Calling unto Allah
(al-Daʿwa ilā Allāh)

Gibril Fouad Haddad

The Qurʾān refers to calling unto Allah Most High using thirteen terms. These terms are explained below along with other aspects of this Divinely instituted invitation.

Definitions and Usage

Terms used in the Qurʾān are: daʿā, ballagha, qāla, andhara, bashshara, adhana, nabbaʾa, talā, awṣā, amara, nahā, samiʿa, ṣadaʿa and/or their cognates in the following forms:

  1. the root d-ʿ-w is used 46 times in the verbal forms daʿā, yadʿū (to call),  the infinitive nouns duʿāʾ and daʿwa (calling), and the agential noun dāʿī (caller);
  2. the root b-l-gh is used ten times (Q 5:67 x2, 7:62, 7:68, 7:79, 7:93, 11:57, 33:39, 46:23, 72:28) for the verbal forms uballighu, balligh, ablighū (declare, deliver), once for balagha (the Qurʾān reaching, in Q 6:19), and fifteen times for the noun balāgh (declaration) (Q 3:20, 5:92, 5:99, 13:40, 14:52, 16:35, 16:82, 21:106, 24:54, 29:18, 36:17, 42:48, 46:35, 64:12, 72:23);
  3. the root q-w-l appears hundreds of times in the verbal forms qāla, qālū, qul (say);
  4. the root n-dh-r is used 45 times in verbal forms (to warn), and 78 times in the nominal forms nadhīr, pl. nudhur (warners), its synonym mundhir, pl. mundhirūn, and mundharīn (those being warned);
  5. the root b-sh-r occurs 25 times in the verbal forms bashhara, bashshir, abshirū, istabshirū (announce or receive good news), seventeen in the nouns mubashshir and bashīr (bringer of good news), and twelve in the noun bushrā (good news) (Q 2:97, 3:126, 8:10, 10:64, 11:69, 11:74, 16:89, 16:102, 27:2, 29:31, 39:17, 46:12);
  6. the root a-dh-n is used in the verb forms īdhanū (Q 2:279) (hear it proclaimed!), taʾadhdhana (Q 7:167, 14:7), ādhantu (Q 21:109) and adhdhin (Q 22:27) (to proclaim), and the verbal noun adhān (Q 9:3) (proclamation);
  7. the root n-b-ʾ is used fourteen times in the verbal forms nabbiʾ, t/y/u/nabbiʾ (announce) and yastanbiʾūn (Q 10:53, ask for the news), and 28 times in the nouns nabaʾ, anbāʾ (news, announcement);
  8. the root t-l-w, denoting continuous recitation and declamation, and occurs 60 times in verbal forms (including Q 2:252, 3:58, 3:108, 5:27, 6:151, 7:175, 8:2, 10:16, 10:61, 10:71, 13:30, 18:27, 18:83, 26:69, 27:92, 28:3, 28:45, 29:48, 45:6); and once each in the nouns tāliyāt (reciters) (Q 37:3) and tilāwa (declamation) (Q 2:121);
  9. the root w-ṣ-y, “enjoining” occurs seventeen times in verbs (Q 2:132, Q 4:11, 4:131, 6:144, 6:151-153, 19:31, 29:8, 31:14, 42:13 x2, 46:15, 90:17 x2, 103:3 x2), and once in the noun waṣiyya (Q 4:12);
  10. the root a-m-r (command, enjoin) is used sixty times in verbal forms and once in the noun āmirūn (enjoiners) (Q 9:112);
  11. the root n-h-y (forbid) occurs 42 times in verbal forms and once in the noun nāhūn (forbidders) (Q 9:112);
  12. the root s-m-ʿ (hear) occurs 78 times as a verb and 24 times as a noun in contexts related to daʿwa;
  13. and the root ṣ-d-ʿ (proclaim) in the verse So shout that you are commanded and turn away from the polytheists! (Q 15:94).

The following sections examine the various contexts in which the above forms occur, and the general features of calling people to Allah as an activity central to all Prophets.

