Islamic Da 'Wa and Christian Mission: Towards a Comparative Analysis

Article excerpt

DAVID A. KERR [*]

1:0 Introduction

Christianity and Islam have in common the fact that -- like Buddhism -- they are missionary religions. While this is acknowledged by missiologists and comparative religionists, little scholarly attention has yet been given to the comparative study of Islamic da 'wa and Christian mission.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, in 1976, the International Review of Mission devoted an issue to "Christian Mission and Islamic Da 'wah". It contained papers by Muslim and Christian participants in a week-long dialogue conference held in Chamb[acute{e}]sy (June 1976), together with verbatim excerpts from the conference discussions, and a final conference statement agreed among the participants. [1] Although several Muslim and Christian groups subsequently republished some of the papers and the common statement, no significant attempts have been made to advance the discussion of substantive issues.

The present paper seeks to regenerate interest in this topic, the problems and opportunities of which have become more evident in the last two decades of Christian-Muslim encounter. The paper is written as part of an international research project of Christian theologians concerned with the future of Christian theological education in Muslim societies. [2] It contains material that was presented to an international seminar of Christian missiologists and missionaries in the Overseas Ministries Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut, in October 1999. [3] It also reflects issues discussed at a consultation on "Religious Freedom, Community Rights and Individual Rights: a Christian-Muslim Perspective", sponsored by the World Council of Churches at Hartford Seminary, Connecticut, also in October 1999.

The paper is not intended to address issues of Christian mission to Islam or, in practical terms, Muslim da 'wa among Christians. It offers a summation of various studies of mission and da 'wa since 1976, and sets out a basis for certain comparisons between Christian and Islamic understandings of mission and da 'wa. In conclusion it proposes ten theses for renewed discussion about mission and da 'wa among Muslims and Christians.

1:1 The Meaning of Da'wa

The Arabic word da'wa [4] expresses the sense of "call" or "invitation". [5] It comes from the verb da'a, "to call", of which da'i is the active participle, "one who calls or invites".

The question immediately arises whether the words da'wa and da'i bear the English translation of "mission" and "missionary". In Arabic they imply a centripetal action of "calling into", whereas mission implies the centrifugal action of "sending". Whether this etymological distinction has any comparative significance is a question to be addressed in the last section of this paper. In order not to prejudge the issue, the words da'wa and da'i (plural du'ah) will be transliterated rather than translated, unless they are cited in quoted translation in which case the translated terms will be italicized. [6]

2:0 Da'wa in the Qur'an

The verb da'a occurs frequently in the Qur'an. Sometimes its subject is God: for example, "God calls to the Home of Peace (dar al-islam), and He guides whom He pleases to a straight path." [7] On other occasions the subject is the prophet: for example, "the Messenger invites you to believe in your Lord." [8] Frequently the subject is the people of faith who call upon God: for example, "They cry unto God, making sincere their religion unto Him." [9]

The noun da'wa also occurs several times in the Qur'an, in the reciprocal senses of God's call to humankind, and the believers' call or prayer to God.

In relation to the concerns of this paper, the locus classicus of the verb da'a is found in Sura Al Imran (The Family of Imran: Q3:104). I quote it in variant translations from two widely respected English versions of the Qur'an:

And there may spring from you a nation [umma] who invite [10] to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. …