Women in Da'wah
'Abdul Latif M. Al-Hassan and Sumayyah Bint Joan
From the very beginning, women have played vital roles in the propagation of the fundamental truths of Islamic Da'wah. From the sacrifices of Sumayyah, to the collected Ahadith of Ayshah, women have been instrumental in the flourishing and spreading of this deen. Unfortunately during these times, the Islamic revival suffers from weaknesses in its properly qualified personnel, which limits its spreading and restricts the Da'wah work to an elitist group of activists, with finite and limited efforts of Da'wah and tarbiyah being focused on women.
Da'wah amongst women deserves, and should get, far more attention than it does. So far, except in a few instances, women have been distanced from the field of Da'wah work. If we look at the reality, and the situation of Islamic Da'wah work, and the position of women in it today, we can easily find the following problems:
Deficiency in Da'wah capabilities among and by women.
The ill use of existing limited-resources in combination with a lack of personal initiative on the part of women.
A neglect or omission of women's issues in the planning of Islamic Da'wah.
Absence of strong tarbiyah and the lack of fundamental Islamic knowledge in the da'iyat (female callers) in the field of Da'wah. Only a few of the wives and daughters of dou'at (male callers) have any worthwhile Islamic knowledge.
Most women do not possess a proper understanding the role of Da'wah made incumbent on their husbands. Because of this, they may not understand the importance of time given to projects outside the home, which in turn may, become a source of tension within the home.
The level of general Islamic knowledge among most women is low.
Women's Da'wah programs, as well as overall Da'wah programs and institutions are rare, and not well organized.
Roots Of The Problem
Many obstacles and restraints have been the causes behind the weakness and neglect of Da'wah work amongst women. Once they have been recognized and analyzed, viable solutions can be sought and implemented.
One major reason, is that many men are not convinced about the importance of women's role and responsibilities in the field of Da'wah. The Quranic verse
"...remain at your homes..." [Noble Quran 33:33]
has been misinterpreted by many, and so has the right of stewardship or Qawama. In many instances we see men objecting to women's participation in Da'wah and thus preventing them from fulfilling their role toward their fellow Muslims and to the larger society in general. Spreading Islam has been made incumbent on all Muslims, men and women.
"It is vital that husbands encourage their wives to participate in Da'wah work," said Dr. Ayshah Hamdan, Director of the Islamic Education Foundation, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Ph. D. in Clinical Psychology with a specialty in child and family issues. She teaches at a private university in the Twin Cities. The IEF is a two-year-old organization, with one of its goals being, to increase the level of awareness and to provide training in giving Da'wah, amongst Muslim women and men. "They should encourage them to spread the message of this deen, perhaps by taking them along when they go out, and by instructing them on the proper ways of giving presentations about Islam."
A more particular reason is the absence or confusion of priorities in the minds of dou'at. Many of them have been overwhelmed and distracted by the state of the Ummah, even to the extent of ignoring to give proper attention to their homes and families. Their energies having been exhausted in the work outside the home, leaving them with nothing left for their families. This imbalance hurts not only the families, but also the community as a whole.
The level of women's education and awareness of their position and responsibility plays an important role. As education and awareness decline, women become disinterested, their level of giving and sense of sacrifice weakens. "Unfortunately, not a lot of Muslim women feel that they know enough about Islam to share it with others. They need to realize that it is their responsibility to obtain that knowledge and then share it with others. Many women also feel uncomfortable presenting to groups of people due to various reasons." Dr. Hamdan said. "This is why we are conducting training sessions here, about how to conduct Da'wah. We are committed to trying to arm women with the necessary skills, that will give them the confidence to take up this very important, and often neglected role in their lives as Muslims."
Indulgence in luxuries, even if they are Halal things, usually force women to devote more time to them and less time to doing Da'wah. This also happens when they find it difficult to balance rights with duties. Sometimes women lose perspective, forgetting that the work inside the home is the core of their mission. By neglecting this role, or when they fail to arrange their priorities, and get tied to a job that distracts them, they ultimately fail at fulfilling their Da'wah roles both inside and outside the home. "For many women, their jobs as wife, mother, cook, and teacher, inside their homes, are so time consuming, that the main barrier to engaging in Da'wah work is oftentimes, a lack of time itself," said Dr. Hamdan. "This is why it is so important for husbands to be supportive to their wives in fulfilling their obligations both within and outside the home."
