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History is the witness that testifies to the emphasis Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, placed since he started to receive his message on the universal nature of the Islamic faith.



He always stated to his people that his message was “to all mankind.” At no stage of his life is any special importance given to the Arabs as a nation or a race, despite the fact that the Prophet grew up in a tribal society where narrow pride in one’s lineage or tribal ancestry was common to all people. At no time did the Prophet think of himself as an Arab reformer whose task was to put his nation on the right footing.



At all times he emphasized that the message he conveyed to people was meant for everyone and for all ages. If the message of Islam had not, until then, gone beyond the borders of Arabia, it was because Islam was still fighting to consolidate its base in Madinah and to win supremacy in Arabia. It was not likely that the Prophet should expand his call beyond Arabia, when his position in it was not yet secure.



In the early months of the seventh year of the Prophet’s settlement in Madinah, the Arabian scene changed radically. The peace that followed first the treaty of Al-Hudaybiyah, which was signed in the last month of the preceding year and which, in effect, neutralized the Quraysh, the major Arabian power opposing Islam, then Khaybar fell to the Muslims, thus ending the Jewish threat to the new call of Islam, so it was the Prophet’s apt time to spread his message.



Thus, it was that very time that Muslims needed then to fulfill God’s all-time message of peace. Shrewd and practical head of state that he was, the Prophet moved quickly to widen the horizon before his followers. He picked a number of his companions who combined charming personality with intelligence and ability to handle difficult situations, and he sent them as envoys who carried his messages to the rulers of neighboring countries, some of which were the superpowers of the day: Byzantium and Persia. It is important to follow the fortunes of those ambassadors in order to gauge the likely response to Islam worldwide. 



Persian Yemen Goes Muslim

One of the superpower of the day was the Persian Empire. Its Emperor was Khusru II, who acceded to the Persian throne in the year AD 590. Historians agree that Khusru II was one of the most powerful emperors of Persia that in his reign the Persian Empire reached the pinnacle of its affluence. He even claimed that he was a god in the shape of a man.



The Prophet sent his brave companion Abdullah ibn Hudhafah with a message inviting Khusru to Islam. The Prophet’s letter ran as follows:

“In the name of God, The Merciful, the Beneficent. From Muhammad, God’s Messenger, to Khusru, the leader of Persia. Peace be to him who follows right guidance, believes in God and His Messenger, and declares that there is no deity but God, the only God who has no partners, and that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger. I wish to convey to you God’s call, for I am God’s Messenger to all mankind, sent with the task of warning all those who are alive that doom will befall the unbelievers. If you submit to God you will be safe. If you refuse, you shall bear the responsibility for the Magians.”

When Khusru read the Prophet’s letter, he flew into a fury tearing it to pieces, saying:

“How dare he write this sort of letter to me when he is my slave?”


Khusru then wrote to Badhan (or Badham), who was governor of Yemen, a Persian province ordering him to send some soldiers to arrest the Prophet and bring him to his court.  Immediately Badhan sent one of his assistants, and a Persian officer called Kharkharah with a warrant which required the Prophet to surrender himself to them and go with them to Khusru. Badhan, however, asked his assistant to find out the truth about the Prophet.



Abadhaweih and his companion travelled from Yemen until they arrived in Ta’if, about 100 kilometres from Makkah. Its people told them that the Prophet was now in Madinah. The Ta’if people – who were not Muslims at the time – and the Quraysh were very pleased when they learnt that the Persian Emperor had ordered the arrest of Muhammad feeling that Muhammad was now facing his most difficult test.



The two officers from Yemen came to the Prophet in Madinah. Abadhaweih said to him: “Khusru, the king of kings, has written to Badhan, the king of Yemen, commanding him to send us to take you to him. If you comply, Badhan will write to the king of kings interceding on your behalf. This will spare you a great deal of trouble. If you reject his order, you know how powerful he is. He is sure to destroy you and your people as well as your country.”



