Meccans Request the Negus to Hand over the Muslims

Though they took little notice of the first Abyssinian migration, the Meccan idolaters were alarmed after hearing the kind treatment the Muslims received there. If Islam was to begin spreading outside of Arabia, they thought, things could really get out of control. Thus they made an immediate decision to ask the Negus to extradite the Muslims, for which they sent Abdullah ibn Rabia and Amr ibn As with loads of gifts to entice the king and his commanders.

Once Abu Talib heard the news that Quraysh had sent an envoy to Abyssinia, he quickly wrote a poem to the Negus himself, praising him and warning him to beware of Meccan tricks. (Ibn Hisham, I, 356)

Before speaking in the presence of the Negus, Amr and Abdullah were able to lure the commanders with their gifts. They later presented the Negus with gifts, after which they introduced themselves and spoke:

“Your majesty! Some of our dimwitted youths have sought protection in your land. Though they have abandoned the religion of their forefathers, they have not accepted yours either and instead, they have gone and invented a new one! So their relatives have sent us to have them returned. After all, their tribesmen would know them and their wrongdoings better than anybody else.”

The envoy feared that the Negus would listen to Jafar (r.a) and his friends and fall under their influence. Thus they wanted the migrants to be handed over before the Negus decided to listen to their side of the story.

The Negus’ commanders spoke in support:

“Your majesty, these men speak the truth. We cannot know their tribesmen better than them. We should hand the migrants over and let them sort this out between themselves.”

“Never!” the Negus intervened angrily. “I shall not give them up before listening to them first! I can do no wrong to people who have chosen my land over others for protection!”

The Negus then sent for the migrants, as well as his priests, who opened their books and sat around the King.

When the migrants arrived, the Negus decided to face both sides in his presence. It was a historical moment. The spokesperson for the Muslims was Jafar (r.a), and it was to him the Negus turned first:

“Quraysh has sent an envoy to take you back to Mecca”, he said.

“Ask them, your Majesty. Are we slaves, that they would want to take us back to Mecca?” Jafar requested.

The Negus eyed Amr ibn As for a response.

“No, they are all free”, Amr responded.

The debate continued as follows:

“Ask them! Are we indebted to them that they want us returned?”

“No, they don’t owe anything to anyone.”

“Ask them. Are we murderers that they call us for trial?”

“No, that is not the case!”

“Then for what do they want us returned?”

Amr explained:

“…For they have abandoned the religion of their ancestors! They insult our idols! They have corrupted the faith of our youth! They have split our community! Mecca now stands divided into two!”

The Negus then interrupted to pose Jafar (r.a) a question.

“Since you accept neither the religion of your ancestors nor mine”, he asked, “what kind of a religion is that which you accept?”

Jafar Tayyar (r.a) began to speak:

“Your Majesty! We were an ignorant bunch. We used to worship idols made of wood thinking they were gods. We used to eat carrion and bury our daughters alive. We were gamblers, indulgers in usury. We fornicated and saw no harm in seeing a woman engage in relations with numerous men. Neither did we know anything of the rights of our relatives, nor did we recognize the rights of neighbors. The strong used to oppress the weak, while the rich lived off the poor. We knew nothing of justice!

Then Allah the Almighty showed mercy on us and willed our recovery, and sent a Prophet from among us, from a noble line and a virtuous clan. We had already known him as the Trustworthy. He called us to the oneness of Allah. He taught us how to worship Him. He saved us from the idols of our ancestors. He warded off all evil from us. He banned the shedding of blood, usury, lying and the misuse of orphans’ properties. He constantly taught us what is good. He advised us righteousness, to keep our word, to treat neighbors and relatives with kindness and to protect the honor of women and the lives of our daughters. He saved us from savagery and taught us how to be humane. So we believed him and now we walk on his path. For that very reason we have earned the hostility of the Quraysh. We were tortured; and when the suffering became unbearable, since we did not want to leave our religion either, we asked permission of our Prophet (pbuh), and favoring you over other kings we came to your land. We assumed we would not be oppressed here and so we took shelter under your protection.”

