Islamic Activism and Proactive Dawah in the Canadian Context

Islam is a religion that is rooted in the principle of enjoining good and forbidding evil in all facets. Thus, it is incumbent upon Canadian Muslims to understand how they can expand their religious and political framework while maintaining and preserving the Prophetic model in their calling. 

The Foundation – Enjoining Good & Forbidding Evil

Islam is a religion that is rooted in the principle of enjoining good and forbidding evil in all facets. Thus, it is incumbent upon Canadian Muslims to understand how they can expand their religious and political framework while maintaining and preserving the Prophetic model in their calling. 

Stemming from the time of the Companions and pious predecessors up until recent centuries, Islam has a deep history of alliance towards honourable causes and contributions in standing for justice. We must continue to champion this tradition that the mercy of mankind, our Prophet ﷺ was sent to convey, by first strengthening our foundational beliefs, seeking sound knowledge regarding the good and evil to be able to tell them apart and finally, contributing to organizations and projects within our local communities that uphold values of sacred activism. 

The concept of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is the very reason all of the Prophets and Messengers were sent to their respective communities and nations. 

Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Qur’an: 

وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِى كُلِّ أُمَّةٍۢ رَّسُولًا أَنِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَٱجْتَنِبُوا۟ ٱلطَّـٰغُوتَ ۖ فَمِنْهُم مَّنْ هَدَى ٱللَّهُ وَمِنْهُم مَّنْ حَقَّتْ عَلَيْهِ ٱلضَّلَـٰلَةُ ۚ 

“We surely sent a messenger to every community, saying, “Worship Allah and shun false gods.” But some of them were guided by Allah, while others were destined to stray.” (Surah Nahl: 36)

The Right Way to Spread the Message

As Muslims, we are obligated to carry forth this tradition of the Prophets and Messengers and call to the path of Allah (SWT) upon insight, wisdom and knowledge in every capacity we are capable of doing so. Learning about the stories of the noble individuals that preceded us and listening to the struggles they faced on their journeys allows us to realize that embarking upon this path requires patience, perseverance and utmost sincerity. Even beyond the chosen Prophets and Messengers, the Companions of the Prophet Muhammed ﷺ also championed this noble cause. 

Take for example the beautiful story of Tufay ibn Amr Ad-Dawsi, the chief and leader of the tribe of Daws, who preached to his people for a select number of years without seeing much result in his proactive dawah and concern for his people. When he returned to Makkah from his tribe he was devastated and implored the Prophet ﷺ to make dua against his people for their rebellious deeds.  

حَدَّثَنَا عَلِيٌّ، قَالَ‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، قَالَ‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو الزِّنَادِ، عَنِ الأَعْرَجِ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ‏:‏ قَدِمَ الطُّفَيْلُ بْنُ عَمْرٍو الدَّوْسِيُّ عَلَى رَسُولِ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ‏:‏ يَا رَسُولَ اللهِ، إِنَّ دَوْسًا قَدْ عَصَتْ وَأَبَتْ، فَادْعُ اللَّهَ عَلَيْهَا، فَاسْتَقْبَلَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْقِبْلَةَ وَرَفَعَ يَدَيْهِ، فَظَنَّ النَّاسُ أَنَّهُ يَدْعُو عَلَيْهِمْ، فَقَالَ‏:‏ اللَّهُمَّ اهْدِ دَوْسًا، وَائْتِ بِهِمْ‏.‏

صـحـيـح الألباني

Abu Huraira said, “At-Tufayl ibn ‘Amr ad-Dawsi came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, ‘Messenger of Allah, Daws have rebelled and rejected, so ask Allah to curse them.’ The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, faced the qibla and raised his hands and the people thought that he was going to curse them. He said, ‘O Allah, guide Daws and lead them.'”

Grade: Sahih (Al-Albani) – Al Adab Al Mufrad 611

The hadith above exemplifies the beautiful patience, perseverance and response in the noble cause of activism and dawah which was displayed by our beloved Prophet ﷺ. It is merely a glimpse of the dedication and sincerity he exemplified as he called to the path of Allah and defended the identity and dignity of the Muslim community with all of his might and expertise for 23 years. Instead of referring to a destructive method, despite having the authority and capability to, the Prophet ﷺ chose to be a leader. 

