Tribes in Arabia had similar dynamics to the states of our time, having their own warriors, allies, treaties, lands, properties and so on. They had wars and conflicts against each other for similar reasons to contemporary nations.
So when speaking of tribes, we should bear in mind it is akin to speaking of contemporary polities or states.
Political Power a Cornerstone of Dawa
The seera (prophetic biography) is clear the Messenger (saw) targeted political power from the outset of his call to Quraysh. The message of Islam focused on society as a whole and the role of individuals in society never a personal apolitical religion or faith, detached from society, relegated to a personal realm.
Within days of revelation, the Messenger (saw) gathered his clan's elites asking them for political support at a banquet he hosted. In a summarised narration he announced:
ِ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 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)
Al-Abbas (ra), the prophet's uncle, attended this banquet and later explained to Afif ibn Yahya, a non-Meccan trader, the purpose of Prophet's (saw) message as he understood it having heard it directly from the Prophet (saw):
هَذًا مُحَمَدٌ بن عبدِ اللهِ يزْعُمُ أنّ اللهَ أرْسَلَهُ وأنّ كُنُوزَ كِِسْرى وقَيْصَرْ ستُفْتَحُ عليه... فليّتَنِي كنتُ آمَنْتُ يَوْمَئِذٍ فكُنْتُ أكُونُ رَابِعًا
"Muhammad ibn Abdullah, his nephew, 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 Prophet, Khadijah and Ali)." (Ibn Ishaq, as-Seera wa al-Maghazi, pp. 137-138)
This was a very early event, most certainly early in year one, as Afif argued he would have been the fourth Muslim.
The same message was repeated, in the early years of revelation, by Quraysh mocking the Prophet (saw) and his companions:
قَدْ جَاءَكُمْ مُلُوكُ الْأَرْضِ وَمَنْ يَغْلِبُ عَلَى كُنُوزِ كِسْرَى وَقَيْصَرَ، وَيُصَفِّرُونَ بِهِ وَيُصَفِّقُونَ
"The kings of the earth have come who will own the treasures of Persia and Rome. They would then wolf-whistle (in mockery)." (Bayhaqi, Dala'il an-Nubuwwah, Vol. 2, p. 317)
Abu Jahl bin Hisham, while waiting outside the door of the Messenger (saw) to kill him shortly before hijra observed to his companions:
"Muhammad claims if you follow him in his deen, you shall be the kings of the Arabs and non-Arabs, after your death you shall be brought back to life and your lot shall then be gardens like the gardens of Jordan. He also claims if you do not do this, you shall meet with slaughter from him and after your death you shall be brought back to life and your lot shall then be a fire, in which you shall burn." Then the Messenger came out, took a handful of dust and said, "Yes, I do say that and you are one of them..." (Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 337)
This seeking of not only power but its domination over all societies was repeated, especially at the time of weakness. Qadi Abd al-Jabar al-Mu'tazili noted:
ُوهُوَ َأنّه صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وسَلَمَ قَالَ حِينَ دَعَا إِلَى اللهِ وفِي حَالِ وِحْدَتِهِ وضَعْفِهِ: إِنَّ اللهَ أَرْسَلَنِي وَوَعَدَنِي أَنْ يُظْهِرَ دِينِي عَلَى الأَدْيَانِ كُلِهَا، فَيَكُونُ سُلْطَانِي أَقْهَر مِنْ سُلْطَانِ كِسْرَى وقَيّصَرْ، فَأَغْلِب المُلُوكَ، ويَعْلُو مُلْكِي ومُلْكُ أنْصَارِي وأَتْبَاعِي كُلَ مُلْكٍ فِي الأَرْضِ
"When the Prophet (saw) called to Allah in his time of weakness and loneliness, he used to say: 'Allah has sent me and promised me He will make my deen overcome all other deens. My authority will defeat the power of Rome and Persia.
I will defeat all kings and my kingdom and that of my followers will spread all over the earth.'" (Qadi Abd al-Jabar, Tathbit Dala'il an-Nubuwwah, Vol. 2 p. 314)
Ten years later, the message was conveyed without change or development. The Prophet (saw) used 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) of people of shawkah (power).
The Prophet (saw) started with the Ta'if tribe asking them for protection and support. When they rejected him, he asked al-Abbas (ra) to show him the homes of the tribes, identifying influentials whom he would visit them with him. Ibn Abbas (ra) narrated the Messenger sought the political support of other tribes:
قَالَ لِي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: " لَا أَرَى لِي عِنْدَكَ وَلَا عِنْدَ أَخِيكَ مَنَعَةً، فَهَلْ أَنْتَ مخرجى إِلَى السُّوق غَدا حَتَّى نقر فِي مَنَازِلَ قَبَائِلِ النَّاسِ " وَكَانَتْ مَجْمَعَ الْعَرَبِ.
