The Declaration of the Prophethood
Now, there are five main stages of the dawah that Islam went through in the Seerah, and each is a legitimate stage for any Muslim community:
Private dawah – Letting the status quo remain. This was the first 3 years of the dawah of the prophet.
Public preaching with no military retaliation – This is the preaching of the minority, and as they are a minority they cannot fight even if they are persecuted and oppressed. In fact the command by Allah was not to retaliate, even if you were harmed, and actually the oppression got incredibly bad in Mecca to the point where there were multiple assassination attempts on the prophet’s life. Now this stage was the next 10 years in Mecca before the Hijra.
Public preaching along with active military action against oppressors – The Muslims warred only against the Quraish of Mecca (any any allied tribes) when they emigrated to Yathrib in the Hijra, and this lasted for 6 years.
Preaching to all with only defensive military action – Having the power to do so but not using military power to spread Islam. This happened after the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, where the Meccans made a pact with the Muslims to get them to stop fighting and so they did. When this happened, Allah revealed that, ‘We have given you the biggest victory,’ and although Umar (RA) and others didn’t understand at the time they later he came to see the political ramifications of this which led to Islam taking over the entirety of Arabia. This period lasted for around 10 years.
Open conquest for the spread of Islam – This is the stage that the prophet passed away on, sending out whole armies to conquer the Romans, Persians and so on. This continued until about midway through the Abbasid Empire where they decided to return to the fourth stage, which shows that military policy is not a permanent element of Islam.
For the first 3 years of the dawah it was preached privately, meaning it was not hidden or secret but rather just the personal business of the people involved. The Quraish heard rumours that the grandson of Abdul Muttalib was teaching a new theology, but it was not openly declared by him and did not interfere with the affairs of Mecca and so was left alone. In this time the early converts of Islam silently learnt and strengthened their faith with no opposition, the wisdom of this time being that when the persecution began they were spiritually strong enough to get through the trials faced by them – such as the trade boycott and the torture of Bilal (RA) – and in fact all of the early sahabi went on to be figureheads of Islam in their own right.
However after these 3 years Allah revealed to the prophet many verses that showed that he needed to take the dawah to a public scale: Surah Hijr verse 94, ‘Don’t hide, go forth and proclaim what We have commanded you, and turn away from the ignorant people.’ And in another more explicit ayat, ‘Warn your kin (and in this case the entirety of Quraish was the prophet’s kin, which meant he really had to take it public).’ And so first the prophet began preaching to his own sub-tribe, the Banu Hashim. These were his immediate family, and he invited around 40 of their adults to his house and told Ali to prepare food and soup. Now Abu Lahab – who had been hearing rumours about the prophet’s dawah – was also there, and he became worried that his nephew was about to make public what had been private. And so before he had finished eating he made an excuse and left, and as he was the most senior of the congregation it ruined the atmosphere and a number of others left as well. The prophet realised this was a tactic of Abu Lahab, and so next time when he re-invited all of the adults of the Banu Hashim he stood up before they had finished eating and declared that he had an announcement to make. And then he began to preach, and this was the first this he preached aloud publicly and the first time the message reached the members of the Quraish. At this, Abu Lahab became irratated and said to the people around the prophet, ‘This seems to be an unworthy message – we have our way of our forefathers and who does this young man think he is to oppose our ways?’ And he was the only one who said something harsh about the prophet at this time and openly rejected the message – all of the other relatives did not accept or reject at this point.
A few days later the prophet went public to the entirety of Mecca. He first climbed mount Saffa – which was right upon the Kahbah and much taller than it is now – and began calling the sub-tribes to him. Now keep in mind Mecca only had around 1000 people, so climbing mount Saffa was the equivalent of telling everyone you have a big announcement to make. And so everyone stopped what they were doing and flocked to the mountain, and the prophet waited for everyone to assemble before beginning; ‘If I was to tell you that behind this mountain an army lied in wait to attack Mecca, would you believe me without checking yourselves?’
To this the people replied, ‘Yes, we have never heard you tell a lie.’
And so the prophet said, ‘Know therefore I am a warner sent by Allah, to proclaim the coming of a severe punishment on the day of Judgement except if you turn to Allah and leave your idols. O tribe of Ka'ab, save yourselves from the fire of hell…’ he began with the furthest sub-tribe that were related to him and got closer and closer to his own tribe, ‘O Banu Hashim…’ and then he began mentioning his uncles individually by name, ‘O Hamza ibn Abdul Muttalib etc… You need to save yourselves, I cannot benefit you or save you on day of Judgement…’ and he concluded with the person closest to him – his daughter, Fatimah (RA), with whom he added, ‘Except that in this world I will give what you want, but in the hereafter I cannot save you.’
Now when the prophet ended on this emotional note, Abu Lahab picked up some sand and threw it in his direction – which was an Arab way to show contempt – and said, ’May you be cursed, O Muhammad – is this why you called us here?’ Because of this vulgar public display of arrogance and opposition Allah later revealed Surah Lahab, which mirrored Abu Lahab’s statement by cursing him in the same way that he cursed the prophet. And in fact, no other opponent to Muhammad ﷺ has ever been mentioned by name in the Quran except Abu Lahab, and the fact that a whole surah was revealed for him shows the depth of the evil of his character and the magnitude of the punishment in reserve for him in Jahannam.
What we learn from this is that every single person is first responsible for their immediate family, so much so that the prophet was first told to preach to his relatives before making the dawah public to the rest of the world. The responsibility of a da'ee is much more for his close family than anyone else, and this is something we must incorporate to our lives after the example of our prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 012