The term dawa (دعوة) means to invite or urge people to follow the Islamic way of life and to abandon other ways of life. The term tableegh (تبليغ) is wider in meaning, requiring conveyance to accomplish a certain goal. It generally refers to the establishment of Islamic way of life, its rulings and systems in society and their conveyance to the rest of mankind.
In the context of message, the term dawa comes from the root da'a (دعا) which means, according to the linguist Zamakshari, nida (call), hidayah (guidance), invitation or recommendation to follow a certain way. (Zamakshari, al-Kashaf, Vol. 1, p. 455)
The Persian third-century mufassir Razi characterised the dawa as motivating someone to do something and leaving what is not recommended.
التَّرْغِيبُ فِي فِعْلِ مَا يَنْبَغِي وَهُوَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَالثَّانِي: التَّرْغِيبُ فِي تَرْكِ مَا لَا يَنْبَغِي وَهُوَ النَّهْيُ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ
"Urging (people) to do what is required, i.e., the goodness; and urging (them) to leave what is not required, i.e. filth." (Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, Vol. 8, p. 315)
This sense of the term appears in a number of Qur'anic verses, for example, Allah says:
ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ
"Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction and argue with them in a way that is best." (Qur'an 16:125)
وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ قَوْلًا مِّمَّن دَعَا إِلَى اللَّهِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا وَقَالَ إِنَّنِي مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ
"And who is better in speech than one who invites (da'a) to Allah and does righteousness and says, Indeed, I am of the Muslims." (Qur'an 41:33)
قُلْ هَٰذِهِ سَبِيلِي أَدْعُو إِلَى اللَّهِ عَلَىٰ بَصِيرَةٍ أَنَا وَمَنِ اتَّبَعَنِي وَسُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
"Say, this is my way, I call to Allah, upon certain knowledge - I and those who follow me." (Qur'an 12:108)
وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
"Let there be a group of people amongst you inviting to all that is good, enjoining al-maroof and forbidding al-munkar. And they are the successful ones." (Qur'an 3:104)
Thus, the term dawa means to invite or ask people to follow Islam and abandon other ways of life.
The term tableegh (تبليغ) is a broader term. It comes from the Arabic root ballagha (بلغَ) which means to deliver, convey, reach, achieve, establish or accomplish a certain goal.
The linguist Ibn Mandhur noted:
وصَلَ وانْتَهَى ... وصَلَ إِلى مُرادِه ... يُتَوَصَّلُ إِلى الشيء المطلوب
"Arrived and reached … achieved his purpose … to accomplish the required goal." (Ibn Mandhur, Lisan al-'Arab, term Balagha)
However, in the Islamic context, tableegh refers to conveying with the goal of establishing the deen's rulings and teachings without hiding or ignoring any of them, thereby mankind could be called to this way of life. These teachings are not to be established except by the establishment of an Islamic polity so a nation may collectively live by them.
When the Prophet (saw) faced repeated rejection by the people in Mecca for over ten years, he started calling the other tribes to help him to do tableegh of Islam.
For example, Allah ordered:
يا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ ما أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِنْ رَبِّكَ وَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهُ
"O Messenger, balligh that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not done tableegh of His message." (Qur'an 5:67)
The Messenger (saw) was doing dawa from the beginning of revelation, but at that point, Allah asked him to do a certain step which is balagh; if he did not do this step, he would betray the message.
What's the difference and significance?
The Messenger (saw) called (dawa) tribes to adopt Islam and help him convey (tableegh) it to other nations.
One of the reasons for the revelation of this verse says the Messenger (saw) began to do dawa to other tribes to achieve tableegh (conveyance of the deen).
