Khalid Masud

The Universal Prophethood of Muhammad (sws)

Although the Prophet (sws) received his apostleship among the Quraysh; the revelation he possessed was in the language of the Quraysh and it was among the Quraysh that he fulfilled his obligations of preaching the faith, this did not mean that he had been sent only for bringing about reforms in the Quraysh. Reforming the Quraysh was indeed his foremost responsibility, as in the verse: "And warn your tribesmen and relatives," (26:214) required him to do, but it was also clear to him that his work did not end with preaching to the Quraysh, but that his addressees were also other tribes and nations. Not only this, but God had assigned prophethood to him so that the religion of Islam would gain dominance over other faiths, regardless of whether the idolaters tried to stop him as much as possible. This can be explained in another way, by saying that there were two aspects to the Prophet (sws)'s divine mission. His specific prophethood was towards the Quraysh and the tribes of the Ishmaelites and the universal one towards people of the rest of the world. According to the demands of the former, he fought with the Idolaters of Arabia and the People of the Book at every stage. Additionally, he made it clear to his companions that two religions could not exist in Arabia. At the time of victory of Khaybar, when he appointed the Jews to work on the land, he had made it clear to them that this was a temporary arrangement and that whenever the Islamic government wished, they could be sent away. This is exactly what happened because at an appropriate time, they were ejected from their lands.

Requirements of Universal Prophethood

This fact was also obvious from the predictions of previous prophets. For example, the promise made to Abraham (sws) by God has been quoted as:

The progeny of Ibrahim would be the owners of the gates and all forces in the world will gain blessings through his generations. (Genesis, 22:18).

This condition for all nations of the world to be blessed through the progeny of Abraham (sws) was never met before the Prophet (sws). Christianity gained popularity in the nations of the world but this was not through the progeny of Abraham (sws), but through other people.

In the gospel of John, the Prophet (sws) has been called the leader of the world, (John, 14:30), who would come and hold the world to be in the wrong about sin, righteousness and justice (John 16:8), he will be the spirit of truth and will show the path towards purity of truth (John 16:13), he will be such a supporter who will stay with people until the end of the world (John. 14:16). In the history of the world, there is no one who comes close to these predictions other than the Prophet (sws).

There are three points that are prominent in these predictions. One, that this messenger would possess complete truth. In other words, the religions which other prophets had brought were based on the needs of their nations or times and were incomplete, but the Prophet (sws) would present a complete religion and he would finalize it. Second, his prophethood would be until the end of the world. Obviously, remaining until the end of the world does not mean physical presence because no one possesses the ability to live forever. It means that the teaching and guidance of this prophet will remain forever. Therefore, the Qur'an is the only divine Book which exists in its original and complete form and will remain so. No prophet shall come after the Prophet (sws). He will be the last prophet. Third, he will be a messenger for the entire world and all nations of the world will benefit from him. His prophethood will not be only for one nation but for all humanity and it will take into consideration the specific needs of humans. This condition, too, does not meet any other prophet's personality. Jesus (sws) was a great prophet but he came only for the Isrealites. He had clarified this very openly and the Qur'an quotes his statement that he was a prophet only for the Israelites. This part of the predictions too is fulfilled by the nature of the Prophet (sws). The Qur'an has articulated all of these points about the Prophet (sws):

We sent you not, but as a Mercy for all creatures. (21:107)

We have not sent you but as a universal [messenger] to men, giving them glad tidings, and warning them [against sin], but most men understand not. (34:28)

Practically it was impossible for the Prophet (sws) to reach out to all people of the world and inform them of the true religion, give glad tidings to those who believed in it and warn those who denied it, of their fate. The Qur'an made it clear that his responsibility would be to provide guidance only to the people he was addressing directly. Those who believed in him would become witness upon the rest:

Thus, have We made of you an ummah justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves. (2:143)

Invitations to Foreign Kings

When matters in the country settled down after the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the Prophet (sws) sent his ambassadors to the tribes of Arabia in general and to the rulers and kings of surrounding states in particular, writing to them to invite them towards Islam. This was the requirement of the status according to which he had been granted prophethood for all nations. Thus, he initiated a process which was to be completed by his ummah which he was preparing.