The Negus remained poised, calmly listening to what Jafar (r.a) had to say.

“Do you know from memory any of what was revealed from Allah to your Prophet?” he then asked abruptly.

“Yes”, Jafar (r.a) replied and he began reciting the opening ayah of chapter Maryam concerning Yahya (John) (pbuh) and the birth of Isa (Jesus) (pbuh). As he did, the Negus and his men broke down in tears from emotion.

“I swear in the name of God, that these words are from the same source of what has been revealed to Moses and Jesus Christ” said the Negus. Then turning to the Meccan envoy he stated:

“I will never return the migrants to you!”

When the envoy left the presence of the Negus, Amr said to his friend:

“I swear I am going to tell Negus of their belief that Isa, the son of Maryam, was only a man. That is sure to have them banished!”

The next day, Amr was again at the court of the Negus.

“Your majesty! They speak harshly of Jesus Christ. Call them if you like and hear it with your own ears!”

The Negus sent for the Muslims and asked them what they thought of Jesus Christ.

In a poised manner, Jafar (r.a) explained, “We think of him in the way he has been taught by our Prophet. And he says, ‘Jesus is the servant, the Messenger of Allah; His Spirit, and Word, born from Mary who had left everything to commit herself to Allah’”.

Grabbing a twig of the ground, the Negus then remarked:

“I swear in the name of God, that Jesus Christ is nothing but what you say. The difference between what you say and the truth of Jesus Christ is not greater than this twig!”

Hearing the words of the Negus, the commanders around him began grumbling. Then turning to them, the Negus stated, “Grumble as much as you wish, but that is the truth!”

And to the Migrants:

“Now you may leave! You are safe and sound in my land. Whoever insults you will be punished! Even if they were to give me a mountain of gold, I still would not want to be the one to harm you.”

Turning to his men once again, the Negus commanded, “Return the gifts of these two men. I do not need them!” adding, “If I were next to the Messenger right now, I would have wanted to wash his feet and serve him!” (Ibn Hisham, I, 356-361; Ahmad, I, 202-203, V, 290-291; Haythami, VI, 25-27)

According to another version, the Negus said:

“I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. He is the man mentioned by Jesus Christ. Had I not been on the throne of this kingdom and without the responsibility of my people, I would have gone to him to carry his sandals.” (Abu Dawud, Janaiz, 55-57/3205)

With his answers to the Negus, Jafar (r.a) offers an excellent of example for other callers to Islam about how to speak and what to say in a given situation, a method one should always keep in mind.

It is noteworthy that, when asked to read some of the Quran, Jafar (r.a) did not simply randomly recite a given chapter, but chose the most suitable part for the occasion, which happened to be the ayah concerning Isa (a.s) from chapter of Maryam. The same goes for his sound defense of the migrants, when the Meccans put forward various excuses to have them returned, as he underlined that their religion commanded only justice and virtue.

There are also many reasons why the Prophet (pbuh) chose Jafar (r.a) as the head of the migrants. The choice itself shows the importance of choosing leaders according to their capabilities and as circumstances demanded.

A portion of the Second Abyssinian migrants returned shortly after the Hegira to Medina, while others waited until the Hudaybiyah Truce. The last group lead by Jafar (r.a) returned to Medina during the conquest of Khaybar, giving the Prophet (pbuh) a reason for joy.

Hamza’s (r.a) Acceptance of Islam

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was not just simply sending his companions to the Kaabah to recite the Quran to the idolaters. He was also personally going to the Meccans from time to time to communicate Divine Revelation. During one of these occasions, Abu Jahl emboldened himself in his insults of the Prophet (pbuh). As if to show off next to his friends who had gathered around, he was just about to take it one step further, when a woman ran to tell Hamza, returning anew from a hunting expedition.

“Hamza, brave Hamza! They are insulting your nephew at the Kaabah. I fear they are about to harm him. They are going to something bad!”

