in category Seerah

What was in the letter the Messenger (saw) sent to Negus the ruler of Abyssinia?

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From the early days of Islam when Muslims were tortured, persecuted, and humiliated in many ways, and it appeared Quraysh would not accept Islam few Muslims emigrated to take refuge in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) that was ruled by Negus (also known as al-Najashi), a Christian king. The Messenger (saw) had known him as a fair ruler and thus had permitted the followers of Islam to take refuge in his kingdom. Quraysh, who at that time were amongst the foremost in persecuting the new Muslims could not tolerate the Muslims living peacefully in the Christian kingdom. Hence, they made a last-ditch effort to get those Muslims extradited to Mecca and sent two of their strongest envoys to demand their extradition.

Those envoys were Amr bin al-As and Abdullah bin Abi Rabi’a (the two embraced Islam a few years later). The two envoys took valuable gifts for the king and his clergy in the hopes of convincing the king to return the new Muslims. The pagan envoys demanded the Muslims’ extradition on grounds that they had abandoned the religion of their forefathers, and their leader (Muhammad) was preaching a religion different from theirs and from that of the king.

On hearing the claims against Muslims that the envoys had presented, the Christian king summoned the Muslims to his court. The Muslims selected Jafar bin Abi Talib (ra) to speak on their behalf. He (ra) then a stood up and addressed the king in the following words:

“In our recent past we were ignorant people: we worshipped idols, ate carrion, committed all sorts of sins, attached little value to maintaining good relations with our kinsfolk and behaved badly to our neighbors. Our overruling maxim was that might be right. This continued to be our situation until Allah sent us, from among ourselves, a Messenger whose good name, honesty, sincerity and integrity were well known to us. He called on us to believe in Allah, the one and only God, and to stop worshipping all idols which we and our forefathers used to worship alongside Him. He commanded us always to speak the truth and be honest, to be good to our relatives and neighbors, to preserve life and shed no blood, to refrain from sin, perjury, robbing the property of orphans entrusted to our care, and making false accusations against honorable women. He also commanded us to devote our worship to Allah Alone, ascribing to Him no partners of any sort. He further commanded us to pray regularly, to give away certain purifying alms and to fast, etc. We gave him a favorable response, believed in him and gave him our full support. We followed these Divine commandments he conveyed to us. We began to worship Allah alone, refraining from what He forbade us and accepting what He made lawful for us. Our people, however, assaulted us and subjected us to physical torture to compel us to revert to idolatrous worship and to indulge in the sinful practices we used to indulge in. Having been overpowered, oppressed and denied the freedom to choose our faith and practice it, we sought refuge in your country, choosing you in preference to all other rulers, hoping that in your refuge we would suffer no injustice.”

Negus asked Jafar to read him a passage of the Qur’an. Jafar chose the opening of Surah 19, entitled Mary, which speaks about Messenger Zakariya and his son Yahya before it goes on to relate the story of the virgin birth of Jesus. Negus and his patriarchs were in tears. Then he said: “What I have just heard comes from the same source as Jesus’s revelations.” He then dismissed the Quraysh delegation and assured the Muslims that they would have his full protection.

Having failed in their attempt to overcome Negus’s sense of justice by offering precious, personal gifts to him and his patriarchs, Quraysh began to think of some other, more devious way to achieve their purpose. As they left Negus’s court, Amr bin al-As, the more cunning of the two-man delegation, said to his colleague Abdullah bin Abi Rabi’ah: “I will come back to him tomorrow with something which would make him exterminate them all.”

The following day Amr went back to Negus and said to him: “These people make a very wild claim about Jesus. You may wish to question them on that.”

Jafar, the Muslims’ spokesman, therefore answered Negus’s question about their view of Jesus without hesitation:

“Our view is that Jesus is Allah’s servant and messenger. He is His spirit and His word delivered unto Virgin Mary.” Negus picked a little stick from the floor and said: “What you have just said about Jesus does not go beyond the truth by the width of this stick.” (Seerat Ibn Hisham)

Negus, king of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), his name was Ashama bin al-Abjar, received the Messenger’s message, dispatched by Amr bin Umayyah ad-Damari (ra), which Tabari referred to, either late in the sixth year or early in the seventh year AH Deep scrutiny into the letter shows that it was not the one sent after Hudaybiyyah event. Wording of the letter rather indicates that it was sent to that king when Jafar (ra) and his companions immigrated to Abyssinia during the Meccan period.

The entire text of the letter was as follows:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم من محمد رسول الله إلى النجاشي عظيم الحبشة

سلام على من اتبع الهدى أما بعد؛ فإني احمد إليك الله الذي لا إله إلا هو الملك القدوس السلام المؤمن المهيمن؛ واشهد أن عيسى بن مريم روح الله وكلمته ألقاها إلى مريم البتول الطيبة الحصينة فحملت بعيسى من روحه ونفخه كما خلق آدم بيده واتي أدعوك إلى الله وحده لا شريك له والموالاة على طاعته وان تتبعني وتؤمن بالذي جاءني فإتي رسول الله واني أدعوك وجتودك إلى الله عز وجل وقد بلغت ونصحت فاقبلوا نصيحتي والسلام، على من اتبع الهدى

"In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

From Muhammad (saw) the Messenger of Allah to Negus, king of Abyssinia. Peace be upon him who follows true guidance. Salutations, I entertain Allah’s praise, there is no God but He, the Sovereign, the Holy, the Source of peace, the Giver of peace, the Guardian of faith, the Preserver of safety. I bear witness that Jesus, the son of Mary, is the spirit of Allah and His Word which He cast into Mary, the virgin, the good, the pure, so that she conceived Jesus. Allah created him from His spirit and His breathing as He created Adam by His Hand. I call you to Allah Alone with no associate and to His obedience and to follow me and to believe in that which came to me, for I am the Messenger of Allah. I invite you and your men to Allah, the Glorious, and the All-Mighty. I hereby bear witness that I have communicated my message and advice. I invite you to listen and accept my advice. Peace be upon him who follows true guidance."(Za'd Al-Ma’ad)

When Amr bin umayyah ad-Damari communicated the Apostolic letter to Negus, the latter took the parchment and placed it on his eye, descended to the floor and confessed his faith in Islam and wrote the following reply to the Messenger:

“In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

From Negus Ashama to Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. Peace be upon you. O Messenger of Allah! And mercy and blessing from Allah beside Whom there is no God. I have received your letter in which you have mentioned about Jesus and by the Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus is not more than what you say. We fully acknowledge that with which you have been sent to us and we have entertained your cousin and his companions. I bear witness that you are the Messenger of Allah, true and confirming (those who have gone before you), I pledge to you through your cousin and surrender myself through him to the Lord of the worlds.” (Za'd al-Ma'ad)

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