The letters were written to the kings of Abyssinia, Rome, Persia, Damascus, Pope of Rome and many governors. A brief mention of these is as follows:

1. Letter to the King of Abyssinia

Ashamah, the king of Abyssinia, allowed Muslims frustrated with the conditions in Makkah, to stay in his country and provided them with full protection. These muhajirs returned to Madinah after the migration to Madinah. Ja'far ibn Abi Talib reached there after the victory of Khaybar. At this, the Prophet (sws) said: "I cannot say whether I am happier at the victory of Khaybar or at the return of Ja'far from Abyssinia".

The Prophet (sws) first sent a letter to Ashamah and invited him to accept Islam but he declined with an apology despite being impressed with Islam's teachings, saying that his supporters within the government were few. He was trying to garner more support so that the conditions for Islam in his country might improve. Since considerable time had elapsed since then, the Prophet (sws) sent another letter, which was as follows:

In the name of the Most Compassionate and Merciful God, from Muhammad, the Messenger of God to Najashi, the King of Abyssinia.

Peace be upon him who adopts the way of guidance. After this, in front of you, I thank God, other than Whom no one is worthy of being worshipped; He, who is the Real King, the purest being, peace in totality, provider of safety and protection. I testify that 'Īsa ibn Maryam is the act of God and that word which, when He had inspired upon virgin, pure and pious Maryam, she became pregnant through His action and divine inspiration. This happened in the same way as God created Adam through His power.

I call you towards God, the One and Only God, and invite you to establish a shared connection through obedience to Him. I invite you to follow me and believe in the message that has come to me, because I am God's Messenger. I call you and all your armies towards the Almighty and Majestic God. I have communicated my message to you and fulfilled my obligation to advise; therefore, please accept this advice. Peace be upon him who walks upon the path of guidance.

Muhammad the Messenger of God

This letter was taken by 'Amr ibn Umayyah rta). When Najashi listened to its contents, he was very impressed. He kissed the letter and placed it upon his head. Then he wrote in answer, saying that he was witness to the Prophet (sws) being a true messenger of God. He had taken oath upon the hand of his cousin, Ja'far ibn Abi Talib and had entered the fold of Islam. He was sending his son and will soon come to meet the Prophet (sws) if instructed.[1]

This letter from the Prophet (sws) exists even now and its copies can be seen in books documenting letters of the Prophet (sws).[2]

The Prophet (sws) sent a message to Najashi (rta), proposing marriage to Umm Habibah bint Abi Sufyan (rta). Umm Habibah Ramla (rta) had migrated to Abyssinia with her husband 'Ubaydullah ibn Jahash. 'Ubaydullah had adopted Christianity after being influenced by the environment there and had passed away afterwards. Umm Habibah (rta) was the daughter of Abu Sufyan, the leader of Makkah and became a widow while in a foreign country. When the Prophet (sws) found out, he made Najashi (rta) his representative and proposed marriage to Umm Habibah (rta). Najashi (rta) talked with Umm Habibah's relative, Khalid ibn Sa'id ibn al-'As (rta). When Umm Habibah (rta) agreed, Najashi (rta) gave 400 dirhams in dower and carried out the nikah. Umm Habibah (rta) came to Madinah with a caravan of Muslims.

2. Letter to the King of Rome

Romewas split into two parts at that time. The capital of the eastern side was Constantinople and that of the western side was Rome. The eastern side included modern Turkey, Syria and Palestine. Their ruler was called Caesar. During the times of the Prophet (sws), Heraclius was the king of Rome. The Prophet (sws) sent Ḍahyah ibn Khalifah Kalbi (rta) to Heraclius with a letter. Ḍahyah went to the governor of Basrah and through him, gained access to Heraclius. The latter ordered to find out whether anyone from the community of this person who claimed prophethood was there or not. When people investigated, it was found that Abu Sufyan had come with a group for trade purposes. All of them were called and invited to be seated in front of Heraclius. He asked the person who had the closest relationship with the one who claimed prophethood to come to him. When Abu Sufyan was presented, Heraclius addressed the others and said that he would be asking a few questions of Abu Sufyan. If he lied, they should expose him. Abu Sufyan used to say that if he had not been afraid of becoming known as a liar, he would have included some lies in his replies. With the help of a translator, the following exchange took place:

Heraclius: what is the status of this person in your community?

