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Paul E. Walker, Reinhard Schulze, Muhammad Khalid Masud
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World What is This? Provides global coverage of the Muslim experience from the end of the eighteenth century through the twentieth century


    To explore the dimensions of religious outreach or mission activity in the modern Islamic world, this entry comprises three articles:

    The first article surveys issues articulated in the Qur'ān and ḥadīth; the second describes the development of organizations devoted to Islamic outreach; and the third considers the evolution of the idea in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For a related discussion, see Tablīgh.

    Qur'ānic Concepts

    The word da῾wah and the verb da῾ā from which it derives have a range of meanings both in the Qur'ān 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 [da῾wah] enters as a thief.” The ṣāḥib al‐da῾wah (“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 Qur'ān itself.

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

    In the Qur'ān (2.186) a basic meaning for da῾wah—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 [da῾wah] of everyone when they pray to Me.” Da῾wah, therefore, can indicate a certain person's prayer or an entreaty addressed to God; such are the prayers of Moses and Aaron (surah 10.89) or of Abraham, Solomon, or Jonah (asserted in a ḥadīth reference to Qur'ānic passages). Prayer can also mean the call to formal prayer rituals, as in a ḥadīth that specifies da῾wah (“calling to prayer”) as an office of the Ethiopian, but it is more commonly an individual's invocation of God for a special purpose, such as the granting of a favor. In fact, many Qur'ānic passages are warnings or admonitions against trying to call on a god other than the One, True God, and a primary lesson in the Qur'ān is that to make a da῾wah (“appeal”) to other gods is vain either in this life or in the next. Such a da῾wah 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 Qur'ān is thus replete with examples of those who wrongly call on false gods and, naturally, of the correctness of directing a da῾wah to the True God, who alone grants the appeal of his servants. Equally, each servant must recognize that God's own da῾wah, his summons, requires their response. The ultimate da῾wah is that of God himself. This double principle—that God both summons through his da῾wah and that he alone answers the da῾wah of his servants—results in a sense of the true da῾wah, the da῾wat al‐ḥaqq of surah 13.14: “To Him is the prayer of truth [da῾wat al‐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 da῾wah emerges. This da῾wah is the declaration that there is no god other than the True God (Allāh). The da῾wah is Islam, and Islam is the da῾wah.

    Other, false da῾wahs, however, do exist, now as in the past. The Qur'ān, for example, speaks of Satan's da῾wah in surah 14.22, 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 da῾wah a true believer issues and responds to must follow closely the lead of those properly appointed to this task. An agent of the da῾wah is referred to as a dā῾ī—the one who makes the call, addresses the appeal, or issues the summons. An important use of da῾wah in the Qur'ān is the calling forth of the dead from the earth, as in surah 30.25: “Then when He calls [da῾ā] you by a single call [da῾wah] from the earth, behold you come forth at once.” More precisely, the dā῾ī (“caller”) on that august day is the angel Gabriel. The Prophet, too, is said to be dā῾ī Allāh (“God's summoner”) in surahs 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 da῾wah of God's dā῾ī, Muḥammad, the Prophet. Presumably, other prophets were likewise the dā῾īs of God in their time. Surah 14.44 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 [da῾wah] and follow the prophets.” The concept of da῾wah thus passes from God to his representatives on earth. Muḥammad, like the prophets before him, issues his own call, his own da῾wah. 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 surah 71.5–8, which begins, “We sent Noah to his people,” continuing with Noah himself complaining, “Oh Lord, I have called [da῾awtu] to my people night and day, but my calling only increased them in flight.”

    The idea of a da῾wah 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 God's da῾wah by instituting his own. Surah 23.73 refers directly to Muḥammad: “Truly you summon them to the straight path.” With this affirmation of Muḥammad's mission, the da῾wah has become the “straight path” and is more than a simple invocation of the One, True God. Although the opening surah of the Qur'ān, for example, is an invocation addressed to God, and as such the surah itself is called the da῾wah, it also contains the message of the “straight path.” Surah 10.25 states similarly, “God summons to the abode of peace; and He guides whoever He wants to the straight path.” The da῾wah is thus equated with the straight path, which is true religion itself.

