Five years before hijra and before the battle of Bu'ath, the Medinan tribe al-Aws lost several battles against al-Khazraj. A group of five junior elites went to seek the alliance of Quraysh. They came to an agreement however al-Waleed ibn al-Mughirah (or Abu Jahl in some narrations) opposed any agreement be made telling Quraysh to break the alliance.
Ibn Shabah narrated:
"They (al-Aws) consulted themselves to ally with Quraysh. They pretended they are going to Umrah as such people are not to be harmed ... They came to Mecca and allied with Quraysh. Then Abu Jahl (in other more narrations, he was al-Waleed ibn al-Mughirah) came - and he was outside - and broke the alliance with a tricky he invented." (Samhudi, Wafaa al-Wafaa, Vol. 1, p. 385)
The Messenger (saw) heard of them and went to them and presented himself and his dawa to them. One of them (Iyas ibn Muaz) accepted him as a Messenger and his proposal was good (and probably with a couple of them), however, their leader (Abu al-Haisar Anas ibn Rafi) rebuked them and refused to accept the Messenger's (saw) proposal. This was soon followed by the war of Bu'ath. (Ibid, p. 388)
Ibn Ishaq narrated the Messenger (saw) went to them and said:
"Do you want (to see a matter) better than what you came to?"
They said: "What is this?"
He said "I am the Messenger of Allah to the servants (of Allah) calling them to worship him and associate none with him and that he revealed a book to me."
He then mentioned the matter of Islam to them and recited the Qur'an upon them.
Iyas ibn Muaz who was young: O people, this is by Allah better than what you came for.
Abu al-Haisar Anas ibn Rafi took and a bunch of dust and hit the face of Iyas ibn Muaz and said: "What you said is not important, we have certainly come for other than this."
Iyas stopped taking and the Prophet left them and they went back to Medina. It was followed by the battle of Bu'ath between al-Aws and al-Khazraj.
Iyas passed away shortly after. People of his tribe who attended his last moments told me they were hearing him repeating (probably the Islamic forms) of tahleel, praising and tasbeeh until he passed away. So, they doubted him being a Muslim." (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 3, p. 189)
The next year the Messenger (saw) met a group of six junior elites from al-Khazraj attending hajj and delivered his proposal to them. They discussed between themselves arguing this was the man the Jews and Christians were waiting for - the one who could unify their tribes. They believed in him, accepted Islam and returned to their tribe. The Messenger (saw) did not return with them given the political instability of Medina.
It seems the Muslim group from al-Khazraj got in touch with the Muslims from al-Aws and a year later, both came and pledged and oath (the first bay'ah of al-Aqabah or bay'ah al-nisa). On their return, they asked the Messenger (saw) to send someone to help them with the dawa seeking to unify the tribes and teach Qur'an to the new converts. The Prophet (saw) sent Musab ibn Umayr (ra) (and ibn Umm Maktum (ra) in some narrations) to pave the way before the migration.
The Traditional Stand
There are a number of narrations supporting the traditional stand on why Musab (ra) was sent to Medina. Other aims can be deduced from the work he was doing there based on the Messenger's (saw) instructions and the initial conversation with Khazraj who saw him able to unite them.
The Messenger (saw) was asked to send someone to teach the Qur'an and call to Islam as Tabari and ibn al-Athir narrate:
"The Messenger (saw) sent Musab (ra) with them (the people of Medina) to teach them the Qur'an and Islam." (Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh, Vol. 1, p. 273, Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari, Vol. 1, p. 88)
"When these men left, the apostle sent with them Musab ibn Umayr and instructed him to read the Quran to them and to teach them Islam and to give them instruction about the deen. In Medina Musab was called 'The Reader'; he lodged with As'ad bin Zurara. Asim b. 'Umar told me that he used to lead the prayer because Aus and Khazraj could not bear to see one of their rivals take the lead" (Ibn Hisham, Sirah Rasul Allah, p.289)
In some narrations of al-Tabarani and others, Muslims in Medina asked someone from the Messenger's tribe be sent to call people, so Musab (ra) was sent.
"They then sent someone to the Messenger (ra) asking him to send them a man of his tribe to call people through the Book of Allah as it would be easier for him to be followed." (Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Kabeer, al-Asfahani, Vol. 20, p. 364; Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah p. 308)
It is possible to deduce Musab's aims from his activities. In addition to discussing with laymen, he also called the leaders of the tribe to accept Islam.