Abu Sufyan: He is of a high status (belonging to a reputed family)

Heraclius: Has there been a king among his ancestors?

Abu Sufyan: No

Heraclius: before he claimed prophethood, have you ever accused him of falsehood?

Abu Sufyan: No

Heraclius: Do his followers include the weak or leaders of the nation?

Abu Sufyan: They are weak people

Heraclius: Are their numbers increasing or decreasing?

Abu Sufyan: These people are increasing

Heraclius: Has any person who entered this faith left it after being disappointed?

Abu Sufyan: No

Heraclius: have you ever fought a battle with him?

Abu Sufyan: Yes

Heraclius: What was the result of the battle?

Abu Sufyan: The battle was even. We harmed him and he harmed us

Heraclius: Does he break his promises?

Abu Sufyan: No. we are in a period of peace. Nothing can be said about what he might do during this period.

Heraclius: Has anyone else claimed prophethood before this?

Abu Sufyan: No

After this, Heraclius asked his translator to tell Abu Sufyan that, according to him, the man was from a reputable family; prophets always came from among respected groups. There had been no king among his ancestors. Had there been one, he would have said that this man wanted to gain power over his lost state. His followers were weak people; followers of prophets were always weak. He did not lie, so why would a person who did not lie to humans place a false claim upon God? People who believed in him never became renegades; this was exactly what happened when the warmth of faith kindled within the heart. That was why his followers were increasing in numbers. The competition in battles was even; prophets became successful only after passing through challenges and tests. He did not break his promises; this was how prophets behaved.

Then Heraclius asked about the teachings of the Prophet (sws) to which Abu Sufyan answered that he advised them to worship one God and not to associate anyone with Him; to perform regular prayers; pay zakah; be conscientious towards relatives and live a life of high morals and purity.

After this, Heraclius said that if Abu Sufyan was telling the truth, this was a true prophet and, soon, he would conquer the land where his feet were now resting. He knew that a prophet was coming but he was unaware that he would arise from among Abu Sufyan's people. Had Heraclius been there, he would have washed his feet. Saying this, Heraclius asked for the letter to be read out. The content of the letter was as follows:

In the name of the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful God, from Muhammad ibn 'Abdullah, the Messenger of God, to Heraclius, the ruler of the state of Rome. Safety be upon him who follows guidance from God. After this, I invite you towards the message of Islam. If you accept Islam, you will find refuge. God shall grant you a dual reward. If you turn away, the sin of the entire populace will be upon your shoulders.

O People of the Book! Come to the matter that is common between you and us. And that is, we should not worship anyone except one God; not associate anyone with Him and not make anyone our Lord except God. If they turn away their faces, say that be witness: we have our heads bowed.

Muhammad, Messenger of God.

At this, the courtiers became furious. When the situation became serious, Heraclius apologized and said that what he was saying was deliberate, in order to assess their faithfulness to Christianity. Hearing this, the anger of the courtiers and clergymen subsided but Heraclius could not find the courage to accept Islam.[3]

In his conversation with Abu Sufyan, Heraclius appears to be a ruler of great political acumen, having a keen understanding of the history of prophets, aware of the sunnah of God related to His messengers, knowledgeable about the predictions about the last prophet and a very wise man. In his questions, he has developed such rational standards to judge the veracity of anyone who claims to be a prophet that could only have been thought of by one who was very wise. He had accepted in his heart that the writer of the letter was a true prophet, his success was as clear as the day and ultimately, he would conquer his kingdom too. But he did not possess the strength to face resistance from his courtiers and clergymen, or to sacrifice his status as king, so he remained bereft of faith.

This letter from the Prophet (sws) exists and its copies can be seen in books.

3. Letter to the Ruler of Egypt

The eastern side of Rome was under Heraclius, but its western side, the capital of which was Rome, was completely separate. It was ruled by Egypt and the deputy of state, Maqawqas, ruled over Egypt. The Prophet (sws) had a letter written to Maqawqas exactly on the same lines as to Heraclius. The only difference was that the words "sins of the entire populace" were replaced by "sins of the Copts." This letter can be found in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.

