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Islamic researcher, graduated from Al-Azhar University, Islamic Studies in the English Language. I also studied at Temple University in the US.
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In a Nutshell:
The Messenger (saw) called society his clan collectively at a banquet and Quraysh collectively from mount Safa.
When rejected, he focused on discussions with tribal leaders, elites and influentials as they were trusted by their followers.
Through rumours, individuals heard about him and subsequently believed in the truth of his call, many becoming his companions whom he cultured secretly. After a number of years of focusing on the elites, Allah asked him, along with his group, to publicly target their support base - they too rejected him.
After the Meccans rejected his message, he sought out other tribal leaders, finally being accepted by the Medinan elites and their people, migrating there to rule the first Islamic state (dawla).

Painstakingly reviewing all of the early books of seera, stories of previous messengers and the Meccan suras over several month, a clear pattern of how the Messenger (saw) went about his call emerged.

The Messenger (saw) did not proactively approach individuals to call them to Islam, there is not one example of this. Instead, he focused on calling his nation to collectively adopt Islam, live by it and convey it to other nations.

This is not to say the Messenger (saw) neglected or rejected non-influential individuals who accepted the truth of his message; rather his proactive approach sought to win over society collectively, especially the influentials, who could more readily ensure a transition for all of their followers, so they could collectively live by Islam and invite other societies to this way of life.


Islam is a deen
, as opposed to a personal faith
, a collective social mode of living, an embodied tradition. It requires power and institutions so society is organised and structured by it, living by it as a way of life - courts, masjids, treasury (bayt al-mal), viziers, governors, administration etc. One can live by aspects of Islam by oneself - a community or polity lives by it in its entirety.

Many "calling to Islam" ignore the fact that institutions, structures and systems are an integral part of the deen. So what are they calling to when they call to Islam?

Many call to dogma (tawheed), convincing individuals god exists, or he is one. Others call to aspects like rituals (prayers), morals, charity and so on. Whilst all this is permitted, the problem they face is they fail to call to Islam - worse, they have abandoned that collective call as a generation. Elites, scholars and laity. Calling to aspects of Islam is not the same as calling to Islam.

Calling to Islam is asking a nation to live by it, institutionalise it, convey it. The call for the abolishment of slavery was a societal call. Christian missionaryism was an individual call.

It is thus instructive to review how the Messenger (saw) called to Islam in Mecca.

Dawa in Mecca

Calling of the Clans to Islam

was a tribe (qabeelah) comprising a number of clans (asheerah), each clan able to wield military force for its security to protect its own. Clans (asheerah) were a smaller unit, still a militarised polity, who could provide protection and support, namely security.

When Allah ordered the Messenger (saw) to start calling people to Islam, he was ordered to start with his clan.

Allah then revealed:

وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ  
"And warn your closest kindred..." (Qur'an 26:214)
The Messenger (saw) asked Ali (ra) to prepare a banquet
and invite members of his clan (Bani Hashim) with some from Bani Al-Muttalib bin Abd Manaf also in attendance. Ali (ra) cooked the meal and invited around forty men from the clan. The men, however, left abruptly after eating before the Messenger (saw) could speak with them after Abu Lahab said the following:

"These are your uncles and cousins, speak on to the point, but first of all you have got to know that your kinspeople are not in a position to withstand all the Arabs. You also should know your relatives are sufficient for you. If you follow their tradition, it will be easier for them than to face the other clans of Quraish supported by the other Arabs. Verily, I have never heard of anyone who has incurred more harm on his kinspeople than you." The Messenger kept silent and said nothing in that meeting. (Fiqh As-Seerah p.77,78)
He invited them again and after eating he spoke:

يَا بَنِِي عَبْدِ الُمُطَّلِبِ، إَنِّي وَالَّلِِه مَا أَعْلَمُ شَابًّا فِي الْعَرَبِ جَاءَ قَوْمَهُ بَأَفْضَلِ مِمَّا جِئْتُكُمْ بِهِ، قَدْ جِئْتُكُمْ بِخَيْرِ الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ، وَقَدْ أَمَرَنِي اللَّهُ تَعَالَى أَنْ أَدْعُوكُمْ إِلَيْهِ، فَأَيُّكُمْ يُؤَازِرُنِي عَلَى هَذَا الأَمْرِ
"O Bani Abd al-Muttalib, I don't know of any Arab youth who came to his people with a notion better than I came with.  
I came to you with the goodness of this world and the Hereafter. Allah (swt) ordered me to call you to Him.  
Who is going to support me regarding this matter. (Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 322, Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh, Vol. 1, p. 259)
All of those in attendance rejected his proposal however his uncle Abu Talab pledged to provide him protection (ijaara):

