Combining Civic Duty and Dawah |

Combining Civic Duty and Dawah

For nearly two decades, my family and I lived within the cozy confines of a close-knit Muslim community in Southern California. Our kids attended Islamic school and later homeschooled, and we primarily associated with other Muslim families. It was wonderful to be able to live in the United States and feel surrounded by Muslims and Islamic culture. There were several beautiful masajid or mosques in the area, plentiful Islamic lectures and classes, multiple gatherings with other Muslims for halal entertainment, and ample opportunities to meet with other sisters for study groups or playdates with our kids. Alhamdullilah, all praise and thanks are for Allah alone, those years were extremely beneficial for me as a brand new – and eventually as a more seasoned – Muslimah.  

But in 2018 my family moved across the country. We settled outside of Boston and quickly realized we were not going to fall right into the warm embrace of another tight-knit Muslim community. Yes, there are some amazing Muslim families here, but we arrived as outsiders. In addition, the vibe is different in New England, and the Islamic opportunities are not as plentiful. We enrolled our children in the local public school where they are among a tiny handful of Muslim students. We live on a campus where we are the only Muslim family among a large group of well-educated and overall welcoming and friendly non-Muslims. Thus, began a whole new adventure outside of the Muslim bubble we had previously inhabited. 

At first, I was a little dismayed to be interacting with non-Muslims all the time. Yes, I had grown up Christian, so you’d think I would be better prepared! But nearly 20 years spent socializing almost exclusively with other Muslims had changed the way I saw the world. I had come to assume there would be no pork or alcohol at other people’s homes, for instance. I had gotten used to men and women keeping a polite, professional distance from each other. I had begun to take for granted that visitors would remove their shoes at my front door, and that everyone’s daily schedule would revolve around the five prayers. I had gotten used to hanging out with people whose values closely matched my own. 

Now I was living life quite differently. Instead of hanging out with other Muslim homeschoolers, I was volunteering at my children’s public school, participating in an antiracist group on the campus where we live, and doing volunteer work at a local library. Through carrying out these civic duties, I met many non-Muslim neighbors and community members. I know that for many of them, I was one of the first Muslims they really got to know. That made me feel like I was carrying a lot of responsibility. I was an ambassador for my faith and I needed to get it right. 

Let’s be real. It’s more comfortable and easier to interact with fellow Muslims. We “speak the same language,” even if our native tongues are completely different. No matter where we’re from, Muslims have the same blueprint for life – the Quran and Sunnah. We generally follow the same rules and can expect certain behaviors from each other. But I realized that one disadvantage of hanging out with Muslims exclusively is that, during my years in California, I didn’t have many chances to give dawah, to invite people to Islam. 

As a convert myself, I know how crucially important it is for Muslims to give a positive and relatable impression of Islam to the people around them. My new civic duties in Massachusetts nudged me into spaces I might not have entered, otherwise, and introduced me to people whom I wouldn’t have met. And this allowed me to give others a glimpse of what Muslims value and represent.

I’m not saying I’ve made an enormous impact on my community. But, inshaAllah (God willing), I hope I managed to dispel some stereotypes people had about Muslims. And I pray that Allah has enabled me to show some of the beautiful manners and values that Islam instilled in me. 

Here are some of the ways I think my small acts of civic duty allowed me to give dawah

  • When I volunteer at my children’s school and bring food and gifts for Teachers Appreciation Week, I show that Muslims value education, care about their community, and show gratitude to the hardworking people who teach our kids.
  • When I read books about Eid and Ramadan in my children’s classrooms, I have a chance to teach young non-Muslims (and their teachers) about our faith and holidays. 
  • When I spend time in our local anti-racist group learning about systemic racism and working on ways to dismantle it, I show that Muslims oppose racism and take social justice seriously.
  • When I volunteer to help an immigrant child learn English at the local library, I demonstrate that Islam teaches its followers to be generous with their time, kind to neighbors, and to prioritize learning. 

I know there are Muslims who are out there doing much more than I do. They are politically active, socially aware, and eager to donate, to clean, to help, to feed, to heal … all of these are remarkable ways to give back to society. I think the key for all of us — whether we do a few small things or dozens of large things — is to strive to do it all with excellence. Whatever we take on as our civic duty, let us keep in mind that we are ambassadors of Islam. We should try to carry ourselves with the best of manners, gentleness, kindness, and wisdom. And most of all, we should do our work with the intention of pleasing our Creator. Nothing we do will be rewarded or beneficial without His blessings. On the other hand, every single small act we do, if done for His sake and within His guidelines, will potentially earn us tremendous rewards in this life and the next, inshaAllah

Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and the author of the book Made From the Same Dough, as well as over 100 published articles. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at

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