Ordering the events in the seera is notoriously difficult, especially for the early period in Mecca, as the narrations don't order nor provide much by way of dates. There were few early Muslims to document events let alone their order.
Historians generally piece together what most likely happened in the early years after reviewing relevant narrations. Events are often ordered according to what they think should have taken place. Many hypothesised a number of stages to the Messenger's dawa, structuring narrations according to this preconceived framework, advancing or delaying narrated events to fit within it. This appears to have created distortions.
I will follow a different approach, reviewing all narrations without such preconceptions. I will consider the qara'in (related evidences and events) with their shawahid (similar narrations for the same event) and determine the most likely order before considering if any structures, categories or phases exist. I then compare the chronologies with individual biographies of companions, 89 Meccan verses and finally contrast with the order of events that are known of previous Messengers who called their nations to Islam.
First Year of Ba'thah (Revelation)
In 610 A.D, the Messenger (saw) was forty years old when he
She consulted her monotheistic Christian cousin, Waraqah ibn Nawfal, who was a scholar. He advised Muhammad was to be a Messenger and told him his people would show his message great hostility.
The revelation was then intermittent but after forty days it returned ordering him to start warning his nation (sura al-Mudathir 74:1-5):
''O you, wrapped up! Arise and warn and your Lord magnify, and your garments purify and dessert the idols." (Qur'an 74:1-5)
Jibreel (as) then taught the Messenger (saw) wudu and prayer. We don't know for certain how the Messenger (saw) implemented this order, but we know it was a social call and not an individual call. For example, Khadijah embraced Islam without being invited; Ali (and probably Zayd ibn al-Haritha) the next converts saw him praying and enquired. The Messenger (saw) would pray in front of the ka'ba, where his uncle Abu Talib once seeing him praying with Ali (ra) and asked him about this new religion. This suggests the Messenger (saw) did not yet warn people as Abu Talib was one of the earliest to know about Islam.
Then another verse was revealed (before which no other companions converted) ordering the Messenger (saw) to start calling his clan:
"Warn your kinsmen and lower your wing to the believers who follow you." (Qur'an 26:214-215)
Contrary to the traditional view, this verse was revealed in the first year of revelation. Around this time, the Messenger (saw) went to mount Safa inviting the Quraysh clans to Islam; he also invited his own clan to a banquet three times asking them for support and protection for the new way of life he brought.
All of the above seem to contradict the alleged secret dawa stage many writers claim existed in the first three years. The dawa was hardly secret or private. Aspects of this period saw it being kept secret or private given the hostile and often aggressive responses from Quraish and her followers.
Hearing rumours of his discussions with the elites, individual Meccans began approaching the Messenger (saw), asking him about Islam and his call. One of the first to convert to Islam was Abu Bakr (as well others such as Ammar, Suhayb, Ubaydah ibn al-Harith, Abu Salamah, Ibn al-Arqam and ibn Madh'un, A'sha bint Qays etc) who heard rumours of the Messenger's dawa, enquired with him and thus believed in God and the truth of his call.
I can find no companion converting before the call to the tribal leaders all converting following rumours of the Messenger's proposals to the elites.
The Messenger (saw) also started to encounter people arriving from outside Mecca enquiring about Islam, following the spread of rumours to their peoples, often embracing the truth after hearing the Messenger's answers. Examples include Abu Dharr al-Ghaffari (ra) with his two friends, Tufayl al-Dausi (ra), Talha (ra), Amr as-Sulami (ra) amongst others.
After reading almost every narration in the books of seera and all of the companion conversion stories I would say there is no narration where the Messenger (saw) proactively initiated dawa with non-influential individuals, rather his focus was with influential tribal elites who between them had the ability to reorient and restructure society in accordance with Islam and convey it to the world.
The Messenger (saw) did not gain any success with these elites, but was slowly but surely supported by a growing number of non-influentials. He would educate and culture them secretly in Dar al-Arqam as a way of protecting them from an increasingly hostile society. The Messenger (saw) was preparing future activists and leaders of Islam. Those scholars who claim there was a secret phase, namely, secret culturing of his group, are correct on their claim.
Second – Fifth Year of Ba'thah
We have little information about what was going on in this period. We know the Messenger (saw) was still preparing the companions in Dar al-Arqam, receiving those approaching him publicly (such as the delegation of Christian Najrans) or secretly (such as weak converts), still calling the leaders of his tribes, whilst praying and making tawaf in front of the ka'ba.
Quraysh knew of some conversions whom they persecuted or tortured. These companions were encouraged by the Messenger (saw) to endure this suffering with patience and not fight back.
In the fifth year, the Messenger (saw) allowed those who could not endure the suffering to migrate to Abyssinia. Around a hundred Muslims gradually migrated, including prominent companions such as Uthman ibn Afan, Ja'far, Abd ar-Rahman ibn Awf, Zubayr and others. َQuraysh pursued those migrating and tried to take them back by negotiating with King Najashi. The King enquired into the dispute, and Ja'far explained Islam in summary, explained events in Mecca and the reason they fled was because of their people's torture. He also recited sura Mariam (No. 19:1-20) and Najashi was win over and promised he would protect them.
Sixth Year of Ba'thah
This year was a turning point in the Meccan dawa. The Messenger (saw) had not yet gained elite support, most stubborn, mocking and repeatedly rejecting his proposals. Most companions in Mecca concealed their faith, afraid of proclaiming publicly due to violent responses from Quraysh's followers.
Hamza (ra) returning from hunting, one of Quraysh's elites and the Messenger's uncle, heard Abu Jahl had insulted his nephew Muhammad and whilst defending him, converted openly in front of the Meccans. Three days later, another elite Umar ibn al-Khattab converted.
