of supporters. The vigorous Christian missionary work of this period was viewed by Muslims as a political threat because it was seen as an effort to increase the number of Christians in Muslim areas. Daʿwah organizations like al-Daʿwah wa-al-Irshād (Daʿwah and Guidance), founded by Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā (d. 1935), were established in response to the perceived threat.

    The ideas of nationalism and nation-state also led to the politicization of daʿwah. These ideas called for local self-government and the expulsion of colonial rulers. Since the obvious point of difference between the colonists and the indigenous population was generally religion, the struggle against colonial rule was defined as daʿwah to seek independence from non-Muslim rule and to establish or restore dār al-islām. This interpretation of political action was found convenient because it could be claimed as a religious right from the colonial government, and action against the government could be justified as struggle for religious freedom. Moreover, this daʿwah helped popularize political movements because it provided a broader base for developing national identity in countries of ethnic and linguistic diversity. Finally, national political movements based on such daʿwah could win the sympathy of similar political movements in other Muslim areas.

    Daʿwah as state ideology emerged more clearly in the 1960s under Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970). He established a daʿwah network in the Middle East and Africa with the help of al-Azhar University in order to promote Islam, the Arabic language, and Arab nationalism. Other Muslim states, sensing in the influence of his daʿwah a threat to their national sovereignty, organized their own daʿwah in line with their particular interests. To combat Arab nationalist daʿwah these Muslim states highlighted the anti-Islamic stance of nationalism and stressed its affiliation with atheism, secularism, and communism. Daʿwah was defined in terms of the revival of pure Islam. This stance was adopted by countries like Saudi Arabia and Libya, which considered daʿwah an important duty of the state and established daʿwah networks throughout the Muslim world.

    Saudi Arabia established an Islamic University in Medina in 1961 for the education and training of daʿwah workers. In 1962 the Muslim World League (Rābiṭat al-ʿĀlam al-Islāmī) was founded to organize various transnational daʿwah activities. The league with its sixty members had as its first goal the fusion of the differing schools of thought in Islamic ideology into one organization. It succeeded very early in bringing together various reformist daʿwah groups in India, Pakistan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. With more than twenty-two branches all over the world, the league continued to work independently on the international level even after the foundation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 1970. Its activities were extended: Islamic Councils for the five continents were founded in 1974, the World Council of Mosques in 1975, and an Academy for Islamic Law in 1976.

    In Egypt a Higher Council for Islamic Affairs, established in 1960, sponsored daʿwah activities. The council sent teachers to various parts of the Muslim world, particularly Africa, and conducted an impressive program of publication. In the 1970s the Muslim World League made an effort to coordinate its daʿwah activities with the governments of Egypt and other countries. A World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) was formed in 1972. Some countries felt that the league's daʿwah activities and those of its subordinate organizations were guided largely by Saudi interests, and so they founded their own daʿwah organizations. Libya created its Association of Islamic Daʿwah in 1972, and Iran established the Islamic Information Organization in 1979. See MUSLIM WORLD LEAGUE.

    The political orientation of daʿwah has yielded two diametrically opposed results—transnationalism and solidification of the nation-state. First, it has promoted a transnational consciousness of the larger Islamic community (ummah) among Muslims. Second, daʿwah organized by a particular state, even on the transnational level, has tended to instill the idea of the nation-state among Muslims, despite the professed objectives of the daʿwah ideologies to the contrary. The emphasis of daʿwah organizations on the Islamization of laws and societies also reinforces the concept of the nation-state. Daʿwah groups normally define Muslims as a nation and do not accept other elements of the definition of a modern state; yet their demands for Islamization within existing governments amount to acceptance of the idea of territorial boundaries. Further, various Muslim states that support daʿwah activities control these activities as nation-states and reach out to other Muslim states.

    Four modes of desirable political operation may be discerned in the modern daʿwah literature: the launching of movements for an alternate political system; lobbying for an Islamic system; infiltration of daʿwah into the current political system; and opposition to political orders seen as un-Islamic. Daʿwah movements have sought to gain the support of some political parties for their objectives; indeed, some parties in Muslim countries have originated from daʿwah movements.


    Instead of reaching out to members of other faiths, the modern daʿwah movements work primarily among Muslims. Two factors explain this emphasis. First, the threat of materialism, secularism, and indifference to religion in general and to Islam in particular, have prompted preachers to give disbelief (kufr) among Muslims priority. Modern education, science and technology, and modern political systems all pose an immediate threat to religion and its institutions.

    Second, daʿwah workers see in the modern governments of Muslim countries a continuity of the Christian and Western rule of the colonial period. Muslim thinkers had developed the conviction during colonial rule that state and governmental institutions were the only instruments that could bring about the revival of Islam. The struggle continues after independence as well, and the result has been not only the politicization of daʿwah but also the preferential targeting of Muslim governments and societies.

