A Case for Indirect methods of Dawa
In light of American Reading Habits and Tolerance
By Abdul Malik Mujahid
Is Islam really the fastest growing religion in America? Most Muslims
involved in Dawa efforts do not believe that. Thirs phrase is more
used now by the alarmists anti-Islam forces in America. This author
believes that the number of Americans accepting Islam has gone down
in the last decade as compared to the sixties and the early seventies
of the last century. Many factors are responsible for this, but
this essay addressed only one variable: Absence of Muslims efforts
in the field of Dawa. Very few Muslims engage in conveying the message
of Islam to non-Muslims in America. None of the 50 Masjids studied
by the author (in 1987), with the exception of one, had any committee
dedicated for Dawa or any funds allocated for it. In another survey
only one of the top 30 leaders of a national organization (1987)
had done any Dawa to non-Muslims in a year. However, a very small
number of volunteers continue to engage in some level of Dawa. This
article examines the existing methods used by this small minority
and suggests ways to involve more Muslims in Dawa work.
Experience in direct Dawa
So far the methods of Dawa used by Muslims has been generally
direct: that is to say Muslims speaking to individual non-Muslims
or addressing their gatherings. This method is considered the best
by most of the Dawa activists. Many speeches, Khutbas and sermons
are geared towards propagating this method. However, Muslims are
hardly using these direct Dawa methods. There may be any of the
following reasons responsible for this:
- A large number of Muslims, being the first-generation immigrants,
do not talk with their colleagues at job about religion, in
consideration of American work ethics.
- Muslims make an extra effort towards "being nice",
in an environment of pressure where Islam and Muslim are associated
with terrorism, extremism, and fanaticism. Some are subjected
to racial and religious discrimination.
- Many of the immigrants have to work harder to move upward
at their work place which does not leave much time for other
- Outside of the work place their contact with non-Muslims is
extremely limited. They avoid most social gatherings because
of the social and dietary incompatibilities between Americans
parties and the Islamic culture. The same might be the reason
for the low level of social contact with neighbors.
- A number of Muslims do not feel confident with their English,
accent, or their Islamic knowledge. Not finding it up to the
mark, they normally do not indulge themselves in Dawa.
- The American shield of individualism is another problem in
the direct method in Dawa. Many Muslims who tried talking to
their colleagues on religion, life, politics, or Islam, found
the colleagues trying to change the topic towards games, girls,
and weather, which makes Muslims refrain from any further discussions
This is about individual Muslims. Islamic centers and Masjids,
on the other hand, have so much of work to do in the limited time
available on weekend that they rarely spent any resources on Dawa.
A pragmatic response to this challenge: Indirect Dawa
There is a need to develop techniques to overcome these obstacles
through educating Muslims. However, this article argues that Muslims
should devote more resources to other methods which can, potentially,
circumvent above mentioned problems in the use of direct Dawa methods,
without abandoning the existing methods of direct Dawa.
Success of the existing Methods of Indirect Dawa:
Alhamdo Lillah, Muslims have come up with different solutions
in this direction also. Use of television, radio, and correspondence
courses are a few methods used by some Muslim organization and communities
Most of these programs have resulted in a substantial response
from non-Muslims. Some Muslim organizations placed an advertisement
in a Detroit newspaper. They received about 600 requests for the
free copy of Quran offered in the advertisement. The Chicago Foundation
for Cultural and Religious Reflections would broadcast a weekly
25 minute program on a local Chicago TV channel. The program results
in an average of 40 calls per month, about 20% being from non-Muslims.
In 1992, the Muslim Community Center's Dawa Committee placed a few
Quranic verses on display on some public transportation routes in
Chicago with a phone number for response. In the first month of
operation they received about 17 phone calls, half was being from
non-Muslims. ISNA headquarters offered a correspondence course on
Islam. In its peak year (1980-81) it had 3,000 persons enrolled,
about 300 being non-Muslims.
All of these programs come in the category of indirect methods.
Whenever done properly, these methods have shown results. Currently
only a very small number of organizations and in just a few cities
runs programs like these. There is a need that more cities and organizations
devote more resources to indirect methods, improve TV programs,
acquire better time slots, assure proper publicity in non-Muslim
media, and develop a better response system.
A less used method of indirect Dawa:
'Mail a Quran' campaign:
This proposal suggests that Islamic books and the Quran be sent
by mail to a target audience which is relatively more open-minded
and has good reading habits. Books can be sent to a selected target
segment of the society, or could be sent in response to an advertisement
for free literature on Islam. The idea could be implemented as a
mail library, or as an Islamic book club on a non-profit basis.