    Opposing connotations of the term da῾wah, as outlined above, come together in surah 40.41–43, where the believer addresses his people: “How strange that I call you to salvation and you call me to the Fire.” The two da῾wahs 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 prophet's 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 hence‐forth 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” (surah 3.102). The idea of da῾wah thus moves one step further. Surah 3.104 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 da῾wah is an activity of the whole community; it is the command to promote good and fight injustice at large. Surah 3.104 begins to articulate a sense of da῾wah as a synonym of ummah and of righteousness itself. And it is thus not far from this to the equation of da῾wah and sharī῾ah (the divine law), which, like da῾wah, is the “straight path.”

    Another important indication of this trend is found in surah 57.8: “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 da῾wah, formalizes the da῾wah's 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 da῾wah on its own.

    The classical concept of da῾wah as put forth in the Qur'ān is that da῾wah 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 da῾wah grows and develops through stages in the Qur'ān. 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 da῾wah that receive their most important amplification beyond the sphere of the Holy Scripture. These are, first, da῾wah as a particular cause, either political or religious, within the domain of Islam and between contending Muslim factions; and second, da῾wah as the external mission directed broadly toward non‐Muslims. It is true that the second notion derives powerful support from surah 16.125, and indeed from the whole Qur'ānic depiction of Muḥammad's mission, but the first notion of da῾wah assumed priority in earlier times.

    Although da῾wah and Islam can be viewed as a single concept, the lexical denotation of da῾wah 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 da῾wah becomes the instrument by which one Muslim calls another to a specific purpose, such as the Shī῾ah or the ῾Abbāsids and their claims in support of a specific imam. The Ismā῾īlīyah developed this concept, institutionalized it, and built out of it an elaborate notion of a cosmic da῾wah, arranged in hierarchical order, all members of which call those below to faith in the One, True God above it all. But even the Ismā῾īlī idea of da῾wah, though generously amplified by philosophical ideas and other additions, is an amalgamation of Qur'ānic suggestions. The Shī῾ah, in fact, claim basically that the da῾wah of each iman merely extends and completes the Prophet. Nevertheless, the intensity of special‐interest pleading gave rise to the understanding of da῾wah as “propaganda” and dā῾ī as “political agent provovateur.”

    That sense of the term does not necessarily find support in the Qur'ān, 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, da῾wah is a passive invitation, a summons, a call, or a prayer. It is perfectly possible, therefore, to speak of the “implementation” of the da῾wah that is, tablīgh al‐da῾wah. [See Tablīgh.] The Qur'ān, however, makes it abundantly clear that some persons respond to a da῾wah and some do not; some hearken to the call, while some put their fingers in their ears (surah 71.7) and do not hear it. Moreover, surah 16.125 and the verses that follow put the gentlest face on the whole idea of da῾wah. In modern apologetics this passage has, accordingly, become one of the most widely cited Qur'ānic descriptions of da῾wah 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah was still applicable. Then, however, the governing powers, politically and economically, were already Muslim before the da῾wah commenced. In modern periods, this need not be the case, and hence the da῾wah 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 Qur'ānic 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 Qurānic concept of da῾wah 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 da῾wah: it was addressed to all peoples, in the past as in the present. If Islam is the religion of God, if Muḥammad is its dā῾ī, then no person or people is exempt from the reach of its appeal, its da῾wah. As another example, a more restricted view sees da῾wah 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 da῾wah as the original call by Muḥammad to a pure religion. Da῾wah is both the call—as in the title of the Muslim Brotherhood's periodical journal—to recreate that Islam and also the separate, individual efforts to preach and practice true Islam in various times and places. The da῾wah might thus become a movement in itself. As with other uses of the word, these usages carry a general Qur'ānic resonance in reminding Muslims of Muḥammad's situation and the trials he encountered in issuing and sustaining the first Islamic da῾wah.


