Ibn Taymiyyah’s Discussion on the Genuine Nature of the Prophet – The Deduction of Heraclius – Emperor of Byzantine (3/3)

الحمد لله رب العالمين، وصلى الله وسلم على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين،  أما بعد

 

Continuing in his discussion of the true or false nature of the one that claims Prophethood, Shaikh ul Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullaah) cites the way in which the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) was identified as a true Prophet by the contemporary ruler of Byzantine; Heraclius[1] in the second of two methods of deducing true Prophethood.

He said (rahimahullaah):

“The Second: the method which is associated with personal characteristics:

It is that which was utilized as proof by Heraclius – the sovereign of the Romans, for when the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) wrote a letter to him in which he called him to the religion of Islaam, Heraclius sought for those who were in his precincts from the Arabs. Aboo Sufyaan had previously arrived along with a group of the Quraish for trade in Gaza, so he requested for him and so asked him of the circumstances of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam).[2]

So he questioned Aboo Sufyaan, and ordered the others to contradict him if he were to lie, yet it was such that he found them unanimous with him in the expression of the information.

So he asked them: ‘were there any kings amongst his forefathers?’ They said: ‘no.’

‘Did anyone lay claim to this before him?’ They said ‘no.’

He asked them: ‘is he is one of high lineage amongst you?’ They said ‘yes.’

He asked them: ‘did you used to accuse him of lying before he said what he said?’ They said: ‘no, we have not encountered him to have lied.’

He asked them: ‘is he followed by the weak from the people or their notables?’ So they mentioned that it is the weak that follow him.

He asked them: ‘do their numbers increase or decrease?’ They mentioned that they increase.

He asked them: ‘do any of them revoke and so return back from the religion discontented with it after they enter it?’ They said: ‘no.’

He asked them: ‘have you fought against him?’ They said ‘yes.’

He asked them of the wars between them and him. They said: ‘he is victorious over us on an occasion and we are victorious over him on the other.’

He asked them: ‘Does he betray?’ They mentioned that he does not betray.

He asked them: ‘what does he command you with?’ They said: ‘he commands us to worship Allaah alone and that we should not associate anything in worship with Him, and he forbids us from that which our forefathers used to worship. He likewise commands us to pray and to be honest and chaste virtuousness and to maintain the ties of kinship.’

These are more than ten issues, then he (Heraclius) went on to elucidate to them what is contained within these issues by way of proofs.[3]

He asked them of the factors of dishonesty and their signs – yet he found them negative; nonexistent.

He asked them regarding the signs of honesty – and moreover found them positively confirmed.

He asked them if there was anyone among his forefathers who was a king? They said ‘no’ he said: ‘if there had been a sovereign amongst his forefathers, I would have said: he is a man who seeks for the dominion of his forefathers.’

‘I asked you: Did anyone lay claim to this before him from amongst you? You said no, I say: if someone had said this before him, I would have said: he is a man who has taken to following a saying which was said before him.’

No doubt that the followers of a man who do so out of the customs of his forefathers, and his imitating those that came before him occurs very often amongst the people. In contrast to a claim that is initiated that was not known in that nation before him, and as well as seeking after an affair which does not suit the circumstance of the people of his household – for this is scarce in custom, nonetheless it does occur.

Due to this he followed it up with his saying: ‘did you used to accuse him of lying before he said what he said?’ they said: ‘no’ he said: ‘for I know that it is not possible that he would leave off lying upon the people, yet would go about lying upon Allaah.’

That is that the like of this would be pure lies that one would lie with outside of a customary habit, this is not done except by the one whose business it is to lie. Hence if it is not from his mannerism to have ever lied – rather nothing is known from him except honesty; and he cautiously abstains from lying upon the people, then his cautious abstention over lying upon Allaah would be more-so and more rightful. A person may vacate his usual habit within himself to take up the habits of the sons of his own stock; yet if this and that are negated, then this individual would be further away from lying and closer to honesty.

Then he followed that with the question of the signs of honesty when he said: ‘I asked you: is he followed by the weak from the people or their notables? You said: that it is their weak folk – and they are the followers of the Messengers.’

This is a sign from the signs of the Messengers; and it is their being followed by the weak folk in the beginning, Allaah, The Most High said when giving account of the people of Nooh:

قَالُوا أَنُؤْمِنُ لَكَ وَاتَّبَعَكَ الْأَرْذَلُونَ

((They said; “Should we believe in you while you are followed by the lowly ones?”)) (Ash-Shu’araa: 111)

 

They said likewise:

وَمَا نَرَاكَ اتَّبَعَكَ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ هُمْ أَرَاذِلُنَا بَادِيَ الرَّأْيِ

((“And we do not see you followed except by the lowest amongst us who do so without thinking.”)) (Hud: 27)

 

Then Heraclius said: ‘I asked them: do they increase or decrease? You said that rather they increase. Such is Eemaan (true belief) – until it is complete. I asked you Do any of them apostate from their religion out of discontent of it after they enter into it? you said: no. Such is Eemaan – when its delight infuses with the heart – no one can cause it to become discontented.’

