Inter-Faith Dialogue and Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s Letters
Prof. Dr. Muhammad Abdullah
Professor, Sheikh Zayed Islamic Centre, University of the Punjab, Lahore
Today inter-faith dialogue is very essential with rest of the civilizations and religions. Islam also invites rest of the religions to sit on one table on the basis of common points.The Holy Prophet (SAW) wrote to heads of the states after Hudaibia Truce. These letters are preserved in the books of Seerah of the Holy Prophet (SAW) and history. The letters have different shapes to study the most important is that, he invited the then international powers towards Islam.
Apparently the addressed ones are merely two big powers of the world but having mixture of many civilizations. What kind of address was opted by the Holy Prophet (SAW), What were the common aspects of these letters? What was the mode of conveying his invitation; most important is this, what was the response of these letters. There are three main things to be noted at: sympathetic behavior, enemy like views, neutral response. Nowadays studying these letters are very need of the day in the light of inter-civilization dialogue and the practical approach towards the Seerah of Holy Prophet (SAW). We see different kinds of ideas and theories. The same way of address as was opted by Holy Prophet (SAW) in this dialogue.
According to some of the intellectuals, the term Inter-faith dialogue has been imported from the west and was manipulated by the Orientalists for their own interests. They desire to impose their ideas by this methodology towards the Muslims. Orientalists have no equal based discussion or eradicating misunderstanding between the Muslims and non-Muslims rather adding more doubts. So Muslims should not involve themselves in this intrigue. The targets set by the West have always been more then one. Islam has always been the well-wisher of all the religions of the world.
The Holy Qur’an by the common things invite normally to all the world particularly the Ahl-e-Kitab (the Followers of Book), and this invitation or being close to them is basically the inter-religion dialogue, it can extend inter-civilization dialogue in the long run and Islamic teachings can be conveyed by this way. Moreover this inter-action can bring people closer by inter-faith dialogue. The universality of Islam can be depicted by connectivity of the whole nations not living separate from one another. Muslims should live each other peacefully. It can win the hearts of even an enemy by loving him as Qur’an says: The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (The evil) with one which is better (i.e. Allah orders the faithful believers to be patient at the time of anger and to excuse those who treat them badly) then verily he, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as thought he was a close friend.(1)
From the day one there have been two methods of dialogue, one face to face to discuss sitting round the table second by writing letters, its meaning is very vast anyhow we at the moment have letters of the Holy Prophet (SAW). Letters have been written from the ancient times, correspondence exposes intimacy one’s different aspects of life personality and his ideas.
There are approximately three hundred of these letters recorded and preserved in the books of Hadith, Seerah and History among them 139 are those whose text is recorded and 86 are those summary has been mentioned. Six has been discovered originally in the near past. They may be divided into these parts:
1. Preaching Letters
2. Official Orders
4. Orders to the Sub-ordinates (2)
Here is a description of these letters for inter-religion dialogue. They were written to the surrounding rulers just after the truce of Hudaybia. They all are of preaching types of letters and the best example of comprehension and preciseness. After having a birds eye view, one can divide them into as:
1. Beginnings with the Name of Almighty Allah (3)
2. In the beginning there is the name of the sender according to the custom of Arabs. He (SAW) started with his own Name. The ruler of Persia got angry that why his name was after Muhammad (SAW) name. Wrote to as, Muhammad bin Abdullah or Muhammad Rasulullah. i.e. the messenger, confirming his authority as was the case with the Christians who say Christ the son of god.
3. Written addressee’s name with due respect.
4. Peace sentence is with them like peace is for them who accept the right path.
5. After that the meaning has been written very comprehensively and precisely.
6. Verses from the Holy Quran has been quoted according to the situation.
7. Mobilizing style.
8. Again who accepts peace is a good news for him.
9. In the very end there is his seal. (4)
As the Holy Prophet (SAW) desired to write to the rulers, he was told, they pay no heed to the letters having no stamp. A stamp was made and was used at the end of the letter. In the very beginning this stamp was made of gold but later on it was replaced by silver.(5)
Important aspects of these letters for Inter-Religion Dialogue
These letters are towards the super powers who believed in different religions, infidels from the Arabs, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. It is narrated one of the letters was written to the Sindhi ruler in Sindh, India. So there is a variety in these letters and a guiding star for today. Approximately same powers are also visible today. Let us have a view of the importance of these letters towards Inter-Religion Dialogue.
1. Invitation to the Common Aspects: The first thing that the Holy Quran elaborates in a literary style is common thing between the writer and the written. Allah says in this respect in Surah al-Imran: “Say O Muhammad (SAW) O people of the scripture (Jews and Christians)! Come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but Allah (Alone) and that we associate no portions with them, and that none of us shall take others as lords besides Allah. That, if they turn away, Say bear witness that we are Muslims.” ó(6).