Without wasting any time, Hamza ran to the scene, and using his bow, struck Abu Jahl’s head so fiercely that blood began gushing out of it like a stream. Not expecting an interference of the sort, Abu Jahl was baffled, and fearing for his life, quickly fled the scene. In ones and twos, the idolaters followed, as they all knew very well Hamza’s might. None of Quraysh’s strongest men could face him without growing weak in the knees.

Straight after the incident, Hamza went next to his nephew, Muhammad, the Noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh).

“I have taken your revenge from him…You can be at ease!” he said.

“I will only be at ease if you accept Islam!” the Prophet (pbuh) replied.

Suddenly, the curtain of ignorance lifted from Hamza’s heart. Realizing the truth at that instant, the brave Hamza looked at his noble nephew with a smile, and staring at the magnificent glimmer on his face declared his acceptance of Islam.

Hamza (r.a), the Prophet’s (pbuh) uncle, was only two years older than the Prophet (pbuh). They had also been breastfed from the same mother.[1]

By saying he could only be at ease if his uncle accepted Islam, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) expressed the superiority of guidance over personal revenge and therefore of the eternal life over passing worldy desires. This incident teaches us that we should always choose the benefit of Islam over our personal interests and that we should seek happiness in the success of the Religion and not from personal achievements.

The day Hamza (r.a) became Muslim, Abu Bakr (r.a) insisted with the Prophet (pbuh) for all the Muslims to go together to the Kaabah and invite everyone there to Islam.

“We are still very few in number”, the Noble Prophet (pbuh) replied.

But when Abu Bakr (r.a) persisted, with the Companions by his side, the Prophet (pbuh) left the house of Arqam to go to the Kaabah. Once they arrived, the moment when Abu Bakr (r.a) began inviting people to believe in Allah and His Messenger, the idolaters charged at the Muslims and began beating them. The base Utbah, especially, trampled and kicked Abu Bakr’s (r.a) face with his steel-studded boots. Abu Bakr (r.a) was left bloody and bruised. It took a great effort from his clan, Taym, to save him from idolater hands.

His clan brought the unconscious Abu Bakr (r.a) to his house. Fearing he would die any moment, they returned to the Kaabah, and yelled:

“We swear that if Abu Bakr dies, we will kill Utbah!”

It was well into the night when Abu Bakr (r.a) finally regained consciousness. The first thing he asked, with a mighty effort, was:

“Is the Prophet (pbuh) all right?”

His mother Ummu’l-Khayr was constantly pleading him to eat something, but Abu Bakr (r.a), as if not hearing anything, was constantly asking:

“How is the Prophet, is he well?”

“I have not heard from your friend, my dear”, his mother responded.

Abu Bakr (r.a) then sent his mother to Ummu Jameel,[2] a Muslim woman, to get information about the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). When Ummu Jameel (r.a) came around and saw Abu Bakr (r.a) in such a horrible condition, she could not help but scream:

“I swear by Allah that only a beast could do something like this to you! May Allah take your revenge!”

Soon after, upon Abu Bakr’s (r.a) request, she informed him that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was safe, waiting at the House of Arqam.

“By Allah, I will neither eat nor drink until I see him”, Abu Bakr insisted.

Once things settled down and everyone went their own way, his mother Ummu Jameel took Abu Bakr (r.a) by the arm and carried him to the Light of Being (pbuh). The moment he saw the Prophet (pbuh), Abu Bakr (r.a) fell at his feet. The state of his dear friend affected the tender heart of the Prophet (pbuh). Abu Bakr (r.a) managed to say:

“May my mother and father be ransomed for you! I am fine, really. That sordid man knocked me around a little, that’s all!” He then asked the Prophet (pbuh) to pray for the guidance of his mother.

Not long after, with the blessings of the Noble Prophet’s prayers, Abu Bakr’s honorable mother also joined the circle of belief.[3]

Alarmed by the steady rise of Muslim numbers and the acceptance of Islam by leading figures like Hamza (r.a), the idolaters held a meeting to come up with ways to stem the tide.