"The Messenger of Allah (saw) asked me, 'I don't find any protection with you nor your brother. So, could you accompany me to the marketplace to quickly see the status of the tribes of people.' (The marketplace) was where the Arabs assembled… (then he presented him the power and strengths in each tribe)." (Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 2, p. 159)
He was not seeking personal protection, as the Messenger (saw) had secured protection (ijarah) for himself from Adi and al-Abbas but not for Islam. Before the Medinan Ansar pledged an oath al-Abbas stated:
إنَّ مُحَمَّدًا مِنَّا حَيْثُ قَدْ عَلِمْتُمْ وَقَدْ مَنَعْنَاهُ مِنْ قَوْمِنَا
"Muhammad's status in our clan is (high) as you know, and we have provided him with protection against our people." (Ibn Hisham, as-Seera an-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 1, p. 441)
The Messenger (saw) was seeking political support and protection (mana'ah) for the deen. Abu Bakr (ra) was an expert in Arabian lineages, accompanying him whilst he sought the mana'ah from the tribes. Abu Bakr would evaluate if a tribe could support the responsibility of dawa asking them about their ancestors, previous wars, nature of protection, number of soldiers and so on. Sometimes he would tell the Messenger (saw) a tribe was useless as they had no respectable ancestors or were unable to provide protection. (Sohili, al-Rawd al-Aneef, Vol. 4, p. 35)
Ibn Hisham narrated:
فَقَالَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ كَيْفَ الْعَدَدُ فِيكُمْ ... كَيْفَ الْمَنَعَةُ فِيكُمْ؟ ... كَيْفَ الْحَرْبُ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَ عَدُوّكُمْ؟… فَتَقَدّمَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ: "أَدْعُو إلَى شَهَادَةِ أَنْ لَا إلَهَ إلّا اللهُ وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ وَأَنّي رَسُولُ اللهِ وَإِلَى أَنْ تُؤْوُونِي، وَتَنْصُرُونِي
"Abu Bakr asked (the tribe), 'what are your numbers? … Can you provide mana'ah? … How does war look like with your enemies?' … (after the Prophet was assured, they could provide the mana'ah) … The Messenger (saw) then said, 'I call to testify there is no god but Allah, with no association with Him; I am the Messenger of Allah. I ask you to provide me with shelter and support.'" (Sohili, al-Rawd al-Aneef, Vol. 4, p. 36)
After the Messenger (saw) found no benefit from the tribes in the surrounding regions, he used to present Islam to pilgrim leaders of the farther tribes in the seasons of Hajj. Rabi'ah (ra) narrated:
"The Messenger (saw) used to stand in front of the home of the Arabian tribes saying, 'O clan of so and so, I am the Messenger of Allah to you who orders you to serve and associate none with Him; to stop serving beside Him the so-called His likes; to believe and trust me as well as protecting me in order to convey the Message Allah has sent me with.'" (Ibn Hisham, as-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, p. 423, Darami, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah wa Tarikh al-Khulafa, Vol. 1, pp. 93-101, Sohili, al-Rawd al-Aneef, Vol. 4, p. 35-36)
In some cases, tribes like Sheeban bin Thalabah said we have no mana'ah nor could we afford to fight the Arabs, Persia or Rome, so the Prophet and Abu Bakr would leave them.
Muthanna explained to the Messenger of Allah "We have a treaty with Kisra (Emperor of Persia) due to which we are staying here (i.e. their land between the valleys of Yamamah and Samawah). According to the treaty we are not authorised to raise any new movement or give asylum to any such person who initiates a new movement. It is possible that your mission might be disliked by the Emperor... If you need our help (and shelter) against those in Arabia, we are ready for that."
The Prophet rejected their offer, "I think you do not show any reservation in replying to me... The one who supports Allah’s deen, should protect it from all sides." Clasping the hand of Abu Bakr, the Messenger of Allah (saw) arose and left the assembly.
Whilst the tribe Amir bin Sa'sa'ah wanted power after he died:
What do you think if we gave you the bay'ah (oath) on your matter (the deen) then Allah gave you victory over your enemies, Will the leadership be ours after you?
The Messenger (saw) said: 'This matter is to Allah gives it to whomever He wills.'
They objected: 'Should we protect you - the act that may cost us our life - against the Arabs and when victory comes, others will take the leadership! We don't need your matter (deen)'.
And they rejected him. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. 1, pp. 424-427)
As did the tribe Kinda:
'You would bear witness that there is no god but God, and would engage in prayer and believe in God's message."'
