In This Article Daʿwa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Daʿwa in Islamic Scripture
  • Daʿwa and Women
  • Daʿwa and Modern Science
  • Daʿwa and Christian Mission
  • Select Modern Muslim Writings on Daʿwa

Islamic Studies Daʿwa
Matthew J. Kuiper
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0252


The Arabic term daʿwa can be translated as calling, inviting, or summoning. Historically, Muslims have used the term daʿwa, along with variants such as daʿā (to invite) and daʿi (one who invites), in varied ways. In modern times, however, the term has come to be used most often for Islamic preaching or missionary activity (“inviting” to Islam)—aimed primarily at instructing or reviving fellow Muslims, and secondarily at fostering conversions among non-Muslims. At the same time, religiopolitical understandings of the concept, which are well attested in Islamic history, continue into the 21st century. In the latter sense, the term may serve as a language of oppositional politics and mobilization. In the Qurʾan, daʿwa and variants occur frequently. The primary agents of daʿwa in the Qurʾan are God and the Prophets, who summon humans to submission (islām) in light of the coming judgment (e.g., Q 10:25). Several passages in the Qurʾan, regularly invoked by modern daʿwa activists, also seem to envision daʿwa as a duty of the entire Muslim community, for instance Q 3:104 and Q 16:125. In hadith and sīra, there are many reports that portray the Prophet and his Companions (ṣaḥāba) as ideal and successful daʿis (preachers of Islam, doers of daʿwa) in a 7th-century context. In these literatures, daʿwa is used for invitations both to religious conversion and, particularly in reports depicting the Medinan phase of the Prophet’s ministry, to political submission. With premodern dynasties like the Sunni ‘Abbasids and Ismaʿili Fatimids, the term took on a strongly religiopolitical connotation insofar as it referred to summons to embrace particular rulers or revolutionary movements as the bearers of Islamic authenticity. In classical Islamic legal thought, daʿwa refers to the obligation to invite non-Muslims to embrace Islam before the commencement of hostilities in contexts of warfare. Important actors in the history of daʿwa in premodern times included the scholarly class (ulama), Sufis and Sufi orders, and Muslim migrants such as soldier and traders. Whether or not they used the term daʿwa (the popularity of the term itself waxed and waned over time), each of these groups contributed to the spread of Islam. In the modern period, especially since the early 20th century, daʿwa has experienced a remarkable resurgence worldwide. Examples of contemporary daʿwa include traditional Friday sermons; the publishing of tracts on Islam and science; interreligious dialogues; Islamic websites; departments of daʿwa in Islamic universities; and, in some Muslim counties, government agencies tasked with ensuring conformity with Islamic norms. Insofar as daʿwa movements have facilitated the involvement of Muslim laymen, women, and children in Islamic preaching and other forms of activism, daʿwa is implicated in the democratization of religious and political authority among Muslims in the modern period. For Muslims living in minority contexts, some thinkers who promote fiqh al-aqaliyyāt (minorities’ jurisprudence) have popularized the idea that non-Muslim societies should be seen not as dār al-ḥarb, but as dār al-daʿwa (the abode of missionary propagation). Daʿwa has also served as a keynote term for Islamist groups that often use it in relation to broader projects of political protest and mobilization. Jihadi groups also use daʿwa to speak of their recruitment and propaganda activities. It should be noted that the word daʿwa is sometimes used interchangeably with tablīgh (conveying the message of Islam) or al-amr b’il-ma‘rūf wa’l-nahī ‘an al-munkar (commanding right and forbidding wrong). Alterative English renderings of the term daʿwa include daʿwah and, in parts of Southeast Asia and Africa, dakwah. Given its importance in modern Islam, the study of daʿwa (or “daʿwa studies”) is an exciting area of research.