“The issue of Muhammad has gotten serious” they discussed. “It is starting to get disturbing. Let us send our most able poet and sorcerer to him, so he can have a word!”

They chose Utbah ibn Rabiah for the purpose. Utbah repeated at length the offers formerly made by the idolaters. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) listened quietly for him to finish. He then asked, “Have you finished what you have to say Abu’l-Waled?”

Utbah nodded.

“Now listen to me then!” The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) then began reciting chapter Fussilat, until the verse of prostration, for which he fell prostrate. Getting up, he then added:

“You have now heard what I have to say. Here it is and there you are!”

On the way back, Utbah was seen from a distance by the idolaters, who could clearly notice his change of expression.

Once Utbah came, they anxiously asked him to explain what happened.

“I swear by Allah that I have never heard a word of the like I just heard. Poetry, magic, sorcery…it’s none of the kind! When Muhammad said:

فَإِنْ أَعْرَضُوا فَقُلْ أَنذَرْتُكُمْ صَاعِقَةً مِّثْلَ صَاعِقَةِ عَادٍ وَثَمُودَ

‘But if they turn aside, then say: I have warned you of a scourge like the scourge of Aad and Thamud,’ (Fussilat, 13) I blocked his mouth and begged him to read no further for the sake of our kinship. For I knew that whatever Muhammad says, comes true…I feared that Divine wrath would fall upon us.

Now listen to me, Quraysh! Leave him alone with his affairs, step aside! If Arabs happen to kill him, then you will be saved through others! But if he becomes sovereign over the Arabs, then his sovereignty means your sovereignty, and his honor means yours! Then, thanks to Muhammad, you will be the happiest of men!”

“He cast a spell on you with his words, Utbah!” the idolaters exclaimed in response.

“I only say what I think”, replied Utbah. “But you are free to do as you wish!” (Ibn Hisham, I, 313-314; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah, III, 111-112)

Omar’s (r.a) Acceptance of Islam

Having gathered yet again at the House of Nadwah, their advisory council, the idolaters decided to kill the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). For the task, they chose the brave and hot headed Omar ibn Khattab, thirteen years younger than the Noble Prophet (pbuh), with whom he shared a common lineage in their ninth great grandfather. Omar had now unwarily set out to murder the Best of Creations (pbuh). On the way he came across Nuaym ibn Abdullah (r.a). Suspicious of Omar’s overall manner, Nuaym asked where he was headed.

“To kill Muhammad…the man who has brought a new religion in place of that of his ancestors!” Omar responded.

To distract Omar and gain some time, the prudent Nuaym cobbled together an excuse.

“I swear, Omar, you are fooling yourself! Do you think the sons of Abd Manaf will let you live if you do? Besides, you should take a look at your own family first!”

“Who are you talking about?” Omar asked angrily.

“Who else but your sister Fatimah and your brother-in-law Sa’id ibn Zayd? They have both become Muslims. Take my word for it!”

Having found out about Omar’s sinister intention, by diverting him to his sister’s house Nuaym (r.a) had gained some precious time to notify the Blessed Prophet (pbuh) of the plot.

Speaking with Nuaym had irritated Omar all the more, and without further ado, he redirected his path to his sister’s house, fuming.

Khabbab (r.a) was also present at the house at the time, busy teaching Omar’s sister and brother-in-law Quran. The moment they saw the angry Omar approach towards them, they hid Khabbab (r.a) in a room, while Fatimah concealed the page of the Quran they were holding in their hands.

Omar stormed inside.

“What was that I heard you read just now?” he roared.

“You must have heard wrong. We have no such thing here”, they said.

“Really? Then why is it I hear that you two have become followers of Muhammad?” Omar yelled, after which he charged at his brother-in-law, beating him up. While trying to intervene, Fatimah got her share of Omar’s fury with a slap in the face, which however incited her to cry out:

“You can do what you like Omar! Even kill us if you wish! But we shall never give up our belief!”

A thin line of blood was trickling down Fatimah’s face (r.ha), as she spoke up with the courage of belief.

