Da'wa in the West
Larry A. Poston
The concept of missions in Islam is essentially subsumed under the Arabic word da'wa. This term comes from the root meaning "to call" or "to invite"; da'wa thus means "a call" or "an invitation" and, in specialized usage, "missionary activity" in the sense that the Muslim invites someone he considers a nonbeliever to submit to Allah. 1 In the Qur'an this idea appears in such passages as Sura 16:125: "Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way." But the revelation suggests no specific methodological or strategic model, and consequently the actual working out of this command to "call" has taken a number of forms through Islamic history.
The Prophet, for instance, invited the population of Mecca to join him in worshipping the One God by means of a verbal proclamation of tawhid in the environs of the Ka'ba. Upon his death, knowledge concerning the din Allah was spread by the mujahidun (those who conquered the Middle East and North Africa), by emigrants from Arabia to the new Muslim lands, and by traders. Subtle changes in the concept of da'wa were introduced by the Sufis, who called men and women to a direct experience of God in addition to knowledge of His attributes. For the Isma'ilis the term took on political overtones and their da'is ("callers" or "missionaries") sought to spread a particular form of Islam by what some would consider highly suspect means. During the Middle Ages the Sufi tariqas became the chief agencies through which Islam was spread and Muslim populations were extended deep into Africa and Asia and eastward as far as Indonesia.
Not until the nineteenth century was the da'wah ilalislam heard in North America. In this chapter we seek to classify the missionary philosophies of the roughly 4 million Muslims currently residing in the United States and Canada. One way to do this is to suggest two generally distinguishable approaches that can be called, respectively, the defensive-pacifist and the offensive-activist. The first characterizes the attitude of introversionist Muslims, in the sense that they are concerned solely or primarily with retaining and maintaining their