Muhammad Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani was an Islamic scholar from Jerusalem and the founder of the political Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir. In his early years, he, like me, studied in al-Azhar. He was one of the 20th-century thinkers who sought to counter the influence of prevailing secular ideologies following the destruction of the Uthmani Caliphate, so formulated a seera-based methodology to resume Islam through re-establishing the Khilafah.
The methodology he proposed is derived from the seera of the Prophet and how he established the first Islamic state in Medina adjusted for contemporary realities.
Nabhani's books are the curricula of HT members. Al-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah book is a core text, explaining how the Islamic State would arise and what its constitution would look like.
The overall content of the book is unproblematic and the summary of the seera is visibly knowledgeable and informative.
There appears to be a mistaken ordering of some events, especially at onset of revelation, upon which the whole methodology of reestablishing the Islamic State is built.
Nabhani's thesis is the Messenger (saw) followed two stages of dawa in the early years of Islam. He does however allude to an earlier public call but does not dwell on it - this may be because he does not see its relevance to the contemporary reality.
The first stage he focused on was the stage of secretly calling all people to Islam, regardless of social and political status. He does not clarify if this was a proactive mission in and of itself or if he invited those enquiring about his message following his public call to the elites. He would spiritually, culturally, intellectually and religiously educate most of the small number of converts covertly albeit very profoundly. Most of these converts later became qualified and confident to carry the responsibility and hardship of the dawa to Islam. He would secretly meet them for teaching in Dar al-Arqam for three years, following which, the Prophet started the second stage.
The second stage was seeking the establishment of the deen as a social or ideological force. The Messenger (saw) started giving dawa publicly; he invited forty men of the leaders of Banu Abd al-Muttalib to a banquet and asked them to accept Islam; he gathered the people of Mecca around the mountain of Safa and invited and warned them. He then approached the leaders of Mecca for eight years and when they opposed him he approached the other tribal leaders of Arabia in their homes, marketplaces and Hajj rituals.
This approach led to the final goal i.e. the establishment of the Islamic state after the al-Aqabah pledge and the migration of the Messenger (saw) and his companions to Medina. The Islamic state then continued its expansion to include the whole of Arabia and then the neighbouring areas.
The order of seera events presented by Nabahani is a little unclear. He seems to mix the events narrated in the seera, delaying what had happened earlier and advancing what happened later to form his two stages. However he us not producing a book of seera so his writings need to be taken with caution as they are ijtihadi in nature designed to solve contemporary problems.
There is a widespread misconception when the Messenger (saw) first received revelation, he was asked to call people to Islam as individuals. It paints a picture of him approaching individuals like Khadija, Abu Bakr, Ali, Bilal and Abu Talib requesting they change their personal faith or believe in him. It is unclear if Nabhani rejects this or not.
The revelation, however, was not revealed as a personal religion or faith, it was a way of life for his nation, community or polity to accept and adopt. By doing so, they would be required to reorient their personal AND collective way of life - changing their collective worldview, institutions, structures, laws, culture and traditions. In sum it would transform society and its members, resulting in the emergence of a new civilisation that would invite other nations to merge and do the same (via the invitation process termed jihad).
The Messenger (saw) would, therefore, focus his efforts on the tribal leaders and influentials, as their peoples trusted them and would readily accept their consensus to adopt a new way of life.
Reviewing the books of seera, I cannot find any examples of the Messenger (saw) proactively inviting non-influential individuals to Islam. All of the companions' conversion stories in Mecca appear to state they came to the Messenger (saw) asking him about his new religion or other companions told them of the message and brought them to the Messenger (saw).
This does not mean the Messenger (saw) neglected or rejected non-influential individuals who accepted the truth of his message; rather his proactive approach and mission was to win over the influentials and elites of society (those possessing shawka), who could ensure a transition for their followers. Where individuals approached him, he responded, answered their questions and spent time teaching and helping them build their personalities.
Nabahani may be suggesting the Messenger (saw) approached Abu Bakr and other companions and after three years he prepared a banquet, went to the Safa mountain and then approached the leaders. If he is, what happened was the opposite.
When Allah asked that he start calling people, 'arise and warn' at the beginning of revelation, he was told to start with his clan and close relatives (asheera).
وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ
"And warn, (O Muhammad), your closest kindred." (Qur'an 26:214)
The Messenger (saw) started the mission with a collective, not a personal call. He asked Ali (ra) to prepare a banquet and invite the leaders of his clan (Banu Abd al-Muttalib). Ali arranged the meal and invited about forty men of the elites. The men left before the Messenger could speak with them. He invited them again and after eating he said:
ِيا بَنِي عَبْدِ المُطَلِبْ، إنِي والله ما أَعْلَمُ شَابًا فِي العَرَبِ جاءَ قَوْمَهُ بأفْضَلَ مِمَا جِئتُكُم به، قَدْ جِئْتُكُم بخيّرِ الدُنيا والآخِرَة، وقَدْ أَمَرَنِي اللهُ تعالى أن أَدْعُوكُم إليهِ، فأيُكُم يؤازِرُنِي على هَذَا الأمر"O Banu Abd al-Muttalib, I, indeed, 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 Here After. Allah (swt) ordered me to call you to Him.
Who is going to support me regarding this matter? (Tarikh at-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 322, Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh, Vol. 1, p. 259)
When this attempt failed, he (saw) went to the mountain of Safa and called Quraysh collectively to Islam.
The Messenger's uncle Ibn Abbas (ra) narrated:
خَرَجَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم حَتَّى صَعِدَ الصَّفَا فَهَتَفَ " يَا صَبَاحَاهْ " . فَقَالُوا مَنْ هَذَا الَّذِي يَهْتِفُ قَالُوا مُحَمَّدٌ . فَاجْتَمَعُوا إِلَيْهِ فَقَالَ " يَا بَنِي فُلاَنٍ يَا بَنِي فُلاَنٍ يَا بَنِي فُلاَنٍ يَا بَنِي عَبْدِ مَنَافٍ يَا بَنِي عَبْدِ الْمُطَّلِبِ " فَاجْتَمَعُوا إِلَيْهِ فَقَالَ " أَرَأَيْتَكُمْ لَوْ أَخْبَرْتُكُمْ أَنَّ خَيْلاً تَخْرُجُ بِسَفْحِ هَذَا الْجَبَلِ أَكُنْتُمْ مُصَدِّقِيَّ " . قَالُوا مَا جَرَّبْنَا عَلَيْكَ كَذِبًا . قَالَ " فَإِنِّي نَذِيرٌ لَكُمْ بَيْنَ يَدَىْ عَذَابٍ شَدِيدٍ
"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? They 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, and they gathered around him.
He (the Apostle) said: If I were to inform you there were horsemen emerging from the foot of this mountain, would you believe me? They said: We have not experienced any lie from you..." (Sahih Muslim 208)
Companions such as Abu Bakr, heard rumours of the Messenger's discussions with tribal leaders when returning from a business trip. He approached the Messenger (saw) asking him about the rumours. The Messenger (saw) explained Allah had ordained him a messenger, presented the revelation to him and Abu Bakr (ra) accepted.
The historian Ibn Ishaq narrated Abu Bakr (ra) came and asked him:
أَحَقٌ مَا تَقُولُ قُرَيْشٌ يا مُحَمَد مِنْ تَرْكِكَ آلِهَتَنا، وتَسْفِيهِكَ عُقُولَنَا وتَكْفِيرَكَ آبَاءَنَا؟
ُفَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم: يَا أَبَا بَكْر إِنْي رَسُولُ اللهِ ونَبِيِهِ، بَعَثَنِي لِأُبَلِغَ رِسَالتِهِ وَأَدْعُوكَ إَلَى اللهِ بالحَقِ، فو اللهِ إنه لَلحَقِ أدعوكَ، إِلى اللهِ يا أبا بَكْر، وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ، وَلا يُعْبَدُ غَيْرَه ...
فَأَسْلَمَ وكَفَرَ بالأصْنَامِ، وخَلَعَ الأنْدَادَ، وأقَرَّ بِحَقِ الإسْلامِ، ورَجَعَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ وهُوَ مُؤْمِن مُصًدِق
"Is what the people say true, O Muhammad, that you left our gods, underestimated our mind and considered our fathers as infidels?
The Prophet (saw) replied, 'O Abu Bakr, I am the Messenger and the Prophet of Allah. He sent me to convey His message and to call you to Allah through truthful speech.
