First of all, we’d like to start with an explanation of what da`wah is, for knowing the nature of a task helps in accomplishing it. Da`wah is to invite people to Allah, to call them to know the truth and to follow it. This can be done both by word and by action. Your words are used when you give lectures, sermons or circulate books, pamphlets, etc., that help people understand Islam. Your actions are used when making da`wah through your manners, i.e. being a role model and bringing into practice the noble teachings of Islam.
Both methods (da`wah by words and actions) were applied by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) setting for his Ummah a distinguished example to emulate. Once asked about the prophet’s manners, `A’ishah, the Mother of the Faithful (may Allah be pleased with her) said, “He (peace and blessings be upon him) was a walking Qur’an”, indicating that his actions were the living example of all the noble teachings and principles imbedded in the Glorious Qur’an.
Consequently, a Muslim is supposed to advise others using a gentle approach in an attempt to attract thirsty hearts and souls to the path of Allah. Indeed, people nowadays are keen to apply Islam more than ever, but they lack the example to follow!
The problem is not in making da`wah; the problem is in the way we present it to people. It’s sad to say that many people who call to Islam have ruined the image of da`wah itself, through the rigid methods which they apply, thus giving a bad impression about Islam and its followers. Thus, in the light of all the propaganda that is going on against Islam and Muslims these days, Muslims have to exert efforts in applying wisdom, good preaching and sound arguments.
When calling people to Islam, especially in the West, part of the approach you need is to make a clear the distinction between “Islam” and “Muslims”. You may ask why this is so important. The more the non-Muslims get attracted towards Islam, through its noble teachings and humane precepts, the more the bad manners of some Muslims scare off those non-Muslims. So you need to make them realize that as there are non-practicing Christians, whose acts run in sharp contrast to the dictates of Jesus Christ, there are also some people who have call themselves “Muslim” while not actually practicing what it means. Many non-Muslims wrongly identify Islam as being simply “what Muslims do” and this is a big problem when we have non-practicing Muslims.
So all in all, you need to adopt gentleness and politeness in presenting your arguments. Allah Almighty addresses His Prophet, saying:
“Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” (An-Nahl: 125)
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said: “Indeed, gentleness adds more beauty to the atmosphere it reposes therein.”
Actually, nothing is more needed now, in making da`wah, than gentleness and wisdom. The reason for this is to dispel all the superstitions and lies spread against Islam. All this needs wisdom, patience and perseverance, and such polite methods brings quick results and has rapid effect on the audience.
This reminds us how the Prophet’s gentle manners and wise approach softened the hearts of the Qur’ayshi idolaters, such as Hind (Abu-Sufyan’s wife). She was the one who chewed Hamza’s liver and fought Islam vigorously until the 8th year of Hijrah. She did not really know the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). However, when she knew him and saw his lenient manners, she told him “I never wished someone on the face of this earth to be abased more than you and your family. Now, I do not see someone on the face of this earth more honored than you and your family”.
You see how the Prophet’s kindness and sympathy changed the hearts of the people around him? Thus, the du`ah (callers to Islam) of today need to learn from the noble Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in order to draw people to Islam, instead of driving them away. There is also a need to change the language of da`wah itself. Observing many Friday sermons nowadays, will give one a quick impression that the majority of attendants don’t follow the speaker. Actually some take Friday sermons as a suitable time to take a nap or read a newspaper, for the speaker fails to attract their attention as the audience. The Friday sermon, as a form of da`wah, needs to be presented in a very compelling way and must serve the purpose of educating people and conveying the true message of Islam to them.
It is also important for you to consider your audience. You should always know what type of message they would easily grasp. Addressing the youth in a university campus actually demands extraordinary accuracy in presenting arguments, more than will be needed when addressing another forum. Each situation calls for a certain approach. Always try to choose a suitable time for preaching. Not all the time will you find attentive ears.