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Mubahala: A Memorable Day in Islamic History

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The term ‘Mubahala’ originates from the root word ‘Bahl’ (patterned on ‘Ahl’), which implies releasing and lifting restrictions from something.[1]

 Mubahala, in the context of the Quran, narrations, and other sources, refers to mutual cursing or anathematization; such that whenever two groups or individuals cannot reach an agreement on a significant issue, like vital religious matters, they gather together and, as a ‘last resort,’ plead before Allah, asking Him to disgrace and punish the liar.[2]

The idiomatic meaning is compatible with the literal one, as in both cases, there is a sense of leaving each other to their own fate.

Mubahala with the Christians of Najran

“Then whoever disputes with you concerning him [‘Isa (Jesus)] after all this knowledge that has come to you, say: “Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our women, and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then we pray and invoke (sincerely) the Curse of Allah upon those who lie.” [3]

The region of Najran, with its seventy affiliated villages, is situated on the border between Hijaz and Yemen. At the dawn of Islam, this place was the only Christian-inhabited area in Hijaz, which had renounced idolatry and embraced Christianity due to certain reasons.[4]

At the same time as his correspondence with leaders of world governments and religious centers, the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) wrote a letter to the Bishop of Najran (Abu Haritha ibn Alqama). In the letter, he asked the residents of Najran to either accept Islam or pay Jizya (tax) to the Islamic government (a small amount in exchange for the protection of their lives and properties), otherwise, they would be warned of potential danger.

The letter was delivered to the bishop by the representatives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family). He read the letter carefully and for making a decision, he formed a council consisting of prominent religious and non-religious figures. The council suggested that a group should travel to Medina on behalf of Najran, to directly communicate with Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) and examine his teachings. Sixty of the most elite and learned people from Najran were selected, among whom three religious leaders were prominent:

  1. “Abu Haritha ibn Alqama”, the grand bishop of Najran, who was the official representative of the Roman churches in Hijaz
  2. “Abdul Maseeh”, the head of the delegation, known for his intellect, prudence, and skill
  3. “Ayham”, an elderly and respected figure among the people of Najran

The delegation conversed with the Prophet of Islam in the Mosque of Medina. The Prophet invited them to the faith of Islam, to worship the one true God, and to renounce false beliefs (such as the belief in God having a son). One of the delegates said: “Jesus is the son of God; for his mother Mary gave birth to him without being married; hence, he must also be recognized as God of the world.”

The Prophet (PBUH) responded by reciting a verse from the Quran: “Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created him from dust, then He said to him, ‘Be,’ and he was.” [Quran 3:59] If not having a father is the reason to consider Jesus as the son of God, then Adam is more eligible for this attribution; as he had neither a father nor a mother.”

The dialogue continued, and after both sides insisted on the truth of their beliefs, it was decided that the matter should be settled through a religious event known as Mubahala (cursing each other in the name of Allah). Therefore, it was agreed that on the following day, everyone would prepare for the Mubahala outside the city of Medina, at the edge of the desert.

It was the twenty-fifth day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, in the tenth year of the Hijra. Before facing the Prophet, the leaders of the Najran delegation said to each other: “If you see Muhammad bringing his officers and soldiers to the Mubahala field, it indicates that he is not truthful in his claim and does not have confidence in his prophethood. However, if you see him coming for Mubahala with his children and loved ones, it shows that he is truthful and is a prophet of Allah; because he has so much faith in himself and feels secure enough to bring his dear ones.”

While the delegates of Najran were still in conversation, suddenly the radiant face of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) appeared. He was holding his son Hussein (peace be upon him) in his arms, and holding Hasan’s (peace be upon him) hand; Ali (peace be upon him) was in front, and Lady Fatima (peace be upon her) was behind him.[5]

Before entering the Mubahala field, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) told his companions: “Whenever I pray, you follow my prayer by saying Amen.” The delegates of Najran were staring at each other in awe and terror; the divine and spiritual grandeur of these five individuals had nailed everyone in their places. The Bishop of Najran said: “I see faces that if they raise their hands in prayer and ask God to uproot the largest mountains, it will be done swiftly. It is not right for us to engage in Mubahala with these radiant and virtuous faces; because the divine punishment will annihilate us all, and it might even extend to engulf all the Christians in the world, leaving no Christian on Earth”.

