“If anyone disputes in this matter with thee, now after (full) knowledge has come to you, say: ‘Come! Let us gather together – our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves: Then let us earnestly pray, and invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie!'” (Holy Qur’an 3:61)
Eid al-Mubahila celebrates the famous event in the year 10 AH when a party of Christians, led by the Bishop of Najran called Abdul Masih (or Abu Harisa), came to debate with the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) about the nature of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him). They came after receiving a letter from the Holy Prophet inviting them to be Muslims, and meeting and debating amongst themselves about the contents of the letter and the appropriate response. The letter contained the following message:
“In the Name of the God of Ibrahim, Is’haaq and Ya’qub: this letter is from Muhammad, the Prophet and Messenger of Allah, to the Asqaf (Bishop) of Najran.
Praise be to the God of Ibrahim, Is’haaq and Ya’qub. I invite you to worship Allah instead of (His) servants. I invite you to come out of the rule of the servants of Allah and into the rule of Allah Himself. If you do not accept my invitation, then you should (at least) pay Jizya (tax) to the Islamic State (so that your lives and properties may be protected), otherwise you are warned of a danger.”
By using the names of the ancient Prophets (peace be upon them), the Holy Prophet wanted to let the Christians of Najran know that the belief in One God that he was teaching was the same as previously preached by their own Prophets. It is also mentioned that the Holy Prophet included the following verse from the Qur’an:
“Say, (O Muhammad): ‘O people of the Book (Bible), come to an agreement between us and you; that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall claim no partner to Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords besides Allah.’ And if they turn away, then say: ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims (those who have surrendered to Allah).'” (3:6)
The letter invoked what is common between them – at some level, belief in the same God. It appealed to reason and is truly an invitation for coming together, without compromising the Deen.
The Christian ruler was not a hasty person – he sought the advice of wise people, and then sent a delegation to meet the Prophet to learn about his claim of Prophethood. When the wise people went, they dressed ostentatiously, perhaps to show their status in their religion. The Prophet didn’t rebuke them or behave harshly, but in the end they understood his issue and changed to normal dress, coming as their normal selves without show.
Then the following conversation reportedly took place:
I invite you towards the belief of Tawhid and the worship of One God and submission to His will.
Then he recited verse 64 of Surah Aal-e-Imran.
If Islam means faith in the One God of the Universe, we already believe in Him and follow His Commands.
Islam has a few signs and some of your actions show that you have not accepted true Islam. How do you claim worship of One God when you worship the cross and do not abstain from eating pork and believe that God has a son?
Certainly he [Isa] was the son of God because his mother Mary had given birth to him without marrying anyone in this world. Therefore obviously his father is the God of this Universe. We also believe in Jesus as God because he used to bring the dead back to life, cure the sick and create birds from clay and make them fly. All this points to the fact that he is God.
No, he was the servant and creature of God, and placed in the womb of his mother Maryam (peace be upon her). All his power and strength was granted to him by God.
At this time, Angel Jibra’ill brought the following verse of the Holy Qur’an from Allah:
“Surely the example of Isa to Allah is like that of Adam; He created him from dust, and then said to him, ‘Be!’ and he was.” (3:59)
Then a little later the following verse of the Qur’an was revealed:
“And whoever argues with you in this matter after what has come to you of knowledge, then say: Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women and ourselves and yourselves, then let us humbly pray and invoke the curse of God upon the liars.” (3:61)
When the discussion had changed to no longer being fruitful, the Prophet ceased, not allowing the matter to be dragged into arguing, wrangling, or egoistic debate.
Instead, he essentially invited them to ask God to show them who was truthful in a means they all might understand and accept as definitive. The method reminds us to take caution about what we say, to evaluate whether we really mean what we say and know, or rather than just arguing and wanting to be right by deceiving ourselves. In this specific case, a real consequence was attached. This was the challenge of Mubahila, which means to invoke curse on one another. The Christians consulted each other and announced their acceptance of the challenge.
