Islamic Perspectives


The Work of Propagation of Islam

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat


Broadly speaking, all Islamic work falls under one or the other of the following two categories:

a) Organizing ourselves, building social, political and economic systems & institutions and, through them, taking care of various affairs of Muslim communities or societies. The Holy Qur'an uses the comprehensive term of al-amr to describe this aspect of Islamic work. There are five pillars through which Islam expects us to take care of al-amr.

b) The second aspect of Islamic work, which is the subject of the present article, may broadly be described as promulgation of Islamic teachings. It consists of four closely linked parts:

  • Balagh or tabligh: This means making the basic message of Islam known to mankind.

  • Da'wah: This means inviting people to Islam and to all that is good (khayr).

  • Ta'lim: This consists of more detailed instruction in the way of Islam after a person has accepted the invitation to Islam.

  • Tazkiyah: This consists of instruction about Islam given to individuals with personal attention to the specific problems they face in following Islam and benefiting from it.

All the four parts of the work of promulgation of Islam mentioned above are mentioned in the Qur'an as functions of the Holy Prophet (may God bless him and his work evermore). Thus the Qur'an says:

"O Messenger! Make known (balagh) all that has been sent down to thee by thy Lord and Sustainer." (5:67)

"Invite (da'wah) to the way of thy Lord and Sustainer with wisdom and goodly exhortation..." (16:125)

"He it is who has sent to the unlettered people a Messenger from among themselves to convey unto them His messages, and to lead them to purity and spiritual growth (tazkiyah) and to teach them the Book and the Wisdom (ta'lim)..." (62:2)

Balagh, da'wah and ta'lim are also mentioned in the Qur'an and Hadith as duties of Muslims generally:

"Convey from me (balagh) even if it be only a single ayah (that you know)." (Bukhari)

"Let there among you be a group that invites to all that is good (da'wah)." (3:104)

"Say! This is my way. I call to God (da'wah) - on the basis of sure knowledge -I and those who (truly) follow me. Glory to God and I am not among those who commit shirk." (12:108)

"Acquire knowledge and teach it to mankind (ta'lim), learn your religious duties and teach them to mankind, learn the Qur'an and teach it to mankind, for I am a man who will be taken away..." (Darimi)

To the best of my knowledge tazkiyah is not explicitly mentioned in the Qur'an and Hadith as a responsibility which has passed from the Prophet to his followers but we can easily assume this to be the case, since tazkiyah is simply personalized ta'lim without which the function of ta'lim itself cannot be complete. Our greatest scholars have held that the prophetic function of tazkiyah continued after the Prophet through Islamic tasawwuf.

The work of promulgation of Islam has to follow somewhat different approaches according to whether it is done among non-Muslims or Muslims.



Since ta'lim and tazkiyah follow after a person has accepted Islam, promulgation of Islam among non-Muslims can only consist of balagh and da'wah.

Balagh and da'wah among non-Muslims is a collective duty of the Muslim Ummah. This is because the Prophet Muhammad was sent as a "mercy to all the worlds" and a "messenger of God to all mankind" (21:107 ; 7:158) and consequently his message is meant to reach every living human soul on earth, which is possible only through the agency of the Muslim Ummah. In recent centuries Muslims have ignored this collective obligation on their part and for doing so they often give the argument that these days Muslims themselves are not good Muslims and so before preaching Islam to non-Muslims we should first make at least the majority of Muslims "good Muslims". The fallacy of this type of argument can be seen by making the following two observations:

First, rarely if ever history affords any nation or Ummah the luxury of doing one thing first and another later. It almost always demands that important tasks be done side by side. the work of da'wah and tabligh therefore needs to be done among non-Muslims at the same time that it is done among Muslims (though not necessarily by the same people).

Second, changing the state of Muslims themselves is something that will be greatly helped by balagh and da'wah among non-Muslims. For, the work of preaching Islam among non-Muslims will present Muslims with challenges which, if met with a sense of obligation, will infuse new life and faith into the Ummah and rid it of many of its evils.

The work of preaching Islam among non-Muslims will follow two general directions:

1) Mass promulgation: By using means of mass communication (leaflets, announcements on TV, radio, etc.) Muslims need to make known to every soul on earth the most fundamental principles of Islam. In particular, every man, woman and child with sufficient ability to comprehend should hear the following message:

* Fourteen hundred years ago a man named Muhammad was sent as a messenger of mercy from God to all mankind for all times. It is under the leadership of this man that the human race will march to its final destiny.

* The history of mankind is moving to a final day of decision when all individuals will be judged for their deeds and either punished or rewarded. In this way GOOD will win its final victory over EVIL.

Prior to that final day of decision there can also take place lesser and temporary judgments, punishments and rewards, both for nations and individuals.

