The Event of Mubahala - A Rejection of Religious Pluralism

A stage by stage review of the event of Mubahala which took place on the 24th of the Islamic month of Dhu'l Hijja in Medina. According to Islamic sources, the event of Mubahala was a meeting between Prophet Muhammad and a Christian delegation from Najran (present-day Yemen) in the month of Dhu'l-Hijja, 10 AH, where based on the direct verse of the Quran, the Prophet invited the Christians to discuss theology and specifically, the status of Prophet Jesus in Islam. Surely the case of Jesus is like the case of Adam. He created him out of dust, then he said to him, "Be', and he was. This is the truth from thy Lord, so be thou not of those who doubt. Now whoso disputes with thee concerning him, after what has come to thee of Knowledge, say to him "Come let us call our sons and your sons and our women and your women and ourselves and yourselves then let us pray fervently and invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie." — Quran, 3:59–61 The initial effort was to invite the Najrani Christians to Islam and acknowledgement of Prophet Muhammad as a prophet of God and His final emissary. During religious discussions of similarities and differences, the topic of the divinity of 'Īsā (Jesus) arose. The Christians refused to accept Prophet Muhammad's teachings about Christ and refused denying their beliefs - thus, they mutually agreed to invoke a mubahala (prayer curse) regarding their refusal.

On the 24th day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar, Dhul Hijjah in the year nine after the migration, a very unique event transpired in the city of Medina, an event which would eventually go on to be known as the Eid of Mubahilah. What is this event all about?

Well, in order to better understand the event of Mubahilah, we have to understand and appreciate that through one hundred and twenty four thousand prophets and messengers, the emissaries of God, which he has sent for the guidance of all humanity, beginning with Prophet Adam and culminating with the final prophet, the Prophet Muhammad, may God's peace and blessings be upon him and his family, God had one set of teachings which all of humanity were to accept, and this was the belief in the one God and not to associate partners with him.

Obviously, the message is much more detailed than this and the practicality of how to pray, the fasting, the acts of worship and devotion to God have changed over time. But the principal core of the teachings which God had given to the prophets was one universal teaching. When we study the lives of these great prophets of God and their followers, we see that over time, unfortunately, messages were distorted, teachings were forgotten, things were added to the religion, things were subtracted from religion. And every time God would send updates in terms of prophets, in terms of messengers, in terms of imams, divinely appointed leaders to guide humanity back onto the straight path after they had forgotten the teachings of the previous prophets.

This is no different than at the time of Islam. We know that in the history of prophethood, that before the coming of the Prophet Muhammad, may God's peace and blessings be upon him and his family, the immediate past prophet was Prophet Isa Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him. He never preached anything other than belief in the one God. He rejected the Trinity. He rejected people to refer to him as God. He rejected any sort of divinity to be attributed to him. And yet, unfortunately, we know when we study the history that prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, had many people who would attribute things to him even during his lifetime and obviously after he ascended into the heavens.

And as we know, he will return one day back to Earth. People continued and people continue today to attribute things to Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him that are not... That are beneath his status. In this light of corruption of the messages of God, we look at this event of the Mubahilah. Now, as we said that after the leaving of Prophet Jesus on this from this earth, six hundred years had passed. And at that point, God decided to raise up the Prophet Muhammad, may God's peace and blessings be upon him and his family as a guide to humanity, as a restorer of the previous messages that had been forgotten.

In this time-frame, when the Prophet began his mission, whether it be the initial 13 years in Makkah or the later 10 to 11 years in the city of Medina, he was busy conveying this religion, the same religion taught by his forefathers, but teaching the new mission and the new message of the Qur'an to the polytheists of Makkah, to those who maybe had been adherents to Christianity or Judaism, who lived in Makkah and also in the city of Madina, he continued in this same mission and the same propagation of the message.

Now, eventually, we know that when the Prophet reached to Madina, that Madina had a very unique character to it. Not only were there people who had invited him who were ready to listen to and accept his final message, but there were people also of the Jewish tradition around him. And at that time, the Arabian Peninsula also had Christians who inhabited the many regions. And so the prophet's goal was also to let these individuals know the people of the book as we refer to them in the Qur'an, the Ahl ul-Kitab.

It was the role of the prophet to let them know that he is the next messenger in line, that his book, the Qur'an, is the final testament, that which had been given to prophets like Abraham, like Moses, like Jesus, peace be upon them, were revelation from God. But the Qur'an was coming to supersede all of these books. It was in this light that the event of Mubahilah begins to take shape.