The challenge was an invitation that they were free to turn away from, but they must have believed that they had truth on their side or that the Prophet was likely a fraud, so that the curse would have no real effect.
The next day at the agreed time and place, the Prophet came out for Mubahila. He held Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) in his arms and he held Imam Hasan (peace be upon him)’s finger. Lady Fatima (peace be upon her) came behind him, while behind her came Imam Ali (peace be upon him). The Prophet said to them: “When I pray you should say Ameen.” The Prophet brought Imams Hasanain as his “sons”, Lady Fatima as his “women”, and Imam Ali as his “self”.
When the Christian delegates learned that the Prophet had brought his own family, they became quite concerned because they then realized that the Prophet was very sincere in his claims and convictions. By bringing his own family, the Prophet was showing that he knew they were not in danger since he was not in the wrong. This caused them to think even harder about what they claimed or believed and about who the Prophet was.
Then one of them said, “By God, I see the faces which, if they pray to God for mountains to move from their places, the mountains will immediately move!
“O believers in the Jesus of Nazareth, I will tell you the truth that should you fail to enter into some agreement with Muhammad and if these souls whom Muhammad has brought with him, curse you – you will be wiped out of existence to the last day of the life of the earth !”
Thus, they changed their minds about participating in the challenge and instead decided to enter a peace treaty with the Muslims – an annual offering of specified goods (garments) in exchange for protection from enemies, and an agreement to send a specified military supply aid should the Muslims ask for it. The Christians agreed not to deal in usury and were free to follow their own beliefs. A few of the Christians came back from Najran to join the Islamic religion, but most kept their Christian faith.
This event is notable for many reasons. It provides an example for emulation of dealing in disagreements and treaties, and treating people of differing faiths with respect and fairness, as well as in inviting people to the Right Path. Furthermore, it served as a demonstration of how people could visibly witness the piety of the Prophet and the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) and understand their proximity to the Creator.
So why do we mark this day in celebration? There is a great deal to learn from it and lessons to adopt in our own lives. Surely, it is a happy occasion when the rights and status of all were duly recognized.
We know that the event of the cloak is another famous example showing the identity, purity, and important roles of the Ahlul Bayt, but the date or dates of that happening are not marked on our calendars as an Eid, even though it is a similar event in terms of recognition of their role and status. But the event of Mubahila is special for an additional reason. It was on that occasion that even non-Muslims essentially acknowledged the holy status of the Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt. Although they did not all change from calling themselves Christians, their response to the appearance of the Ahlul Bayt at the challenge was one of recognition of the Prophet’s superior claim to Truth. So here is an event in which the Christian scholars and leaders in Arabia had to acknowledge that the Prophet was what he claimed to be and publicly witnessed the holy status of the Ahlul Bayt.
The event speaks volumes through the centuries, even until today. While we were not there to meet the Prophet and his family for ourselves, we can see the effect that they had on even non-Muslims. The most learned and highest-ranking Christians of Najran were so moved and so unable to prove their creed against the challenge of the pure Islam that they did not dare to complete the Mubahila against the Ahlul Bayt. How powerful that is! In this event, we find a form of “proof” of Islam – of Tawhid, of the true role of Jesus, of the Prophethood of Muhammad, and the status of the Ahlul Bayt. Today’s Christians and Muslims could draw nearer to each other through the message of this event alone, if only this Eid were marked in such a way that we shared that message with our Christian neighbors in a way they could hear it.
Although created as a day for the Muslims, we can include our fellow non-Muslims in our Eid celebrations. Eids mark events that are important for all of us as we make our journey back to our Creator. Why not invoke the Eid of Mubahila as an occasion to reach out to the People of the Book as neighbors and invite them in a gentle way to learn a little about Islam, and at the same time take the interest to learn a little about them, and do some kind deed that may speak even louder than anything we might say to them? What good is marking an Eid for an occasion such as this if it is not shared with those who may benefit, but instead is only shared with those who have already benefited? What would happen if Eid Mubahila were an occasion when Christians and Muslims came together to talk about Jesus?