The meaning of da‘a, yad‘u and da‘watan is to call and implore. The root da‘a is used in various senses in the holy Qur’an. A few significant aspects of the word du‘a’ are explained below to illustrate the way the Qur’an has conceptualised it in various contexts:
1. an-Nida’ (calling)
In the Holy Qur’an the word du‘a’ is used in the sense of nida’, and sometimes nida’ and du‘a’ are interchangeable. For instance, the Qur’an says:
And (to call) those infidels (towards guidance) is like the parable of a person who shouts at an (animal) who can listen to nothing but calls and cries.
2. at-Tasmiyyah (naming)
In the Arabic lexicon sometimes the word du‘a’ is used in the sense of naming or calling. Imam Raghib Asfahani has given a very apt example:
I named my son Zayd.
Similarly, the holy Qur’an, stressing the dignity and reverence of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), says:
(O believers,) deem not the summons of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) among yourselves like the summons of one of you (calling) another.
In this sacred verse, Allah Himself has laid stress on the special respect to be accorded to the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). He has commanded the believers not to address the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) by his name Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). Whenever he is to be called, he should be addressed by the special titles of Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and Friend of Allah (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). This is reinforced by the vocative forms used in the holy Qur’an. Allah Himself has nowhere addressed him by his first name: at no place in the Qur’an He has addressed him directly as ya Muhammad (O Muhammad).
3. al-Istighathah (beseeching for help)
The word du‘a’ has also been used in the Qur’an in the sense of begging and beseeching for help as is declared by Allah:
They implored that you should pray to your Lord for us.
4. al-Hath ‘ala al-qasd (persuasion)
The word du‘a’ is sometimes used to persuade someone to do something or to provoke someone. The Qur’an illustrates this meaning in the verse given below:
Yusuf (on hearing what the others were saying) submitted: O my Lord! I love the prison far too much over what they call me (to do).
The word du‘a’ is used in the sense of persuasion in surah Yunus also:
And Allah calls (people) to the home of peace (Paradise).
5. at-Talab (desiring)
The word du‘a’ in the sense of desiring is frequently used in the Arabic lexicon. The Qur’an offers the following example:
And you will also find whatever you desire.
6. ad-Du‘a’ (supplication)
The word du‘a’ is also sometimes used in the sense of supplication that is sent to the Lord. The Qur’an records the prayer of His favoured ones in the following terms:
And their prayer will end (on these words) -- ‘all praise is for Allah Who is the Nourisher of all the worlds’.
7. al-‘Ibadah (worship)
Worship of Allah is also called du‘a’ as is stated by the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم):
Du‘a’ is precisely a form of worship.
8. al-Khitab (address)
In addition to these meanings, the word du‘a’ sometimes carries the meaning of address or speech. At the occasion of the battle of Uhud, when the Companions seemed to lose heart and were fighting in scattered groups, and only a few of them were concentrated around him, the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) called those who had scattered away from him. The Qur’an has described his words in these terms:
When you were running away (in a state of disarray), and never cast a backward glance, and the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), who (stood steadfast) among the group behind you, was addressing you.
. Qur’an (al-Baqarah, the Cow) 2:171.
. Raghib Asfahani, Mufradat alfaz al-Qur’an (p.315).
. Qur’an (an-Nur, the Light) 24:63.
. Qur’an (al-Baqarah, the Cow) 2:68.
. Qur’an (Yusuf, Joseph) 12:33.
. Qur’an (Yunus, Jonah) 10:25.
. Qur’an (Fussilat, Clearly spelled out) 41:31.
. Qur’an (Yunus, Jonah) 10:10.
. Tirmidhi related this sahih (sound) hadith in his al-Jami‘-us-sahih, b. of tafsir-ul-Qur’an (exegesis of the Qur’an) ch.3, 42 (5:211, 374-5#2969, 3274), and b. of da‘awat (supplications) ch.1 (5:456#3372); Ibn Majah, Sunan, b. of du‘a’ (supplication) ch.1 (2:1258#3828); Abu Dawud, Sunan, b. of salat (prayer) 2:76-7 (#1479); Nasa’i, Tafsir (2:253#484); Bukhari, al-Adab-ul-mufrad (p.249#714); Ahmad bin Hambal, Musnad (4:267,271,276); Abu Dawud Tayalisi, Musnad (p.108#801); Hakim, al-Mustadrak (1:490-1#1802); Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat-ul-awliya’ wa tabaqat-ul-asfiya’ (8:120); Baghawi, Sharh-us-sunnah (5:184#1384); Mundhiri, at-Targhib wat-tarhib (2:477); Mizzi, Tuhfat-ul-ashraf bi-ma‘rifat-il-atraf (9:30#11643); Khatib Tabrizi, Mishkat-ul-masabih, b. of da‘awat (supplications) 2:4 (#2230); and ‘Ali al-Hindi in Kanz-ul-‘ummal (2:62#3113).
. Qur’an (Al ‘Imran, the Family of ‘Imran) 3:153.