Have daw’ah stalls lost their way?

Ghulam Esposito Haydar of the Manchester New Muslim Network asks if we have misunderstood the role of the da’wah stall?

The landscape of da’wah seems to have changed considerably over the last couple of years. It was only a few years ago before the current mass outbreak of daw’ah tables and roaming street du’ats that street da’wah was something of a rarity in towns and cities up and down the UK.

The rare da’wah tables which existed consisted mainly of middle-aged Muslim men with a strong link to their local masjid. Youngsters would join only with the supervision and guidance of an elder statesmen. This was the common template for many da’wah stalls.

The objective of the da’wah stall was simple – to educate those who were willing to listen from the non-Muslim community about Islam. It provided a much needed opportunity for a non-Muslim to have their first real interaction with a Muslim and to leave more educated about the bases and basics of the religion. Sealing a conversion was never the real objective.

Over the last few years, some of the bigger daw’ah organisations started carrying out courses and workshops aiming to empower the youth to get involved in daw’ah in the public arena. There have been many positives – for example, many Muslims now understand that daw’ah is part and parcel of being a Muslim and many now know how to to articulate their beliefs in a structure and language that the general laity can understand thereby instilling them with confidence to go out and engage with strangers.

The positives should be acknowledged but with the same token, we must acknowledge some of the negatives so that we can identify what needs to be changed.

Whilst many feel empowered, there have been some inadvertent consequences. Without the necessary guidance of an elder statesmen along with the aim of “going for gold” and all the while attempting to show Islam to be intellectually superior in a climate of Islamaphobia and neo atheist rhetoric, many have failed to recognise that a first encounter with a non-Muslim should be merely a light introduction to Islam rather than an opportunity to seal conversion or to defend Islam via an intellectual debate.

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Intellectual battleground

Many of the youngsters involved have turned what used to be great about daw’ah stalls into something of an intellectual battle ground with a heavy preachy undertone. This has changed the onus, creating mass levels of street debaters who have then flocked to YouTube to demonstrate their intellectual prowess, further exacerbating the situation by inspiring a new generation of copy cat clones.

Of course there are exceptions to the norm. There are many da’wah stalls which have stayed loyal to the traditional set-up, keeping it simple and using it as a means to simply convey the message and every now and again, encounter someone who is ready to embrace Islam after a period of research and reflection.

Daw'ah stalls are now a common sight in town centres
Daw’ah stalls are now a common sight in town centres

Muslims involved in da’wah must understand the role of a da’wah stall. Is it da’wah or is it conveying the message? Is there even a difference between the two? Is it to defend Islam?

If we are serious about da’wah, we need to go beyond this limited understanding that conveying the message equals daw’ah; it isn’t. Conveying the message is an intrinsic part of da’wah, but da’wah is inviting someone to Islam by demonstrating to them the holistic package of Islam. Daw’ah should be undertaken with insight into successful models of the past whilst assessing the current climate.

This is a big part of our religion, reflecting on best practise and is a part of ihsan (excellence in religious practise). We have to understand that when groups of people in the past flocked to the deen, they often came to it as a result of long-term interaction with one person or a group of people. Their interest developed as a result of building trust over a period of time or as a result of an already established trust.

Da’wah isn’t done by merely preaching but by building trust in the area by showing Islam for what it really should be according to the teachings in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. This is even more important in today’s climate where anti-Muslim rhetoric seems to be at an all-time high, thus demystifying Islam by demonstrating Islam should take on even more of an important role. All of this needs to take place within a structure to support the development of Muslims long-term.

Daw’ah strategy

So what does this mean in terms of da’wah strategy and where does this place the role of a da’wah stall? We need to recognise a da’wah stall for what it is and operate it in a functional way; to simply provide non-Muslims with an opportunity to speak to a Muslim and to convey the message of Islam.

We have to understand that people in the UK do not generally trust religion so preaching religion down their throats isn’t the correct way to go but rather pushes them away. When you factor in the current anti-Muslim climate, how do we expect people to come and learn when they know that they will faced with blatant proselytising?

Surely we need to adjust and possibly tweak our da’wah tables with a fresh approach which attracts people to come and have their say and leave more educated about Islam? It shouldn’t be about controlling a conversation but to allow an open discussion.

The table should never become a place where a person initiates an intellectual debate with a complete stranger. It should have never become a place to seal conversion at a first encounter.

Many defend their actions by convincing themselves that they are being effective since many are taking their Shahada. But this is extremely problematic since countless accounts throughout the country have demonstrated that up to 90% of these conversions have been rushed or disingenuous since most wanted nothing to do with Islam on subsequent contact.

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