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DA'I, DAWA

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"The word dawa (pl. du'at) is derived from du'a means to call, invite or summon, and thus the term da'i denotes one who summons. The word dawa is also used in the sense of prayers, such as dawat al-mazlum (prayer of the oppressed), or dawa bi'l shifa (prayer of the health). The word dawa virtually coined in the time of Imam Jafar Sadik and Abdullah bin Maymun founded the Ismaili dawa organization in Basra.

T.W. Arnold writes in The Preaching of Islam (Aligarh, 1896, p. 277) that, "The Ismailis were the master of organization and tactics at the time of Abdullah bin Maymun." W. Ivanow writes in Collectanea (Holland, 1948, p. 20) that, "The only branch of Islam in which the preaching of religion, dawat, was not only organized but even considered of special importance, was Ismailism." According to The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1965, 2:168), "The word dawat is well known as applied to the wide-spread Ismaili propaganda movement, appealing to Muslims to give their allegiance to an Imam descended from Ismail bin Jafar Sadik."

Soon afterwards, Salamia became the headquarters of Ismaili dawa after Basra, then Yamen became the da'i-generating hub. Indeed, very little is known about the actual mission (dawa) system of early Ismailism, but it is however certain that the Ismaili mission was brisk and pervasive throughout the Islamic regions. In the broadest terms, it seems that Imam Muhammad bin Ismail was represented by twelve hujjats in different regions, and under them, a hierarchy of missionaries (da'is) conducted the different tasks of initiation and instruction. The Ismaili da'is stimulated a network of the mission in many parts of the Abbasid empire and there was plenty of its activity even outside it. They fully exploited the socio-economic conditions of the sections of society to attract them towards the mission on one hand, and the philosophical interpretations of the teachings of Islam to attract the thinking sections of the society on the other.

For purposes of mission, the world was divided into twelve parts, each being called jazira (usually translated as an island), known as the island of the earth (jazira al-arad). It is difficult to say whether jazira really meant an island. One can broadly agree with W. Ivanow when he says: "It appears that in this sense jazira does not mean the island, as it usually means, but is taken here in its basic sense, from the root j-z-r = to cut off, and therefore means a slice, cutting, or a part, a section. Therefore the expression 12 jazair should be translated as the 12 sections of the world population. They are: Arabs, Turks, Berbars, Negroes, Abyssinians, Khazras, China, Daylam, Rum and Saqaliba. Thus this classification is partly based on geographical, and partly on ethnographical principle, and plainly belongs to the fourth/tenth century." (The Rise of the Fatimids, Calcutta, 1942, p. 21)

Very interesting speculations on the ideal virtues of the da'i are given in the treatise of Qadi Noman (d. 363/974) in Kitabu'l Himma fi adab atba'il A'imma. Qadi Noman writes that, "The da'i must carefully study the ideas which he preaches, must personally know every member of his community, know their affairs, their aspirations. With this knowledge at his disposal he must gradually deliver his call to God and His saints, in such a way as not to overtax the intelligence and the patience of his audience. When he has explained to his followers what he wanted to teach them, he must know how to handle them. He must learn to observe the people, recognize the state of their minds, their abilities, extent of their endurance. This is the most important knowledge needed by the da'i for the organization and training of his followers. Ignorance of such matters tremendously affects his work, and the community suffers from this."

The Fatimid dawa was greatly expanded under Imam al-Hakim, who concerned with himself with the dawa organization. The Fatimid da'is were carefully selected and trained at the Dar al-Hikmah and elsewhere in Cairo, who were dispatched to various regions in the Muslim world, both inside and outside the Fatimid empire. In Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Persia, the da'is operated in rural and urban areas. The Fatimid dawa reached its peak in the period of Imam al-Mustansir billah, and a large number of the people entered the Ismaili fold in Central Asia.

The small and scattered Nizari Ismailis of Alamut period did not have an elaborate mission organization developed during the Fatimid period. Until the emergence of the Imams, the chief da'i executed as the hujjats of the Imams. Next came the rank of da'i al-kabir, da'i, rafiq and fidai. In Syria, however, the rank of hujjat was second to that of the Imam, having the title of al-Mawla al-Sabib, Taj al-Din (crown of the religion) and Majd al-Din (glory of religion). The hujjat was assisted by a number of da'is who carried titles of naqib (officer), janah (wing) and nazir (inspector). The da'i appointed to be commander of a castle was called wali.

The Ismaili mission after the reduction of Alamut was re-organized in Anjudan period. According to the new system, the Imam was followed by a single hujjat, known as hujjat-i azam (the great proof), who generally resided at headquarters. The hujjat administered the framework of the mission and served as an assistant of the Imam. Next was a single category of da'i at large, being selected from among the educated class. The da'is remained close in contact with the headquarters. The next lower rank was that of mu'allim (teacher), the head of the mission activities in a particular region. He was appointed by the hujjat. He was further assisted by ma'dhum-i akbar (the senior licentiate), who was empowered to make conversion at his disposal and judgment. Another assistant of the mu'allim was called ma'dhum-i asghar (junior licentiate), who held the lowest rank and could discharge his assignments only on receiving official permission from the mu'allim. The ordinary initiates (murids) were referred to as mustajib (respondent). On acquiring adequate training, a mustajib could be appointed by the mu'allim to the rank of ma'dhum-i asghar. It must be remembered that the aforesaid mission system was enforced in Iran, Badakhshan and Central Asia. In Hind and Sind, the tradition of the vakil had been retained, corresponding to the office of the mu'allim.

In Central Asia, the ma'dhum-i akbar gradually became known as the pir, and ma'dhum-i asghar was known as khalifa. They stressed on the practice of zikr-i jalli, recitation of the qasida and the esoteric poems of Nasir Khusaro among the new converts.

In addition, the Ismailis held that a few advanced followers in the community could know the true essence of the Imam at least, and the hujjat or pir was, indeed, held to be almost the same essence as the Imam. Hence, the hujjat or pir, by virtue of his miraculous knowledge (mu'jiz-i ilmi), knew the true essence of the Imam, and was the revealer of the spiritual truth. Furthermore, the Ismailis recognized three categories of people in the world. Firstly, the opponents of the Imam (ahl-i tadadd). Secondly, the ordinary followers of the Imam (ahl-i tarattub), also known as ahl-i haq, who were also divided into the strong (qawiyan), comprised of the da'is, mu'allims and ma'dhums, and the weak (da'ifan), restricted to the ordinary members of the community. Thirdly, the followers of union (ahl-i wahda), also called as the high elite (akhass-i khass).

With the establishment of the Recreation Club Institute, then the Ismailia Association; term missionary (derived from the Latin, mittere) came into usage in place of the da'is. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah said, "Ismailia Association is the chief successor today of former Ismaili Dai's and mission" (Karachi: February 9, 1950). He also said, "It is very important that the waezeen who are carry on the big work of the As'hab at the time and immediately after the Holy Prophet's leaving this mortal world to the companionship on High, are doing so under the pressure of the modern world, which is more necessary than ever it was in the past and I wish them every success. The young waezeen should try and find new arguments based on the discoveries in all branches of science for keeping the human soul like the ocean with Divine wisdom and power" (Cairo: February 6, 1956). It was resolved in the Paris Conference held between 1st and 5th April, 1975, that the term "Missionary" be replaced by "Al-Waez".


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