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PROPHET MUHAMMAD ﷺ AND HIS LETTERS


Prophet Muhammadﷺwrote letters to various kings and rulers. Heﷺwas a practical man; He himself invited people by using various means of communication available during his time. One of the most convenient ways of communication at that time was letters. Being an Illiterate, Prophet used the best resources. He gathered all those companions who can write for Him.

 

Table of Contents

 

The story of Heraclius’ encounter with Islam

All perfect praise is due to Allaah; I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah and that Muhammad is His Slave and Messenger; as well as his family and all his companions. 'Abdullaah ibn 'Abbaas,  narrated: “Abu Sufyaan ibn Harb informed me that Heraclius had sent a messenger to him while he had been accompanying a caravan from Quraysh. He was part of a delegation of merchants doing business in Sham (i.e., Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan) at the time, and this was when Allaah's Apostle had a ceasefire with Abu Sufyaan and the rest of the Qurayshi infidels. So Abu Sufyaan and his companions went to Heraclius at Jerusalem. Heraclius called them into his court while having all the senior Roman dignitaries around him...

Note: Heraclius had received a message from the Prophet sallallaahu'alayhi wa sallam inviting him to Islam, and so he wanted to ask his own people about Prophet.

 

(Heraclius)He called for his translator who, translating Heraclius's question, said to them: 'Who amongst you is closely related to the man who claims to be a Prophet?' Abu Sufyaan replied: 'I am the nearest relative to him (in the group).' Heraclius said: 'Bring him (i.e., Abu Sufyaan) close to me and make his companions stand behind him.' Abu Sufyaan added: 'Heraclius told his translator to tell my companions that he wanted to ask me some questions regarding that man (i.e., the Prophet) and that if I told a lie they (my companions) should oppose or contradict me.'

This meant that if Abu Sufyaan lied, his companions would have immediately indicated so.

Abu Sufyaan added: 'I swear by Allaah! Had I not been afraid of my companions labelling me as a liar, I would not have spoken the truth about the Prophet. The first question he asked me about him was: 'What is his family status amongst you?'

I replied: 'He belongs to a noble family amongst us.'

Heraclius asked: 'Has anybody amongst you ever claimed the same (i.e. to be a Prophet) before him?'

I replied: 'No.'

He asked: 'Was anybody amongst his ancestors a king?'

I replied: 'No.'

Heraclius asked: 'Do the nobles or the poor follow him?'

I replied: 'It is the poor who follow him.'

He asked: 'Are his followers increasing or decreasing (day by day)?'

I replied: 'They are increasing.'

He then asked: 'Does anybody amongst those who embrace his religion become displeased and renounce the religion?'

I replied: 'No.'

Heraclius asked: 'Have you ever accused him of lying before his claim (to be a Prophet)?'

I replied: 'No. '

Heraclius asked: 'Does he break his promises?'

I replied: 'No. We have a treaty with him but we do not know what he will do during it.' (He was referring to the Hudaybiyyah treaty.)

 I added: 'I could not find opportunity to say anything against him except that.'

 Note: Abu Sufyaan was looking for the opportunity to say anything evil about the Prophet sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam but could not find any, and so this was the only thing he could have said in a negative manner.

 Heraclius asked: 'Have you ever been at war with him?'

I replied: 'Yes.'

Then, he asked: 'What was the outcome of the battles?'

I replied: 'Sometimes he was victorious, while at other times it was us.'

Heraclius asked: 'What does he order you to do?'

I replied: 'He tells us to worship Allaah alone and not to worship anything along with Him, and to renounce all that our ancestors have said. He orders us to pray, to pay alms, to speak the truth, to be chaste and to keep good relations with our kith and kin.'

 

Heraclius asked the translator to convey to me the following: ‘I asked you about his family and your reply was that he belonged to a very noble family. The fact is that all messengers (of Allaah) come from noble families amongst their respective peoples. I questioned you whether anybody else amongst you claimed such a thing (i.e., prophethood), your reply was in the negative. Had the answer been in the affirmative, I would have thought that this man (i.e., the Prophet) was following the previous man's statements. Then I asked you whether anyone of his ancestors was a king. Your reply was in the negative; had it been in the affirmative, I would have thought that this man wished to regain his ancestral kingdom.