He explained this fact in his saying. So these facts must be accepted that God is one, Muhammad (SAW) as his Last and Final Prophet and belief in the day of judgment are the foundations, to initiate the Inter-Religious Dialogue the beginning should be on common things between the two groups particularly the persons who believe in the revealed Holy Books (Ahl-e-Kitab). The principle of dialogue can be derived easily from these letters as Holy Prophet wrote to Najjashi, After that this is sent to you, Allah has no parallel, He is the real Master, Peace giver Prophet (SAW) wrote to ruler of Bahrain.
So I pray to Allah who is to be worshiped, but no one except him I witness there is no to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad (SAW) His man and his Prophet. (7)
In another letter he wrote: So, I am Prophet towards you, Allah is the only to be worshipped, has no parallel, I invite you towards Allah, accept his Oneness. (8)
These letters contain very beautifully the common things and tell the oneness of God. These letters are about to witness about Allah and His Last Prophet (SAW) and on the Day of Judgment.
Let us have a view of one of the address of the Holy Prophet (SAW) towards the ruler.
(9) “From Muhammad Prophet of Allah to Najjashi the worthy of Habasha.”
(10) “From Muhammad man and prophet of Allah to Hirqal, the dignified of Rome.”
(11) “From Muhammad a man created by Allah and his Prophet to Maquqis, the honorable of Qibat.”
(12) “From Prophet of Allah and of his creature to Kasra the great of Persia.”
The Holy Prophet (SAW) preached Islam keeping in mind their honour and dignity so was the case with governors and heads the states. The Holy Prophet (SAW) wrote to Kaiser of Rome, a separate letter with all of his honorable titles and surnames.
To know the mental background of the addressee
For Inter-Religious Dialogue one should keep in mind his mental caliber, creed history geography of addressed ones. The Holy Prophet (SAW) pointed out very comprehensively the belief of Jews, Christians, Magians and infidels from the Arabs and their aberration and apostasy in his letters very eloquently. For example he wrote to the heads of Khyber as ‘Oh, Truth holders and you find things in your book also from Muhammad Prophet of Allah and his companions.(13)
“ From, Muhammad (SAW), the Prophet (of Allah) who is a friend of Moses, also his verifier, the revealed book Torah, listen! Allah Said in Torah clearly and this is still written in it as it is: Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers and merciful amongst themselves. You seen them bowing and falling down prostrate (in prayer), seeking bounty from Allah and (His) good pleasure. The mark of them (i.e. of their faith) is on their faces (foreheads) from the trace of prostration (During Prayers) this is their description in the Taurat (Torah). But their description in the Injeel (Gospel) is like a (Sown) seed which sends froth tits shoot then makes it strong and becomes thick and it stands straight on its stem, delighting \the sowers, that he may engage the disbelievers.” The verse of Book holders come to was written towards King of Rome, Herclius and King Maqawaqis. “Allah has no parallel he is the only having no one like Him. By this sentence was taken start towards King of Persia as they were infidels and their creed was about two gods, they were stopped opting shirk. (14)
I witness that Christ was son of Maryam, modest, she got pregnancy by the order of Allah as Adam was created by God.
To know about the language of the addressed ones is also very important. Then their social customs were also discovered. So the messengers and letter holders knew the local language, geography and manners of diplomacy.
Maintain the dignity of Din
The Holy Prophet (SAW) never compromised on his cause either it was a dialogue with infidels or groups from Arabs.He put the message of Deen-e-Hanif with a dignified way towards addressed ones.
Let us have some samples.
1. Peace who embraces.
2. Allah will give you dual credit.
3. Peace upon those who accept it.
The Holy Prophet (SAW) wrote to King of Persia.
“So, I am Prophet of Allah to the whole mankind, that he or it (Muhammad or Quran) may give warning to him who is living and that word may be justified against the disbelievers. (15) When the Mussailma Kazzab wrote to him (SAW) “I have been made share with Prophet-hood, half land is for me and half for the Qurash but the Qurashi are crossing the limits.” (16) He (SAW) replied: “From Muhammad (SAW) to Mussailma Kazzab”. I received your letter that discloses you lie and blame upon Allah the land is for Allah (17).
