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What year was the verse revealed "Warn your kinsmen." (Qur'an 26:214)?

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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:
This verse was revealed early in the seera, contrary to the traditional view, in the first year of revelation. Around the time this verse was revealed, the Prophet (saw) went to mount Safa and then invited his clan to a banquet three times.


Background

The narrative of the seera chronologically orders the early events of the prophet's biography however there is little information available in the primary sources regarding this period. The order of seera events mostly depends on the analysis of a given event and its details that allows us to figure out when it took place.

The books of seera generally place the banquet event and the public dawa at mount Safa, as well the verse "Warn your kinsmen" (Qur'an 26:214) as the third or the fourth year of revelation.

They base this argument on the fact the public dawa started in the third year and this verse and these events violate the secret or private nature of the dawa, so it must have been revealed later.

However, a number of other narrations raise doubt about this conclusion, which I will elaborate on in this answer. I will argue there are a number of evidences proving these events and this verse took place very early, in fact in the first year of revelation.

Mount Safa

Allah asked the Prophet (saw) to do public dawa in the verse cited in the question:

وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ
"Warn your kinsmen and lower your wing to the believers who follow you." (Qur'an 26:214-215)

This verse is in surah al-Shu'ara is traditionally ordered as the 47th in revelation, but surah al-Masad is ordered as the sixth revelation. But the verse in question, however, must have been revealed before the sixth revelation because it is the cause of its revelation.

There are many narrations that tell us the context of this verse.

For example, it was narrated when the Prophet (saw) received a revelation ordering the Prophet (saw) "Warn your kinsmen", the Prophet (saw) went to mount Safa and called the tribes to gather, telling them he was the messenger of Allah. Abu Lahab insulted him 'May you be ruined (taban-laka)', then Allah responded to Abu Lahab's insult:

تَبَّتْ يَدَا أَبِي لَهَبٍ وَتَبَّ
"May the hands of Abu Lahab be ruined, and ruined is he." (Qur'an 111:1)

Ibn Abbas (ra) narrated:

لَمَّا نَزَلَتْ ‏{‏وَأَنْذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الأَقْرَبِينَ‏}‏ وَرَهْطَكَ مِنْهُمُ الْمُخْلَصِينَ، خَرَجَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم حَتَّى صَعِدَ الصَّفَا فَهَتَفَ ‏"‏ يَا صَبَاحَاهْ ‏"‏‏.‏ فَقَالُوا مَنْ هَذَا، فَاجْتَمَعُوا إِلَيْهِ‏.‏ فَقَالَ ‏"‏ أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِنْ أَخْبَرْتُكُمْ أَنَّ خَيْلاً تَخْرُجُ مِنْ سَفْحِ هَذَا الْجَبَلِ أَكُنْتُمْ مُصَدِّقِيَّ ‏"‏‏.‏ قَالُوا مَا جَرَّبْنَا عَلَيْكَ كَذِبًا‏.‏ قَالَ ‏"‏ فَإِنِّي نَذِيرٌ لَكُمْ بَيْنَ يَدَىْ عَذَابٍ شَدِيدٍ ‏"‏‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو لَهَبٍ تَبًّا لَكَ مَا جَمَعْتَنَا إِلاَّ لِهَذَا ثُمَّ قَامَ فَنَزَلَتْ ‏{‏تَبَّتْ يَدَا أَبِي لَهَبٍ وَتَبَّ‏}‏ وَقَدْ تَبَّ هَكَذَا قَرَأَهَا الأَعْمَشُ يَوْمَئِذٍ‏.‏
"When the verse 'And warn thy nearest kindred' (26:214) 'and your sincere and selected people among them' (the abrogated verse followed it) was revealed,
Allah's Messenger (saw) went out and ascended mount Al-Safa, he then shouted, "O Sabahah!"
The people said, "Who is that?" "Then they gathered around him, whereupon he said, "Do you see? If I inform you that cavalrymen are proceeding up the side of this mountain, will you believe me?"
They said, "We have never heard you telling a lie." Then he said, "I am a plain warner to you of coming severe punishment."
Abu Lahab said, "May you perish! You gathered us only for this reason?" Then Abu Lahab went away.
So the "Sura 'Perish the hands of Abu Lahab' (111:1) was revealed." (Bukhari 4971, 4972, 4770, 4801, Muslim 406, Tirmidhi 3689 and others)

Given surah al-Masad was revealed very early in the first year, its cause of revelation must have been preceded it.

The contemporary commentator ibn Ashur realised this problem and suggested the verse of al-Shuara was revealed separately at the beginning of revelation and the rest was later revealed, therefore, it was regarded as later as the third year.