    • 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. Find it in your Library
    • Canard, Marius. Da῾wa. In Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 2, pp. 168–170. New ed., Leiden, 1960–. Find it in your Library
    • Denny, Frederick Mathewson. Da῾wah, In The Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade, vol. 4, pp. 244–245. New York, 1987. Find it in your Library
    • Fārūqī, Ismā῾īl Rājī al‐. On the Nature of the Islamic Da῾wah. In Christian Mission and Islamic Da῾wah: Proceedings of the Chambesy Dialogue. London, 1985. Find it in your Library
    • Hamdani, Abbas. Evolution of the Organizational Structure of the Fatimi Da῾wah. Arabian Studies 3 (1976): 85–114. On the Ismā῾īlī da῾wah as an institution. Find it in your Library
    • 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 bibliogarphy (pp. 247–265) on general as well as regional developments. Find it in your Library
    • Poston, Larry. Islamic Da῾wah in the West: Muslim Missionary Activity and the Dynamics of Conversion to Islam. New York and Oxford, 1992. An interesting recent study of da῾wah and of the process of conversion to Islam in the West. Includes an important bibliography of works in English. Find it in your Library
    • Sharon, Moshe. Black Banners from the East, Jerusalem, 1983. One of several good introductions to the ῾Abbāsid concept of da῾wah. Find it in your Library

    There is little, if any, literature specifically on Qur'ānic concepts of da῾wah in English, in part because it is seldom considered a separate theme in Qur'ānic studies. For specific verses other than those covered in the article, it is necessary to consult a concordance of the Qur'ān. Ḥadīth literature has likewise not been studied for this theme and the standard section of the major ḥadīth collections on da῾wat refer primarily to uses of the term as meaning “invocation.” For other uses of the term and for the general literature on da῾wah as a mission for proselytizing, the following items are useful:

    Paul E. Walker


    Since the beginning of the twentieth century, modern Islamic da῾wah has become a major issue of newly established Islamic institutions and organizations. The Ottoman sultan Abdülhamid II had already included the concept of da῾wah in his “imperial ideology,” supporting his claim to be the caliph of the Islamic ummah (“nation”). ῾Abd 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 (Jam῾īyat Ta῾līm al‐Muwaḥḥidīn). But whereas the classical Salafīyah had stressed the concept of ṭarbiyah (educating the Muslim believers), independent non‐scholarly organizations of the neo‐Salafīyah put da῾wah 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 (Jam῾īyat 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 Qur'ān (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 Qur'ānic verse, they tried to legitimate their claim to independent authority in a nation‐state community. In a way, da῾wah 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 (Jamā῾at al‐Tablīgh wa‐al‐Da῾wah; more commonly referred to as the Tablīghī Jamā῾at) of the Indian Maulānā Muḥammad Ilyās (1885–1944) had already stressed the necessity of a missionary duty of da῾wah. Of Ṣūfī background, the Tablīghī Jamā῾at 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 Aḥmadīyah and the Ismā῾īlīyah used the concept of da῾wah 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 Riḋā (1865–1935) was able to revive his small Society of Call and Guidance (Jam῾īyat al‐Da῾wah 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.” Da῾wah 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), da῾wah 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” (Mohammed Ahmad Bashmeel [Bashmīl], Nationalism in Islam; Beirut, 1962, p. 92). On 24 October 1961, the Saudi Government opened a new Islamic university in Medina, the task of which was to train Islamic workers for da῾wah in minority communities. In addition, the Muslim World League, founded in May 1962, included da῾wah in its covenant in order “to unify and to spread the Muslims' word.”

    In the 1960s, Islamic da῾wah 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‐A῾lā lil‐Shu'ūn 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 Jamā῾at.

    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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah. 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 da῾wah. 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 da῾wah 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 Da῾wah, which became the foundation stone of the new Saudi‐sponsored World Assembly of Muslim Youth (al‐Nadwah al‐῾Ālamīyah lil‐Shabāb al‐Islāmī). In May 1972, the Libyan Government inaugurated a new transnational da῾wah organization, the Islamic Call Society (Jam῾īyat al‐Da῾wah al‐Islāmīyah), which during the first ten years of its existence hardly exercised any influence in the field of international da῾wah politics. After having been reorganized in 1982, however, a new suborganization of this society, the World Council for Islamic Call (al‐Majlis al‐῾Ālamī lil‐Da῾wah al‐Islāmīyah) became the most important competitor of the Saudi‐based Muslim World League and a mouthpiece for Mu῾ammar al‐Qadhdhāfī's Third Theory.

