Making sense of the narrative of seera in Mecca requires significantly hard work in reviewing, comparing, checking and evaluating narrations. No one can seek to rely on a couple of sources to get an accurate understanding of what really happened.
Dr Yasir Qadhi is a well-known Pakistani-American Muslim scholar who studied in Medina where he received his bachelors and masters degree in Arabic. He later returned to the United States and worked on his doctorate in the Islamic theology at Yale University. He presents a number of YouTube series in seera and theology, watched by thousands of people around the world. He now focuses his papers and books on contemporary issues such as Jihad and movements such as Salafism.
In his seera series, Qadhi's overall content is unproblematic, but the early narrative of how the Prophet (saw) conducted dawa in Mecca is quite confused and even erroneous in parts.
It seems the research he has undertaken has been restricted to a couple of sources - which he does not cite but is evident in the failure to cite significant details from other sources. He repeats common, albeit contemporary, misconceptions of the seera narrative.
As such his narrative of the early stages in Mecca lacks a clear coherent and meaningful narrative where all the details dovetail - as well as making a mockery of how socio-political processes that underpin the aims and actions of the Prophet (saw) function.
Qadhi's Stages of Dawa
Qadhi identifies five stages of the Prophet's dawa across his lifetime. The first two he says were established in Mecca and the remaining three were established after the initiation of the Islamic state in Medina:
Whilst I believe all these stages exhibit confusion in terms of their nature, I will focus my answer on the first two.
Qadhi's core understanding from his review of the Meccan phase is the Prophet (saw) received revelation and started to do a private (but not secret) but selective form of dawa. He carefully chose people whom he trusted, those more likely to accept his dawa (such Khadijah, Ali, Zayd and others) and his close friends (such as Abu Bakr). He gives the impression the first goal was to build a band of followers who believed in him and his message.
He claims the Prophet (saw) did not do any public dawa to the masses whatsoever, and Quraysh did not do anything to him because he was did nothing against their interests.
After three years, he continues, the Prophet (saw) received the verses:
فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ
"Proclaim openly what you have been ordered" (15:94)
وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ
"Warn your kinsmen." (Qur'an 26:214)
in that order.
This then constituted a prophetic public dawa for the first time with no military commandments.
This is what led the Prophet (saw) to approach his tribe in the banquet and the masses on mount Safa that resulted in the revelation of surah al-Masad:
َبَّتْ يَدَا أَبِي لَهَبٍ وَتَبَّ
"May the hands of Abu Lahab be ruined, and ruined is he." (Qur'an 111:1)
This understanding of the early phase of the seera is inverted, confusing so many events and issues, it is difficult to know where to start.
Should I start with the date of revelation of the above verses, with the alleged stages or with the actual seera chronology exhibited across all the primary sources?
I decided to start with the alleged stages which I believe are fictional.
Secret vs Private Dawa
The Prophet's (saw) dawa was never secret (nor Qadhi's preferred term "private").
Firstly the distinction of private but not secret is confusing. Qadhi distinguishes them arguing "private" means it is an open secret. If it is an open secret, then it is a secret, albeit open.
Secondly, the Prophet (saw) was calling Quraysh publicly from the very beginning of his dawa with rumours spreading to their followers from the elites speaking of what the Prophet (saw) was calling them to - examples of Abass telling visitors Muhammed was telling them of victories over the Romans and Persians.
So the notion of public and secret dawa in regard to the Prophet (saw) is problematic - it simply does not exist. What existed was the secret culturing of those who embraced Islam in this phase whilst his dawa was public. Qadhi appears to have confused these processes.
Selection of Followers
As regards the claim of the Prophet (saw) selecting his early followers who he invited to Islam, this never happened. The Prophet (saw) never selected his early followers, rather they approached him asking him about Islam and his call after hearing rumours of his dawa with the elites.
One of the first to convert to Islam was Abu Bakr (followed by 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 Prophet's dawa, enquired with him and thus believed in the truth of his call.