The divine commands to utter forth the call and travel to those being called

Calling defines Prophetic Messengership: O Messenger, declare what has been revealed to you from your Lord; if you were not to do so, you would not be conveying His Message… (Q 5:67). All such commands to the Prophet and previous Prophets—upon him and them blessings and peace—or divinely-inspired people, angels, believers, and recipients of the call to “say!” (qul, qūlā, qūlī, qūlū) or “announce!” (nabbiʾ, anbiʾ), and all indicatives of what they—or others charged with teaching and delivering the divine Message, including angels—“said” (qāla, qālat, qālū) or “announced” (unabbiʾ, tunabbiʾ, yunabbiʾ) constitute the Qurʾānic panoply of verbal forms directly related to calling unto Allah.

These forms are sometimes combined with verbs denoting coming, going, and bringing. The first set of imperatives may be in conjunction with a divine command to “Go to X, and tell them” (idhhab ilā… fa-qul) (Q 20:42-44, 26:15-16, 79:17-18, cf. Q 20:24, 25:36), the second set (indicatives) with the caller’s act of coming to those called to (wa-jā’a, Q 36:20; jāʾahum 2:101, jāʾat-hum 7:37), or bringing them the Message and/or its signs (jāʾakum/jāʾat-hum bi-, Q 2:92, 5:32 cf. “the clear proofs came to you/them,” Q 2:209, 2:213, 2:253, 4:153; “the Reminder came to you,” Q 7:69, etc.).

The Prophet himself, upon him blessings and peace, went to different tribes, especially during religious festivals and market seasons, to fulfill the same imperatives (Ibn Isḥāq, pp. 263-264; Ibn Hishām 1:422-428; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 2:352-364); the Medinans became the first to respond (see Anṣār):

And the Prophet presented himself to tribe after tribe for shelter

From any of them, conveying the Message of Allah, each incited

By Satan to ignore his speech, scoff at him and refuse him

Until Allah bestowed the Anṣār… they reaped mercy!   

                           (ʿIrāqī, Alfiyya, lines 234-238)

Continuation of prior dispensations in conformity with the divine custom

The Qurʾānic imperative of da‘wā is linked to the divine commands given to past Messengers, ranking it among the universal divine customs (Way of Allah): We did send Nūḥ to his people… He said: O my people, there is no error in me, but I am a Messenger from the Lord of the worlds, delivering to you (uballighukum) the messages of my Lord and advising you purely… (Q 7:59-62, cf. 7:68, 7:79, 7:93, 11: 57, 46:23, 72:28). The commands directed to them included their people and implied intelligence of the best of two or more licit choices in all matters: He has made law for you, of religion, that which He enjoined (waṣṣā) upon Nūḥ, and what We revealed to you, and what We enjoined upon Ibrāhīm, and Mūsā, and ʿĪsā: “that you establish the religion and not be divided therein”—too much for the polytheists is what you call them unto… (Q 42:13), And We wrote for him [Mūsā] in the Tablets an admonition of everything and a detailing of all things: “So take it firmly and command your people to take the best therein”… (Q 7:145), meaning “the better alternative of every two choices, such as forgiveness being better than requital and patient endurance (al-ṣabr) being better than seeking decisive victory (al-intiṣār)” (Samʿānī, sub Q 7:145). The grammarian Quṭrub al-Baṣrī (d. 206/821) said: “Meaning for them to take the beautiful—and it is all beautiful—as in His saying, and the remembrance of Allah is surely greatest (Q 29:45)” (in Thaʿlabī, sub Q 7:145).

Appropriation of the mission of all Prophets and disclaimer of liability

At the same time the call to Allah is specifically assigned to the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—as a God-sanctioned description of his own mission: Say: This is my way. I call unto Allah with full knowledge, I and those who follow me. Glorified and transcendent be Allah! I am not of those who associate others with Him (Yūsuf 12:108). Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad al-Ṣādiq (80-148/699-765) and others glossed this verse, in light of the verse … and We did not send you to be a trustee over them (Q 17:54), as establishing that the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—is only responsible for conveying the Message (see Conveying the Message), not guidance to it (Sulamī, Ziyādāt, p. 66, sub Q 12:108). “That is, you are responsible for proclamation (balāgh) and daʿwa only; as for the outcome–guidance or perdition–and requital over either, it is not your burden” (Bayḍāwī, sub Q 16:126). This limited responsibility, as Q 12:108 makes explicit, also (and a fortiori) applies to the host of the followers undertaking the same call. Thus there is an appropriation of the mission together with a disclaimer of liability.

