03 August, 2013

In Memory of Al Najashi, the Abyssinian Emperor

Very few people around the world, know of how important and pivotal Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia) is to Islam; very few people know how defining, it was when Islam began. Very few Muslims, too, seem not to realize the enormous importance the Kingdom of Aksum, located in the Mehakelegnaw Zone of the Tigray Region, near the base of the Adwa mountains in Ethiopia (Abyssinia) - was to Islam. At the beginning of Islam, Muslims were being marginalized, intimidated, persecuted, oppressed, tortured and even killed - by non other than the Founder of Islam's, own clan, the Quraish and other leaders from his own hometown, Makkah; Rasool Lal Lah (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) decided to send a small group of Muslims, including: Othman ibn Affan and his wife Ruqayya (Rasool Lal Lah's daughter), to Axum; the Prophet's (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) future wives, Umma Habiba and Umma Salama or Hindi; and his cousin and leader of the religious migrant Muslims, Ja'afar Ibn Abu Talib. The Christian Emperor - Ashama ibn Abjar, Al Najashi (النجاشي) - gave the fleeing Muslims refuge and protection. It is in Al Najashi's Christian Kingdom, that Muslims worshiped and practiced Islam freely for the first time since its inception.

When deciding where his followers should flee to, the Founder of Islam (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم), did not choose Yemen or Egypt or any other place in the Arabian Peninsular or in the Middle East; but he decided and chose - without prejudice, rightly and wisely, Christian Aksum - a land of black African, Christians. Of all places, he believed his people would be protected, safe and secure there. And it is in predominantly Christian Axum, ruled by Al Najashi; among Christians, that Islam for the first time ever - was practiced freely and where it first thrived. It is with this in mind, that Axum, Abyssinia, Al Njashi, Ethiopia - are truly and enormously significant and special to Islam and Muslims.

In Islamic history and tradition, Ethiopia (Abyssinia or Al-Habasha) is known as the "Haven of the First Migration or Hijra." For Muslims, Ethiopia is synonymous with freedom from persecution and emancipation from fear.

Ethiopia was a land where its king, Negus or Al-Najashi, was a person renowned for justice and in whose land human rights were cherished.

The meaning and the significance of "Hijra" is embodied in the Islamic calendar. Since its inception, the Islamic calendar represents a history of perpetual struggle between truth and falsehood, faith and blasphemy, freedom and oppression, light and darkness, and between peace and war.

The first migration [Hijra] of the Companions and relatives of the Prophet Muhammad (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) to Ethiopia celebrates the birth of freedom of expression and beliefs, whereas, the Second Migration of the Prophet Muhammad (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) to the Madinah celebrates the end of oppression.

History has shown that the first migration to Ethiopia and the second migration to Madinah have indeed laid down the foundation on which Islam, as a universal religion, was built. Ever since that experience, the Muslim community, wherever they settled, shifted from the positive of minority to majority, from weakness to permanent strength, from tribalism to universal brotherhood that knows no defined political boundaries.

The Noble Qur'an says: "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." ~ Surat Al Hujurat - 49:13

With this spirit in mind, Bilal ibn Rabah, an Ethiopian slave living in Makkah, became a leading companion of the Prophet Muhammad (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم). It was not a coincidence that his native land, Ethiopia, was the country chosen by the Prophet when his followers needed protection and freedom form oppression.

"And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our Allah and your Allah is One, and unto Him we surrender." ~ Surat Al Ankabut - 26:46

Muhammad Haykal, author of the "Life of Muhammad" said that the Prophet Muhammad (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) trusted that his followers and relatives would be better off if they migrated to a country whose religion was Christianity-a scriptural religion whose Prophet was Jesus son of Mary. He was not afraid that his followers would convert and give up their faith in favor of any other established religion.

He was more convinced that Islam would be more protected in its infancy in a fertile and prosperous land ruled by the Scripture than among the ignominious pagans of Arabia.

The companions and relatives of the Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) were prepared to sacrifice and suffer all sorts of hardship and alienation rather than give up their own conviction and freedom. The Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) gave his companions the following letter to give the king when they reached Ethiopia.

