Appendix: Dialogue On The Nature of Islamic Da’wah

on the nature of islamic dawah
22 min.

Khurshid Ahmad opened the discussion of Dr. al-Faruqi’s paper with the following prepared response. Some parts of a background paper he circulated at the consultation have also been incorporated in this final version.

Ahmad: First of all I would like to compliment Professor Isma’il al-Faruqi on his short but brilliant exposition of Islamic da’wah. This paper brings to sharp focus the real nature of the Islamic da’wah and some of its salient features. Another significant aspect of this exposition is that it also emphasizes, albeit indirectly, some important elements of the modus vivendi of the Islamic da’wah. I fully agree with the substance of Professor al-Faruqi’s argument as well as with his formulation of the issues involved.

After this introductory observation, I would like to say a few words about three aspects of Islamic da’wah, that is, its what, why and how.

The central issue, according to Islam, is not man’s need to know the person of God and to extricate himself from his vicarious predicament by seeking the grace of a saviour, but his need for hidayah (divine guidance) to enable him to know the will of God and to try to live in obedience to it. Islam means complete submission to the Divine Will and it is this harmonization of man’s will with the Divine Will that leads to real peace — peace within man’s soul, between man and man, between man and the creation and finally between man and God.

The human situation, according to the Islamic view, is exemplified in the Qur’anic narration about the creation of man. He was created to play a positive and dynamic role — that of God’s khalifah, His deputy, representative and vice-gerent on earth. He was endowed with free will, with the capacity to make moral decisions, and was given the knowledge of things, so as to make such decisions properly. He was given the opportunity to make moral decisions for himself and to show whether he can behave responsibly, fulfilling the trust put in him. The experience he had with this freedom before he came to the earth brings to light his potentialities as well as his weaknesses — his exposure to evil and the dangers of his succumbing to it, as also his innate goodness to realize his mistakes and to strive to rectify them. It is because of this human situation that man needs divine guidance — as a reminder, a protector and a guide to make the right moral decision and remain steadfast in this respect. The critical question is man’s relationship with God and in the light of that his relationship with himself, with other human beings, with the entire creation and with history.

The strategy of the hidayah is to start with giving to man the iman, that is, faith and conviction in the unity of God — in tawhid with all its ramifications. God is One. He is the Creator, the Lord, the Mercy-Giving, the Sustainer, the Nourisher, the Perfector, the Truth, the Guide, the Law-Giver, the Sovereign, the Judge, the One to whom is man’s return. God and man represent two categories and man’s success and salvation lies in accepting God as his God, as Ma’bud (the object of worship, reverence, loyalty and obedience).

God’s will is not something mysterious, unknown or vague. It is revealed in the hidayah which provides the code for human conduct, the Law, the shari’ah. Islam is a complete way of life — al-din. Acceptance of God and His hidayah results in the emergence of a community of faith. Social institutions are reared on the foundations of iman. Muslim community is an ideological entity and represents a social movement to actualize in space and time the demands of the hidayah.

Islam is not merely a metaphysical doctrine or a theology; in it emphasis is on iman as the starting point, that is a conviction and a commitment to accept God as the Lord and to submit to His Will completely. This produces a particular outlook on life. Islam also provides a complete way of life; a system with explicit criteria for right and wrong and a set of clear injunctions as to how to regulate major institutions of human society. Finally, Islam inculcates the spirit of living in God’s presence as symbolized in the Islamic value of ihsan.

In this scheme, the prophets of God were not merely passive recipients and simple communicators of divine guidance but were also assigned the responsibility of presenting before man a living model of that guidance, a model that could be followed and emulated by divine sanction. All prophets of God fulfilled this function and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) represents the last expression of this model. The Qur’an contains the Word of God as it was revealed to the Prophet, and his sunnah provides the living model which we as Muslims try to follow and to approximate to.