Dealing with the Reality of Modern Times

When we examine the world today we notice that the concept of religion and faith is on the decline. Inclusive of the development of social media, the introduction of various ideologies in educational institutions and the rise of Islamophobia, the most pressing problem our Muslim communities face is a lack of a robust framework and balanced intervention to the issues that threaten our faith, safety and intellect the most. 

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The strong believer is more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, but there is goodness in both of them. Be eager for what benefits you, seek help from Allah, and do not be frustrated. If something befalls you, then do not say: If only I had done something else. Rather say: Allah has decreed what he wills. Verily, the  phrase ‘if only’ opens the way for the work of Satan.”

Source: Sahih Muslim 2664

One of the countless benefits we can extract from the above Hadith is the precedence and lofty status given to Muslims who seek to provide legitimate solutions to the issues that combat them in their day-to-day lives. We are only able to remove ourselves from a state of weakness both physically and intellectually if we create spaces for ourselves that will allow us to engage in proactive service. This establishment of strength was highlighted beautifully through the courageous and eloquent speech of Jesus the son of Mary upon his miraculous birth. 

The first statement that the noble Prophet of Allah uttered when his mother pointed to him in front of the people who insinuated she had fallen into evil, constituted the establishment of Tawheed (The Oneness of Allah). Isa (AS) submitted to his Creator and openly affirmed that he was a slave of God showing that he was reliant and dependent upon Him in every instance despite the noble journey of Islamic activism and dawah he was about to embark on. 

قَالَ إِنِّى عَبْدُ ٱللَّهِ ءَاتَىٰنِىَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ وَجَعَلَنِى نَبِيًّۭا

Jesus declared, “I am truly a servant of Allah. He has destined me to be given the Scripture and to be a Prophet.” (Surah Maryam: 30)

The Importance of Tawheed and Relying Upon Allah (SWT)

Before being able to assist others, serve the community, and engage in proactive dawah or activism, a Muslim must first establish the required and appropriate connection with their creator and rectify that which is between them and their Lord. 

If an individual mobilizes millions of people to pursue a cause or solve a problem without seeking the assistance of Allah or fulfilling the rights that Allah (SWT) has upon them, they will never be able to reach meaningful or true success in any capacity. The purification of one’s faith and the embodiment of Tawheed through intention, speech and action is the very purpose of our existence and the most important tool to rectify our affairs in this life and the next. 

When Musa (AS) was cornered near the sea with the Pharaoh’s army pursuing them from behind, his unwavering belief and reliance upon Allah (SWT) is what led to his salvation. 

 فَلَمَّا تَرَٰٓءَا ٱلْجَمْعَانِ قَالَ أَصْحَـٰبُ مُوسَىٰٓ إِنَّا لَمُدْرَكُونَ

When the two groups came face to face, the Companions of Moses cried out, “We are overtaken for sure.” (Surah Shu’araa: 61)

قَالَ كَلَّآ ۖ إِنَّ مَعِىَ رَبِّى سَيَهْدِينِ

“Moses reassured ˹them˺, “Absolutely not! My Lord is certainly with me—He will guide me.” (Surah Shu’araa: 62) 

After we recognize our privileged and ultimate purpose of existence while acting in accordance with the knowledge we have received regarding Allah and his Messenger, we must strive to be blessed everywhere we go. 

What does it mean to carry blessings everywhere you go and to everything you are a part of? 

After establishing faith and submitting to Allah (SWT), Isa (AS) continued to speak miraculously as an infant in the cradle and he said: 

وَجَعَلَنِى مُبَارَكًا أَيْنَ مَا كُنتُ وَأَوْصَـٰنِى بِٱلصَّلَوٰةِ وَٱلزَّكَوٰةِ مَا دُمْتُ حَيًّۭا

“He has made me a blessing wherever I go, and bid me to establish prayer and give alms-tax as long as I live.” (Surah Maryam: 31) 

The scholars of Tafseer collectively agreed that aside from being a teacher of good and a person who brings benefit, being a blessing everywhere you go equates to enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. This is one of the main components of our faith and the reason Allah (SWT) chose us to be of the best nations. 