Historians could say that in the lifespan of the Prophet, in his appointment to prophethood, that twenty three year span that he wrote close to two hundred and twenty five letters, these were dictated to his scribes who then were given the task or other people were appointed, rather, to travel throughout the regions, throughout not only the Arabian Peninsula, but to many other of the far off regions to introduce Islam to the various rulers, to the kings, to the heads of state.

And it was the goal of the Prophet, through the writing of these hundreds of letters, to let them know that God has sent another prophet, just as God has sent prophets throughout the course of human history. And for these governors, these kings, these rulers, to recognise that there is a final prophet who has now come on the scene, the Prophet would write to these people and advise them, first and foremost to study the mission and the message to accept this new religion, this new book, this set of teachings that the Prophet was given, and for them to also convey this Islam to their community.

And if they did so, they would be rewarded by God and they would be given an ample reward. But were they to reject the invitation of the Prophet? Were they to reject the message of the Qur'an? Were they to reject this final version of Islam, of submission to God? They would carry a very weighty burden on their shoulders, not only their own sin of rejecting a messenger of God, but they would also be equally liable for the sin of the people in their domain, of their region, of their country for not accepting Islam.

So this was a very serious matter that the prophet was conveying through these 200 plus letters that he wrote to all of these various emissaries and dignitaries and leaders of the various regions of the Earth at that time.

We fast forward to the end of the life of the prophet and how the event of Mubahilah takes shape, it's the ninth year after the Hijrah. As we know, the prophet would only live about a year or two after this event. And one of the things that he did in these hundreds of letters that he had written is he wrote or he dictated rather a specific letter to the Christians of Najran.

Now, Najran, if you look at the map today, is in the southern half of the Arabian Peninsula; it's in what is today considered the country of Yemen. And this community, this region had a sizeable community of Christians who lived there. The Prophet wrote a letter to them inviting their religious elite, inviting the priests, the bishops, the scholars of religion to hear about the Qur'an, to hear about the message of the Prophet, and then to hopefully accept it and to teach their community about this next prophet.

Now, historians say that the letter was given to the Christians of Najran, they read it, but they wanted to really study this religion of Islam from close. And so rather than just blindly accepting or blindly rejecting religion, the religion of Islam, that is, they decided to form a delegation of some of the scholars of the community, the élite religious authorities and some of the others within their circle of believers of Christianity. They're making their way to Medina, led by three people, Aqib, Sayed and Abu Harith, these three people met with the Prophet in what we could probably call the very first interfaith dialogue, the dialogue among civilisations, before this was a common thing, as you see in the world today.

This was a practice of the Prophet, a sunnah of the Prophet, to enter into dialogue and discourse with people who did not see eye to eye with him, especially at the level of theology of religion. And so he called these people and they accepted this invitation to discuss. They got their caravan ready and they made the journey from Yemen to the city of Medina, the city of the Prophet.

The historians continue in this narration, they say that when the Christians of Najran reach to Medina, they met with the Rasul, with the messenger of God, the Prophet Muhammad, may God's peace and blessings be upon him and his family, and not just for a couple of hours, not for a day, but for multiple days, two, three, four days, five days. They discuss with the Prophet matters of theology. They discussed Revelation. They discussed Prophethood. Many, many discussions ensued in that in the course of those many days that the Christians of Najran had met with the Messenger of Allah. And unfortunately, the logic of Islam was not working for them.

They may have accepted much of what the Prophet said, because, as we know, much of the theology of Islam is shared by other religions, because they all again come from one source. But the one sticking point that they had, which proved to be difficult for them to accept was the status of Prophet Isa, Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him. This was something which when they heard the Islamic approach to Prophet Jesus, they could not accept it. These were people who believed in the Trinity, a concept that came about in at least codified hundreds of years after the ascent of Prophet Jesus. And they just could not accept the fact that Jesus was not God or the son of God. How could that be? They argued with the prophet at many different ways of logical or what they would call logical arguments with the prophet.

In the time of this discussion, the Prophet tried to make them understand that Prophet Jesus was just a very devout man. He was a prophet of God, appointed by God to teach a message. He could not be considered as God. He could not be a part of the trinity. Unfortunately, these Christians were adamant on their belief of the Trinity that, there is three persons in the Godhead, God - the Father, God - the Son, God - the Holy Spirit, and they were not willing to budge.

