In an apartment in Amman, Jordan, three men sit with a man named Mohammed. Their goal: convince the 20-year-old Syrian not to join an armed jihadist group. Later, after Mohammed agreed to hold off for at least 40 days, one of the men declared victory. "Once they open their hearts and join us," he says, "they never go back." The men are adherents to Dawah, an Islamic movement that may have up to 50 million followers worldwide—and a reported 50,000 in the US, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Rooted in a 1921 Islamic revival in northwest India, Dawah calls on followers to convey the virtue of "loving thy fellow Muslims and non-Muslims." Now proselytizing in more than 200 countries, Dawah members give a short talk, offer a blessing, and ask people to join them at a mosque for a prayer and lecture.
Dawah is an apolitical movement that its leaders call nonviolent; followers don’t debate their beliefs or broadcast them via social media. Critics, however, say Dawah’s adherence to conservative practices (like segregating men and women in public and requiring women to cover themselves) make it a possible gateway to extremism. Indeed, shoe bomber Richard Reid followed Dawah and John Walker Lindh, who joined the Taliban, apparently went to Dawah events in the US. Still, former CIA analyst Graham Fuller says the movement should be welcomed as a nonviolent alternative to extremist groups. "If some people say, 'Look, we don’t want Dawah here at all,' then they are not living in the real world," he says. "[Dawah] is speaking to a very basic need to express one’s faith beyond prayer." (An alliance of Islamic groups raised money for mass-shooting victims.)