Haṭib ibn Abi Baltbin Abi Balta'ah took this letter to Maqawqas in Alexandria. He wrote back, saying that he had known that a prophet would be coming, but he thought that this would happen in Syria. He had kept the Prophet's messenger with respect and dignity and sent him two girls from a respectable family, Mariyah and Sirin who were sisters, garments and one high bred donkey as gifts. The Prophet (sws) married Mariyah and gave Sirin to Hassan ibn Thabit (rta). Mariyah gave birth to the Prophet's son, Ibrahim, who died at the age of 18 months only.

Maqawqas neither expressed a desire to accept Islam, nor did he do so. The Prophet (sws) accepted his gifts, but commented upon his letter, saying that the rule of the state had kept Maqawqas from accepting Islam, although his power was unstable.[4]

4. Letter to the Pope in Rome

When Dahyah ibn Khalifah Kalbi (rta) took the letter to Heraclius, he also took one addressed to the Pope, Honorius. The content of the letter was:

In the name of the Most compassionate, the Most merciful God; peace be upon him who believes in God. I am upon the belief that 'Īsa ibn Maryam is the spirit of God and His word that was inspired within the pure Maryam by God. I believe in God, His instructions and all of His books that were revealed to me, and that were revealed to Abraham (sws), Ishmael (sws), Isaac (sws), Jacob (sws) and their progeny and those that were given to Moses and Jesus and other prophets by their Lord. We do not differentiate between prophets and we bow our heads in front of God. Peace be upon him who follows guidance.

The Pope read this letter in the church and testified to its veracity.His listeners became so infuriated that they beat him to death.

5. Letter to the King of Persia

At that time, Khusru Parvayz was the ruler of the great kingdom of Persia. The Prophet (sws) sent his letter to him through 'Abdullah ibn Hudhayfah Sahmi (rta). He was then living in Nineveh. The King was seated on a magnificent throne, demonstrating all the grandeur and majesty he could when a simple but courageous man, attired in ordinary clothes was presented before him by his courtiers. The letter that 'Abdullah presented was as follows:

In the name of the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful God, from Muhammad, the Messenger of God to Caesar, King of Persia. Peace be upon him who follows the guidance from God, believes in God and His Messenger and testifies that there is no deity except God. He is One, there is no one who can be associated with Him. Also, that Muhammad is His servant and prophet. I invite you towards the message from God because I am the Messenger of God for all people, so that all humans who are alive may be warned and God's decree may be proven upon those who deny it. If you accept Islam, you shall be safe. If you refuse, the sins of all Zoroastrians shall be upon your shoulders.

Khusru was unfamiliar with being addressed in such a manner and he could not imagine the violation of the etiquette of his court. He became extremely angry, tore up the letter and shouted: "How could our servant possess the audacity to write such a letter to us." He sent an order to Badhan, the governor of Yemen, to arrest the Arab who claimed to be a prophet and present him in court. 'Abdullah ibn Hudhayfah made a short speech in the court. He warned the King, alerted him to his sorry fate and proceeded to Madinah. When he informed the Prophet (sws) what had had transpired, he said: "Khusru's statehood will also be ripped off in the same manner in which he tore up my letter."

Badhan sent his people to Madinah, who read out the governor's order and told them that if the order was not obeyed, Khusru would destroy their country. The Prophet (sws) asked them to return, since Khusru had been killed by his own son, Shirawayh. "Tell your master that the Islamic rule will soon reach the capital of Caesar." When Badhan's people returned, he received news from Persia that Khusru had been killed because of his excessively oppressive ways and that now no hostility should be adopted towards the Prophet of Arabia. Badhan came to believe that Muhammad (sws) was really a messenger of God and he accepted Islam.

This letter from the Prophet (sws), written on very thin parchment and mended in many places because of being torn was discovered in the ancestral library of Henry Phiron, an ex Foreign Minister of Lebanon in 1963. A copy can be seen in the Documents of the Prophet (sws).

