Community Dawah (Outreach)

Leadership Modeled: The Case of Abu Bakr (ra)`wah Reflection Series: Part I | Part II

“O you who believe! Betray not the trust of Allah and the messenger nor misappropriate knowingly things entrusted to you.” (Al-Anfal 8: 27)

“Each of you is a guardian, and each of you will be asked about his subjects.” (Al-Bukhari)

O People of Da`wah, Da`wah is a trust to be cared after!”


The Muslim community faces a number of challenges as it seeks to find itself and make sense of its life outside of the Muslim world, while in the diaspora. The history of Islam in North America is vague, long and varied, but the structure of the community to date lacks solid leadership, vision and rootedness. The rootedness desired is one based in a forward looking holistic vision, strong organization and a dynamic principled scholarly understanding of Islamic sources informed by a culturally nuanced scholarly reading of life in the United States and its people and institutions. We are need solid leadership that is focused on the health and direction of the community and makes that a priority.

To the dismay of many a Muslim is the lack maturity present on the da`wah (spreading the word of Islam) scene at times. The thinking and emotion with regards to life lived Islamically in the contemporary world is a major point of disruption and confusion in contemporary Islamic American discourse. It could be argued that this is a world-wide phenomenon, but that is not the scope of this reflection. The cause of our problem in the Americas can be traced to lack of vision for the community, seasoned unified leadership and a knowledge deficit. These realities mentioned manifest in our institution and thought which can be characterized as shallow and weak. The critique is intended to be constructive and as advice to us all.

There are issues that need to be addressed systematically on the da`wah platform because they cloud our understanding and jade our perception and stunt our practice. Here are a few:

  1. The yearly strife over the start of Ramadan, is it a fiqh (jurisprudence) difference or a matter of Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet)?
  2. The role of women and youth in our communities.
  3. The place and function of culture and custom in our consideration of fatwa (Islamic rulings) and practice.
  4. Understanding how to practice the Sunnah and its importance of the Sunnah
  5. Coming to an understanding of differences and common ground in schools of Aqida (Islamic theology).
  6. What is the role of our scholarly heritage and ijtihad in Islamic discourse? We find little solace in the way we address the issues we confront. Again the challenge before us returns to lack of vision and want of leadership and scholarship.
  7. Political Participation in non-Muslim countries—is it kufr (disbelief) or or not?
  8. Is all Sufism bid`ah (innovation)?
  9. Does taqlid of a madhab (Islamic school of thought) mean not being able to take any other opinion other than my school?
  10. What is our commitment to society and to the Ummah (Muslim community)?
  11.  How do we deal with differences in fiqh and over hadith (sayings of the Prophet)?
  12. What is bid`ah and why do the scholars differ on defining and classifying it?

ImamMalik-5We need platforms for da`wah leadership to collectively engage despite their differences, a space that allows systematic scholarly discussion on heated issues in an open forum that is guided by principles and etiquette in which the da`wah representatives with a scholarly background can communicate their position while following the injunctions of Islam governing debate and speech. Leaving discussion solely to the Internet and in the corner of our mosques is destructive. Lives have been shattered due to not properly addressing the needs of the community to understand Islam in a principled scholarly manner.

In the Qur’an we find the principle of authority and the criteria governing leadership and difference:

“And those who respond to their Lord and establish the prayer, and their rule is to take counsel among themselves, and who spend out of what We have given them.”

“O you who have believed obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.”

Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Kandahlawi (r) relates from Imam al-Bayhaqi (r) who reports from Ibn Ishaq that Abu Bakr (r) delivered a Khutba (sermon) in the orchard of Bani Sa’idah in which he said:

“It is not permissible for the Muslim to have two leaders. For indeed when this happens dissension springs up in all their affairs and in the rulings they issue. Their Jam’ah (congregation) is splintered and divided and they begin to internally differ. Then the Sunnah is forsaken and bid’ah emerges. Fitna becomes intense and increases. And under these conditions there is no benefit for anyone.” (Translated from the edition of the Muhaddith Bashar al-Awad of Hayat as-Sahaba, v.1)

Da`wah efforts should focus on some consistent themes that we all agree on.