* There is but one true God and man must serve only Him and make only Him his Lord and Master. He must reject all other false Gods such as the mythical Jesus called son of God, ancient deified heroes such as Rama, Krishna, etc. or modern false Gods such as the system or state in the communist world, people or Man in modern democracies.

If a man makes not the one true God his only Lord and turns to the worship of any false Gods, whether in exclusion of or in association with the true God, then he will be thrown into hell-fire to stay there forever.

* God has commanded man to do good deeds such as charity, prayer and struggle for just causes (jihad) and prohibited him from evil deeds, especially the more serious ones such as injustice, violation of someone's honor, property and life, sexual perversions, addiction to alcohol, drugs, etc.

The above summary of the message to be made known to all the people of the world through means of mass communication is patterned on the approach to da'wah followed by all the prophets. The Holy Qur'an mentions the stories of many prophets and in each case the da'wah of the prophet follows more or less the same pattern. The prophet invites the people to believe in him as the prophet of his age and place, asks them to abandon the worship of false Gods of his day and to accept the Creator of the Universe as their only Lord; he invites them to the doing of good and to shun evils prevalent in his day (e.g. cruelty in the case of Hud's people, homosexuality in the case of Lut's people and dishonest business practices in the case of Shuayb's people); and he also warns the people of future punishment if they do not heed him and promises them reward if they do.

2) Specialized Promulgation: The second type of work to be done for da'wah and tabligh among non-Muslims is giving more detailed expositions of the teachings of Islam and demonstrations of their relevance for the well-being of man. These are to be directed to specific audiences through lectures, books, booklets, etc. They will range from relatively brief expositions in terms meaningful for the particular audience for which they are meant, to in-depth scholarly studies demonstrating how Islam provides better alternatives to existing systems for solving problems facing the world. To carry on this type of work we need to build big institutes where not only Islam is studied in all its aspects but also studies of cultural, religious and philosophical traditions of non-Muslim societies are carried out extensively.



Over the centuries the Islamic message has become divided into two parts. One part is fairly widely alive among Muslims in the sense that it is quite well-known to, and even avoided widely by, Muslims; while the other part is "dead" in that it is either not known to most Muslims or is ignored by them.

For example, every Muslim knows that Islam enjoins prayer, fasting, etc. and prohibits alcohol, pork, adultery, etc. and many Muslims even try to live by these teachings. This part of Islam is thus alive in the Ummah. On the other hand, most Muslims either do not know or do not take seriously such Islamic teachings as that we should fulfill our promises and should be fair and just in our dealings, that Muslims should run their affairs by shura and not najwah, that mosques of Allah should be managed by those who fear none but God (and who therefore are able to raise their voices against corrupt and powerful people. This represents the "dead" part of Islam. Balagh among Muslims consists of reviving this dead part, making it widely known and heeded among various Muslim communities and societies.

Da'wah among Muslims consists of invitation, through nasilah, exhortation, etc. to practice Islam. In other words, balagh is spreading the knowledge of Islamic teachings in all its aspects and da'wah is inviting one another to follow those teachings.



The work of ta'lim goes on among Muslims in various ways: through khutbahs on Fridays, regular dars al-Qur'an in some mosques, tafseer gatherings in private homes and through more systematic instruction in madrasahs and jami'ahs (religious schools and colleges). This whole process, however, suffers from many serious defects originating in the highest institutions of learning, i.e. the jami'ahs. Firstly, the religious instruction in the jami'ahs is not sufficiently critical of tradition in the sense that opinions and conclusions of classical scholars are not subjected to sufficient questioning, as a result of which the students and the teachers both suffer from intellectual timidity. Secondly, jami'ahs are not sufficiently independent of control by the established powers, as a result of which they are unable to play their role in transforming Muslim societies in accordance with the dynamic principles of Islam. Finally, the instruction in the jami'ahs is not sufficiently diversified in the sense that students are instructed according to a particular understanding of Islam without being sufficiently exposed to alternative interpretations. As a result, these jami'ahs, instead of being instruments of realization of the Islamic vision of uniting mankind into a single brotherhood under God, become sources of division and sectarianism in the Ummah. For the work of ta'lim to proceed satisfactorily it is essential that religious instruction at the level of jami'ahs at least should be freed from the above mentioned three defects.

In conclusion, a few words are in order about tazkiyah. As we said earlier, tazkiyah is personalized ta'lim. Its two basic tools are dhikr (remembrance of God) and fikr (thinking and reflection). How these tools are used will depend largely on the guide (murshad) and the peculiar needs of the seeker (salik). The part of Islamic tradition which concentrates on tazkiyah is known as tasawwuf. This is a rich tradition containing profound understanding of the human spirit and the human condition. But unfortunately, it is also mixed with un-Islamic superstition and needs to be reformed by constant use of the Qur'an as the Criterion.