6. Letter to Governor of Yamamah

Yamamah, a region in Arabia was then under Persia and Hawdhah ibn 'Ali was its governor. The Prophet (sws) sent a letter to him through Saliṭ ibn Qays Ansari, inviting him to accept Islam and proposing that in case he did so, his country would remain under his control. Hawdhah replied that if the Prophet (sws) included him in his government, he would be willing to accept the offer. The Prophet (sws) did not accede to this condition and soon afterwards, Hawdhah died.

7. Letter to King of Syria

The progeny of Ghasan was ruling Syria and Harith was its king. The Prophet (sws) sent his letter through Shuja ibn Wahb al-Asadi (rta), in which he proposed if he accepted Islam, his country would remain with him. Harith said that no one dared to look at his country with bad intentions. When the Prophet (sws) came to know his views, he said that his rule would end soon. Thus, this government that had been stable for 500 years ended in 14 AH.

Contents of the Letters

The letters which the Prophet (sws) wrote to Christian rulers contained the beliefs explained in the Qur'an about Jesus (sws), and after this, an invitation to believe in him. All three letters quoted Qur'anic verses. The letters to idolatrous rulers highlighted monotheism but the verses were not quoted.

The rulers were made aware of the fact that they were not only responsible for themselves, but also for their populace. If the latter remained deprived of faith because of their own disbelief, this collective sin would also be on their own shoulders.

When Heraclius and Caesar did not accept Islam, the Prophet (sws) said: "Caesar has been killed. There shall be no Caesar after him. When Heraclius is killed, there shall be no Heraclius after him. By the Being who controls my life, you shall spend the treasures of both empires in the way of God." [5]

This is exactly what happened. When Heraclius returned to Constantinople from Īliyah, he did not return to Syria while he lived. According to Tabari, while leaving Syria, Heraclius cast his eyes on the land and said: "O Syria! I am leaving you forever." When Caesar received the Prophet's letter, he was preparing for a decisive battle with Rome. He was defeated in this battle. During this time, an internal rebellion arose and his son had him and his 18 sons killed. The kingship in Persia ended completely during the time of 'Umar Faruq (rta). Similarly, the regions of Syria, Palestine and Egypt came under the Islamic Caliphate. In later stages, Islam spread throughout the East, West and the North and thus all nations of the world benefitted from the global mercy of the Prophet (sws).

Missions towards Northern Arabia

The south of Arabia, where Jews and Christians had a heavy influence, received less attention from the Prophet (sws) during many years after migration because the Quraysh were a barrier to its approach. It posed a danger for Muslim groups to go there which could be surrounded and suffer excessive loss of life and property. In contrast, the route to Northern Arabia was constrained only by Jewish areas. Therefore, many commissions to preach Islam were sent and agreements made with the tribes there. During Rabi al-Awwal 5th AH, the Prophet (sws) went with a mission to Dawmah al-Jandal, an important city that controlled trade routes towards Syria and Iraq and which was under the rule of Akidar ibn 'Abd al-Malik, a Christian leader. Madinah had received the news that an army was being prepared in Dawmah al-Jandal to fight against the Muslims. When the Prophet (sws) arrived, there was no such gathering and if it was, it had dispersed. Hence, he used the opportunity of this travel to develop relations with many of the tribes.

The next year, 'Abd al-Rahman ibn 'Awf (rta) was sent with a large group to Banu Kalb. These people continued to preach for many days in this area. Finally, al-Asbagh ibn 'Amr accepted Islam. Under his influence, many other people also accepted the faith. A similar group was sent to Itlah for preaching. Its leader was Ka'ab ibn 'Umayr al-Ghifari (rta) and it included only 15 members. They met another group on the way, which started to throw spears at them, as a result of which all except one Muslim were martyred.