Details of these proposals will be discussed later. Here, I would
like to continue with the rational and the assumptions in forwarding
Christian missionaries have used mail as a regular method for
the distribution of their literature to non-Christians. In Muslim
societies like Pakistan, where literacy level is about 38%, this
method has not been as successful as in Indonesia, which has a literacy
rate of more than 84%. Indonesia, with the largest Muslim population
in the world has a very high rate of conversion towards Christianity.
Mailing is one of the most useful methods for the missionaries there.
Personally, I read the Bible in Urdu even before I read the Quran
in its entirety. It happened just because it was available free
to anyone who dropped a line asking for it.
Because of a virtual universal literacy, there is a greater possibility
in North America for the success of this method. It is also compatible
with American culture: They do not like to talk about religion,
but they do read about it. According to one bookstore chain, any
time there is negative news about Islam, there are more people asking
for books on Islam.
Tolerance in America:
The American sense of fair hearing to the opposite point of view
is greater than many other societies in the world. This praiseworthy
characteristic should be considered an asset for the cause of Truth
and Justice. This liberal American attitude towards the opposite
point of view became evident when I initiated Dawa Field Trips in
Chicago. We distributed more than one hundred thousand brochures
on Islam during a six month period in 1991-1992. One brochure entitled
"Is Jesus Really God," was distributed in no less than
twenty thousand in quantity. This brochure is quite direct and aggressive
in its tone and subject. We regularly distributed it for several
months, at the same subway station. During these months of distribution,
none of the Christian receiving it reacted offensively except one.
Former Boxing Champion, Muhammad Ali, likes the brochure so much
that now he distributes it with his autographs as he travels. The
brochure is written by an American Muslim who became Muslim while
in the army and is now a business executive.
Statistics on Tolerance towards Communist and Anti-Church Books:
The following data on American public opinion suggests the extent
of this tolerance:
Question asked: "There are always some people whose ideas
are considered bad or dangerous by other people. For instance, somebody
who admits he is a Communist. Suppose this admitted Communist wrote
a book, which is in your public library. Somebody in your community
suggests that the book should be removed from the library. Would
you favor removing it, or not?" The response is as follows:
|Yes - Allow Book
|No - Do Not Allow Book
A big majority opposed the idea of book removal at the height of
cold war days. Americans were even more liberal when asked about
a book written against churches and religion:
|Yes - Allow Book
|No - Do Not Allow Book
A majority of those people who showed this liberal attitude towards
established anti-American ideas were below forty in age. Older people
had more rigid attitudes. These liberal attitudes become significantly
more pronounced with a higher educational qualification. Sixty three
percent of Americans with less than a high school education were
against granting these civil liberties to Communists. Differences
in the attitudes of the educated ones about the anti-religious material
are as follows:
Do Not Allow
|LESS THAN HIGH SCHOOL
Suppose that the image of Muslims in the American perception is
as bad as that of Communists during the Cold War period, and suppose
that for them Islam is nothing more than a form of Anti-Church (i.e.,
anti-religion) phenomenon, still a majority of the Americans, inferring
from the above data, are not in favor of letting someone deny them
access to the controversial books. These data strongly reflect not
only on the support of the civil liberties, but also on the culture
which cherishes books and protects free access to knowledge. These
values played an essential role in the American support of the Rushdie
AMERICAN BOOK READING HABITS:
Despite the fact that TV takes up a lot of time, the most common
source of information in America is still the printed word. According
to one survey, 82% of Americans report turning to some form of printed
matter in the past two months to get answers or obtain information
about a particular subject. It is noteworthy that over half (56%)
of the people report reading all or a part of a book in the past
month. In terms of the total number of books read in the past year,
nearly half (48% read six or more books. Whereas a minority of 20%
read more than 21 books a year. Among those who read the most are
Americans between the ages of 18 and 34, college graduates, and
professionals. Of the books read by Americans, 58% report reading
fiction, 52% non-fiction, of which 46% read specialty or reference
books (total exceeds 100% because of multiple responses).
Approximately one in four (27%) Americans report obtaining at
least some of the books read in the past year form a library. A
greater number (36%) however, report obtaining their books most
often from a bookstore, and the rest borrowed from a friend or received
Sixty one percent of the American adults purchase at lease four
books per year. Twenty-four percent of all the American adults,
30% of the Americans in age group 18-49, and 38% of the college
graduates purchase twenty or more books in a year.
Summery of the above:
Because American culture does not appreciate talking on religion,
Muslims generally are reluctant to do so. However:
Here are some proposals based on the above-mentioned points, assuming
that since Muslims like to do Dawa, they will be willing to sponsor
sending a Quran or a book to a non-Muslim. These proposals can be
adopted by any individual or Muslim organization for Islamic work.
