Episode 43: al-Najashi: King of Abyssinia
Welcome to Seerah Pearls, which aims to highlight some tantalising learning points from each episode of the Seerah- Life of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).
The Court of the Negus
The Qurayshi envoy comes before the Negus. They claim that some foolish slaves have run away from their masters and have taken refuge in his Kingdom. The Negus says he cannot just hand them over until he hears both sides of the story. He requests the Muslims to attend the next day: they are very worried as they are unsure as to why they have been summoned, but they are also hopeful, as they had not done anything wrong. Ja’far ibn Abi Talib (RA) was appointed their leader: he was intelligent, well-spoken, and calm and collected.
When Ja’far steps forward, he did not bow down like the Qurayshi envoy. However, he thanked the Negus respectfully. Immediately, Amr ibn Aas and Ammarah speak up and comment that he did not bow down. The Negus calls Ja’far forward and asks why he did not bow down like his relations. Ja’far says that we [the Muslims] do not bow down in front of anyone except Allah. When asked about Allah, Ja’far reports that Allah sent a Messenger to us, who said that we should not bow down to anyone, except for Allah. He commanded them to pray and give charity. He is the same Prophet that Isa (AS) foretold of his coming. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) commanded to pray to Allah alone and not to associate partners, to establish prayer, to pay Zakat, do good things (e.g. be good to family, take care of orphans) and stay away from bad things (e.g. stealing, cursing and fornication). The Negus was very impressed by these words and responds that he did not see anything wrong with what they believed in: it was exactly what Isa (AS) asked him to do as well.
Amr bin Aas speaks up and says that they had escaped from them. The Negus asks Ja’far about this: Ja’far is amused at this comment and asks how they can say we are slaves. He reports he is the son of the leader of the people and that they are equals. The claim that they are slaves was false. He asked Amr bin Aas if he had any evidence and he denied it. The Negus said he could not hand these people over and the court dispersed. Amr bin Aas leans over to Ammarah and he swears he will be back tomorrow with a better game plan.
The Second Meeting
The Negus arranges for food and a safe place to stay for the night. Amr goes to the Negus and says he has no argument with his decision, but wanted to let him know that the Muslims say some very serious, shocking things about Isa (AS). The Negus, a devout, practicing Christian, is taken aback. The next morning, he reconvenes the Muslims, Qurayshis and ministers. The Muslims are even more worried about this meeting. Ja’far stands again as a speaker. The King looks a little upset and asks what they say about Isa (AS). In response, Ja’far does not say anything, but starts reciting some of Surah Maryam from the Quran.
There was not a single dry eye in the court. The Negus’s beard was all wet. It took a couple of minutes before he could talk. Ja’far explained that Isa (AS) is the spirit of Allah and the result of the command of Allah. Allah brought him to the Earth from the chaste mother Mary: no man had gone near her. When the Negus regains his composure, he bends down and sees a twig on the ground- he holds up the twig and swears to God to the gathered ministers and priests that what the Muslims say about Isa (AS) did not differ from them by as much as the twig he was holding up. There were audible gasps in the room: many Christians believed that Isa (AS) was the son of God. He welcomes the Muslims to his Kingdom and says that the man they were representing i.e. Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was also welcome. He gives testimony that Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is the Messenger of God and he is the one that Isa (AS) said would come. If he were not entrusted with the leadership of his people, the Negus says that he would have gone to Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and kissed his feet. Umm Salamah says he commanded the ministers to provide food and clothing and anything the Muslims needed. He ordered the gifts that Amr and Ammarah brought to be returned to them. These two returned very dejected and confused after this meeting.
The Young Negus
The Negus had an interesting experience, coming from turmoil and difficulty as a child. His dad was the King before him. When he passed away, his dad’s younger brother was told to supervise the Negus, as he was young when he ascended to the throne. However, the brother was surrounded by power-hungry people and they advised him to get rid of the boy and take over the rule. In the middle of the night, they kidnap the boy, strip him down, and drop him into the slave market in ripped clothing.
Later, everyone is looking for the boy King and they realise there is some foul-play going on. A rebellion starts and they insist they want answers as to what has happened. The prince realises the only way to quell the situation is to find the boy and bring him back. They claim he got kidnapped and the criminals had been punished. The young Negus reports this to close aides of his father and they reach out to the tribes and supporters and launch a war against the crown prince. The boy King wins and ascends to the throne and imprisons the crown Prince and his aides.
The ministers tell the Negus he needs to take back his words spoken in front of the Muslims. They claim to the monks he was taking about Isa (AS) as being the Messenger of God and not Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). The ministers say that the opposition to his rule when he was a child is still present and he is being called a heretic after his words with the Muslims. They tell him he can believe what he wants to, but the ministers advise him to stay quiet about this, so as to avert civil war.
There was eventually a civil war in Abyssinia and the Negus suffers some losses. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) made dua for the Negus’s victory as he had been a fair and just ruler and kind to the Muslims. Shortly after, they were able to defeat the opposition and he remained in power.
The Negus as a Muslim
Eventually, the Negus accepts Islam. Ramlah bint Abu Sufyan went to Abyssinia. Her husband was also a Muslim, but something cracked him and he started drinking and became an alcoholic. He was abusive to his wife and eventually he left Islam and he died. She was pregnant and gave birth to Habiba. When the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) heard what had happened, he sent word that he wanted to propose to her. The Negus facilitates the proposal: he hosts the messenger of the proposal, calls Ja’far and asks him to bring Ramlah bint Abu Sufyan to the court. She accepts and the Negus prepares a caravan with bodyguards and supplies to send her to Madina. He sends the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) a gift which he says to give her as the Mahr.
When the Muslims finally returned to Madina, Ja’far said the Negus asked for the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) to ask for his forgiveness. The Prophet stood up, made wudu and asks three times for his forgiveness. All the Muslims present after the Battle of Khaybar replied ‘Ameen’.
Salatul-Janazah for the Negus
In the 9th year of Hijrah, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) receives news of the Negus passing away. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) gathers the Sahaba and he stands to pray Salatul-Janazah for him. This solidifies the fact that the Negus was a Muslim. The prayer is offered for someone who is not there and this establishes a precedent. The majority of scholars say praying Salatul-Janazah for someone who is not present is not something that is generally permissible. A minority say it is permissible in certain circumstances e.g. if someone dies somewhere where his Islam is not well known and he does not receive the proper burial rites. Some arguments for the exceptions in the case of the Negus include that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had the right to do something different from the norm and that it was done as a show of respect to a ruler. There are no other reported instances of this having occurred in the life of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), even for those who were prominent and beloved to him.