Seerah episode 43: Al-Najashi: King of Abyssinia

— The Quraysh were able to bribe the King of Abyssinia’s ministers with gifts so they could appear in the King of Abyssinia (al-Najashi’s) court & gain an audience with al-Najashi. The Quraysh present themselves & their gifts to al-Najashi

  • Amr & Umara lie to al-Najashi, “Some of our abeed un Sufaha – these foolish slaves – have run away from their masters, & they’ve come here & found refuge in your kingdom. We have come to remove them from your hands & take them back home.”
  • The King was a very good & honest man. He replied, “Even if the slaves have run away, I cannot take them & hand them to you since they have found refuge here. I will not hand them to you unless I have heard both sides of the story.”
    • This was one of the reasons that the Prophet sent the early Muslims to migrate to Abyssinia, because he had heard of this King’s good reputation

— Al-Najashi then requested the Muslim immigrants to present themselves in his court

  • Ummu Salama, who had migrated here with her husband (who would later die), narrated, “When we got the news that king was asking for us, we were very worried. We had kept a very low profile all this time. And now, he’s calling us to his court?”
  • The leaders of the Muslim immigrants got together & said, “Look, we don’t know what it’s about. We haven’t done anything wrong, & we don’t intend to do anything wrong. Let’s go there and not assume the worst. We have to be confident. We have the best of intentions. We’re here to live quietly in a life of freedom. We’re not here to step on anyone’s toes. All we have to do is go and express that.”

— They appoint Ja’far ibn Abi Talib (older brother of Ali), cousin of Prophet to represent the Muslims in the King’s court

  • Ja’far was a very calm & collected person. He was very intelligent, thoughtful, mild-mannered, soft-spoken, & eloquent
  • 12 years after migrating to Habesha, Ja’far left to return to the Prophet & reunite with him in Medina. He arrived in Medina at the time when Battle of Khaybar was ending
    • When Ja’far walked into the Muslim camp & the Prophet saw Muslims from Habesha returning, the Prophet said, “I don’t know which makes me happier – that we won Battle of Khaybar or that Ja’far has returned. You’re the coolness of my eyes.  Ja’far, you are my brother. You resemble me in looks & you resemble me in character.” Imagine that Allah has said that the Prophet has the best of character, and now the Prophet was saying that Ja’far resembles him in character? Ma sha Allah!

— Ja’far is chosen to speak for the Muslims in Habesha

  • All 100 Muslim migrants (women, children, & men) are ordered to stand in the court of the King of Abyssinia. They were to stand there calmly, & Ja’far would speak for them
  • When Ja’far steps forward to audience of king, al-Najashi, he didn’t bow down to the king. He greeted the king & thanked the king for the audience
    • Immediately, Amr and Umara quickly tell the king’s minsters, “He didn’t bow down to the king!”

— Al-Najashi overhead & asked Ja’far, “Why didn’t you bow down like the rest of your tribespeople? They bowed down, so obviously it’s a part of your custom. Don’t you follow your custom? Why didn’t you bow down?”

  • Ja’far replied, “We don’t bow down in front of anyone except for Allah.”
  • The King said, “Tell me about Allah.”
  • Ja’far said, “Allah sent a Messenger to us. He’s the same Prophet that Isa foretold the coming of. The Prophet told us we should never prostrate in front of anyone except Allah. He has also commanded us to pray & give charity. He tells us to do good things – to be good to our family and take care of orphans. He tells us to stay away from bad things – from fornication, from prostitution, from cursing, from oppression, from stealing.”

— Al-Najashi was very impressed with Ja’far’s words

  • Al-Najashi responded, “I don’t see anything wrong with what you believe in. This is exactly what Isa ibnu Maryam taught us to do. This is what your Rasul tells you to do.”
    • Then Amr spoke up and said, “But they’ve escaped away from us. They’re slaves.”
  • Al-Najashi then said to Ja’far, “They claim that you are slaves of theirs. Is that true?”
  • Ja’far was amused at this comment. He said, “How does he say we’re his slaves? I’m the son of the leader of our tribe. My father is more powerful & more respected than this man. We’re equals of theirs. We’re not slaves. We’re brothers in terms of lineage. If I’m a slave then that makes him a slave too. We’re not property. This is a false claim.”
    • Ja’far turned to Amr & asked, “Do you have any evidence that we’re your slaves?”
    • Amr said, “No.”
  • Therefore, Al-Najashi said, “I will not hand these people over to you.”

— Then Al-Najashi dismissed everyone from the court

  • Amr then leaned over to Umara, “I swear to you that I’ll cook up something better. I have a better game plan tomorrow.”
  • The Muslims camped overnight in the capital. Al-Najashi told the Muslims, “You’re my guests for tonight. I’ll take care of your dinner & sleeping arrangements.”
  • Amr later went to the King & said, “We have no argument against your decision, you’re the king, your word is final. I just thought you should know, that the Muslims say some very serious & shocking things about Isa.”
    • Al-Najashi is taken aback. He’s a devout Christian, an alim of his religion.  He said, “Really?”

