Event of Mubahala

According to Islamic sources, The Event of Mubahala was a meeting between the Islamic prophet Muhammad and a Christian delegation from Najran (present-day Saudi Arabia), in the month of Dhu’l-Hijja, 10 AH (October 631, October 631-2, October 632-3), where Muhammad invoked a curse attempting to reveal who was lying about their religious differences.

The initial effort was to invite the Najrani Christians to Islam and acknowledgement of Muhammad as a prophet. During religious discussions of similarities and differences, the topic of the divinity of ‘Īsā (Jesus) arose.[ The Christians refused to accept Muhammad’s teachings about Christ and refused denying their beliefs. Muhammad invoked a mubahala (prayer curse) regarding their refusal, and included his children and wives in the call to invoke a curse. See Jesus In Islam

As it was written in Tafsir al-Tabari, Muhammad brought only selected members of his family, Husayn, Hasan, Fatimah and Ali. The Christians were surprised and, according to the traditions, decided not to invoke a curse on Muhammad and the others. They instead asked for peace by offering Muhammad tribute in return for protection. Islamic sources offer various explanations of the outcome. Some narratives suggest the Christians would have perished by the end of the year if they had entered into the imprecations.

The event is commemorated annually on 24 Dhu al-Hijjah by Shia and is an inceptual argument for Shia Muslims in proving that Ahl al-Kisaʾ (People of the Cloak) are the Ahl al-Bayt (People of the Household [of Muhammad]) mentioned in the Quran.

Traditional house in Najran

Traditional house in Najran

Concept

Al-Mubahalah (Arabic: ٱلْمُبَاهَلَة‎) is derived from the Arabic word bahlah (Arabic: بَهْلَة‎, lit. ‘curse’), with Bahala Arabic: بَهَلَ‎) being a root verb which means “to curse”. Al-bahl (Arabic: ٱلْبَهْل‎, lit. ‘the curse’) is also used to mean a scarcity of water. The term ‘mubahala’ can also mean withdrawing mercy from one who lies or engages in falsehood.

In the Quran, al-mubahala (invocation of God’s curse) was mentioned as a decisive solution to the dispute over Jesus between the Christians of Najran and Muhammad. Allah ordered Muhammad to call on the Christians to invoke God’s curse (mubahala – verse 3.61) upon those who are intentionally unjust in their claim in order to determine who was telling the truth.

The Quran’s mubahala verse is one of the most controversial verses due to the debate with Christianity and more-so the Shia and Sunni division within Islam. Praying for God to curse the liar regarding religious disputes is an ancient Arabic tradition. Mubahala was common among Semitic tribes, being found in writings that existed prior to Muhammad’s preaching of Islam.

The event of Mubahala is an instance of the Quran’s critique of, what claimed by Quran to be, a central Christians’ invented doctrine; God on earth as Christ (Incarnation). From this historical event, Muslims were to continue challenging and criticizing major points of the Christians’ faith with Christians defending and defining their doctrines and practices.

Background

In the ninth year of Hijra, Muhammad is reported to have sent a letter to Abdul Haris Ibn Alqama, Grand Bishop of Najran, the official representative of the Roman Church in the Hijaz, inviting the people of that area to embrace Islam. In response to that letter a delegation was sent to Muhammad.

Between 21 and 25 of Dhu’l-Hijja 10 A.H. / 22 to 26 March 632 A.D. [specific dates contested], the delegation arrived and discussions of religion and theology began, with the subject eventually turning to Jesus, the Messiah, and the question of defining what and who Jesus really is compared to what he is actually understood to be for each party. Muhammad preached to them that Jesus is a human being granted revelation by God and requested them to accept Islam. The Christians, however, were not convinced and responded with their explanations of Christ being divine.

Because of the Christians refusal to accept Muhammad’s demand to acknowledge his message of Jesus, at odds with the Christians view of Jesus’ divinity as the Son of God, the call to invoke a curse was initiated by Muhammad in order for God to disclose the truth in a practical manner.

