The Early Converts

Wife Khadijah (rah) the first convert

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) naturally initiated his sacred mission right from home and then moved to the people closely associated with him. He called unto Islam whomsoever he thought would attest to the truth which had come from his Lord. In fact, a host of people who nursed not the least seed of doubt as regards the Prophet (pbuh), immediately responded and readily embraced the true faith.

His wife Khadijah (rah) was the first to believe that he was a prophet. She became the first Muslim after the Qur'an was revealed, and given the honorary title of "Umm al-Momineen", the Mother of believers. Khadijah converted without even knowing what she was converting to (since every aspect of Islam were still being revealed to the Prophet). This shows her confidence in her husband.

Waraqah bin Nawfal, the first male Muslim

After Khadijah the second Muslim convert would've been Waraqah bin Nawfal, her elderly blind cousin who she and Muhammad (pbuh) approached following the first revelation. Waraqah believed in the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh) and it's this sincerity which led the Prophet to see Waraqah in Gardens of Paradise. But since Waraqah died very soon after the first revelation, he would've converted without even saying the sahadah (declaration of faith) or doing the salah (daily prayers) as neither existed at that time.

Therefore, it is Waraqah bin Nawfal who is the first male convert to Islam. A lot of people overlook him and jump to Ali (ra) or Abu Bakr (ra).

Ali bin Abu Talib, Abu Bakr As-Siddique, and Zayd bin Harithah (may Allah be pleased with them), the early converts

The third person to convert after Khadijah and Waraqah is debatable. The choice is from one of three: Ali bin Abu Talib (the Prophet's cousin and later son-in-law), Abu Bakr As-Siddique (the Prophet's close friend) or Zayd bin Harithah bin Sharahil Al-Kalbi (the Prophet's adopted son), may Allah be pleased with them.

Ali was raised by Muhammad (pbuh) and Khadijah. He was probably around 10 years old when the Qur'an was first revealed. After Muhammad (pbuh) married Khadijah he offered to look after the newborn son Ali of his uncle Abu Talib. Abu Talib was an extremely poor man. He had shown great love and care to the Prophet (pbuh) and looked after him after he became an orphan and lost his grandad (and Abu Talib's dad) Abdul-Muttalib.

The conversion of Abu Bakr was immediate. There's no narration of what exactly happened. All that is known was that when Muhammad (pbuh) presented Islam to Abu Bakr he converted instantly, without any hesitation. It is this unconditional loyalty that made Abu Bakr the most beloved and best Sahabah (Companion) of the Prophet. Everyone else always had a hesitation or question prior to accepting Islam since it was life changing decision. However, Abu Bakr did it immediately.

Zayd was a former slave of Khadijah whom the Prophet had freed and adopted as his own son.

It became a political issue as to who became the first male Muslim. Overlooking Waraqah completely, many sunni Muslim would say it was Abu Bakr. But many shia Muslim say it was Ali. There are some who speculate it was Zayd. And since Zayd had no party that he left behind him that could promote his interest, this attribution to him is not improbable.

Some Muslim choose the simple (and easy) route by saying the first child to convert was Ali, the first slave to convert was Zayd, and the first adult free man to convert was Abu Bakr.

There are no account as to which of them three was the first to convert. The only thing that is known is all three were directly converted by Muhammad (pbuh) and they along with Khadijah were the first to openly profess Islam.

Abu Bakr converts second batch, including caliph Uthman (ra)

The next batch of four converts were at the hands of Abu Bakr.

Abu Bakr proved to be an energetic and most zealous activist. He was wealthy, obliging, mild and upright. People used to frequent his house and draw close to him for his knowledge, friendship, pleasant company and business. He invited to Islam whomever he had confidence in. Through his personal efforts four of his close friends embraced Islam. They were: Sa'd bin Abi Waqqas Az-Zuhri, Uthman ibn Affan, Az-Zubair ibn Awwam Al-Asadi and Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf. They converted very soon after Abu Bakr converted.

Sa'd bin Abi Waqqas was the youngest of the four, probably 16 years old https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnQsjVWuiG0. He was from the Quraysh. His mother was against his conversion. She threatened him, tried to torture him and then eventually used emotional blackmail. She said she would stop eating and drinking until he came back to idol worship. She promised to die a painful death in front of him if he didn't stop pracitising Islam. He tried to cajole her and convince her of his newfound faith but she would have none of it. As she weakened, Sa'd told her that if he had 100 ruh (souls) he would spend each of them seeing her die but he won't give up his faith in Islam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnQsjVWuiG0. Hearing her son's immovable conviction, she broke her fast and began eating.

Surah 29 Al-Ankabut (The Spider), ayat 8

And We have enjoined upon man goodness to parents. But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. To Me is your return, and I will inform you about what you used to do.

Sa'd later became the first person to throw a bow and arrow for Islam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnQsjVWuiG0.

May my mother and father be given for you in ransom.

