Marketing Daʿwa in America Through Social Media

In September issue of Beehive, Elad Ben David shows the use of social media as a powerful tool for marketing Da'wa in America.

“Get Married”, A clip of Khalid Yasin, that grant him a rapper look when he urges young Muslims to get married, from YouTube
“Get Married”, A clip of Khalid Yasin, from YouTube

The importance of media culture in spreading Islamic messages is a known phenomenon that started many secades ago, before the digitel era. Audiotapes assisted Ayatollah Khomeini in his 'cassette revolution' for spreading his messages and had a significant role in the Islamic revolution in 1978-79.[1] The evolution of cassettes with television and satellites during the 80s and the 90s reached a more diverse Muslim audiences and increased the spreading of Islam.[2] However, during the last two decades, media culture was significantly upgraded with the rise of new online media, which became a powerful tool among American Muslim preachers. They used it to market a positive image of Islam, which in the post 9/11 era was often accused of being a “religion of of terror.”[3]

Daʿwa is an essential activity[4] for spreading Islam and has a variety of meanings, such as: praying, calling (others),[5] propaganda, missionary activity, etc.[6] The Islamic obligation to perform daʿwa is a command incumbent upon every Muslim to spread the message of Allah to all humanity according to one’s ability.[7] Its primary goals are guiding Muslims and attracting non-Muslims to Islam.

Da'wa in America became noticeable since the late 1950s, with the increase of immigration and the foundation of Muslim organizations, such as the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)[8] and the Muslim Student Association (MSA),[9] which saw daʿwa as a primary goal.[10] As a minority in a Western-secular environment, daʿwa enabled them to justify their residence in a non-Muslim country (Dar Al-Kufr)[11] that was considered outside the rule of Islamic law (Shariʿa).[12] This attitude was perfected by Muslim thinkers such as Khurram Murad (1932-1996),[13] who strove to bolster Islamic presence in America by adopting strategies to apply Islamic ideas to a Western context, such as universal values and social issues.[14]

However, the 9/11 attacks pushed daʿwa activity to a much more vital level for the Islamic community. Following the catastrophe, Islamophobia acted as an incentive for numerous American Muslim Imams and activists to boost their daʿwa activity. They realized that to protect their religion, they must enhance their integration with their fellow American non-Muslims by performing stronger social involvement and civic responsibility.[15] Those activities included cooperation and consolidating the ties between Muslim communities, creating a broad interfaith encounter with Christians and Jews, and enhancing Muslim involvement in the political arena.[16] These actions were accompanied by the rise of new media that emerged a few years after the attacks and was used by those preachers to present Islam and Muslims in a peaceful and positive light.[17]

Daʿwa activity in social media is prevalent in three leading platforms - Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. [18] Most preachers have an active account in each of them. The large number of followers on these social platforms demonstrate the popularity some of the prominent American preachers have. For example, Nouman Ali-Khan[19] from the Bayyinah Institue[20] for accessible teaching of Arabic and the Quran has gained more than two million followers on Facebook. The Youtube channel of Yasir Qadhi,[21] a well-known cleric from Epic Masjid[22] in Texas, has more than fifty million views, and Yasmin Mogahed,[23] an Egyptian American speaker and a leading female voice, has close to 450 thousand followers on Twitter.[24]


"Get Married", A clip of Khalid Yasin, that grant him a rapper look when he urges young Muslims to get married, from YouTube.

Among the above three platforms, YouTube is probably the most active platform due to the diversity of methods and tactics it offers to promote visual daʿwa as part of Islamic discourse in four ways. First, the titles of sermons convey common human feelings, like how to overcome sadness or depression,[25] or why everyone needs empathy. Those can be found for example in the videos of Yasmin Mogahed. Second, using profile photos of celebrities in YouTube clips, such as the case of Nouman Ali-Khan with the singer Justin Bieber. Ali-Khan appeared with Bieber in a cut and paste profile photo on his YouTube sermon both to attract young viewers and to stress Bieber’s false pop-music culture in comparison to the “truth of Islam.[26] Third, sermons may include dubbed over cartoons or animated videos to brighten the Islamic message in a fun and attractive way. For instance, in the clips of Yasir Qadhi “respect and love”[27] or “love your parents."[28] Those animated topics can affect and be relevant to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Also, the critical success of the use of animation is its ability to attract young and old ages because the message is profound on the one hand, and presented colorfully and simplistically on the other. Forth, online daʿwa may include very short videos entitled “funny” or “very funny”, where a few juicy minutes from a full sermon is cut, to highlight the preacher’s punch line. Khalid Yasin,[29] a popular Afro-American from Brooklyn often employs this technique in his clips. His videos combine the firth method of creating a catchy title with a specific appeal audiences looking for comic relief such as, “McDonald's will soon become McClinic…Funny”[30] or “monkey boys- FUNNY.”[31]


A clip of Nouman Ali-Khan about Justin Bieber pop culture, from YouTube

These examples manifest a fundamental and continuous challenge to Islam, which is the balance between conservatism and modernity. Part of the young generation of Muslims born in America faces daily problems that have no obvious solution in classical texts.[32] They struggle with secularism and individualism, doubts (about Islam), and contradictions between American and Islamic cultures.[33] This reality presents old conservative religious leaders with the difficulty of how to reconcile Islam with modern challenges, such as atheism, LGBT movements, and feminism.[34] However, American-born Youtuber preachers who speak fluent English[35] and are familiar with modern challenges can more easily engage with such conflicts within the context of American culture.[36] Their daʿwa, marketed in a native medium with  direct language, serves as a channel of communication with the youth. Islam is presented as a modern and relevant faith to American Muslims who try to combine it with a Western environment while keeping the religion in tune with modernity.