He asked them of the increase of his followers and of their persistence upon following him, so they informed him that they increase and persist in perseverance. This is from the signs of honesty and truthfulness, for indeed lying and falsehood must be exposed at the end of the affair; along with its adherents recanting it, and so prohibiting from it those that have not entered into it.

Due to this the previous Prophets informed that the deceitful pretend Prophet cannot endure except for a short duration, and this is from some of the proofs utilized by the Christian kings about whom it is said that they are: the progeny of this Caesar or of other than them. When one of them saw a man from the heads of the Christians reviling the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and falsely accused him of having lied, he gathered the scholars of the Christians and asked them regarding the deceitful pretend Prophet – how long will his Prophethood endure? So they informed him of that which was with them from the reports of the Prophets that the lying fabricator does not remain except for such and such a number of years – a duration close to thirty years or its like.

So he said to them:

‘This is the religion of Muhammad that has endured for more than five hundred or six hundred years – and is distinctly manifest and is accepted and followed, how then can this person (i.e. the Prophet) be a liar?!’

 

Heraclius asked them regarding his wars and his peaceableness, so they informed him that in warfare; he sometimes gains a victory just as he was victorious on the day of Badr. Likewise that he is got the better of just as he had been gotten the better of on the day of Uhud, and that if he promises a pledge – then he is not treacherous.

So he said to them: ‘I asked you how is the warfare between yourselves and him? And you said: it alternates, he is victorious over us on an occasion and we are victorious over him on another.’ Such are the Messengers; they are thus put to trial; yet the outcome is for them. He said: ‘I asked you: does he betray? You said: he does not betray; and such are the Messengers – they do not betray.’

Since he possessed from his knowledge the nature of the Messengers and the Sunnah of Allaah in regard to them; that He will on an occasion grant them victory and on an occasion puts them to trial, and that they do not betray, he knew well that this is from the signs of the Messengers. For indeed the Sunnah of Allaah towards His Prophets and believers is that He tests them with prosperity and adversity, in order that they should attain the level of thankfulness and patience. He, The Most High said:

مَّا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيَذَرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عَلَىٰ مَا أَنتُمْ عَلَيْهِ حَتَّىٰ يَمِيزَ الْخَبِيثَ مِنَ الطَّيِّبِ

((Allaah will not leave the believers in the state in which you are now, until He distinguishes the wicked from the good)) (Aal-‘Imraan: 179)

 

As for treachery, then from the very origin the Messengers are not treacherous, since treachery is the affiliate of dishonesty as occurs in the two Saheehs from the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) that he said:

((The signs of a hypocrite are three: When he speaks, he tells a lie; and when he promises, he breaks it; and when he is entrusted, he betrays [proves to be deceitful].))[4]

 

He said: ‘I asked you of that which he commands with, so you mentioned that he commands you to worship Allaah and that you do not associate any partners with Him, and that he commands you with the prayer and in being honest and in chaste virtuousness and in maintaining the ties (of kinship) and that he prohibits you from that which your forefathers used to worship – and these are the attributes of a Prophet. I knew that a Prophet would be sent, yet I did not think that he would be from you. I wish that I could faithfully arrive at him, and were it not for what I am embroiled in from sovereignty – I would have gone to him. If what you say is true, then he shall come to rule over the place underneath these two feet of mine.’[5]

The one spoken to with that was Aboo Sufyaan bin Harb, and at that time he was a disbeliever – from the severest of people in hatred and enmity to the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). Aboo Sufyaan said: I said to my companions as we exited: ‘the issue of Ibn-Abi Kabshah (a sarcastic reference to the Prophet [sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam]) has become so prominent that even the King of Banil-Asfar (i.e. the Romans) is afraid of him. So I did not cease to be sure that the affair of the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) would become dominant until Allaah entered Islaam upon me.’[6]

I say: the like of this questioning and investigation derived for this intelligent judicious one the definitive knowledge of the fact that this is the very Prophet he had been waiting for.”

 

 

(Abridged from: Sharh Al-Asbahaaniyyah p.550-560)

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[1] He was: Heraclius the Byzantine Emperor who was born in the year 575CE, he is most recognized for rebuilding and strengthening the Eastern Roman Empire from when he became Emperor in 610CE and for his numerous military campaigns – in particular against the Sassanid Empire (also known as the Persian Empire) and culminated with his forces driving the Persians out of Asia Minor. His rule coincided with the advent of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and he was one of many rulers of the time to receive correspondence from the Prophet inviting him to Islaam. His investigation of the circumstances of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and the subsequent conclusion he reached of the true nature of his Prophethood displays his knowledge and understanding of religious affairs. Yet he continued upon his religion and over the years his forces became the first Roman armies to engage with the Muslims in battle and so suffered crushing defeats – in particular at the battle of Yarmouk in the year 636CE. By the end of his rule the Eastern territorial gains that Heraclius had made during his rule became lost to the Muslims who made conquests of Syria, Palestine and the Levant. He died in the year 641CE.