Muhammad (pbuh) expresses his love for Sa'd by using an Arabic expression which means I'd give up everything for you. Muhammad (pbuh) never said this to anybody except Sa'd

Uthman ibn Affan became the third Caliph (Head) of the Muslim community following the Prophet's passing. His mother was Arwa, a cousin of the Prophet (pbuh). Uthman's contribution to Islam is enormous.

Az-Zubair was a cousin of Muhammad (pbuh) through his paternal aunty. His mother was Safiyyah bint Abdul-Muttalib. Az-Zubair participated in all the major early battles of Islam.

Every Prophet has a disciple, and my disciple is Az-Zubair.

Muhammad's high praise for cousin Az-Zubair

Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf was eldest of these converts, possibly in his 30s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnQsjVWuiG0. He was a wise and honest businessman. When he left Makkah he had to give up all his belongings and became a beggar. But he utilised his business skills in Madinah to recoup his losses and become wealthy again.

All four new converts were noble men from Quraysh. All would go on to have prominent lives and become legend in their own right. For now, they were the front line of the new faith in Arabia.

Abdullah ibn Masood

Abdullah ibn Masood was the next companion to convert. He was not of the Quraysh nor was he a slave. He was of the servant class, from a Yemeni tribe. He was hired as a shepherd by the Quraysh chieftain Uqbah Ibn Muayt.

One day while tending his flock, Abdullah saw two middle-aged men coming towards him from a distance. They were thirsty and tired. They greeted him and asked him for some milk to quench their thirst. But Abdullah showed his honesty by refusing it since the sheep belonged to someone else. The two men, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Abu Bakr (ra), were extremely impressed with his honesty. Muhammad (pbuh) asked him to show a she goat that stopped giving milk. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) made a dua (prayer) and rubbed the udder and it became full with milk. They milked it and drank from it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnQsjVWuiG0. Ibn Masood was astonished at the miracle. He asked them who they were and was informed of their identity. So he converted right there and then.

Ibn Masood was known for his qira'at (Qur'anic recitation). He learnt more than 70 surahs (i.e. two-third of the Qur'an) directly from the mouth of Muhammad (pbuh) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnQsjVWuiG0.

If you want to know how to read the Qur'an, read the Qur'an the way Ibn Masood does.

Muhammad (pbuh) praises Abdullah Ibn Masood

The Prophet used to meet and teach the new converts the religion in privacy, because the call to Islam was still running on an individual and secret basis. The next batch of converts were a lot from the slave class. Most famous among these were Bilal ibn Rabah, Khabbab ibn al-Aratt, Yasir and his wife Sumayyah and their son Amr.

Public preaching

It is well-known that Makkah was the centre for the Arabs, and housed the idols of Al-Ka'bah. It was the duty of the Makkans to protect and guard the idols and stone graven images which were worshipped by the Arabs, therefore to bring reform in a place considered the den of idolatry was a massive task. Working in such an atmosphere no doubt requires unshakable will, determination and sensitivity, that is why the call unto Islam assumed a low-key, clandestine form so that the Makkans should not be enraged by the unexpected surprise.

For three underground years of activism (post the Revelation), a group of believers emerged stamped by a spirit of brotherhood and cooperation with one definite objective in their mind: spreading and deeply establishing the call unto Islam. For full three years Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had been content to teach within a rather narrow circle and on an individual basis, but its news soon leaked out and assumed a public interest all over Makkah. The time had come to preach the faith of Allah (SWT) openly. The angel Jibrail (AS) had brought him down a further Revelation of Allah's Will to confront his people, invalidate their falsehood and crush down their idolatrous practices.

The devils did not bring it down. It is not meet for them, nor is it in their power, Lo! verily they are banished from the hearing. Therefore invoke not with Allah another god, lest thou be one of the doomed. And warn thy tribe of near kindred, And lower thy wing (in kindness) unto those believers who follow thee. And if they (thy kinsfolk) disobey thee, say: Lo! I am innocent of what they do. And put thy trust in the Mighty, the Merciful.

Surah 26 Ash-Shu'araa , ayat 210-217

Around 613, three years into the Revelation, Prophet Muhammad began his public preaching. Most Makkans ignored him and mocked him, while a few others became his followers.

Makkan leaders growing concern over the 'new' religion

In the beginning, the Makkan leaders did not care much about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and took no heed of his teachings. At first, they thought that the Prophet (pbuh) was merely a religious philosophist like Omaiyah bin Abi As-Salt, Quss bin Sa‘idah, ‘Amr bin Nufail and their ilk who used to philosophize on godship and religious obligations.

But as the number of followers increased, he became perceived as a threat to the local tribes and the rulers of the city, whose wealth rested upon the Ka'bah, the focal point of Makkan religious life, which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) threatened to overthrow.

The polytheists (believers in more than one God) of Quraish began to watch Prophet Muhammad’s movements closely and anxiously for fear of spreading his Call and producing a change in the prevalent mentality.

Prophet Muhammad’s denunciation of the Makkan traditional religion was especially offensive to his own tribe, the Quraish, as they were the guardians of the Ka'bah. The powerful merchants tried to convince the Prophet (pbuh) to abandon his preaching by offering him admission into the inner circle of merchants, and establishing his position therein by an advantageous marriage. However, he refused.