I further asked whether he was ever accused of telling lies before he said what he said, and your reply was in the negative. So I wondered how a person who does not tell a lie about others could ever tell a lie about Allah. I, then asked you whether the rich people followed him or the poor. You replied that it was the poor who followed him. And in fact all the Apostle have been followed by this very class of people. Then I asked you whether his followers were increasing or decreasing. You replied that they were increasing, and in fact this is the way of true faith, till it is complete in all respects. I further asked you whether there was anybody, who, after embracing his religion, became displeased and discarded his religion. Your reply was in the negative, and in fact this is (the sign of) true faith, when its delight enters the hearts and mixes with them completely. I asked you whether he had ever betrayed. You replied in the negative and likewise the Apostles never betray. Then I asked you what he ordered you to do. You replied that he ordered you to worship Allah and Allah alone and not to worship anything along with Him and forbade you to worship idols and ordered you to pray, to speak the truth and to be chaste. If what you have said is true, he will very soon occupy this place underneath my feet and I knew it (from the scriptures) that he was going to appear but I did not know that he would be from you, and if I could reach him definitely, I would go immediately to meet him and if I were with him, I would certainly wash his feet.' Heraclius then asked for the letter addressed by Allah's Apostle which was delivered by Dihya to the Governor of Busra, who forwarded it to Heraclius to read.

 

The contents of the letter were as follows:

"In the name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful (This letter is) from Muhammad the slave of Allah and His Apostle to Heraclius the ruler of Byzantine. Peace be upon him, who follows the right path. Furthermore I invite you to Islam, and if you become a Muslim you will be safe, and Allah will double your reward, and if you reject this invitation of Islam you will be committing a sin by misguiding your Arisiyin (peasants). (And I recite to you Allah's Statement:)

'O people of the scripture! Come to a word common to you and us that we worship none but Allah and that we associate nothing in worship with Him, and that none of us shall take others as Lords beside Allah. Then, if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are Muslims (those who have surrendered to Allah).' Quran Surah 3:64

 

Abu Sufyaan then added:'When Heraclius had finished his speech and had read the letter, there was a great cry in the Royal Court. So we were turned out of the court. I told my companions that the question of Ibn Abu Kabshah (i.e., Prophet Muhammad) had become so prominent that even the King of Al-Asfar (Byzantine) was afraid of him. Then I began being certain that he (i.e. the Prophet) would be a victorious conqueror in the near future, until I embraced Islam (i.e. Allaah guided me to it)."

 A sub-narrator added: "Ibn An-Naathoor was the governor of Jerusalem and Heraclius was the head of the Christians of Shaam; both of them were Christian scholars who were well learned regarding their religion. Ibn An-Naathoor narrated that once, while Heraclius was visiting Jerusalem, he woke up one morning depressed and in a bad mood. Some of his priests asked him why he was in such a mood. Heraclius was a foreteller and an astrologer; he replied: 'At night, when I looked at the stars, I saw that the leader of those who practice circumcision had appeared (i.e., become conquerors). Who are these people who practice circumcision?' The priests replied: 'Nobody except the Jews practice circumcision, so you should not be afraid of them (the Jews). Just issue orders to kill every Jew present in the country.'

 While they were discussing this, a messenger sent by the king of Ghassaan to convey the news of Allaah's messenger to Heraclius was brought in. Having heard the news, he (i.e. Heraclius) ordered the people to go and see whether the messenger sent by Ghassaan was circumcised. The people, after seeing him, told Heraclius that he was indeed circumcised. Heraclius then asked him about the Arabs in general. The messenger replied: 'The Arabs also practice circumcision.'

 After hearing this, Heraclius remarked that sovereignty of the Arabs had appeared. Heraclius then wrote a letter to his friend in Rome who was as knowledgeable as Heraclius. Heraclius then left, heading towards Hims (a town in Syria) and stayed there until he received the reply to a letter that he had sent to one of his friends inquiring about the emergence of the Prophet – his friend agreed with him that this was indeed the emergence of a true Prophet. With that, Heraclius invited all the heads of the Byzantines to assemble in his palace at Hims. When they assembled, he ordered that all the doors of his palace be closed. Then, he emerged and said: 'O Byzantines! If success is your desire and you seek the correct guidance, and wish for your empire to remain, then give a pledge of allegiance to this Prophet (i.e. embrace Islam).'

 (On hearing the views of Heraclius) the people ran towards the gates of the palace like wild beasts, but found the doors closed. Heraclius then realized their hatred of Islam, and when he lost hope of their embracing Islam, he ordered that they be brought back to him. (When they returned) he said: 'What I said was only to test the strength of your conviction about your religion, and I have seen it.' The people then prostrated before him and were delighted by him, and so this was the end of Heraclius's story (regarding his faith.)” Sahih Al Bukhari Vol.1:7

 This story was also reported by Imaam Muslim, At-Tirmithi, Abu Daawoodand Ahmad,  with a few variations that clarify certain matters in the message sent from the Prophet sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam to Heraclius.

