FROM MAULANA’S DESK
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, born in 1925, in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, is an Islamic spiritual scholar who is well-versed in both classical Islamic learning and modern disciplines. The mission of his life has been the establishment of worldwide peace. He has received the Padma Bhushan, the Demiurgus Peace International Award and Sayyidina Imam Al Hassan Peace award for promoting peace in Muslim societies. He has been called ’Islam’s spiritual ambassador to the world’ and is recognized as one of its most influential Muslims1 . His books have been translated into sixteen languages and are part of university curricula in six countries. He is the founder of the Centre for Peace and Spirituality based in New Delhi.
CONVERSION VERSUS DAWAH
ONE of the readers of Spirit of Islam wanted to know the difference between conversion and Dawah (calling people towards God). According to the reader’s understanding, both terms mean the same.
Dawah is a bilateral process which involves sharing of thoughts. It is an invitation, while at the same time it is a means for mutual learning
This, however, is far from the truth. It is very important to know the difference between the two terms. Conversion literally means the adoption of new religious beliefs that differ from the convert’s previous beliefs. Thus conversion to a religion is one’s personal choice—it is every person’s birth right. Taking conversion in the sense of proselytization is incorrect. Since the word ‘conversion’ creates misunderstanding, it is not used in Islam. Instead of this, the word adopted in Islam is dawah. In its literal sense, dawah means ‘to call’. It is another name for the peaceful use of freedom of expression. According to the modern concept of freedom, every one has the right to peacefully express one's ideas.
Therefore, dawah is the other name for peaceful dialogue. It is a healthy practice to share one’s ideas with others in an atmosphere of openness.
Dawah is a bilateral process which involves sharing of thoughts. During this process, one gives to others and also gains from others’ learning. In this sense, dawah can also be termed mutual learning. We can say that it is a process in which one shares one’s discovery of the truth with others. In one respect it is an invitation, while at the same time it is a means for mutual learning. Contrary to imposing one’s ideas on others, it stands for sharing one’s discovery with others.
If dawah is taken in the sense of proselytization, it would serve to be a cause for intellectual stagnation. If, however, it is taken in the sense of dialogue and mutual learning, it would prove to be effective in the intellectual development of people involved.
Dawah is not the same as debate. In a debate, one aims to establish one’s superiority over another. This is not a method suitable for an intellectual discussion. Debate does not ignite our thoughts to new ideas presented by others. On the contrary, while doing dawah one enters into a healthy exchange with others on religious subjects. The target for this exchange is to further one’s creative thinking in order to explore and discover new aspects of the truth.
Conversion, in Islamic thought, is not synonymous with proselytism. According to Islam, conversion is an event which takes place in a person’s life as a result of an intellectual transformation. It is for the individual to discover the truth after an exhaustive search for it and then willingly make a choice in this matter.
Conversion is an event which takes place in a person’s life as a result of an intellectual transformation
Dawah refers to creative interaction. It is a bilateral process. A peaceful exchange of ideas in human society is the basic aspect for the development of the world. Every development was an idea which was converted into action resulting in benefit to humanity. Sharing of ideas with others in an atmosphere of peace and openness is the source of human and intellectual development.
During this process, one also learns from others. It is mutual learning. One presents what one has discovered and listens to what the other person has to offer from his discovery in life. If this does not happen then it will lead to intellectual stagnation. If taken in the sense of dialogue and mutual learning, it would prove to be effective in one’s intellectual growth and add to the wisdom of those who are participating in such dialogue.
Dawah ends at this point. Any further thinking about the ideas presented by others is the responsibility and freedom of the individual, a process in which no second person is involved. This major point of difference is to be understood clearly. When we speak of conversion it immediately brings to mind the presence of two persons: a ‘converter’ and a ‘convertee’. This, however, is not an Islamic teaching. When a person accepts a faith different from his previous faith, he alone should make the choice on the basis of his discovery of that faith. It is a result of his own discovery of God: there is no one in between him and His Creator. Thus the entire work of conveying the message of God is about being a true worshipper of God and a true well-wisher of mankind. The framework for this task is to maintain unilateral peace and to live as a giver member of society in every way.
The process of dawah has always helped me in my self-development. In this connection, I would like to relate an incident. By birth, I am a Muslim. Through my study of the Quran, I have found that Islam’s concept of life is that a person should intellectually develop himself to such an extent that he is able to turn a minus into a plus. I had learnt this principle through my study of Islam. Later, I came to know of an incident of the famous Indian monk Swami Vivekananda.
When a person accepts a faith different from his previous faith, he alone should make the choice on the basis of his discovery of that faith; there is no one in between him and His Creator.
Once one of his Christian friends invited the Swami to his house and led him to a room. Here on a table lay a pile of books one on top of the other. These were sacred books of major world religions. They were placed in such an order that the Gita was at the bottom and the Bible was right on top. Would the Swami get provoked, the host wondered. The host pointed towards the books and asked: “Swamiji what is your comment on this arrangement?” Swamiji smiled gently and said: “The foundation is really good.”
This incident of Swami Vivekananda provided a very good illustration of the principle I had learnt from the Islamic scripture. Dawah is the name of such creative interaction.