This being the framework, we are now in a position to answer briefly the three questions we posed at the outset. The what of the Islamic da’wah means invitation to Islam as a faith and as a way of life, as al-din. This is an invitation to all human beings and the invitation becomes more pressing for those who respond to this call, for they have to engage themselves in an unceasing struggle to transform their own lives, individual and social, in accordance with this code of guidance. It is an invitation not only to a new iman, a new outlook in life, but also to a new order, the Islamic way of life. It is an invitation, not merely to the acceptance of a certain historical event, but to engage in a dynamic and unceasing process of understanding, training and social action, towards the transformation of human life through tarbiyah and tazkiyah, to suggest the relevant Islamic values.

The why of the da’wah can be understood by reflecting upon the framework we have discussed. Man is not self-sufficient and needs divine guidance. As Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last Prophet, how does the mechanism for guidance operate after him? The Islamic position is that this is ensured first by the preservation of the divine guidance in its pure and pristine form in the Qur’an and secondly by making the Muslim ummah — every Muslim and all Muslims — the witness of Truth before mankind in the same way as the Prophet was a witness of the Truth unto them. This has also been enjoined upon the Muslims in a number of places in the Qur’an as also by the Prophet.

Now a word about the how. Da’wah is presented primarily through conveying the message, preaching you may call it, and by practising it and as such presenting before the world its living example. Islam has ruled out techniques of coercion as instruments of da’wah. The methods it has enjoined and actualized in history are methods of communication, discussion and persuasion on the one hand, and the gravitational pull of godliness as exemplified in the lives of the people and realized in the social order. There is no professional class of priests or preachers in Islam. Every Muslim is responsible for the da’wah whatever be his vocation in life.

Fitzgerald: I would like to ask for clarification of Dr al-Faruqi’s statement that Islamic da’wah is ecumenical par excellence, by virtue of its comprehensive recognition of all the religions as de jure. In fact, what is meant by all religions? Having recourse to Apollo and other gods and goddesses is a kind of religion, but would Islam recognize this as well as all other religions as de jure.

al-Faruqi: Islam recognizes all religions as de jure, and then it invites the adherents of these religions to begin the task of criticism. No religion is ruled out by the Muslim a priori. In other words, if I meet someone who has never heard of Islam and who worships, for example, an “X” or “Y”, whatever that may be, I as a Muslim am not free to call him a pagan, or to regard him as condemned by God; rather, I must talk with him in order to discover what his religion is, in the belief that God must in His mercy have sent a prophet to him, for the Qur’an says: “And there is no people unto whom God has not sent a prophet” (Q. 35: 24).

Believing then that God in His mercy must have told him something, I meet with him with a view to being instructed about his faith, and then I invite him to research his own tradition in order to discover the essential message that God has given him. And if, in relation to that central revealed core, the rest of the beliefs and practices of that religion as developed through history turn out to be a pack of lies, that would be an empirical discovery for me. But for the Muslim this must never be an a priori decision which condemns a man because he doesn’t believe “in my God my way”!

However, if I discover that another man’s religion has been corrupted and falsified beyond recognition, then I have a duty to tell him about the Qur’an, God’s final revelation, to present it to him as rational truth, and invite his consideration. If he says, “I don’t want to listen”, then either he is malevolent or a fool.

Cragg: What you are saying, then, is that God has sent prophets everywhere, but ex hypothesi these prophets must be consistent with Islam.

al-Faruqi: Yes, Islam as religio naturalis, din al-fitrah.

Cragg: But that which in Buddhism is antithetical to Islam and to rationalism is not simply chaff mixed with wheat, if I may put it that way; it is the very wheat of Buddhism. By your analysis here it must then have been a false prophecy which brought the Buddhist to that belief.

al-Faruqi: I won’t say a false prophecy. I would say that a true revelation through an authentic prophet has been thoroughly falsified.