Ibn Ashur says:

فَلَعَلَّ الْآيَةَ نَزَلَتْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ ثُمَّ نُسِخَتْ تِلَاوَتُهَا ثُمَّ أُعِيدَ نُزُولُ بَعْضِهَا فِي جملَة بِسُورَة الشُّعَرَاءِ.
"It is probable this verse was first revealed, then it was abrogated in recitation then it was revealed as part of the surah of al-Shu'ara'." (Ibn Ashur at-Tahrir wa at-Tanweer, Vol. 19, p. 202)

After three years, the people of Quraysh were well-aware of Islam and the prophet's claims, but the narrations of mount Safa imply the people of Quraysh did not yet know the prophet's message.

For example, the narrations imply Abu Lahab – the biggest enemy of Islam at that time – did know the message; so, when the Prophet (saw) repeatedly called the clans of Quraysh, Abu Lahab would ask why he was calling them.

Ibn Abbas (ra) narrated Abu Lahab would say:

هَذِهِ مُرَّةُ قَدْ أَتَتْكَ فَمَا عِنْدَكَ؟
"The clan of Murrah came to you, what do you have?" (Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, Vol. 32, pp. 348-349)

He repeated this question after every mention of a clan. It was even narrated he asked the Prophet (saw) what (distinction) he would gain if he embraced Islam, the Prophet (saw) replied 'what all Muslims gain.' Abu Lahab then insulted him as the verse was revealed.

But later, one of the reasons for Quraysh's elite's denial was the fact Islam made all people (slaves, leaders and so on) as equal. So, this event had to be one of the first events for Abu Lahab to become aware of such news.

Ibn Abbas narrated:

فَمَا لِي إِنْ أَسْلَمْتُ فَقَالَ: مَا لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ، فَقَالَ: أَفَلَا أُفَضَّلُ عَلَيْهِمْ؟ فَقَالَ النَّبِيُّ عَلَيْهِ الصَّلَاةُ وَالسَّلَامُ بِمَاذَا تُفَضَّلُ؟ فَقَالَ: تَبًّا لِهَذَا الدِّينِ يَسْتَوِي فِيهِ أَنَا وَغَيْرِي.
"What will I have if I became a Muslim?
The Prophet (saw) replied, 'What Muslims will have.'
Abu Lahab asked, 'Am I not going to be given superiority over them?'
The Prophet said, 'What kind of superiority do you mean?'
Abu Lahab replied, 'Perish this deen in which I will be equal with others.'" (Ibid)

In addition, according to the traditional narrative, they are supposed to already be familiar with the prophet's message and what he was calling for; so, it begs the question, why did they gather? If it was an ordinary event, why did they give it such attention? The narrations suggest it was a unique event, one where they had not encountered the message previously.

Ibn Abbas narrated:

حَتَّى اجْتَمَعُوا، فَجَعَلَ الرَّجُلُ إِذَا لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ أَنْ يَخْرُجَ أَرْسَلَ رَسُولاً لِيَنْظُرَ مَا هُوَ
"They were assembled and those who could not come themselves, sent their messengers to see what was going on." (Bukhari 4770)

An important point here is 'sent their messengers to see what was going on,' gives the impression it was a new thing for Quraysh and so this event must have taken place very early.

In addition, if Quraysh accused the Prophet (saw) with lying, magic, soothsaying and so on early on, why did they say to him when he was on the mountain 'we haven't experienced you lying'? It had to be a very early event before Quraysh could falsely accuse him and before they became his enemies.

Ibn Abbas (ra) narrated the Prophet (saw) said:

أَكُنْتُمْ مُصَدِّقِيَّ"؟ قَالُوا: مَا جَرَّبْنَا عَلَيْكَ كَذِبًا - مَا جَرَّبْنَا عَلَيْكَ إِلَّا صِدْقًا
"Will you believe me?"
They said, "We have never heard you telling a lie."
(In another narration) They said, "Yes, for we have not found you telling anything other than the truth." (Bukhari 4770, 4971)

Given the Prophet (saw) worked on two phases of dawa in Mecca i.e. first public dawa conducted by the Prophet (saw) to the elites and upon its failure, the second phase would be approached which is the collective public dawa conducted by him and his companions to the elites public policy. So the Prophet (saw) may have work on the main plan and other steps may pave the way to the second plan i.e. go public tell the people of what is the process we seek from the leaders. Some people would later approach him who would be the essence of the second phase. Thus the preparation of the second step took place in a way that doesn't violate the main phase.

The Banquet

The second related event connected to this verse is the preparation of a banquet and inviting forty men of his clan asking them for support and protection for him and his dawa.

The Prophet (saw) asked Ali (ra) to prepare a banquet and invite the leaders of his clan Banu Abd al-Muttalib. The men then left before the Prophet 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? (Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 322, Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh, Vol. 1, p. 259)

In other narrations, the Prophet (saw) said:

فَأَيُّكُمْ يُبَايِعُنِي عَلَى أَنْ يَكُونَ أَخِي وَصَاحِبِي؟
"Who of you is going to give me the pledge to be my brother and companion?" (Musnad Ahmed, Tarikh Dimashq and Tahdhib al-Kamal)

These narrations (and many other narrations in that sense) makes more sense as the Prophet (saw) was asking for someone to protect him and his dawah and to guarantee his debt and responsibilities (Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 322) if he was injured when delivering the message.

