Reflecting on Sūrat al-Naḥl & Daʿwah
By Sulaiman Hamid (5th Year Alim Student, DarusSalam Seminary)
After creating man, Allāh send the Prophets to guide him. The Prophets showed mankind the straight path; teaching man to recognize the temporality of the world and the greatness of Allāh. They were sent as callers and inviters to the One True Omnipotent Being.
The final messenger is Muḥammad (upon him be peace). The Qurʾān was revealed to him, along with the responsibility of conveying it. Allāh informed the Prophet (upon him be peace) how to invite people (ar. daʿwah). He said:
ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِين
“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction. And argue with them in the best way. Indeed, your Lord knows who strayed from His way and He knows who is guided.” (Q, 16:125)
This verse, even though it contains just a few words, speaks volumes on the principles of daʿwah. That is why when Harim b. Ḥayyān was about to pass on, he was asked to leave a will. To which he responded: “One bequeaths wealth and I have none. However, I shall advise you and leave you with the last verses of Sūrat al-Naḥl: ‘Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom…’”
Lexically, daʿwah means “to call.” The Arabic word for supplication, duʿāʾ, comes from the same lexical root; when one supplicates, they call out to Allāh. The Prophets, being the best of creation, are inviters (ar. duʿāt) to Him. And they are described this way in the Qurʾān. Allāh says: “O people! Respond to the caller to Allāh and believe in him…” The Messenger is described with this quality: “O Prophet! Indeed, We sent you as a witness, a bringer of good tidings, and a warner. And one who invites to Allāh, by His permission, and an illuminating lamp.”
This quality has also been attributed to the Prophet Muḥammad’s community. Allāh says: “Let there be a nation amongst you that invites to good, enjoins what is right, and forbids what is wrong. They will be successful.” Again, Allāh informs us of the best people: “Who is better than the one who invites to Allāh, is righteous, and says: ‘Indeed, I am of the Muslims.’” We see, in the Qurʾān and the Sunnah, that we are being invited to call to Allāh and to command to that which is good. Thus, before performing this important task, one must know how it is done.
After Uḥud, the Prophet (upon him be peace) found the mutilated body of Ḥamzah. The Prophet (upon him be peace), in a state of sorrow, said: “If it were not for the women who would cry or that it would become a norm after me, I would have left his body and killed seventy of them to avenge him.” Thereafter, the verse: “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom…,” was revealed.
In the preceding verse from the sūrah, Allāh mentioned stories of the previous messengers and how their nations treated them. The previous nations mocked and belied them. The Qurʾān responds with proofs, debating those who are astray in a way that all will understand. Then, it concludes by commanding the Prophet (upon him be peace) to go and convey the message to humanity. Allāh explained to His Messenger (upon him be peace), and to those after him, how to handle this vital task.
The verse’s first word is: “invite” (ar. udʿū). Here, we experience the Qurʾān’s eloquence. When one mentions a verb that must govern a direct object (ar. mafʿūl), the object is typically explicit. However, it may be omitted for rhetorical eloquence in the speech.
The verse commands to invite, but whom to invite is not mentioned. This produces two meanings. The first is that the invitee is general (ar. ʿāmm); meaning, you must invite everyone to your Lord. The second is that the invitee is not the actual intent, but rather the daʿwah is intended.
The next phrase in the verse is: “to the way of your Lord.” This is mentioned throughout the Qurʾān in various ways. In some places, “ṣirāṭ mustaqīm” is used; and in others, “millat Ibrāhīm.”
All these phrases refer to the same concept: the one true path that leads to our Creator. In the phrase used here, Allāh annexes His quality of Rabb to the Prophet (upon him be peace), indicating to the unique nature that is found in the effort of daʿwah. The definition of Rabb is the one who slowly nurtures one to completion. Thus, Allāh indicates to the nurturing nature of daʿwah. It is as if Allāh is telling His beloved Messenger (upon him be peace) that just like He nurtured him to perfection, he must slowly work on the people and invite them to Allāh by educating and nurturing them.
Wisdom (ar. ḥikmah) is essential when giving daʿwah. Thus, the Qurʾān brings this quality first when commanding the people to invite to Allāh. Differing opinions are found regarding what ḥikmah refers to in the verse. Some say it refers to the Qurʾān. While others are of the opinion that it refers to Prophethood.
