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What were the stages of the Prophet's (saw) mission (da'wah)?
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I would like to understand the stages of Da'wah of the Prophet (SAW) from the revelation till the time of his death. The purpose is to understand what the methodology of the Dawah.
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Islamic researcher, graduated from Al-Azhar University, Islamic Studies in the English Language. I also studied at Temple University in the US.
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In a Nutshell:
There is a widespread misconception about the stages of the Prophet's (saw) dawa, namely confused notions abound of secret and public dawa stages and who he sought to target. After a careful review of the seerah sources, five stages of dawa can be discerned, three in Mecca and two in Medina. These comprised: dawa to society's leaders and elites; collective dawa to the Meccan body politic; seeking mana'ah (security) and nusrah (help) on the basis of tawheed from tribes outside of Mecca; the establishment of the Islamic state in Medina; the expansion of Muslim land via dawa (dar al-Islam).
Introduction

The following are helpful to understand how messengers called nations to re-establish Allah's deen:

  • the seerah of the Messenger (saw)
  • the narratives of previous messengers and
  • an analysis of Meccan suras
This in turn helps us determine the steps needed to reconstruct our civilization akin to how it was originally established based on divine instructions fourteen hundred years ago. It would be helpful as background reading to review the answers for the timeline of seerah
to understand what was going on.


Widespread Misconceptions

There is a widespread misconception about the stages of the Prophets (saw) dawa resulting in confusion and distortion of the nature of the notion of dawa and even Islam as a whole.

Most contemporary scholars suggest there were three stages of dawa that lead to the establishment of the first Islamic state in Medina. These allegedly comprised:

  • the first stage was secret dawa;
  • the second stage was the public dawa and
  • the third stage was the establishment of the Islamic State.
Whereas in reality, this is incorrect
. The Prophet's (saw) mission to establish Islam as a way of life was public from the outset. He did however keep secret the education, preparation and building of his group of companions, primarily for their protection following Quraysh's aggression and rejection. This first stage then comprised public dawa and the secret preparation of a group.

Furthermore, the Prophet (saw) did not proactively call any non-influential individuals to Islam. Most if not all of the early converts heard rumours of his call to their society and discussions with tribal leaders requesting they collectively reorient society according to a new worldview based on tawheed.

You can read my critical reviews of such notions in other answers that focused on the proposal of Nabhani the founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir
, the Muslim Brotherhood stages
and Yasir Qadhi's summary of the seerah
.

The Stages of Dawa

I would suggest five main stages I identify through the dawa of the Messenger (saw), three of which appear in Mecca and two in Medina.

First Stage: Dawa to Society and its Elites

Following revelation at mount Hira
, the Messenger (saw) was ordered by Allah to warn his nation of the hereafter urging them to change their way of life. The first thing the Messenger (saw) did was to go to mount Safa and make a collective call
to Meccan society as a Messenger.

قُمۡ فَاَنۡذِرۡ وَرَبَّكَ فَكَبِّرۡ 
Arise, and warn and magnify the glory of your Lord (Qur'an 74:2)

Following rejection, he then prepared a banquet
 to call the senior and minor elites of his close familial clans, requesting a fundamental reorientation of their way of life.

وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ   
"And warn your closest kindred..." (Qur'an 26:214)

When neither of these succeeded, the invitation went to the wider Quraysh elites. This stage lasted a period of five to six years.

The Prophet (saw) also used to meet his companions in Dar al-Arqam
a few months after ba'thah. The Prophet (saw) was spiritually, intellectually, physically and religiously preparing the future activists and leaders of Islam in Dar al-Arqam.

Second Stage: Collective Dawa to the Meccan Body Politic

Around the fifth-sixth year of ba'thah, when the first step of calling the leaders achieved no success, Allah revealed:

فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
Proclaim openly what you have been ordered and turn away from the polytheists." (15:94)

After reviewing the causes of revelation, the context, the tafaseer etc
 Allah asked his Messenger (saw) to initiate a new stage of dawa involving his companions whom he was preparing in Dar al-Arqam to turn away and care not about this group of people (the elites and leaders of Quraysh)
and declare the message to their followers and separating the followers from the elites to gain collective sentiment and public opinion (the actual body or substance of the political community). If successful they could force their leaders to change direction.