The narrations of this event imply little knowledge of the message, or not at all. So, it is probable it was immediately after the gathering at the mountain of Safa or maybe even before it, especially, as the event is associated with the revelation of the verse in surah al-Shu'ara.

This event could not have happened during the so-called 'public dawa' because one of the men who attended the banquet was Hamzah, who converted shortly before the public dawa. The Prophet (saw) asked the attendance for anyone to support him, but no one agreed.

Ali narrated the response of the attendance, including Hamzah, when the Prophet (saw) asked for anyone's support:

فَلَمْ يَقُمْ إِلَيْهِ أَحَدٌ
"No one stood up for him." (Bayhaqi, Dala'il an-Nubuwah, Vol. 5, p. 45)

So Hamzah was not a Muslim yet, and if he was a Muslim, he would have told him that he would provide him with support as he was doing after having become a Muslim. So this event must have taken place before the third year and immediately after or shortly before the event of mount Safa in the first year of revelation.

These arguments led many of the contemporary scholars and writers to contradict the traditional view and say it was revealed very early, such as ibn Ashur above, whilst others preferred to stop here and not comment at all.

The Egyptian contemporary scholar of tafseer and hadith Dr Muhammad Ra'fat identified the issue and suggested the verse was revealed very early. He said:

ْويَذْكُرِ الإمامُ ابن كَثِيرٍ مَجْمُوعَة الرِوَايَاتِ الأُخْرَى فِى تَفْسِيرِهِ. فَهَذِهِ الآيةُ الكَرِيمَة إذًا يَأتِى تَرتِيبُ نُزُولِهَا قَبْلَ سُورَةِ المَسَد
"Imam ibn Kathir mentions a group of other narrations in his tafseer. Thus, the order of this verse (in sura al-Shu'ara' comes before sura al-Masad." (Muhammad Ra'fat, Tarikh Nuzul al-Qur'an, p. 131)

The contemporary Palestinian mufasir Muhammad Zarurah realised this too but adopted "no view". He commented:

ِلِذَلِكَ فَنَحْنُ نَتَوَقَفْ فِي الرِوَايَات
"So, I will stop at the narrations; (i.e. I will take no stance)." (Muhammad Zarurah, at-Tafseer al-Hadith, Vol. 1, p. 497)


Objection

One may argue the context of this verse reveals it was narrated later after Muslims started praying in congregations. The fifth verse following this verse says:

وَتَقَلُّبَكَ فِي السَّاجِدِينَ
"And your movement among those who prostrate." (Qur'an 26:219)

But scholars argue many meanings for this verse: for example, some argue a literal understanding as moving among your Muslims who prostrate in a congregational prayer; others such as ibn Abbas (ra) argued it means you are gradually coming from the Prophets' loins and you are one of their offspring.

Ibn Abbas argued:

أَرَادَ تَقَلُّبَكَ فِي أَصْلَابِ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ مِنْ نَبِيٍّ إِلَى نَبِيٍّ حَتَّى أَخْرَجَكَ فِي هَذِهِ الْأُمَّةِ
"He means your movement in the loins of the Prophets: from one prophet to another until (Allah) brought you out in this nation." (Tabari, Jami' al-Bayan, Vol. 19, pp. 123-125, Tafseer l-Baghawi, Vol. 6, p. 134, Ibn Kathir, Tafseer al-Qur'an al-'Adheem, Vol. 6, p. 171)

In either case, whether prophets or worshippers, this verse was not revealed early in the seera.

As the narrations say only two verses were revealed; the one in question and others abrogated the verse: 'And warn thy nearest kindred' (26:214) 'and your sincere and selected people among them' (is the abrogated verse).

So, the rest of the surah, as ibn Ashur argued above, was revealed later with this verse in context.

Conclusion

This verse was revealed early, contrary to the traditional view, in the first year of revelation.

Around the time this verse was revealed, the Prophet (saw) went to mount Safa and invited his clan to a banquet three times.

Main References

Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb;
Ibn Ashur at-Tahrir wa at-Tanweer;
Tabari, Jami' al-Bayan;
Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari;
Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh;
Tafseer l-Baghawi
Bayhaqi, Dala'il an-Nubuwah;
Ibn Kathir, Tafseer al-Qur'an al-'Adheem;
Ibn Kathir, as-Seera an-Nabawiyah;
Muhammad Ra'fat, Tarikh Nuzul al-Qur'an;
Muhammad Zarurah, at-Tafseer al-Hadith.


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