[2] Shaikh Muhammad bin Saalih Al-‘Uthaimeen (rahimahullaah) said: “Aboo Sufyaan came to Heraclius in Ash-Shaam and with him were a group from the Quraish, Heraclius was the ruler of the Christians at that time, and he had read the Torah and the Gospel and was well versed with the books from before. He was an intelligent ruler, so when he heard of the arrival of Aboo Sufyaan and those that were with him from Al-Hijaaz – he summoned them. He began asking them of the circumstances of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and of his lineage and of his companions and of their high regard of him as well as his faithfulness (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). So every time he mentioned something; they informed him (of it), thus he came to know that he was the Prophet about whom the previous books had mentioned. However; he became covetous over his sovereignty – and Allaah’s refuge is sought. So he did not accept (Islaam) – due to wisdom which Allaah, The Mighty and Majestic intended.” (See: Sharh Riyaadhus Saaliheen vol 1 p.302)

[3] Observation of this incident clearly displays the attempts Heraclius made at investigating the claim of the Prophethood that he had heard of and received correspondence regarding. It also shows his acknowledgement of the true nature of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) as a Messenger of Allaah when he heard of Aboo Sufyaans response based in agreement and conformity with the descriptions and attributes of this Messenger that were found with them in their own books of revelation. The people of that time from amongst the Jews and the Christians were waiting for and were expecting the emergence of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) – and they knew of him by name and description, Allaah, The Most High said: ((And when Jesus, the son of Mary, said: “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allaah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and giving good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.”)) (As-Saff: 6) He, The Most High said likewise: ((Those to whom We gave the Scripture know him as they know their own sons. But indeed, a party of them conceal the truth while they know.)) (Al-Baqarah: 146) Hence when the letter of the Prophet reached Heraclius, he enquired as to whom in his domains could inform him further of this Prophet and of his characteristics in order to confirm or denounce this claim.

As for the doubts raised by some western historians and commentators as to Heraclius having received a letter of invitation to Islaam by the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), then such doubts are based solely upon suppositions such as the event being unlikely to be true on the balance of probability and conjectures from which erroneous conclusions such as the responses given in the dialogue posing no real significance – or are untrue are then drawn. Such assertions are proposed due to there being little or no evidence to support the incident outside of the proofs presented by Muslim accounts, a flawed predisposition that attempts to undermine the dependable science of hadeeth upon which the verification of such reports rests.

Letters were sent to the regional rulers of the time, whether to Kings or Emperors; and those letters did receive attention in their respective imperial courts, and it was Heraclius that sought audience with the Arabs in his domains; making the likelihood of the event much greater. Heraclius was in possession of a letter from the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), the various series of narrations found in the numerous books of hadeeth of such events along with their dependable status owing to the unique science of chains of transmission leaves the doubts and conjectures of the unconvinced with an unequal rationale. Heraclius’ correspondence is singled out with doubt by the modern day skeptics despite other rulers also receiving such letters – the skeptics; much like the grandees in Heraclius’ court cannot accept the narrative that the head of the most powerful Christian Empire at the time inclined to Islaam and stated that which has been recorded and authentically preserved – be it at the hands of the Muslims.

[4] Reported by Al-Bukhaaree (no.33) and Muslim (no.208) and others.

[5] Ibn Al-Qayyim (rahimahullaah) stated an account which took place later when Heraclius came to find out that An-Najaashi – the ruler of Abyssinia had accepted Islaam, before his acceptance of Islaam An-Najaashi used to pay a tributary tax to the Byzantine Emperor. After his entering into Islaam he ceased paying the tax and said: “no, by Allaah, were he to ask me for a single dirham I would not give it to him.” This reached Heraclius himself who was advised that: “are you going to leave alone your servant who refuses to pay you tributary tax and has adopted as religiousness a new religion?” Heraclius said: “He is a man who longed for religion, and so he chose it for himself – what am I to do regarding him?! By Allaah; were it not for the withholding of my dominion; I would have done as he has done.” (See: Zaadul Ma’aad vol 3 p.694) Yet if Heraclius had reflected carefully, he would have come to see that even though An-Najaashi accepted Islaam – his rule and reign was nevertheless preserved for him.

[6] For the actual wording of the hadeeth and the full dialogue which took place including the text of the letter, refer to Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree (no.7) and Saheeh Muslim (no.4583).

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