The Prophet asked them to wait till the following day when he was to meet them again. In the meantime, the Prophet received information through the Angel Gabriel that God had caused Khusru to be killed by his own son Shirweih,  giving him the exact time of night and the date when Khusru was killed.



The Prophet called in the Persian messengers and told them of the killing of their Emperor. They said to him: “Do you realize what you are saying? Your arrest has been ordered for something much more trivial than this. Do you still wish us to write this down and inform King Badhan of what you have just said?” The Prophet replied: “Yes. Tell him also on my behalf that my religion and my kingdom will replace that of Khusru and will sweep all before it. Tell him also that if he accepts Islam, I will give him what he has now under his authority and will make him a ruler in the area he now governs.” The Prophet also gave Kharkharah a sack of gold and silver which was sent to him as a present by another king.



Faith Shift

The two envoys left and went back to Yemen where they told Badhan of what the Prophet had said. He told them: “This is not the sort of thing a king would say. To my mind, the man is a prophet, as he claims. If he is, what he has just told you will come to pass. If it is true that Khusru has been killed, the man is a Prophet and a Messenger. If not, we will make up our mind about what to do with him.”


Badhan received a message from Shirweih informing him that he had killed his father after he had adopted despotic measures against the Persian nobility. He also commanded him to ask his commanders to swear allegiance to him as the new emperor. He further asked him not to disturb the Prophet until he had received further instructions.



Badhan then realized that Muhammad was truly God’s Messenger.

He called Abadhaweih in and questioned him further about the Prophet. The latter told him that the Prophet did not keep any guard to protect him from his people or from anyone else. “Nevertheless, I have never spoken to a man who has inspired me with awe as much as he does.” Badhan was then certain that Muhammad was truly the Messenger of God and he communicated his conviction to his advisers and counsellors. He declared that he wished to become a Muslim and they all joined him in accepting the message of the Prophet.



This was the beginning of the spread of Islam in Yemen. The majority of its population, Christians and Magians alike, started to accept Islam. They conveyed this to the Prophet and he sent them some of his companions to teach them the principles of Islam and instruct them in how to lead an Islamic life.



The Prophet, peace be upon him, sent his envoys with messages inviting many other states, empires and tribes outside Arabia, i.e. Byzantine (which Arabs know as Rome), Egypt and Abyssinia, to Islam. The following is what happened to the Prophet's envoy to Heracules, the Byzantine Emperor. 


In the Emperor’s Presence

Heracules was the man who rescued the Byzantine Empire and gave it a new lease of  life after it was about to collapse before the Persian Empire. He was a military commander in Carthage when he was summoned to take up the positions of Emperor and Military Commander of the Empire in AD 610. He was able to bring about a radical transformation in the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire. In a few years, he inflicted a heavy defeat on the Persian Empire which threatened its very existence. This victory took place in AD 625.



Four years later, he went to Jerusalem to fulfil his pledge of returning the holy crucifix to it after recovering it from the Persians. He was given a grand reception, with people laying out carpets for him to walk on and saluting him with flowers and cheers. A grand celebration was organized for the return of the holy crucifix to its place. It was during his visit to Jerusalem that Dihyah, the Prophet’s envoy, arrived there to give him the Prophet’s message. Heracules read the Prophet’s message which ran as follows:



In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent.

From Muhammad, God’s messenger to Heracules, the Byzantine ruler. Peace be to those who follow right guidance.



I call on you to believe in Islam. Adopt Islam and you will be safe, and God will give you a double reward. If you decline, you shall bear responsibility for the Arians. (The Arians were the followers of Arius, the Egyptian who believed in the Oneness of God and denied that the father and the son were two manifestations of the Lord.)



Heracules received the Prophet’s envoy well, but he wanted to establish for himself the Prophet’s true nature. He, therefore, ordered his aides to find any person from Arabia who happened to be in the area, so that he could question him about the Prophet. It so happened that Abu Sufyan, the Quraysh leader, was in Gaza. He was brought to Heracules with a number of his compatriots.