By Allah, I invite you to the truth; i.e. Allah, O Abu Bakr. Allah (is the One) with no deities beside Him; no one is worthy of worship except Him.' …
He then became a Muslim and rejected the idols and the so-called likes (of Allah)..." (Ibn Ishaq, as-Sira wa al-Maghazi, Vol. 1, p. 139)
The message of the Messenger (saw) was very clear from the very beginning and the Messenger (saw) called his people collectively and openly from the very first days with the same message.
Some days after the initiation of revelation, Afif (ra) a trader attended Mecca during the Hajj period to trade with Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib (ra), the uncle of the Messenger (saw), who had attended the banquet.
While they were sitting, they saw a man come out of a tent, face the Ka'ba and start praying. Then a woman came out and stood behind him and prayed. Then a boy came and stood to his right and started praying.
One version of the hadith states Afif (ra) questioned Abbas (ra) about this religion, as it did not seem familiar. Abbas (ra) reported:
هَذَا مُحَمَّدُ بْن عَبْدِ اللهِ يَزْعُمُ أَنَّ اللهَ أَرْسَلَهُ وَأَنَّ كُنُوزَ كِسْرَى وَقَيْصَرَ سَتُفْتَحُ عَلَيْهِ...
فَلَيْتَنِي كُنْتُ آمَنْتُ يَوْمَئِذٍ فَكُنْتُ أكَوَنِّ رَابِعًا
"The man was Muhammad ibn Abdullah, his nephew, who believed Allah had sent him as a Messenger and the treasures of the emperors of Rome and Persia would be opened for him and his followers. … Afif (ra) later said he wished he believed that day, as he would have been the fourth in Islam (after the Messenger, Khadijah and Ali)." (Ibn Ishaq, as-Seera wa al-Maghazi, pp. 137-138)
The point here is Abu Bakr and the other companions had not yet embraced Islam and al-Abbas who was supposed to attend the banquet, understood from the very first days of Islam, the Islamic social, governmental and theological approach underpinned by a new worldview.
The Messenger (saw) kept conveying his message for years and educating those who believed in him.
Ten years later, the message was conveyed without change or development by the Quraysh elites.
What changed was the Messenger (saw) then began to call other tribes after the stubbornness of Quraysh and the death of his uncle Abu Talib seeking the mana'ah (protection) and nusrah (support).
One day, the Messenger was calling the tribal leaders to Islam, a tribe refused to protect the Messenger (saw) and his religion against the Rome and Persia. However they were willing to accept the responsibility of protection and support against the Arabian tribes. The Messenger (saw) rejected their offer and told them they would inhabit Roman and Persian lands (the same message al-Abbas told Afif). (Al-Asbahani, al-Mustakhraj, Vol. 1, pp. 73-74)
At the end of the Meccan phase and before the establishment of the Islamic state in Media, the Messenger (saw) was very clear and combined both. The Ansar asked him about the terms of the Bay'ah, whereby he combined both of these elements i.e., Not to join anything in worship with Allah; the Messenger would be the leader of the state; not to be disobedient against the Messenger; protect the Messenger in the way they protect their women, sons and wealth; fight (his enemies) the black and white people regardless of their kin.
The Two Stages
The two stage theory presented by Nabhani and contemporary writers is ambiguous and possibly confused.
The Messenger used to meet the companions for education in Dar al-Arqam not to hide his Prophethood, rather protect his weak followers during his interactions with the leaders. The Messenger (saw) used to pray differently and make tawaf in front of the leaders and Meccans openly (as Afif and al-Abbas noted above), but when he performed something secretly, it seemed to be primarily for the protection of his followers.
The Messenger (saw) did not start calling leaders after three years as Nabhani argues, rather soon after the revelation, probably within days, continuing doing the same after individuals converted having heard rumours about the Messenger (saw).
Year six seems to shift the call from the Quraysh elites to their followers as the elites rejected his call. It was the initiation of the next phase of the Messenger's (saw) dawa, i.e., the collective public dawa to Quraysh's followers conducted by the Messenger (saw) along with his companions, whilst the first phase saw the Messenger (saw) invite the Quraysh leadership to a new way of life.
Nabhani's overall summary of the seera is good, but ambiguous regarding the details of the early stages.
Ibn Hisham, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah
Ibn Ishaq, as-Seera wa al-Maghazi
Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah
Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari
Ya'muri, 'Uyun al-Athar
Kinani, al-Mukhtasar al-Kabir
Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh
Sohili, al-Rawd al-Aneef
Ibn Hiban, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah wa Akhbar al-Khulafa'
Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah
Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam
Darami, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah
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