Another unfortunate reality is that most Da'wah organizations have failed to absorb and utilize the energies of women, and have also failed to adjust their plans and programs in a way that would incorporate women as core assets in their Da'wah work.
The media, and many other elements of the promiscuous society we live in, have had major impacts on the psyche of Muslim women. This psychic crippling has kept many women away from their mission and distorted the image of Islam in the minds of most of them.
A Desired Role for the Muslim Women
A Crucial Role:
According to recent data, there are more women accepting Islam in this country, than any other group. The same can be said of Canada, England and many other places. A recent survey Al Jumuah magazine have conducted in the Dominican Republic, showed that about 75% of those who accepted Islam among the natives were women. Because of this, there is a tremendous need for Muslim women to participate in the field of Da'wah. "The role of calling to this deen, does not stop at the pronunciation of the Shahadah," Dr. Hamdan said. "Women are needed to help other women come to Islam, and are needed to instruct them after they become Muslims." The reasons women's participation is important are various and diverse:
Women are more capable than men are in communicating with other women. Women are usually more affected by word, deed, and conduct of other women, more so than by men. Women are more capable of recognizing the particularities and problems associated with women's education and tarbiyah.
Women can better comprehend the direction in which women's Da'wah work should be geared. They can best discern the order of priorities, because they are more familiar with this sphere.
Women are more free than men in communicating with other women, either individually for Da'wah activities, or in women's learning and other forums and places of meeting.
Many Muslim women who are in need of guidance, education, and direction lack the presence of men-folk who can provide this service, therefore it makes sense that qualified women in the community should offer this.
The educational and the tarbiyah need of women are greater than that of men. They get pregnant, give birth, and nurse children. The children are more tied to them than they are to their fathers. Women stay at home with their sons and daughters, and thus can bring them up as they please. If they are not allowed to share in the Da'wah efforts of their husbands, a lot of the much-needed results may not be attained.
Women have a great effect on their husbands. If they have strong Iman and character, they have a very good chance at helping their husbands become strong as well.
Women have a lot of characteristics that stress the importance of their Da'wah role. They should also be taken into account whenever any Da'wah work is planned. Some are:
- Women have the innate ability to communicate strongly what they believe to be true in their hearts. Dr. Hamdan also points out that, "Women are also generally stronger in terms of verbal abilities and emotionality."
- Women sometimes lack will power and a sense of direction, and therefore need the assistance of other women to give strength and motivation.
A Definite Role:
The work of the Muslim woman in the field of Da'wah strengthens the man's work, and it expand it into areas where her effectiveness supersedes that of the man. It is sad that this role is so grossly overlooked and underestimated. By her nature as a spiritual and psychological comforter of man, the woman can play an important role in Da'wah, for a man cannot -if his mind is preoccupied with works and goals- cope with his own problems, let alone undertake the burdens of giving Da'wah. Many have failed on the path of Da'wah for this very reason. Khadijah's comfort, help, and support of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) offer the greatest proof of the vital importance of this role. The Prophet's companions who left their homes to go places that were thousands of miles away to take the new religion to people also had the support and the backing of their wives.
Very few women today understand or are aware of such a role, let alone carry it out. A woman may think that the marriage home is a place of rest and easy. They have yet to realize that marriage is the starting point of struggle, sacrifice, giving and responsibility.
The woman's role does not end at door. She can be greatly effective by being a good example to others, by being good-hearted, kindly spoken, and of friendly conduct. She can offer assistance, and share concerns as well as joys. She can also use all appropriate opportunities to educate, guide and call others though observing the conditions of those whom she addresses.
Examples Are Needed:
Women, who understood their role, started educating themselves and achieving their rights to education and tarbiyah. Look at the Hadith narrated by Abu Sa'i that the women said to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), "The men are keeping you busy and we do not get enough attention from you. Would you specify a day for us, women? He promised them a day to meet them and educate and admonish them." (Bukhari) The fruits of this understanding and concern by the women companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the attention he gave them, are shining examples and a source of pride for Muslim women. Here are a few more to ponder:
Here is Umm Sulaim teaching her son Anas Ibn Malik about Islam, even though her husband rejected Islam. When Abu Talha proposed to her (before accepting Islam) she told him that her dowry was Islam, he in-turn embraced Islam and she married him. She made her son Anas the servant of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Umm Hakim was the reason behind her husband embracing Islam, and the aunt of Adi ibn Hatem led him to Islam. Amra, the wife of Habib Al-Ajami would wake up her husband to make salah at night. Asma', the daughter of Abu Bakr, forbade her son, Abdullah ibn Az-Zubair, to accept a demeaning way out to escape death although she was very old and needed him beside her.
