Mastering dawah: 10 tips for effective preaching

Ataul Mujeeb Rashed, Missionary-in-Charge UK
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Oleg Laptev | Unsplash

Islam is a universal religion, and preaching is an important component of its teachings. It is one of the fundamental duties of the followers of Islam to spread its message. The teachings of Islam stipulate that every Muslim should strive to preach Islam to the best of their ability on every possible occasion. This is a great responsibility. To undertake this noble obligation, it is vital to gain proficiency in various techniques of preaching and apply these, employing all the capabilities granted by Allah the Exalted. The duty of preaching demands that we dedicate all our intellectual and physical faculties to endeavouring for success and triumph.

How should we undertake preaching? The best and most concise answer to this important question is found in the following verse of the Holy Quran:

اُدۡعُ اِلٰي سَبِيۡلِ رَبِّکَ بِالۡحِکۡمَةِ وَالۡمَوۡعِظَةِ الۡحَسَنَةِ وَجَادِلۡہُمۡ بِالَّتِيۡ ہِيَ اَحۡسَنُ

“Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in a way that is best.” (Surah an Nahl, Ch.16: V.126)

In this verse, Allah the Exalted gives the foremost preacher of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa and his followers the guidance that is best to beckon people towards God with wisdom and sincerity. Our approach to preaching must be respectful and polite to the utmost, even when discussing contentious and controversial differences between religions. This verse encapsulates the key guidelines of preaching and also the fundamental etiquettes of this important duty. It is vital to frame any preaching activities within the aforementioned three fundamental principles of wisdom, good exhortation and presenting evidence in the best possible manner. I would like to build on the invaluable literature on these three principles by sharing my practical experiences. I trust the readers will find my real-world experiences and observations valuable and fruitful in their preaching endeavours.

1. Supplication

According to the teachings of Islam, every believer starts any act with supplication. It is beyond imagination that the most blessed of all tasks, the task of preaching, could be done without supplication. Preaching is the name of a task that beckons people to the way of Allah the Exalted. Only God has the ability to influence people’s hearts. The ultimate source of all guidance is God Almighty. Therefore, to start any effort of preaching with prayers would act as a way to absorb the mercy of God, adding to its effectiveness. The Promised Messiahas, on one occasion, said these extremely beautiful words:

“Prayer holds the power to revolutionise the world. It is the believer’s armament.”. (Malfuzat, 1988, Vol. 3, p. 202)

Every preaching activity is, in fact, an effort to call others to the right path. Obviously, this effort, or, for that matter, no effort, can be successful without supplication. Therefore, supplication is the most effective method to make our preaching efforts successful. It is imperative to begin any effort of preaching with prayer and focus on prayer all the time. This is a tried and tested prescription to make preaching efforts successful. Supplication is the most effective weapon a missionary has and the first tool for preaching Islam.

When Allah the Exalted commanded Prophet Mosesas to convey the message of truth to the courts of Pharoah, God taught him the following prayer:

رَبِّ اشۡرَحۡ لِيۡ صَدۡرِيۡ وَيَسِّرۡ لِيۡۤ اَمۡرِيۡ وَاحۡلُلۡ عُقۡدَةً مِّنۡ لِّسَانِيۡ يَفۡقَہُوۡا قَوۡلِيۡ

“[Moses] said, ‘My Lord, open out for me my breast,

“‘And ease for me my task,

“‘And loose the knot of my tongue,

“‘That they may understand my speech,’” (Surah Taha, Ch.20: V.26-29)

Before any preaching effort, this prayer should be recited.

Along with praying yourself, asking for the prayers of the Khalifa of the time is absolutely mandatory. The blessed supplications of the Khalifa have a preferred status for acceptance by Allah the Exalted. These prayers work as an accelerator to make our meagre efforts highly successful. It is vital to write to Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaa,  seeking his prayers by keeping in touch with him regularly.