 

The variations in some of these narrations state that the Prophet gave Heraclius three choices, which the latter conveyed to his priests and army leaders: “This man is a messenger and he has sent a letter giving you three choices: To follow his religion; or to agree to pay him taxes in return for him allowing you to remain upon your faith; or, to prepare for war against him”. His people angrily shouted: "We will never follow him and leave the religion of our forefathers; nor will we pay him any taxes, but instead we will fight him.” After this, Heraclius requested to be sent a man who knew Arabic, so a man by the man of Ibn Al-Khaytham was sent to him. Heraclius sent him with a reply to the Messenger . The Prophet  invited the messenger of Heraclius to Islam, but he refused to leave the religion of his people; upon hearing this from him, the Prophet smiled and recited the ayath which means: “Indeed, [O Muhammad], you do not guide whom you like, but Allaah guides whom He wills…” [Quran Surah 28: 56] This messenger of Heraclius had gone to the Prophet  whilst he was in Tabook¸ so the Prophet  said to him: “You are our guest, but you have come to us while we are out without anything to offer you.” (This was because they were travelling and had nothing to offer him.) ‘Uthmaan(R),  said: “I will gift him a garment of two pieces (of cloth).”Another man from the Ansaar  offered to give him some food.

The story has more details which were reported by Imaam Al-Haakim  as was mentioned by Imaam Ibn Katheer,  in the interpretation of the ayath of Allaah which means: “Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written [i.e., mentioned] in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel, who enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong …” [Quran 7: 157] He said: Hishaam Al-Amawi,  narrated: “I was sent with another man to Heraclius to call him to Islam. We headed out until we reached an area called Al-Ghootuh, in which lived Jabalah, which was one of the sections of the Ghassaan Christian tribe, who were allies of the Romans. Their leader sent his messenger to talk to us and inquire about what we wanted, but we refused to talk to him and said: 'We swear by Allaah! We will never talk to a messenger, we were sent to talk to the king of Ghassaan himself, and if the king refuses to talk to us then we will return to our land.' The messenger of the leader returned to him and informed him of our request, so he granted us our wish.

When we entered into the presence of the leader, he said: ‘Talk' so Hishaam spoke to him and invited him to Islam. Hishaam had a black garment on; the leader asked him about the garment (which looked old) to which Hishaam answered: ‘This is a garment which I swore never to take off until we (Muslims) expel you from Shaam (i.e., ancient Syria). I swear by Allaah! We will (Allaah willing) expel you from your position and from your land, and will overpower the kingdom of Ghassaan; we were informed that we would do this by our Messenger, Muhammad.’ Then he added: 'You will not be able to face them (i.e. the Muslims) for they fast during the days and pray during the nights.” The leader then inquired about the way they fast and so he informed him. Upon hearing the answer, his face turned black and he was enraged, then he told us to leave, and sent a man with us to take us to the king of the Ghassaan tribe. When we approached the city, the messenger who was sent with us told us that we were not allowed to enter it riding our own animals and that we had to ride with them, but we refused and told him that we would never enter except riding our own animals. The messenger sent a message to the king seeking permission for us, and he approved. We entered wearing our swords until we reached the hall in which the king was, then we tied our animals in the courtyard of the hall whilst he was watching us, and then we shouted: 'Laa Ilaaha Illallaah, Allaahu Akbar (i.e., none has the right to be worshipped except Allaah, Allaah is the Greatest).' I swear by Allaah that the entire hall began shaking like a branch of a tree on a windy day’. The king then sent a man telling us that we had no right to proclaim our religion in his land. After that, he allowed us entry, and when we entered we saw that he was wearing a red garment, and that he was surrounded by Roman priests - and everything in the hall was red in colour. When we came close to him, he laughed and said: ‘Why don’t you greet me the way you greet each other?’ So we said: ‘It is prohibited for us to greet you with the greeting we use amongst ourselves, and it is also prohibited for us to answer you using the greeting you use amongst yourselves.’ He then asked us about the greeting we use amongst ourselves, and we informed him that it was 'As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum.' Then he asked us: ‘How do you greet your king (i.e., the Prophet )?' We told him that we say the same to him, and then he asked us: ‘How does he answer you?’ We told him that we use the same greeting to answer him as he does to us. He remarked: ‘How wonderful are your words!’ Upon hearing this, we again shouted: 'Laa Ilaaha Illallaah, Allaahu Akbar (i.e., none has the right to be worshipped except Allaah, Allaah is The Greatest)' I swear by Allaah that the entire hall began shaking again. He raised his head and then addressed us saying: ‘These words that you just uttered, to which the entire hall shook… do they shake your rooms when you say them in your land?’ We replied: ‘No! The first time we have seen this happen is in your palace.” He asked this question because it was a clear indication of the prophethood of the Prophet .

