Heraclius Receives News of Muhammad
Ibn al-Natur was the Governor of Jerusalem for Heraclius,
who was the head of the Christians of Greater Syria. Ibn al-Natur narrates
that once, while he was in Jerusalem:
Heraclius got up in the morning in a sad
mood. Some of the priests asked him why.
Being one who practiced astrology, Heraclius had
been attempting to map out the future.
In reply to the enquiry, he said, “Last
night I was looking at the stars, and I saw that a leader of those who practice
circumcision had appeared (and would conqueror all before him). Who are they
who practice circumcision?”
The priests replied, “Except the Jews
nobody practices circumcision, and you needn’t be afraid of them; just issue orders
to kill every Jew present in the country.”
While they were discussing it, a messenger
sent by the King of Ghassan
to convey the news of the Messenger of God to Heraclius was brought in.
(This news may have been the actual letter from
Having heard the news, Heraclius ordered
the priest check whether the messenger from Ghassan was circumcised. After
having him physically examined, they reported that the man was circumcised. Heraclius
then asked the messenger about the custom of the Arabs. The messenger replied,
“Arabs also practice circumcision.”
When he heard this, Heraclius said, “The
reign of the Arabs has began and their kingdom is about to become manifest.”
The following story is taken from the narratives
by the companions of the Prophet. The story was told by Abu Sufyan to Abdullah
Ibn Abbas, who related it to others. Ibn Abbas
was a very devoted student to Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be
upon him, and a well respected scholar of the Quran.
Abu Sufyan’s Meeting with Heraclius Caesar
In 629CE, three years before the death of the
Messenger of God, Heraclius re-conquered Jerusalem triumphantly bearing what
was said to be the original cross venerated by the Christians, and which the
Khosrau II had taken as booty 15 years previously.
While resident there, the letter Muhammad had sent, perhaps a year earlier,
came to his hand. When he read it, he enquired about the presence of someone
from the author’s people in the territory he controlled, and was told of Abu
Sufyan’s trade caravan from Mecca, which was trading nearby. He, with his
companions, was summoned to the Emperor’s court in Jerusalem, appearing before
Heraclius who had his Byzantine Grandees around him.
The Questions Posed by Heraclius and Their Answers
Heraclius called for his interpreter so as to
question them, commanding him to ask who amongst them was the closest in
kinship to the man who claimed to be a prophet.
Abu Sufyan replied, “I am the nearest
relative to him (in this group).”
Heraclius asked, “And what is the
relationship between you and him?”
Abu Sufyan said, “He is my (distant) cousin
on the spear side.”
Heraclius said, “Bring him closer!” and
had Abu Sufyan’s companions placed behind him, at his shoulders. Then he
ordered his interpreter, “Tell his companions that I am going to question him
about the man who claims to be a prophet, so if he tells a lie, immediately
repudiate it as a lie.”
“How is the lineage of this man among you?”
the Roman Emperor continued.
“He is of noble descent.” Abu Sufyan
Heraclius further enquired, “Has anybody amongst
you ever previously claimed the same as he does?” “Was
he prone to lying before he claimed what he has claimed?” “Was anybody among
his ancestors a king?”
To each question Abu Sufyan could only answer, “No.”
“Do the highborn or the humble among his
people listen to him?”
Abu Sufyan replied, “The powerless, rather
than the highborn, follow him.”
He said, “Are they increasing or decreasing
“They are increasing,” was the reply.
He then asked, “Does anybody amongst those
who embrace his religion turn away discontent and renounce it after a while.”
Heraclius said, “Does he break his
caravan leader replied, “No. We have a truce with him now, but we fear
he may betray us.”
questioning relentlessly continued: “Have you ever fought each other?”
“How do the battles turn out?”
“Sometimes he wins the battles and
sometimes we win them.”
“What does he order you to do (when he
“He tells us to worship God alone and not
to worship anything along with Him, and to renounce the all the idols that our
ancestors have taught us to worship. He orders us to pray, give charity, be
chaste, fulfill promises and discharge our trusts to kith and kin.”
Abu Sufyan was to later admit that he would have
lied about the Prophet if he hadn’t been afraid of the shame of having his
colleagues (listening behind him) spread reports that he was a liar. So he
answered as truthfully as he could. He also mentioned the part that he had
feared betrayal from Muhammad and those he led because it presented the best
opportunity he had to slip in a negative statement against him.
The Emperor Assesses the Interrogation
After he had finished interrogating Abu Sufyan
about the Prophet, Heraclius decided to tell him what he had learned from the
interview. His interpreter conveyed his analysis.
He said: “I asked you about his lineage
among you, and you stated that he was of sound lineage. Indeed, all the
Messengers of God come from sound lineages among their respective peoples.
“Then I asked if anybody had claimed what
he claims before him among your tribe, and your reply was that none had. If
you had said others had made such a claim, I would have assumed he was
following that which had been said before him.
“I further asked if you had found him a
liar before he said what he said, and you said that you had not. I know that a
person who does not lie about other men would never lie about God.
“And I asked you if any of his ancestors
had been a king. If your reply had been an affirmative, I would have thought
that the man was seeking to restore his ancestral kingdom.
“Then I enquired whether the highborn or
the humble followed him, and you told me his followers were mainly humble
people. Indeed, they are invariably the followers of Messengers.
“Then I asked you whether his followers
were increasing or decreasing, and you informed me that they were increasing. And
so it is with true faith until it is complete.
“I further asked you whether there was
anybody who embraces the religion he teaches who turns away discontent and
renounces it after a while. Your reply was in the negative, which is how true
faith is, when the delight of it mixes completely with their hearts.
“And I asked you whether you fought one
another, to which you replied affirmatively, adding that the fortunes of war
were sometimes in his favor and sometimes in yours. So it is with all
Messengers, but the final victory will be with him.
“I asked you whether he is ever
treacherous, and you said he is not. So it is with all the Messengers; they
never act treacherously.
“Then I asked you what he enjoins upon you
in the religion he preaches. You stated that he orders you to worship God
alone, and not associate any thing with Him, and not worship the idols of your
ancestors. And that he enjoins you to pray and give charity, to be chaste,
fulfill covenants and discharge trusts. And this is the description of what a
Thus did The Byzantine Caesar acknowledge the
prophethood of the Messenger of God.