‎قَدْ أَجْمَعَ الْفُقَهَاءُ عَلَى قَوْلِ اللَّهِ: ﴿وَجَعَلَنِي مُبَارَكًا أَيْنَ مَا كُنْتُ﴾ ، وَقِيلَ: مَا بَرَكَتُهُ؟ قَالَ وُهَيْب بْنَ الْوَرْدِ: الْأَمْرُ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَالنَّهْيُ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ، أَيْنَمَا كَانَ.

Ibn Kathir, the 8th-century scholar mentions in his Tafseer that “The Jurists/Scholars of Tafseer collectively agreed on the statement of Isa (AS) in the Qur’an where it says ‘He has made me a blessing wherever I go’. It was asked, ‘What is this blessing?’ Wuhayb ibn al-Ward, the teacher of Abdullahi Ibn Al Mubarak and the 1st century Islamic Scholar of Hadith replied by saying, ‘to enjoin good and forbid evil wherever you are in every capacity you are capable of’”. 

Following the Way of our Prophet ﷺ

Aiming to enjoin the good and forbid the evil must be done through our own calling and language that is consistent with our rich prophetic tradition. It is crucial that we understand the importance of authenticity and knowledge in that which we want to propagate, stand for and call to. Our operations and mobilizations for any cause should emulate the authentic sunnah of our beloved Prophet ﷺ. 

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَطِيعُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا۟ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ ۖ فَإِن تَنَـٰزَعْتُمْ فِى شَىْءٍۢ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ وَٱلرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْـَٔاخِرِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌۭ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا

“O believers! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. Should you disagree on anything, then refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you truly believe in Allah and the Last Day. This is the best and fairest resolution.” (Surah Nisa: 59)

What does adhering to the Sunnah of the Prophet saw entail? It entails: 

  1. Obeying him in that which he commanded us to do
  2. Believing him in that which he related to us 
  3. Abstaining from that which he warned against 
  4. Not worshipping Allah (SWT) except by that which he instructed  

Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan (may Allah preserve him) said in al-Muntaqa (2/question no. 270): 

“You must adhere to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and follow it constantly, and not pay any attention to those who criticize you or blame you for that, especially if these sunnah’s are obligatory duties that must be adhered to, and are not just recommended actions, provided you do not go to extremes. But if you go to extremes, that is not appropriate, rather it is essential to be balanced and moderate in applying the Sunnah and acting upon it, without exaggerating or going to extremes, and without being negligent or careless. This is what you should do. Whatever the case, you will be rewarded in sha Allah, and you must adhere to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).”

The Importance of Having Sound Knowledge in Activism

Making it a point of focus to learn about the authentic traditions and practices of our beloved Prophet ﷺ is essential for any Muslim who wants to operate in the field of activism and dawah. 

As the noble El-Hajj Al Malik Al-Shabaz said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” The root of change is knowledge and one can only practically apply that knowledge if one makes an effort to do so. Principled allyship can only be attained if the leaders at the forefront of our collective activism are credible and trained both in understanding the Sunnah and contextualizing their application of it based on circumstance, time and place without crossing the rigid boundaries that have been established over 1400 years ago. 

Allah (SWT) says in Surah Nahl: 

وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًۭا نُّوحِىٓ إِلَيْهِمْ ۚ فَسْـَٔلُوٓا۟ أَهْلَ ٱلذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

“And We did not send (messengers) before you other than men whom We inspired with revelation. So, ask the people (having the knowledge) of the Message, if you do not know.”

Looking Through the Historical Context 

As outlined by Paul Bramadat and David Seljak in “Religion and Ethnicity in Canada,” the first Muslims came to Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century. Historians agree that some were slaves looking to escape America through the Underground Railroad, while others were traders from Syria and Lebanon who brought goods to fur traders and remote farms (136). 