Didactic narratives as a primary resource for calling unto Allah

The call to Allah in the Qurʾān is couched as oratorical reminders of “news” (nabaʾ), “stories” (qaṣaṣ), “reports” (khabar, ḥadīth), and other narratives quoting from the collective memory of those with knowledge of either past Abrahamic dispensations or Arabian history (see Chronicles of the Qurʾān). Such verses offer paradigmatic accounts of past events and folk with rhetorical questions, indicatives, and imperatives: Has the story reached you of…? (Q 41:24, 79:15, 85:17, 88:1), and has the news reached you…? (Q 38:21), Has the news not reached you…? (Q 9:70, 14:9, 64:5), News has already reached you… (Q 6:34), We recite to you some of the news… (Q 28:3), and recite to them the news… (Q 5:27; 7:175, 10:71, 26:69), etc.

Similar narrative reminders include the five dozen verses that begin with wa-idh (“and when”), often in the sense “and remember when” (see Bayḍāwī, Lights, pp. 505-507 and n. 1057, sub Q 2:30). Finally, the expressions “Have you / have they not seen…?” (a-lam tara, a-lam/a-wa-lam yaraw, a-fa-lā yarawn) occur in over fifty verses and cite the natural phenomena of creation that anyone may witness (e.g. Q 22:65, 24:41), or examples of obtuse human behavior (e.g., Q 40:69).

Each of these historical flashbacks to the call of past Prophets is meant as an archetype for the activity of the Messenger of Allah—upon him and them blessings and peace—and his followers: Has the news of those that came before you not reached you, the people of Nūḥ, ʿĀd, Thamūd, and those that came after them whom none knows but Allah? Their Messengers came to them with manifest proofs but they clapped their hands over their mouths and said: “We verily disbelieve…” (Q 14:9-10). Such reminders are all meant as active daʿwa urging listeners to take their contents to heart and be moved to accept the Prophet’s message. All of these historical paradigms, then, are grounded in, and representative of, the activity of calling unto Allah.

Miracles, proofs and admonitions as the underpinnings of Qurʾānic daʿwa

The signs, miracles, manifest proofs, patent knowledge (āyāt, bayyināt, burhān, baṣāʾir) of earlier Prophets also form the foundation of the call unto Allah in many verses: But if you lapse after the clear proofs have come to you… (Q 2:209); … Say: Messengers before me certainly brought you clear proofs… (Q 3:183; cf. 3:184, 4:153, 6;157, etc.); Ask the Israelites how many clear proofs We brought them… (Q 2:211; cf. 2:213, 2:253, 3:19, 3:86, 3:105, 4:174, 6:104, etc.). So do, alternately, the divine/Prophetic admonition (mawʿiẓa Q 2:275, cf. and when they forgot what they had been reminded of (dhukkirū), Q 6:44, “[dhikr] in the sense of admonition,” Muqātil, Wujūh, p. 53; Yaḥyā b. Sallām, Taṣārīf, p. 224, cf. Q 11:120, 24:34), or the very persons of the Prophets (Q 4:170, 5:15, 5:19, 9:128) and the Scriptures, miracles, truth, and remembrance they brought (Q 2:87, 2:92, 4:170, 4:174, 7:63). Admonition is paired with the divine call to righteous deeds and the avoidance of sins, and with the threat of punishment (Q 2:66, 2:275, 4:58, 16:90, 24:17): al-Marāghī (d. 1371/1952) viewed the combination of wisdom (ḥikma), guidance (hudā), healing (shifāʾ) and mercy (raḥma) as the common denominator in verses (Q 10:57, 2:231, 3:138) mentioning the divine admonition (mawʿiẓa) where “the admonition of the Qurʾān, its curing of unbelief… and its guidance to truth and excellent traits are directed to the collectivity to whom it is addressed (ummat al-daʿwa), namely of humankind” (Marāghī, Tafsīr, sub Q 10:57).

