When the Messenger (saw) first received revelation, he was not asked to give call people to a new faith as individuals. The revelation was for a nation, community or polity to accept and reorient their entire collective way of life.
After he was commanded to do so, he focused on the tribal leaders, elites and influentials, those whom society trusted and would follow should they change the collective way of life, influentials who thus could collectively reorient society - as opposed to individuals who would personally agree with him whilst society still continued with their existing way of life.
Abu Dharr (ra) Conversion Story
Abu Dharr al-Ghifari (ra) was one of the earlier companions in Islam. In the Pre-Islamic period, he was not satisfied with polytheism. He heard rumours about the appearance of a messenger in Mecca. He sent a man to the Messenger (saw) seeking his teachings, but the answer of the man did not satisfy Abu Dharr's thirst. He decided to go to the Messenger (saw) himself.
Bukhari narrated the story as follows:
قَالَ أَبُو ذَرٍّ كُنْتُ رَجُلاً مِنْ غِفَارٍ، فَبَلَغَنَا أَنَّ رَجُلاً قَدْ خَرَجَ بِمَكَّةَ، يَزْعُمُ أَنَّهُ نَبِيٌّ، فَقُلْتُ لأَخِي انْطَلِقْ إِلَى هَذَا الرَّجُلِ كَلِّمْهُ وَأْتِنِي بِخَبَرِهِ.
فَانْطَلَقَ فَلَقِيَهُ، ثُمَّ رَجَعَ فَقُلْتُ مَا عِنْدَكَ فَقَالَ وَاللَّهِ لَقَدْ رَأَيْتُ رَجُلاً يَأْمُرُ بِالْخَيْرِ وَيَنْهَى عَنِ الشَّرِّ.
فَقُلْتُ لَهُ لَمْ تَشْفِنِي مِنَ الْخَبَرِ. فَأَخَذْتُ جِرَابًا وَعَصًا، ثُمَّ أَقْبَلْتُ إِلَى مَكَّةَ فَجَعَلْتُ لاَ أَعْرِفُهُ، وَأَكْرَهُ أَنْ أَسْأَلَ عَنْهُ، وَأَشْرَبُ مِنْ مَاءِ زَمْزَمَ وَأَكُونُ فِي الْمَسْجِدِ.
قَالَ فَمَرَّ بِي عَلِيٌّ فَقَالَ كَأَنَّ الرَّجُلَ غَرِيبٌ. ...
قَالَ فَقَالَ مَا أَمْرُكَ وَمَا أَقْدَمَكَ هَذِهِ الْبَلْدَةَ قَالَ قُلْتُ لَهُ إِنْ كَتَمْتَ عَلَىَّ أَخْبَرْتُكَ. قَالَ فَإِنِّي أَفْعَلُ. قَالَ قُلْتُ لَهُ بَلَغَنَا أَنَّهُ قَدْ خَرَجَ هَا هُنَا رَجُلٌ يَزْعُمُ أَنَّهُ نَبِيٌّ، فَأَرْسَلْتُ أَخِي لِيُكَلِّمَهُ فَرَجَعَ وَلَمْ يَشْفِنِي مِنَ الْخَبَرِ، فَأَرَدْتُ أَنْ أَلْقَاهُ.
فَقَالَ لَهُ أَمَا إِنَّكَ قَدْ رَشَدْتَ، هَذَا وَجْهِي إِلَيْهِ، فَاتَّبِعْنِي، ادْخُلْ حَيْثُ أَدْخُلُ، … فَمَضَى وَمَضَيْتُ مَعَهُ، حَتَّى دَخَلَ وَدَخَلْتُ مَعَهُ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم
فَقُلْتُ لَهُ اعْرِضْ عَلَىَّ الإِسْلاَمَ. فَعَرَضَهُ فَأَسْلَمْتُ مَكَانِي،
فَقَالَ لِي " يَا أَبَا ذَرٍّ اكْتُمْ هَذَا الأَمْرَ، وَارْجِعْ إِلَى بَلَدِكَ، فَإِذَا بَلَغَكَ ظُهُورُنَا فَأَقْبِلْ ".
فَقُلْتُ وَالَّذِي بَعَثَكَ بِالْحَقِّ لأَصْرُخَنَّ بِهَا بَيْنَ أَظْهُرِهِمْ.
"Abu Dharr said: I was a man from the tribe of Ghifar. We heard that a man had appeared in Mecca, claiming to be a prophet.
I said to a brother of mine, 'Go to that man and talk to him and bring me his news.'
He set out, met him and returned. I asked him, 'What is the news with you?'
He said, 'By Allah, I saw a man enjoining good and forbidding evil.'
I said to him, 'You have not satisfied me with this little information.'
So, I took a water-skin and a stick and proceeded towards Mecca.
Neither did I know him (i.e. the Prophet), nor did I like to ask anyone about him. I kept on drinking Zamzam water and staying in the Mosque.
Then Ali passed by me and said, 'It seems you are a stranger?' He asked me, 'What is your business? What has brought you to this town?'
I said to him, 'If you keep my secret, I will tell you.' He said, 'I will' so I said to him, 'We have heard that a person has appeared here, claiming to be a prophet. I sent my brother to speak to him and when he returned, he did not bring a satisfactory report; so I thought of meeting him personally.'
Ali said (to Abu Dharr), 'You have reached your goal; I am going to him just now, so follow me, and wherever I enter, enter after me.'
Ali proceeded and I accompanied him till he entered a place, and I entered with him to the Prophet (saw) to whom I said, 'Present (the principles of) Islam to me.'