Kinda replied, 'If you are successful, will you grant us power after yourself?'
The Messenger (saw) replied, 'Power rests with God; He places it where He wishes.'
They responded, 'We don't need what you bring... have you come to us to keep us from our gods and have us go to war with the Arabs? Remain with your people. We have no need of you!' (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 2, pp. 106-7)
The tribe of al-Absa rejected him saying:
'We had heard of him and of his preaching at the fairs; he stood and made a presentation and invitation to us, but we did not respond. We had with us Maysara bin Masruq al-Absi and he said to us, 'I swear by God, if we had believed this man and had taken him off to inside our territory, we would have triumphed. I swear by God, he will succeed and ultimately achieve all his objectives.'
But our people replied, 'Leave us alone. You'll not involve us in that over which we have no power.' (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 2, p. 114)
Once the Messenger (saw) met the tribe Bakr bin Wa'il, leaving without presenting Islam nor himself when he saw they were militarily ineffective suggests the political dimension was critical for a community to live by Islam. On leaving, he was asked:
قَالُوا: وَمَنْ أَنْتَ؟ قَالَ: أَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ. ثُمَّ انْطَلَقَ
They told him, 'We border on Persia; we have no protection from them or for them.'
The Messenger (saw) replied, 'I am the Messenger of Allah.' Then he departed." (Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 2, p. 160, Darami, as-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah)
This did not mean they were unimportant, rather they were not targeted during this early stage as he required an autonomous polity that could implement Islam and convey it.
The implication of the Prophet's request was very clear to all he encountered, acknowledged by leaders of the tribes. Ibn Kathir narrated when the Messenger (saw) called the above tribe, they said:
وَلَعَلَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ الَّذِي تَدْعُونَا إِلَيْهِ مِمَّا تَكْرَهُهُ الْمُلُوكُ، ... ثُمَّ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: " أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِنْ لَمْ تَلْبَثُوا إِلَّا يَسِيرًا حَتَّى يَمْنَحَكُمُ اللَّهُ بِلَادَهُمْ وَأَمْوَالَهُمْ وَيُفْرِشَكُمْ بَنَاتِهِمْ؟
'The kings may hate this Message you invite us to ...'
He replied, 'What do you think if I tell you that you will wait for a short period of time and Allah will give you their countries and wealth, and marry you with their women?' (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 3, pp. 176-177)
Finally, the Messenger (saw) met a group from Yathrib (Medina) and presented Islam to them. They conferred saying this is the man whom the Jews and Christians were waiting for however they could not support his mission as their society was fragmented. They however believed him and invited their tribe, returning the next year to take the pledge of war and protection. The Ansar asked him about the terms of the bay'ah: Not to join anything in worship along with Allah; the Messenger was the leader of the state; not to be disobedient against the Messenger; protect the Messenger in the way they protected their women, sons and wealth; fight (his enemies), black and white, regardless of their kin.
Abbas then commented, 'You are pledging to go to war against all kinds of people. If you think that if you suffered great losses to your wealth and had your leaders killed, you would give him up, then do it now or suffer the punishment of this life and the next. If you think you will keep faith with h i in what he has called upon you to do, despite loss of wealth and your leaders being killed, then do accept him. For he is, by God, the best in this world and the next.'
They replied, 'We will take him regardless of loss of wealth or the death of our leaders. But what will we receive in return for this, oh Messenger of God, if we keep faith with you?'
'Paradise,' he replied.
'Then hold out your hand,' they asked.
He did so and they pledged allegiance to him. (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 2, p. 136)
Having achieved political authority, the Messenger (saw) and his companions migrated to Medina where the first Islamic state was established with the support of armed warriors:
"The first one to see the Prophet (saw) (at the doors of Medina) was a Jewish man who loudly shouted, 'O Bani Qeelah (Ansar) this is your forefather whom you are waiting for.' Ansar went out armed with their weapons." (Ibn Kathir, al-Fusul fi Seerat al-Rasul, p. 117)
"Muslims surged to their weapons and met the Messenger (saw) at Harrah and they were five hundred men of Ansar." (Ibn Hiban, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah wa Akhbar al-Khulafa', Vol. 1, p. 139)
He then started building allies, making treaties and agreements, sending highly political messages to the kings of Rome, Persia and others asking them to join Islam.
