Da'wah priorities in the Sunnah
All Prophets, may Allah exalt their mention, worked on reforming their societies by calling people to the message that Allah Almighty sent them with. Today, Muslims are suffering in all spheres of life, while non-Muslim nations continue in their ignorance of purpose and path in this life. To reform these, it is essential for Muslims to follow the model of the Prophet of Islam and, after firmly grasping the message themselves, call others to it.
Muslims, therefore, must exercise their efforts and use all permissible means to invite others to the truth of Islam. Bearing the message is a serious responsibility and a noble task and, as such, it has to be performed with knowledge, seriousness, consideration and wisdom. In undertaking such an effort, these are the priorities that one should keep as a guide:
The Quran shows, in no uncertain terms, that the message and the top priority of all the Prophets was one and the same: The message of Tawheed (Islamic monotheism).
Tawheed means "the realizing and maintaining of Allah's unity in all of man's actions which directly or indirectly relate to Him. It is the belief that Allah is One, without partner in His dominion and His actions, One without similitude in His essence and attributes, and One without rival in His divinity and in worship." Prophet Muhammad the last Prophet to be sent to mankind and the Jinn, was ordered by Allah in the Quran to say (what means): "Say, 'This is my way; I invite to Allah with insight, I and those who follow me. And exalted is Allah; and I am not of those who associate others with Him.'" [Quran, 12: 108]
Tawheed is the single most important concept in Islam and the top priority in bearing the Message. The following evidence shows this in a clear way.
The oft-quoted reference with regards to priorities and gradation in Da`wah (call to Islam) is the famous Hadeeth (narration) reported by Ibn `Abbas that the Prophet sent Mu`ath to Yemen and said, "Invite the people to testify that Laa ilaaha illa Allah [none has the right to be worshipped but Allah] and that I am the Messenger of Allah. If they obey you in that, then inform them that Allah has enjoined upon them five prayers in every day and night, and if they obey you in that, then inform them that Allah has made it obligatory for them to pay Zakat (alms) from their properties and it is to be taken from the wealthy among them and given to the poor among them." [Al-Bukhari]
It was for this reason, that the Prophet stayed in Makkah for thirteen years, calling people to the correct understanding of the Oneness of Allah and making worship solely for Him.
The best of generations, the Companions learned their religion from the Prophet himself and continued in keeping the same priorities, strengthening belief before anything else.
Shaykh Abdur-Rahman Abdul-Khaliq, in his treatise on the priorities of the Islamic work in the West, also clearly explains that Tawheed is the top priority:
"The first priority Muslims of the West must preserve is Tawheed. Believing in the oneness of Allah and worshipping Him Alone is the reason behind creation. Tawheed makes a Muslim different from the disbelievers. Muslims who live in the West are different from the disbelievers because of their Islam. Eeman (faith) is the way to success and the true Path of Allah. Whoever concentrates on this life and ignores the next life will be the one who loses both".
"Da`wah should start with fundamental issues, before proceeding with those that are less central. The Oneness of Allah is the beginning and the end. Each deed should be connected with it."
Having shown that the first priority is calling to correct beliefs and faith in Allah, the Exalted, it is important to understand the underlying reasons as to why this primary objective remains true in all places and at all times. Those who call toward Allah's Religion and want to establish the way of life prescribed by this Religion should ponder at length over this significant fact, that for thirteen years, the Quran exclusively expounded this faith and did not deviate from this issue to describe the details of that system which was to be established on this faith or any laws for the organization of the Muslim society.
There is no doubt that all our shortcomings are related to our level of faith. Many consider unity of Muslims to be one of the most fundamental issues that demand the concentration of our efforts, since without strong unity Muslims are unable to face their problems. However, unity cannot be achieved through organizations or lectures, nor can it be achieved by spending money. We need to realize that it was Allah Almighty Himself who united the hearts of the Companions once faith entered their hearts. Allah Says in the Quran (what means): "And (Allah) brought together their hearts. If you had spent all that is in the earth, you could not have brought their hearts together; but Allah brought them together. Indeed, He is Exalted in Might and Wise." [Quran 8: 63]
So, there is no way to establish unity, brotherhood or an Islamic society except by profound faith and righteous action.
Consequently, the first step for us to take is to correct our faith. Anything else would be short-sighted and lead to failure. We must learn and teach the true Islamic faith; its realities, signs and benefits. Learning the faith should be accompanied by learning about Shirk (associating others with Allah in worship) and disbelief, so that Muslims safeguard themselves from the disbelief and misguidance of the disbelievers. To strengthen our faith, we must put the Quran back to its proper place in the Muslim's life. The Quran is a book of guidance that is to be understood and abided by, not merely recited and used as a talisman.