The sixth year of prophethood: Meccans request the Negus to hand over the Muslims…

Though they took little notice of the first Abyssinian migration, the Meccan idolaters were alarmed after hearing the kind treatment the Muslims received there. If Islam was to begin spreading outside of Arabia, they thought, things could really get out of control. Thus they made an immediate decision to ask the Negus to extradite the Muslims, for which they sent Abdullah ibn Rabia and Amr ibn As with loads of gifts to entice the king and his commanders.

Once Abu Talib heard the news that Quraysh had sent an envoy to Abyssinia, he quickly wrote a poem to the Negus himself, praising him and warning him to beware of Meccan tricks. (Ibn Hisham, I, 356)

Before speaking in the presence of the Negus, Amr and Abdullah were able to lure the commanders with their gifts. They later presented the Negus with gifts, after which they introduced themselves and spoke:

“Your majesty! Some of our dimwitted youths have sought protection in your land. Though they have abandoned the religion of their forefathers, they have not accepted yours either and instead, they have gone and invented a new one! So their relatives have sent us to have them returned. After all, their tribesmen would know them and their wrongdoings better than anybody else.”

The envoy feared that the Negus would listen to Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him- and his friends and fall under their influence. Thus they wanted the migrants to be handed over before the Negus decided to listen to their side of the story.

The Negus’ commanders spoke in support:

“Your majesty, these men speak the truth. We cannot know their tribesmen better than them. We should hand the migrants over and let them sort this out between themselves.”

“Never!” the Negus intervened angrily. “I shall not give them up before listening to them first! I can do no wrong to people who have chosen my land over others for protection!”

The Negus then sent for the migrants, as well as his priests, who opened their books and sat around the King.

When the migrants arrived, the Negus decided to face both sides in his presence. It was a historical moment. The spokesperson for the Muslims was Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him-, and it was to him the Negus turned first:

“Quraysh has sent an envoy to take you back to Mecca”, he said.

“Ask them, your Majesty. Are we slaves, that they would want to take us back to Mecca?” Jafar requested.

The Negus eyed Amr ibn As for a response.

“No, they are all free”, Amr responded.

The debate continued as follows:

“Ask them! Are we indebted to them that they want us returned?”

“No, they don’t owe anything to anyone.”

“Ask them. Are we murderers that they call us for trial?”

“No, that is not the case!”

“Then for what do they want us returned?”

Amr explained:

“…For they have abandoned the religion of their ancestors! They insult our idols! They have corrupted the faith of our youth! They have split our community! Mecca now stands divided into two!”

The Negus then interrupted to pose Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him- a question.

“Since you accept neither the religion of your ancestors nor mine”, he asked, “what kind of a religion is that which you accept?”

Jafar Tayyar –Allah be well-pleased with him- began to speak:

“Your Majesty! We were an ignorant bunch. We used to worship idols made of wood thinking they were gods. We used to eat carrion and bury our daughters alive. We were gamblers, indulgers in usury. We fornicated and saw no harm in seeing a woman engage in relations with numerous men. Neither did we know anything of the rights of our relatives, nor did we recognize the rights of neighbors. The strong used to oppress the weak, while the rich lived off the poor. We knew nothing of justice!

Then Allah the Almighty showed mercy on us and willed our recovery, and sent a Prophet from among us, from a noble line and a virtuous clan. We had already known him as the Trustworthy. He called us to the oneness of Allah. He taught us how to worship Him. He saved us from the idols of our ancestors. He warded off all evil from us. He banned the shedding of blood, usury, lying and the misuse of orphans’ properties. He constantly taught us what is good. He advised us righteousness, to keep our word, to treat neighbors and relatives with kindness and to protect the honor of women and the lives of our daughters. He saved us from savagery and taught us how to be humane. So we believed him and now we walk on his path. For that very reason we have earned the hostility of the Quraysh. We were tortured; and when the suffering became unbearable, since we did not want to leave our religion either, we asked permission of our Prophet -upon him blessings and peace-, and favoring you over other kings we came to your land. We assumed we would not be oppressed here and so we took shelter under your protection.”

The Negus remained poised, calmly listening to what Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him- had to say.

“Do you know from memory any of what was revealed from Allah to your Prophet?” he then asked abruptly.

“Yes”, Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him- replied and he began reciting the opening ayah of chapter Maryam concerning Yahya (John) -upon him blessings and peace- and the birth of Isa (Jesus) -upon him blessings and peace-. As he did, the Negus and his men broke down in tears from emotion.

“I swear in the name of God, that these words are from the same source of what has been revealed to Moses and Jesus Christ” said the Negus. Then turning to the Meccan envoy he stated:

“I will never return the migrants to you!”

When the envoy left the presence of the Negus, Amr said to his friend:

“I swear I am going to tell Negus of their belief that Isa, the son of Maryam, was only a man. That is sure to have them banished!”

The next day, Amr was again at the court of the Negus.

“Your majesty! They speak harshly of Jesus Christ. Call them if you like and hear it with your own ears!”

The Negus sent for the Muslims and asked them what they thought of Jesus Christ.

In a poised manner, Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him- explained, “We think of him in the way he has been taught by our Prophet. And he says, ‘Jesus is the servant, the Messenger of Allah; His Spirit, and Word, born from Mary who had left everything to commit herself to Allah’”.

Grabbing a twig of the ground, the Negus then remarked:

“I swear in the name of God, that Jesus Christ is nothing but what you say. The difference between what you say and the truth of Jesus Christ is not greater than this twig!”

Hearing the words of the Negus, the commanders around him began grumbling. Then turning to them, the Negus stated, “Grumble as much as you wish, but that is the truth!”

And to the Migrants:

“Now you may leave! You are safe and sound in my land. Whoever insults you will be punished! Even if they were to give me a mountain of gold, I still would not want to be the one to harm you.”

Turning to his men once again, the Negus commanded, “Return the gifts of these two men. I do not need them!” adding,  “If I were next to the Messenger right now, I would have wanted to wash his feet and serve him!” (Ibn Hisham, I, 356-361; Ahmad, I, 202-203, V, 290-291; Haythami, VI, 25-27)

According to another version, the Negus said:

“I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. He is the man mentioned by Jesus Christ. Had I not been on the throne of this kingdom and without the responsibility of my people, I would have gone to him to carry his sandals.” (Abu Dawud, Janaiz, 55-57/3205)

With his answers to the Negus, Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him- offers an excellent of example for other callers to Islam about how to speak and what to say in a given situation, a method one should always keep in mind.

It is noteworthy that, when asked to read some of the Quran, Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him- did not simply randomly recite a given chapter, but chose the most suitable part for the occasion, which happened to be the ayah concerning Isa -upon him peace- from chapter of Maryam. The same goes for his sound defense of the migrants, when the Meccans put forward various excuses to have them returned, as he underlined that their religion commanded only justice and virtue.

There are also many reasons why the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- chose Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him- as the head of the migrants. The choice itself shows the importance of choosing leaders according to their capabilities and as circumstances demanded.

A portion of the Second Abyssinian migrants returned shortly after the Hegira to Medina, while others waited until the Hudaybiyah Truce. The last group lead by Jafar –Allah be well-pleased with him- returned to Medina during the conquest of Khaybar, giving the Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- a reason for joy.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, The Prophet Muhammed Mustafa the Elect, Erkam Publications