If we move to a wider circle, we will find that Muslim women played a great role in sacrifice and service for the religion of Allah. Sumayyah gave up her life when Abu Jahl killed her for becoming a Muslim. She was the first Muslim, and woman, killed in Islam. Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet, who was very rich, spent of her money to support the Da'wah. Umm Salamah left her husband and saw her children persecuted when she migrated. Umm 'Imarah fought in defense of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in the Uhud battle. Tending the wounded in battles was the role Muslim Women played throughout history.
Building Successful Da'wah Programs
There are conditions that must be met for women's Da'wah work to succeed and achieve its expected outcome. Many of the items in the following discussion are good to consider at all time, but it is always important to be in touch with the specific environment one is working with, study it and design all programs to fit the specific reality and needs.
First: Important Guidelines:
The fact that we stress the importance of women's role in Islamic Da'wah should not lead us away from keeping the women's creation, nature and priorities clear in mind. There are important points that should be used as guidelines when planning or doing Da'wah work:
Typically, the woman's main role and job is at home. This is clearly stated in Quran and Hadith. Allah says,
"And stay in your houses." [Noble Quran 33:33]
Of course women can go out for salah in the masjid, participate in any other activities she may need and to do Da'wah. However, none of these activities should conflict with her essential duties at home as wife and mother. In many cases, it is this balance between the woman's essential duties and the requirements of Da'wah work, that have caused problems and misunderstandings in families and communities. "Women may find ways to fulfill their Da'wah obligations at home, such as engaging in office work for an Islamic organization, answering telephones, or any other number of possibilities, depending on the skills and interest of each woman, " she said.
There are special injunctions regarding women, and the mixing of men and women, that must be observed in any Da'wah activity and under any circumstances:
Proper Hijab between men and women must be observed at all times.
Women cannot travel without a male companion who is her Mahram.
Women cannot intermix freely with men who are not directly related to her.
Women cannot exit from their homes except by permission of those who are in charge of them and care for them, i.e. their husbands or fathers.
The enemies of Islam usually exploit these injunctions and use them to defame Islam as demeaning to women. Some dou'at get affected by these allegations and they are thereby led to be lax and unmindful. The true dou'at guided by the Sunnah must watch out, lest they be affected by the lusts and whims of society.
Men have the original right in Da'wah activities to take the lead as was the case in the age at the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and the excellent generations that followed. Women's role in Da'wah work is undeniable, provided the appropriate guidelines are adhered to.
Second: Objectives of the Program:
As the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) saw a need to set aside a specific time to address the needs of women in his community, so organizations should try to tailor their Da'wah work to the women and issues of the communities. Any Da'wah program directed towards women should strive to, at least, serve the following ends:
Strengthening the Iman: This comes about by increasing worship, remembrance of Allah (Dhikr), and reflection on Allah's names, and His power and creation in ourselves and in the universe. There is great power in reflection. And its positive impact on one's heart and Iman is almost limitless. This however, would not be possible without the inculcation of the right understanding of certain issues related to our 'Aqidah; the emphasis has to be on Tawhid.
Increasing knowledge: Without it one cannot achieve much. Special emphasis has to be put on the basics of Islam and on subjects that the da'iyah needs in her environments. Knowledge should be spread about deviant thoughts, ideas, groups and sects. Awareness must be raised concerning those who do not like to see the spreading of Islam and who are gaining grounds in the hearts and minds of people.
Building of the Da'wah personality: Da'wah requires sacrifices and therefore women must be prepared to bear the burdens of calling to Islam. This comes through awakening them to the conditions of the Muslims and the endeavors of the enemies of Islam. Leadership, responsibility and individual initiative should be taught. Theoretical and practical educational faculties must be nurtured. The da'iyah must be taught the necessary social skills and the importance of Da'wah through good example and conduct. They also must be taught the value of time, its management and how to use Halal fun activity during their times of leisure.