    The simultaneous foundation of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the Islamic Call Society demonstrates that the concept of da῾wah 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 da῾wah, 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 (Majma῾ al‐Buḥūth 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 da῾wah conference, in Mecca. The league proposed the total reorganization of international da῾wah activities and the highlighting of mosques as the focal point of da῾wah. 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 counter‐weight to the World Council of Churches. Nevertheless, the number of da῾wah 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 da῾wah, 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 I῾lām‐i Islāmī) with the rank of a state ministry whose purpose was to win non‐Shī῾ī Muslims for the Islamic revolution. Da῾wah 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 da῾wah also followed fluctuations in the government's domestic and foreign policy strategies: in 1982, the Iranian regime began to emphasize its Shī῾ī 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 da῾wah activities: the Iranian activists stressed the importance of working among Muslim communities in the Western world; the Muslim World League tried to consolidate its da῾wah 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 da῾wah organizations, at least fifteen other bodies and agencies have hoped to gain recognition in the Islamic world by starting independent da῾wah activities. Most of the rich Islamic countries established da῾wah organizations of their own (e.g., Kuwait's al‐Hay'ah al‐Khayrīyah al‐Islāmīyah al‐῾Ālamīyah or Iraq's Munaẓẓamat al‐Mu'tamar al‐Islāmī al‐Sha῾bī). 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‐῾Ālamī al‐Islāmī lil‐Da῾wah wa‐al‐Ighāthah). The Muslim World League had already started to integrate da῾wah activities with relief work in 1981. The idea was to direct da῾wah to those communities and localities that were affected by natural disaster, unemployment, or poverty. In this way, the dā῾īs (agents of da῾wah) 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 da῾wah:

    First, transnational da῾wah 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, da῾wah 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 heterogenous ethnic communities of West Africa. Although it was often stated that the Arabic language should be the language of da῾wah, communication between the dā῾īs 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 da῾wah.

    Third, as all the transnational bodies identified da῾wah 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, da῾wah 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah carried out by independent non‐governmental 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah supports the regrouping of the heterogenous Islamic culture.

    At an early stage, the Muslim World League had recognized the important role of modern media in the creation of an Islamic da῾wah network. In 1984, the league integrated its da῾wah apparatus within its Section Six (“media”). In 1977, on the occasion of a da῾wah conference in Medina, all delegates had criticized the poor quality of Islamic media. And it was stated that in almost all regions where da῾wah was to be carried out, Islamic media were practically nonexistant. 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 conference's 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah. 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 da῾wah were still missing.

    It is clear that institutionalizing da῾wah has not automatically guaranteed success. On the contrary, the more da῾wah 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 da῾wah continues to be mainly a medium of the patron regimes for the establishment of an informal, but religiously legitimated, foreign policy.

    See also Azhar, al‐; Communications Media; Islamic Call Society; Muslim World League; Tablīghī Jamā῾at.


    • Draguhn, Werner, ed. Der Einfluβ des Islams auf Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft in Südostasien. Hamburg, 1983. Collection of essays on Islam and da῾wah activities in Southeast Asia. Find it in your Library
    • 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. Find it in your Library
    • 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. Find it in your Library
    • Mattes, Hanspeter. Die innere und äuβere Mission Libyens. Mainz, 1986. Insightful analysis of Libyan missionary activities. Find it in your Library
    • Otayek, René, ed. Le radicalisme islamique au sud du Sahara: Da῾wa, arabisation et critique de l'Occident. Paris, 1993. Collection of essays on da῾wah activities in Africa. Find it in your Library
    • 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 da῾wah organizations. Find it in your Library
    • 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. Find it in your Library
    • 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. Find it in your Library

    Reinhard Schulze

    Modern Usage

    Literally meaning “claim, prayer, invocation,” da῾wah 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 da῾wah literature generally agrees with this definition. In modern usage, however, da῾wah has acquired meanings other than “mission” and “conversion.” Studying modern manifestations of da῾wah, one discerns four obvious trends—political orientation, interiorization, institutional organization, and social‐welfare concern.

