Both Shi‘i and Sunni Muslims present Islam as the final religion for all people for all times – regardless of their race, culture, or gender. After all, Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: “Whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him” (3:85). But while Shi‘i Muslims hold that the interpretation of Ahl al-Bayt (A) is the best and truest interpretation of Islam, the vast majority of da‘wah efforts – or efforts to invite people to Islam – are carried out by Sunni rather than Shi‘i Muslims. Why?
Obviously, the historical situation of the Shi‘a has contributed to this discrepancy. Due to persecution, most Shi‘i communities worldwide have historically been forced to look inwards rather than outwards to preserve themselves and their beliefs. However, historical reasons alone do not explain this discrepancy, especially in regions – such as the West – where Shi‘i Muslims are not in danger of persecution for sharing the faith. Rather, there may be certain misconceptions among modern Shi‘i Muslims which in turn may hamper the spread of Shi‘i Islam. For instance, in some Shi‘i communities, da‘wah may not be discussed from the pulpit at all. Not only can this result in a lack of awareness about the importance of da‘wah, but some Shi‘i Muslims may genuinely believe that they are not supposed to do da‘wah. They may even discourage or even mock Muslims who do try to share the message. And, of course, there is the ever-present question of religion and culture, and some Shi‘i Muslims may view Shi‘i Islam as belonging to certain cultures. While not all Shi‘i Muslims hold these misconceptions, they arise frequently enough to make them worth mentioning. By asking ourselves whether we or our communities hold any of these misconceptions, we can determine whether we may need to make changes in our selves or in our communities to facilitate the spread of Islam.
Of the above questions, the most important is whether or not Shi‘i Muslims should be doing da‘wah. Did the Imams (A) instruct their followers to spread the faith? Often, the most commonly shared hadith about da‘wah in Shi‘i circles is the hadith about being “silent callers” to Islam:
Invite people to what is good with other than your tongues, so that they see tenacity, veracity, and piety in you.
Obviously, this hadith has a very valuable message. Actions speak louder than words, and so we should not preach what we do not practice; as Amir al-Mu’mineen (A) cautioned, words that do not come from the heart do not reach the heart. One of the ways (note the emphasis!) that we can attract others to the faith is through kindness, spirituality, and good behavior – just as one of the ways that we can repel them is through cheating, disrespect, or unethical behavior. This hadith reminds us of the important (and self-evident) lesson that we should not treat different people with different standards.
But is this hadith actually prohibiting us from speaking about the faith? Clearly not – especially when it is viewed in context. First of all, this hadith was said with reference to a Muslim society, where inter-sectarian discussions were more common than inter-faith discussions. Second, it was said in a time of taqiyyah, when many Shi‘i Muslims could not speak openly about their beliefs. Furthermore, while our good examples may pique someone’s interest in Islam, the message cannot be communicated if it is not actually verbalized. Therefore, while being a good example can attract people to the faith, good examples alone are not enough to propagate the message.
In fact, not only did all of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) – beginning with the Prophet (S), who stood on a rock to preach the message, and ending with the Mahdi (A) – invite people to Islam, but many of their supporters did too. For instance, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari is credited with bringing Shi‘i Islam to Lebanon. In a later period, the famous theologian Hisham ibn al-Hakam was encouraged by the Imams to publicly advocate Shi‘i beliefs. Without their efforts, Shi‘i Islam would not have spread to where it is today, and so we have to remember that wherever people follow Ahl al-Bayt (A), someone at some time sacrificed to bring the message there. Given this reality, none of us should ever look down on someone who tries the share the message as “trying to convert people” or dismiss the value of sharing it.
Additionally, hadith such as the hadith about being “silent callers” need to be read alongside other hadith, particularly the ones which do instruct us to speak about our faith. For instance, in a famous hadith, Imam Rida (A) says, “May Allah have mercy upon those who enliven our teachings (rahima Allaha man ahya amrana).” When one of his companions asked how they should enliven the Imam’s teachings, the Imam (A) replied, “By learning our knowledge and teaching it to the people, for if people knew the goodness of our speech, they would follow us.” It is ironic that this hadith is often mentioned only with regards to giving Muharram majalis which – although important – are usually “preaching to the converted” who already acknowledge the superiority of the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt (A). Instead, this hadith should be viewed in a broader context to include any propagation of the message of Ahl al-Bayt (A).
This hadith has another valuable message – that we should have faith in our faith. Although, as Muslims, we say that Islam is the best, do we all believe that? If we don’t believe that Islam is the best, we will not be able to propagate it. Some Muslims may look at the political and economic situations in Muslim countries and wonder whether they really have anything to offer to the West. Some Muslims may also be uncomfortable with various teachings of their faith that conflict with modern secular values – for instance, the legitimacy of the death penalty for murderers, considered barbaric in European secularism. However, this hadith reminds us not be shy about sharing the message of Ahl al-Bayt (A), for the truth of their teachings speaks to the essence of the human being and crosses cultural boundaries.
