Story of the Messengers of Antioch
Antioch is one of the oldest cities in the Levant, which was built – as some say – around three hundred years before Christ. It was considered one of the three largest Russian cities at that time in terms of wealth, knowledge, and trade.
It was conquered by Abu Ubaidah al-Jarrah during the time of the Umar Ibn Al Katab, and its people accepted the payment of Jizya while keeping their faith.
The French occupied it after World War I, and when the French wanted to leave the Levant, they annexed it to the Turkish territories, fearing for the people of Antioch from harm after their departure because they were Christians like them.
Antioch is considered by Christians as Medina is considered for Muslims, the second most important city after Jerusalem, from which Christ (peace be upon him) began his message, then migrated after those who believed in Christ (peace be upon him) – Paul and Barnabas – to Antioch and called people there to Christianity, and thus Christianity spread there.
Firstly, the Holy Quran says in stating the story of these people: “And put forth to them the example of the people of the village when the messengers came to them” (1). After this general overview, the Quran moves to detail the events that took place, saying: “When We sent to them two, but they denied them, so We strengthened (them) with a third, and they said, ‘Indeed, we are messengers to you'” (2).
Who were these messengers?
There has been some discussion among the exegetists. Some said that the names of the two were (Shamoun) and (Yuhanna) and the third was (Paul), and some mentioned other names for them.
Also, there has been discussion whether they were messengers of Allah Almighty or messengers of Christ (peace be upon him). There is no contradiction with the saying of Allah Almighty: “When We sent” because the messengers of Christ were also sent by Allah Almighty. The apparent meaning of the Quran aligns with the first explanation, even though it doesn’t make a difference concerning the conclusion that the Holy Quran wants to reach.
Now, let’s look at the reaction of these misguided people to the call of the messengers. The Holy Quran says that they made the same weak excuses that many disbelievers always make in the face of the prophets “They said, ‘You are only human beings like us, and the Most Merciful has not revealed anything. You are only lying'” (3).
So, if it is determined that a messenger is to come from Allah Almighty, he must be a close angel and not a human like us. This is the excuse they used to deny the messengers and reject the divine legislation. It is likely that they knew that all the prophets throughout time were descendants of Adam, including the prophet Abraham the friend of Allah (peace be upon him), who was known for his message. It is agreed that he was human. Moreover, could anyone other than a human understand the needs, problems, and pains of humans? (4).
In any case, these prophets did not despair due to the opposition of these misguided people and did not show weakness. In their response, they said, “Our Lord knows that we are indeed sent to you” (5), and our responsibility is merely to convey the divine message clearly and plainly.
“And nothing is upon us except the clear conveyance” (6).
It is agreed that they did not just make claims, or swear that they were from Allah, but from the expression “clear conveyance,” it is generally inferred that they showed signs and miracles that indicated the truth of their claims. Otherwise, there is no credibility for the “clear conveyance” because the clear conveyance must be in a way that makes it easy for everyone to understand its purpose, and that can only be achieved through clear signs and miracles.
It has been narrated in some stories that these messengers had the ability to cure some of the incurably sick – by Allah’s permission – as it was with Jesus (peace be upon him).
We will surely stone you
The polytheists did not surrender to that clear logic and those miracles; rather, they increased their violence in confrontation, moving from a phase of denial to a phase of threats and severe treatment, “They said, ‘We have been ill-omened because of you'”.
Some negative incidents might have occurred to these people, or divine warnings might have been given to them. As conveyed by some exegetists, rain might have stopped for a while, but they did not take a lesson from that. Instead, they considered these incidents linked to the mission of these messengers. And they did not stop there; they showed their ill intentions through explicit and public threats, saying, “If you do not desist, we will surely stone you, and a painful punishment will touch you from us”.
Here the messengers responded with their elevated logic to these people’s rantings, “They said, ‘Your ill-omen is within yourselves. It is because you were reminded?'”.
If you are afflicted with bad luck and unfortunate incidents, and Allah’s blessings are removed from you, the reason for this lies deep within your souls, in your degraded thoughts and your ugly, ominous actions, not in our invitation. You have filled your world with idol worship and following desires and lusts, cutting off Allah’s blessings from you.
In conclusion, the messengers said to them, “Rather, you are a transgressing people”.
Your problem is extravagance and excess. If you deny monotheism and associate partners with Allah, the reason for that is extravagance and crossing the boundaries of truth. If your community faces an ominous fate, the cause is extravagance in sins and contamination with lusts. Finally, instead of desiring to do good deeds, you threaten those aiming for goodness with death, and this is also due to transgression and excess.
Mujahideen who Carried Their Souls on Their Palms!
The Qur’an refers to another aspect of the Prophets’ jihad, as mentioned in this story. The reference concerns the calculated defense of the few believers and their bravery against the majority of disbelieving polytheists, and how they stood up to the last breath defending the messengers.