 

Points of benefit

The following are some of many benefits that can be derived from the abovementioned story:

1.           The necessity of assuring authenticity of what one hears by means of asking around, just as Heraclius requested the friends accompanying Abu Sufyaan about the Prophet Muhammad.

2.           Truthfulness was a praiseworthy quality even during the pre-Islamic era.

3.           The weak and poor are usually the followers of the truth.

4.           The outcome of the wars and conflicts between the truth and falsehood alternate in defeat and victory for the believers.

5.           The Prophet sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam was known for his truthfulness, and even his most vicious enemies testified to this.

6.           The people of the Book recognize the Prophet by his characteristics which they find in their books, and they know that he is the awaited messenger from Allaah.

7.           Arrogance and the keenness to maintain their worldly positions prevented the people of the Book from adhering to the truth and accepting the message of the Prophet sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam.

8.           Allaah grants guidance to whomever He wills.

9.           As a sign of prophethood, Allaah made the Prophet aware of some of the matters of the unknown and unseen.

10.      Being hospitable is a part of the teachings of the Sunnah.

11.      A Muslim must display might regarding his religion, especially whilst inviting disbelievers to Islam.

12.      It is not permissible to greet disbelievers with Salaam.

13.      Allaah supports the righteous with Karaamaat (i.e. supernatural abilities or occurrences), such as that which happened to the hall which shook when the companions shouted: “Laa Ilaaha Illallaah, Allaahu Akbar (i.e., none has the right to be worshipped except Allaah, Allaah is The Greatest).” [1]

 

Letter to the Vicegerent of Egypt, called Cyrus Al-Muqawqas

The Prophet (s.a.a.w.) wrote to Juraij bin Matta, called Muqawqas, vicegerent of Egypt and Alexandria saying:

“In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. 
From Muhammad slave of Allâh and His Messenger to Muqawqas, vicegerent of Egypt. 

Peace be upon him who follows true guidance.Thereafter, I invite you to accept Islam. Therefore, if you want security, accept Islam. If you accept Islam, Allâh, the Sublime, shall reward you doubly. But if you refuse to do so, you will bear the burden of the transgression of all the Copts. 

“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 Allâh, and that we associate no partners with Him, and that none of us shall take others as lords besides Allâh.’ Then, if they turn away, say: ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims.’ ” Quran Surah 3:64
 

Hatib bin Abi Balta‘a, who was chosen to communicate the message, requested an audience with Muqawqas before imparting the contents of the letter. He addressed Egypt’s vicegerent saying: 
“There used to be someone before you who had arrogated the status of the Supreme Lord, so Allâh punished him and made an example of him in the Hereafter, and in this life; therefore, take warning and never set a bad example to others.” Muqawqas answered: “We are in no position to relinquish our religion except for a better one.” 

Hatib resumed: “We invite you to embrace Islam, which will suffice you all what you may lose. Our Prophet has called people to profess this Faith, Quraish and the Jews stood against him as bitter enemies, whereas Christians stood closest to his Call. Upon my life, Moses’s news about Christ is identical to the latter’s good tidings about the advent of Muhammad; likewise, this invitation of ours to you to embrace Islam is similar to your invitation to the people of Torah to accept the New Testament. Once a Prophet rises in a nation, he is eligible for positive response, hence you are subject to the same Divine Law. Bear in mind that we have not come to dissuade you from religion of Christ but rather bidding you to adhere to its tenets.” 

Muqawqas meditated over the contents of the letter deeply and said: “I have come to the conviction that this Prophet bids nothing abominable; he is neither a straying magician nor a lying soothsayer. He bears the true manifest seeds of Prophethood, and so I will consider the affair deeply.” He took the parchment and ordered that it be kept in an ivory casket. He called a scribe to write the following reply in Arabic:

“In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. 
From Muqawqas to Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah: 
Peace be upon you. I have read your letter and understood its contents, and what you are calling for. I already know that the coming of a Prophet is still due, but I used to believe he would be born in Syria. I am sending you as presents two maids, who come from noble Coptic families; clothing and a steed for riding on. Peace be upon you.” 
It is noteworthy that Muqawqas did not avail himself of this priceless opportunity and he did not embrace Islam. Source: Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum or the Sealed Nectar  [2]

 

Letter to the King of Oman

“In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. 
From Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah to Jaifer and ‘Abd Al-Jalandi. 
Peace be upon him who follows true guidance; thereafter I invite both of you to the Call of Islam.