I recall that in 1970, when I was leaving Rabwah for London to take up my post as a missionary, at the farewell audience, Huzoorrh advised me that I should write to him once a week. With the ability that God has given me, I followed this guidance in London and I have always experienced the blessings of this action. Success in preaching activity and in any preaching endeavour happens only and solely because of the blessings of God. The fact of the matter is that any opportunity to preach is granted by the blessings of Allah the Exalted. Therefore, earnest and passionate prayers should be offered that Allah the Exalted, through His special blessings, provides the circumstances and situations where the opportunities to perform the preaching of Islam are maximised. Then, God Almighty enables us to fully avail of this opportunity with His blessings.

In my personal practice, I have repeatedly witnessed the blessings of being regular in the prayer mentioned above. I recall that in 1973 I was working in my office in the London Mission. A friend called me to inform me that BBC Radio is doing a live chat show discussing life after death. Anyone can call in to take part in the programme. I turned the radio on straight away to listen to the programme and familiarise myself with the topic. Then I called the BBC, and they asked me to wait. After one or two minutes, they called me back to say I should get ready for the live discussion. Then I was told, “Mr Rashed, you are on the air.” After introducing myself, I explained the Islamic concept of life after death based on the concepts given in the Holy Quran, which is the religious book of Muslims. I explained that I would also refer to the book The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, written by the Messiah of the Age, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian, on whom be peace.  Then I had the opportunity to talk about the concepts of paradise and hell. I was asked if those who go to paradise or hell will remain there forever. I replied that paradise would be there forever and would not be removed from that life of magnificence. However, those who will go to hell will be released after they have been punished for their sins and have become pure and clean. Then they will also be able to enjoy the blessings of paradise. In the end, everybody will benefit from the love and affection of Allah the Exalted. This discussion carried on for a few minutes on live radio and this provided me with an opportunity to spread the true teachings of Islam to thousands of people.

By relating this incident, what I wish to emphasise is that it was only by the grace of Allah that this opportunity was given to me. I did not even have an idea that such an opportunity existed.

2. Wisdom and pragmatism

To undertake preaching with wisdom and pragmatism are the golden rules. This entails that a point should be made at the right time and in the right context. This leaves a lasting impact on the listener. I experienced this first-hand when I was delivering a speech at Leamington Spa in England. I was talking at a religious seminar, and before me, the followers of Buddhism and Sikhism delivered their speeches. I was the last speaker of the day, assigned to explain the teachings of Islam. I had a brief sketch of speech in mind that I would present a short introduction to Islam and then present some particular qualities of Islamic teachings. The follower of Sikhism delivered his speech just before me; in his speech, he said that the religious book of Sikhism, Granth Sahib, does not give solutions to all problems in the world. This is why Sikhs do not claim that this book is perfect in every way and this book does not claim to be perfect. I noticed that the audience was bemused while listening to this. The Buddhist speaker also did not mention anything about his book being perfect in his speech.

Then, I was asked to address the audience in an atmosphere of bemusement and curiosity. With only His blessings, Allah the Exalted guided this humble one. I discarded the sketch of speech I had in my mind and started my speech by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce a religion to you that claims that its religious book is perfect in every way and that this book provides answers to all the needs of humanity. This claim has been mentioned in the first few verses of the Holy Book and is repeated with vigour and authority again and again in the book. The name of the book is the Holy Quran, which is the sacred religious book of the universal religion of Islam.” With the grace of Allah the Exalted, this pertinent start of the speech fully captured the attention of the listeners. I learned from this experience that during the act of preaching, we need to say things that draw the attention and focus of the listeners.

3. Relevant and practical points

Islam is a beautiful and practical religion, and its teachings are highly effective. A judicious and influential practice to preach in the Western world is to emphasise Islamic teachings relevant to contemporary economic and social conditions. This opens the door for detailed debate and discussion. One of the important teachings of Islam is freedom of consciousness and no compulsion in matters of religion.