“And there came from the farthest end of the city a man, running. He said, ‘O my people, follow the messengers’.”
This man, whom most exegetists name Habib the Carpenter, is one of the individuals who were destined to hear these messengers, believe in them, and understand the truth and precision of their teachings. He was a steadfast believer, and when he heard that the city center was in turmoil and that people might kill these prophets, he rushed and put himself in the city center, defending the truth as best as he could, sparing no effort.
The term “a man” in an indefinite form possibly indicates that he was an ordinary individual, without any special power or status in society, and he walked his path alone. Yet, at the same time, he entered the battle between disbelief and faith, defending the truth.
The term “from the farthest end of the city” indicates that the call of these prophets reached the far points of the city and affected the hearts prepared for belief. Unlike the residents of city centers who live a refined life that makes it hard for them to accept the call of truth.
Now, let us look at this struggling man, with what logic and evidence did he address the people of the city?
First, he pointed to this issue: “Follow those who do not ask of you any payment,” which in itself is the first proof of the sincerity of these messengers. They gain no personal material benefit from their call, nor do they want wealth, status, or any acknowledgment from you. In summary, they want neither reward nor anything else from you. He added that these messengers, as appears from the content of their message and their words, are guided individuals “While they are guided”.
Then he moved on to mention another proof regarding monotheism, which is considered the pillar of the call of these messengers, saying: “And why should I not worship the One who created me?” The one worthy of worship is the Creator, the Owner, the Giver, not the idols that neither harm nor benefit. Sound innate of a person says: you should worship the Creator, not those trivial creatures.
After that, he alerted that the return and destiny are to Allah Almighty saying: “Should I take besides Him Gods, if the Most Merciful intends for me some adversity, their intercession will not avail me at all, nor can they save me.”
Then this believing Mujahid said with more affirmation and clarification: If I worship these idols and make them partners with Allah, then I will indeed be in manifest error “Indeed, I would then be clearly astray”. What error is clearer than a rational person putting those inanimate objects alongside the Creator of the heavens and the earth!!
When this struggling believer finished presenting those compelling arguments and effective communications, he declared to all present: “Indeed, I have believed in your Lord, so listen to me.”
People’s Stance Towards the Sacrificing Believer
But let’s see, what was the reaction of these people towards this pure believer?
The Quran doesn’t explicitly state anything about this, but it can be inferred from the subsequent verses that they rose against him and killed him.
Indeed, his provocative speech, full of strong, compelling arguments and unique, heart-penetrating points, not only had a positive impact on those dark hearts filled with deceit and arrogance, but on the contrary, it stirred hatred, animosity, and ignited the flames of hostility in them. So, they confronted that brave man and killed him with utmost cruelty and harshness. It is said that they stoned him while he was saying: “Oh Allah, guide my people,” until they killed him.
In another narrative, it is said that they trampled him under their feet until he died.
The Holy Quran has clarified the truth in a beautiful, concise phrase: “It was said, enter Paradise.” This expression is specifically used for the martyrs of truth, in other verses of the Holy Quran: “And do not think of those who are killed in the way of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision” (7).
It is worth mentioning and noticing that this expression indicates that his entry into Paradise was linked to his martyrdom, to the extent that the glorious Quran, with its delicate expression, mentioned his status instead of his martyrdom, showing how close the path of martyrs is to eternal happiness!
In any case, the soul of that pure believer ascended to the heavens, to be near the mercy of Allah and in the bliss of Paradise. And there, he had only one wish: “He said, ‘Oh, I wish my people could know’.”
I wish my people knew what. “How my Lord has forgiven me and made me one of the honored ones.”
In a narration from the Prophet (PBUH) concerning this believer, “He advised them in his life and after his death.”
After all, this was the fate of this truthful striving believer who carried out his message and did not fall short in protecting the divine messengers. In the end, he tasted the cup of martyrdom, returning to the mercy of his generous Lord.
The Fate of The Three Prophets
Even though the Holy Quran did not mention anything about what happened to the fate of these three messengers who were sent to these people, a group of interpreters mentioned that these people also killed the messengers, in addition to killing that believing man. Meanwhile, others state that this righteous man preoccupied these people with his talk and his testimony, enabling the messengers to escape the conspiracies plotted against them and move to a safer place.
The Fate of the Unjust People:
We saw how the people of Antioch insisted on opposing the divine messengers, and now let’s see what was the result of their actions.
The Holy Quran says in this regard: “And We did not send down upon his people after him an army from the heaven, nor would We have done so.”
So, we do not need such things, and basically, it is not our custom to destroy unjust people by using armies from the sky because one signal was enough to eliminate them all and send them to the realms of non-existence and demise. One signal was sufficient to change the factors of their lives and livelihoods into factors of death and extinction, and in a fleeting moment, their lives were turned upside down.
