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Da‘wah literally means "issuing a summons" or "making an invitation", being a gerund of a verb meaning variously "to summon" or "to invite" (whose triconsonantal root is d-ʕ-w دعو). A Muslim who practices da‘wah, either as a religious worker or in a volunteer community effort, is called a dā‘ī (داعي, plural du‘āh/du‘āt دعاة).
The term da'wah has other senses in the Qur'an. In sura (chapter) 30:25, for example, it denotes the call to the dead to rise on the Day of Judgment. When used in the Qur'an, it generally refers to Allah's invitation to live according to His will. Thus, when used in the first centuries of Islam, it usually referred to that message and was sometimes used interchangeably with sharī‘a and dīn.
Da‘wah is also described as the duty to "actively encourage fellow Muslims in the pursuance of greater piety in all aspects of their lives", a definition which has become central to contemporary Islamic thought.
During Muhammad's era
During the Expedition of Al Raji in 625, the Islamic prophet Muhammad sent some men as missionaries to various different tribes. Some men came to Muhammad and requested that Muhammad send instructors to teach them Islam, but the men were bribed by the two tribes of Khuzaymah who wanted revenge for the assassination of Khalid bin Sufyan (Chief of the Banu Lahyan tribe) by Muhammad's followers eight Muslim missionaries were killed in this expedition, another version says 10 Muslims were killed.
Then during the Expedition of Bir Maona in July 625 Muhammad sent some missionaries at the request of some men from the Banu Amir tribe, but the Muslims were again killed in revenge for the assassination of Khalid bin Sufyan by Muhammad's followers. 70 Muslims were killed during this expedition.
During the Expedition of Khalid ibn al-Walid (Banu Jadhimah) in January 630, Muhammad sent Khalid ibn Walid to invite the Banu Jadhimah tribe to Islam. This is mentioned in the Sunni Hadith Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:59:628.
After Muhammad's death in 632, from the available historical evidence, it appears that after Muhammad's death Muslims did not immediately embark upon da'wa activities -- during and after the rapid conquests of the Byzantine and Persian lands, they little if at all ventured to preach to local non-Muslims about the virtues of Islam. Da'wa in the sense of inviting non-Muslims to embrace Islam was not yet on conquering Muslims' agenda. Da'wa came into wider usage almost a hundred years after Muhammad's death, in the wake of the 'Abbasid propaganda against the then ruling Umayyad clan in the 720's. However, the 'Abbasid da'wa ceased as soon as the 'Abbasids were in power -- the fact that attests to its political nature. Da'wa as a truly missionary activity, albeit still within the Muslim Umma, appeared in the form of the Isma'ili da'wa of the 9th through 13th centuries. Isma'ilis, in many ways, can be seen as the pioneers of the organized Muslim missionary activities: their highly institutionalized and sophisticated da'wa structure has hardly been repeated until today. Moreover, for the Isma'ilis, da'wa was a state priority. The Isma'ili da'wa encompassed extra- and intra-ummatic forms and blended both theology and politics. 
In Islamic theology, the purpose of da‘wah is to invite people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to understand the worship of Allah as expressed in the Qur'an and the sunnah of the prophet Muhammad and to inform them about Muhammad.
Da'wah as the "Call towards Allah" is the means by which Muhammad began spreading the message of the Qur'an to mankind. After Muhammad, his followers and Ummah (Muslim community) assumed responsibility for it. They convey the message of the Qur'an by providing information on why and how the Qur'an preaches monotheism. Muhammad saw Islam as the true religion and mission of all earlier prophets. He believed that their call had been limited to their own people but that his was universal, His mission as the final prophet was to repeat to the whole world this call and invitation (dawa) to Allah’s true religion of Islam. Muhammad wrote to various non-Muslim rulers inviting them to convert. 
The importance of Dawah has been emphasised many times in the Quran:
Who is better in speech than one who calls to Allah, does righteous deeds and says indeed I am among the Muslims.— Quran, Sura 41 (HAA-meem-shisdah), ayah 33
You are the best nation raised up for humankind. You enjoin righteousness, forbid corruption and you believe in Allah.— Quran, Sura 3 (Al-Imran), ayah 110
Let there arise among you a group inviting to all that is good, enjoining righteousness and forbidding evil. Those are the successful ones.— Quran, Sura 3 (Al-Imran), ayah 104
Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good preaching.— Quran, Sura 16 (An-Nahl), ayah 125
- "Whoever directs someone to do good will gain the same reward as the one who does good."
- "Whoever calls to guidance will receive the same reward as the one who follows him without any decrease in the reward of his follower."
- "For Allah to guide someone by your hand is better for you than having red camels."
(In ancient Arabia, camels – especially of a reddish hue – were considered particularly valuable property.)
- "Convey from me, even if it be only a single verse."