The Retreat of Christians From Mubahala

Upon witnessing this situation, the representatives of Najran promptly held a consultation and unanimously decided that they would never partake in the Mubahala, and instead, they would pay a yearly amount as “Jizya” (a tax in Islamic law that is imposed on non-Muslims residing in an Islamic state) to the Islamic government. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) accepted their request and arranged for the people of Najran to also benefit from the advantages of the Islamic government. At this point, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “The punishment cast a gloomy shadow over the representatives of Najran, and if they had entered the Mubahala, they would have lost their human form and would have been burned with a fire that was ignited in the desert, and the scope of the punishment would have extended to the land of Najran.”[6]

The Virtue of Ahlul Bait (PBUT) in the Story of Mubahala

Both Shiite and Sunni narrators and scholars have explicitly stated that the only ones whom the noble Prophet of Islam brought with him for the Mubahala were: his sons, Hassan and Hussain (peace be upon them) (“our sons”), his daughter Fatima (peace be upon her) (“our women”), and among men, only Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him) (“our souls”).

Shahid Qadi Nurullah Shushtari, in his noble book “Ihqaq al-Haqq”, expresses the consensus of the narrators on this matter; then Ayatollah Mar’ashi Najafi (may his soul be elevated), in the footnote of this book, quotes about sixty of the Sunnis’ distinguished figures who believed that the verse of Mubahala was revealed in honor of the status of the Prophet’s Ahlul Bait (peace be upon him and his family); for example, Muslim ibn Hajjaj in his Sahih – which is the second Sahih of the six Sahih books of the Sunnis – writes: “Muawiya said to Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas: Why don’t you curse Ali? He replied: Due to three qualities that Ali had and I wish I had one of them…; one of them was that [when the verse of Mubahala was revealed, the Prophet only invited Fatima, Hassan, Hussain, and Ali; when they all gathered, he said: Allahumma ha’ula’i ahli, Oh Allah, these are my household.” [7]

The story of Mubahala is a testament to the greatness and superiority of this family. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family), from among all his companions and friends, considered only these few worthy and true to the verse and brought them to the field of Mubahala with him.

The Universality of the Use of Mubahala

There is no doubt that the verse of Mubahala was addressed to the Prophet of Islam and does not constitute a general command for Muslims to perform this act, but no prohibition of this act by Muslims has been made in the verses and traditions, rather the traditions are used to infer the universality of this rule; for example, it has been narrated from Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) that if your religious opponents do not accept your words and arguments, invite them to Mubahala.

The narrator says: I asked: How should I Mubahala? The Imam (peace be upon him) said: “Moralize yourself for three days…; fast and take a bath, and go to the desert with the one you want to do Mubahala; then put your right hand’s fingers in his right hand’s fingers and start from yourself and say: “O Allah! You are the Lord of the seven heavens and the seven earths and are aware of the hidden secrets, and you are the Merciful and Compassionate, if I am denying the truth and claiming falsehood, send a calamity from the sky upon me, and if this person denies the truth and claims falsehood, send a calamity from the sky upon him; then he said: Nothing will pass before the result of this prayer will become evident. By Allah! I have not found anyone willing to do this kind of Mubahala with me.” [8]

Footnotes:

[1] Cf: Comprehensive Arabic-Persian Dictionary, item “بهل”; University Dictionary, translation of Al-Munjid Al-Abjadi, item “بهل”.

[2] Cf: Tafsir-i-Namuna, Vol. 2, p. 438.

[3] Al Imran, 61.

[4] Yaqut Hamawi in Mu’jam Al-Buldan, Vol. 5, p. 266-267, has explained their inclination towards the Christian religion.

[5] In some narratives, it is mentioned that the Prophet was holding Hassan and Hussain’s hands, and Fatima followed the Prophet and Ali (peace be upon him) was behind her. Cf: Manshoor-e-Jawid, Vol. 7, p. 101.

[6] Bihar Al-Anwar, Vol. 21, p. 285 and beyond.

[7] Sahih Muslim, Vol. 7, p. 120.

[8] Usul al-Kafi, Vol. 2, p. 482.

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