"We love to help you, accept your advice and believe in your words. These are your kinspeople whom you have collected and I am one of them and the fastest to do what you like. Do what you have been ordered. I shall protect and defend you, but I can't quit the religion of Abdul-Muttalib."
Abu Lahab then said to Abu Talib, "I swear by Allah this is a bad thing. You must stop him before the others do."
Abu Talib however answered, "I swear by Allah to protect him as long as I am alive."(Fiqh As-Seerah pp.77-78)
Allah then ordered him to address his call more widely to Quraysh, revealing:

قُمۡ فَاَنۡذِرۡ وَرَبَّكَ فَكَبِّرۡ
Arise and warn, and magnify your Lord (Qur'an 74:2)
He (saw) then went out to Meccan society, climbing mount Safa, calling the tribes of Quraysh to gather and warning them of the impending day of judgement, seeking to invite them collectively to Islam, being cut off by his uncle Abu Lahab who had disagreed with his call earlier.

Ibn Abbas narrated:

"The Messenger of Allah (saw) set off till he climbed Safa and called loudly: Be on your guard!
They said: "Who is it calling aloud?"
Others said: "Muhammad."
They gathered around him and he said: "O sons of so and so, O sons of so and so, O sons of Abd Manaf, O sons of Abd al-Muttalib. If I were to inform you there were horsemen emerging out of the foot of this mountain, would you believe me?"
They said: "We have not experienced any lie from you."
He (saw) said: "Well, I am a warner to you before a severe torment"
Abu Lahab then said: "Destruction to you! Is it for this you have gathered us?" (Sahih Muslim 208)
The hadith of Afif ibn Yahya, a trader visiting Mecca not long after this event, adds further detail to what the Messenger (saw) presented as the above narrations are condensed. Afif was talking to Abbas, the Messenger's uncle, when he saw a man, a woman and child praying near the Ka'bah. On enquiring about them, Abbas told him it was his nephew Mohammad, his wife Khadija
and cousin Ali
(ra). Having been amongst those who had attended the banquet he summarised what he understood as the message. Muhammad wanted they believe in him and his God, support him and God would grant them the treasures of Rome and Persia. Afif recounted the event many years later, saying if he had believed in Muhammad (saw) at the time he would have been the fourth in Islam.

Calling the Elites and Influentials

Despite both rejections, the Messenger (saw) focused on the Quraysh leadership; repeatedly inviting Abu Talib
, Abu Lahab, Ummayah bin Khalaf, Abu Jahl, Abu Sufyan and others to accept his call and collectively submit (Islam).

A similar pattern emerges when one considers all the previous Messengers
, each Messenger focusing this call on those with power, the elites, the influentials, those whom the rest of society trusted and followed.

The elites repeatedly rejected their message and his message, as noted by Waraqah bin Nawfal; the seera books report they would mock him and those who believed him, saying

"Here come the Kings of Rome and Persia!"

Preparing his Group

Companions converting to Islam in the early years
 did so after hearing of rumours of the Messenger's collective call and discussions with the tribal leaders - rumours spreading far and wide that a Messenger had arisen demanding his people collectively reorient society according to a new worldview based on the divine (tawheed), critiquing social practices and the ancestralism that was used to justify it. 

The companions started to bring others to the Messenger (saw) who heard such rumours, for instance Abu Bakr brought Uthman (ra)
to the Prophet (saw) who hard heard of him through his aunt. In the house of the companion al-Arqam, the Messenger (saw) used to secretly teach them the Qur'an, the ahkam revealed to him and pray with them, secretly preparing a group to help win over Quraysh's support base.

The Messenger (saw) used to publicly pray in front of the Ka'ba, performing tawaf, showing society his practice of Islam and many would come and ask him about his call.

بَيْنَمَا النَّبِيُّ صَلَى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يُصَلِّي فِي حِجْرِ الْكَعْبَةِ إِذْ أَقْبَلَ عُقْبَةُ بْنُ أَبِي مُعَيْطٍ
"While the Messenger (saw) was praying in the Hijr of the Ka'ba, Uqba bin Abi Mu'ait came" (Sahih al-Bukhari 3856)
ٍكَانَ رَسُولُ اللهِ - صَلَى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ - يَطُوفُ بِالبَيْتِ ويَدُهُ فِي يَدِ أَبِي بَكْر
"The Messenger (saw) used to perform tawaf around the House (Ka'ba) holding the hand of Abu Bakr (ra)." (Ya'muri, 'Uyun al-Athar, Vol. 1, p. 123, Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, Vol. 7, p. 168)

Targeting Quraysh's Support Base

After around five years
of little to no progress with the Quraysh elites, who became increasingly hostile to him, his call and his supporters, where they increasingly resorted to conceal their beliefs and pray away from the public gaze. The Messenger (saw) was then asked to turn away from them and target their supporters by the revelation of the following verse