Heracules spoke to them through his interpreter, asking them first: “Who is the closest relative among you to this man who claims to be a prophet?” Abu Sufyan told him that he was. Heracules asked him to come forward.



He also placed the other Arabs just behind Abu Sufyan and told them that he was about to put some questions to him. He wanted them to point out to him any lie Abu Sufyan might tell. Abu Sufyan, however, did not wish to be known for telling a lie in that company.

The conversation went as follows:

Heracules: What sort of family lineage has he among you?

Abu Sufyan: His ancestry is a distinguished one.

Heracules: Was any of his forefathers a king?

Abu Sufyan: No.

Heracules: Has anyone among you come out with a similar claim before him?

Abu Sufyan: No.

Heracules: Do the majority of his followers belong to the aristocracy, or are they poor people?

Abu Sufyan: They are poor.

Heracules: Do they increase or decrease?

Abu Sufyan: They are on the increase.

Heracules: Does any of them turn away from his religion after having embraced it?

Abu Sufyan: No.

Heracules: Have you ever known him to lie before he started to make his claim?

Abu Sufyan: No.

Heracules: Is he given to treachery?

Abu Sufyan: No. We, however, have an armistice agreement with him for the time being, and we do not know what he will do during this period.

Heracules: Have you ever fought him?

Abu Sufyan: Yes.

Heracules: How did your fighting go?

Abu Sufyan: Sometimes he wins and sometimes we win.

Heracules: What sort of commandments does he give you?

Abu Sufyan: He tells us to worship God alone, without ascribing Divinity to anyone else. He tells us not to follow our fathers. He commands us to pray and to be truthful and chaste and kind to our fellow human beings.


The Emperor’s Verdict

Heracules: You have mentioned that he enjoys distinguished ancestry, and this is the case with all prophets and messengers. Since you say that no one else among you has made similar claims, I cannot say that he is imitating anyone. You also denied that any of his forefathers was a king, which means that he is not a claimant of a kingdom. You also say that he was not known to tell a lie before he came out with his message. Well, I know that he would not start by lying to God.




You have stated that the poor are his followers, and this is the case with all messengers from God. The fact that his followers are on the increase again confirms a phenomenon which is always associated with true faith, until it is completed. You have also mentioned that no one turns away from his religion after having embraced it. This is a characteristic of faith when its light shines in people’s hearts.



You also denied that he is treacherous, and no messenger of God was a treacherous person. You also said that he calls on you to believe in the Oneness of God and to pray and to be truthful and chaste. If what you have told me is true, then he will have the supremacy right here where I stand. I knew that his time was due, but I did not think that he would belong to your people. Had it been in my power, I would certainly have taken the trouble to meet him and wash his feet.



This is the most authentic report of Heracules’ reaction when he received the message sent him by the Prophet. There are other reports which are less authentic, suggesting that Heracules tried to persuade his bishops and his advisers to embrace Islam, but they were all unanimous (with one exception) in opposing him. One report suggests that the exception was the Archbishop, who was killed on the spot when he declared that he believed in the new Messenger.



Whatever the truth about these reports, the fact remains that Heracules did not adopt Islam, and that perhaps this was due to his fear that he would lose his throne as a result. Heracules also chose to send back a diplomatic reply, pretending that he personally accepted Islam but was prevented from publicizing the fact by the opposition of his Church. He gave Dihyah, the Prophet’s envoy, a sum of money in gold currency and the Prophet distributed it to the poor in the Muslim community.



In sending his messengers far and wide, Prophet Muhammad was to make a point of the universality of Islam that it was not a religion just for Arabs or Arabia, rather for the whole world.



This article is excerpted from Adil Salahi's Muhammad: Man and Prophet, published by the Islamic Foundation.



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