Then, the Almighty adds: “It was not but one shout, and immediately they were extinguished.”
Was that shout the echo of a thunderbolt that descended from the clouds to the earth, shaking and destroying everything in existence, making the people surrender to death due to extreme fear and horror? Or was it a shout resulting from an earthquake that erupted from the heart of the earth, exploding into space, so that the waves of its explosion destroyed everyone?
Whatever it was, it was nothing but a shout that didn’t last beyond a fleeting moment in its occurrence—a shout that silenced all other cries, a tremor that halted everything in motion. Such is the power of Allah, the Exalted, and such is the fate of misguided people who are beyond help.
The story of the messengers of Antioch in the exegesis of Majma’ al-Bayan
(Al-Tabarsi) – May Allah elevate his status – in the interpretation of Majma’ al-Bayan says: It was said that Jesus sent two messengers from among the disciples to the city of Antioch. As they approached the city, they saw an old man herding his sheep, he was (Habib) the companion of (Yaseen), so they greeted him.
The old man asked them: Who are you?
They replied: We are messengers of Jesus, inviting you from the worship of idols to the worship of the Merciful.
He asked: Do you have a sign?
They said: Yes, we heal the sick, and cure the blind and the lepers by the permission of Allah.
The old man said: I have a sick son who has been bedridden for years.
They said: Take us to your home to see his condition.
They went with him, touched the boy, and he immediately got up, healed by the permission of Allah. The news spread in the city, and Allah healed many sick people through them.
There was a king in the city who worshiped idols, and the news reached him. He called them and asked: Who are you? They replied: We are messengers of Jesus, inviting you from worshiping what neither hears nor sees to the worship of who hears and sees. The king said: Is there a God other than our God? They said: Yes, the One who created you and your Gods. The king said: Stand up until I consider your matter. Then, people took them to the market and beat them.
It is narrated that Jesus (peace be upon him) sent these two messengers to Antioch. They arrived, but did not reach its king, and stayed there for a long time. One day the king came out, and they glorified and mentioned Allah, which made the king angry, and he ordered their imprisonment and each one to be flogged with a hundred lashes. After the messengers were denied and beaten, Jesus sent (Simon the Pure), the leader of the disciples, to help them. Simon entered the city in disguise and started to mix with the king’s entourage until they became comfortable with him. They raised his matter to the king, who called him, was pleased with his company, felt comfortable with him, and honored him. One day the king said: I heard that you have imprisoned two men who invited you to another religion. Did you hear what they said? The king said that he was angry and not willing to discuss it. Simon suggested to the king to call them to see what they had to say, and the king called them.
Simon asked them: Who sent you here? They replied: Allah, who created everything and has no partner. He asked: What is your sign? They said: Whatever you wish for.
The king ordered a boy with blinded eyes to be brought, and the place of his eyes was flat. They kept praying until the place of vision cracked, and two clods of clay were placed in his eye sockets, becoming two pupils with which he could see, astonishing the king.
Simon said to the king: What if you asked your God to do something like this to bring honor to you and your God? The king said: There is no secret between us. Indeed, our God, whom we worship, neither harms nor benefits.
Then the king said to the messengers: If your God can revive a dead person, we will believe in Him and you. They said: Our God is capable of everything. The king said: Here is a dead person who has been dead for seven days, and we have not buried him waiting for his father’s return, as he was absent. They brought the dead person, whose condition had changed and smelled bad. The messengers openly prayed to their Lord, and Simon prayed secretly to his Lord, and the dead person got up and told them: I had been punished for seven days and entered seven valleys of fire, and I warn you of what you are in, so believe in Allah, and the king was astonished.
When Simon realized that his words had an effect on the king, he invited him to Allah, and the king believed, and some people from his kingdom believed, while others disbelieved.
(Al-Ayashi) conveyed a similar narration from Imam al-Baqir and al-Sadiq (peace be upon them) with some differences. But upon reviewing the previous verses, it seems unlikely that the people of that city had believed because the Holy Quran says, ‘It was nothing but one shout, and they were extinguished.’ There might be some discrepancies in the narration due to the narrator.
Stories of the Quran: Ayatollah Sheikh Naser Makarem Shirazi
1- Surah Ya-Sin / 13.
2- Surah Ya-Sin / 14.
3- Surah Ya-Sin / 15.
4- Why did the verse emphasize the attribute of “Mercifulness” for Allah? It is possible that they emphasized the attribute of mercifulness to say that Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate, does not cause problems for His servants by sending messengers and prophets, but rather He leaves them to their own devices!! This empty, collapsing logic is consistent with the thinking level of this misguided group.
5- Surah Ya-Sin / 16.
6- Surah Ya-Sin / 17.
7- Surah Aal-E-Imran / 169.