The Best Role Model
Prophet of Mercy Team
Throughout history, without a doubt, we find that the king’s role was vital in shaping the society, which he ruled over. Those kings whom history has not branded with any form of infamy, those that are fondly remembered, have been remembered by the isolation of certain qualities which they possessed; intellect, wealth and power. Such qualities served as a means for betterment for the people which they ruled over and earned them a place in history. Whilst discussing the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) it would only serve as prudent to make mention of his interaction with one of the greatest kings of his time, one whose piety served as a greater source of prosperity for his people than any kind of wealth, privilege or power; Ashama bin Al-Abjar otherwise known as Negus (نجاشي) – Ruler of Abyssinia.
It may come as a surprise to some that although there was mutual respect on behalf of both the Prophet r and Negus, neither of the two actually met, their interaction was formed by means of a third party or through written messages which the Prophet r dictated for one of his follower’s to write. In order for one to understand the interaction between Muhammad r and Negus t we must first understand the condition of the early Muslims, for it was in fact the condition of the early Muslim which lead to Negus being permanently remembered within the realm of Islamic history.
In the middle of the fifth year of Prophethood, the Muslims, the followers of Muhammad r sought ways in which to rid themselves of the painful torture meted out to them by their idolatrous persecutors. In this grim period Surat Az-Zumar (Chapter 39 — The Crowds) was revealed, it directed the Muslims towards the concept of migration outside of Makkah and away from the violence, which they suffered:
"Good is (the reward) for those who do good in this world, and Allah’s earth is spacious (so if! Only those who are patient shall receive their rewards in full without reckoning." [39:10].
Muhammad r permitted those of his followers that did migrate to seek asylum in Abyssinia, he knew it’s king, Negus, a Christian, was a just ruler, one that would do no wrong to those that lived in his kingdom. The Muslims sneaked out of Makkah in the darkness of the night and headed for the sea where two boats were to sail to Abyssinia. News of their intended departure reached the ears of the Makkah idol worshippers, orders were made to bring them back, such efforts, however, were unsuccessful.
Some time after this migration Negus received a message from the Prophet’s r, according to historians it was either late in the sixth year or early in the seventh year A.H. One of its sentences read: "I have dispatched my cousin, Ja‘far with a group of Muslims, to you. Do be generous towards them and give up haughtiness." Negus, being the fair-minded king that he was, answered the call for aid giving Ja’far and the Muslims that accompanied him, the security which they required.
This development, however, did not go unnoticed, the idol worshippers of Makkah detested the very prospect of a secure haven available for the Muslims, they sent two envoys from amongst themselves to demand their return. The envoys had taken with them valuable gifts and had won over some of his clergy, they claimed that those Muslim living in kingdom should be handed over to them because they had abandoned the religion of their forefathers, and their leader was preaching a religion different from their own and of that of the king.
Having given a chance for the envoys to explain their objections, the king summoned the Muslims to the court and ordered them to explain the teachings of their religion. Ja‘far, the cousin of the Prophet r stood up and addressed the king in the following words: “O king! we were plunged in the depth of ignorance and barbarism; we adored idols, we lived in unchastity, we ate the dead bodies, and we spoke abominations, we disregarded every feeling of humanity, and the duties of hospitality and neighbourhood were neglected; we knew no law but that of the strong, when Allah raised among us a man, of whose birth, truthfulness, honesty, and purity we were aware; and he called to the Oneness of Allah, and taught us not to associate anything with Him. He forbade us the worship of idols; and he enjoined us to speak the truth, to be faithful to our trusts, to be merciful and to regard the rights of the neighbours and kith and kin; he forbade us to speak evil of women, or to eat the substance of orphans; he ordered us to fly from the vices, and to abstain from evil; to offer prayers, to render alms, and to observe fast. We have believed in him, we have accepted his teachings and his injunctions to worship Allah, and not to associate anything with Him, and we have allowed what He has allowed, and prohibited what He has prohibited. For this reason, our people have risen against us, have persecuted us in order to make us forsake the worship of Allah and return to the worship of idols and other abominations. They have tortured and injured us, until finding no safety among them, we have come to your country, and hope you will protect us from oppression.”
As a Christian, the king was very much impressed by these words and asked the Muslims to recite something from their holy book, the Qur’an. As a response Ja‘far recited the opening verses of Surat Maryam (Chapter 19 — Mary), a chapter which relates the story of the birth of both John and Jesus Christ (peace be upon them both) as well as a remembrance of how Mary, out of her piety, was miraculously fed with food. Upon hearing the recital, the king, along with the bishops of his realm, were moved to tears, so much so that tears rolled down his cheeks, wetting his beard, he exclaimed: "It seems as if these words and those which were revealed to Jesus are the rays of the light which have radiated from the same source." Turning to the two envoys from Makkah, he said, "I am afraid, I cannot give you back these refugees. They are free to live and worship in my realm as they please."
On the very next day, the two envoys again went to the king again with the same goal as the day before, the expulsion of Muslims from Abyssinian lands, they aimed to spark enmity in the heart of the king by claiming that Muhammad r and his followers blasphemed against Jesus Christ u. Again the Muslims were summoned and asked were asked, this time over what they claimed of Jesus. Ja‘far, the very man who had spoken on behalf of the Muslims the day before, stood up again and replied: “we speak about Jesus as we have been taught by our Prophet (peace be upon him) , that is, he is the servant of Allah, His Messenger, His spirit and His Word breathed into Virgin Mary.” Upon hearing this reply, the king at once remarked, “even so do we believe. Blessed be you, and blessed be your master.” He then turned to the envoys, whose hopes had been agitated once more saying: “you may fret and fume as you like but Jesus is nothing more than what Ja‘far has said about him.” The gifts which the envoys had brought with them were returned and they were sent away. Thus, the Muslims lived in Abyssinia undisturbed for a number of years till they returned to Madinah.
The discourse which took place between Ja’far and Negus is but an example of the teachings which were revealed to the Prophet r: "Say (O Muhammad (peace be upon him)): ‘O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partners with Him, and that none of us shall take others as lords besides Allah.’ Then, if they turn away, say: ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims.” [3:64]
Eventually, the Prophet r invited Negus to Islam through a messenger, ‘Amr bin Omaiyah Ad-Damari. As a response, Negus took the parchment and placed it on his eye, he descended to the floor, confessed his faith in Islam and wrote the following reply to the Prophet r:
“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.”
Negus later died in Rajab 9 A.H. The Prophet r announced his death and observed prayer in absentia for him. He died not being able to see the spread of Islam into other nations or even seeing it flourish within his own. The lessons one may be able to learn from his association with Prophet r are beneficial. One finds it quite touching that a sovereign of a country, an individual who has complete power over his subjects can be moved by the message of a single man, even without meeting him in person. It is said that it was not only Negus who was moved to tears by the words of the Qur’an, but also those bishops who were in his company. This, in itself, is worthy of contemplation. The fact that a learned king willingly humbles himself to a parchment in public, speaks volumes of not only the message but the messenger.