    Political Orientation

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

    The doctrine of da῾wah as a caliphal duty was revived in the nineteenth century by the Ottoman Sultan 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah immediately became a political instrument to propagate Islamic unity. The doctrine of da῾wah as a caliphal function brought Muslims in different territories together under one spiritual head. Da῾wah for the unity of the Muslims was systematically developed by Jamāl al‐Dīn al‐Afghānī (d. 1897), who founded the Jam῾īyat al‐῾Urwat al‐Wuthqā (Society of the Reliable Bond), a da῾wah 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. Da῾wah organizations like al‐Da῾wah wa‐al‐Irshād (Da῾wah and Guidance), founded by Muḥammad Rashīd Riḋā (d. 1935), were established in response to the perceived threat.

    The ideas of nationalism and nation‐state also led to the politicization of da῾wah. 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah could win the sympathy of similar political movements in other Muslim areas.

    Da῾wah as state ideology emerged more clearly in the 1960s under Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970). He established a da῾wah 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 da῾wah a threat to their national sovereignty, organized their own da῾wah in line with their particular interests. To combat Arab nationalist da῾wah these Muslim states highlighted the anti‐Islamic stance of nationalism and stressed its affiliation with atheism, secularism, and communism. Da῾wah was defined in terms of the revival of pure Islam. This stance was adopted by countries like Saudi Arabia and Libya, which considered da῾wah an important duty of the state and established da῾wah networks throughout the Muslim world.

    Saudi Arabia established an Islamic University in Medina in 1961 for the education and training of da῾wah workers. In 1962 the Muslim World League (Rābiṭat al‐῾Ālam al‐Islāmī) was founded to organize various transnational da῾wah 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah activities and those of its subordinate organizations were guided largely by Saudi interests, and so they founded their own da῾wah organizations. Libya created its Association of Islamic Da῾wah in 1972, and Iran established the Islamic Information Organization in 1979. [See Muslim World League.]

    The political orientation of da῾wah 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, da῾wah 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 da῾wah ideologies to the contrary. The emphasis of da῾wah organizations on the islamization of laws and societies also reinforces the concept of the nation‐state. Da῾wah 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 da῾wah 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 da῾wah literature: the launching of movements for an alternate political system; lobbying for an Islamic system; infiltration of da῾wah into the current political system; and opposition to political orders seen as un‐Islamic. Da῾wah movements have sought to gain the support of some political parties for their objectives; indeed, some parties in Muslim countries have originated from da῾wah movements.


    Instead of reaching out to members of other faiths, the modern da῾wah 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, da῾wah 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 da῾wah but also the preferential targeting of Muslim governments and societies.

    The justification for the interiorization of da῾wah is sought in the doctrine of al‐amr bi‐al‐ma῾rūf, the Qur'ānic 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‐da῾wah, (the order of priority in the spread of da῾wah), 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 Mu῾a῾dh ibn Jabal's (d. 639) da῾wah 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.

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

    Institutional Organization

    Throughout the history of Islam, barring the Fāṭimids and Ismā῾īlīs, da῾wah was largely an individual and noninstitutionalized activity. In modern times, however, it has become increasingly institutionalized. This concept of da῾wah 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 da῾wah is a recent phenomenon is attested by Thomas Arnold's reference in The Caliphate to missionary activities in the Sudan. In the early twentieth century the British government of the 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 Riḋā 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 da῾wah 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, nash'atuhā 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 attention to da῾wah on account of their narrow self‐interests.

    Institutionalized and organized da῾wah 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 Qur'ān are comparable to the World Council of Churches and various Bible societies.

