the history of Islam there are two prominent men who refused to convert to
Islam even though the truth was made clear to them. These men understood and
admired Islam and they, each in their own way, loved Prophet Muhammad, may God
praise him. They were the Byzantium Emperor Heraclius and Abu Talib, Prophet
Muhammad’s beloved uncle. Both men recognized the beauty of Islam yet they
yielded to external pressure and refused to accept it as their religion.
When a person considers converting to Islam they are
often faced with external pressures. What will my parents, wife, or brother
say, they ask themselves. What about at work, how will I tell them I can no
longer go to the bar after work? These things may seem trivial but they can
often grow into huge mountains that cause a person to consider and reconsider
over and over again. Even after a person converts to Islam and the initial
euphoria wears off they might find themselves faced with more external
Heraclius and Abu Talib are two very different examples
of how easily one is able to put the Hereafter at risk for the sake of matters
belonging to this temporary life.
Heraclius – Emperor of Byzantium
In the year 628CE Prophet Muhammad sent a letter to
Heraclius inviting him to accept Islam. It was one of several letters that
Prophet Muhammad sent to several heads of State. Each letter was designed
specifically for the person Prophet Muhammad was writing to. The letter to
Heraclius read in part as follows.
I am writing this invitation
to call you to Islam. If you become a Muslim you will be safe - and God will
double your reward, but if you reject this invitation of Islam you will bear
the sin of having misguided your subjects. Thus do I urge you to heed the
following: “O People of the Scriptures! Come to a word common to you and us
that we worship none but Allah and that we associate nothing in worship with
Him, and that none of us shall take others as gods beside Allah. Then if they
turn away, say: Bear witness that we are Muslims.” Muhammad, the Messenger
Heraclius did not destroy the letter as the Emperor of
Khosrau did, rather he read it out loud to his retinue and ministers. Heraclius
also kept the letter, pondered on it and made enquiries into its truthfulness.
He questioned Abu Sufyan, a staunch enemy of the Prophet and Islam, who
happened to be in his lands for the sake of trade and business. He was summoned
to the court for questioning. Abu Sufyan spoke truthfully about Muhammad and Heraclius
was able to establish the truthfulness of Muhammad’s claim to prophethood. Heraclius
invited his court to Islam. Their reaction to his invitation is recorded by Ibn al-Natur.
“When his Grandees had
assembled, he ordered that all the doors of his palace be closed. Then he
came out and said, “O Byzantines! If success is your desire and if you seek
right guidance and want your Empire to remain, then give a pledge of allegiance
to the emerging Prophet! “On hearing this invitation, the Grandees of the
Church ran towards the gates of the palace like a herd of wild asses, but found
the doors closed. Heraclius, realizing their hatred towards Islam, lost hope
that they would ever embrace Islam, and he ordered that they should be brought
back to the audience room. After they returned, he said, “What I have just
said was simply to test the strength of your conviction, and I have seen it. “The
people prostrated before him and became pleased with him, and Heraclius turned
away from faith.”
Heraclius was obviously both convinced and impressed by
both what he read, and the results of his investigation. So why did he turn
away? Was it the fear of losing his power and position? Was it the fear of
losing his life? Clearly his heart leaned towards embracing Islam and he
certainly did try to convince his people, taking seriously Muhammad’s advice to
not misguide his own people. The hold this world of illusion had over
Heraclius proved to be too strong. He died never having accepted Islam.
This is a problem those who are considering conversion may
come across every day. The decision to change religions should not be taken
lightly for it is a life changing event. However the gift of Islam should not
be rejected for one would not know if they would have a chance to study it again.
Prophet Muhammad was eight years old when he came under
the protection and care of his uncle Abu Talib. Muhammad and Abu Talib were
very close and when Abu Talib fell on hard times Prophet Muhammad fostered one
of his son’s, Ali, who grew up to be Muhammad’s son in law and the fourth
Caliph of the Islamic nation. By preaching the message of Islam Prophet
Muhammad put himself in great danger. Abu Talib, a man much respected in
Mecca, protected Muhammad as much as he could. Even when he was encouraged to
silence or control his nephew he staunchly took Muhammad’s side.
Although he was one of Prophet Muhammad’s most constant
supporters Abu Talib refused to accept Islam. Even on his death bed when
Prophet Muhammad begged him to accept Islam, he refused saying that he was
happy on the religion of his forefathers. Abu Talib was fearful that his
reputation and honour amongst the people of Mecca would be ruined if he at the
last minute decided to forsake the religion of his father and grandfathers. The
same honour that allowed him to protect and cherish Prophet Muhammad for over
forty years, as well as go through periods of great deprivation for the sake of
his nephew, would not allow him to embrace Islam.
Since the dawn of Muhammad’s prophethood, those wanting
to embrace the new religion have faced personal distress and made hard
decisions in order to submit to the will of God. External pressures, such as
upsetting ones family and friends, or losing a job have meant that many risk
their wellbeing in the Hereafter. It would be a great mistake to trade one’s
eternal Paradise for the fleeting and temporary benefits of this world.
In the next article we will discuss how a person can
face contemporary pressures and offer some guidelines to make the transition to
Islam an easy one.