Calling one’s own people first, then people at large

The imperative divine command to broadcast the Prophetic call specified the Prophet’s own people as its first recipients: And warn the nearest of your clan to you (Q 26:214). Upon the revelation of the latter verse, the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—stood on Mount Ṣafā and harangued each of the sub-tribes of Quraysh by name, followed by his own close relatives such as his uncle and aunt al-ʿAbbās b. ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib (56bh-32/567-653) and Ṣafiyya bint ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib (53bh-20/570-641), and Fāṭima (bef. 13bh-10/bef. 609-631) his daughter (Bukhārī, Waṣāyā, idhā waqafa aw-awṣā li-aqāribih and hal yadkhul al-nisāʾ wal-walad fīl-aqārib?; Muslim, Īmān, fī qawlih taʿālā, Wa-andhir ʿashīratak al-aqrabīn).

Thereafter the same command proceeded to include your people in the sense of Arabs in general, as he is of their own kind and the Qurʾān is in Arabic, starting with Mecca and its surroundings (Q 6:66, 9:128, 10:2, 11:49, 12:2, 13:37, 20:113, 42:7, 43:57, etc.), just as previous Prophets were tasked with calling their own nations exclusively and in their own language (Q 14:4, cf. 6:83, 7:59, 7:145, 11:25, 11:36, 14:5, 71:1, etc.); then—for the last Prophet alone—the generality of humanity (Q 4:79, 6:90, 12:104, 34:28, 21:107, 25:1, etc.) as well as the jinns (Q 46:29-31, 72:1) who, like human beings, had been following different faiths: …we were following multiple paths (Q 72:11); “among the jinns were the believers, the Jews, the Christians, the Zoroastrians and the idolaters” (Ibn Abī Zamanīn, Tafsīr; cf. Thaʿlabī, Kashf, sub Q 72:11) (see Muḥammad—upon him blessings and peace).

The actual caller is Allah and He alone grants success

The Qurʾān mentions balāgh (declaration) and yadʿū (calls) as statements of the calling by Allah Himself (Q 10:25, 14:52, 46:35). In the verse And Allah calls to the Abode of Peace and guides whomever He wishes to a straight path (Q 10:25), Allah’s call is paired with a reference to His unfathomable decree with regard to who in fact becomes guided. This pairing of the divine call with divine guidance suggests synonymity, so that every mention of the divine sending of guidance (e.g., Q 2:2, 2:142, 2:185, 2:213, 5:16, 16:89, etc.) is also a calling: … we could not have guided ourselves if Allah had not guided us; indeed, the Messengers of our Lord brought truth… (Q 7:43). The many divine vocative addresses serve to express the call to (i) all human beings (O humankind 21 times, O Children of Adam Q 7:26-27, 7:31, 7:35, 36:60, O human being Q 82:6, 84:6); (ii) the Israelites (O Children of Israel 44 times, O followers of Judaism Q 62:6); (iii) unbelievers (Q 39:64, 66:7, 109:1); (iv) the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (Q 5:41, 5:67, 8:64-65, 8:70, 9:73, 33:1, 33:28, 33:45, 33:50, 33:59, 60:12, 65:1, 66:1, 66:9, 73:1, 74:1); (v) Prophets, upon them blessings and peace (29 times) and (vi) those who believe in Allah and the Prophet (O you who believe 89 times). This last category, the one most frequently addressed, has received special scrutiny in recent times (Jāmī, Nidāʾ; Muballigh, Nidāʾ; etc.).

Verse Q 7:43 also makes it explicit that guidance is a function of divinely-granted success (tawfīq) granted only to those whom Allah selects to be guided (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt, sub Q 7:43). Nevertheless calling, like enjoining good and forbidding evil, is a universal task covering both those who are guided and those who never will be, as expressed by the Prophet Hūd in his daʿwa: …I desire naught save reform so far as I am able, but my success (tawfīqī) is only through Allah… (Q 11:88). “When a huge multitude are being addressed, it is the most improbable thing that they should all be of one mind in accepting the address; some will be responsive, others averse” (Gharnāṭī, Milāk, p. 299) (see Ability, Divine DecreeElection).

