Ramadan profiles: Story of The Negus, a Christian king who saved Muslims

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During the month of Ramadan, Al Arabiya English is publishing a series of profiles on prominent historical figures in Islamic history.

When persecution against Muslims increased in Makkah, during Prophet Mohammed’s initial years of prophecy, he instructed a group of them to seek protection in Abyssinia, which was ruled by a Christian king who had a reputation for justice.

Abyssinia, a Christian county known today to be in Ethiopia, was ruled by a just and fair king known as The Negus. Fleeing persecution, Muslims sought a place to worship and practice their faith in peace.

It is narrated that Prophet Mohammed advised a group of Muslims to secretly immigrate to Abyssinia, for their “king will not tolerate injustice.” His main aim was to allow his companions to perform their religious duties without torture and abuse.

They travelled through the Red Sea on vessels until they landed in Africa. This was the first emigration in Islam. Around 70 to 80 Muslims travelled to Abyssinia.

But the leaders of Quraysh (the prophet’s tribe) in Makkah were determined to go after them, out of fear Muslims would establish a stronghold for them over there, if Abyssinians convert to Islam. Quraysh sent a delegation to Ethiopia in efforts to bring the Muslims back to Makkah.

They requested the king to expel them as soon as possible, claiming that the Muslims “invented” a religion that opposed theirs and that of The Negus. They also showered ministers of The Negus with presents, in a bid to seek their support. And they succeeded.

The ministers called on The Negus to expel Muslims, but he refused to hand them over on his land. The Muslims were brought before the king, and picked Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, a cousin of the prophet, to speak to The Negus.

With his eloquence and wisdom, Ja’far spoke to the Negus saying: “O King, we were people steeped in ignorance, worshiping idols, eating unsacrificed carrion, committing abominations, and the strong would devour the weak. Thus we were, until Allah (The One True God) sent us a Messenger from out of our midst, one whose lineage we knew, and his veracity and his worthiness of trust and his integrity.”

When Negus asked Jafaar for any revelation that the Prophet had from God, he recited verses Quran from the Surah of Mary, on the story of Jesus: “And make mention of Mary in the Book, when she withdrew from her people unto a place towards the east, and secluded herself from them; and We sent unto her Our Spirit, and it appeared unto her in the likeness of a perfect man.” It is narrated that after Jafaar finished the recitation, Negus vowed not to return the Muslim refugees back to Makkah.

It is narrated that when Jafaar finished his recitation, Negus vowed that he would not return the Muslim refugees back to Makkah.

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