  • Centrality of the Qur’an
  • Systematic Understanding of the Sunnah
  • Foundational Fiqh
  • Building our institutions on clear organizational polcies and responding to issues with a clear procedure

Building a Mature Da`wah Platform

Centrality of the Qur’an

To focus on solutions and the possibility of a new future for us let us look to Islamic history in hope of deriving some guidance from the practice of those who came before us. In the early period of Islam the practice of the Companions was to focus their attention on the care of the Muslim populace and educate the people on the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The Qur’an then was the central point of focus and attention in Islamic learning. This was the case till this current age in the West where little emphasis is placed in our communities on Qur’anic literacy (reading and understanding). Qur’anic education was foremost about adab (manners), adab with Allah and adab with others. The Qur’anic teacher was the guide to Qur’anic culture and morality.

The centrality of the Qur’an in the earliest sense needs to return to da`wah given that the Qur’an is the foundation of Islam and that which gives the Sunnah its justification and purpose as we learn from Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi, Ahmad, Shatibi and Ibn Taymiyah, may Allah be pleased with them. Even Sufis like Ibn Arabi saw the Qur’an as central to Islamic life and thought. It’s good to see the younger generation of the people of da`wah focus on highlighting the Qur’an, but we need a Qur’anic literacy movement the likes of what hit Libya wherein overnight almost 100’s if not 1000’s of people memorized the Qur’an and began to study it. Huffaz of the Qur’an is great but we need to understand as well. This was the method of the Companions to learn a few ayat (verses) at a time, how to read them and what they entailed as far as actions and then practicing them.

Systematic Understanding of the Sunnah

So much is to be said regarding the Sunnah in contemporary Islamic American discourse. After making it clear that we need to give high priority to the study of the Qur’an, we need to emphasize the importance of approaching the Sunnah in a systematic manner. The Sunnah without the Qu’ran makes little sense given that the Sunnah explicates, and clarifies the Qur’an teaching us how to translate the Qur’an into practice. And for our intents and purposes we are thinking of the Sunnah as is understood by the scholars of Usul al-Fiqh and Hadith. Consequently, we not only need to understand the ways and means the Sunnah relates to the Qur’an but also that the Prophetic biography too is an essential part of the Sunnah, and perhaps the easiest part to understand with little study of hadith sciences.

So central to a proper understanding of the Qur’an and Islam overall is a good grounding in the Prophetic biography. The dealing of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) and our ability to visualize that by way of authentic transmission well that is something to boast of. There is no other Ummah that can claim to have such intimate detailed knowledge of their Prophet except the Muslims. But in this we lack that is familiarity with this aspect of the Sunnah reading it academically and spiritually and as a source of fiqh and spiritual guidance. Leaders need to emphasize the reality that the Sunnah needs to be understood in light of Hadith sciences and Usul al-Fiqh rather than interpreted whimsically and the Sunnah needs to be implemented with correct understanding. The early generation focused mostly on the Qur’an and narrated only a few narrations this was to ensure the community was grounded in the Qur’an and understood how to properly deal with hadith.

A Principle To Understand the Sunnah

Imam Ahl as-Sunnah Abi Zaid al-Qariwani, radi Allahu ‘anhu (May Allah be pleased with him), narrated that Imam Ibn Uyanah from the scholars of hadith (ra) said:

Ahadith are misleading except to the people of fiqh,” meaning that others may interpret a thing according to its obvious meaning but it may have an interpretation which derives from another hadith, or it may have an indication which is hidden from one, or it may be a hadith which is abandoned, the reason for that only being comprehended by someone who is very extensive in his knowledge and in his fiqh.”

The Need for Foundational Fiqh 

Unfortunately, we still have another level of confusion to contend with and that is how to practice the knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Alhamdulillah (Thanks to God) in today’s age we have fiqh texts written in a number of different manners. The least amount of knowledge to be gained from the study of a fiqh text, whether that text is rooted in a madhab or the fatwas of contemporary scholars or otherwise, is a few hundred rulings. These texts are translations of the demands of the Qur’an and Sunnah on our lives. So to study them is in fact to study an important aspect of tawhid (Oneness of God) and that is tawhid of worship. Because fiqh in its limited definition as a collection of rules related to worship and social transactions, (among other things) is an elaboration of tawhid uluhiyah as some categorize it to dismiss its study is indirectly to be deficient in practicing tauhid uluhiyah. Some books of fiqh are written with evidences listed and others are referenced so as to make clear the sources used and still others have none of that but are known to be reliable books taught by scholars through the ages. The companions had a main person for fatwa in every location where the Muslims lives outside of the Hijaz the matter of fiqh was systematic and not left to whim and desire. In today’s time we need fiqh counsels, group research and a body of scholars to follow. This was the method of the Companions (ra) and that of the likes of Abu Hanifa and his students (ra).