The Battle of Mu'tah

After the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the Prophet (sws) sent a letter to the governor of Rome who was based in Basrah. The Prophet's ambassador, Harith ibn 'Umayr al-Azdi (rta) was going with this letter when a Ghassanid leader, Sharjil ibn 'Amr killed him in a city called Mu'tah in what is now in south Jordan. The killing of an ambassador was an inciting incident which took place while the Roman government was active. It seems that government officials did not take this matter seriously enough due to which it became necessary to take some strong steps in order to prevent such happenings in future. The Prophet (sws) prepared an army of 3,000, led by Zayd ibn Harithah (rta). When seeing them off to Basrah, the Prophet (sws) gave instructions that if Zayd (rta) was martyred, Ja'far ibn Abi Talib (rta) should take command. And if he was also martyred, 'Abdullah ibn Rawahah (rta) was to assume commandership. When this army reached the place of Ma'an, they found that a vast Roman army was in front and were assisted by the Christian tribes of Lakham, Jadham and Qufda'ah. The army suggested that the Prophet (sws) should be informed of this situation and new instructions taken from him. But the spirit of faith prevented the companions from accepting this advice. 'Abdullah ibn Rawahah (rta) said that people of faith had never succeeded on the basis of their numbers. They should either gain success or be martyred; either of these was better for them, so they should fight with the enemy courageously. This advice was accepted and the army faced the Romans after reaching their destination. When the battle took place at Mu'tah, all three commanders: Zayd ibn Harithah (rta), Ja'far ibn Abi Talib (rta) and 'Abdullah ibn Rawahah (rta) were martyred one after the other. All led the army with great valour and steadfastness and, when they were martyred, it was impossible to count the number of wounds on their bodies. According to one narrative, after 'Abdullah ibn Rawahah (rta) was martyred, Khalid ibn Walid (rta) took up the flag and fighting continuously, brought his army out of the circle of the enemy. According to another narrative, which seems to be more believable, it was evening when 'Abdullah ibn Rawahah (rta) was martyred and both armies retired to their camps as per rules. The next morning, the Muslim army nominated Khalid ibn Walid (rta) as their commander and he restructured the army, changing the positions of many sections. The right section became the left and vice versa; the front took up positions at the back and that at the back came to the front. When the armies came to the battle field, the Romans found different people in front of them. They thought that the Muslims had been strengthened by fresh troops from Madinah and were demoralized. Khalid (rta) fought with unmatched bravery. Narratives have stated that nine swords were broken in his hands. When the courage and energy of the enemy ended, they retreated. Surprisingly, only 12 people from the Muslim army were martyred in this battle, while the Roman's loss of life was much higher. It is generally said that Muslims were defeated in this battle and Khalid ibn Walid (rta) had to face criticism on his return. This is not so. Had Muslims been defeated, the Roman army would have followed them and destroyed them completely. Not following them is evidence of the fact that Muslims fought with great valour, because of which the Romans suffered huge losses and they were not ready to take any more risks. Furthermore, when the army reached Madinah, the Prophet (sws) greeted them and, while congratulating Khalid ibn Walid (rta), conferred upon him the title of Sayfullah (the Sword of Allah). Had he faced defeat or run away from the battle front and come to Madinah, it would have been misplaced for the Prophet (sws) to congratulate him.

The commission sent to Mu'tah was not meant to conquer any region. Its purpose was to ensure that Islam would be recognized as a force within north Arabia and this purpose was achieved. The Arab tribes received the message that people who could take on Romans were rising up from within them and that their struggle was not political, but religious and moral. The Romans had not given importance to the followers of Islam until then and now they realized that if they did not act with justice in matters related to Muslims, things could go out of hand and a great power could confront them.

The very next month, the news reached Madinah that the Christian tribe, Quda'ah was regrouping its numbers in allegiance with the Romans. The Prophet (sws) sent a group of 300 companions under the command of 'Amr ibn al-'As to put down the Quda'ah. He instructed the commander to take help from the Muslim tribes of Bala, 'Adhrah and Balqayn which would come on the way. 'Amr (rta) found out that the number of soldiers with the enemy was larger. He asked for additional troops from Madinah and a group of 200, led by Abu 'Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah (rta) reached them immediately. The armies met at the place of Dhat al-Salasil and the Quda'ah were dispersed. This mission was also effective in impressing the Christian tribes of north Arabia.

(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)

[1]. Tabari, Tarikh, vol. 3.

[2]. For example, copies of many letters of the Prophet can be seen in "Letters of the Prophet" by Sayyid Mahbub Rizwi.

[3]. Sahih Bukhari, Bab kayfa kana bad' al-wahi

[4]. Ibn Sa'd, Al-Tabaqat al-kubra, vol. 2, 177.

[5] Ibn Kathir, Sirah al-Nabi, vol. 2, 359.

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