In fact, the Prophet gave him a very logical response based on the Qur'an in chapter number three, Surat Aali-Imran verse number 59. Allah told us and the Prophet conveyed this to Christians, where he said to them: "Inna mathala 'Isa 'inda Allah, ka mathali Adama. Khalaqahu min turabin, thumma qaala lahu: Kun! Fayakun" (3:59). Allah told the prophet to tell it to these Christians that if you think that Jesus is God or the son of God because he had no heavenly father, he had no earthly father, rather that he was born from the Virgin Mary, peace be upon her. Then Allah told the Christians through the Prophet, use this logic that if you think that this is Jesus can be God, then what about the example of Adam?

God says that indeed, the creation of Jesus in reference to God is the same as the creation of Adam, God created him from dust, from dirt, and he said Be and he was. So the Prophet told them, that Jesus, if you think him to be God or the son of God because he had no earthly father, then what do you think about Prophet Adam? He had neither a mother nor a father. Again, this logic didn't work for them, unfortunately. They were still not willing to listen.

The Prophet conveyed his logical points, and they were still adamant that, no, they would stick to the Trinity, they would stick to their belief, they couldn't accept this logic that the Prophet was giving. And again, this continued on for a number of days of this discussion went on and on and probably went in circles.

Eventually, God reveals verse number 60 of Surat Aali-Imran, Chapter three to the prophet, where God tells the Prophet: "Al-Haqqu Min Rabbika, fala takun min al-mumtarin"(3:60). That: 'the truth is from your Lord, then do not be of those who doubt'. Again showing these Christians that the truth is coming to you from God, there's no way you can doubt it. However, unfortunately, as even we see today in the world, that the truth is a very bitter pill to swallow. People don't like to hear the truth. They don't like to submit to the truth, even if they can acknowledge it in their hearts. Many times people, because of ulterior motives, don't want to accept the truth when it comes to them.

At this point in this discussion, in this dialogue among civilizations, in this religious discourse, this interfaith dialogue, seeing that they were at an impasse. There was a standstill with both sides claiming right. Both sides claiming that they were on the right path. The Christians, who unfortunately had drifted towards the belief in the Trinity, they believe they were on the right path. The Muslims who are strict adherents to monotheism, Tawhid, they believe that they were on the right path. How do you solve this dilemma?

How do you solve this dilemma? Is a perennial question that we always ask. And the Prophet, based on the culture of the Arabs of that time, based on the verse of the Qur'an that would come to the messenger of Allah in chapter number three, Surah Aali-Imran verse number 61, the answer would be given how to deal with this dilemma.

And that was an event known as Mubahilah, an event which we can translate into English, this word Mubahilah as being a mutual imprecation, meaning that both sides that claim right, that claim to be on the truth, that claim to be following the word of God, that they would make prayer to God and ask God to send His damnation, His curse, His destruction upon the community that are the liars. This is ultimately what had to be done to bring a conclusion to this roadblock that they were facing.

And this is, again, is something which was well-known within the community at that time. And so when it was proposed in the Qur'an, the Christians had no problem in accepting this open invitation to challenge the beliefs of themselves against the beliefs of the Muslims and to let Allah judicate, and to let Allah pass the verdict. So as the Prophet reached this conclusion, where there was no other way except to invoke God to ask Allah to deal with the situation verse number 61 of Surat Aali-Imran comes to the prophet where Allah tells the Prophet:

"Faman haajjaka fihi, min ba'di ma ja'aka min al-'ilm, fa qul ta'alu nada'u abna'ana wa abna'akum, wa nisa'ana wa nisa'akum, wa anfusana wa anfusakum, thumma nabtahil fanaj'al la'nat Allahi 'ala al-kadhibeen" (3:61). 'After the true knowledge has come to you. Whoever still disputes with you about him, about Prophet Jesus, say in challenging them. Come then, let us summon our sons and your sons and our women and your women and ourselves and yourselves. And then let us pray and invoke God's curse upon those who lie'.

With the revelation of this verse and the understanding that the Christians on one side and the Muslims on the other would have to invoke God to deal with this, to adjudicate, to pass judgment on those who lied, they agreed to meet the next day outside of the city of Medina, in the desert plains, and that they would come together and as the verse of the Qur'an says that they would even invoke God, they would pray to God that may He send His damnation, his curses His removal of His blessings and mercy upon the group who are the liars'.

