Throughout the Meccan era, the Messenger (saw) tried convincing his people, the Quraysh, to reorient their way of life to Islam. His focus from the outsets was on the tribal leaders and influentials, trusted by wider society, who would follow them in any social changes they introduced.
He thus did not proactively call individuals, whilst society still continued along their previous trajectory.
His mission was to change society, its institutions, ideology and culture, to establish a civilisation, not to change the faith of individuals in a missionary sense whilst all this remained intact.
It is why early companions (ra) would hear rumours of his dawa and approach him seeking knowledge of Islam and them convert. One of them was Saad ibn Abi Waqas (ra).
Saad Ibn Abi Waqas's (ra) Conversion
Saad ibn Abi Waqas (ra) was the messenger's maternal uncle. It was narrated the Messenger (saw) commented on Saad (ra):
هَذَا خَالِي فَلْيُرِنِي امْرُؤٌ خَالَهُ
"This is my maternal uncle, so let a man show me his maternal uncle." (Tirmidhi 4118)
Saad (ra) was a professional archer and one of the army leaders who fought against Rome and Persia. After revelation began, he experienced a dream in which he saw nothing but darkness. He then saw a shining moon, with Abu Bakr, Zayd ibn Harithah and Ali ibn Abi Talib (ra) preceding him in reaching it. He later heard of the messenger's public dawa to Quraysh and met the Messenger (saw) in Ajyad, a valley on the outskirts of Mecca as Quraysh had become hostile to his call to them to change their collective way of life.
Saad's daughter A'isha narrated her father's conversion story:
رِأَيْتُ في المَنَامِ، قبل أَنْ أُسْلِمَ، كأَني فِي ظُلْمَةٍ لا أُبْصِرُ شيئًا، إِذْ أَضَاءَ لِي قَمَرٌ، فاتَّبَعْتُه، فكَأَنِي أَنْظُرُ إِلى مَنْ سَبَقَنِي إِلى ذَلَكَ القَمَر، فأَنظر إِلى زيدٍ بن حَارِثَةَ، وإِلى عليٌّ بنَ أَبِي طَالِب، وإِلى أَبي بَكْرٍ، وكأَنِي أَسْأَلُهُم: متى انْتَهَيْتُم إِلى هَاهُنَا؟ قالوا: الساعة، وبَلَغَنِي أَنّ رَسُولَ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلمَ يَدْعُو إِلى الإِسْلامِ مُسْتَخْفِيًّا، فلَقِيتُهُ في شِعْبِ أَجْيَادٍ، وقد صَلَّى العَصْرَ، فأَسْلَمْتُ، فما تَقَدَّمَنِي أَحدٌ إِلا هُم.
"I saw a dream before becoming a Muslim. I was in a dark place where I could see nothing; then a moon was illumined in front of me and I followed it.
I was looking for people who preceded me in seeing the moon and they were Zayd ibn Harithah, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abu Bakr. I was asking them: when did you come here? They said: Just a short while ago.
I was told the Messenger was calling to Islam secretly and I met him in the street of Ajyad and he just finished praying al-Asr and no one had embraced Islam (at that time) except them." (Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq, Vol. 11, p. 215, Ibn al-Athir, Asad al-Ghabah, Vol. 2, p. 455)
He goes on to say:
Three nights before embracing Islam, I had a dream in which I saw that I was engulfed in extreme darkness. On account of the darkness, I was unable to see anything. Suddenly, a moon appeared and I began to follow it. I then saw that Zaid bin Harithah (ra), Ali (ra) and Abu Bakr (ra) had preceded me in reaching this light.
On awakening, since I had learnt of Rasulullah (saw) claiming nubuwwah; I went to him and enquired, “What are you actually inviting towards?”
Rasulullah (saw) replied, “I invite you towards the oneness of Allah Ta‘ala and I invite you to attest that I am the messenger of Allah Ta‘ala.”
I immediately accepted Islam saying, “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship besides Allah Ta‘ala and that Muhammed (saw) is Allah’s messenger.” (Khandelvi, Seera al-Mustafa Vol. 1, pp. 162-163)
He probably asked Abu Bakr (ra) to arrange a secret meeting with the Messenger (saw), following which he accepted the truth and embraced Islam. It is narrated Abu Bakr (ra) took him to the Messenger (saw) - presumably the place where the Messenger (saw) used to welcome other people who enquired about his call assuming it followed a similar pattern to the conversions of Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf and Khalid ibn al-Ass (ra). (Ibn Kathir, al-Seera al-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 1, pp. 440-41)
He was the third in Islam after the Messenger and the above-mentioned companions:
وَلَقَدْ مَكَثْتُ سَبْعَةَ أَيَّامٍ وَإِنِّي لَثُلُثُ الإِسْلاَمِ
"For seven days I was one of the three persons who were Muslims (one-third of Islam)." (Bukhari 3858)
However the numbers don't make sense. He was clearly one of the very early companions however Khadijah, Khalid ibn Abi al-Ass and others preceded him - he may have not known about all of them or maybe he was one of the three who were openly known to have converted. (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 3, p. 32)
The second-century jurist Abu Hanifah (ra), the founder of the Hanafi madhab, suggested he, and other companions who made similar statements, would have been the first ones of their age or family:
كُلًّا مِنْ هَؤُلَاءِ أَسْلَمَ قَبْلَ أَبْنَاءِ جِنْسِهِ
"Each one of them embraced Islam before his likes." (Ibn Kathir, al-Seerah al-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 1, p. 443)
He also said the Messenger (saw) was secretly undertaking his call. This could not mean the Messenger (saw) preached Islam secretly because it is established the Messenger (saw) was calling the Quraysh elites and influentials to Islam publicly from the outset, but he would usually meet individuals who enquired secretly for their protection. This Messenger's (saw) call in Mecca and its spread to surrounding areas contradicts the myth of secret dawa. What the term "secrecy" or "hidden" may also refer to was an increasingly discreet approach to his call and discussions given the harsh rejection by Quraysh and their followers.
The narrator also said the Messenger (saw) had just finished praying the al-Asr prayer, but it could not have been the case as prayers were prescribed in the tenth year of ba'thah (revelation) in al-Mi'raj. It is more likely, he saw the Messenger (saw) praying around the time of al-Asr and it was transmitted later as the prayer itself, rather than its time.
Saad ibn Abi Waqas' (ra) auspicious dream and rumours of the Messenger's (saw) public dawa pushed him to get Abu Bakr to arrange a meeting with the Messenger (saw) where he embraced Islam.
Ibn al-Athir, Asad al-Ghabah
Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq
Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayyah
Ibn Kathir, al-Seerah al-Nabawiyyah
Khandelvi, Seera al-Mustafa
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