The Messenger (saw) used to call the leaders of Quraysh to Islam for the first six years of revelation. Given their repeated rejection of his message, he began to target their supporters collectively with his companions.
To bring about societal change, the Messenger (saw) needed someone who could protect him against the power of Qurayash a role his uncle Abu Talib played for the first ten years.
We don't know exactly when the Messenger (saw) started seeking the mana'ah and nusrah from the other tribes. But after extensive reading of seera, the earliest time I see the Messenger (saw) approaching other tribes whilst in Mecca was around the fifth-sixth year of ba'thah. It was narrated by Samarqandi in his tafseer:
النَبِيّ صلّى الله عليه وسَلّم أَرَادَ الخُرُوجَ إِلى المَوْسِم أيامَ الحَجِ ليَدْعُو النّاسَ، فَمَنَعَهُ المُسْتَهْزِئُون، وبَعَثُوا على كل طَرِيقٍ رجلاً، فإذا سَأَلَهُم أحدٌ من الغُرَبَاءِ عن النَبِيّ صلّى الله عليه وسلّم قالوا: هُو سَاحِرٌ كَاهِنٌ. ثم قَالُوا: هَذَا دَأْبُنَا كُلّ سَنَةٍ، فَشَقّ على النبيِّ صلّى الله عليه وسلّم
"The Prophet (saw) wanted to go out to ritual places in the days of hajj to call people, but the mockers prevented him and sent a man on each road answering the strangers about the Prophet (saw) saying: 'He is a sorcerer and soothsayer.' They then said: 'This is what we will do every year.'
This distressed the Prophet (saw)." (Samarqandi, Bahr al-Ulum, Vol. 2, p. 263)
There are other narrations of the Messenger (saw) meeting with al-Aws tribe (from Medina) before the war of bu'ath - at least five years before the hijra. When Aws and her allies were defeated several times, some junior elites came to Mecca to form a treaty against the Khazraj. Whilst Quraysh initially agreed, al-Waleed ibn al-Mughirah (or Abu Jahl according to some narrations) opposed any agreement telling Quraysh to break the alliance. (Samhudi, Wafaa al-Wafaa, Vol. 1, p. 385).
The Messenger (saw) heard of them and presented his dawa to them. Iyas ibn Muaz believed he was a messenger and that his proposal was good (probably with a couple of others), 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. (Samhudi, Wafaa al-Wafaa, Vol. 1, p. 388). Ibn Ishaq narrated:
لَكُمْ فِي خَيْرٍ مِمَّا جِئْتُم لَهُ ؟ قَالٌ : قَالُوا : وَمَهَلْ ا ذَاكَ ؟ قَالَ :" أَنَا رَسُولُ اللهِ إِلَى الْعِبَادِ أَدْعُوهُمْ إِلَى أَنْ يَعَبِّدُوا اللهَ وَلَا يُشْرِكُوا بِهِ شِيئًا ، وَأَنْزِلَ عَلِيَّ الْكِتَابَ ". ثُمَّ ذَكَرَ لَهُمْ الْإِسْلامَ وَتَلًّا عَلَيْهِمْ الْقُرْآنَ . قَالَ : فَقَالَ إياس بْنُ مَعَاذ - وَكَانَ غُلاَمَا حَدَثًا -: يا قَوْم هَذَا وَاَللَّهُ خَيْرٌ مِمَّا جِئْتُم لَهُ . فَأَخَذَ أَبُو الحيسر أُنْسُ بْنُ رَافِعِ حِفْنَةً مِنْ تُرَابِ الْبَطْحاءِ فَضَرْبً بِهَا وَجْهَ إياس بْنُ مَعَاذً وَقَالٌ : دَعْنَا مِنْكَ ، فَلَعَمْرُِي لَقَدْ جِئْنَا لِغَيْرٍ هَذَا . قَالٌ : فَصَمَتَ إياس وَقَامَ رَسُولُ اللهِ ﷺ عَنْهُمْ ، وَاِنْصَرَفُوا إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ ، وَكَانَتْ وَقْعَةُ بعاثٍ بَيْنَ الْأَوْسُ وَالْخَزْرَجُ قَال: ثُمَّ لَمْ يَلْبَثْ إياس بن مُعَاذٍ أَنْ هَلَك . قَالَ مَحْمُودٌ بْنٌ لِبِيدٍ : فَأَخبرَنِي مِنْ حُضِرَنِي مِنْ قَوْمِهِ أَنَّهُمْ لَمْ يَزَالُوا يَسْمَعُونَهُ يُهَلِّلَ اللهُ وَيُكْبِرُهُ وَيَحْمَدُهُ وَيُسَبِّحُهُ حَتَّى مَاتَ فَمَا كَانُوا يَشْكُونَ أَنَّه قَدْ مَاتَ مُسْلِمَا
"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 Media. 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)
So the process of presenting Islam to tribes, seeking nusrah and mana'ah, seems to start as early as the fifth-sixth year of ba'thah, but the nature of the later dawa to tribes seems quite different from the earlier one.