فَاصْدَعْ بِما تُؤْمَرُ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ 
Proclaim what you are commanded and turn away from the polytheists (Qur'an 15:94-95)." (Halabi, al-Seera al-Halabiyyah, Vol. 1, p. 403)
Every related narration mentions the Messenger (saw) organised his companions and paraded them around the Ka'bah in full view of Quraysh and their followers creating shock and controversy. It was no longer an individual effort any more - the elites could be targeted by an individual, however their support based required a collective effort. (Tastalani, al-Mawahib al-Ludaniyah, Vol. 1, p. 134)

This meaning was also explicitly confirmed by the second-century leading linguist ibn al-Arabi, that was approved by the outstanding seventh century mufassir and jurist Imam Qurtubi, and the contemporary jurist and mufassir Shawkani, who said:

فَاصْدَعْ بِما تُؤْمَرُ" أَيْ فَرِّقْ جَمْعَهُمْ وَكَلِمَتَهُمْ بِأَنْ تَدْعُوَهُمْ إِلَى التَّوْحِيدِ فَإِنَّهُمْ يَتَفَرَّقُونَ بِأَنْ يُجِيبَ الْبَعْضُ، فَيَرْجِعُ الصَّدْعُ عَلَى هَذَا إِلَى صدع جماعة الكفار 
"Declare what you have been commanded means: separate their solidarity and their public opinion (could also mean power) by calling them to tawheed as they would be separated: some of them would accept that would lead to breaking the jama'ah (solidarity) of the disbelievers." (Qurtubi, al-Jami' li-Ahkam al-Qur'an, Vol. 10, p. 61, Shawkani, Fath al-Qadeer, Vol. 3, p. 173)

Targeting Tribes Outside Mecca

After ten years of the Messenger's (saw) dawa in Mecca, the death of his uncle Abu Talib
 left him without personal support and protection. So he began approaching dozens
 of tribes seeking mana'ah (protection) and nusrah (support) for Islam.

He would ask the tribes to adopt his worldview of tawheed, help him convey it and defend him against any enemy, secure his dawa and implement its teachings.

The first tribe the Messenger (saw) approached was Ta'if, asking them for protection and victory against the enemies of Islam. When they rejected him, he asked his uncle al-Abbas (ra) to help him identify influential tribes and would visit them with him at their homes and marketplaces where the tribal leaders stayed.

Abu Bakr (ra) was an expert in Arabian lineages who would often accompany the Messenger when seeking mana'ah from the tribes. Abu Bakr would evaluate if a given tribe could support the responsibility and security of the dawa.

After the Messenger found no joy from the tribes close to Mecca, he (saw) used to present Islam to leaders of the more remote tribes during the Hajj seasons.

Finally, a group called Khazraj from Medina accepted Islam and invited their tribe and came the next year taking the pledge
. Musab (ra) was sent to Medina
 on the request of the Medinites to help reunite the warring clans of Aws and Khazraj there and invite leaders and laymen to Islam and prepare the polity for a new way of life. As a result of his activities and of the early Muslims there, within a year Medina
transformed from a society tense with rivalries, hatred and division to people turning in unity to Islam. A number of junior elites rebelled against the two obstinate leaders of al-Aws and al-Khazraj, ibn Ubay and Abu Amir, helping bring about support amongst their peoples for Islam.

The Messenger (saw) and his companions then migrated to Medina where the first Islamic state was established

Comparison with previous Messengers

After reviewing all the stories of previous Prophets and Messengers, all targeted political and social domination as a core aim to bring about collective submission to Allah.

It is interesting to note that most discussions narrated in the Qur'an are between the Messengers and the elites and influentials (الْمَلَأ). For example, in the story of Musa (as) which Allah repeats several times, he says Musa is sent to Pharaoh and his elites:

وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا مُوسَىٰ بِآيَاتِنَا إِلَىٰ فِرْعَوْنَ وَمَلَئِهِ فَقَالَ إِنِّي رَسُولُ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
"And certainly did We send Moses with Our signs to Pharaoh and his elites, and he said: Indeed, I am the messenger of the Lord of the worlds." (Qur'an 43:46)
For further elaboration read this answer


The Messenger (saw) called society collectively to Islam akin to previous messengers rather than saving individual souls focusing on tribal leaders, elites and influentials.

After a number of years focusing on the elites, Allah asked him to target their mass support base, who in turn also rejected him.

Following support from other tribal leaders, he was accepted by Medinan junior elites, migrating there to rule the first Islamic state (dawla).


Dhahabi, Siyar A'lam al-Nuba'a
Halabi, al-Seera al-Halabiyyah
Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh
Ibn Asakir, Mukhtasar Tarikh Dimashq 
Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari
Ibn Ishaq, al-Siyar wa al-Maghazi 
Ibn Hisham, al-Seera al-Nabawiyyah 
Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah
Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari
Ya'muri, Uyun al-Athar

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