When he did, I embraced Islam immediately.
He said to me, 'O Abu Dhar! Keep your conversion as a secret and return to your town; and when you hear of our victory, return to us.'
I said, 'By Him Who has sent you with the Truth, I will announce my conversion to Islam publicly amongst them (i.e. the infidels).' (Bukhari 3522)
Ibn Ishaq narrated a slightly different story, where he added two of his friends and the story of Ali (ra) is not mentioned:
ُأَتَوْهُ وَهُو نَائِمٌ فِي الجَبَلِ ... قَالَ لهُ أَبُو ذَر: يا مُحَمَد أَتَيْنَاكَ لِنَسْمَعَ ما تَقَوُل، وإلى ما تَدْعُو، فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَى اللهُ عَلَيهِ وسَلَمَ: أقول: لَا إِلَهَ إِلَا الله وأنِّي رَسُولُ اللهِ، فَآمَنّ بِهِ أبو ذَر وصَاحِبَاه
"They came to him while he was sleeping in the mountain … Abu Dharr initiated the conversation saying, 'O Muhammad we come to you to hear what you say and for what you call.' The Prophet (saw) said, 'I say there is no god but Allah and I am the Messenger of Allah.' Abu Dharr and his companions then believed (in the Prophet)." (Ibn Ishaq, as-Seera wa al-Maghazi, Vol. 1, p. 143)
Abu Dharr Giving Dawa to his Tribe
Abu Dharr followed the same approach of collective dawa, of the Messenger (saw). Form the very first moment, he went to the leaders of his tribe and after a few days half of the tribe embraced Islam and the other half embraced Islam as soon as the Messenger (saw) migrated to Medina.
Imam Muslim narrated Abu Dharr (ra) saying:
ثُمَّ أَتَيْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ "إِنَّهُ قَدْ وُجِّهَتْ لِي أَرْضٌ ذَاتُ نَخْلٍ لاَ أُرَاهَا إِلاَّ يَثْرِبَ فَهَلْ أَنْتَ مُبَلِّغٌ عَنِّي قَوْمَكَ عَسَى اللَّهُ أَنْ يَنْفَعَهُمْ بِكَ وَيَأْجُرَكَ فِيهِمْ " .
فَأَتَيْتُ أُنَيْسًا فَقَالَ مَا صَنَعْتَ قُلْتُ صَنَعْتُ أَنِّي قَدْ أَسْلَمْتُ وَصَدَّقْتُ . قَالَ مَا بِي رَغْبَةٌ عَنْ دِينِكَ فَإِنِّي قَدْ أَسْلَمْتُ وَصَدَّقْتُ .
فَأَتَيْنَا أُمَّنَا فَقَالَتْ مَا بِي رَغْبَةٌ عَنْ دِينِكُمَا فَإِنِّي قَدْ أَسْلَمْتُ وَصَدَّقْتُ . فَاحْتَمَلْنَا حَتَّى أَتَيْنَا قَوْمَنَا غِفَارًا فَأَسْلَمَ نِصْفُهُمْ وَكَانَ يَؤُمُّهُمْ إِيمَاءُ بْنُ رَحَضَةَ الْغِفَارِيُّ وَكَانَ سَيِّدَهُمْ .
وَقَالَ نِصْفُهُمْ إِذَا قَدِمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْمَدِينَةَ أَسْلَمْنَا .
فَقَدِمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْمَدِينَةَ فَأَسْلَمَ نِصْفُهُمُ الْبَاقِي وَجَاءَتْ أَسْلَمُ فَقَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِخْوَتُنَا نُسْلِمُ عَلَى الَّذِي أَسْلَمُوا عَلَيْهِ . فَأَسْلَمُوا
فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم " غِفَارُ غَفَرَ اللَّهُ لَهَا وَأَسْلَمُ سَالَمَهَا اللَّهُ "
"I (Abu Dharr) then came to Allah's Messenger (saw) and he said: 'I have been shown the land abounding in trees and I think it cannot be but that of Yathrib (the old name of Medina).
You are a preacher to your people on my behalf. I hope Allah would benefit them through you and He would reward you.'
I came to Unais (tribal leader) and he said: 'What have you done?' I said: I have embraced Islam and I have testified (to the prophethood of Allah's Messenger).
He said: 'I have no aversion for your religion and I also embrace Islam and testify (to the prophethood of Muhammed).'
Then both of us came to our mother and she said: 'I have no aversion for your religion and I also embrace Islam and testify to the prophethood of Muhammed.'
We then loaded our camels and came to our tribe Ghifar and half of the tribe embraced Islam and their chief was Aimi' b. Rahada Ghifirl and he was their leader.
The other half of the tribe said: 'We will embrace Islam when Allah's Messenger (saw) would come to Medina,' and when Allah's Messenger (saw) came to Medina the remaining half also embraced Islam.
Then a tribe Aslam came to the Messenger (saw) and said: 'Allah's Messenger, we also embrace Islam like our brothers who have embraced Islam.' And they also embraced Islam.
Thereupon Allah's Messenger (saw) said: 'Allah granted pardon to the tribe of Ghifar and Allah saved (from destruction) the tribe of Aslam.'" (Sahih Muslim 2473)
Abu Dharr (ra) heard rumours about a messenger appeared in Mecca and eventually went to meet him. He approached the Messenger (saw) and asked him about his new deen, consequently accepting Islam. Abu Dharr later started calling his tribe who collectively accepted Islam.
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