My experience is that clearly explaining these concepts greatly impacts the listeners. This teaching can be presented with evidence that has been given in the Holy Quran, that there is no need to use force to proclaim facts and truth. The truth is more compelling and appealing than falsehood. This argument makes the audience appreciate the truthfulness of Islam. The listener is bound to agree that a religion that prohibits compulsion for its preaching must have teachings that are so attractive, powerful, and logical that it does not require any force to convince others of its authenticity. Force can subjugate bodies but cannot conquer hearts. The whole objective of Islam is to win the hearts of the whole world and to do this with love, affection, and tenderness. This is indeed our motto; Love for All, Hatred for None.

4. Earnest sincerity

I feel it is imperative to explain to the listeners that our only purpose in preaching is our true love for humanity, an aspiration to reform society and genuine compassion towards our fellow beings. These days, the preaching practices of some religious and non-religious leaders make preaching look like an occupation. This may lead to misunderstanding while inviting people to Islam, and distributing literature, etc. Therefore, it is vital to say that our sole goal in inviting people to the teachings of Islam is true love for humanity. Our example is like someone who has discovered an authentic and magnificent hidden treasure and desires to share it widely, driven by, and only by, compassion for fellow human beings. It is a very inviting way to explain to others that we preach to express our gratitude to God for giving us the treasure of Islam, and we wish others to benefit from this treasure as well. This approach tends to yield results.

5. Practicality of teachings

During preaching, it is a good practice to emphasise that Islam is a practical religion. During discussions in the UK and Japan – where I had the chance to serve as a missionary – it appears that people are not fully comfortable with the practical aspects of the teachings of Islam. Some consider religious worship and boundaries difficult and cumbersome and a majority consider these impractical and undoable. Some people express the view that some religious teachings may have been relevant in the past, but in today’s fast-paced, busy and rapidly changing world, it is not practical to follow these religious teachings. When responding to this objection, some everyday practical examples can be used to address this point.

I recall, once, when I was talking to the manager of a Japanese private school about this topic; even thinking about praying five times a day, stressed him out. When I explained to him the importance of Salat and the time spent offering this prayer, he felt a bit reassured. I explained that if we eat three times a day and have tea or coffee two or three times a day and this routine doesn’t upset us and we don’t regard this as a waste of time, then salat, too, is like nourishment for our soul. We cannot attain true peace of mind without it. After this explanation, he was able to appreciate the effectiveness and benefits of salat.

6. A personalised approach

There are many ways to preach. These include addressing meetings, and seminars, distributing books, newspapers, and pamphlets, and exchanging letters and individual chats. These are all effective ways of preaching. Depending on individuals’ circumstances, some of these methods could be more effective than others.  It is vital to use the correct method of preaching at the correct time.

In general, I feel that one-to-one conversation is the most effective way of preaching. Grand speeches are very important indeed, but one-to-one discussion allows us to address the needs and interests, and match the discussion with the intellectual level of the participants. This makes the preaching discussion more effective and objective. The effectiveness of one-to-one discussion tends to be better than giving an address to a crowd.

When carrying out one-to-one discussions with Hindus, Christians, and followers of other religions, this humble one is always mindful to stress that by accepting Islam, they will excel in their already high standards and will not need to relinquish any of their previous pious virtues. For example, if Christians accept Islam, then they would gain the virtue of believing in the Holy Prophetsa and the Promised Messiahas, and they would not need to forsake any of their previous good practices. Their good practices will only increase; in addition, they will be able to rectify any wrongful beliefs of the past and will gain sound faith based on accurate religious teachings. This is a highly effective method from a psychological perspective. This is totally in concordance with the truth, because Islam confirms the excellent qualities of the previous religions and provides a comprehensive, complete and best sharia.