Would it be the Christians who believe in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus who would be victorious? Or would it be the Muslims and their belief in monotheism, in one God, and in not associating partners with Him and obviously the Prophet of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, as being the final emissary of God?

Well, the morning of the Mubahilah came. And the Christians, as had agreed upon, had made their way to that empty field outside of the city of Medina. And that morning, the prophet began to gather some people around him now keep in mind, as the verse of the Qur'an said. That God is telling the Prophet, call your sons and the sons of the Christian community, call your women, rather, and the women of the Christian, community and your sons and the sons of the Christian community and the prophet you call yourselves and the people of the Christian community. So this was the target. It was to bring these people together and to then pray for God to send his vengeance upon the liars.

The Prophet, keep in mind, brothers and sisters, is in the city of Medina. He has hundreds, thousands of companions. He's got multiple wives at this point in time. He has thousands of people whom he could bring with him to this field, or at least if not thousands, he has hundreds he could bring. He has tens he could bring. He could bring the great companions. He could bring many of those who are looked upon favourably by the Muslim community of today. But who does he bring? Commentators of this verse of the Qur'an, among the spectrum of all of the Muslims are very clear that on the day of the morning of the Mubahilah, the prophet went to the house of Imam Ali, peace be upon him. He asked Imam Ali to accompany him to this event. He then took the hand of the young boy, Hasan, Imam Hasan, peace be upon him, who was a young child of around six, seven, eight years old at that time. He took Imam Husayn, who was a year and a bit younger or a little less than a year younger than his older brother, Imam Hasan. And he held Imam Hussayn in his arms. And then he asked his daughter, Fatima az-Zahra', peace be upon her, to accompany her husband and the entire family into the outskirts of Medina to begin this event of the Mubahilah.

There were no companions who were invited to be a part of this gathering. None of the wives of the Prophet were invited to take part in this gathering. Nobody, even the father in law of the Prophet, the father in laws of the Prophet, nobody else other than these four individuals, and the fifth being the Prophet, were invited to this event.

Historians go on to say that when the Christians saw the sight of the Prophet holding the hand of the young Hasan, holding in his hands Husayn, and the Commander of the Faithfuls Imam Ali, and the daughter of the Prophet, Fatima az-Zahra', peace be upon all of them, walking towards this field, Abu Haritha asked, who were those that were coming towards them because apparently he had no idea who this Hasan and Husayn are. He had never come across Fatima az-Zahra' peace be upon her. And he was told that these people that the one walking before him is his cousin and son in law. And the most beloved of people to the Prophet. The two children, one in his hand, one that whose hand is holding are his two grandchildren and the lady with him is his beloved daughter, Fatima az-Zahra', peace be upon her.

The historians say that the Prophet then sat on his knees, he approached the field, the Christians were sitting across from him, he sat on the dirt on the sand of the desert of outskirts of Medina. He sat and he said or he waited for them to speak. And then we are told that Sayed and the Aqib asked their sons also to take part in this Mubahilah. Abu Harith is quoted as saying that: 'I swear to God that the Prophet and his family, they sat like prophets used to sit for Mubahilah', meaning that they knew that this has been a historical precedent that prophets of the past have had to use this methodology and that this was no ordinary action that was about to take place. This was following in the footsteps of the previous messengers of Allah.

At this point, in the event, Sayed turns to the group and he says to Abu Harith, he says, Where are you going? We are here for the Mubahilah. We are here to challenge the Prophet, or the man that they call the prophet. We are here to challenge the Qur'an. We are here to challenge Islam. We are here to defend our identity as Christians and that we stand firm to the belief that Jesus is the son of God and God in the flesh.

And Abu Hadith replies, he says that: if Muhammad was not right, he would dare not come to the Mubahilah in the way that he has. Bringing his family with him, if you brought his companions as some traditions quote, then they were ready to engage in the imprecation, the Mubahilah, but because he brought the family, Harith - Abu Harith - was worried. And he said to Sayed that if we engage in this Mubahilah against the man that they called the Prophet of God, rest assured that there will not be a single Christian ever left on the face of this earth.

This will mean the downfall of Christianity as a whole. In another tradition, we are told that one of these three people said that we see faces and we see light illuminating from such faces that were they to ask a mountain to get up and move out of its place, the mountain would do so out of the humbleness, the humility and the respect of these five individuals.