    To illustrate the institutionalized aspect of da῾wah in modern times, the Da῾wah 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 da῾wah work and the training of imams; to produce and publish literature on da῾wah and to develop audio‐visual material that is accurate and effective; and to organize orientation courses, symposia, seminars, workshops, and conferences. The academy publishes da῾wah literature in several languages in addition to the monthly magazine Da῾wah. Da῾wah 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 da῾wah libraries in prisons and hospitals. At the international level, the Da῾wah Academy organizes leadership programs and training courses for new Muslims, da῾wah workers, and imams in Central Asia. The Academy is coordinating its efforts with twenty‐eight other da῾wah 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‐isti῾mār fi‐al‐bilād al‐῾Arabīyah (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‐A῾lā Mawdūdī, the founder of Jamā῾at‐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 da῾wah. Traditionally, as evident in Qārī Ṭayyib's Uṣūl‐i da῾vat‐i Islām (The Principles of the Call to Islam), da῾wah meant only the call to spread revealed knowledge; social welfare was beyond its scope. Muslim da῾wah organizations began to use welfare facilities for da῾wah purposes only recently. The Muslim World League adopted social welfare in its da῾wah programs in 1974. It began relief work for Muslims, especially refugees, in 1980, and in 1988 a World Muslim Committee for Da῾wah and Relief was formed. Education and medicine are also the concerns of da῾wah movements like WAMY in Saudi Arabia, Jamā῾at Nasr al‐Islām and Anṣār al‐Islām in Nigeria, ABIM in Malaysia, and Diwan Dawat al‐Islam in Indonesia. Muslim da῾wah welfare has not, however, been directed to non‐Muslims.


    • Alūrī, Ādam ῾Abd Allāh al‐. Tārīkh al‐da῾wah 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 da῾wah to Adam, the first prophet, and defines the term as “a call to save mankind from deviation.” He interprets wa῾ẓ (sermon), irshād (guidance), tadhkīr (reminding), bishārah tabshīr (good news), indhār (warning), and ḥisbah (moral censure) as forms of da῾wah, and storytellers as types of dā῾īs (preachers). Alūrī's conception of da῾wah emerges as a broad term for the message of Islam, including its creeds, rituals, and laws. He cites recently established educational institutions as da῾wah movements. Find it in your Library
    • Ghalwash, Aḥmad Aḥmad. Al‐da῾wah al‐Islāmīyah: Uṣūluhā wa‐wasā'iluhā (The Islamic Mission: Principles and Problems). Cairo, 1978. Comprehensive treatment of the concept of da῾wah, its doctrines, problems, and organization. The author defines da῾wah as communication of the teachings of Islam, and argues that non‐Muslims are the target of da῾wah. In his opinion, da῾wah may be performed only by trained persons, and hence training of da῾wah workers is essential. Find it in your Library
    • Ghīṭās, Ḥusnī Muḥammad Ibrāhīm. Al‐da῾wah al‐Islāmīyah fī ῾Ahd Amīr al‐Mu'minīn ῾Umar ibn al‐Khaṭṭāb (The Propagation of Islam in ῾Umar 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 da῾wah as discussed by jurists and commentators on the Qur'ān, and its various stages in early Islamic history. Ghīṭās stresses that da῾wah, meaning “call to Islam,” is not limited to sermons and preaching. Find it in your Library
    • Jindī, Anwar al‐. Āfāq jadīdah lil‐da῾wah al‐Islāmīyah fī ῾ālam al‐Gharb (New Horizons for Islamic Mission in the Western World). Beirut, 1987. Study of da῾wah as a response to various challenges from the West, in which da῾wah is defined as a defense: against the Crusades, Christian missionaries, and Orientalists. According to al‐Jindī, the target of da῾wah is not conversion but a just understanding of Islam by non‐Muslims. He emphasizes, however, the need for reform and unity among Muslims themselves. Qārī Muḥammad Ṭayyib. Uṣūl‐i da῾vat‐i Islām (The Principles of the Call to Islam). Lahore, n.d. The author, an Indian scholar, argues that da῾wah 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 da῾wah; rational and physical sciences, and sciences not related to divine laws, are beyond the scope of da῾wah. Find it in your Library

    Muhammad Khalid Masud

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