Building up immunity to sin: This includes recognizing the ills of sins, particularly those relating to women, and blocking the way to them by shunning the means leading to them and the places where they exist.
A- On the theoretical side of this step, preparation may need to consider these aspects:
Educational preparation through providing a good presentation of appropriates materials. Islam gave women the rights to education. The knowledge meant to be attained, is that which is helpful to women in Da'wah, like the Shari'ah branches and the disciplines leading to understanding them. But seeking knowledge should not be a barrier to giving Da'wah, as is the case with many today. Balance must be maintained.
Psychological preparation by ensuring that the women callers have faith in Allah sincerity, hopefulness, coverage in truth, pride in Islam, patience, and knowledge of the conditions and environments of those they are addressing. This is a very important aspect of preparedness, because the preacher is tied to the people, who have different characters and inclinations.
Social preparation by having the women da'iyat live an Islamic life in the family and society in a practical application of Islam. They should abide by the ethics of Islam and of the Da'wah. Capping the elements of social preparation is the feeling that the Da'wah is a right to all people that must reach them with sincerity, generality, honesty, gentleness and meekness.
B- Adequate practical training and preparation is must:
This involves training female callers in speaking and writing to be able to bring Allah's religion to the people through speeches, lessons, lectures, and writing. These are the methods of addressing people with the Da'wah and they complete the theoretical preparation and ensure that it bears fruit. This aspect has largely been neglected resulting in severe shortcomings in the Da'wah.
Da'iyat delivering lectures, seminars, sermons, etc. should be able to persuade the listeners by addressing their minds through proofs and evidence. They should also be able to arouse their passions, emotions, and feelings. Those making speeches and addresses must be well versed in the art and its importance, and should also practice delivering speeches to women in mosques, schools, or other places where women gather. They should also watch over and guide women trainees, and gently correct their mistakes.
Writing and publishing must not be neglected in an age when people are easily reached by and engrossed in all sorts of books, booklets, newspapers, and articles. Writings should both be eloquent and convincing, through sincere, sound and documented arguments. Writing is the form of Da'wah which is in many ways one of the most appropriate and important means for women. They can write at home and thus make use of their spare time. They can in this way reach all classes of society.
Areas of Da'wah for Women
The educational field: These are related to the ennoblement of the spirit and the purification of the soul through faith. The minds and souls can thus be touched. These fields are to be found in mosques, schools, associations, Da'wah groups, and others.
The social field: These relate to bodily and psychological health as well as to social development and interaction between people that reflect positively on the realization of spiritual education and the formation of Muslim character.
Both sides, spiritual and physical, are tied together and they should both be fulfilled in balance. To give the upper hand to the soul would be asceticism, and to the body would be hedonism. Fulfilling the physical needs has often been cause for many people embracing the guidance of Islam. Preachers of Christianity today, concentrate on this approach. It is difficult for the hungry, the naked, or the sick and homeless to listen to sermons.
More specific example of what women can take part in as Da'wah are:
The Home: This is surely the most fertile and most effective channel. Allah has ordained both husbands and wives as nurtures for each other and the family. The mother shares with the father the responsibilities of educating and nurturing in all physical, moral, psychological, social, and external aspects each other and their children. Members of the family are gathered together in the home for many hours and this creates harmony among them as well as affords an opportunity for presenting good examples and guidance.
The Muslim Community: Charity, advice, and direction can be offered to relatives, neighbors, and the needy.
The Islamic School: Educational activities and curriculums can be used for the guidance of girl students as well as women teachers and staff.
The Masjid: Women should be allowed to go to the masajid to benefit from the lessons held there. The masjid is a suitable place for some of the women activities like Quran study groups and other training.
Hospitals, Prisons, and Social Welfare Institutions, Women's Colleges or Universities. "Women-only conferences can also be incorporated into already scheduled major conferences, thus providing them with someone to travel with," Dr. Hamdan says.
"Also, Da'wah work can be done on an individual level; such as with friends, families, peers, particularly those who are not Muslims, "said Dr. Hamdan. "Many women who have converted to Islam have families who are non-Muslim and this is a prime, although challenging, opportunity to do Da'wah work."