In the first stage of dawa, the Messenger (saw) focused on the visitors and pilgrims inside Mecca, because the political structure of Mecca at that time had a number of influential allies (such as al-Akhnas ibn Shurayq) with Quraysh (al-Mawali or al-Hulafaa or al-Ahabeesh) who could affect and move the environment in a certain direction. (Ahmed al-Shireef, Mecca wa al-Madinah, p. 246) So, it seemed that he sought to affect the political environment within Mecca itself, however did not preclude the possibility of them establishing Islam.
The later dawa seemed to abandon influencing the Meccan environment, instead seeking out independent and powerful tribes that could ultimately fight Mecca and their enemies by establishing an Islamic polity on their lands. This typically involving visiting tribes at their homes outside the borders of Mecca occurred in the tenth year after the death of Abu Talib when the Meccan leaders started to harm the Messenger (saw) and oppose his dawa - resulting in being locked out of Meccan society. As the Messenger (saw) said:
مَا نَالَتْ مِنِّي قُرَيْشٌ شَيْئًا أَكْرَهُهُ حَتَّى مَاتَ أَبُو طَالِبٍ
"Quraysh did not harm me with something I hate except after the death of Abu Talib." (Ibn Hisham, al-Seera al-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 1, p. 417, Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 344, Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah, Vol. 2, p. 350, Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam, Vol. 1, p. 235)
At this stage, it seemed Allah ordered the Messenger (saw) to start seeking mana'ah and nusrah from other tribes:
وَقُلْ رَبِّ أَدْخِلْنِي مُدْخَلَ صِدْقٍ وَأَخْرِجْنِي مُخْرَجَ صِدْقٍ وَاجْعَلْ لِي مِنْ لَدُنْكَ سُلْطَانًا نَصِيرًا
"And say, "My Lord! Cause me to enter a sound entrance and help me to a sound exit and make for me a helping authority." (Qur'an 17:80)
So the Messenger (saw) continued in another how i.e. along with presenting himself to tribes in ritual places (from the fifth-sixth year of ba'thah), he approached them at their homes searching for protection and support for his deen from tribes who would adopt his call; help him delivering it and defending him against any enemy; secure his dawa and implement its teachings i.e. mana'ah and nusrah in the tenth year.
The reason I say it was with another how and it was extensive is that we know from many other narrations that the Messenger (saw) started to accompany his uncle al-Abbas, Ali and Abu Bakr to approach other tribes after the death of his uncle Abu Talib in the tenth year of ba'thah.
Al-Abbas (ra) narrated after the death of Abu Talib, he used to take him to the marketplaces and the homes where the tribal leaders stayed, explaining to him their strengths and weaknesses. Ibn Abbas (ra) narrated:
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 were the Arabs assembled… (then he presented him the powerful aspects and strengths in each tribe)." (Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah, Vol. 2, p. 159)
So, the Messenger (saw) had presented himself to tribes in ritual places, but now he is targeting other tribes at home, as he had no understanding of their residence or their strengths and weaknesses. The narration of al-Aws above supports this:
لَمَّا قَدِمَ أَبُو الْحَيْسَرِ أَنَسُ بْنُ رَافِعٍ ، مَكَّةَ ... يَلْتَمِسُونَ الْحِلْفَ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ عَلَى قَوْمِهِمْ مِنَ الْخَزْرَجِ ، سَمِعَ بِهِمْ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ، صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ، فَأَتَاهُمْ ، فَجَلَسَ إِلَيْهِمْ
"When Abu al-Hisr Anas ibn Nafia (from al-Aws) come to Mecca ... seeking the alliance with Quraysh against their people from al-Khazraj, the Messenger (saw) heard of them. So, he came to them and sit with them." (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 3, p. 189)
It is not unreasonabe to assume a similar approach could have been adopted with the rest. However after the tenth year he began to approach all the stronger tribes in their territories - he therefore needed people to help him identify the tribes. This process occurred around the tenth year, not long after the death of Abu Talib and his wife, however the former was probably as early as the fifth or six year as is seen in many narrations. For example, Dimad (ra) heard rumours accusing the Messenger (saw) of being insane and possessed by the devil. He used to cure mad and possessed people, so he asked the Meccans to guide him to him seeking his quick recovery.
The Messenger (saw) began to approach other tribes visiting Mecca for hajj when he heard of their attempts at alliances with Quraysh. This was probably around the fifth-sixth year of ba'thah.
After his uncle Abu Talib passed away in the tenth year of ba'thah, Quraysh increased their efforts to harm the Messenger (saw) so he was ordered to seek mana'ah and nusrah from other tribes outside the borders of Mecca.
Ibn Hisham, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah
Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari
Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah
Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam
Samarqandi, Bahr al-Ulum
Samhudi, Wafaa al-Wafaa
Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah
Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah
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