When the Messenger (saw) first received revelation, he called his nation, the Quraysh, to accept Islam and reorient their way of life. Allah commanded him to focus on the tribal leaders, those whom society implicitly trusted, following them even if they changed their collective way of life.
He thus did not proactively call individuals, who could personally agree with him, whilst society still continued with their existing way of life. His mission was to change society, establish a civilisation, not change the faith of some individuals in a missionary sense.
Early companions would hear rumours of his call and approach him enquiring about Islam and subsequently convert.
Talhah ibn Ubaydullah (ra) was one of these early converts who became later one of the cornerstones of the Islamic state and one of the Ten Promised Paradise. He was a merchant and one of the first companions to embrace Islam.
Talhah's (ra) Conversion
When the Messenger (saw) received revelation, Talhah (ra) was travelling in relation to trade and heard a monk shouting in a marketplace about a new Messenger in Mecca. Talhah (ra) told him he was from Mecca and the monk advised him to go back as a Messenger had appeared and he should follow him.
Talhah (ra) went back immediately and when he entered Mecca, he asked people about any news he had missed. He was told of the Messenger Muhammad's (saw) revelation and Abu Bakr (ra) followed him.
Talhah (ra) went to Abu Bakr (ra) who verified the information of his conversion. Abu Bakr took him to the Messenger (saw) where he accepted Islam.
This story amongst those of other companions shows people of Mecca knew about the Messenger's (saw) dawa, contrary to the common misconception of 'secret dawa' from the outset of the seerah as well as the Messenger (saw) approaching individuals 'missionary' style, not vice versa.
Talhah (ra) narrated his story when he was in a trade:
فَإِذَا رَاهِبٌ فِي صَوْمَعَتِهِ يَقُولُ: سَلُوا أَهْلَ الْمَوْسِمِ: أَفِيهِمْ رَجُلٌ مَنْ أَهْلِ الْحَرَمِ؟ قَالَ طَلْحَةُ: قُلْتُ: نَعَمْ أَنَا.
فَقَالَ: هَلْ ظَهَرَ أَحْمَدُ بَعْدُ؟ قُلْتُ: وَمَنْ أَحْمَدُ؟ قَالَ: ابْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَبْدِ الْمُطَّلِبِ، هَذَا شَهْرُهُ الَّذِي يَخْرُجُ فِيهِ، ...
فَوَقَعَ فِي قَلْبِي مَا قَالَ، فَخَرَجْتُ سَرِيعًا حَتَّى قَدِمْتُ مَكَّةَ، فَقُلْتُ: هَلْ كَانَ من حَدِيث؟ قَالُوا: نَعَمْ، مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ الْأَمِينُ قد تنبأ، وَقد اتبعهُ أَبُو بكر ابْن أَبى قُحَافَة. ... قَالَ: فَخرجت حَتَّى قدمت عَلَى أَبِي بَكْرٍ، فَقُلْتُ: أَتَبِعْتَ هَذَا الرَّجُلَ؟ قَالَ: نَعَمْ، فَانْطَلِقْ إِلَيْهِ فَادْخُلْ عَلَيْهِ فَاتَّبِعْهُ، فَإِنَّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَى الْحَقِّ. ... فَخَرَجَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ بِطَلْحَةَ فَدَخَلَ بِهِ عَلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، فَأَسْلَمَ طَلْحَةُ
"A monk in his tent asked: See whether the people of this (trade) season include a man from al-Haram (Mecca)?
Talhah said: I am.
The monk asked: Has Ahmed (another name of the Messenger) appeared yet?
I said: Who is Ahmed?
He replied: ibn Abd al-Muttalib, this is the month where he is supposed to appear …
(Talhah said) what he said entered my heart and I went back quickly until I entered Mecca and I said: Is there any news?
They (people of Mecca) replied: Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Ameen (the honest) received revelation and Abu Bakr ibn Abu Quhafah followed him. …
I went to Abu Bakr and asked: Did you follow this man?
He replied: Yes, go to him and follow him as he calls for the truth. …
Abu Bakr went out with Talhah and entered upon the Messenger (saw) and embraced Islam" (Ibn Kathir, al-Seerah al-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 1, p. 438)
Talhah (ra) was told of the Messenger's revelation whilst he was on a trade journey. When he entered Mecca, he asked about the latest news, and was told of the Messenger's (saw) claim of revelation and Abu Bakr (ra) was one of his followers. He approached Abu Bakr (ra) who took him to the Messenger (saw) and he believed in him.
Ibn Kathir, al-Seerah al-Nabawiyyah
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