- Since Americans in general read books and are tolerant about
controversial belief systems;
- We believe they would like to own the Quran or a book on Islam.
- Free availability of such a book will be a charm in itself.
- If they did not read it right away, it is likely that they
would do so later because of the constant negative media attention
on Islam and Muslims.
1) Select a group of people whom you consider to be more inclined
to read about controversial issues. The above-mentioned data indicates
that Americans in the age group 18 to 45, with college degrees and
occupationally professional are more tolerant and well-read people
(this point, however is not suggesting that Dawa should be limited
to any particular group. There are other studies, which tend to
focus on those Americans who are likely to change religion).
2) You can develop a database of non-Muslim opinion leaders for
a sophisticated system of inviting to read about Islam. This selection
can be done by giving certain demographic criteria to mail order
companies on one time fee basis, or by scanning the directories
of different professional groups, or by resorting to the neighborhood
3) Or select a neighborhood with the consideration of the above
mentioned demographics. One may also select a location merely because
of spatial convenience.
4) Prepare a short list of books considered suitable for non-Muslims.
5) Launch an well-orchestrated campaign asking Muslims in that
town or that neighborhood to "Sponsor Dawa to a non-Muslim"
by donating a Quran or a book in your list. The best method will
be to solicit a particular amount, say $5, so that you can buy books
from the publisher in bulk, which will save the project 30 to 40%
6) Launch a pilot project first, see the response, and then project
for future expansion.
7) Those who appreciate the project should be asked to join hands
by giving some of their time for the operation of the project.
8) It will be useful if the project is co-sponsored by as many
Islamic Centers and Islamic organizations as possible for the optimum
use of Muslim resources. It might be easier to convince Centers
if the pilot project has some responses to show the comparative
usefulness of the method.
9) A brochure or advertisement can be then mailed to your target
audience about the availability of a copy of Quran or books on Islam.
Replace the first, second and the third point of the proposal
1 with the following:
1) An advertisement be published first in the classified section
at the pilot project level and then as a separate advertisement,
about the availability of the Quran/Islamic books to anyone, free
of charge to those who write to the given address. You can decide
to ask for the postage if you want to limit the size of the project
2) At the initial phase, if you choose so, the advertisement can
be printed in smaller neighborhood newspapers. Sometimes these papers
run free classified advertisements, or charge an affordable fee
for an independent advertisement.
3) You may prefer to utilize any university campus paper, since
that community has a higher level of educated people who, according
to the demographics discussed above, are expected to be more open-minded
and ready to read than others.
Same as the proposal 2, except that the advertisement is run not
for the availability of free books and Quran, but for free information
on Islam. This method requires the following in addition to the
above mentioned points:
1) Prepare a list of books available in your library or the library
of your Islamic Center and have it printed along with information
about the Islamic Centers and Masjids in the area. Also include
the list of Islamic books in the public library which you recommend.
2) Acquire brochures on introducing Islam from Islamic organizations.
It will be good if your material sounds relevant in the light of
current propaganda about "Moslem terrorism." Make sure
that your address is printed on the brochures.
3) Prepare a list of the library books you recommend to be mailed
along with the brochure. In case of a request for further information,
more brochures or a book can be mailed. The interested person may
also be invited to participate in a correspondence course on Islam
that is currently offered by some Muslim organizations.
4) If the results of the pilot project are encouraging, and your
resources allow, you can start a correspondence course of your own.
Some final thoughts:
A gradual approach will be preferable.
The financial aspect has not been outlined, as it will be different
for each proposal. Implementation on Proposal #1 might cost $5 per
person, but it gives greater control of the finances; you can limit
and expand your program based on the flow of donations. A pilot
project for Proposal #2 might cost five to ten thousand dollars.
You can keep choice in your hand by including a statement in your
advertisement that the offer is limited by time and quantity, thus
a first come first serve method will be followed. Later you can
raise funds based on the size of the response to the advertisement.
Proposal #3 might not inspire many responses since it does not have
the charm of getting any free book, but to some "gradualists,"
this slow response might look good.
I propose that fund-raising be done in such a way that each Muslim
individual can feel that by sponsoring Dawa to non-Muslim he is
fulfilling his obligation of Dawa in America. He should also be
assured that his money is directly going to the Dawa work. The project
aims at helping Muslims be witness to non-Muslims with this indirect
method. The project can not achieve success without mobilizing Muslims.
Therefore, the publicity of the project and its progress is as important
as the project itself.
May Allah help us convey His deen in this part of His land. Ameen.