It is also possible to say that the Qurʾān represents the Prophet himself as the actual caller in every Muslim’s act of calling to Allah. Among the remarkable pairings of the Qurʾān is the adjunction of Allah and the Messenger as the objective of the believers’ answer, immediately followed by a subordinate clause identifying the calling by Allah and the Prophet as the context of such obedience: O believers, respond to Allah and the Messenger when he/He calls you unto what gives you life… (Q 8:24). The Sufi exegete of Shiraz Rūzbihān Baqlī (522-606/1128-1210) wrote: “It has been said that it means, ‘Answer Allah with your innermost selves and answer the Prophet with your outer forms’… for the lives of souls consist in following the Prophet, while the lives of hearts are in beholding the All-Knower of things unseen, which means feeling shame before Allah through seeing our shortcomings” (Baqlī, Tafsīr 1:522, sub Q 8:24).

Answering the caller to Allah reaps divine forgiveness

Answering the caller to Allah results in divine amnesty: Answer the caller unto Allah, and believe in Him. He shall exonerate you of (min) your sins and guard you from a painful punishment. Whoever does not answer the caller unto Allah will have no escape on earth, and no protectors besides Him… (Q 46:31-32). “Some say min here is additive (zāʾida) so that the implicit meaning is He shall forgive you your sins. It is also said it denotes inception of outcome (li-ibtidāʾ al-ghāya) in the sense that forgiveness starts with sins but then covers even slips and imperfections. It can also be a partitive (tabʿīḍiyya) [and so mean ‘some of your sins’]” (Ibn ʿĀdil, sub Q 46:31). The partitive interpretation is justified either as referring to past rather than future sins, or enormities rather than minor sins. A weaker gloss views min as “clarifying the type” (li-bayān al-jins) of forgiveness (Ibn ʿAṭiyya and Rāzī, sub Q 46:31). The most apt glosses in the context of daʿwa are evidently addition and inception, which the very last part of the verse supports.

Prerequisites and priorities of calling unto Allah in content, style, and agents

The call unto Allah is mentioned in the imperative commands to the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—udʿu (call!) and balligh (declare!) with the callee left undefined. However, he is directed to observe in his calling the priorities of wisdom, beauty, uprightness, conciliation and gentleness, as detailed below.

Both content and style must have wisdom and attractiveness, and the caller must always be aware of the better of two or more options in his mujādala (disputation), a near-synonym of daʿwa: Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and dispute with them in the way that is best… (al-Naḥl 16:125); And do not dispute with the People of the Book except in the best way, except those of them who have committed injustice… (Q 29:46). The “best way” was glossed as (i) kind words, salaams, and prayerful replies such as “May Allah guide you and grant you mercy” in the face of hate speech (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 41:34; Zamakhsharī, sub Q 17:53); (ii) stating, Our Lord knows best about you: if He wishes He may grant you mercy, and if He wishes He may punish you (Q 17:54) “without saying outright that they are the denizens of hell” (Qurṭubī, sub Q 17:53-54); and (iii) allowing opponents time to deliberate, in the same sense as the “mildness” enjoined upon Mūsā and Hārūn when they were first tasked with addressing Pharaoh (see Firʿawn) in the verse Then address him with mild speech (qawlan layyinan); perhaps he may heed or be awed (Q 20:44) (Qushayrī, Laṭāʾif, sub Q 20:44). The majority view is that all the verses commanding the best way (Q 7:145, 16:125, 23:96, 29:46, 41:34) remain in force and are not abrogated by the “Verse of the sword” (Q 9:5) (Ījī, Tafsīr 3:283, sub Q 16:125; Ibn al-Jawzī, Nawāsikh, pp. 360-361) (see Abrogation).