So these Christians realise that they were playing with fire, that these were not normal people coming to this event of the Mubahilah. And so, as a historian say that Abu Harith comes to the Prophet and he says, oh, Abul Qasim, let us not do the Mubahilah. We submit, we do not want to go through with this. We do not want to change our beliefs. We still stand firm on Christianity. But let's come to some logical solution, some conclusion where we can remain as Christians. We respect you. We want to stay on our path, but we do not want to go into this event of the Mubahilah. What was the response of the Prophet?

The historians tell us that the Prophet made a peace treaty with these Christians, and he gave them certain conditions to follow. They had to pay a certain amount of tax every year, just as Muslims have Zakat have Khums, these people had a tax. They had an obligation as well to fulfil to the Islamic government, because keep in mind that this was not a one sided agreement, but rather the Prophet told them that in return of the taxes you pay, the money that you will give, if there is ever an attack on the Christian community, we, the Muslim community will send our army to defend you, the Christians. We will protect your churches, we will protect your monasteries, we will protect your people. All we want in return is a tax.

This is a a tax that helps develop the country. It helps build up the state. But we will be there to protect you as Christians, even if you do not convert to Islam and you reject me and you reject the Qur'an. That's fine, but at least we live in peace with one another. As the historians go on to mention that the Prophet had this peace treaty written, the delegation of Najran, the Christians, they signed it, they took their copy with them. And we can say that they lived happily ever after.

They accepted this treaty with the Prophet, they recognised the truth and the veracity of the claim of the messenger of God. They recognised that this was a true religion, but they just were not willing and able at that point in time to submit in full submission and to become Muslims and to follow the Qur'an and to join the community of the believers, as many thousands of companions had done before these individuals.

In the end, verse number 62 comes to the Propeht in chapter number three again, Surah Aali-Imran, in which Allah tells the Prophet and He says: "Inna hadha lahu al-qasas ul-haqq, wa ma min ilahin illa Allah, wa inna Allaha lahu al-Aziz al-Hakim" (3:62). 'This is indeed the true narrative, and there is no deity, there is no God except the one true God and truly God is all glorious with irresistible might the all wise'.

In a nutshell, this is the event of Mubahilah. Why do we call it the Eid of Mubahilah? Some people may say there are only two Eids in Islam, Eid ul Adha, Eid ul Fitr or let's say even three - Eid ul Adha, Eid ul Fitr, and we add Jum'ah, to that equation. But we know when we look at the history of Islam that we can extend Eid, a celebration of festivity to many other events. And so the 18th of Dhul hijjah, the day of Ghadeer is an Eid for the Muslim community. The day of the 24th of Dhul hijjah, Mubahilah is an Eid for the Muslim community, because it was on this day in the year nine after the Hijra that the Prophet showed the world, and he showed this by debating with Christianity that Muslims and Christians can come and dialogue.

We can do it peacefully. We can talk to one another with open arms, we can explain to one another our religious beliefs and our practices, and we are also free to either accept the teachings that God has revealed, or we are free to reject them if we wish. And so this day is a day of Eid, a day of celebration, a day of festivity. It also marks the time that Islam was always a dominant force. But we see at a theological level that Islam took a greater level of prominence with the event of Mubahilah.

To conclude what is a practical lesson that we can take from the event of Mubahilah? This event happened over fourteen hundred years ago. What can you and I today do to really appreciate the event of Mubahilah and what lesson can we derive from it? Well, there are many lessons, I am sure, that we can all reflect upon.

One of the lessons I would say is that we realise that in Islam there is room for dialogue. There is room for discussion among people of various religions, and I would say of no religion. Islam as a religion, the Qur'an as a book, the Prophet Muhammad, may God peace and blessings be upon him and his family, as the final prophet of God. These, we know, are all from God, from Allah.

And we accept Islam to be the last and final set of teachings, there will be no other prophet to come after the Prophet of Islam, there will be no other book to come after the Qur'an. And although we stress on the importance of there being one religion from God, we don't subscribe to religious pluralism. We don't subscribe to the theory that there are multiple paths which can simultaneously run along side one another to reach to God in this era.

But we accept the fact that as Muslims, we have an obligation to reach out to other people, and even if they don't accept our teachings, that is well and good. They are free to stay on their teachings. Maybe one day their heart will open to Islam. And ultimately, even if it does not, they will be judged by God on the Day of Judgment for what they knew of the truth. Just as you and I will be, will be judged by Allah of what we knew of the truth and what we conveyed to it, what we conveyed of it, rather to those within our society.