Dawah, often defined as preaching to Islam; yet as the Arabic meaning holds it is more of an invitation to understand Islam for those who are yet to know it, yet to accept it. Yet, we mostly as Muslims find ourselves somewhat lost in translation, adopting a “hit and run” approach where we count a revert ‘Shahada’ as the end goal and that’s that. However, if we are to convey the true message of Islam especially in the face of an ever discouraged environment, we may as well adapt to a more holistic strategy of Islam as a lifestyle, as it should be. Now I am no certified ‘da’iah’ preacher, yet the responsibility of marketing myself as a Muslim is beyond self-branding, and I pray that I am not a contradictory ‘fitna’ to the Non-Muslim onlooker.
Perhaps my readers by now have sensed my love for alliteration, the choice of the title serves the double meaning for this article. Firstly, dummies in a US English sense, as in me being a complete beginner to the practices of preaching. So note here without taking the words on the offensive, you the beginner preacher are the –ehm- dummy to the ways of the trade. Through trial and error, and first-hand experience I aim to give a humble incomplete guide to how to confront the reasoning of your Non-Muslim acquaintances in an inviting manner. With a little help from a marketing background, I pray we may be able to learn how to dawah to prospective customers.
For my encounters with curious friends and colleagues about Islam, I find many of their concerns arise from three main points; Women’s rights, animal rights, and diversity in Islam. For a born and raised Muslim, these may seem like givens. But to an apprehensive audience who are bombarded with media suggesting an abusive ritual against all these rights, a clear understanding is in need. I remember a friend of mine referring to Eid Al-Adha as the “sheep murdering bayram”… it did sound harsh, but I genuinely cared for her concern. I tried to explain how the true teachings of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) enforce a clean swift cut where the animal is submitted and unseen by its sheep kind as not to strike fear. I further highlighted the research proven benefits of blood drainage of the meat yet to be eaten. And I even went to further readings on the yet disputed rulings of pre-stunning that is sometimes allowed in a context of “Halal”. As for women rights, it seems essential to differentiate between backward culture and sound Islamic guidance. With all the radical killings and ill-practiced misinterpretation of extremists at the time it is an ongoing effort to prove that Islam is indeed a religion of peace, accepting peaceful diversity and coexistence.
All in all, to the dummy little me I found there are a few “Do’s and Don’t’s” to help with the process, so the ten countdown is as follows:
• Don’t Judge: in fact, let go of any feelings of superiority or “kibr” as they may not only ruin your “niyyah” and intentions, but they would also show in a rather uninviting tone.
• Don’t take the Offensive: this is not a matter of clearing your name or defending your clan, but rather prove your point as objectively as possible.
• Don’t give Excuses for not doing Dawah: you may spread the word in the most unconventional of media, in your own pace in your own context, yet don’t do like me and resist for so long the responsibility of simply showing Islam 101.
• Don’t get Lost in Priorities: whilst it is true that the five pillars of Islam are what the building firm and strong, they may not well be the very first thing you should present. The most inspiring of all is Ja’afar ibn Abi-Talib’s speech as he eloquently and concisely presented Islam to the King of Abisinya: “We were an uncivilised people. God sent us an apostle who commanded us to speak the truth, be faithful to our engagements, mindful of the ties of kinship and kindly hospitality, and to refrain from crimes and bloodshed. He forbade us to commit abominations and to speak lies, and to devour the property of orphans, to vilify chaste women. He commanded us to worship God alone and not to associate anything with Him, and he gave us orders about prayer, alms and fasting [enumerating the commands of Islam]. So we believed in him and what he brought to us from Allah; and we follow what he asked us to do and we avoid what he forbade us to do.”
• Don’t Lie: it may seem very obvious, yet often we might sugar-coat the truth to appeal to our audience. Big mistake! Learning from the preaching of Abisinya, Ja’afar did not for once confuse the fact that Islam believes in Jesus as the apostle, but not the son of God. Half-truths are worse than lies. You may well try to explain the virtues of the veil to an unassuming free spirited bikini wearer as that it would eliminate sexual harassment altogether, but unless you are keen on sharing the utmost importance of lowering the gaze responsibility on men, you are effectively victim-blaming women; and offering a confusing communication on how veiled women are still harassed and raped.
• Do as you Teach, Practice what you Preach: there is nothing more confusing than a non-practicing Muslim; I confess that it is a daily trial to not give mixed messages. Though of course Islam is not Muslims, not imperfect and faulty, but there is a thin line.
• Do your Research: relying on your information is one thing, yet as new questions surface you should always try to refer to resources for your message.
• Do your Targeting right: for every target audience there is a fair way to handle the positioning. Neighbours differ from colleagues differ from wondering walkers asking about your veil. And build on the base of beliefs for each group, where again the example of Ja’afar when he was asked to recite verses from the Quran he carefully chose Surat-Maryam, touching the heart of the Christian King.
• Do keep up to date: try to be proactive to the counter claims and “Halal” hysterias as they arise, showing your side of the story without being rude… simply cursing at the “Daily Mail” is not going to get you anywhere.
• Do your After-Sales Support: if God-willing your efforts are blessed with a Muslim convert taking ‘Shahadah’, know that this is just the beginning. Keep actively in touch supporting your new sister through the calamities and trials she will face. Remember, retaining a loyal customer is far more important and rewarding than attracting new ones. And Surat-Abasa is an everlasting reminder of how the Chosen One (PBUH) was advised to attend to the blind revert, rather than invite the leaders of Quraish.
Secondly, and in conclusion, the “dummies” as in the UK English dictionary meaning, of baby soothers, we may well be reminded that teaching our children about Islam is an inviting involving process that starts very early at age, rather than “because I said so” sort of strategy. I pray to teach my son to love Islam as it should be, not merely a culture or an arguable way of the family.