“Salam to who accepts right ways, after that Allah gives his land to one whom he wishes to give it and the last victory is for the pious men.” He wrote to Huza bin Ali the ruler of Yamama in this way. Salam to one who accepts Hadiya behold my Din is to capture all the surrounding ones if you embrace Islam you would get peace accepting Islam your land would be with in you. Huza replied. “Very pleasant is your invitation, the Arabs are terrified by my honor if you accept my demand, I, will accept you if you give me any post, I would be your follower. Prophet wrote in his reply if you ask even a foot of land from me, I would not give it over to you. Allah who is the master holds on knows every thing”.(18)
Sympathetic and Polite Way
Inter-Religion Dialogue needs that preacher should invite with well-wishing and goody minded. As in the mater of Moses Almighty Allah directed him: “and speak to him mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition of fear (Allah)” (19)
So this manner may be seen timely and repeatedly. He wrote at the end of letter to Shah-e-Najjashi.
No doubt I conveyed, advised to those who accepts the right path. (20) Wrote to Munzar bin Sava, the ruler of Bahrain: After that I would mention the Name of Allah, the greatest, the most worthy this is for one who accepts and obeys and follows, so I advised the priests of Najjran, (21)
I invite you to worship Allah instead of a man, and to be a slave of him than that of Allah. (22)
Syed Mehboob Rizvi writes “These letters show sympathy and welfare towards the addressees,”(23)
1. One response was to accept the invitation like Shah-e-Najjashi.
2. Second one the response of hard reaction and opted hostile kind of type like King of Persia.
3. Third one are those kind of people not accepting Islam but respected the bearers of letters in diplomatic manners, respected with good wishes and explained that they had some causes and sent gifts to the Holy Prophet (SAW) like rulers of Egypt and Rome.
Having a detailed view of these letters one concludes that we are facing the same behavior. In other words there are three type of tests.
Many non-Muslims countries seek sympathy for Muslims they not only give free atmosphere for preaching but provide legal shelter also like Habsha. We should have dialogue with them so tenderly that we may not lose their co-operation. Some countries react hostile behavior even do not listen the name of the Muslims.
For them there is a particular strategy such countries are democratic and secular types. Muslims should maintain relations with them keeping in view their constitution and legal system. So preaching methodology is not same. As Quran guides us: “Invite (Mankind, O Muhammad (SAW) to the way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom (i.e. with the Divine Revelation and the Quran) and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better.”
Some countries are impartial they allow to live with every religion and creed if their constitution and society do not receive any major change in it. Such countries are numerous. According to a cautious survey approximately twenty thousand people are embracing Islam annually in USA.
Second important point is this that though today there is no regular system of corresponding with each other. But Muslims should prepare such a kind of literature that may be used for these three groups. Islam is a universal religion. Its invitation (Preaching) is for all mankind.
Third main and important point is this that we should opt friendly behavior instead of apologizing or defensive. Moreover we should not explain Islam such a way which is not according to the true spirit of Islam. Popular tradition is this when the people came to the Holy Prophet (SAW) and gave different options to Him and offered to opt one of them and stop preaching the words He spoke at that occasion are an example for the persons.
He said, for God’s sake if they put sun on my one hand and moon on the rest, I will not give up this preaching.
May Allah give us the vision to follow the true path of opted by Muhammad (SAW) and to explain it to the others to the true sense.
1- Surah Fassilat 41:24
2- Hamidullah, Dr., Al Wasaiq al-Sayyasia, Matba Lajna Tutlif Watarjam Wa Nashar, 1956. (Preface)
3- The Prophet Solomon wrote the letter, to Saba that was according the Holly Quran: Surat an Naml: 27:30.
4- Rizvi, Sayyed Mahboob, Maktubat-i-Nabwi, United Art press, Lahore, 2000, P-43-44.
5- Ibn-e-Sad, Al-Tabqat-ul-Kubra, Dar-u-Sadar, Beirut, 1380 AH., 1/256.
6- Aal-e-Imran 3:64
7- Bukhari, Al Jama Sahih, Kitab al Zakat, Bab La Tukkhaz Amwalinas Fi al Sadaqa.
8- Maktuba I Nabwi, P:59
9- Al Wasaiq Al Sayyasia, P:43
10- Ibid: P:25
11- Ibid: P:50
12- Ibid: P:72
13- Al Fatah, 48:29
14- Al-Wasiq-Al Siasia, 37-38
15- Younas, Muhammad, Dr, Rasu lullah Ka Safarti Nizam, P:
16- Tarikh-i-Tabri, 3/90
17- Tabqat Ibn-i-Saad, 1/273
18- Al-Wasaiq-Al Siyyasia, P:91
19- Ta-Ha, 20:44
20- Al-Wasaiq-Al Sayysia, P:44
21- Tabqat Ibn-i-Saad, 3/19
22- Al-Wasaiq-Al Siyyasia, P:100
23- Maktubat-i-Nabwi, P:42
24- That letter was written by Kisra to Kaiser.
25- An-Nahal, 16:125