Embrace Islam. Allâh has sent me as a Prophet to all His creatures in order that I may instill fear of Allâh in the hearts of His disobedient creatures so that there may be left no excuse for those who  deny Allâh. If you two accept Islam, you will remain in command of your country; but if you refuse my Call, you’ve got to remember that all your possessions are perishable. My horsemen will  appropriate your land, and my Prophethood will assume preponderance over your kingship.”

 
‘Amr bin Al-’As, who was chosen to carry the letter, narrated the following story that happened before he was admitted into the audience of Jaifer. “When I arrived in ‘Oman I contacted ‘Abd, who was known to be more mild-tempered than his brother: 
‘Amr: I am the messenger of Allâh’s Prophet coming to see both, you and your brother. 
‘Abd: You have to see my brother and read to him the letter you are carrying. He is my senior in both age and kingship. Incidentally, what is the purport of your mission? 
‘Amr: The Prophet calls upon you to believe in Allâh Alone with no associate, discard any other deities and testify to the slavehood and Messengership of Muhammad. 
‘Abd: O ‘Amr! You come from a noble family, but first of all, tell me what was your father’s attitude concerning this Faith? You know, we used to follow his steps.

 
‘Amr: Death overtook him before believing in Muhammad’s mission; I wish now he had embraced Islam and been truthful to it before his death. I myself had adopted the same attitude until Allâh guided me towards Islam. 
‘Abd: When did you embrace Islam? 
‘Amr: When I was at Negus’s court. By the way, the latter did also enter into the fold of Islam. 
‘Abd: What was his people’s reaction? 
‘Amr: They approved of him and followed his steps. 
‘Abd: The bishops and monks? 
‘Amr: They did the same. 
‘Abd: Beware ‘Amr of lying for this soon betrays man. 
‘Amr: I never tell lies; moreover, our religion never allows it. 
‘Abd: Has Hercules been informed of the Islamization of Negus? 
‘Amr: Yes, of course. 
‘Abd: How did you happen to know that? 
‘Amr: Negus used to pay land tax to Hercules, but when the former embraced Islam, he swore he would discontinue that tax. When this news reached Hercules, his courtiers urged him to take action against Negus but he refused and added that he himself would do the same if he were not sparing of his kingship. 
‘Abd: What does your Prophet exhort you to do? 
‘Amr: He exhorts us to obey Allâh, the All-Mighty, the All-Glorious, be pious and maintain good ties with family kin; he forbids disobedience, aggression, adultery, wine, idolatry and devotion to the cross. 
‘Abd: Fair words and fair beliefs are those you are calling for. I wish my brother would follow me to believe in Muhammad and profess his religion, but my brother is too sparing of his kingship to become a subordinate.

‘Amr: Should your brother surrender himself to Islam, the Prophet would give him authority over his people and take alms tax from the wealthy people to be given to the needy. 
‘Abd: That is fair behaviour. But what is this alms tax you have mentioned? 
‘Amr: It is a Divine injunction that alms tax be taken from the well-to-do people who have surplus wealth and be distributed to the poor. 
‘Abd: I doubt if this can work among our people. 
‘Amr stayed for some days to be admitted into Jaifer’s court until he was finally granted this permit. “He asked me to hand him the letter to read it. After that he asked me how Quraish reacted and I answered that they had followed him, some out of their own freewill and others overpowered by military fighting. Now, people have chosen Islam in preference to other creeds, and have realized through their mental insight that they had been straying in darkness. None, except you, is now out of the domain of Islam, so I advise you to embrace Islam so that you can provide security to yourself and your country.” 
 

Here, he asked me to call on him the following day. The following day he showed some reluctance in receiving me but his brother, ‘Abd, interceded and I was given the chance to see him again but this time to address me in a threatening arrogant tone. However, after a private talk with his brother and reconsidering the whole situation, both brothers embraced Islam and proved to be true to Islam that had begun to make its way into this new area. The context of this story reveals that this letter was sent at a much later date than the others, most likely after the conquest of Makkah. [3]

 

References

[1] http://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/index.php?page=articles&id=163389

[2] http://www.huda.tv/articles/prophet-muhammad/124-letter-to-the-vicegerent-of-egypt-called-muqawqas

[3] http://www.huda.tv/articles/prophet-muhammad/123-letter-to-the-king-of-oman

 

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