Verse of Mubahalah

According to the traditional account, after being unable to resolve the conflict over who Jesus is, the following verses are believed to have been revealed to Muhammad:

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

Traditional narrative from hadiths

See also: Hadith

According to Ibn Hisham’s sirah, Muhammad recites the mubahala verses to the Christians and after lengthy discussions, no agreement was reached on the position and standing of Jesus. At the end of the discussions, Muhammad demands the two sides engage in Mubahala.

The Christians returned to the place they were staying. Their leader al-Sayyid, al-‘Aqib advised them saying:

“If he challenges us with his people, we accept the challenge for he is not a prophet; but if he challenges us with his family in particular we don’t challenge him, for he is not going to put forward his family unless he is truthful.”

The morning of 24th Dhul Hijjah, Muhammad emerged at the appointed time. He brought only selected members of his family, carrying Husayn in his arm with Hasan holding his hand, followed by Fatima and Ali. Tradition states the Christians were surprised when they saw Muhammad’s family (“Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn”) accompanying Muhammad.

Muhammad offered to do the Mubahala, asking each conflicting party to cover themselves with a cloak, and that all parties ask God sincerely to destroy and inflict with curses on the lying party and their families. The Christians consulted each other, and Abdul Haris lbne Alqama, a scholar among them, talked them out of carrying out the Mubahala.

The Christians refused, so Muhammad gave them two alternatives: either to convert to Islam or pay the Jizyah (a tax on free non-Muslims under Muslim rule). The Christians agreed to pay tribute and asked Muhammad to send with them a trustworthy man to aid them in judging monetary disputes amongst themselves. Muhammad is said to have agreed and appointed Abu ‘Ubaydah ibn Al-Jarrah, out of a large group of willing and hopeful contenders.

Accounts of the Christians’ response

The earliest Islamic testimonials (hadith) and histories report different details regarding the dialogue between the Christians and Muhammad which some of them have been brought in following:

Ibn Ishaq reports in his Sirat al-Nabi that the delegation’s leader is convinced of Muhammad’s prophethood and advises cursing Muhammad would be a disaster.

In Muqatil, the Christian leader simply says that, in any scenario, cursing Muhammad would be disastrous and that Allāh will destroy the liars by the end of the year.

Al-Tabari reports uncertainty among the Christians and that, according to Amir al-Shabi, after the Christians initially accept the mubahala they later seek advice from a wise man in their group, with that man rebuking them and convincing them not to invoke the curse.

Ibn Sa’d doesn’t provide details of the dialogue aside from the Christian leader responding to Muhammad with “We think it proper not to curse you. You may order us as you like and we shall obey you and shall make peace with you.”

Ahl al-Bayt

Controversy between the Shi’ite and Sunni branches of Islam exists regarding the verse of Mubahala. Modern scholars critique the tendency of later commentators of relating many Quranic passages to this particular event.

According to Al-Mizan by Allamah Tabatabaei, a Shi’ite scholar, the first “us” in this verse has a different import from the plural pronouns used in “our sons”, “our women” and “our near people”. The former refers to both the Islamic and Christian sides, while the other three “our”s refer to the side of Islam only. This way, a meaningful short sentence implies a longer sentence equal in meaning. Based on Madelung, interpreting the term “our sons” as the two grandsons of Muhammad is reasonable and consequently the parents, Ali and Fatimah, may be included in this verse.

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi 

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi

The members Muhammad’s family, who were expected to participate in this event are not modified in some of the Sunni sources, while some others mention Fatima, Hasan and Husayn as the participants. Meanwhile, some of the Sunni sources are in agreement with Shi’ite belief stating that the Ahl al-Kisa, including Ali, participated in the occasion.

According to Louis Massignon, a Catholic scholar of Islam, there are many different attitudes among Shia and Sunnis regarding the Mubahalah. One of those disagreement is in terms of the approving of the verse of Quran on Mubahalah whether the verse III, 54 was with the presence of the five persons including as Fatima. Shia believe that not only did Mubahala happen with the presence of Fatima, but Fatima was considered as someone who was on the forefront of the religion of Islam. In other words, Nusayrieh believe there was a symbolic role during the event of Mubahala as well as the Christians of Najran recognize the place of Fatima as the place of Maryam (Mary) mother of Jesus.