The Messenger (saw) also focused on influential tribal 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 to a certain direction. (Ahmed al-Shireef, Mecca wa al-Madinah, p. 246)

Third Stage: Seeking Mana'ah and Nusrah outside the Boarders of Mecca

In the tenth year of ba'thah, Abu Talib
, the messenger's uncle who as an influential and respected elite provided protection, passed away. This resulted in his being locked out of Meccan society – so the Messenger (saw), after the repeated and stubborn rejection of Quraysh, had to go outside Mecca to call other tribes who had shawkah
(power) to Islam seeking mana'ah (protection to implement) and nusrah (support for coneying) for his deen
.

 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." (Al-Isra 17:80)

He used to accompany his uncle al-Abbas or Abu Bakr and Ali (ra) who could guide him to the Arabian tribes, identifying their sphere of influence and strength. The Messenger (saw) visited them in their homes. They used to ask the tribes about their troops, number of fighters, the protection they could provide, their forefathers, previous wars and other things to ensure the capability to defend Islam against its enemies. 

This process of presenting Islam to tribes seems to start earlier
(around the fifth-sixth year of ba'thah) but it had to do with those who could affect the political environment within Mecca, unlike the later approaches that would involve fighting Meccans and any enemies whilst establishing the Islamic state on its lands.

Other tribes accepted the Messenger's offer and said they could not afford to fight Rome and Persia because of alliances with them, upon which the Messenger (saw)and Abu Bakr (ra) would leave them as they were seeking total and unqualified protection. (Ibn Kathir, as-Seera al-Nabawiyyah, Vol. 2, p. 160, Darami, al-Seera al-Nabawiyyah)

At the beginning of the 11th year of ba'thah, the Ansar accepted the invitation and pledged protection and support 
and asked the Messenger (saw) to migrate to lead their state. The Messenger (saw) did not return with them given the political instability of Medina
and delayed it until Musab (ra) unified the city
and the Messenger (saw) and his companions could now move to the state to live by Islam.

Fourth Stage: The establishment of the State

When the Messenger (saw) migrated in the 12th-13th year of ba'thah,  the Ansar did two different things
: fifty men surrounded him by swords and every clan requested the Prophet (saw) to live amongst them saying, 'Come to the (largest) number, (best) equipped and protection.'

The event reflected the establishment of the first Muslim state; to let the people of Medina know there was new political leadership. The Messenger (saw) organised the state internationally, politically, governmentally, militarily, socially, religiously, economically and administratively.

He made it a state capable of addressing the upcoming confrontations.

Fifth Stage: Expansion of Muslim land (Dar al-Islam)

When everything was set up in Medina, all the tribes around Medina were preparing to fight the Messenger (saw). So, he started to expand his political domination in the region by calling other tribes to Islam, fighting his enemies and their allies.

The Treaty of Hudaybiyyah (صُلْح الحُدَيْبِيَّة) took place
between the Messenger (saw), representing Medina and its allies, and the Quraysh of Mecca and its allies in 628 AD (6 AH). It created a 10-year peace agreement with the enemies of the Muslims, allowing the Muslims to expand their dawa without hindrance. So, the Messenger (saw) sent invitations to kings and leaders calling them to Islam.

After the liberation of Mecca and the conversion of its leaders and senior elites, the rest of Arabia slowly submitted too. Then the dawa focused on nations outside Arabia, such as those occupied by Rome and Persia.

Conclusion

There are five main stages of dawa, three of them would be in Mecca and two are established in Medina:

  • dawa to the society's senior elites and leaders;
  • collective dawa to the Meccan public politic;
  • seeking mana'ah and nusrah from the other tribes outside the borders of Mecca;
  • the establishment of the Islamic state in Medina and
  • the expansion of Muslim land (dar al-Islam).

References

Ibn Kathir, al-Seera al-Nabawiyah 
Ibn Hisham, al-Seera al-Nabawiyah 
Ibn Ishaq, al-Siyar wa al-Maghazi 
Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari 
Ya'muri, 'Uyun al-Athar 
Kinani, al-Mukhtasar al-Kabir 
Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh 
Sohili, al-Rawd al-Unuf 
Ibn Hiban, al-Seera al-Nabawiyah wa Akhbar al-Khulafa 
Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nubuwah 
Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam 
Darami, al-Seera al-Nabawiyah

 



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