7. Active listening

During a one-on-one conversation, I feel it is really important to listen to the audience’s questions with deep understanding and focus. If the question is not fully understood, then there is no harm in requesting the person to repeat the question. The audience should have a full opportunity to discuss things and we should listen to them fully before responding to their question. I have learned that if we listen to the other person with total focus and attention, then they also try to listen to us with the same focus and attention. This approach provides a pleasant atmosphere for conducting preaching discussions.  Whatever the beliefs and faith of the other person, it is mandatory to respect their right to hold their beliefs and speak kindly. People’s beliefs are important to them; therefore, it is imperative not to go on the offensive. Talking to people with love, affection and tenderness is highly impactful, and indeed, this is the teaching of Islam.

8. Media

For preaching, I also have one other routine, that I  go through newspapers every day. If anything is published in the newspapers that can be helpful to guide people from an Islamic perspective, or if inaccurate information about Islam is printed, then responding to this right away via letter to the editor is an effective way to do preaching. I recall – when I was serving in Japan – that a letter was published in a Japanese newspaper where a person asked which people are happier, those who believe in God or those who do not? The author wrote that they did believe in God but still questioned why life was so miserable. I then responded to this with a letter straightaway, and this letter was published in the famous Japanese newspaper, Japan Times.

Similarly, I recall seeing the newspaper and the objection that Islam does not give women any social rights and now they are fighting to liberate themselves from these shackles. In response to this article, I wrote a letter to the editor explaining the high status of women in Islam.

In summary, keeping in touch with local newspapers and writing letters and articles can be a good and effective way to preach.

9. Create opportunities

I remember, soon after coming to Japan, I had the privilege to meet ambassadors from two countries. The opportunity to meet the Austrian ambassador arose because there was a letter published in a newspaper by his wife, who said that he served as an Austrian ambassador in Pakistan. This provided me with an opportunity to make an introduction. I wrote a letter to the ambassador and set a date for a meeting. During the meeting, I gave him a copy of the Holy Quran as a present and spent quite a while in an interesting dialogue with him.

Similarly, I saw a book review in a newspaper. The book was titled “Africa Speaks”. I found the title of the book very intriguing, wondering what type of book it is. The reason was that a book of the same name was published in 1970 after the visit of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh to West Africa. The book being reviewed was written by the Japanese ambassador in Ghana. I then got in touch with the ambassador and mentioned the tour of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh and also remarked on the book. When I met him after a few days, it allowed me to present him with the Holy Quran and the book of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh.  This was a good opportunity to discuss matters in a nice and informal atmosphere for about 45 minutes.

I relate these two incidents to make the point that sometimes, even a small happening can become an excellent opportunity for an introduction. My principle is to always readily avail of any such opportunity and not let these slip away.

10. Avail every opportunity

With the grace of God, there are always opportunities where one can do preaching, whether big or small. This is my principle and practice that I do not let even the smallest opportunity to preach slip away. No matter how minute the opportunity appears, never regard it as insignificant. We never know what could inspire a pious-natured person to accept the path of righteousness. I shall now share an example from my experience that may appear trivial; however, I feel that it is akin to sowing a small seed in the earth. With time, this seed will turn into a seedling and grow into a plant, then a strong, powerful tree.

In Japan, based on their concept of gender equality, during a train journey, men do not usually vacate their seats for women. However, it is their practice that if an old man or woman comes into the carriage, they always offer elderly people their seats out of respect. I have had the opportunity to do this many, many times. This is part of my Islamic faith that people of old age and people in need, both men and women, should be respected. Whenever I vacated my seat for an elderly person, I would say to them in the Japanese language:

Watashi no shukyo wa, kore o oshiete kuremasu…

It means that my religion teaches me to do this. Very often, they respond by asking, “What religion is that?” This used to allow me to preach without any prior introduction, during the train journey. Alhamdulillah! Many times, it led to a long discussion during the train journey. I have strong faith that these discussions would have left a long-lasting and beautiful impression about the teachings of Islam.

In the art of preaching, these are some of the practices that I have explained concisely. I pray that Allah the Exalted enables us to continue rendering accepted service to faith for the foreseeable future. Amin.

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