Fitzeragld: But by what historical criteria is the “true” prophet to be identified? And where is the “true” prophecy of which you speak within Buddhism?

al-Faruqi: I don’t know, but it can be researched; the fact that I assume it to be there at the origin is at least a good step in the direction of ecumenical tolerance.

Ahmad: It is very possible that rudiments of the true prophecy are to be found even in some pagan religions.

Cragg: It seems rather an escape hatch of a theory, because if a prophet is really a prophet then his message becomes known, it is balagh, communication; and if it has not survived historically it must be mythical.

al-Faruqi: No. At one time it was known. But then later on it became falsified as the Hebrew message became falsified, and the Christian message was falsified.

Cragg: But from a historical point of view that would be entirely conjectural.

The discussion then turned to Dr al-Faruqi’s point that Islamic da’wah is “rational intellection”.

Cragg: Going back to your exegesis of the verse in Surat al-Ahzab, we take the point that there is a kind of natural Islam of nature — that is, islam with a small “i”, as it were — and there is a volitional Islam, on the part of man. But in the conclusion of that verse, after man has accepted the trust, the Qur’an says: “Indeed he is a wrongdoer and rebellious” — which is what the Psalms describe when they speak of the “forward”, i.e. both ill-advised and obstinate. It is this area that I am so deeply concerned about in your paper because, if I may put it this way, there is a certain naivete about principles of reason, and about your alternative of the world being either full of fools or of people who are prepared to be persuaded. Is there not a third possibility that there is a kind of quality of … perverseness? — for which law, exhortation, and argument, do not suffice. Indeed they may provoke the very disobedience they condemn. Could it not be that it is this perversity of man which is implied in that particular verse in the Qur’an? There seems to be a real emphasis upon man as being in trust and at the same time distorting the trust he was given; the trust, if you like, is simply the context of the distortion. Your paper, in its very real concern which we all share for a right and true humanism, neglects this dimension which, perhaps in some emphases exaggeratedly, nevertheless essentially has been at the core of the Christian tradition about man, and the sense of the divine responsibility which Christians understand in terms of that saving intervention which you say is psychotropic folly…or whatever.

al-Faruqi: Since we understand the purport of this verse as being to stress the moral aspect of the will of God, it stands to reason that the violation of it is mentioned in the verse rather than its realization. But the realization is mentioned in many other verses in the Qur’an. The concern here is not really with man’s violation as something necessary but with man’s violation as something real. Nobody can deny that men sin and do evil. They are not angels. In the other verse of the Qur’an which I quoted, the angels actually argue with God that men will sin. But God says that He has a motive in creating man which the angels do not know. The difference between Islam and Christianity is still very great here. Islam recognizes the universality of sin, and God deals with it by sending down the Qur’an. He commands the Muslims to continue to deal with it by da’wah. But the concept of the necessity of sin, the fallenness of man, has nothing to do with Islam. To read in this verse any such meaning would be contrary to the meaning intended and the unanimous wisdom of fourteen centuries of Islamic thought.

Fitzgerald: Does the term “rational intellection” refer only to the da’wah itself or does it include also the response to da’wah? And of what nature is this response? Is it in any way comparable to “conversion”? In certain Christian religious philosophies, for example Thomism or Neo-Thomism, there is something similar to the idea of din al-fitrah. Man is said to be capable of the infinite; he does not have a limited horizon, but is always striving to surpass the horizon. But he is faced by a fundamental choice — he has to choose the good which is outside himself, and this is an option which has to be confirmed throughout the whole of life. If a man stops, and turns in on himself, then he is refusing his own nature. Now this sense of conversion has been described by C. S. Lewis in his autobiography as “joy”, which includes an element of ecstasy. It is not therefore entirely rational, but this does not mean to say that it is irrational, rather that it is non-rational.

Bishop Rudvin took the discussion back to Dr. al-Faruqi’s comments about the Christian idea of sin.

