Event of Mubahala
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Event of Mubahala refers to a debate in which Islamic prophet Muhammad was on one side and the Christians of Najran were on other side, and the call was extended to the sons and women. Mubahala is a Qur'anic evocation of the occasion of an encounter between Muslims and Christians during Muhammad's lifetime. In this occasion Muhammad is instructed by Quran to issue a challenge to the visiting Christians of Najran.
The Christians of Najran came to Medina claiming that Isa (Jesus) is divine and the son of Allah. In fact, they meant to determine whether Muhammad's claims were in accordance with the prophecies of their holy books. The event is recorded in several Hadith collections and is referred to in the Qur'anic surah Al Imran.
In such debates, each side would bring the most informed men, and hence the Christians of Najran were surprised when they saw "Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn" accompanying Muhammad. It is seen as one of the merits of Ahl al-Bayt and is widely used by the Shia to prove that Muhammad, Ali ibn Abu Talib, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn are Ahl al-Kisa and most prominent among his Ahl al-Bayt.
Al-Mubahalah' (Arabic: المباهلة) is derived from the Arabic word 'Bahlah' (curse), so the term 'Mubahala' means cursing each other. In Islamic tradition it refers to the ancient ceremony of mutually and formally calling God's curse down upon whichever of the two parties was not speaking truthfully on the occasion in Medina when the question as to the true identity of Messiah was put.[lower-alpha 1] It is an instance of Quran's critique of a central Christian doctrine, the doctrine of the Incarnation. This event of Mubahala might serve as a Quranic icon for the character of the Christian / Muslim dialogue which took place within the world of Islam after the Islamic conquest and after Christians in the occupied territories adopted the Arabic language. In this milieu Muslims challenged and critiqued major point of Christian faith, and Christians responded in defense of their defining doctrine and practice.
In the ninth year of Hijra Muhammad is said to have written a letter[lower-alpha 2] to Abdul Haris Ibn Alqama, the Grand Bishop of Najran who was the official representative of the Roman Church in the Hijaz, and invited the people of that area to embrace Islam. In response to that letter the Christians sent a representative deputation to Muhammad
On that occasion the discussion between them had turned to the subject of Jesus, the Messiah, and the question of what is the truth concerning him. Muhammad preached to them and requested them to accept Islam. The Christians, however, were not convinced. Their argument was that Jesus was born without a father, so he was the son of God. Thereafter, according to the traditional account on this occasion the following verses came down to Muhammad.
Surely the likeness of Jesus is with Allah as the likeness of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him 'Be', and he was. (This is) the truth from your Lord, so be not of the disputers.[lower-alpha 3]
Muhammad recited the verses to them, and after lengthy discussions which have been presented in detail in Ibn Hisham's sirah,[lower-alpha 4] no agreement was reached on the position and standing of Jesus. At the end of the discussions, the Prophet was instructed to suggest that the two sides engage in Mubahala.
Verse of Mubahalah
The Quran envisions 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;[lower-alpha 5] 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."[lower-alpha 6]
There is one Qur'anic narrative in particular in which the occasion of revelation of a passage, according to Islamic tradition, was the visit of Najran to Muhammad in Medina.[lower-alpha 7] which is recorded in Surah Al Imran, is regarded as verse of Mubahalah:
Then whoever argues with you about it after [this] knowledge has come to you - say, "Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then supplicate earnestly [together] and invoke the curse of Allah upon the liars [among us]. [lower-alpha 8]
َAccording to Sidney H. Griffith it is interesting to note in this connection that while the Quran invokes malediction and curse, it nevertheless also on the face of it, once the adversaries would have staked their lives and those of their loved ones of their own steadfastness in faith, leaves the judgment between the two parties in this matter in the hand of God. The commentators agree that the verse of Mubahala was occasioned by the visit of the Christians of Najran who did not accept the Islamic doctrine about "Jesus". According to Al-Mizan by Allamah Tabatabaei, a Shia 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 the both Islam and Christianity 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 the prophet is reasonable and consequently the parents, Ali and Fatimah, may be included in this verse.