The caller must be of the most upright character, sound belief, an impartial arbiter, and strive to effect conciliation and agreement beyond worldly perspectives: …I desire not to do behind your backs that which I ask you not to do… (Q 11:88); So call unto that, be upright as you were commanded, and do not follow their lusts. And say: I believe in whatever scripture Allah has sent down, and I have been commanded to be just among you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. We have our deeds and you have your deeds. Let there be no argument between us and you. Allah shall bring us together: to Him is the final return (Q 42:15).

The dāʿī faces enmity with goodness and seeks divine support through prayer

The call to Allah is couched as a rhetorical interrogative directed to the believers and a reiteration of sapiential, moral and doctrinal truths, whose gist is a universal command to call and act in the best manner, especially in the face of enmity. The wisdom of responding to evil with its superior—good—is infused with deep understanding of human psychology, practicality, and divine support. That is the best way to turn foes into friends: And who is fairer in speech than he who calls unto Allah and does good and says: ‘I am of those who submit?’ The good deed and the bad deed are not equal. Repel [harm] in the best way (or: with the better alternative); and behold, the one with whom you experienced enmity is as if a warm friend (Q 41:33-34); Repel evil with what is better; We know best what they describe (Q 23:96).

The foe referred to in Q 41:34 was Abū Jahl (72bh-2/572-624); and both he and ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (45bh-23/584-644) are alluded to a few verses later: Is one who shall be fodder for the Fire better, or one who shall emerge safe on the Day of Resurrection? (Q 41:40) (Ṭabarī, Māwardī, Baghawī, ʿIrāqī, sub Q 41:33 and 41:40). The Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—had been making intense supplication for Allah to “fortify Islam with the dearer of these two men to You,” in reference to Abū Jahl and ʿUmar (Tirmidhī, Manāqib, fī manāqib Abī Ḥafṣ ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb, rated ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ; Aḥmad 9:506 §5696). When it became clear to him that ʿUmar was the dearer to Allah he redirected all his supplication to focus on him (Ibn Mājah, Muqaddima, faḍl ʿUmar; Ḥākim 3:83; Bayhaqī 6:370, etc.), until his conversion in the Year 6 of the Prophetic Mission (Mughulṭāy, Ishāra, pp. 114, 123-124).

The above context shows supplication as an integral part of success in daʿwa. All Prophets without exception sought divine support in their duties through supplication at all times (Q 21:90) and the Prophet—upon him and them blessings and peace—was the most assiduous of them in supplication (Sirāj al-Dīn, Duʿāʾ, pp. 35-36) (see Supplication).

The divine protection promised to those who call unto Allah

Calling unto Allah is emphatically encouraged, … and call [people] unto Allah. Truly you are on a straight path (Q 22:67); divine protection encompasses that activity and those undertaking it, as implied in the pairing of the explicit command to the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—to convey the Message together with the assurance of divine protection in support and encouragement: O Messenger, declare / deliver (balligh) what has been sent down to you from your Lord; if you fail to do so, you will not have conveyed His message; and Allah protects you from all people… (Q 5:67). The latter verse was revealed following an incident that took place when the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—was taking a nap under a tree during one of his journeys, having hung his sword on a branch. A man came, drew the sword, stood over him and said, “Who will protect you from me?” The Prophet answered, “Allah shall protect me from you. Put down the sword.” The man put down the sword (Mujāhid, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:67). Al-Shāfiʿī (150-204/767-819) said:

At first the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—was daunted by the prospect of people belying him and harming him, whereupon was revealed to him the verse O Messenger! Declare what was sent down to you from your Lord… (Q 5:67). Allah said therein: “He shall make you immune to their attempts to murder you, so that you can convey what was revealed to you.” So he conveyed what he had been commanded. A group mocked him, whereupon this verse was revealed to him: Proclaim what you are commanded to, and pay no heed to the polytheists; We are enough for you against the scoffers (Q 15:94-95) (al-Shāfiʿī, Aḥkām al-Qurʾān p. 343).

The Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—gave the same order as in Q 5:67 to the entire Community (Umma), although he made their burden far lighter than his own by adding a proviso of sufficiency in his hadith, “Convey from me—if only a single verse” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, mā dhukira ʿan Banī Isrāʾīl; Tirmidhī, Abwāb al-ʿilm, mā jāʾa fīl-ḥadīth ʿan Banī Isrāʾīl; Dārimī, Abwāb al-ʿilm, al-balāgh ʿan Rasūl Allāh wa-taʿlīm al-sunan; Aḥmad 11:25 §6486).