General Overviews

Arnold 1913 (first edition, 1896) is perhaps the first modern scholarly study of the propagation of Islam in English, although it rarely uses the term daʿwa. Though a product of the late 19th century, Arnold 1913 is still useful with respect to its examination of the spread of Islam around the world prior to the 20th century. In addition, given its continuing popularity among some Muslim writers on daʿwa, the book is an important part of the history of daʿwa in its own right. For a study of Arnold and his intellectual project, see Watt 2002. Whereas Arnold 1913 focuses on religious conversion through Muslim missionary activities, Canard 1960–2007 (cited in Daʿwa in Classical and Medieval Islamic History) equates daʿwa almost entirely with the pre-modern religiopolitical propaganda efforts of the ‘Abbasids, Ismaʿili Fatimids, and similar movements. Though useful on this theme, its perspective is limited. Ahmad and Castro 1982 (cited in Daʿwa and Christian Mission) records the proceedings of a Muslim-Christian dialogue in which daʿwa and Christian mission were discussed in tandem. The volume has several useful general perspectives on daʿwa, including an important essay by Ismaʿil al-Faruqi (d. 1986) (al-Faruqi 1982, cited in Daʿwa and Christian Mission). Denny 1987 provides a brief encyclopedia overview of daʿwa in its missionary sense. Poston 1992 (cited in the West) includes a valuable survey of daʿwa in premodern Islamic history before addressing its main focus, daʿwa in the modern West. Mendel 1995 is a valuable, though dense, discussion of the classical concept of daʿwa contrasted with modern “radical reformist” understandings of daʿwa, particularly in the thought of Hasan al-Bannā (d. 1949). Walker 1995 (cited in Daʿwa in Islamic Scripture), Masud 1995 (cited in Modern Daʿwa), and Schulze 1995 (cited in Modern Daʿwa) are a trio of articles on daʿwa that appear back to back in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Masud 1995 explains the concept of tablīgh and the relationship between tablīgh and daʿwa in contemporary thought and practice. Doorn-Harder 2001 is a perceptive overview of the ways the Qurʾan and its message have been propagated throughout history. It contrasts traditional modes of teaching with the democratized approaches of the modern period and covers modern daʿwa and tablīgh movements, star preachers of daʿwa, and the roles of women in daʿwa. It also has a useful bibliography. Janson 2001 is a lengthy article that summarizes the history of daʿwa from the Qurʾan to the early 21st century using perspectives from critical theory. Janson 2002 and several early chapters of Janson 2003 (cited in the West) repeat much of the material from Janson 2001. Hedin, et al. 2004 provides an excellent encyclopedia survey of daʿwa. Racius 2004 (cited in Modern Daʿwa) is a study of daʿwa that is primarily concerned with the second half of the 20th century, but which also includes a discussion of scriptural and classical understandings of daʿwa. Weismann 2015 (cited in Middle East: Egypt) has a brief account of the history of daʿwa before looking at the daʿwa of the Muslim Brotherhood. Kuiper 2018 (in Part 1) provides the most recent and comprehensive historical overview of daʿwa in Islam beginning with the Qurʾan, hadith, and sīra, through the classical and medieval periods, and finally up to the early 21st century.

  • Arnold, Thomas. The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith. 2d ed. London: Constable, 1913.

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    One of the first modern scholarly studies of daʿwa in English (although it rarely uses the term daʿwa), written by a British associate of Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Iqbal, and one-time teacher at the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College.

  • Denny, Frederick Matthewson. “Da‘wah.” In Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 4. Edited by Mircea Eliade, 244–245. Detroit: Macmillan, 1987.

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    Provides a useful encyclopedia length overview of daʿwa in its modern missionary sense. Second edition, edited by Lindsay Jones (2005).

  • Doorn-Harder, Nelly van. “Teaching and Preaching the Qurʾan.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 205–231. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001.

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    Contrasts traditional modes of teaching and preaching the Qurʾan with the democratized approaches of the modern period, and perceptively covers modern daʿwa movements, star preachers of daʿwa, and the roles of women. It also has a useful bibliography.

  • Hedin, Christer, Torsten Janson, and David Westerlund. “Da‘wa.” In Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. Edited by Richard C. Martin, 170–174. New York: Macmillan, 2004.

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    An excellent encyclopedia survey of daʿwa up to the early 2000s.

  • Janson, Torsten. “Da‘wa: Islamic Missiology in Discourse and History.” Swedish Missiological Themes 89.3 (2001): 355–415.

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    A lengthy article that summarizes the history of daʿwa from the Qurʾan to the early 21st century using perspectives from critical theory.

  • Janson, Torsten. Invitation to Islam: A History of Da‘wa. Uppsala: Swedish Science, 2002.

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    Much of the same material, with some updates and additions, from Janson 2001.

  • Kuiper, Matthew J. Da‘wa and Other Religions: Indian Muslims and the Modern Resurgence of Global Islamic Activism. London and New York: Routledge, 2018.

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    Provides the most recent overview of daʿwa from the Qurʾan and hadith up to the early 21st century, including a discussion of major causes and trends of modern daʿwa. It also examines the daʿwa of the Tablighi Jamaʿat and the daʿwa of Zakir Naik and the Islamic Research Foundation.

  • Masud, Muhammad Khalid. “Tablīgh.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Vol. 4. Edited by John Esposito, 162–165. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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    Defines and examines the uses of the concept of tablīgh, a word sometimes used interchangeably with daʿwa.

  • Mendel, Milos. “The Concept of ‘ad-Da‘wa al-Islāmiyya.’” Archív Orientální 63 (1995): 286–304.

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    A valuable, though dense and slightly dated, discussion of the problems associated with defining the word daʿwa, along with a discussion of classical uses of the concept, contrasted with modern “radical reformist” understandings of daʿwa, particularly in the thought of Hasan al-Bannā.

  • Watt, Katherine. “Thomas Walker Arnold and the Re-evaluation of Islam, 1864–1930.” Modern Asian Studies 36.1 (2002): 1–98.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X02001014E-mail Citation »

    A fascinating study and contextualization of Thomas Arnold and his intellectual project, including his sympathetic work on the propagation of Islam.

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