These two conversions strengthened the Muslim camp - revelation then came ordering the Messenger (saw) to initiate a new stage:
"Proclaim what you are commanded and turn away from the unbelievers." (Qur'an 15:94)
The significance of this verse was the initiation of a new phase requiring turning away and not caring about the elites and winning over their followers - separating the followers from the elites to gain a body politic, their collective sentiment and public opinion, the actual body or substance of a political community. If they would collectively agree with the Messenger (saw) they could force their leaders to change direction.
This understanding can be seen in events following this verse. The Messenger (saw) gathered the companions (ra) into two rows and did public tawaf, public and collective dawa shocking Quraysh and the society. This should be contrasted with previous individual public displays of Islam by Abu Dharr or Abdullah ibn Masood, they would be physically assaulted by Quraysh's supporters.
A group challenging the status quo shocked and divided Meccan society whose leaders responded by increasing their propaganda and torture campaigns - however the message went viral and became a public talking point.
Quraysh demanded Abu Talib stop his nephew, but he continued providing protection when the Messenger (saw) told him,
'My capacity to stop this matter is less than your capacity firing a piece of wood from this Sun.'
Quraysh via Utbah ibn Rabi'ah and others offered him wealth, women and even power, so long he abandoned his call, but the Messenger (saw) refused. They even offered ritually and politically serving his God one year and their gods the other and then choosing the best, but the Messenger (saw) refused. They accused him of dividing their solidarity and cohesive society, refusing to integrate, confusing their public opinion and defaming their religion, traditions and values. He still refused to compromise.
Seventh-Ninth Year of Ba'thah
There is no detailed information on how the dawa looked like during this period, but there are narrations the Messenger (saw) would speak with the tribes during the hajj season; the boycott, however, had a detrimental effect on his dawa and his companions kept migrating to Abyssinia with others enduring torture.
Tenth-Eleventh Year of Ba'thah
In year ten, protection and support of Abu Talib and Khadijah (ra) ended as both passed away. Quraysh now could kill or torture the Messenger (saw) more easily.
It was now Allah ordered his Messenger (saw) to contact other tribes outside Mecca for support:
"And say, 'My Lord, cause me to enter a sound entrance and to exit a sound exit and grant me from yourself a Sultan (Power and authority) who can provide victory'." (Qur'an 17:80)
The Messenger (saw) began his search for protection and support from dozens of other tribes asking they adopt his call, help him deliver it, defend him and Islam against any enemy, secure his dawa and implement its teachings - the mana'ah (protection) and nusrah (support) for his deen.
His uncle al-Abbas, friend Abu Bakr and cousin Ali (ra) would help identify influential tribes and visit them with him at their homes and marketplaces. The Messenger would ask about their military strength and reputation, the number of fighters, the protection they could provide, their forefathers, previous battles etc to evaluate their ability to defend and propagate Islam. Most would not achieve the goal to meet some requirement or other.
In year eleven, the Messenger (saw) encountered a group of six people of the al-Khazraj tribe from Yathrib (Medina) and presented Islam to them and asked them for mana'ah and nusrah. They spoke between themselves that this was the man whom the Jews and Christians were awaiting. They accepted Islam and returned to discuss with their people.
Twelfth Year of Ba'thah
Medina was a politically fractured society, where the Jews dominated, keeping the Aus and Khazraj tribes divided. This unstable reality contributed to the rapid acceptance and spread of Islam in Medina.
A twelve man delegation came to the Messenger (saw) during the following Hajj season where they pledged an oath (Bay'ah al-Aqaba al-Ula). They subsequently asked the Messenger (saw) to send someone to help them in matters of dawa and to teach revelation to the new converts. The Messenger (saw) sent Musab ibn Umayr (ra).
Musab (ra) visited the people of Medina in their tribal communities and worked on the conversion of both leaders and their followers. The most important activities he undertook in Medina was winning over two influential leaders, Saad ibn Muadh and Saad ibn Ubaidah, who the whole Medinan society trusted and followed - after their conversion their followers converted.
As a result of his activities and activities of those who embraced Islam, Medina in one single year transformed from a people who were politically divided and committing shirk to people who turned to Islam and unity.
Thirteenth Year of Ba'thah
In this year, 70 companions from Medina came to the Messenger (saw) and pledged an oath of war, agreeing to support the Messenger (saw) and his mission, and becoming the first Muslim state in Medina. It was called the second bay'ah of al-'Aqabah or the bay'ah of war that recognised the Messenger (saw) as the leader of the state, guaranteeing support and protection.
The Messenger (saw) then ordered his companions to start migrating to Medina before finally emigrating with Abu Bakr.
When the Messenger (saw) migrated to Medina, the Ansar gathered five hundred men who surrounded him with swords drawn. Every clan requested the Messenger (saw) to live amongst them saying, 'Come to the (largest) number, the (best) equipped and best able to protect.'
The events reflected the establishment of the first Muslim state; the swords drawn by the warriors was to let the people of Medina know there was new political leadership, namely the Islamic state. The existing ruler of Medina fled to Mecca following this surprise coup.
It is difficult to pinpoint an accurate chronology, but we can tentatively outline the events as they most probably happened. Following revelation at mount Hira, the Messenger (saw) sought to reorient the Meccan way of life. When this did not achieve the goal, he approached Arabian tribes, finally winning over Medina in year 13, the home of the first Islamic state with the Messenger (saw) at its head.
Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah
Ibn Hisham, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah
Ibn Ishaq, as-Siyar wa al-Maghazi
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-Nabawiyyah wa Akhbar al-Khulafa
Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwwah
Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam
Darami, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah.
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