The Need for Clear Organizational Procedures

This brings of to the case of Abu Bakr (ra). He is a figure of interest for he symbolized not only a great historical persona in the history of Islam but a model for intellectual, spiritual and political leadership, and it is this holistic form of leadership that we are in serious need of in our communities. We lack a leadership, which shepherds the people, a people who refuse to be a herd but yearn for understanding, a leadership which operates in unity at least functional unity.

When we look at Abu Bakr (ra) we see that he exemplified the best of Prophetic education. He understood the need to organization, leadership and unity. Understanding the manner in which Abu Bakr (ra) modeled various procedural practices to keep the integrity of the community in tact is essential for us Muslims in the West today. Comprehending the importance of procedural structure and scholarly authority in the life of the Muslim community is the initial step toward growth and maturity.

AbuBakrWe gain from the life of Abu Bakr (ra) a number of key insights. Abu Bakr (ra) developed a grounded problem solving structure that he followed in addressing the needs of the community of Islam. The historians of Islamic fiqh note that Abu Bakr (ra) resorted to peruse through the Qur’an and his knowledge of the Sunnah when investigating an issue. If the matter was not resolved with the knowledge he possessed he sought knowledge of the Sunnah from the Companions. In cases wherein the matter was still not clear he convened the Companions (ra) to investigate the matter and from there developed the concept of consensus (ijma). On the occasion wherein they achieved unanimity of opinion, it became a legislative consensus (ijma shar’i). In the event that a consensus was not attained Abu Bakr (ra) would resort the position of the majority of the Companions. If this was not sufficient then he resorted to his own ijtihad (scholarly position).

In reading this model we learn that Abu Bakr (ra) as a leader worked in coordination with the Companions on those matters that were not clearly addressed in the Qur’an and Sunnah and only resorted to personal opinion when there was no recourse to a consensus or majority opinion. What we need from those engaged in da`wah today is to learn to work together on and care for the community through functional unity. The da`wah in the American Muslim diaspora lacks clear procedures for engaging issues, procedures that are transparent and known. We lack solid fiqh counsels, and our institutions tend toward a school of thought and da`wah rather than allow Islamic sciences to dominate. Still plagued by the divisions of 15 or more years back the da`wah needs leadership that will guide the community to growth. Each leader in da`wah would do well to consider that Abu Bakr (ra) led but in giving opinion consulted with others and in the case of need only gave his personal opinion. This was also the method of Imam Malik (ra) in the Muwatta and the opinion of Imam Shafi and Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Ahmad. They resorted to presenting what is clear before dealing with issues that open up to multiple positions or are controversial.

Closing Remarks

We need a leadership that can clarify a path for the community it is guiding and work together. We need a da`wah platform which works on decreasing the amount of bickering and controversy that is witnessed today, and we need a leadership that is grounded in knowledge but sensitive to the conditions of the people ready to guide and knowledgeable about that which is unchanging and that wherein there is flexibility. We need a leadership that thinks of we rather than me and shows it cares and that it is organized. Da`wah needs strategy, it needs people, it needs money, it needs skill and knowledge—but it also needs for our leaders to decrease fitna and that they learn to work as units if not a unit. In short we need a da`wah platform that models the essence of what we find in Abu Bakr. At this point it means presenting to the people a clear procedural method for addressing issues that is used by people in da`wah to achieve an end result in comprehending issues. Before we asked for dalil, now we ask for methodology and order.

We need consistent themes in da`wah, themes that will build our community and raise literacy, themes such as:

  • Centrality of the Qur’an
  • Systemtatic Understanding of the Sunnah
  • Foundational Fiqh
  • Building our institutions on clear organizational polcies and responding to issues with a clear procedure

With a solid grounding in the Qur’an and Sunnah and fiqh we can begin to develop a lifestyle that is grounded in Iman, Islam and Ihsan but first we need a change in the culture of da`wah and to see a higher degree of unity and brotherhood among the people of da`wah.

Principles of Da`wah:

The Qur’an instructs us that part of Iman is to settle our differences in knowledge and cooperate to practice Islam:

And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.”

Cooperate, support one another in Al¬Birr and At¬Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not cooperate and support one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allâh. Verily, Allâh is Severe in punishment.

“We should cooperate on what we agree and consult the Qur’an and Sunnah on what we differ over.”

Years ago Shaikh Abdullah Ibn Bayyah advised us regarding the type of institutions we need in the West. We have yet to see them built but would do well to reflect on the advice.

