One important aspect of the Qur’an is that it is a record of the Prophet’s mission. What course of action did the Prophet follow? And how did the previous prophets proceed? According to the Qur’anic account, all of the prophets invariably addressed the intelligentsia of their time. Their first target was the people of intellect. For this reason, we see that when the Qur’an refers to the response of the contemporary peoples, it always mentions the intellectuals and not the common people. For example, in a verse in the chapter Al-A‘raf (The Heights), the Qur’an says: But the leading men of his people said, ‘Truly, we see that you are obviously lost in error!’ (7:60)
Why did the prophets opt for this method? The reason is that the intelligentsia is comprised of the representatives of society. This method is very important and for very well-known reasons. The first reason is that the method of the dawah mission, or conveying the message of God to people, is vertical rather than horizontal in nature. You can reach down from the intelligentsia to the common people, but if you try to reach up from the common people to the intelligentsia, it will be of no avail. This will produce no significant result. It is a law of nature that a mission always percolates down from the intelligentsia to the common people: it is always the intelligentsia who influence other people and not vice versa.
The Prophet of Islam also followed this pattern. At that time Makkah was the center of Arabian leadership. The Prophet gave his message to the leaders of Makkah, who were also the leaders of the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. This strategy worked. First, the best minds of Makkah embraced Islam, then after a period of some years, the whole of Arabia entered the fold of Islam. This fact is indirectly referred to in the Qur’an, in the chapter Al-Nasr (Help): “When God’s help and victory come, and you see people entering God’s religion in multitudes.” (110:1-3)
The second aspect of this approach is that it is extremely useful for a dai, that is, a preacher. When you do dawah work with an intellectual or an educated person, your knowledge will be enhanced. From ordinary people, you will receive little in the way of intellectual stimulation, but intellectuals will always present you with different kinds of challenges. They raise the kind of questions, which start off a re-thinking process. According to the Qur’anic account, all of the prophets invariably addressed the intelligentsia of their time. Their first target was the people of intellect. Wherever there is a challenge, there is development. This formula applies likewise to dawah work. When a dai faces an intellectual challenge, he is bound to inquire, to re-think, to study more and more, to prepare his mind afresh. This starts a process of intellectual development—as a matter of compulsion rather than by choice.
The most important human achievement is intellectual development. Without this, a man is reduced to the level of an animal. The obvious importance of intellectual development is in itself enough to prove that the best way to proceed with dawah work is to start with the intelligentsia. The saying that things are known by their result applies equally to the method of dawah.