Identity of the first male Muslim

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There is some disagreement among Muslims, and among historians of Islam, as to the identity of the first male convert to Islam after Muhammad.

The second period of Ali's life began in 610 when he declared Islam at age 10 and ended with the Hijra of Muhammad to Medina in 622.[1] When Muhammad reported that he had received a divine revelation, Ali, then only about ten years old, believed him and professed to Islam.[1][2][3][4] According to Ibn Ishaq and some other authorities, Ali was the first male to embrace Islam.[5] Tabari adds other traditions making the similar claim of being the first Muslim in relation to Zayd ibn Harithah or Abu Bakr.[6][7][8] Some historians and scholars believe Ali's conversion is not worthy enough to consider him the first male Muslim because he was a child at the time.[9]

One account in Tabari says that the first male convert was Zayd ibn Harithah, a freed slave who had become Muhammad's adopted son. It is known that Ali was indeed the first person to convert to Islam, however some dispute this arguing he was only 12 years old at the time he embraced Islam.


This conversion would have happened sometime between 610 CE, when Muhammad started sharing his experiences (visions of divine origin) with his immediate family, and 612 CE, when Muhammad first began preaching in public to his fellow citizens in Mecca, in what is now west-central Saudi Arabia.

Why is the question of priority important? After the Muslim conquests began, a Muslim's standing in the Islamic state depended on his services to the community, and especially on the length of time he had been a member of the community. Early converts (who had faced persecution with Muhammad) had a much higher status than later converts (who may have joined only after there were worldly reasons to do so). The first male convert may thus be presumed to have a special status.

Arguments for and against the claims of Ali or Abu Bakr are especially significant in the light of the disputes over the leadership of the Muslim community after the death of Muhammad. Ali and his followers felt that Muhammad had clearly indicated that he wanted Ali, his cousin and son-in-law, to succeed him; other Muslims stood behind Abu Bakr. After a period of internal dissension or even strife, Abu Bakr was recognized as the first caliph.

Differences in opinion over the succession, and the later course of affairs in the Muslim community, ultimately led to a split between the majority Sunni denomination and the minority Shia denomination.

Shia view[edit]

Shia Muslims all assert that Ali was the first male to accept Muhammad as a prophet, a special distinction that foreshadows his later role as rightful successor to Muhammad. They say that Muhammad, Khadija bint Khuwaylid (Muhammad's wife), and Ali all gathered for prayer before the Kaaba, thus becoming the first Muslims to worship in public.

Shia cite that when the Muhammad asked who is a believer, Ali, at 13, was the first to declare his affirmation. Muhammad went on to ask two more times, no one else step forward. In fact, after the third time, people started to wonder and snicker at the 13-year-old, at which Muhammad replied that the wisdom Ali contained exceed the wisdom of the group assembled.

Some Shias assert that Ali should not even be called a convert, as he and Muhammad were hanif, pre-Islamic monotheists, and had refused to worship idols even from birth.

Sunni view[edit]

Sunni Muslims have differing views on the order of conversion Ali and of Abu Bakr—or, although there is agreement that Ali's conversion is first among children, and Abu Bakr was the first adult male to believe in Muhammad. It is commonly said that Abu Bakr was the first grown man to accept Islam, and Ali the first child; this formulation does not draw any conclusions as to whether Abu Bakr or Ali was the very first male.

Orientalists' outlook[edit]

The identity of the first male Muslim is of little importance to Western historians of Islam. William Montgomery Watt, the author of one of the more detailed English biographies of Muhammad. He wrote:

It is universally agreed that Khadijah was the first to believe in her husband and his message, but there was a hot dispute about the first male. At-Tabari has a large selection of source material, and leaves the reader to decide for himself between the three candidates, Ali, Abu Bakr, and Zayd ibn Harithah. The claim of Ali may in a sense be true, but for the Western historian it cannot be significant, since Ali was admittedly only nine or ten at the time and a member of Muhammad's household. The claim made for Abu Bakr may also be true in the very different sense that, at least from the time of the Abyssinian affair, he was the most important Muslim after Muhammad; but his later primacy has probably been reflected back into the early records. As a matter of sheer fact Zayd b. Harithah has possibly the best claim to be regarded as the first male Muslim, since he was a freedman of Muhammad's and there was a strong mutual attachment; but his humble status means that his conversion has not the same significance as that of Abu Bakr.[10]

Since no political or religious faction ever formed behind Zayd, his claims to priority have been only intermittently advanced.

As the quote from Watt indicates, academic historians are reluctant to speak with much certainty on the matter. All the texts relating to the first years of Islam were written down some 150 years after the events in question—as well as after the events had become matters of intense dispute. In the eyes of the academic, there is not enough reliable data to form a firm conclusion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. "Ali". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Archived from the original on October 18, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  2. ^ "Alī ibn Abu Talib". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2010-12-16. 
  3. ^ Tabatabaei 1979, p. 191
  4. ^ Ashraf 2005, p. 14
  5. ^ Gleave 2015
  6. ^ Watt 1953, p. xii
  7. ^ Watt, Muhammad in Mecca, p.xii
  8. ^ * See also:**Ibn Majah in Sunan ibn Majah, Ibn Majah, al-Sunan, Vol. I, p. 44;**Hakim al-Nishaburi in Al-Mustadrak alaa al-Sahihain, al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, Vol. III, p. 112;** Ibn Hisham in As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah, Ibn Hisham, al-Sirah, Vol. I, p.245.
  9. ^ Watt 1953, p. 86
  10. ^ Watt 1953, p. 86