Anas (ra) narrated:
أَنَّ نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم كَتَبَ إِلَى كِسْرَى وَإِلَى قَيْصَرَ وَإِلَى النَّجَاشِيِّ وَإِلَى كُلِّ جَبَّارٍ يَدْعُوهُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ تَعَالَى
"The Prophet of Allah (saw) wrote to Chosroes (King of Persia), Caesar (Emperor of Rome), Negus (King of Abyssinia) and every (other) despot inviting them to Allah, the Exalted." (Muslim 4382)
It was even narrated the Messenger (saw) said the opening of Rome and Persia was a sign of the Hour:
لَا تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ حَتَّى تُفْتَحَ خَزَائِنُ كِسْرَى وَقَيْصَرَ
"The Hour is not going to come except after the opening of the treasures of Persia and Rome." (Al-Asfahani, Dala'il an-Nubuwwah, p. 542)
In the battle of al-Ahzab, whilst Muslims were facing extreme hardship and insecurity, the hypocrites reminded the believers of the so-called 'false promises' of their prophet:
كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ يَعِدُنَا أَنْ نَأْكُلَ كُنُوزَ كِسْرَى وَقَيْصَرَ، وَأَحَدُنَا الْيَوْمَ لَا يَأْمَنُ عَلَى نَفْسِهِ أَنْ يَذْهَبَ إلَى الْغَائِطِ.
"Muhammad used to promise us with eating from the treasures of Persia and Rome and no one of us now are not safe to enter the bathroom." (Ibn Hisham, as-Seera an-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 2, p. 222)
When the Prophet (saw) passed away, Muslims reached the borders of Persia however were afraid to go further; Umar then reminded them of the Prophet's Message, saying:
ٍوقَدْ وَعَدَكُمُ اللهُ عَلَى لِسَانِ نَبِيِهِ كُنُوزَ كِسْرَى وقَيّصَر، فَسِيرُوا إِلَى أَرْضِ فَارِس
"Allah promised you through His Prophet (saw) (of taking) the treasures of Rome and Persia, So, go to the land of Persia." (Ibn Hiban, as-Seera an-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 2, p. 461)
Finally, Tabari narrated how Muslims would invite the global powers to Islam:
Rustam the Commander-in-Chief of the Persian forces sent a message to the Muslim Commander Saad bin Abi Waqqaas (ra) asking him to send an emissary for talks. Saad deputed Rabi bin Amir as the envoy.
Rabi crossed the bridge and made for the camp of Rustam appearing before Rustam wearing a coat of shining mail over which was wrapped a coarse woollen cloak. Around his head was a veil held by thongs of a camel's girth. His sword hung at his side in a sheath of coarse cloth. In his right hand he carried his spear. Rabi mounted on a shaggy horse arrived at the edge of the carpet at which Rustam and his couriers were seated.
The Persians wanted Rabi to lay aside his arms. Rabi said, "I have not come to you to lay down my weapons. You invited me, and I have come, if you do not wish me to come the way I like, I shall return."
Rustam asked his men to let the Muslim come the way he wished. When Rustum asked the Muslims, why had they come to Persia, Rabiah Ibn 'Amir said “Allah Azza wa jal has sent us to deliver you from worshiping the creation to worshiping the Creator of the creation and to deliver you from the constriction of this world to the vastness of this world and the hereafter and from the oppression of the religions to the justice of Islam. Allah Azza wa jal has sent us to save you from worshiping each other.”
Rabi said that their mission was to spread Islam. He said, "If you accept Islam we are brothers and there is peace between us; if you refuse we fight you and leave things to God."
"What do you expect in return", asked Rustam.
Rabi said, "Victory if we survive, and Paradise if we die fighting in the way of Allah".
Rustam said that he should be allowed some time to think over the matter further.
Rabi said that according to a tradition of the Holy Prophet he could give him a time of three days.
"Are you their chief", asked Rustam.
Rabi said, "No, but the Muslims are like one body, and the lowest is equal to the highest."
The political dimension of Islam was always fundamental, never a secondary matter.
The Prophet and the Caliphs after him did not stop seeking and expanding their political power to serve the aims of Islam.
Ibn Ishaq, as-Siyar wa al-Maghazi;
Ibn Hisham, as-Seera an-Nabawiyyah
Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh;
Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari;
Bayhaqi, Dala'il an-Nubuwwah;
Qadi Abd al-Jabar, Tathbit Dala'il an-Nubuwwah;
Ibn Hiban, as-Seera an-Nabawiyyah
Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah;
Sohili, al-Rawd al-Aneef;
Darami, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah wa Tarikh al-Khulafa;
Al-Asfahani, Dala'il an-Nubuwwah.
Great answers start with great insights. Content becomes intriguing when it is voted up or down - ensuring the best answers are always at the top.
Questions are answered by people with a deep interest in the subject. People from around the world review questions, post answers and add comments.
Be part of and influence the most important global discussion that is defining our generation and generations to come