I can find no example of any companion converting to Islam before the call to the tribal leaders; all converted following rumours of the Prophet's proposals to the elites.
The Prophet (saw) also started to encounter people arriving from outside Mecca enquiring about Islam, following the spread of rumours of his public call to their peoples, often embracing the truth after hearing the Prophet'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 I would confidently say there is no narration where the Prophet (saw) proactively initiated dawa with non-influential individuals, rather his call and 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.
Abu Bakr and the early companions could not have converted before the call to tribal leaders because narrations are clear they converted following hearing of rumours of the Prophet's discussions with the leaders and elites.
Quraysh was, contrary to Qadhi's claim of non-persecution, harming the Prophet (saw) from almost the very beginning of his call in year one.
In a narration which Qadhi quoted, that of the conversion of the companion Amr ibn Abbasah al-Sullami (ra), the fourth convert to Islam, he states the opposite. His own testimony states he was living outside of Mecca but heard rumours of the Prophet's (saw) dawa, visited him and accepted Islam. He asked the Prophet (saw) if he could stay with him in Mecca, but the Prophet (saw) refused stating Quraysh may harm him, advising him to return to his homeland and join him when Islam was dominant in power - contrary to Qadhi's claim of rejecting his conversion to Islam as it contradicts his alleged stages. Ibn Abbasah acted on the Prophet's (saw) advice, returning only when the Prophet (saw) had established Islamic power in Medina.
He narrated the state of the environment when entering Mecca searching for the Prophet (saw), stating Quraysh was harming him pretty severely:
فَسَأَلْتُ عَنْهُ فَوَجَدْتُهُ مُسْتَخْفًيًا، َوَوَجَدْتُ قُُرَيْشاً عَلََيْهِ أَشِدَّاءْ
"I searched for him and I found him hiding and I found Quraysh fiercely (opposing) him." (Dhahabi, Siyah A'lam an-Nubala', Vol. 2, p. 458)
The Prophet (saw) faced persecution early on as Quraysh rejected his call.
Ordering of Verses
As for revelation of the above verses relating to year three: "Warn your kinsmen." (Qur'an 26:214) and "May the hands of Abu Lahab be ruined and ruined is he." (Qur'an 111:1), both were revealed in the first year of revelation.
After the first verse was revealed, the Prophet (saw) prepared the banquets and invited his clans' leaders and then went to mount Safa calling on all of the Quraysh clans, an act that led to the revelation of surah al-Masad when his own uncle criticised his call.
The Prophet's (saw) call to the leaders and elites was public. Preparing and educating his followers was done secretly in Dar al-Arqam for their protection. Qadhi, and many contemporary writers appear to be confusing the two notions as many narrations speak of secrecy and privacy. Building a group secretly and privately can be done in parallel with public dawa to rulers, elites and influentials.
When his public dawa was faced with repeated rejection and increased mockery by Quraysh leaders, a new stage started following a Quranic imperative: public dawa with his companions to Meccan society in the sixth year of ba'thah (revelation) following the revelation of the verse
فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ
"Proclaim openly what you have been ordered and turn away from the mushrikeen" (15:94).
This new stage required turning away and not caring about a group of people, the leaders and elites, and declare the message to their followers, thereby separating the followers from the elites to gain the support of the body politic, their collective sentiment and public opinion (the actual substance of any political community). If they collectively agreed with what he brought, by weight of their opinion and military force their leaders would be obliged to change direction.
Thus there were two stages visible in Mecca:
For a full accurate narrative of the timeline of the Prophet's dawa in Mecca, read this answer.
Dr Yasir Qadhi suggests two stages of dawa in Mecca: private and public dawa. However these two stages are not observed in the seerah as the Prophet (saw) never gave private nor secret dawa, rather he conducted public dawa from the beginning of ba'thah (revelation).
Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah
Ibn Hisham, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah
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-Nabawiyah wa Akhbar al-Khulafa
Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah
Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam
Darami, as-Seera al-Nabawiyah
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