Background: This article was inspired by Dr Haniff Hassan who posed this question after reading my article on what a brand is. This may seem a peculiar question to ask, but quite pertinent in the country (Singapore) where I come from. Although it is contextually geographic specific, and their degree of effectiveness is somewhat dependent on the cultural norms and climate of the specific country in question, I believe the principles discussed here are still useful for discussion, and further study.
Here in Singapore, we face a phenomenon called “foreign-talent asatizah”. What we notice is that whenever a non-local asatizah is brought over to our shores, invited for a talk or seminar, hundreds or even thousands of Muslims will gather to attend such events. This would not be odd, if faced with the reality that our own Singaporean asatizah are unable to garner such crowds.
What is going on here? After a study of some of the popular Islamic scholars and teachers who come to our shores, certain observations can be seen, along with recommendations on how to help other asatizah to become as popular:
1. Strong Brand Names: Nouman Ali Khan, Hamza Yusuf, Tariq Ramadan, Dr Asri, Dr Zaharuddin, Ustaz Azhar Idrus, Ustaz Kazim – some of the names popular here and worldwide possibly. What they all have in common is that their names have become strong band names in themselves.
Principle 1: Be willing and brave to carry yourself and your name as a brand.
2. Image Suitability: A name is pegged to an image. These foreign speakers have the added advantage of being able to pull-off styles of dakwah dressing that may not seem suitable to Singapore’s local culture, for the very reason that they are not local. In other words, they have the “styling permission” to do so, and often the dressing chosen is pegged to the background in which these preachers come from or their focus of dakwah. In Singapore, unless the asatizah has a story to support the dressing, the asatizah should dress in accordance with Singapore’s context of what expert opinion should look like, or something identifiable and acceptably unique.
Principle 2: Dress smartly and in context, unless if you have a strong story or background to justify your articles of clothing.
3. Master Orators: There is no alternative to this one. To garner huge crowds, you must be able to persuade them not just by your fancy posters, your dressing, your name or impressive titles of your talks. Bottom line is that people will remember you by how you moved them from your ability to speak well. And such influence will garner further recommendation, and your brand will fly.
Principle 3: Do not think automatically your knowledge of the subject makes you a good preacher. Speaking well consists of many components. Invest yourself in learning the art of speaking clearly, enunciating your words with clarity, structuring your sentences concisely with par excellence grammar and vocabulary, and become a master orator.
4. Scalable Environment: Sometimes the environment that you are in does not allow you to extend your influence through multiple media channels. Extending your reach is important in order to raise awareness of your brand to as many people as possible. It is by no incident that all famous asatizah involved in dakwah either a) write many books, b) have many videos in YouTube, c) appear in television shows, d) give many speeches not just locally in their home region but globally. In Singapore, I would recommend local asatizah to write ferociously (well, frequent, seriously which doesn’t have to mean becoming complicated), and aid their reach with social media where the channel is open. In addition, they should invest in spreading their word in other countries, gaining influence there, having local media pick them up from there, before returning home to a hero’s welcome of sorts. This formula of becoming a “local celebrity” by going overseas first to build influence seems to work well in many fields (sports, music, entertainment), and I would argue in dakwah as well.
Principle 4: Be in as many media channels as you possibly can, and go global with your brand to become a global brand locally.
5. Frequency: I cannot stress enough the importance of spreading your dakwah message as frequently as possible. Frequency leads to trust and brand familiarity, essential components to becoming famous dakwah practitioners. Frequency is often a challenge because being frequent means you have to speak with as much conviction as you did the first time, multiple times. It also means your content must be flexible enough to remain relevant and up-to-date, always. Frequency requires consistent effort, or istiqamah, a prophetic characteristic in itself. Frequency also means you do not do dakwah when you feel like it, but rather you plan your dakwah according to the needs of your target audience.
Principle 5: Plan and schedule your dakwah efforts annually. Aim for at least one message in one medium of choice, daily (this in itself a conservative estimate). The more you do, the more likely you may be heard (and the more you may be rewarded for your good deeds too insyaAllah).
6. Consistency: In the many times you appear, you have to ensure that your branding is consistent throughout the many channels you appear in. This means the same of clothes, the same style of beginning and ending the speech, even the same consistent style in the way you design your collateral, website, social media channels. And it extends to beyond looks to include the very message you want to focus on. Is it the importance of sound narration? Is it the importance of caring for others? Whatever it is you always want to put across (which should ideally be related to your specialization for credibility), do it consistently. Consistency is another component to aid familiarity.
Principle 6: Consistency is a natural medicine to avoid wastage as excess of any kind is simply not required due to repetition of certain items and styles. Consistency makes you more identifiable, and is a differentiating factor in itself.
7: Sustainability: All that we talked about above requires effort. Many popular asatizah involved in dakwah actually have an events / marketing manager or even an entire team aiding them. Sustainability can also come from setting up groups or institutions to structure and channel your dakwah movement properly, beyond just a one off effort.
Principle 7: Effective dakwah is structured for the long run, led by the asatizah but supported (beyond just dua) by many others.
BONUS Principle 8: Specialize and be an expert in one field (to start with). Polymaths in today’s age are hard to achieve, and knowledge is growing fast. Being the jack of all trades simply means you are unable to master any specific field that warrants you the licence and credibility to talk about the subject matter. Hence choose one specific field in the vast ocean of knowledge, dive, and tell us about it.
May you change the world effectively, with your effective dakwah brand.