Not expecting such a reaction, Omar was stunned. The sight of his sister’s bloodstained face had suddenly caused an ache in his heart. He regretted his momentary fit of anger.

“Could you bring me what you were reading?” he asked compassionately, as if to apologize.

“Promise not to do anything to it!” said Fatimah.

“I promise; I will give it back once I read it”, Omar swore in the name of his idols.

Thereupon, hoping he might see the light of guidance, Fatimah (r.ha) said:

“But you are an idol worshipper, so you are not clean! Only those who are clean may touch the pages of the Quran!”

Omar (r.a) was given the pages only after a complete bodily wash. He then began reading the sacred ayah[4] thereon:

طٰهٰ. مَاۤ اَنْزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْقُرْاٰنَ لِتَشْقٰى. اِلَّا تَذْكِرَةً لِمَنْ يَخْشٰى. تَنْز۪يلًا مِمَّنْ خَلَقَ الْاَرْضَ وَالسَّمٰوَاتِ الْعُلٰى. اَلرَّحْمٰنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوٰى. لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمٰوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْاَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا وَمَا تَحْتَ الثَّرٰى. وَاِنْ تَجْهَرْ بِالْقَوْلِ فَاِنَّهُ يَعْلَمُ السِّرَّ وَاَخْفٰى. اَللّٰهُ لَاۤ اِلٰهَ اِلَّا هُوَ لَهُ الْاَسْمَاۤءُ الْحُسْنٰى. وَهَلْ اَتٰيكَ حَد۪يثُ مُوسٰى. اِذْ رَاٰ نَارًا فَقَالَ لِاَهْلِهِ امْكُثُوۤا اِنّ۪يۤ اٰنَسْتُ نَارًا لَعَلّ۪يۤ اٰت۪يكُمْ مِنْهَا بِقَبَسٍ اَوْ اَجِدُ عَلَى النَّارِ هُدًى. فَلَمَّاۤ اَتٰيهَا نُودِيَ يَا مُوسٰى. اِنّ۪يۤ اَنَاۨ رَبُّكَ فَاخْلَعْ نَعْلَيْكَ اِنَّكَ بِالْوَادِ الْمُقَدَّسِ طُوًى. وَاَنَا اخْتَرْتُكَ فَاسْتَمِعْ لِمَا يُوحٰى. اِنَّن۪ لّٰهُ لَاۤ اِلٰهَ اِلَّاۤ اَنَاۨ فَاعْبُدْن۪ي وَاَقِمِ الصَّلٰوةَ لِذِكْر۪ي. اِنَّ السَّاعَةَ اٰتِيَةٌ اَكَادُ اُخْف۪يهَا لِتُجْزٰى كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا تَسْعٰى. فَلَا يَصُدَّنَّكَ عَنْهَا مَنْ لَا يُؤْمِنُ بِهَا وَاتَّبَعَ هَوٰيهُ فَتَرْدٰى

“Ta Ha. We have not revealed to you the Quran to distress you! But only as an admonition to those who fear. A revelation from Him Who created the earth and the high heavens. The Beneficent One, Who is established on the Throne. To Him belongs what is in the heavens and on earth, and all between them, and all beneath the soil. And if you utter the saying aloud, then surely He knows the secret, and what is yet more hidden. Allah! There is no god but He! To Him belong the most Beautiful Names. Has the story of Musa come to you? When he saw a fire, he said to his family: ‘Stop, for surely I see a fire, haply I may bring to you therefrom a live coal or find guidance.’ When he came to it, a voice uttered: ‘O Musa! Truly I am your Lord, therefore take off your shoes; truly you are in the sacred valley, Tuwa. And I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed: Truly I am Allah, there is no god but I, therefore serve Me and keep up prayer for My remembrance. Surely the hour is coming—I am about to make it manifest—so that every soul may be rewarded for what it strives. Therefore let not him who believes not in it and follows his low desires, turn you away from it so that you should perish!’” (Ta Ha, 1-16)

Omar froze. All he could do was sigh, “How beautiful, how tremendous…”

He had been captivated by the eloquence of the Quran, by words laden with a meaning and wisdom no man could ever invent. He fell in the grip of some deep thinking.