[1] Emmanuel Sivan, The Crash Within Islam (Tel-Aviv: Ofakim Library, Am Oved Publlishing, 2005), p. 110 (In Hebrew). For more information about the effect of cassettes in the 1979 revolution, see: Shaul Bakhash, "’Sermons, Revolutionary Pamphleteering and Mobilization,’ Iran 1978”, in S. A. Arjomand (ed.), From Nationalism to Revolutionary Islam, (New York: Palgrave 1984).

[2] Nabil Echchaibi, “From audio tapes to video blogs: the delocalization of authority in Islam”, Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2011), p. 28.

[3] Ibid, p. 29. See also: Dina Lisnyansky, “Islamic Da’wa in Europe: France and Italy as Case Studies,” (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Hebrew University, Jerusalem (2014) pp. 10, 182 (In Hebrew).

[4] See for example Qur’an 3:104.

[5] The word comes from Arabic word (Dau), which means to invite or calling others about Islam.

[6] Lisnyansky, “Islamic Da’wa in Europe”, p. 6.

[8] @ICNA, [Page]. Last accessed 10 September, 2020.

[9] @msanational, [Page]. Last accessed 10 September, 2020.

[10] Larry Poston, “Da’wa in the West”, in Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad ed., The Muslims of America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 131-132.

[11] Dar Al-Kufr means a geographical location where the shariʿa is not in force, as opposed to Dar Al-Islam, which is considered the natural place for Muslim to reside. Nowadays these notions have lost much of their validity with new Muslim generations born in Western countries, and the increasing Islamic presence.

[12] Larry Poston, “Da’wa in North America: The Past, the Present, and the Future”, in Itzchak Weismann and Jamal Malik (eds.), Culture of Da'wa: Islamic Preaching in the Modern World. (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2020), pp. 162-163.

[13] Khurram Murad was an influential Pakistani Islamic philosopher who was active during the eighties in The United States. He was the student of the one of the most important Pakistani Muslim scholars of modern Islam, Abul A'la Maududi (1903-1979) who was the founder of the famous Islamic missionary group, Jamaat-e-Islami.

[14] Poston, “Da’wa in North America”, p. 130.

[15] Raquel Ukeles, “The Evolving Muslim Community in America: The Impact of 9/11", Mosaica- Research Center for Religion, State and Society, 2003, 8-9.

[16] Jonathan Curiel, Islam In America (I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd, NY, 2015) pp. 51-53. The first Muslim Congress was elected following this activity, Keith Ellison in 2006. Ibid, 52.

[17] Lisnyansky, “Islamic Da’wa in Europe”, pp. 182, 184.

[18] See for example, Omar Suleiman from ‘Yaqeen Institue’ for Islamic research in Texas, where he speaks about police brutality against African Americans. @imamomarsuleiman,, 1 June 2020. Last accessed 9 September, 2020.

[19] @noumanbayyinah, Last accessed 10 September, 2020.

[20] Bayinnah Institue [Web Page].

[21] @yasir.qadhi, Last accessed 10 September, 2020.

[22] @epic.masjid, Last accessed 10 September, 2020.

[23] @YMogahed, Last accessed 10 September, 2020.

[24] @YasminMogahed, [Page]. Last accessed 9 September, 2020.

[26] Pearls of Scholars Channel, 27 April 2014, I Feel Sorry for Justin Bieber [Video file].

[27] Yasir Qadhi, 17 December 2019, Apples & Oranges: Respect & Love (Animated Series) [Video file].

[28] Dynamic Islam, 30 December 2018, LOVE YOUR PARENTS - Yasir Qadhi Animated [Video file].

[29]@KhalidYasinOfficial, Last accessed 7 September, 2020.

[30] One Islam Productions, 2 May 2012, Fat, Overweight Muslim Leaders | Khalid Yasin [Video file].

[31] Halal Sheikh, 1 September 2011, "Monkey Boys" - FUNNY - by Sheikh Khalid Yasin [Video file].

[32] Bano Masooda (ed.), Modern Islamic authority and social change, (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2018), p. 23.

[33] Jeffrey Lang, Losing My Religion: A Call for Help, (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publication, 2017), pp. 4-6

[34] As Yasir Qadhi pointed out in one of his sermons: Yasir Qadhi, 7 April 2015, Challenges & Solutions of Muslims living in the West [Video file].

[35] Jeffrey Lang, Even Angels Ask: A journey to Islam in America, (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, 1997), pp. 213-225.

[36] Such as, for example with the phenomenon of Muslim who wish to leave Islam, where American Islamic institute, like Al-Maghrib (@almaghribworld) from Texas, launched a series of episodes that deals with facing those issues in light of modernity: almaghrib [Web Page].