Alusi narrated in his tafsir what the Messenger (saw) did after this verse was revealed:
كنت بمنى أيام موسم واجتمع مشركو العرب وأفناء الناس في الموسم فأنزل علي جبريل عليه السلام فقال: يا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ ما أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِنْ رَبِّكَ وَإِنْ لَمْ تَفْعَلْ فَما بَلَّغْتَ رِسالَتَهُ الآية، قال: فقمت عند العقبة فناديت: يا أيها الناس من ينصرني على أن أبلغ رسالات ربي ولكم الجنة
"I was in Mina on the days of hajj rituals where the Arab polytheists and all people gathered in the rituals.
Gabriel (as) revealed on me: 'O Messenger, balligh that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not done tableegh of His message.'
I went to Aqabah and called 'O people, who would provide me with support until I balagh (convey) the message of my Lord and he will be granted Heavens?'" (al-Alusi, Ruh al-Ma'ani, Vol. 3, p. 364)
This narration implies the Messenger (saw) was targeting the establishment of the deen of Allah and its rulings (tableegh) in society. This could be clearly understood in what the Prophet (saw) was seeking in this period: the protection and support of tribes for his dawa to implement its teachings and convey them to mankind. This step was fulfilled with the acceptance of the people of Medina where the first Islamic polity was established.
The fourth-century mufasir al-Marudi said:
أوجب الله تعالى بهذه الآية على رسوله تبليغ ما أنزل عليه من كتابه سواء كان حكماً ً, أو حداً ً, أو قصاصاً
"Allah prescribed upon His Messenger through this verse to do tableegh of what has been revealed upon him, whether this was a ruling (hukm), fixed punishment (hadd), or penalty (qisas)." (Marudi, al-Nukat wa al-'Uyun, Vol. 2, p. 53)
These rulings can't be established except with the establishment of an Islamic polity, which the term tableegh necessitates.
The term balagh mentioned in the Qur'an in referring to Messengers (as) who did tableegh without the establishment of their deen's rulings in society.
For example, Allah says about Messenger Hud (as):
فَإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَقَدْ أَبْلَغْتُكُم مَّا أُرْسِلْتُ
"But if they turned away, (say), 'I have already conveyed (balagha) that with which I was sent to you.'" (Qur'an 11:75)
The same objection could rise regarding the usage of the word balagh, such as the Messenger's order to do balagh even one verse or sign. He said:
بَلِّغُوا عَنِّي وَلَوْ آيَةً
"Convey (my teachings) to the people even if it were a single verse (or sign)." (Bukhari 3461)
The term has multiple meanings, determined by the context. The word tableegh can simply mean conveyance of the message, but it also could mean the establishment of all the rules of the message which includes rulings to do with conveying the entire way of life as a living tradition to other societies. In the above verses, the former meaning applies which is clear due to the context.
Imam Baydawi confirmed this when he argued the meaning is:
يا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ مَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِنْ رَبِّكَ جميع ما أنزل إِليك غير مراقب أحداً ولا خائف مكروهاً.
"O Messenger, balligh that which has been revealed to you from your Lord' means all that has been revealed to you without being supervised nor afraid of anyone." (Baydawi, Anwar at-Tanzeel, Vol. 2, p. 136; Shawkani, Fath al-Qadeer, Vol. 2, p. 69; Zamakhshari, al-Kashaf, Vol. 1, p. 658)
This understanding is supported by the historical context where the Messenger (saw) was already conveying the message, so Allah wanted something else, seen in the actions of the Messenger (saw) immediately after the revelation of the verse ordering him to do tableegh.
The term dawa (دعوة) means to invite or urge people to follow the Islamic way of life and to abandon other ways of life.
The term tableegh (تبليغ) is wider in meaning, requiring conveyance to accomplish a certain goal. It generally refers to the establishment of Islamic way of life, its rulings and systems in society and their conveyance to the rest of mankind.
And Allah knows Best.
Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb
Ibn Mandhur, Lisan al-'Arab
al-Alusi, Ruh al-Ma'ani
Marudi, al-Nukat wa al-'Uyun
Shawkani, Fath al-Qadeer
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