Rudvin: Comment has recently been made on the dogma of original sin. Now I was brought up in the Christian denomination — Lutheran — which has probably been the most emphatic in its insistence upon the dogma of original sin, and I would say that Dr al-Faruqi’s understanding of it is not really correct. He infers that it is a necessary trait of creation, but this is exactly what it is not. The whole conception of original sin, or the fall, in Christianity is an insistence that man’s empirical situation today, which is hopeless and sinful, is not a part of creation. The dogma about original sin means that we see man as he is empirically, and we emphatically deny that he was created that way.

al-Faruqi: But you define the state of innocence as Adam before the fall —well, that is not history, and what troubles me is that Christianity declares all men to be sinful in essence throughout the entire history of creation. The fall in Christian thought means that all men are by nature sinful, not just that all men sin in the same way as we might say that all men have noses! The fall means guilt, crime, and Christianity seems to condemn all men as being necessarily criminals, necessarily guilty.

Rudvin: But here you are presenting your own conclusions as the substance of Christian doctrine. I would summarize the whole doctrine of original sin like this: we recognize that empirical and practical man is in an awful mess, and all men are in the same mess, and have been throughout history, but we deny — or we insist, we cry out — that this is not what man was created to be. Man is not a sinner of necessity, but by his own will.

Sanneh: I would like to approach this issue from another direction —from the angle of revelation. The problem of revelation is not just the question of divine initiative — God willing and wanting to reveal himself to man in the form of a code of laws — but it is also intertwined with the problem of human volition and how man has resisted, indeed rebelled against, and sometimes persecuted the spokesmen of God, the prophets. Muhammad came as a reminder, certainly, which underscores the idea of Islam as din al-fitrah; but he came also as a warner — a warner because man is recalcitrant, a disputatious being who will argue with the divine initiative and struggle against it. The Qur’an itself accepts the problem that to secure man’s obedience is itself a highly ambiguous and problematic issue, because the intent to seek man’s obedience carries with it the risk of man’s refusing to give his obedience.

In answer to Dr Sanneh, Dr al-Faruqi opened up an area of fascinating discussion:

al-Faruqi: You spoke of God “willing and wanting to reveal Himself to man”. God does not reveal Himself. He does not reveal Himself to anyone in any way. God reveals only His will. Remember one of the prophets asked God to reveal Himself and God told him, “No, it is not possible for Me to reveal Myself to anyone.”

Cragg: Do you make this distinction absolute? Is not the will expressive of the nature?

al-Faruqi: Only the nature in percipe. In other words, the will of God is God in percipe — the nature of God in so far as I can know anything about Him.

This is God’s will and that is all we have — and we have it in perfection in the Qur’an. But Islam does not equate the Qur’an with the nature or essence of God. It is the Word of God, the Commandment of God, the Will of God. But God does not reveal Himself to anyone. Christians talk about the revelation of God Himself—by God of God — but that is the great difference between Christianity and Islam. God is transcendent, and once you talk about self-revelation you have hierophancy and immanence, and then the transcendence of God is compromised. You may not have complete transcendence and self-revelation at the same time.

Cragg: But no more can you have complete transcendence and creation.

al-Faruqi: Yes, you can. Because creation is, in the Qur’an’s words, kun fa yaqun, “be and it is”. Creation is a commandment of God (Q. 3:41 et. al.).

Cragg: Yes, but the creation of man is an involvement of the divine will with the human answer, as Dr Sanneh has been arguing. And therefore it is possible to say that to some extent the transcendent is now in the custody of man.

al-Faruqi: But God created creation by His command. I as a creature have no right to inflate myself and the rest of creation to such a degree as to say that without His creation God would flounder.