The African Muslims brought to the Americas in the slave trade could never openly practice Islam and faced religious persecution from their Masters. Historians like Hamdani cite the example of Mahommah Baquaqua who wrote an autobiography about travelling from Brazil to the US as a slave and eventually escaping to Ontario (16). He details that when he arrived in Canada in 1854 there were already 3 Muslims living there. The first Canadian-born Muslim was born that year to a Scottish couple named James and Agnes who lived in southern Ontario.

Islamic History Month, first recognized by the Canadian government in 2007, was the first step toward recognizing the achievements of Muslims within Canada and the historical footprint imprinted. According to the national household survey, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in Canada and the effects of Muslims that predate us are still felt to this day. The National Canadian Council of Muslims previously detailed in an article for the Ottawa Citizen, names of exceptional Muslims that predated our times. For example, there were Muslims like Bedouin Ferran who was elected to office in 1964 and represented the Indigenous peoples living in the Northwest Territories. So with our cultural contribution and history of advocation in Canada, what does it mean to truly be a Muslim advocate within this new world?

Activism Defined in Accordance with Islam

Activism is no longer a word that is only defined as campaigning to bring about political change. Like most modern terminology, it is a social construct that comes with a lot of preconceived notions. The word has been further defined to include smaller categories like performance activism or radical activism. To simply exist as an activist comes with political and social implications which this paper would like to define according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.

As the modern world progresses we become ever more globalized. The news is regularly filled with international and national instances of injustice. It seems as though at any moment a person can open their phone or refer to their news app and they will witness a catastrophe. These intensified news cycles and heightened social consciousness have created activists out of everyone. As a person who exists in this modern age, there is an increasing pressure to stand for something, and you must defend your opinion of what constitutes injustice. As Al-Hajj Al-Malik AL-Shabaz said, “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything”. However, Muslims should fully grasp and understand what they are standing for and the implications that come with it prior to moving forth. We are increasingly desensitized to singular catastrophes and often try to pursue bigger causes for greater effects. With the rise of injustice globally, how should we act as Muslims? How are we supposed to champion for the oppressed, and ensure that we are not the oppressors?

Simply put, we must treat our activism as we would any action in our modern-day life. We must define activism in accordance with Islam and act upon it within the boundaries set for us within our religion. The first way to do this is to purify one’s intention and to ensure that they are not simply championing a cause because it is what is socially expected or popular. 

It is narrated on the authority of Amir al-Mu’minin (Leader of the Believers), Abu Hafs ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), say

سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ: ” إنَّمَا الْأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ، وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى

“Actions are according to intentions, and everyone will get what they intended…” (Related by Bukhari & Muslim)

Furthermore, the great scholar of Islam, Haafidh Ibn Ahmed ‘Alee Al-Hakamee who lived in the 14th century, said in one of his well-renowned works “المنظومة الميمية في الوصايا والآداب العلمية”: 

والنية اجعل لوجه الله خالصة 

As for the intention make it solely for the sake of Allah (SWT)    

إن البناء بدون الأصل لم يقم 

For verily a structure or a building without a foundation will never stand 

Society has seen the harms of what is now being defined as “performance activism” because people are supporting a cause merely because that is what is popular in society. With performance activism, much larger issues tend to be ignored if they are not made popular by the general public. This includes issues like how our dear brothers and sisters in China, the Uighur Muslims, are imprisoned in concentration camps. Additionally, a Muslim individual may end up supporting a cause that does not align with Islamic Values on the sole basis that it’s trending on Twitter or others are advocating for the cause. 

One who wishes to speak as an advocate for a topic must speak from a place of knowledge and humility. A lot of activism that has amounted to nothing or actually caused harm has been either from a place of ignorance or where a person is following others blindly. In Islam, this is prohibited by many scholars and is defined as Taqlid in which Ibn Hazam, the eighth-century scholar, went to the extent of saying that blind following is prohibited in all circumstances and is never allowed. 