What the Quran and Sunnah Said:
Muslim Women, Callers and Called:
Certainly, the injunctions of Islam, from the Quran and the Sunnah, cover and apply to both males and females. Male pronouns were usually used mostly, only because that is the custom of the language. Nevertheless, there are certain injunctions that are exclusively meant for men. And at the same time, Allah has enjoined things upon women only. This shows that they have a character and a personality independent of men. This stresses the need to address women with the Da'wah, education, reform, and guidance, in a way that is specific to them. They should not be ignored. It was on account of this that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) addressed women specifically, especially after addressing men, and that he fixed a special day of the week on which he taught them alone.
Quran tells us that man is responsible for his home and family,
"O you who believe! Ward off from yourselves and your families a Fire (Hell) whose fuel is men and stones, over which are angel stern and severe" [Noble Quran 66:6]
And the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also said, "The man is a shepherd of his family and he is responsible for his guardianship." (Bukhari and Muslim) In another Hadith, the Prophet's told of a double reward for the man who teaches well, cultivates and then frees any female-slave he has. (Bukhari) This surely stresses the need for the education of and care for women. On the other hand, there are many evidences from the Quran and the Sunnah that testify to the fact that women are also obligated to do Da'wah work:
There many verses in the Quran that obligate Muslim men and women to do Da'wah, and enjoin good and forbid evil. For example, Allah says,
"Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islam), enjoining good and forbidding evil. And it is they who are the successful." [Noble Quran 3:104]
Women have been expressly addressed with the duty of the Da'wah because Allah says,
"O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. If you keep your duty (to Allah) then be not soft in speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire, but say that which is Ma'uf (good)." [Noble Quran 33:32]
Ibn Abbas understood Allah's injunction to the Prophet's wives, to "say good," to mean that they have to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil. This can be taken as a general address to all Muslim women. Allah also says,
"He believers, men and women are Auliya (helpers, protectors) of one another, they enjoin the good and forbid the evil, they perform salah and give away zakah and obey Allah." [Noble Quran 9:71]
It is clear in this verse that women are addressed with this task, just as men, whenever they are capable of discharging it. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "The woman is a steward of her husband's home and children and she is responsible for them." A steward here is a person entrusted with what has been put in his charge, cherishing and preserving it.
Furthermore, the following points, when properly put into perspective, also lead to the understanding that women are as responsible for carrying out Da'wah as men are:
Because Islam prohibits the free intermingling of men and women, and the maintenance of Hijab, it becomes vital, as well as practical, to have qualified women to do Da'wah work among women in the community.
Some of the Shari'ah rulings were reported from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) only through women companions.
Sometimes, it is difficult for the male-dou'at to carry out all that the Da'wah among women requires because women have some private conditions that they may not feel comfortable revealing to men, and would rather convey them only to other women.
What We Sow We Reap
Banishing ignorance, increasing intellectual broad-mindedness, and the creation of qualified women Da'wah cadres. These results have a lasting and beneficial influence, not only on women and the Muslim community, but also on the whole society at large.
Rectifying conduct and restitution of many erroneous practices that have come to be social phenomenon in many societies.
Da'iyat will develop maturity and show more disciplined characters. This in turn will result in stronger relationships between men and women.
Women's place and status in Islam would be highlighted and Muslim women would attain a better awareness of their rights and duties.
Efforts would be geared toward the cultivating of our young people, in order to ensure the Ummah, virtuous Muslims in the generations to come.
A sense of belonging to Islam would be fostered, and the key Muslim rite of enjoining good and forbidding the evil would be upheld.
An important financial tributary for Da'wah work would be secured; i.e., women's charitable spending.
It is time that Muslims who profess to follow the Sunnah rethink the issue of da'wah among women and by women. We should remember Khadijah, 'Ayshah, Sumayyah, and many other Muslim women throughout our history, and what they did for Islam and learn from it. We also have to realize that mere talk and emotionalism are useless. We need to do something about our immediate situation now. Education, preparation, and qualification of women will be the key to our future success. Throughout history, the yardstick used to measure the well being of any society has been the condition of its women. Let us therefore, strive to improve the intellectual, spiritual and emotional condition of the Muslim woman by allowing her to fulfill all the God-given abilities and responsibilities made incumbent on her.