Christians and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Christians and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Christians and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

By Amal Al-Sibai

Islam is a religion that embodies peace, mercy, tolerance, and kindness. To learn about Islam’s stance on Christians, open the Holy Qur’an and look to the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his interactions with Christians. Mainstream media and radical groups like ISIS are misrepresenting Islam and our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him).

The first encounter Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had with Christians was a positive one, and it goes back to when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was twelve years old. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) accompanied his uncle, Abu Talib, on a business journey to Syria. On their way, and on the outskirts of Syria, they came across a Christian monk, Bahira.

Bahira had studied old manuscripts which informed of a final prophet who would come forth from Arabia. What caught Bahira’s attention was a particular caravan from Makkah which 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; as if it were providing shade for a person or people in the group. He also noticed that a tree lowered its branches over the caravan to provide further shade. He realized that this caravan must contain someone extraordinary.

The monk invited the merchants to a feast. They accepted the invitation and Bahira saw in Muhammad (peace be upon him) the signs of the prophet as described in his scriptures.

He said to Muhammad’s uncle, “This is the master of all humans. Allah will send him with a Message which will be a mercy to all beings.”

Bahira told Muhammad’s uncle to take him back to Makkah to protect him.

Indeed, Bahira’s prediction came true. In adulthood, when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) first received revelation from Allah, he was shaken with fear and he told his wife, Khadija, what had happened. She took him to her cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal, who was a respected man and a well known Christian scholar. 

Waraqa said, “This is the Angel of Revelation, just as he had come to Moses. I wish I were younger. I wish I could live up to the time when your people would turn you out.”

“If I should be alive to that day, then I would support you strongly,” Waraqa said.

A few days later, Waraqa died.

When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) openly called people to Islam, the pagans in Makkah severely persecuted the new Muslims. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) knew that Ashamah Negus, the king of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), was a fair and peaceful ruler, so he permitted some of his followers to escape to Abyssinia.

The fleeing Muslims were welcomed and received with hospitality by the Christian king, Negus. The disbelievers of Quraish in Makkah were indignant that the Muslims were finding a safe haven to worship freely in Abyssinia so they sent envoys to Negus to demand that he hand over the Muslims. The men of Quraish went to Negus to instill hatred of the Muslims in the hearts of the Christians. They said that the followers of Muhammad (peace be upon him) blasphemed Jesus Christ.

The king summoned the Muslim emigrants and asked them what they believed about Jesus Christ.
Jafar bin Abi Talib, Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, said, “We speak about Jesus as we have been taught by our Prophet (peace be upon him), that is, he is the servant of Allah, His Messenger, His spirit and His Word breathed into Virgin Mary.”

Negus responded, “Even so do we believe. Blessed be you, and blessed be your master.”

Negus refused to expel the Muslims from Abyssinia, and they lived unharmed in Abyssinia for several years until it was safe for them to travel to Madinah where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had migrated.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) never forgot the kindness that Negus showed to his followers. When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received news of the king’s death he was saddened and he made prayers for him.

It was narrated that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said to his companions, “Today a pious man from Ethiopia (Negus) has expired; come to offer the funeral prayer.” And his companions lined up in rows and they prayed for Negus.   

After Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) migrated to Madinah and established the Muslim community there, a delegation of Christians from Najran (the area which is present day Yemen) visited the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madinah. There was only a small Christian population in Madinah and Makkah; the majority of Christians lived in Najran.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had been sending official letters to different countries and their rulers, inviting them to Islam. Few of the Najran Christians converted to Islam; the majority of them did not change their religion after these invitations. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent a representative to them, Mughira ibn Shu’ba, to explain the religion of Islam. After discussions with Mughira, the Christians of Najran decided to send a group of people to visit the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madinah. The delegation was made up of about 60 well learned Christians; a bishop, 45 scholars, and 15 men. Their intention was to learn the nature of the revelations Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was receiving.

When the Najran delegation reached Madinah, they debated with the Prophet (peace be upon him) for two or three days in the masjid. The Christians prayed in the masjid where the Muslims prayed. The whole visit was a peaceful dialogue between Christians and Muslims, and it was the first time that Christians prayed in a masjid.  

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) warmly welcomed the Najran delegation and provided them with a place to stay in Madinah. He even ordered that their tent be pitched for them by the Muslims. Although the Christians of Najran and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) disagreed on a lot of issues, they had some commonalities in their faiths.

There are many commonalities between Christians and Muslims that we can use to work together in building bridges and bringing peace among societies, such as loving your neighbor, wanting for others what you want for yourself, being merciful, and saying a kind word.

A verse in the Holy Qur’an shows that there is amiability between Christians and Muslims.

{You will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, “We are Christians.” That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant.} (Chapter 5, verse 82)

Harboring and spreading hate towards Christians, whom the Qur’an described as People of the Book, was not in the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).