The members of the Muhammad family who were expected to participate this event is 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 Shia belief saying that Ahl al-Kisa, including Ali, participated the occasion.
- "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. (And who could have more right to succeed the Prophet than his own person?). 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'."
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." It was on the morning of 24th Dhul Hijjah that Muhammad emerged at the appointed time. He brought only select members of his family, carrying Husayn in his arm with Hasan holding his hand, followed by Fatima and Ali and said this is my family and covered himself and his family with a cloak.[lower-alpha 9]
He offered to do the Arabic tradition Mubahala, where each conflicting party should cover themselves, and together all parties ask God sincerely to destroy and inflict with curses on the lying party and their families.[lower-alpha 10] The Christians consulted each other and Abdul Haris lbne Alqama, the greatest scholar among them, talked them out of carrying out the Mubahala.[lower-alpha 11] The Christians refused, so Muhammad gave them two alternatives: either to convert to Islam or to pay Jizya, a tax on free non-Muslims under Muslim rule. The Christians continued, asking 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 bin Al-Jarah out of a large group of willing and hopeful contenders.
As an argument
This section requires expansion. (October 2014)
Mubahala provided an opportunity for Muhammad to introduce the Ahl al-Bayt (People of the House), who were also given the title Ahl al-Kisa (People of the Mantle) afterward. Shias believe this authentic hadith proves whom the Quran is referring to when it mentions the "Ahl al-Bayt", namely only Ali, Fatimah, and their descendants. This event causes some scholars to conclude the power and superiority of Ali - especially when it comes to his right of Imamah and immediate successorship following Muhammad.
This section requires expansion. (October 2014)
- See Louis Massignon, La Mubahala de Medine et I'hyperdulie de Fatima, in Louis Massignon, parole donnee (paris: Editions du Seuil, 1983), 147-67
- The text of the said letter runs as follow: "In the name the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … I invite you all to worship God instead of worshiping His creatures, so that you may come out of the guardianship of the creatures of Allah and take place under the guardianship of Allah Himself…"
- Quran, 3:59,60
- As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah, an edited (though not copied) version of Ibn Ishaq's original work. It is now considered one of the classic works on the biography of Muhammad.
- For useful discussion of this Quran passage, see Jane Dammen McAuliffe, "Debate with them in the better way": The Construction of a Qur'anic Commonplace." In Aspects of Literary Hermeneutics in Arabic Culture: Myths, Historical Archetypes and Symbolic Figures in Arabic Literature. Beiruter Texte und Studien, edited by A. Neuwirth, S. Gunther, M. Jarrar, 163–188. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1999.
- Quran, 29:46
- On the Christians of Najran, see Rene Tardy, Najran: Chretiens d'Arabic avant l'Islam, Dar el-Machreq,1999
- Saheeh international translation of: فَمَنْ حَاجَّكَ فِيهِ مِن بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ فَقُلْ تَعَالَوْا نَدْعُ أَبْنَاءَنَا وَأَبْنَاءَكُمْ وَنِسَاءَنَا وَنِسَاءَكُمْ وَأَنفُسَنَا وَأَنفُسَكُمْ ثُمَّ نَبْتَهِلْ فَنَجْعَل لَّعْنَتَ اللَّـهِ عَلَى الْكَاذِبِينَ
- It was uncommon for Mubahala to include families of the parties involved but when included, the family causes the process to become more effective.
- Ibn al-Qayyim says: "It is part of Sunnah when arguing with people of falsehood—when they insist on falsehood regardless of arguments and proofs—to call them to Mubahala." See Ibn al-Qayyim, Zad al-Ma'ad Vol.3 p.643
- He addressed his people saying: "By Allah! You are well-aware, O Christians, that Muhammad is a prophet sent by Allah, and that he has brought to you the decisive word about your Companion (Isa). By Allah! Whenever a nation has entered into imprecation with a prophet, their elders have perished and their youngsters have died. And if you do it, we shall surely perish; but, if you turn down, for the love of your religion and (want) to remain on what you have at present, then make peace with the man and go back to your towns."
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