Anecdotes from the Life of the Prophet Muhammad

by Mumtaz Ahmad Faruqui

The Prophet’s Missives to the Neighbouring Monarchs

The mission of the Prophet Muhammad was not confined to his own people, like that of other prophets before him. It was universal and meant for the entire human race. It is thus mentioned in the Holy Quran:

“And We have not sent thee but as a bearer of good news and as a warner to all mankind, but most men know not.” (The Holy Quran, 34:28)

“And We have not sent thee but as a mercy to the nations.” (The Holy Quran, 21:107)

“Say: O Mankind, surely I am the messenger of Allah to you all.” (The Holy Quran, 7:158)

Consequently, the Prophet sent emissaries to the rulers of the neighbouring countries, announcing to them his claim and inviting them to the faith of Islam. He sent Dehya, one of his Companions, to the Court of the Byzantine Emperor, Heraclius. The Muslim envoy reached the Emperor when Heraclius was making a journey on foot to Jerusalem in fulfilment of his vow for his splendid victory over the Persians. The messenger was treated with great respect and the Emperor showed great interest in the claims of the Prophet. Heraclius wanted to know more of the character of the Holy Prophet. It happened that a caravan of some Meccan merchants was sojourning at that time in that part of the country. The Emperor summoned them to his presence. Abu Sufiyan, their leader, was an inveterate enemy of the Prophet; he is responsible for the account of the interview which took place. The dialogue that followed is reproduced below:

Heraclius: “What kind of family does he (the Prophet) come from?”
Abu Sufiyan: “He belongs to a noble family.”

Heraclius: “Did anyone among you ever put forward such a claim before?”
Abu Sufiyan: “No.”

Heraclius: “Who generally believe in him, the rich or the poor?”
Abu Sufiyan: “It is mostly the poor that follow him.”

Heraclius: “Are his followers increasing in number or are they falling off?”
Abu Sufiyan: “They are increasing incessantly.”

Heraclius: “Does any of his followers relinquish his faith after having once accepted it?”
Abu Sufiyan: “No.”

Heraclius: “Has he ever been guilty of treachery?”
Abu Sufiyan: “Never.”

Heraclius: “Which of you comes off victorious?”
Abu Sufiyan: “Sometimes he is victorious and sometimes we are victorious.”

Heraclius: “What does he bid you do?”
Abu Sufiyan: “He bids us abandon the worship of our idols and adore one God; to give up the practices of our forefathers; to say prayers; to give alms; to observe truth and purity; to abstain from fornication and vice, and to respect the ties of kinship.”

What Heraclius meant by these questions and what conclusions he arrived at after he received the above answers, becomes clear from what the Emperor, himself, had to say regarding this matter. With reference to his first question, he remarked that prophets had always been raised from respectable families, otherwise they could not have commanded popular respect. With regard to the second and third questions, the Emperor observed that had any of the Prophet’s tribesmen or ancestors laid claim to prophethood, or been a king before him, then one could have suspected him of trying to imitate them. From the seventh question, he argued:

“If he had never been guilty of falsehood with respect to man, he could not now be expected to have been guilty of falsehood with respect to God.”

With regard to the remaining questions, the Christian King said that if what Abu Sufiyan had said was true, there was no doubt as to the truth of the Prophet, for such were undoubtedly the signs of a true prophet.

Having read the letter of the Prophet, Heraclius asked his chief men to meet him in the royal camp at Himms. There he addressed them as follows:

“Ye chiefs of Rome, if you desire safety and guidance, follow the Arabian Prophet.”

However, they raised their crosses and waved them aloft in the air. Thereupon, Heraclius said that he only wanted to test their faith, and that he was satisfied with their firmness and devotion. The reasons of State seemed to have prevailed.

An original copy of one such letter sent by the Prophet to Maqawqis, the Christian king of Egypt, has been saved for posterity. This was discovered in the year 1858 C.E. by some French travellers at a convent in Upper Egypt. It is now preserved in the library of the Copt Brothers, Ahmim, Egypt. Dr. P. Badger, who deciphered it, has declared it to be genuine. The contents thus deciphered along with the facsimile and the English translation are given elsewhere in this book. It may, be noted that the contents of the letter correspond with the wording as reported in the authentic Traditions of the Holy Prophet.