The meaning that the word conveys is clear. One must invite others with clear proofs that guide to the truth and remove doubt. Another aspect of ḥikmah is the knowledge and understanding of actions that are good and that are evil. When one understands this, it will prevent him from committing evil, and this is true ḥikmah. The great scholar, al-Ālūsī, comprehensively defined wisdom: It is correct speech that penetrates one’s heart.
Along with wisdom, one must be sincere and give advice that benefits others. The phrase used for this is “good instruction.” The word comes from the lexical root: wāw, ʿayn, ẓāʾ, which means to sincerely offer advice while keeping in mind what will benefit the one being advised. Along with this, one should talk about the benefits and rewards for accepting the truth and becoming near to Allāh, along with the harms and punishments for rejecting it.
The Messenger (upon him be peace) was sent to show us how to embody the Qurʾān. He is the best example for us to follow.
Once a young man came to the Prophet (upon him be peace) and requested permission to fornicate. Hearing this, the people rebuked him. However, the Messenger (upon him be peace) called him closer. He came and sat in front of him. Then, the Messenger (upon him be peace) asked him: “Would you like that for your mother?” He responded in the negative. The Prophet (upon him be peace) said: “Similarly, people do not like it for their mothers.” The Messenger (upon him be peace) asked him another question: “Would you like that for your daughter?” He responded in the negative. To which the Messenger (upon him be peace) replied: “Similarly, people do not like it for their daughters.” The Messenger (upon him be peace) then asked him: “Would you like that for your sister?” He responded in the negative. The Messenger (upon him be peace) replied: “Similarly, people do not like it for their sisters.” The Messenger (upon him be peace) placed his blessed hand on the young man’s chest and said: “O Allāh! Purify his heart, forgive his sins, and keep him chaste.” After that, the young man disliked nothing more than fornication.
The last method mentioned is to debate in the best way. This means in a way that will soften their hearts and bring them closer to the truth. One does not swear or curse as that may turn them away. Rather, presenting proof that makes them understand and turn to Allāh. This command is also found in the verse:
“Do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is better and say: ‘We believe in what was revealed to us and to you. Our God and yours is One. And we submit to Him.’” (Q, 29:46)
Similarly, when commanding Moses (upon him be peace) to invite the Pharaoh, Allāh commanded him to be gentle: “Speak to him gently, perhaps he may be reminded and fear Allāh.” If a Prophet is commanded to speak gently to an individual who claimed to be deified, then one should strive to speak to others in a similar manner.
The scholars categorized daʿwah into various levels. If the person addressed is seeking the truth and eager to learn, it is called ḥikmah. For those who have a weak understand but are not stubborn, it is good instruction. And for the stubborn who argue against the truth, it is called debating in the best way.
Some scholars opine that there are two primary aspects to daʿwah: wisdom and good instruction. As for debating, its purpose is different. It is to silence those who argue. This is supported by the verse itself, wherein Allāh says: “Lord with wisdom and good instruction,” and in then Allāh adds: “and argue with them in the best way.” The best way is to invite with excellent conduct and wisdom when possible, and when necessary to debate.
The verse concludes by consoling the Prophet (upon him be peace) and commanding him to continue giving daʿwah while praying for them. Indeed, Allāh knows who will reject the truth and who will accept it. And we must continue inviting others, using the principles mentioned in the Qurʾān as our standard. We must call to Allāh and then leave the matter to Him as we pray for the guidance of mankind.
“Indeed, you do not guide whom you want. Allāh guides whom He wills. And He knows the rightly guided.” (Q, 28:56)
 Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī.
 Q, 8:24.
 Q, 33:45-46.
 Q, 3:104.
 Q, 41:33.
 Tafsīr Abī al-Saʿūd; Rūḥ al-Maʿānī.
 There are three opinions as to what it refers to: (1) the Qurʾān, (2) fiqh, and (3) nubuwwah. (Zād al-Maysir)
 al-Tafsīr al-Munīr.
 Naẓm al-Durar.
 Rūḥ al-Maʿānī quoting al-Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ.
 al-Tafsīr al-Munīr; Tafsīr Abī al-Saʿūd; Rūḥ al-Maʿānī.
 Naẓm al-Durar.
 al-Tafsīr al-Munīr.
 Tafsīr Abī al-Saʿūd; Rūḥ al-Maʿānī; al-Tafsīr al-Munīr.
 Q, 20:44
 Rūḥ al-Maʿānī; al-Tafsīr al-Munīr; Tafsīr Abī al-Saʿūd; Naẓm al-Durar.
 al-Tafsīr al-Munīr; Naẓm al-Durar.