— The next morning, the King summoned everyone to court (Muslims, ministers, the Quraysh). The Muslims were scared even more on the 2nd day. Ja’far is again appointed to speak on their behalf. Amr & Umara were smirking

  • Al-Najashi looked a little upset. He said to Ja’far, “What is this I hear? You have something shocking to say about al-Massih?”
  • The Prophet’s da’wah was dominated by the Qur’an. He read to the Sahaba from the Qur’an. Ja’far is talking to a non-Muslim, who is right now a bit confrontational. So how do you give da’wah to him?
  • Ja’far doesn’t say anything for a bit. He decided to tell the truth. Then he said, “Audhubillah minash shaytanar rajeem. Bismillahir rahmanir Rahim.”
    • Then he starts reciting Surat Maryam to the point where it starts with story of Zakariya & Yahya. Ja’far continues beyond Ayah 16, which talks about how Maryam was chaste and pure, how Allah told her to isolate herself, how an angel communicates with her to tell her that she’ll give birth to a very pure boy, how Isa addresses the people as an infant, “I’m a slave of Allah. I’ve been given a scripture and Allah has made me a prophet.”

— By the time Ja’far had finished reading these ayat from Surat Maryam, there was not a single dry eye in the court. Al-Najashi was so overcome with emotion that his beard was wet. He took a couple of minutes before he could talk

  • Ja’far explained, “Isa is the spirit of Allah (he was the result of the command of Allah). Allah brought him to the earth from the very chaste Maryam. No man had gone near her.”

— When al-Najashi regains his composure, he gets off his throne, bends down to ground, picks up a twig & holds it up to everyone.  He said, “Oh, fraternity of ministers & priests, I swear to God that what these people say about Isa ibnu Maryam is not even this much different from what we believe about Isa & Mariam.” Meaning, he was saying that what Ja’far read to them is similar with what his understanding of Nabi Isa and Maryam.

  • There are gasps around the room, since many Christians believed that Isa was the Son of God
  • Al-Najashi is a scholar of the Scripture. He goes on to say, “This is the truth. This man recites the truth. All of you (Muslims) are welcome here in my kingdom. The man that you represent here in my court today (Muhammad), he is also welcome. I’m at his service. I bear witness that he’s the Messenger of Allah, and he’s the one that Isa said would come. If I was not here entrusted with the rulership of my people, I would have gone to him & kiss his shoes. You are free to stay here.”
  • Al-Najashi then commanded his ministers to provide the Muslims with food and clothing, and anything else they need
    • The King also said, “As for these two (Amr & Umara), give them back their gifts. I know you ministers got gifts from them. If I find out that any one of you kept them, you’ll answer to me.”
    • Then Amr & Umara returned to Makkah dejected
  • Now that there’s an official word from the King of Abyssinia that Muslims were welcome in the kingdom, so people treat them well

Background of Al Najashi:

— Al-Najashi’s father, who was the King, passed away when al-Najashi was a young boy. So naturally, he assumes the throne after his father. His dad’s younger brother at that time was told that the current Najashi is very young to rule a kingdom by himself, so the uncle would rule until his nephew was old enough to rule on his own

  • The people around al-Najashi’s uncle were power-hungry. They told him to get rid of the boy. The uncle agrees with their idea
    • Those people later kidnap the boy, put tattered old clothing on him, & dirty him up a bit. Then they take the young al-Najashi to the slave market to be sold off as a slave
  • When people wake up in the morning, they find that the boy-king is gone. They suspect that the prince (al-Najashi’s uncle) is involved in his nephew’s disappearance
    • The supporters of the boy-king refuse to accept the uncle as the permanent king, so rebellion starts. “He’s gotten rid of our rightful king.”
  • There’s a civil war. The prince realizes that the only way to quell this rebellion is to bring the boy back, so he dispatches people to track him down

— After some time, they bring al-Najashi back. He worked as a slave during this time, so of course, he’s traumatized. The people who arranged for him to be sold off as a slave lie, “He was lost, he was kidnapped. We punished those responsible.”

  • The boy realizes at this point that his uncle is trying to get rid of him. As he grows up, he leans on people who were loyal to his father. They gather more loyalists & launch another civil war against the uncle (crown prince)
  • The civil war eventually ends, & now the boy sits in his proper place as King of Abyssinia. He imprisoned the crown prince and others who were against him
  • Because of his life experiences (kidnap, slavery, civil war), al-Najashi was a very compassionate, understanding, & spiritual king

— When Ja’far recited the Qur’an in the court of the king, al-Najashi felt a boost of Imaan

  • Afterward, the ministers huddled up. “We got a situation on our hands. The King said some crazy stuff yesterday.” They tell him to take back the things he said about Isa & Muhammad
    • The king replied, “No, why should I take it back?”
  • The ministers then gather all the priests & monks together, they assure each other, “When al-Najashi said, ‘I swear he’s the Messenger of God,’ he was talking about Isa, not this man Muhammad. You know the King’s policy. He takes care of the minorities. You know that he’s fair to everyone. He’s kind to Muslims so we should also be kind to them, BUT the king has not forsaken Christianity. Don’t worry, the king is fine.”