Tabari also narrated Musab (ra) used to go through tribe by tribe, which also included their leaders:
"Asaad ibn Zurara (ra) accompanied Musab (ra) heading to the territory (Dar -دار) Bani Abd al-Ashhal and Dar Bani Dhufar." (Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 88)
When Usayd ibn Huddayr (ra), a leader of Bani Abd al-Ashhal embraced Islam, he invited him to call another leader who would help him reorient all of Medinan society i.e., Saad ibn Mu'adh. When the two leaders embraced Islam, their tribe collectively accepted Islam. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. 1, pp. 435-438)
At the people's assembly Saad ibn Mu'adh said, "Banu Abd al-Ashhal, what do you recognize my position to be amongst you?" They replied, "You are our chief, the best of us in judgement and the most blessed of us in spirit." Then he said, "It is forbidden to me to speak to any man or woman of you until you believe in God and in His Messenger." By that evening there was not a man or woman in the dwellings of the Bani Abd al-Ashhal who had not accepted Islam.
Mus'ab remained with him calling people to Islam until there was not a dwelling place among the dwellings of the Ansar in which there were not Muslim men and women, except for those in the dwellings of the Banu Umayyah bin Zayd, Khatmah, Wa'il, and Wagif; these were the group Aws Allah... The reason for this was that Abu Qays b. al-Aslat ... was among them. He was their poet and their leader, whom they used to heed and obey. He caused them to hold back from Islam, and continued in this course until the Messenger of God had emigrated to al-Madinah and the battles of the first Badr, Uhud, and the Trench had taken place." (Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 334; ibn Hisham, Sirah Rasul Allah, p.294)
This is visible in a number of narrations. For example, Tabarani and others narrated on the authority of Urwah (ra):
"The Messenger (saw) sent them Musab (ra), who stayed in Bani Tameem's houses secretly calling people and spreading Islam." (Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Kabeer, al-Asfahani, Vol. 20, p. 364, Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah p. 308)
Ibn Hisham also narrated Musab stayed in the tribe of Asaad ibn Zurara (ra) calling people to Islam:
"He stayed with him calling people to Islam." (Ibn Hisham, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah, Vol. 1, pp. 438)
In another narration of Tabarani, the leaders of Yathrib embraced Islam, which means they would have received dawa from Musab (ra):
"He was still calling (to Islam) and Allah guided people by him until almost every house of al-Ansar (people of Medina) included some Muslims.
Their leaders also became Muslims, such as Amr ibn al-Jamuh, and their idols were destroyed." (Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Kabeer, al-Asfahani, Vol. 20, p. 364; Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah p. 308)
Critical Evaluation of Events
When Quraysh exhibited enmity to the Messenger (saw) and his deen, he sought the protection and support from other tribes who would adopt his call i.e., mana'ah and nusrah.
Once a man of Hamazan accepted the initiation of the Messenger (saw) and came asking to accompany him back to his tribe, the Messenger immediately agreed to go back with him after ensuring the capability of fulfilling this mission. But the man eventually became afraid and waited to consult his tribe and when he came back in the next year, the Bay'ah of al-Aqabah with the people of Medina was already established.
Bani Amir also accepted his invitation, the Messenger (saw) consequently approved and travelled with them to their tribe, but their head Bahirah later rejected protecting him out of fear of the collective enmity of the Arabs against them, requiring having leadership after him, which he rejected, so they forced him to return to Quraysh. (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 3, pp. 172-173)
On the contrary, when the Messenger (saw) met the six people of al-Khazraj who accepted Islam, they asked him to accompany them to their tribes, but the Messenger (saw) replied, "when my Lord gives me permission." (Ibn Hisham, al-Seerah al-Nabawiyah, Vol. 1, p. 287; Samhudi, Wafaa al-Wafa, Vol. 1, p. 393)
Why did not the Prophet (saw) go with the first group of al-Khazraj or after the first bay'ah or immediately after the second bay'ah? Why did he refuse when al-Ansar asked him to accompany them?