Another hadith from the time of Imam al-Sadiq (A) also is applicable to our situation in the West. In this hadith, a man asks Imam al-Sadiq (A) what would happen if were he to die in a country of polytheists. Rather than giving an immediate answer, the Imam (A) asks him whether he speaks about Ahl al-Bayt (A) when he is among the polytheists, and the man says yes. The Imam (A) then asks him whether he speaks about Ahl al-Bayt (A) when he is among Muslims, and the man says no. The Imam (A) then tells him that if he passes away while he is among the polytheists, Allah will resurrect him as an ummah unto himself, surrounded by light. This hadith serves as further emphasis that the Imams did in fact expect their followers to propagate the message, and so there should be no question of whether Shi‘i Muslims should carry out da‘wah.
Some people, however, may still ask why we should share the message. Aren’t there already enough Muslims? What do we want to accomplish? Obviously, there is no point in simply trying to increase the number of Muslims. However, we should take an outward rather than an inward view; if we believe that Islam is the best for all peoples, and that Islam brings good on a social, spiritual, and psychological level, then we would be selfish to keep it to ourselves. After all, if we had a powerful vaccine, and chose to restrict it to certain countries, we would be considered inhumane; and the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt (A) are more powerful than a vaccine. If we feel that Islam is good for our life and our Hereafter, we should want the same for others. (And, if we don’t believe that, then we need to engage in some serious self-reflection!)
The above hadiths are complemented by other narrations, like one from the Holy Prophet (S) which says: “Whoever is the cause of someone converting to Islam is guaranteed Paradise.” This hadith is self-explanatory. However, the phrasing also conveys a subtle message – namely, that there is a difference between “converting someone” and “causing someone to convert”. Saying things like, “Brother So-and-So converted a hundred people,” is not only disrespectful to the person being “converted” – who has an independent mind and soul – but is also inaccurate, for Allah is the one who opens our hearts to (6:125). On the flip side, however, we cannot presume that if Allah wishes to guide someone, He will, so we do not have to put forth any effort. In the real world, actions have causes, and we cannot expect to sit at home while Allah explains the teachings of Islam any more than we can expect to sit at home while Allah pays the rent. Instead, our job is to expose people to Islam – to provide books, answer questions, and otherwise aid in conveying the message – and this is what the Prophet (S) is praising.
Clearly, Shi‘i Muslims – like Sunni Muslims – are supposed to believe in the importance of da‘wah. However, in order to spread the faith effectively, we must not simply say that Islam is the religion for all peoples and for all times; rather, we must thoroughly believe it. For instance, we cannot subconsciously believe that Islam is for “the East” and Christianity (or Judaism) is for “the West. We also cannot view certain cultures’ expressions of Islam as legitimate and others as illegitimate. These beliefs can be very deeply buried and can come out at odd times.
Additionally, if we say that people from all cultures should become Muslims, then we must be prepared to welcome people from all cultures into our mosque communities – something that does not always happen. Otherwise, if we say that we want people to become Muslim but simultaneously push them away, we will not be able to effectively spread the message.
Finally, although it is rarely discussed, we have to be mindful of not prioritizing or discriminating between potential converts based on race, gender, or social class. For instance, we cannot simply target da‘wah efforts at academic circles and assume our job is done, because the vast majority of people do not have access to academic materials. We also have to be sure we do not give potential or new Muslims differential treatment based on their social class, gender, or skin color. A celebrity who converts is just as valuable in the eyes of Allah as a janitor, and so we should not treat the two differently. After all, a surah of the Holy Qur’an – ‘abasa watawalla – condemns this very behavior and reminds us that Allah knows whose heart is most open to guidance, so we should make the guidance available to all.
In conclusion, it should be clear that, yes, Shi’i Muslims should do da‘wah. It was due to the efforts of dedicated Shi‘i Muslims that Shi‘i Islam spread to those who practice it today. Those of us who are alive in this day and age have the opportunity to continue that work, and the hadith from Imam Rida (A) reminds us that we should be confident that if we share these teachings, others will follow them. However, while we invite people to Islam through our words, we have to be sure that we do not push them away through cultural biases or discriminatory treatment. Hopefully, considering the above ideas will help us determine whether or not we are in a good position to do da‘wah – and, if not, to help us improve ourselves and our communities to put us in a better place to share the message.
 Also sometimes referred to as tabligh.
 Narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (A), in al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 105, no. 10.
 Interestingly, there has also been discussion in the Sunni community as to whether or not Muslims should simply try to propagate Islam through being “good examples”, rather than actually discussing the tenets of the faith. See L. Poston, Islam and Da’wah in the West, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
 Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Ma‘ani al-Akhbar, p. 180, no. 1.
 Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Tusi, Amali al-Tusi, p. 46, no. 54.
 M. Rayshahri, ed., The Scale of Wisdom: A Compendium of Shi‘i Hadith, tr. N. Virjee, M. Dasht Bozorgi, Z. Alsalami, and A. Virjee (London: ICAS Press, 2009), 152.
 Unfortunately, many “new Muslims” report that this happens. See, for instance, A. Abu Talib, “Cultural Arrogance and Ethnic Pride”, Islamic Insights <http://www.islamicinsights.com/religion/clergy-corner/cultural-arrogance-and-ethnic-pride.html> (30 June 2008).
 It should be noted that, in the Shi‘i interpretation, this verse does not refer to the Holy Prophet (S) but rather refers to one of his companions who turned away from the blind man and preferred to speak to the man from Quraysh about Islam.