Meanwhile, Khabbab (r.a) had come out from where he was hiding:

“Omar! By Allah, I have a feeling that the Prophet’s (pbuh) prayer is about to come true. Yesterday he prayed, ‘Allah…! Strengthen your religion with either Abu’l-Hakam ibn Hisham or Omar ibn Khattab!’ So the time has come, Omar, to fear Allah!”

“Take me to Muhammad!” Omar said to Khabbab (r.a).

They left right away. Each step of Omar was this time filled with the excitement of faith, with the love and satisfaction of having grasped the truth of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh).

When they arrived, Omar was met with by Hamza (r.a), waiting with a sword in hand, having been informed by Nuaym (r.a) of the earlier episode. But little could they have guessed the way it had developed.

The Gracious Messenger (pbuh) got up and met Omar at the courtyard, inquiring of the purpose of his visit. Spilling from Omar’s lips were the following words of contentment:

“I have come to become a Muslim, Messenger of Allah!”

In thankfulness of what Allah (SWT), has the power to show, the Prophet (pbuh) exclaimed:

Allah-u Akbar!

The Companions followed at the top of their lungs. Another wish of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had just been fulfilled. When Omar (r.a) resumed speaking, the first sentence he uttered was, “I bear witness there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His servant and messenger.”

Omar ibn Khattab (r.a) was now granted with the Prophet’s (pbuh) wish. As for Abu’l-Hakem ibn Hisham, better known as Abu Jahl, he was sinking more and more in his swamp of misery.[1]

Following Omar’s (r.a) declaration of faith in the presence of the Noble Messenger (pbuh), with his proposal, all the Muslims collectively left the House of Arqam and amid praises of the Lord began walking to the Kaabah. This was a huge blow to the idolaters. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) then granted Omar (r.a) the title “al-Faruq”, for separating right from wrong.[2]

Omar (r.a) gives the following account of those times:

“There was not a single Muslim who was not harassed, who did not have to put up a struggle. But nobody was touching me. I thought to myself, ‘I do not wish to be out of harm’s way while the Muslims are made to endure all sorts of cruelty’.

So the night I became a Muslim, I decided to find the greatest enemy of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) from among the idolaters and tell him I had accepted Islam. Come morning, I went to the door of Abu Jahl. He opened the door:

‘Welcome, Omar. What’s the story?’

‘I have come to tell you that I am now a believer of Allah, His Messenger and all that which he has brought,’ I said. He cursed and shut the door on my face.” (Ibn Hisham, I, 371)

In similar manner, Omar (r.a) later passed on the good news to one of Quraysh’s most prominent idolaters, his uncle Walid ibn Mughirah, and to two other idolaters who, all lacking the courage to get back at Omar (r.a) could only shut the door in his face and retreat inside their homes.

Abdullah ibn Masud (r.a) says:

“Omar’s acceptance of Islam was a triumph, his migration to Medina was an aid and his becoming caliph was a mercy! Until he became Muslim, we could not openly perform salat by the Kaabah. When he became Muslim, however, he fought the idolaters, and ensured they left us alone. Only then could we perform our salat there.” (Haythami, IX, 62-63)

Omar (r.a) persevered in Mecca in the way of Islam until the Hegira, putting up with all kinds of hardship together with the rest of the Muslims.

[1].      See Ibn Hisham, I, 312-313; Hâkim, III, 213; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya , III, 84.

[2].      Umm Jameel bint Hatib, a Muslima, is not to be confused with her namesake, Abu Lahab’s wife.

[3].      See Ibn Asîr, Usdu’l-Ghâba, VII, 326; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya , III, 81.

[4].      It has also been narrated that it was the first few verses of al-Hadid that Omar (r.a) read. (Bayhaqi, Dalail, II, 217)