The Messenger (saw) rejected tribes if they lacked the capability to provide security for the deen. For example, Abu Bakr (ra) used to ask the tribes about their ancestors. Sometimes he would tell the Prophet (saw) certain tribes were useless because they had no respectable ancestors. Other tribes that accepted the Prophet's offer could not fight Rome or Persia because of alliances so the Messenger would leave them. (Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 2, p. 160, Darami, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah)
The same offer was rejected when Tufayl al-Dusi (ra) embraced Islam asking the Messenger (saw) to come to his tribe who would provide him with man'ah and nusrah. Given his tribe was not frequently engaged in war they lacked the ability to provide protection. The Messenger (saw) was seeking a powerful and respectable entity in Arabia who others would fear as the starting point for his message. (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, p. 247)
Given the socio-political and historical context of Medina at the time of the Messenger (saw), conflicts were at their peak making it a very dangerous and unstable place. For that reason, the Messenger (saw) did not migrate.
This could be argued as Musab's key aim, uniting them and resolving their situation. It is interesting to see even after embracing Islam, they hated gathering together in one place.
A number of narrations support this, for example, the Ansar (ra) explained the mission as :
"Send us a man from your side (tribe) to call people through the Book of Allah as it would be easier for him to be followed." (Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Kabeer, al-Asfahani, Vol. 20, p. 364, Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah p. 308)
It was narrated Musab (ra) used to lead them in prayer as they hated following others even in prayer:
"Musab ibn Umayr (ra) used to lead them in the prayer because al-Aws and al-Khazraj hated any of the other tribe to lead them." (Samhudi, Wafaa al-Wafa, Vol. 1, p. 176, Ya'muri, Uyun al-Athar, Vol. 1, p. 184)
The importance of removing this hatred was expressed in the Qur'an:
"And brought together their hearts. If you had spent all that is in the earth, you could not have brought their hearts together; but Allah brought them together." (Qur'an 8:63)
In light of the Messenger's (saw) rejection to accompany them as well as their internal conflicts, Musab's (ra) task was to prepare Medina for Islam. The mere teaching of Qur'an and Islam could not have been the main purpose, as after this he would have returned to the Messenger (saw). Moreover we don't see this teaching happening with any other tribes. We do see him leaving the city after they have been united and Medina being ready to welcome the deen.
It is noteworthy that this was also the opinion of the Egyptian House of Ifta after considering the socio-political context. (Dar al-Ifta al-Masriyah's Website)
This job also involved calling the elites as included above. For example, it was also narrated the people of Mecca heard a man – certainly a Muslim – loudly reciting a poem calling for the conversion of the two main leaders of Medina, Saad ibn Mu'adh and Saad ibn Ubadah:
"If the two Saads embrace Islam, Muhammad will fear not the disagreement of the opponents … O Saad of al-Aws be the helper; O Saad of al-Khazraj accept the caller of guidance … when they (Quraysh) woke up, Abu Sufyan said: by Allah they are Saad ibn Mu'adh and Saad ibn Ubadah." (Ibn Kathir, al-Seerah al-Nabawiyah, Vol. 2, p. 207, ibn Hiban, al-Thiqar, Vol. 1, p. 92, Samhudi, Vol. 1, p. 401)
This was before they embraced Islam and they became Muslims by the dawa of Musaab (ra). So, this must have been an order from the Messenger (saw) that was carried and announced by one of the companions.
One may counter by saying if you claim the Messenger (saw) called and focused on the dawa of leaders and elites and never proactively approached non-influential individuals, how can you explain the act of Mus'ab (ra) inviting ordinary people as the narration above states?
The context of the story gives us clues of what took place. There were two main leaders in Medina: ibn Ubbay for al-Khazraj and Abu Amir al-Nu'man for al-Aws. These were two stubborn leaders who would not give up the leadership of Medina to the Messenger (saw). (Samhudi, Vol. 1, p. 389)
When the Messenger (saw) met the six minor elites of al-Khazraj and they embraced Islam, they returned preaching in a manner whereby the details have not been narrated. A year later, they undertook the first bay'ah along with other minor elites who also converted and asked the Messenger (saw) to send an experienced companion to help them in their dawah as well as teaching their converts.
A year later, Muslims from al-Aws and al-Khazraj went with their polytheists members as if they were going to an ordinary polytheistic hajj. They met the Messenger (saw) secretly away from their people and took another important bay'ah, the pledge of war (bay'ah al-harb).