"In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, Most Gracious, From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah to the Negus Al-Asham, king of Abyssinia.

Peace, I praise Allah, who is the King, the Holy, the Peace, the Faithful, the Watcher, and I bear witness that Jesus, son of Mary, is the Spirit of Allah and His Word, Which He cast to Mary the virgin, the good, the pure, so that she conceived Jesus. Allah created him from His Spirit and His Breathing as He created Adam by His Hand and His Breathing. I call you to Allah, the Unique without partner, and to His obedience, and to follow me and believe in that which came to me, for I am the Messenger of Allah.

I have sent to you my cousin Jafar with a number of Muslims, and when they come, entertain them without haughtiness, for I invite you and your armies to Allah. I have accomplished my work and my admonition, so receive my advice. Peace upon all those that follow True Guidance."

In view of this determination, the Ethiopian king, Negus Ashama ibn Abjar, undoubtedly recognized the significance of the Prophet Muhammad (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) as a Messenger of Allah, and the need to treat the Muslims with kindness and dignity. The Christian church leaders who listened to the debate between the Muslims learned the truth about Islam.

Thus, they accepted the universality of the message of the Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) based on the truthful similarity with the Scripture which prophesied the advent of Muhammad (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) as a Prophet. The Qur'an describes their belief in these words:

"When they listen to that which hath been revealed unto the messengers, thou seest their eyes overflow with tears because of their recognition of the Truth. They say: Our Lord, we believe. Inscribe us as among the witnesses." Surat Al Ma'idah - 5:83

In the sixth year of the Hijra, the Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) wrote letters to different rulers of the world inviting them to Islam. Among the first leaders to receive the letter was the King of Ethiopia (Abyssinia). This second letter was sent with Amir ibn Umayya and reads as follows:

"In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, Most Gracious. From Muhammad,t the Messenger of Allah, to the Negus Al-Asham, king of Abyssinia, Peace is for the one who follows the right guidance and believes in Allah and His Messenger. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah. He is one and has no partners. He has neither wife nor child. And Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger.

I call you to Islam for I am His Messenger. Accept Islam and you will be safe. O people of the Book! Come to something which is common between us and you, that we worship none but Allah; nor associate anything with Him; nor make any other our Lord besides Allah. If they turn away, then tell them we are obedient to Allah. If you deny it, the burden of the Christians, your people, will fall upon you." The seal of Muhammad, the Messenger."

The king received the envoy of the Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) with great respect and showed him all the honor he deserved, and accepted Islam despite the objection of his family and the Church.

The king wrote back saying"...I testify that you are the Messenger of Allah, true and confirming those before you. I have given my allegiance to you and to your nephew and I have surrendered myself through him to the Lord of the Worlds."

In recognition of his kindness and when it was revealed to the Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) that the Ethiopian king whom he had never met in person passed away, the Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) offered the first funeral prayer in absentia in Islam (Salatul Ghaib) for the king who was named Ahmed Al-Najashi after he reverted to Islam.

Even though the family of the Ethiopian king, joined by the church, revolted against him because of his acceptance of Islam, and tried to stop the spreading of Islam, Islam rapidly and peacefully spread south of the Anunite kingdom.

By the fourteenth century, there were seven Islamic Sultanates [kingdoms]. The Sultanate of Yifat, Dawaro, Arbabini, Hadiya, Shakara, Bali, and Dara survived as Muslim enclaves until the northern Christian, with the help of European colonial powers, mainly from Portugal, expanded by force and by the late 18th century, formed "Ethiopia" as we know it today. Today, about 50% of Ethiopians are Muslims

Main Source: Selamta 

+ More on Al Najashi from Wikipedia
+ More on Axum from Wikipedia
+ More on Axum
+ More on Negash 
+ The first hijra: Migration to Abyssinia
+ The Two Migrations of Muslims to Abyssinia (A.D. 615-616)
+ Lessons From Hijrah To Abyssinia 
+ Significance of Hijrah