In order for us to come to a point where we can work together in spite of our differences, or with our differences, we need three institutions.

1.) The first one is the institution of fatwa. Fatwa is a non-binding legal opinion. It is not binding on all the Muslims. It is binding on those who ask for it, but it is a non-binding opinion, and there is room for differences and other opinions. The mufti is somebody who gives legal opinions based on the understanding-on the ijtihaad-of all of the different areas of need in the sharia’, such as marriage, the rules of buying and selling, the rules of prayer, and the rules of tahaara (cleanliness and purification). The mufti is involved in all of these different things. So, we need a muassasa that deals with this for the Muslims. They need a sound source for guidance when these issues occur in which there are differences.

2.) The second institution we need is an institution of tahkeem, which is an institution that issues rulings. In this culture, it is called people’s court. A people’s court is where the state does not get involved with the case. The parties that are differing agree to go to somebody who will listen to both sides and then make a judgment, and that judgment becomes binding upon them based on the prior agreement of the two. This has been done already in the United States in Texas, so there are Muslims that are doing this, and we should be competing with them in good.

3.) The third institution we need is the sulih. An institution that deals deals with sulih, which is [arbitration and] reconciliation. It deals with bringing people together. Somebody brings the differing groups together and reconciles between them so that they can work together or work separately in peace; thus, they are not fighting each other, undermining each other’s work.

All of these institutions are necessary, but it is impossible to get these without having the least amount of respect and desire to bring this about. There has to be a desire for this, and if the desire is not there, then it is a disaster. Furthermore, setting up these particular institutions is not different from setting up other organizations such as those that are created for social issues, for helping the needy, and for doing all the other different things that organizations do. These three institutions are necessary for us in order for us to move on and to resolve a lot of the things that are causing disruption.

About the author

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While becoming a Catholic priest, Yusuf discovered the path to Islam. He studied Islamic sciences for a period of seven years, studying with scholars in Cleveland, Ohio before receiving a work-study contract with the Islamic American University. At the Islamic American University, he read Arabic and a limited number of Islamic sciences intensively for one year. He then traveled to Cairo, Egypt where he resided for five years. There, he attended a number of intensive courses at Arabic learning centers. After these courses, he joined various scholarly circles, reading Islamic sciences with a host of scholars of diverse expertise and orientations. Yusuf takes particular pride in having studied intimately with a number of scholars from al-Azhar University. Likewise, he has great love and attachment to Egypt and especially al-Azhar Mosque where he studied for the major portion of his residence in Egypt. Yusuf has a Bachelors in Western Philosophy and Sociology and is working on a Masters in Education. He serves as an instructor in Islamic Sciences with Islamic American University and in local mosques in Dearborn, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio. His four main research areas in Islamic sciences are in the areas of Usul al-Fiqh, Maqasid ash Shar’ia, Hadith Sciences, and Fiqh.


  • “The Sunnah without the Qu’ran makes little sense “.

    Though this article focuses on America, this short excerpt is worth repeating and pondering on.

    In Southeast Asia, the primary way for Muslim layman practice of ‘piety’ is to learn a lot of sunnah practices while never even having read a full translation of the Qur’an. It ends up being kind of back to front. Further, ‘sunnah’ preferences in the region tend to be about those things to ‘do’ – like ticking checkboxes – rather than the sunnah about how to ‘be’ or how to prioritise Qur’anic values when making different choices.

    I think it leads to things like an inability to recognise when a particular advocated application of hadith or sunnah is probably suspect because it contradicts Qur’anic content, and an inability to decide priority and infer context for apparently competing/contradictory sunnah. Without having at least the gist of the entire Qur’an in their mind, people therefore tend to resort to ‘what feels about right’ to make these judgments, which inevitably is coloured by personal preferences, peer pressure, and what one is used to thinking – this is not how a Muslim should judge information.

    For example, if I were to be ambivalent or worse – supportive – about a Muslim overseas keeping a dog or working at a dog shelter, or about a convert who does not want to change his name after conversion, my views would be seen as ‘weak’ on Islam despite these actually being minor topics of legitimate variety of opinion. But if I were to oppose hiring a foreign domestic maid outside of legal channels because I know this black market demand leads to foreign (and Muslim) women being abducted in their countries into human trafficking channels, my view is seen as excessively inconvenient, indicative of my “western” worldview – and most importantly – *not at all related to Islam*.

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