This bay'ah was not known to the main leaders and most polytheists. When Quraysh heard rumours of the second bay'ah, they sent envoys to Medina asking the main leaders of why they were allying with their enemy. The latter denied knowing anything of the matter.
"It was the night in which we promised the Messenger (saw) to meet on. We took with us Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Haram Abu Jabir one of our leaders who was still a mushrik. We hid our matter from our mushrikeen and spoke with Abu Jabir and said: You are one of our leaders and an elite of our elites … we told him of the Messenger's meeting in al-Aqabah and he embraced Islam… We went out from our sleeping place and went to meet the Messenger (saw) secretly till we met in the valley in al-Aqabah….
In the morning, a group from Quraysh came to our homes and said, Oh al-Khazraj, we have been told you came to our man (Muhammad) to take him from us and follow him in his war with us…
The attendants of our polytheistic people went to them and swore by Allah it did not happen and we don't know of any of this.
(Ka'b said:) they said the truth, they did not know." (al-Kala'i, al-Iktifaa, Vol. 1, p. 246, Samhudi, Vol. 1, p. 402, Ibn Hisham, Vol. 1, pp. 300-301)
Even ibn Ubbay told them:
"This is a severe matter and my people would not hide such matter from me and I did not know of it." (Ibn Saad, al-Tabaqat, Vol. Vol. 1, p. 223, Ibid)
Given the historical context and the stubbornness of elder leaders, the minor elites may have wanted to reunite but the elders did not as Aisha (ra) narrated about the war between al-Aws and al-Khazraj before the bay'ah:
"Allah caused the day of Bu'ath to take place before Allah's Messenger (saw) was sent so that when he reached Medina, those people had already divided (in different groups) and their chiefs had been killed or wounded. So, Allah made that day precede Allah's Messenger (saw) so that they (i.e. the Ansar) might embrace Islam." (Sahih al-Bukhari 3846)
Most of their key leaders (those who had a similar mentality to ibn Ubbay) who could hinder the dawa of the Messenger (saw) were killed as well as large numbers of their followers. Thus, the new generation (the minor leaders) wanted to unite again and utilised the offer of the Messenger (saw). (Samhudi, Wafaa al-Wafaa, Vol. 1, p. 389, Shireef, Tarikh Makah wa al-Madinah, p. 367)
I suggest they rebelled against the elders and took their support through the work of Musab and some minor elites. The two main leaders found themselves with no support base. Amir left Medina and went to Mecca and tried to bring allies to take his throne back. But ibn Ubbay followed another way, i.e. hypocrisy where he sought to weaken the Islamic state internally.
This rebellion could be also seen when the Messenger (saw) entered Medina, he went to ibn Ubbay. But ibn Ubbay rejected him saying, go to those who invited you:
"Go to those who invited you and live among them. Saad ibn Ubadah (ra) said: Don't be sad, O Messenger of Allah, because of what he said. (He said so) because al-Khazraj wanted to make him the leader before you came. But this is my home." (Diyar Bakri, Tarikh al-Khamees, Vol. 2, p. 36, Samhudi, Vol. 1, p. 201, Asimi, Samtt al-Nujum, Vol. 1, 362)
So, some elites embraced Islam and pledged the oath of war whilst others had not yet embraced Islam. The minor elites helped Musab (ra) in reuniting the two tribes and preparing the public to undermine the leadership of the other two stubborn leaders until they lost their power and had to either embrace Islam or flee.
This understanding is comprehensive and is exactly the same approach the Messenger (saw) followed in the second stage of dawa.
Musab (ra) was sent to Medina to help unite the clans there and invite leaders and laymen to a new collective way of life and prepare the polity for living by it. As a result of his activities and of the early Muslims there, within a year Medina transformed from a society of shirk to people turning to Islam.
A number of lower ranked elites rebelled against the two main leaders of al-Aws and al-Khazraj, ibn Ubbay and Abu Amir, when they rejected the new deen and helped bring about Islam.
Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah
Darami, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah
Fairuzabadi, al-Maghanim al-Mutabah
Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh
Ibn Hiban, al-Thiqar
Ibn Hisham, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah
Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah
Samhudi, Wafaa al-Wafa
Sohili, al-Rawd al-Aneef
Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari
Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Kabeer, al-Asfahani
Ya'muri, Uyun al-Athar
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