Cragg: But if I may say so modestly, you proceed into an extravagance. The point we are trying to get at is whether in Islam there is a divine responsibility — as I believe there is — and I believe this binds Christians and Muslims very closely together — a divine responsibility relating to this creation and to man in particular. This is, I believe, the proper corollary of a belief in creation, and of a belief in revelation and the succession of prophets. God cares about being obeyed and seeks the obedience through the sequence of prophets. Now we on the Christian side are going to go further and say: Yes, God seeks this obedience in redemptive terms. But I’ll leave that aside for the moment. The principle must surely be established that the will of God is involved in the creation, and therefore involved in man the creature, offering him the trust (amanah) and giving him the vice-gerency (khilafah). God, so to speak, has gone out on a limb. The omnipotence of God is, we could say, in a certain sense compromised, to the extent that an element of what this omnipotence is seeking is now squarely entrusted to man.

al-Faruqi: Not really. I as a human being can create a computer or an automaton to do certain things and not to do other things, but the existence of the automaton is certainly no compromise of my own inventive power or my superior mind.

Cragg: But your analogy breaks down. Man is not a computer. As you yourself said in an earlier session, he is a volitional being and what is required of him is a volitional Islam. This cannot be automatic, for it must always turn upon the will of man.

Ahmad: I do not see the logic of saying that because God has created man as a volitional being His Omnipotence and Sovereignty are in any way compromised. God can be caring. God is caring. But that doesn’t mean that He abandons part of His Sovereignty or Transcendence. On the one hand, as we find in the Qur’an, God is caring and loving — Rahman, Rahim, Wadud— and He desires man’s obedience and worship; but on the other hand, the Qur’an also makes it clear that God is in no way dependent or in need of man’s worship. If men refuse to worship God and to obey Him, God is not affected. It is not God Who seeks completion in our worship, but rather we who seek completion through worshipping Him.

Cragg: Now we have really come to something which is crucial. In my view, if you want an unmitigated transcendence, then you have got to go to Buddhism where the absolute is totally dissociated from the immanent and historical. But unmitigated transcendence for me is a contradiction in terms. I have introduced the term “compromise”, which is an unfortunate term because it suggests bargaining with truth. But if we are going to use this word, then it would seem to me that an indifferent transcendence would be the compromise. It is not that God cares and comes that compromises him. The abeyance of this would compromise him because it would be a kind of abdication.

If I may say so, it seems to me that what we have to try to do is to think more deeply about what we mean by omnipotence. Omnipotence is not the ability to do all things, but rather the ability to be undefeated. It means that God will subdue all things unto himself. It means a final competence. But having said this, I as a Christian am of the conviction that there are certain things about which we can say: “God ought”. I find it a terribly desolating and finally contradictory concept to believe in an unobligated deity. That is deism. Theism, to which we here are all committed, must mean divine involvement for this, as I have said, is implicit in creation itself. You cannot create and be as if you hadn’t. You cannot have law and be indifferent to what happens to it. You cannot educate and be indifferent to what is happening in education. The whole succession of prophets seems to argue a divine solicitude; jahiliyyah matters. If you have a false God it matters. Now this is not a fiction; it is not a play on words. God is involved in wrong that jahiliyyah does to him. I would say that this is where, if we are open together, Islam has to be open at a deep level to what Christians are saying, just as we Christians want to be open to what you are saying. Can we think of the Allahu akbar as a genuine accountability and responsibility to the human situation? Is not that within the meaning of transcendence?

al-Faruqi: No. Allah is not responsible for our misdeeds.

Cragg: … If he isn’t, quite simply I would prefer to be an atheist. An indifferent or a silent heaven…

al-Faruqi: I would deny accountability or responsibility on the part of God for my misdeeds. I do not mean to say that God is indifferent, that God is a cynic. Of course He cares. But God has given me freedom and moral responsibility. He has given me all the equipment needed for knowing His will, and even if I am lethargic of mind He has given me the quick rule of thumb by which to know His will — the shari’ah, the law, which I can read easily in books. Now if it is my will, despite all this, to disobey Him, then I am responsible and I have to bear the burden — not God. How can the Judge, how can the Source of the law, how can the King be responsible for the misdeeds of the subject? But of course, if His citizenry turns out to be gangsters, He will use His authority as Judge and King. Men do fail in their responsibilities — this is an incontrovertible, empirical fact — and Islam recognizes it fully. The Qur’an tells us that God is Merciful, and that it is out of His mercy and grace that He has given us revelation through the prophets in order to correct us.

