The Holy Prophet's Messenger in Egypt
By: Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani
Egypt was the origin of old civilization, the centre of the Kingdom of the Pharaohs and the seat of Government of the Copts. Since the advent of Islam in the Hijaz, Egypt lost its power and independence. The Maqauqis had accepted the governor-generalship of Egypt from the Roman Emperor against payment of 19 million Dinars per annum.
Hatib bin Abi Balta'ah was a brave and skilled rider and was associated with a famous event in the history of Islam. He was one of the six persons who were deputed to carry the missionary letters of the Prophet to the rulers of the world. The Prophet ordered him to carry the following letter to the Maqauqis, the Ruler of Egypt: "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
This is a letter from Muhammad bin Abdullah to the Maqauqis, the head of the Copts. Peace be upon the followers of truth. I invite you to the religion of Islam. Embrace Islam so that you may remain safe (from the wrath of Allah). Embrace Islam so that the AImighty may grant you two rewards. And if you turn away your face from Islam you will be responsible for the sins of the Copts as well.
"O people of the Scriptures! We invite you to a common basis i.e. we should not worship anyone except Allah. We should not treat anyone to be His partner. Some of us also should not accept others as their gods. O Muhammad! (As and when) they recalcitrate against the true religion say: "Be witness to the fact that we are Muslims."[ Seerah-i Halabi, vol. Ill, page 280; Durr-i Manthur, vol. I, page 40 and A'ayan-i Shi'ah, vol. I, page 142]
The ambassador of the Prophet of Islam proceeded to Egypt and learnt that the ruler was then residing in a lofty palace in AIexandria, situated on the bank of the river. He then proceeded to Alexandria and entered the palace of the Maqauqis by boat. Hatib was received in audience by the king, who opened the Ietter, read it and pondered over its contents for some time. Then he raised his head and addressed the ambassador of Islam in these words: "If Muhammad is really a Prophet of Allah, why were his opponents able to turn him out of his birth-place and why was he obliged to settle in Madina? Why did he not curse them so that they might have been destroyed by Allah "
The intelligent and judicious ambassador of Islam replied: "Prophet 'Isa was a Prophet of Allah and you too acknowledge him to be so. Why did he not curse the Children of Israel when they plotted to kill him so that Allah might have destroyed them?"
The ruler, who did not expect such a prompt reply, yielded to the strong logic of the ambassador and praised him saying, "Bravo! You are a wise man and you have brought a message from a wise and a fully accomplished person".[ Usudul Ghaba, vol. 1, page 362]
The ambassador was emboldened by the cordial reception accorded to him by the Ruler of Egypt and spoke thus with a view to invite him to embrace Islam: "before you a person (the Pharaoh) ruled over this country; he oppressed the people for a long time. Allah destroyed him so that his life might be a lesson for you. However, you should endeavour that your life like his may not serve as a lesson for others.
Our Prophet invited people to a pure religion. Quraysh campaigned against him and the Jews also opposed him with peculiar grudge. The people nearest to him are the Christians. I swear by my life that just as Prophet Musa bin Imran gave good tidings to the people about Prophet 'Isa, the latter also has given good tidings about the Prophethood of Muhammad.
I invite you to the religion of Islam and our Heavenly Book (the Qur'an) in the same manner in which you have invited the people of the Taurah to the Evangel. Every nation which hears the call of a Prophet should follow him. And now that I have made the call of this Prophet reach your land it is only proper that you and the Egyptian nation should follow his religion. I do not at all restrain you from believing in the religion of 'Isa. I should rather tell you that you should follow his religion but must know that the complete form of the religion of 'Isa is Islam itself."[ Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 28]
The meeting of the ambassador with the Ruler of Egypt came to an end, but the Maqauqis did not give him a final reply.
It was therefore, necessary that Hatib should stay on for some time more so that he could obtain a reply and carry it to the Prophet of Islam. One day the Maqauqis called him and had a meeting with him in the palace in seclusion, and enquired from him about the programme and religion of the Prophet. The ambassador replied: "He invites people to worship only Allah. He orders that people should offer prayers five times during day and night and should also fast during the month of Ramadan. They should also perform pilgrimage of the House of Allah and must keep their promises. They should refrain from eating dead bodies and drinking blood .........." Hatib ended his words with explaining the sublime qualities of the Prophet.
The Ruler of Egypt said to him: "These are the signs of prophethood. I knew that the last Prophet had not yet come. However, I was under the impression that he would appear, not in the Hijaz but in Syria, which has been the centre for the appearance of the Prophets. But O Ambassador of Muhammad! You should know that if I embrace Islam the Copts will not cooperate with me. I hope that the power of this Prophet will extend to Egypt and his companions will come to our land and gain victory over the local forces and over the false beliefs. And I desire you to keep this conversation secret and none of the Copts should know about it''.[ Seerah-i Zayni Dehlan, vol. III, page 73]
THE MAQAUQIS WRITES A LETTER TO THE PROPHET
The Ruler of Egypt called his Arabic scribe and ordered him to write a letter to the Prophet as follows: "This is a letter to Muhammad bin Abdullah from the Maqauqis, chief of the Copts. Peace be upon you! I have read your letter, understood its contents and realized the truthfulness of your call. I knew that a Prophet would appear but thought that he would rise from Syria. I have welcomed the arrival of your ambassador."
Then he mentioned in his letter the presents which he was sending to the Prophet and ended it with the words: "Peace be upon you".[ Tabaqat-i Kubra, vol. I, page 260]
The respect which the Maqauqis showed to the Prophet in his letter and his writing the name of Muhammad first, as well as the precious gifts which he sent to the Prophet and the welcome which he accorded to his ambassador, show that he had secretly accepted the invitation of the Prophet, but his interest in his position as a ruler prevented him from making his faith public.
From Egypt Hatib came to Syria under the protection of a group of persons appointed by the Maqauqis. There he allowed those persons to return and proceeded to Madina along with a caravan. He delivered the letter of the Maqauqis to the Prophet and also conveyed his message. The Prophet said: "He has not accepted Islam on account of fear for his rulership, but his rule and authority will come to an end soon.