Primacy of mercy and inclusivity to potential and new believers, even hostiles

As broached above (“Prerequisites and priorities of calling,” “The dāʿī faces enmity with goodness”), the single-minded accent of the call to Allah is on divine mercy and forgiveness: Announce to My slaves that it is I who am truly the All-Forgiving, the All-Merciful! (Q 15:49), Say: O slaves of Mine who have been wasteful to your own detriment, never despair of the mercy of Allah. Verily Allah forgives all sins; truly He is the All-Forgiving, the All-Merciful (Q 39:53). Thus the call to Allah is closely linked with the pair of divine Names most frequently mentioned together in the Qurʾān (see Beautiful Names of Allah). Equal emphasis is placed on the Prophet’s own mercifulness, leniency, graciousness and inclusivity in decision-making: We have sent you as nothing other than a mercy to the worlds (Q 21:107), and gather under your wing those believers who follow you (Q 26:215), It was by some mercy of Allah that you were gentle to them; had you been harsh and hard of heart they would have scattered from around you. So pardon them and pray that they be forgiven, and consult them in the matter… (Q 3:159).

Many hadiths illustrate the extent to which the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—carried out these Qurʾānic directives even under intense pressure. Among them is the report of the Bedouin who walked up to the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—and pulled him hard by his mantle, leaving a red mark on the side of his neck and saying, “Muḥammad! Order some of the wealth Allah gave you to be given to me!” whereupon the Prophet turned, smiled at the man and did as he bade (Bukhārī, Adab, al-tabassum wal-ḍaḥik; Muslim, Zakāt, iʿṭāʾ man saʾala bi-fuḥsh wa-ghilẓa). He showed similar forbearance to the Hypocrite (see Hypocrisy and Hypocrites) Dhū al-Khuwayṣira, who had accused him of partiality and would, the Prophet predicted, die fighting on the side of the Khawārij (Bukhārī, Manāqib, ʿalāmāt al-nubuwwa fīl-Islām; Muslim, Zakāt, dhikr al-Khawārij wa-ṣifātihim).

The Prophet gave other examples of superlative care for daʿwa in his long-enduring kindness to several of his would-be assassins even moments after their failed attempts, such as ʿUmayr b. Wahb al-Jumaḥī after the battle of Badr (2/624) (Ibn Hishām 3:212-215; Ṭabarānī, Kabīr, 17:56-60; Ibn Ḥajar, Iṣāba 4:726); Faḍāla b. ʿUmayr al-Laythī during circumambulation after the conquest of Mecca (8/630) (Ibn Hishām 2:417; Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Durar p. 222); and Shayba b. ʿUthmān b. Ṭalḥa later that year, at the battle of Ḥunayn (8/630) (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt, al-ṭabaqat al-rābiʿa, 1:256-258 §110; Ṭabarānī, Kabīr 7:358-359 §7192; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 2:168; Ibn ʿAsākir 23:255-256; cf. Ibn Isḥāq, p. 554). All three became Muslim (Ibn Ḥajar, Iṣāba 3:218, 5:35-36, 5:210).

Didactic tropes of daʿwa in the Qurʾān and the Sunna

It is in light of many such demonstrations of selfless patience that the Qurʾān lauds the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—as truly endowed with a magnificent character (Q 68:4); the supreme examplar of human goodness: There is an excellent model for you in the Messenger of Allah… (Q 33:21); and the teacher par excellence (Q 62:2). Another aspect of his dedication to daʿwa was his flawless pedagogy, observable in such devices as triple repetition (e.g., “religion is transparency,” “do not be angry,” “[serve] your mother,” “check your conscience,” “use moderation in religion (ʿalaykum hadyan qāṣidan),” “Lo! Have I conveyed?”); thrice-repeated apostrophes interspersed with silence (“Muʿādh!...”) or rhetorical questions (“shall I tell you/shall I not tell you…?” “do you know/do you not know…?”), designed to arouse attention in listeners; added articulateness in verbal delivery, as in his way of reading the Fātiḥa; conscious discursive pauses; using allusion; etc. All of these devices are found in Qurʾānic rhetoric and tropology (Ibn ʿĀshūr’s prolegomena in his Tafsīr 1:3-125.The Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—added devices of his own, such as humor, using an elevated seat, and physically calling to attention (“The Prophet grabbed me by my shoulders and said…”) (Abū Ghudda, al-Rasūl al-muʿallim).