It is related in the Sahihs of al-Bukhāri [no.2018] and Muslim [no.47]; on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, may God be pleased with him; who relates that the Prophet ﷺ declared: ‘Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him speak good or keep silent.’

Knowledge, Respect & Humility

It is important to recognize that when advocating for a topic, we as Muslims should not be vilifying the other side of the argument. We must not be judging them or treating them harshly or without respect. As Muslims when we speak, we must emulate the Prophet ﷺ  and speak with dignity and grace. A lot of modern-day activism has become centred around the type of attention it can potentially receive. People go viral slandering each other while attempting to reduce the other side to something less-than-human. We must ensure that we are not simply ridiculing others but are trying to educate and lift oppression.

لَيْسَ اَلْمُؤْمِنُ بِالطَّعَّانِ, وَلَا اَللَّعَّانُ, وَلَا اَلْفَاحِشَ, وَلَا اَلْبَذِيءَ‏

 “The believer is not a slanderer, nor does he curse others, and nor is he immoral or shameless.”

And in order to educate and speak from a place of authority, we as Muslims must hold ourselves accountable as well. The person who wishes to advocate on the behalf of others must not be in the position of an oppressor. When we wish to educate the other side as a Muslim community, we must also ensure that we are treating Muslims within our community with dignity and respect regardless of their race, gender, or age. A Muslim who advocates for racial equality must also be a Muslim who does not endorse colorism within their community through employment, friendship or marriage. 

Allah (SWT) speaks about the prohibitions and danger of preaching that which you do not practice in many verses in the Qur’an: 

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ لِمَ تَقُولُونَ مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَ

“O believers! Why do you say what you do not do?” (Surah Saff: 2)

كَبُرَ مَقْتًا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَن تَقُولُوا۟ مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَ

“How despicable it is in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do!” (Surah Saff :3)

أَتَأْمُرُونَ ٱلنَّاسَ بِٱلْبِرِّ وَتَنسَوْنَ أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ تَتْلُونَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ ۚ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ

“Do you preach righteousness and fail to practise it yourselves, although you read the Scripture? Do you not understand?” (Surah Baqarah:44)

Achieving Success in Activism

Finally, in order to persevere during the difficult times of activism, we must remember Allah (SWT) in all of this. We must ensure that we are not disregarding our fundamental obligations in pursuit of greater whims. Remembering our purpose and renewing one’s intention can help with building perseverance. Allah (SWT) informs us in a hadith Qudsi that he will aid us and be with us so long as we remember him in our journeys.  

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Allah says: ‘I am just as My slave thinks I am, (i.e. I am able to do for him what he thinks I can do for him) and I am with him if He remembers Me. If he remembers Me in himself, I too, remember him in Myself; and if he remembers Me in a group of people, I remember him in a group that is better than they; and if he comes one span nearer to Me, I go one cubit nearer to him; and if he comes one cubit nearer to Me, I go a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running.'”

As a believer, we are given the greatest weapon in our activism, and that is Duaa and a guarantee that Allah (SWT) will deal with the oppressors on the Day of Judgment if we are not capable of doing so in this world. Therefore, it is important to adhere to the rules set for us within Islam when it comes to activism and to have reliance upon Allah (SWT) in all matters. 

It is also recommended that we seek out opportunities where we can flourish into carrying the blessings that Isa (AS) carried with him since his birth, by joining local and national organizations that are treading a noble path in their quest for justice, peace and unity in our communities. 

إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا۟ مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ

“.. Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves ..” (Surah Ra’ad: 11)

As the verse clearly states, Allah (SWT) will not change our situations unless we make an effort to take that first step. So as a Muslim, take a look around and see where you can start to make a difference.

Work Cited 

Bramadat, Paul, and David Seljak. Religion and Ethnicity in Canada. 2005.

 Daood H. Hamdani, “Muslims in the Canadian Mosaic”, Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs Journal 5, no. 1 (1984): 7-16. 

Nimer, Mohamed. “The North American Muslim Resource Guide: Muslim Community Life in the …” Routledge, 2013.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir: (abridged). Riyadh: Darussalam, 2000.

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