Abu Jahl - Father of Ignorance

Abu Jahl, a cousin of Prophet Muhammad, was one of the prominent Makkan pagan Quraish leaders who was at the forefront of hostility against the Prophet (pbuh) and persecution of new converts.

He was born Amr ibn Hishām and was a member of the Banu Makhzum clan of the Quraish. Initially he was known as Abū l-Hakam (Father of Wisdom) meaning he was considered a wise man amongst the Quraish - however, his venom towards the Muslim and hatred for Islam earned him the name Abū Jahl meaning Father (Abu) of Ignorance (Jahl).

Torture of new converts

When a Muslim convert was discovered among the hierarch of a tribe, Abu Jahl would reprimand the convert and humiliate them in front of his fellow tribesmen so that the convert would lose their respect. Businessmen were ordered not to engage in business with traders who had converted thereby preventing the traders from selling their products and causing them to become poor.

Some of the physically weaker converts were unable to endure their prolonged punishment and reverted back to paganism. However, this was only under compulsion. Those who remained undetected would offer their prayers in secret, but there were many who did not have the privilege of privacy and their grief at not being able to offer their prayers was considerable.

Abu Jahl's harshest prey were the freed slaves whom he looked down upon with contempt. In his eyes they were the least important on the social scale. The slaves would suffer brutal beatings followed by food and water deprivation. But perhaps the most severe punishment was that of being pinned down upon the scorching hot sands of Makkah, left to endure the blistering heat of the sun.

One such slave was Sumayyah bint Khayyat who had a spear stabbed in her genitals.

Apart from insults, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was protected from physical harm as he belonged to the powerful and imminent Banu Hashim clan.

Ironically, Abu Jahl had a son, Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl, who later converted to Islam. Just like his father, Ikrimah was initially very hostile towards the Prophet (pbuh), but after the Prophet's conquest of Makkah where he forgave those people who had intended to kill him, this merciful act had melted the heart of Ikrimah and he decided to become a Muslim.

Sumayyah bint Khabbab - the first Muslim shaheed

Sumayyah bint Khabbab was the wife of Yasir ibn Amir and the mother of Ammar ibn Yasir, three well known figures of their time and one of the early converts to Islam.

Sumayyah was a old and frail slave of Abu Jahl. After her conversion she, her husband Yasir and son Ammar were treated with same brutality typical of Abu Jahl. They were beaten black-and-blue for days and left to die in the hot sun. Abu Jahl continued the torture with his spear and stabbed it into Sumayyah's private part when she refused to give up her faith. She became the first martyr of Islam.

After Sumayyah they tortured and slaughtered her husband Yasir. Seeing both his parents massacred front of his eyes, and unable to bear his own torture a broken Ammar was forced to give up Islam upon the torturer's command. However, even during his forced conversion back to paganism, in his heart he still believed in Allah and the Prophet.

Ammar went back to being a Muslim and became a sahabi (companion of the Prophet) and a muhajirun (emigrant who migrated to Madinah during hijrah).

Bilal ibn Rabah - first muezzin

Another person to be tortured for his conversion was Bilal ibn Rabah (RA). Born in Makkah, sometime between 578 and 582, Bilal (RA) was an Ethiopian slave of Umayyah ibn Khalaf. He was known as "Bilal al-Habashi" or "Bilal the one from Ethiopia".

Upon his conversion, he was heavily tortured by his master Umayyah. In the bright light of day, Bilal (RA) was staked to the ground and beaten. Then heavy rocks were piled on his chest, to crush his body. All that could be heard by those who went near was Bilal’s deep, strong voice saying “One God, One God.”

Moved by his voice, and his cry of “One God, One God,” Abu Bakr (RA) haggled with Umayyah until he was able to buy Bilal and set him free.

As a free man, Bilal (RA) became a close and dear friend to both Abu Bakr (RA) and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He helped to build the first mosque in Madinah. When the time came that the Muslim’s were searching for a way to call the faithful to prayer, Bilal (RA) came into his own. The believers decided they did not want a flag, or a bell, or a rattle, or a drum, or a trumpet, but a beautiful human voice.

Abu Bakr (RA) became excited. “Then there is only one voice we could use for our first call to prayer,” he said, and explained how he had found Bilal and set him free. And so it was that Bilal (RA) became the first muezzin, the first to call people to prayer in Madinah. And when the Muslims returned to Makkah, he was the first to call from the top of the Ka'bah.

Bilal (RA) was the first black muslim. He died sometime between 638 to 642, when he was just over sixty years old.

Today the call to prayer is still as it was in Bilal’s time, just a beautiful human voice calling people to worship.

Learning resources

Glossary of terms

Tilawat
Reading the Qur'an
Tajweed
Elocution, proper pronounciation of text as well as reading at moderate speed
 
Muezzin
Person who does the adhan (call to prayer)
Qiblah
Direction of Kaa'ba in Makkah
Khutbah
Public sermon/preaching in Islam carried out at the dhuhr (noon) congregation on friday (Jumuah) prayers and during the two Eid festivals
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