The Prophet’s founding of international relations on the Qurʾānic daʿwa model

The Prophetic call to Islam of non-Muslim governors and rulers such as the Negus of Abyssinia (possibly Armah or Aṣḥama b. Abjar, r. 614-631 CE), the emperor Heraclius Caesar (575-641 CE), his appointee the Muqawqis (Cyrus, Patriarch of Alexandria, d. 642 CE), Kisrā (Khusraw II, r. 590-628 CE), the Ghassānid al-Ḥārith b. Abī Shamir (d. 8/630) and about 45 other individuals and groups (Ibn Ṭūlūn, Iʿlām)—including those who retained their non-Muslim faith—was governed by the same criteria as those outlined above (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 1:222-252). Exegetic literature relates that aspect of the Prophet’s teachings to particular verses such as Say: O People of the Book, come to a common word between us and you… (Q 3:64; Ibn al-Mundhir, Tafsīr) or The Romans have been defeated in the nearest lands and after being defeated they in turn shall vanquish … (Q 30:2-3; al-Samarqandī, Baḥr). The modalities, of course, are the province of the Prophetic biographies (see Sīra and the Qurʾān).

The Prophet’s abundant correspondence in that regard is thoroughly documented, and his style therein analyzed, in specialized literature (Ibn Ṭūlūn, Iʿlām al-sāʾilīn; Khālidī, al-Rasūl al-muballigh; and especially Ḥamīdullāh, Wathāʾiq, his 1935 doctoral thesis at the University of Paris), including his use of no fewer than 44 Companions as scribes at one time or another, and 48 choice Companions whom he sent as couriers (Ibn Ḥadīda, al-Miṣbāḥ al-muḍī; Aʿẓamī, Kuttāb al-Nabī). Muṭarrif b. al-Shikhkhīr’s (d. 95/714) remarked that the careful selection of couriers is in keeping with the tradition that Arabs gauged a person’s intelligence by three things: the way they wrote letters, what they gifted, and their choice of messenger (Yūsī, Zahr al-akam 3:64).

The Prophet’s diplomatic successes  and the long-distance formation of alliances with new or potential Muslims in his daʿwa have also been studied by modern scholars, for both the Meccan period (Asṭal, al-Wufūd fīl-ʿahd al-Makkī; Khaṭīb, Aḍwāʾ ʿalā al-iʿlām fī ṣadr al-Islām) and the Medinan (Khallāf, Wufūd al-muhtadīn).

Accreditation of the Muslim Umma as the exemplary callers to Allah

The Muslim community is characterized as exemplary in respect of four qualities: being the best social body in the history of humankind, enjoining good, forbidding evil, and practicing pure monotheism (see Commanding good and forbidding wrong, Belief): You are truly the best community ever brought forth for humanity: you enjoin good conduct, you forbid indecency and you believe in Allah (Q 3:110).

Another important verse commands that a sub-group of believers, described in very similar terms, focus exclusively on calling, commanding and forbidding: And let there be of you a community that call unto goodness and command good conduct and forbid indecency… (Q 3:104). “The [word] of in of you (minkum) is a partitive (lil-tabʿīḍ), as commanding and forbidding are among the collective obligations; also, they are not appropriate (lā yaṣluḥ) for everyone.… The call (duʿāʾ) unto goodness comprises the call unto that in which all religious or worldly welfare lies; and the adjunction (ʿaṭf) to it [calling unto goodness] of commanding good conduct and forbidding indecency is the adjunction of the specific to the general, so as to proclaim the excellence of the latter” (Bayḍāwī, Anwār 1:285, sub Q 3:104).


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See also

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