— The next day, the ministers go to al-Najashi & tell him that even though he quelled his opposition in the civil war, there is another opposition gaining on him

  • The minister told al-Najashi, “Your opponents are calling you a heretic.  Whatever you believe, you can believe. We’re going to pretend we never heard it. We just want to help you run the country. But don’t say any more about the Muslims’ Prophet.”
  • Al-Najashi understood that another civil war could occur if he keeps publicly proclaiming agreement with the Muslims. He kept those thoughts to himself

— But civil war does arise again in Abyssinia

  • This time, the opposition is stronger than they were last time. Al-Najashi lost ground against the opposition, & the king suffered a lot of losses
  • When the Prophet heard about another civil war in Abyssinia, & how al-Najashi is not faring well, the Prophet made dua for al-Najashi’s victory because he had been so kind to the Muslim refugees
    • Shortly after the dua, even though al-Najashi’s forces were losing ground, they were able to defeat the opposition & remain in power
  • Later on in his life, al-Najashi accepted Islam

— Ramlah bint Abu Sufyan who is the daughter of Abu Sufyan, a strong enemy of Islam at the time, was one of the Muslims who migrated to Abyssinia

  • Her husband was possibly emotionally disturbed after leaving Makkah. Something cracked him, so he started drinking alcohol to the point that he became a raging alcoholic. In his drunken state, he was very abusive to Ramlah. Some narrations say he left Islam. Eventually he drank himself to death
  • Ramlah, now a widow, was pregnant at this time. She gave birth to her daughter Habiba, & Ramlah is now known as Ummu Habiba
  • This was during the Medinan period. When the Prophet heard that one of the women who went to Abyssinia had all these things happen to her (abused, widowed, single mother) & now she’s there by all herself, the Prophet sent her a marriage proposal
    • The culture was that if a woman was previously married, abused, or had a child, she was not deemed fit to be married again, but in this case, the Prophet himself sent Ramlah a marriage proposal, which Ramlah accepted
    • Al-Najashi himself facilitated the marriage. He prepared an entire caravan for the ceremony, with bodyguards, food, gifts (mahr from the Prophet to Ramlah)

— In the 9th year of Hijrah, shortly before  the Prophet’s death, he received news that al-Najashi has died

  • The Prophet gathered the Sahaba together & they all prayed Salat al-Janazi for al-Najashi
  • When Ja’far came from Abyssinia to Medina to rejoin the Muslim community in Medina after the Battle of Khaybar, he told the Prophet that Al-Najashi sent a messenger along with the rest of the Muslim migrants
    • This messenger was a personal servant al-Najashi, someone who was like family to al-Najashi
    • The servant asked Ja’far to tell the Prophet how al-Najashi treated the Muslims in Abyssinia
  • Ja’far told the Prophet about al-Najashi’s kindness toward the Muslims & his proclamation in belief of Allah. Al-Najashi also asked the Prophet to ask Allah for forgiveness on al-Najashi’s behalf
  • After the Battle of Khaybar, the Prophet gathered Sahaba together and asks Allah for al-Najashi’s forgiveness
    • All the Sahaba said “Amin”

— Key point: The Prophet prayed Salat al-Janaza for someone who died elsewhere. There’s no body present

  • Majority of scholars say that praying Janaza for someone who is not physically there is not permissible (e.g. if someone dies in California, you can’t pray Salat al-Janaza for the deceased if you’re in New York)
  • Minority of scholars believe that this is permissible because the Prophet did it. But because it is permissible, it should be restricted to the following circumstance:
    • It should only be done in a situation where a Muslim passes away where his Islam is not known (it is a secret for whatever purpose) & that he doesn’t receive the proper burial rites
    • There were a few Muslims living in Abyssinia. Many of the local people had accepted Islam as well. When the Arab expats left Abyssinia & came back to Arabia (Medina), they went back & prayed Janaza for al-Najashi
    • The Prophet took into consideration that al-Najashi’s Islam wasn’t public, so he wouldn’t get proper Islamic burial
    • Since Al-Najashi was a ruler, the Salat al-Janaza for al-Najashi was a gesture of respect by Prophet, so this is not to be taken as a general precedent
  • We don’t find any other instance of the Prophet ever offering Salat al-Janaza for people who died elsewhere.  Some Muslims died in Makkah. The Prophet was in Medina at the time, but he didn’t offer Salat al-Janaza for them
    • That’s why majority of scholars say that it’s not permissible to pray Janaza for those who died elsewhere

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