    The justification for the interiorization of daʿwah is sought in the doctrine of al-amr bi al-maʿrūf, the Qurʿānic injunction to do good, defined as a distinct duty of the Muslim ummah. This duty is understood to aim at all humankind, but in its doctrinal details its scope is generally restricted to Muslims. Another justification is derived from the doctrine of tartīb al-daʿwah (the order of priority in the spread of daʿwah), an early Islamic doctrine. As explained by Ibn Amīr al-Ḥājj (d. 1474), a Ḥanafī jurist, in Al-taqrīr wa-al-taḥbīr (vol. 2, Cairo, 1898, p. 89), this doctrine has reference to Muʿaʿdh ibn Jabal's (d. 639) daʿwah that stressed a graded approach in communicating religious duties and doctrines to new converts. Since there were deficient Muslims who needed to be converted to true Islam, the conversion of non-Muslims became secondary in importance.

    Saʿīd Ḥawwā, in his study of Ḥasan al-Bannā's (d. 1949) educational philosophy (Fī āfāq al-taʿlīm, 1980), explains that al-Bannā defined the priorities of daʿwah in the following order: self, home, society, country, government, Muslim ummah, and world. It is worth noting that daʿwah aims at the non-Muslim world only at the last stage.

    Institutional Organization.

    Throughout the history of Islam, barring the Fāṭimids and Ismāʿīlīs, daʿwah was largely an individual and noninstitutionalized activity. In modern times, however, it has become increasingly institutionalized. This concept of daʿwah may have arisen in response to the global Christian missionary activities that began to reach the Muslim world in the sixteenth century. The fact that organized daʿwah is a recent phenomenon is attested by Thomas Arnold's reference in The Caliphate to missionary activities in Sudan. In the early twentieth century the British government of Sudan marked out zones of influence for various Christian missionary societies. Muslims in Cairo demanded that some territories should be allotted to the followers of Islam. The government refused because no organized Muslim missionary society existed. Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā tried to establish a school for training Muslim missionaries in Istanbul but did not succeed until 1910.

    The Syrian scholar Wahbah al-Zuḥaylī in Āthār al-ḥarb fi-al-fiqh al-Islāmī (Effects of War in Islamic Jurisprudence, Damascus, n.d., p. 55), and the Egyptian writer Muḥammad al-Ghazālī in Al-ṭarīq min hunā (The Road Starts Here, 1988, p. 80) have also confirmed the absence of institutionalized daʿwah in Muslim countries before the twentieth century. Ṣubḥī Ṣāliḥ, a modern Arab historian, discusses the history of the spread of Islam in Al-nuẓum al-Islāmīyah, nashʿatuhā wa-taṭaw-wuruhā (The Islamic Organizations, Their Rise and Development, Beirut, 1968) but does not mention such an organization. In fact, al-Ghazālī's and other modern writers’ main criticism of past Muslim governments is that they did not pay enough attention to daʿwah on account of their narrow self-interests.

    Institutionalized and organized daʿwah probably began after 1915. There have been possible parallels with Christian missionary organizations; for example, the World Council of Mosques and the Organization for the Distribution of the Qurʿān are comparable to the World Council of Churches and various Bible societies.

    To illustrate the institutionalized aspect of daʿwah in modern times, the Daʿwah Academy established in 1985 by the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, may be mentioned. The objectives of the academy are to organize programs for the training of imams, community leaders, professionals, and workers; to develop better methods and techniques for daʿwah work and the training of imams; to produce and publish literature on daʿwah and to develop audio-visual material that is accurate and effective; and to organize orientation courses, symposia, seminars, workshops, and conferences. The academy publishes daʿwah literature in several languages in addition to the monthly magazine Daʿwah. Daʿwah programs at the Academy are run at both the national and international levels. At the national level it organizes training for imams of the mosques, army officers, medical doctors, engineers, writers, teachers, journalists, and children. It runs correspondence certificate courses on Islamic law, ḥadīth, and Islamic general knowledge, and it establishes daʿwah libraries in prisons and hospitals. At the international level, the Daʿwah Academy organizes leadership programs and training courses for new Muslims, daʿwah workers, and imams in Central Asia. The Academy is coordinating its efforts with twenty-eight other daʿwah organizations in various Muslim countries, including the Muslim World League.

    Social-Welfare Concerns.

