Sunday, November 8, 2009

Islamic Missions

Dawah means to "invite" (in Arabic, literally "calling") to Islam, estimated to be the second largest religion next to Christianity. From the 7th century it spread rapidly from the Arabian Peninsula to the rest of the world through the initial Arabic conquests, and subsequently with traders and explorers after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
Initially, the spread of Islam came through the dawah efforts of Muhammad and those who followed him. After his death in 632 CE, much of the expansion of the empire came through conquest, such as that of North Africa and later Spain (Al-Andalus), and the Islamic conquest of Persia putting an end to the Sassanid Empire and spreading the reach of Islam to as far East as Khorasan, which would later become the cradle of Islamic civilization during the Islamic Golden Age and a stepping-stone towards the introduction of Islam to the Turkic tribes living in and bordering the area.
The missionary movements peaked during the Islamic Golden Age, with the expansion of foreign trade routes, primarily into the Indo-Pacific and as far South as the isle of Zanzibar and the South-Eastern shores of Africa.
With the coming about of the tradition of Sufism, Islamic missionary activities have increased considerably. The mystical nature of the tradition had an all-encompassing aspect, a property many societies in Asia could relate to. Later, with the conquest of Anatolia by the Seljuk Turks, missionaries would find easier passage to the lands then formerly belonging to the Byzantine Empire.
In the earlier stages of the Ottoman Empire, a Turkic form of Shamanism was still widely practiced in Anatolia, which soon started to give in to the mysticism offered by Sufism.
The teachings of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, who migrated from Khorasan to Anatolia, are good examples to the mystical aspect of Sufism.
During the Ottoman presence in the Balkans, missionary movements were also taken up by people from aristocratic families hailing from the region, who had been educated in Constantinople or any other major city within the Empire, in famed madrassahs and kulliyes. Most of the time, such individuals were sent back to the place of their origin, being appointed important positions in the local governing body. This approach often resulted in the building of mosques and local kulliyes for future generations to benefit from, as well as spreading the teachings of Islam.
The spread of Islam towards Central and West Africa has been prominent but slow, until the early 19th century. Previously, the only connection was through Transsaharan trade, of which the Mali Empire, consisting predominantly of African and Berber tribes, stands as a strong proof of the early Islamization of the Sub-Saharan region. The gateways prominently expanded to include the aforementioned trade routes through the Eastern shores of the African continent. With the European colonization of Africa, missionaries were almost in competition with the European Christian missionaries operating in the colonies.
The Muslim population of the US has increased greatly in the last one hundred years, with much of the growth driven by widespread conversion. Up to one-third of American Muslims are African Americans who have converted to Islam during the last seventy years. Conversion to Islam in prisons, and in large urban areas has also contributed to its growth over the years.

Missionary Activity in North America
The Muslim population of the US has increased greatly in the last one hundred years, with much of the growth driven by widespread conversion. This conversion phenomenon can be sub-divided into several separate missionary efforts that have sprung up primarily over the past sixty years.

Nation of Islam
Black superamist group Nation of Islam's efforts to recruit members to its fold would be the earliest example of Islamic missionary activity in the United States. While considered a heretic branch of Islam, former Nation of Islam converts have gone on to become major figures in the mainstream Islamic presence in North America. Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and founder Elijah Muhammad's own son, Warith Deen Mohammed being prime examples.

Mosque Building Phenomenon
The arrival of a new class of educated professionals and higher education seeking foreign student Muslim immigrants beginning in the 1970s heralded the beginning of a major mosque building phenomenon all across the North American landscape. As communities grew over the next two decades, with more immigrants from the Muslim world and with first generation children of the first wave of immigrants, small rooms serving as community centers grew into full fledged mosques. A common occurrence being the purchase of abandoned Churches and conversion into mosques. With the development of mosques and more stable Muslim communities, missionary activity has followed with mosques developing "dawah programs" to preach to local neighbors in their midst.

Interaction with Immigrants
A major form of unplanned missionary activity has occurred simply due to the interaction between the local non-Muslim populace and the new wave of Muslim immigrants, at work, in schools, as neighbors and at universities. The flow of information of ideas has resulted in many a converts to the relatively new religion.

Missionary Work in Prison Systems
Main article: Conversion to Islam in prisons
A more recent missionary front has been the US Prison System, where encouragement of religious study has opened an avenue for Muslims to provide their own religion. There is an increasing trend towards hiring of full-time Muslim Chaplins to cater to increasing populations of Muslim prisoners and in large urban areas.
Saudi-Financed Missionary Work
With the burgeoning Muslim population in North America by the late 1980s, numerous missionary outlets saw an opportunity to receive financing for their work from various Saudi-based religious foundations. This phenomenon, which flourished for much of the decade of the 1990s, came to an abrupt end following the events of the September 11 attacks. Some of the works undertaken in this time included:
a) Mass distribution of A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam (ISBN 9960-34-011-2) a high quality color booklet widely available at missionary outlets.
b) Mass distribution of the complete Yusuf Ali translation The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an. Tens of thousands of the US Amana Publications edition (ISBN 978-1590080252) were available for free at missionary outlets across North America during the 1990s. These were printed under the auspices of the Iqraa Charitable Society of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
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