Cragg: Well, I think that we are agreed that transcendence is not non-involvement. What is at issue is the degree of this involvement…

al-Faruqi: The kind of involvement…not the degree. The nature of involvement.

Cragg: But the Qur’an says kataba ‘aid nafsihi al-rahmah — “He has written the mercy upon his soul” (Q. 6: 12). Now that is a verse which takes the will of God into the nature of God. Let’s take the metaphor of a shepherd, for example. What is the degree of his responsibility? We think of shepherd-hood as requiring the utmost of exposure, search, compassion, concern, and would not think a shepherd responsible if he were to say: “Here I have got a fold, and I will sit in it folding my hands.” However, whatever a shepherd does under the constraint of his nature is not limitation: it is fulfilment. It would be the repudiation of this which would constitute limitation.

Here we are talking about the degree of the divine relationship to the human predicament. On the one hand, you say there is a divine involvement because God cares about man, but his relationship is didactic, hortatory, educational — revelatory in terms of propositions. But is there the possibility of a relationship more tragic, more compassionate? We are not wanting to say that God is less great but differently greater. Now let God be God. It is possible that you can be found forbidding things to God in the interest of what you think is his dignity, and we ought to beware of this.

al-Faruqi: I am forbidding man, not forbidding God.

Cragg: But you are forbidding God, implicitly at least, for you say there are things that it is not appropriate for God to do. You are forbidding God the sovereign freedom of manifesting his transcendence in whatever way he choose — which may be to condescend to man’s condition in terms of incarnation. What I am saying is, let God himself be the arbiter of what is appropriate to transcendence. This is all I am pleading for.

al-Faruqi: What does this mean, “Let God be the arbiter of his transcendence”? After all there is this revealed text in the Qur’an which says: laisa kamithlihishay — “there is nothing like unto Him” (Q. 42: 11). It is we who must beware of what is appropriate when talking about God and about transcendence.

Rudvin: If care means that you are really involved, then what you care for affects you…it may even hurt you and cause you to suffer.

Ahmad: Again you are treating God at a human level.

al-Faruqi: In no way can God be hurt. If you want to use the word “hurt” poetically, maybe I will wink my eye and let it go…with plenty of poetry! But if you start saying that something hurts God, therefore He has to take action, then I say that you are putting a condition upon the divinity of God.

Cragg: But if you say anything about God, if you use any human description of him, then you are by implication making God share in humanness. So you are involved in the paradox if you are to use the divine names at all. This is not at stake between us. Once again, the question is the degree to which one can interpret the status of the divine self-spending, which is the heart of the Christian faith — “Being in the form of God he took upon himself the form of a servant”. You mentioned kingship a moment ago. We have a marvelous example of kingship in Shakespeare in Henry V, when the king lays the crown aside and shows a simple concern to get alongside the common soldier in a dire situation. Is this less kingly than sitting in the palace on a throne? I think most of us would agree that it is not.

Al-Faruqi: No, it is not less kingly but the how of it needs to be specified. If you are saying that the king next started polishing the soldier’s shoes and carrying his ordinance box, then this is not kingly. But remember that a Muslim believes that God is nearer to him than his jugular vein and that our success is dependent upon Him. But to interpret this as a specific reduction of God’s transcendence is not permissible.

Cragg: Reduction is not permissible certainly, but this is not reductionist. This is the whole point.

Published in the International Review of Mission, Vol. LXV, No. 260 (October 1976), pp. 391-406

Cite this article as: Ismail Faruqi Online, "Appendix: Dialogue On The Nature of Islamic Da’wah," in Ismail Faruqi Online, March 10, 2010,


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