    Until recently modern Muslim writers on Christian missionary activities strongly criticized the use of educational institutions, hospitals, and other welfare providers by the Christian missions as exploitative. Muṣṭafā Khālidī in Al-tabshīr wa-al-istiʿmār fi-al-bilād al-ʿArabīyah (Mission and Colonialism in the Arab World, Beirut, 1964) discusses how educational institutions and hospitals were used by the West to propagate Christianity in order to establish colonial rule. Mawlānā Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī, the founder of Jamāʿat-i Islāmī in Pakistan, responding to a letter by the pope in December 1967, complained that the use of welfare institutions by the Christian missions in the Muslim world not only constituted a form of coercion to convert, but it also defeated the purpose of faith. When a missionary hospital or a school provided its welfare facilities free to converts and charged high fees to Muslims, it forced poor Muslims to convert to Christianity and at the same time contradicted the idea of sincerity in one's faith.

    The recent concern for social welfare reflects a different concept of daʿwah. Traditionally, as evident in Qārī Tayyib's Uṣūl-i daʿvat-i Islām (The Principles of the Call to Islam), daʿwah meant only the call to spread revealed knowledge; social welfare was beyond its scope. Muslim daʿwah organizations began to use welfare facilities for daʿwah purposes only recently. The Muslim World League adopted social welfare in its daʿwah programs in 1974. It began relief work for Muslims, especially refugees, in 1980, and in 1988 a World Muslim Committee for Daʿwah and Relief was formed. Education and medicine are also the concerns of daʿwah movements like WAMY in Saudi Arabia, Jamāʿat Nasr al-Islām and Anṣār al-Islām in Nigeria, ABIM in Malaysia, and Diwan Dawat al-Islam in Indonesia. Muslim daʿwah welfare has not, however, been directed to non-Muslims.


    • Alūrī, Ādam ʿAbd Allāh al-. Tārīkh al-daʿwah ilā Allāh bayna al-ams wa-al-yawm (History of the Call to God between Yesterday and Today). 2d rev. ed. Cairo, 1979. Al-Alūrī, a Nigerian scholar, traces the origin of daʿwah to Adam, the first prophet, and defines the term as “a call to save mankind from deviation.” He interprets waʿẓ (sermon), irshād (guidance), tadhkirah (reminding), bishārah tabshīr (good news), indhār (warning), and ḥisbah (moral censure) as forms of daʿwah, and storytellers as types of dāʿīs (preachers). Alūrī's conception of daʿwah emerges as a broad term for the message of Islam, including its creeds, rituals, and laws. He cites recently established educational institutions as daʿwah movements.
    • Ghalwash, Aḥmad Aḥmad. Al-daʿwah al-Islāmīyah: Uṣūluhā wa-wasāʿiluhā (The Islamic Mission: Principles and Problems). Cairo, 1978. Comprehensive treatment of the concept of daʿwah, its doctrines, problems, and organization. The author defines daʿwah as communication of the teachings of Islam, and argues that non-Muslims are the target of daʿwah. In his opinion, daʿwah may be performed only by trained persons, and hence training of daʿwah workers is essential.
    • Ghīṭās, Ḥusnī Muḥammad Ibrāhīm. Al-daʿwah al-Islāmīyah fi ʿAhd Amīr al-Muʿminīn ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (The Propagation of Islam in ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb's Time). Beirut, 1985. Study of the spread of Islam during the rule of the second caliph, with detailed coverage of the doctrines of daʿwah as discussed by jurists and commentators on the Qurʿān, and its various stages in early Islamic history. Ghīṭās stresses that daʿwah, meaning “call to Islam,” is not limited to sermons and preaching.
    • Jindī, Anwar al-. Āfāq jadīdah lil-daʿwah al-Islāmīyah fi ʿālam al-Gharb (New Horizons for Islamic Mission in the Western World). Beirut, 1987. Study of daʿwah as a response to various challenges from the West, in which daʿwah is defined as a defense: against the Crusades, Christian missionaries, and Orientalists. According to al-Jindī, the target of daʿwah is not conversion but a just understanding of Islam by non-Muslims. He emphasizes, however, the need for reform and unity among Muslims themselves.
    • Tayyib, Qārī Muḥammad. Uṣūl-i daʿvat-i Islām (The Principles of the Call to Islam.) Lahore, n.d. The author, an Indian scholar, argues that daʿwah is essential to the formation of an Islamic state, but governments in Muslim countries are neglecting this duty. He warns that secularism, that is, the declaration of a state that it does not adhere to any religion, is detrimental to Islam. He stresses that revealed knowledge alone is the subject of daʿwah; rational and physical sciences, and sciences not related to divine laws, are beyond the scope of daʿwah.

    Muhammad Khalid Masud

    • Previous Result
    • Results
    • Highlight On / Off
    • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
    • Next Result
    Oxford University Press

    © 2021. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice