An important requirement of religion is that its followers should also continue to urge others to adopt it. For this requirement of religion the terms da'wah (preaching) and tabligh (propagation) are used. A study of the shari'ah of preaching mentioned in the Qur'an shows that the responsibility of preaching has been imposed on distinct categories of believers according to their various capacities.
For convenience of understanding, the shari'ah of preaching can be categorized as follows:
1. Preaching Obligation of Muhammad (sws)
All prophets of God were sent to call people to God and to warn and to give glad tidings to them. Their obligation of handing out warnings to the rejecters and giving glad tidings to the believers does not require any explanation. However, from among these anbiya (prophets), those who were given the status of rusul (messengers) by the Almighty, their indhar (warnings), according to the Qur'an, culminated in shahadah. In the terminology of the Qur'an, shahadah means that the truth is communicated to people in such a manner that no one is left with an excuse to deviate from it. The way this shahadah is established is that the Almighty selects these rusul and then, before the actual Day of reward and punishment, rewards and punishes people through them in this world. These rusul are told that if they honour their covenant with God they will be rewarded in this world and if they dishonour it, they will be punished here. The result of this is that these rusul become signs of God, and it is as if people see God walking along with the rusul who delivers His verdicts. Moreover, these rusul are directed to propagate the truth they have seen through their mind's eye and with full certainty deliver to people the exact guidance of God they have received. This is shahadah. Once the preaching obligation of the rusul after passing through the phases of indhar (warning), indhar-i 'am (open warning), itmam-i hujjah (communication of the truth to the extent that the addressees are left with no excuse to deny it) and hijrah and bara'a (migration and acquittal) culminates in the establishing of shahadah, it becomes a basis for the Judgement of God both in this world and in the next. Consequently, the Almighty grants supremacy to these rusul and punishes the rejecters of their preaching in this very world.
2. Preaching Obligation of Abraham's Progeny
The nature of their preaching is the shahadah (bearing witness to the truth) described above. The Qur'an specifies that just as the Almighty chose certain great personalities from among the progeny of Adam for shahadah, on similar lines, He also chose the progeny of Abraham (sws) for the responsibility of shahadah, and directed it to make an effort to fulfil all the requirements of this position.
It is because of this status of the progeny of Abraham (sws) that if it adheres to the truth in its collective capacity, and keeps presenting it to other peoples of this world with full certainty and while maintaining full integrity of its contents, the Almighty will grant them dominance over their addressees who reject them. On the other hand, if the progeny of Abraham (sws) does not adhere to the truth in its collective capacity, then the Almighty through these very addressees will mete out the punishment of humiliation and subjugation to them.
3. Preaching Obligation of Scholars
After the Prophet Muhammad (sws), his obligation of indhar has been transferred to the scholars of the Muslim ummah. The Almighty has said that some people from each group should come forward to gain sound knowledge of religion and try to save their people from the punishment of the Hereafter through warning and admonition.
It is evident from the Qur'an that in this preaching obligation of the scholars the following aspects must always remain in mind:
Firstly, scholars should have so much faith in the truth they go about preaching that it should be the voice of their hearts and the call of their souls. Only after totally submitting themselves to the Almighty should they enter this field, and should declare that with all their heart and soul that they have professed faith in what they are calling people to.
Secondly, there should be no contradiction between what they believe and what they actually do. Whatever ideology or truth they want to preach to others should first be practiced by them.
Thirdly, they should never show a compromising attitude about the truth. The smallest of truths about religion that becomes evident to them should be wholeheartedly accepted by them; their tongue should bear witness to it and they should present it to the world disregarding the reproaches of a reproacher.
Fourthly, the Qur'an should be the means of indhar they should adopt. The Qur'an directed the Prophet Muhammad to do so and for this very reason, the Prophet (sws) is a nadhir (warner) for the whole world, and the scholars of religion actually communicate his indhar to people.
4. Preaching Obligation of the Rulers
If, in a certain piece of land, Muslims are able to gain political independence, then it is their responsibility that they should depute some people from among themselves who should call people towards righteousness, enjoin good and forbid evil. After the formation of a government, this obligation is imposed on their rulers. It is incumbent upon them that besides discharging all other natural duties which relate to the state, they also necessarily discharge this duty.
5. Preaching Obligation of an Individual
The obligation of preaching of an individual is to urge one another to righteousness and forbid one another from evil. The sphere of this preaching is one's immediate surroundings and one's area of authority. A person is required to do this duty among his family, relatives and friends. In this category of preaching, the preacher and the preached are not distinct from one another. Every person at all times acts as a preacher as well as an addressee to this preaching. This responsibility should be discharged by a father towards his son and a son towards his father, a husband towards his wife and a wife towards her husband, a brother towards his sister and a sister towards her brother, a friend towards his friend and a neighbour towards his neighbour – in short, a person should discharge it towards every person who has an immediate relation with him. When he sees that someone among them has adopted an attitude which is contrary to the truth, he should try to urge him according to his knowledge, capacity and ability to mend his ways. It is quite possible that while at one time of the day we deliver some truth to a person, and at another time, he does this very service to us. Today, we may urge a person to the right way and tomorrow that person might urge us to the same. In short, a Muslim should keep discharging this duty in his immediate circle whenever he gets the opportunity.
6. Strategy of Preaching
The strategy of preaching delineated below relates to all categories of preaching. The Qur'an has mentioned it as a principle and it is based on the following three statutes:
Firstly, wisdom, kindly exhortation and sound discussion should permeate the tone of this preaching. By wisdom (hikmah) is meant the arguments present in the verses and kindly exhortation and sound discussion mean urging the addressees through sincere reminders. The implication is that whatever is presented by a preacher should be supported by arguments and presented in the light of knowledge and intellect and he should not be aggressive and forceful in his presentation. His tone should reflect sincerity and affection. If it reaches the stage of debate and argument, then this should be done in a most befitting manner. If the opponent becomes hostile and antagonistic, then instead of responding in an even more belligerent manner, a true preacher should always remain polite and civilized.
Secondly, the responsibility of a preacher is that of preaching only: he should communicate the truth and elucidate it, and in no way show any slackness in urging and exhorting people towards it. If he discharges this responsibility in a befitting manner, he fulfils an obligation. It is the Almighty Who decides to give guidance to a person or to lead him astray. He knows well those who have erred and also those who are rightly guided. He shall thus deal with a person in a manner he is worthy of. A preacher should not try to force the truth on others nor should he give verdicts about the fate a person shall meet in the Hereafter. This is the sole prerogative of the Almighty, and the only responsibility of a preacher is to communicate the truth, and he must not exceed this.
Thirdly, if the addressees of preaching resort to oppression and inflict harm on the preacher, he is allowed to avenge it in a proportion commensurate with the harm inflicted while remaining within moral limits; however, in the eyes of God, it is better that a person bear this oppression with perseverance. This perseverance implies that preachers should bear every hardship but refrain from avenging it; nor should they change their stance after being overwhelmed with hardships. Those who show perseverance at these instances are promised great rewards. Not only will they face its good consequence in this world, they will also, God willing, encounter good consequences in the Hereafter.
(Translated from Al-Islam by Dr Shehzad Saleem)