Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Christans during the life of the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)

Well no, The Christans in Medina and Mecca where people who believed that Jesus (upon him peace) was a God. They were normal people by the average standards of the time. Gnostics would normally be holed up in a monastry or something, right? Most of the christans at that place lived like everyone else.

Yes, he did have some interesting meeting with some monks.

Meeting with the Monk Bahira

The Prophet’s first meeting with a Christian occurred when he, as a young boy aged between nine or twelve, joined his uncle’s merchant caravan for a trip to Syria. The Christian whom the Prophet Muhammad encountered was the monk, Bahira, who was living in Bostra, a Roman colonial city. Monk Bahira was known for his belief that a prophet was soon to appear among the Arabs. Bahira had studied old manuscripts, where he had learned of the coming of a final prophet, and he was convinced that this prophet would appear in his own lifetime. He was particularly interested in the Arab merchants who visited Syria, to see if his conviction would come true.

Bahira’s attention was struck in particular by a caravan from Makka, which to his amazement, was shaded by a cloud that hovered closely above them. The cloud moved as the caravan moved, and did not go any further when they stopped; it was as if it were providing shade for a person or people in the group. When he also noticed that a tree lowered its branches over the caravan to provide further shade, he immediately realized that this caravan must contain an extraordinary person or persons. He invited all of the individuals in the caravan to a meal at his place, but none of their faces revealed the capacity of the expected Prophet. He inquired if there was anyone who had not joined the meal; the answer he received was that Muhammad had been left behind to watch the caravan. He was keen to see Muhammad; and when he actually saw him he realized that he carried all the signs that the awaited Prophet was to have, as described in his books. He told Muhammad’s uncle to take him back to Makka as soon as possible in order to guard him against potential enemies.

This incident is used by some Western scholars as a basis to claim that Muhammad learned about the Judeo-Christian tradition from this monk, and that he later converted this knowl-edge into a new religion, i.e. Islam. However, it would not be logical or reasonable to adopt such an idea; Prophet Muhammad was far too young to acquire such an immense knowledge and the conversation between the monk and Muhammad was not a protracted one.

Waraqa ibn Nawfal

Prophet Muhammad also had some encounters with one of the known Arab Christians in Makka, Waraqa ibn Nawfal. Waraqa was a respected man of his time and a well-known Christian scholar. When the Prophet received his first Qur’anic revelation on Mount Hira, it had a great impact on him. Following this unusual experience, he went home, feeling ill. His wife Khadija took the Prophet to Waraqa and told him about the revelation.7 After listening to Prophet Muhammad, Waraqa said that it was Gabriel, the Angel of Revelation, who had come to him, just as he had come to Moses, and he added, “I wish I were young.”

Waraqa was an open-minded man; he converted from paganism to Christianity and also understood the features of the revelation that had been given to Muhammad. He sincerely supported Muhammad as a Christian believer when he understood that he was the awaited prophet, after Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them. Waraqa encouraged Muhammad to continue his call, without any doubt that God would protect him. This is a fine example of cooperation between a well known Christian scholar and the would-be Prophet.

The Abyssinian King (Negus) and The First Immigrants

When the Messenger of God began to declare his message openly, the Makkan pagans started to severely oppose him and the new Muslims, making many problems for them. Several Muslims died, with even more being humiliated and alienated. The Prophet realized that Makka was becoming a difficult place for Muslims to live in. He had his uncle as his protector; but there were many Muslims who had no protection from the aggressions of the Makkan pagans. He decided to send some of them to Abyssinia, especially those who had no effective protection; Abyssinia at the time was ruled by a Christian ruler. The Prophet told the group that King (Negus) of Abyssinia was a Christian, so they would be safe there.9 It is likely that Prophet Muhammad had some knowledge that the King was a peaceful and lenient ruler.

At the outset, eleven Muslims immigrated to Abyssinia. Later, they were joined by about 83 adult Muslims, women and men.10 Abyssinia was the Prophet’s choice; he felt that Christians were closer to Muslims than the Makkan pagans. When the first Muslim guests arrived there, they met with the King. Ja’far, as leader of the immigrants, gave the Prophet’s letter to the King, which read: “I have sent my cousin Ja’far to you, accompanied by a small number of Muslims; if he comes to you, receive them in hospitality . . .” The King welcomed them and promised to protect them from their enemies. In the royal presence a question was put to them: “What do you say concerning Jesus?” The spokesman for the group replied, “concerning Jesus we can only say what our Prophet has taught us: Jesus is the servant and messenger of God, the spirit and word of God, whom God entrusted to the Virgin Mary.” When the King Negus heard this testimony, he picked up a twig from the ground and said, “I swear, the difference between what we believe about Jesus, the Son of Mary, and what you have said is not greater than the width of this twig.”

When the Makkans heard that the Muslims had begun to live within the Christian community peacefully, they sent a delegation of learn-ed people to the King to persuade him to deport the Muslims from Abyssinia. There was a debate in front of the King between the Muslims and the Makkan delegation about what and how the Muslims believed. After the end of the debate, the King rejected the requests of the Makkans along with their gifts. This was the first helping hand for the young but frail Muslim community from a Christian ruler. This ruler later became Muslim and hid it from his people and prayed over by the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) after he died.