Shia scholar Tabatabaei has mentioned in his Tafsir al-Mizan that al-Ma’mun had asked Ali al-Ridha several questions, one of which was as follows: – “What is the proof for the Caliphate of your grandfather, Ali ibn Abi Talib? – “The verse of our selves,” The Imam replied. – “If there were not our women,” al-Ma’mun said – “If there were not our sons,” the Imam said.

Tabatabaei says: “The Imam argued on the strength of the word, ourselves. He meant that God had made Ali like the person of the Prophet. Al-Ma’mun said, ‘If there were not our women.’ He wanted to say that the reference to ‘women’ indicates that the word ‘ourselves’ means ‘our men’, and as such it would not show any excellence. The Imam replied, ‘If there were not our sons.’ That is, if ‘ourselves’ referred to the men, then why should the sons be mentioned separately? They would have been included in ‘our men’.”

As an argument

Mubahala provided an opportunity for Muhammad to introduce the People of his Household, who were also given the title Ahl al-Kisa afterward. Shia’ites believe this authentic hadith proves whom the Quran is referring to when it mentions the “Ahl al-Bayt”, namely only Ali, Fatimah, and ther descendants. This event causes some scholars to conclude the power and superiority of Ali – especially when it came to his right of Imamah or succession to Muhammad.

In such debates, each side brings forward the most informed men. It is seen as one of the merits of Ahl al-Bayt and is widely used by the Shia to prove that Muhammad, Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn are Ahl al-Kisaʾ, and the most prominent among his Bayt (Household).

Modern understanding

According to Sidney H. Griffith, it is noteworthy that in this passage the Quran leaves the judgment with God, once the two parties “would have staked their lives and those of their loved ones on their own steadfastness in faith”.[13]

Scholar W. Schmucker states the ascription to the Christians from Najran is fictitious and the obscure verse doesn’t relate to any historical event, concluding the later doctrines and legends were built around the verse to further dogma. Instead, he states the verse was to extol Muhammad’s religious rank in abstract terms, and the inclusion of relatives was according to regional ethnic tradition to show prominence over other tribal and family groups.

Parts of the Quran are interpreted as forging a continuous dialogue between Muslims and Christians, in the same time, however, it assumes that the dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims will sometimes take the form of arguments about religion, for one passage says, “Do not dispute with the People of the Book save in the fairest way; Except for those who are evil doers.” And say: “We believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent to you. Our God and your God are one and to Him we are submissive.”

Archeologist and historical linguist, Dr. Mohammed Maraqten, states regarding how ancient Arabic practices fashioned Islamic thought:

The curses in the inscriptions of pre-Islamic Arabia are not only very important for an understanding of maledictory practice in the ancient Near East, but provide information on the religious thought in ancient south Arabia and illuminate the background for the use of curses in Islam…In the Quran, God is relentless in cursing unbelievers and evildoers, and the term la’ana is attested many times. In this, ancient Near Eastern curse traditions seem to have been carried over into the Islamic ethical system.

Summary from Muqatil’s Tafsir explains the event of Mubahala was less about the confrontation with the Najran Christians but more about the authority of Muḥammad and his claim of prophethood. As explained in the Muqatil’s exegesis, the divinity of Jesus was less of a precedent despite the legend of the confrontation between Muhammad and the Christians. The effort instead, as described in the Tafsir, was to determine the Jewish community of Madina and the Najrani Christians to be subordinate to Muhammad’s honor.

According to Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i in Tafsir al-Mizan, Muhammad said that the Christians escaped being turned into monkeys and pigs, and all of Najran would have perished within a year of the mubahala.

Eid al-Mubahalah

ʿĪd al-Mubāhalah (Arabic: عِيْد ٱلْمُبَاهَلَة‎) is an annual Shi’ite Muslim commemoration of Mubahala. It takes place on 24 Dhu al-Hijjah.

In the Gregorian calendar

While Eid al-Mubahalah is always on nearly the same day (24 Dhu al-Hijjah) of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year because of differences between the two calendars, since the Islamic calendar, the Hijri calendar (AH), is a lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar. This date is shown for a selection of years, according to the Calendar center of Geophysics institute of Tehran University.

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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