Muhammad sent Muadh ibn Jabal to Yemen and told him “You will be going to Christians and Jews, so the first thing you should invite them to is the assertion of the oneness of Allah, Most High. If they realize that, then inform them that Allah has made five daily prayers obligatory on them. If they pray them, then inform them that Allah has made the payment of charity from their wealth obligatory on their rich to be given to their poor. If they accept that, then take it from them and avoid the best part of people’s property.”
"And by the mercy of Allah you dealt with them gently. If you were harsh and hard hearted, they would have fled from around you" (Quran 3:159).
"So speak to him, both of you, mildly in order that he may reflect or fear God." (Quran 20:44).
Muhammad was quoted by Jareer as saying,“One deprived of gentleness is deprived of all good."
Influence in Politics
Muslims made it a part of their political theory (through relating da'wa to jihad) and life (using the concept of da'wa in their political agendas). Taken in general, the intertwining of da'wa & politics, then, has been a feature throughout the Muslim history, though practical implications of this have been different in different ages. 
"Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided ...". Sura "An-Nahl" 16:125.
A classical example of diversion in dawah can be seen in the case of Prophet Yusuf in prison when two prisoners asked him to interpret their dreams. Then it occurred to them, after they had seen the proofs to imprison him for a time. And there entered with him two young men in the prison. One of them said: “Indeed, I saw myself pressing wine.” The other said: “Indeed, I saw myself carrying bread on my head and birds were eating from it.” [They asked:] “Inform us of the interpretation of these things. Indeed, we believe you are one of the righteous.” He replied: “Whenever food came to you as your provision, I informed you about it before it came. That is from what my Lord has taught me. Indeed, I have abandoned the religion of a people who did not believe in Allah and the Hereafter. And I have followed the religion of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and we would never attribute any partners whatsoever to Allah. This is from the Grace of Allah to us and to humankind, but most people are not thankful. O my two prison companions! Are many different lords better than Allah, the One, the Irresistible? You are only worshiping besides Him names which you and your fathers made up for which no authority was revealed by Allah. Judgment belongs to Allah alone. He has commanded that you worship none besides Him; that is the upright religion, but most people do not know. O my two prison companions! As for one of you, he will pour wine for his lord to drink and as for the other, he will be crucified and birds will eat form his head. This is the case judged concerning which you both inquire.” "Sura Yusuf" 12:35-41.
Speaking a common language
“I did not send any messenger except that he spoke the language of his people to explain to them.” Sura "Ibrahim" 14:4.
Doing Dawah in the right location. For example, Mount Safa in the time of Muhammad was used for announcements. So Muhammad went there to make his point. He chose that particular location because he knew the people who he was inviting to Islam. He knew their nature and characteristics, so he chose Mount Safa. He climbed up to its summit and addressed his people saying: “O people of Quraysh, if I were to tell you there was an army behind this hill would you listen to me?”
Modern Dawah movements are varied in their objectives and activities. Examples include:
- The Muslim Brotherhood has focused on a methodology of building grassroots institutions and funding welfare projects, which has helped it survive decades of repression under various dictatorships in many Middle Eastern countries, with the group and its many offshoots still enjoying popular support and power.
- Jamaat-e-Islami has focused on presenting Islam as a complete way of life and on the methodology of building grassroots institutions and funding welfare projects.
- Tablighi Jamaat works on trying to bring the Muslims back to the fundamental practices of Islam such as worship; they do this by encouraging members to speak and to teach them the virtues of good actions. The movement has a following of between 100 and 150 million people.
- Ahmed Deedat was a notable debater who was a revolutionary figure among Muslims for his effort in debating Christian polemics. Many Muslim debaters from popular debaters to grassroots Dawah campaigners use his books and videos as reference material.
- Zakir Naik was a student of Ahmed Deedat and followed in his teacher's footsteps by debating Christian polemics and by holding Q&A sessions with Christians. Zakir Naik is particularly notable for taking the effort of debating Christian polemics to the Muslim mainstream with his popular channel Peace TV.
- Hizb ut-Tahrir is a movement which focuses on educating the Muslim masses about the Caliphate and on establishing it.
- iERA is a research institute based in London which seeks to debate Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals, help new Muslims, train speakers and produce academic research papers on Dawah issues.
- Hikmah Times In Singapore there is a significant impact of the Islamic Dawah (Invitation) movement. There are many local/international organisations (e.g. Hikmah Times).
- The Deen Mohammad Shaikh mission has converted over 110,000 Hindus to Islam in Pakistan.
- Al-Naysaburi: Code of Conduct depicts the values in which dais should spread the word of Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims. 
- Idris's work presents us with an indigenous account of the traditions of the da'wa in Yaman. His account of the Nizari- Musta'li succession dispute reflects the official view of the Tayyibis, the only surviving Musta'li Ismaili community who, after the death of al-Amir, recognized the later Fatimid caliphs as their Imams, but did not long survive the collapse of the Fatimid at the hands of the Ayybids state in 1171.”
- "Oxford Islamic Studies Online". Oxfordislamicstudies.com. 2008-05-06. Retrieved 2012-09-19.
- See entry for da‘wah in the Encyclopaedia of Islam.
- Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, p. 187
- Watt, W. Montgomery (1956). Muhammad at Medina. Oxford University Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0195773071.
The common version, however, is that B. Lihyan wanted to avenge the assassination of their chief at Muhammad's instigation, and bribed two clans of the tribe of Khuzaymah to say they wanted to become Muslims and ask Muhammad to send instructors.(online)
- Hawarey, Dr. Mosab (2010). The Journey of Prophecy; Days of Peace and War (Arabic). Islamic Book Trust. ISBN 9789957051648.Note: Book contains a list of battles of Muhammad in Arabic, English translation available here
- Tabari, Al (2008), The foundation of the community, State University of New York Press, p. 151, ISBN 978-0887063442,
Then in Safar (which began July 13, 625), four months after Uhud, he sent out the men of Bi'r Ma'unah
- Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, p. 188. (online)
- Abu Khalil, Shawqi (1 March 2004). Atlas of the Prophet's biography: places, nations, landmarks. Dar-us-Salam. p. 226. ISBN 978-9960897714.
- William Muir, The life of Mahomet and history of Islam to the era of the Hegira, Volume 4, p. 135.
- Muhsin Khan, The translation of the meanings of Ṣahih AL-Bukhari, Arabic-English, Volume 5, p. 440.
- UNESCO (2012). Different Aspects of Islamic Culture: Vol.3: The Spread of Islam Throughout the World Volume 3 of Different aspects of Islamic culture. UNESCO, 2012. p. 51-. ISBN 9789231041532. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
- Safi ur Rahman Al Mubarakpuri (2002). Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtūm. Darussalam, 2002. p. 187,338-. ISBN 9789960899558. Retrieved 7 August 2012. Note: Author says it happened before the Second pledge at al-Aqabah which happened in 622. Therefore this event happened in 621
- [Racius, Egdunas. "Blending of Politics and the Islamic Da'Wa." Politologija.2 (2005): 91-122. ProQuest. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.]
- "Da‘wah produces converts to Islam, which in turn [increases] the size of the Muslim Ummah [community of Muslims]."
- See, for example, Qur'an ayat (verses) 6:19 and 16:36.
- [Sookhdeo Patrick, and Murray, Douglas. 2014. Dawa: The Islamic Strategy for Reshaping the Modern World. Isaac Publishing.]
- Quran 41:33 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 3:110 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 3:104 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 16:125 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, p. 1050, #4665.
- Sahih Muslim, vol. 4, p. 1406, #6470.
- Sahih Al Bukhari, vol. 4, pp. 156–7, #253.
- Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 4, p. 442, #667.
- Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 9, pp. 348–9, #469 and Sahih Muslim, vol. 1, p. 15, #28.
- Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 4, p. 1370, no. 6274.
- Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 4, p. 1370, #6270.
- Racius, Egdunas. "Blending of Politics and the Islamic Da'Wa." Politologija.2 (2005): 91-122. ProQuest. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.
- 32,000 Muslim Brothers Detained Under Old Regime Emergency Law. Ikhwanweb (2012-06-02). Retrieved on 2014-03-23.
- The Cutting Edge News. The Cutting Edge News (2011-04-18). Retrieved on 2014-03-23.
- The Tablighi Jamaat Movement. Inter-islam.org. Retrieved on 2014-03-23.
- E-Books. IPCI. Retrieved on 2014-03-23.
- Ahmed Deedat. Peacetv.tv (2005-08-08). Retrieved on 2014-03-23.
-  Archived September 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- Hizb ut Tahrir. Hizb ut Tahrir. Retrieved on 2014-03-23.
- Islamic Education and Research Academy. iERA. Retrieved on 2014-03-23.
- 100,000 conversions and counting, meet the ex-Hindu who herds souls to the Hereafter
- [Klemm, Verena, and Walker, Paul E. 2011. Code of Conduct: A Treatise on Etiquette of the Fatimid Ismaili Mission. I.B. Tauris.]
- [Farah, Caesar E. "The Fatmids and their Successors in Yemen: The History of an Islamic Community." Domes 12.2 (2003): 100. ProQuest. Web. 3 Dec. 2016.]
- Encyclopaedia of Islam, Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, OCLC 399624
- Hirschkind, Charles (2004). "Civic Virtue and Religious Reason: An Islamic Counter-Public" in Drobnick, Jim Aural Cultures. ISBN 0-920397-80-8.
- The Multiple Nature of the Islamic Da'wa, Egdūnas Račius, Academic Dissertation, October 2004. University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts, Institute of Asian and African Studies.
- Klemm, Verena, and Walker, Paul E. 2011. Code of Conduct: A Treatise on Etiquette of the Fatimid Ismaili Mission. I.B. Tauris.
- Saqr, Abdul B. How to Call People to Islam, Trans. Shakil Ahmed. Riyahd: WAMY.
- Sookhdeo Patrick, and Murray, Douglas. 2014. Dawa: The Islamic Strategy for Reshaping the Modern World. Isaac Publishing.