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Did Negus (Al-Najashi), king of Ethiopia become a Muslim?


Some Muslims claim that Negus, the king of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) became a Muslim after hearing a message of Muhammad. History is telling us that a Meccan servant accused the Muslims that they rejected the divine nature of Christ, and claimed that Jesus was a mortal like other men.

1. Negus did not live in Muhammad’s time
No historical texts show that the Negus lived in the same period as Muhammad [1]. There is no doubt that some early Muslims emigrated to Abyssinia and that there have been commercial relations between Ethiopia and Arabia [2]. Therefore it is possible that because of the many contacts, a Muslim came with the idea to publish a story about the conversion of the Negus to Islam. However no any evidence is available to support this story.

2. Faith of Negus
According to Muslim documents, the Negus had a faith closer to Islam than to Christianity. He had given presents to Muhammad and Muhammad is said to have given a prayer (salat) for him when he died.
Muslim sources say that Muhammad’s enemies, the Quraysh sent two men to the king to get the Muslims back from Abyssinia. Ja’far, the leader of the Muslims in Abyssinia, recited a passage from Qur’an about Jesus: “he is the servant of God and his apostle and His Spirit and His word which he cast into Mary the blessed virgin” (see Qur’an 4:171). The Negus liked the words, but his general not. Therefore a battle between the two parties started and the Negus won [3].

3. Incomplete funeral prayer by Muhammad for Negus
That there are funeral prayers for Muslims is obvious. Funeral prayers for polytheists and hyprocrites are subject of many discussions within Islam. Then it is natural that people who did noble deeds are more likely to have funeral prayers than pseudo-Muslims [4]. Therefore Al-Bukhari mentions the incomplete funeral prayers for the Negus. The prayer was without ruku and sujud and people did not speak during it [5]. This shows a lower importance for Negus and gives support to the view that the Negus was only a protector of Muslims, who did good deeds for Muslims in Abyssinia, but he was not a Muslim.

4. Misleading of the Negus by Muhammad and the Muslims
The statement of Ja’fa from Muhammad about Jesus is a misleading text, not in line with the Qur’an. “Jesus is His Spirit, and His command” means that Jesus is the Spirit of God (see also Qur’an 3:45, 4:171) and Jesus is the Word of God (see also Qur’an 4:171, 5:110).
Muhammad and the Muslims knew that according to the Bible, Jesus is full with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1) and the Word of God (John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13). A Muslim doesn’t believe that something divine as the Holy Spirit or the Word of God can live separated from God. Therefore they declared Jesus to be God. This is not in line what Islam tradition is telling us about Jesus. Muhammad and the Muslims played a tricky game against the Negus.

5. Conclusion
From the statement of faith by the Negus, the funeral prayers of Muhammad we cannot conclude that the Negus became a Muslim. History doesn’t show evidence that the Negus lived in the time of Muhammad.


Notes:

1. Wim Raven, Some early Islamic texts on the Negus of Abyssinia, Journal of Semitic Studies XXXIII/2, Autumn 1988, 197. https://academic.oup.com/jss/article-abstract/XXXIII/2/197/1682491?redirectedFrom=fulltext
2. W.M. Watt, Muhammad at Mecca, Oxford, 1953, 109-117; M.J. Kister, Some reports concerning Mecca. From Jahiliyya to Islam, Jesho, 1972, 61-93.
3. Ibn Ishaq, Sira, ed. M. Hamidullah, Rabat, 1976.
4. Wim Raven, Some early Islamic texts on the Negus of Abyssinia, Journal of Semitic Studies XXXIII/2, Autumn 1988, 210. https://academic.oup.com/jss/article-abstract/XXXIII/2/197/1682491?redirectedFrom=fulltext..
5. Ibid, 214.