Mubahala – Muhammad’s Meeting with the Christians of Najrān
Toward the end of Muhammad’s life, Christians and Muslims did not see eye to eye with one another about Jesus. In one of the earliest chapter in the history of Muslim-Christian relations a delegation of Christians from Najrān visited Muhammad to discuss differences with Muhammad about Jesus. After three days of dialogue, differences between Christians and Muslims remained.
To settle these differences Muhammad proposed a curse, called a mubahala. A mubahala is a mutual curse in which God is called upon to act as Judge (e.g. “may God curse the one who is wrong”). The proposed curse is recorded in 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.
The truth is from your Lord, so do not be among the doubters.
Then whoever argues with you about it after [this] knowledge has come to you – say, “Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then supplicate earnestly [together] and invoke the curse of Allah upon the liars [among us].”1 Muslims have viewed the mubahala as a great victory over Christianity.
Here is a movie clip of the Christian-Muslim dispute over Jesus from the Muslim perspective:
Note: The reference to Christianity’s belief in “three Gods” is absolutely false [3:29-3:34].2
Did Muhammad’s Proposed Curse Come upon his Household?
As a Christian, I don’t believe the mubahala is a victory for Islam’s view of Jesus. In fact, within a short period of time around Muhammad’s proposed mubahala (c.10AH/AD 631):
- Muhammad’s eighteen month old son Ibrahim died (10AH/632AD).
- Muhammad died shortly afterward in a manner indicating he was not a true prophet (11AH/632 AD).
- Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, died about six months after him (11AH/632AD).
Deciding Between Jesus and Muhammad
The nearness of death to Muhammad, his son, and daughter raises doubts and appears to be evidence that God judged Muhammad according to his proposed curse.
One of the reasons I’m a Christian and why you should be a Christian too is because Muhammad is dead. Jesus is alive.
Here is another clip (non-Muslim perspective) from a movie “The Life of Muhammad” connecting Muhammad’s proposed mubahala with the death of Ibraham and then Muhammad. This video contains depictions of Muhammad.
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- “Muslim exegetes have depicted as the “occasion for the revelation” of this verse an episode in which the Prophet proposed to a delegation of Christians from Najrān an ordeal of mutual adjuration (mubahala)” (Jane Dammen McAuliffe, “Fatima” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe [Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005], CD-ROM version).
According to the Islamic account, when Muhammad proposed the mutual cursing the Christian delegation withdrew and chose instead to pay an annual tribute to Muhammad,
“The earliest Muslim sources offer a diversity of details of the discussion which occurs among the Najrān Christians in response to Muḥammad’s mubāhala challenge. In IBN ISḤĀQ, the leader of the Christians is convinced of Muḥammad’s prophethood and thus advises the delegation that cursing Muḥammad would be disastrous. Sīrat al-Nabī, II, p. 422. In MUQĀTIL, the leader simply says that in any scenario, cursing Muḥammad would be disastrous. Tafsīr, VI, pp. 282. AL-ṬABARĪ also transmitted a tradition which indicates ambivalence: according to ‘Āmir al-Sha’bī, the Christians of Najrān initially accept the mubāhala challenge. But when they seek the advice of a wise man from their deputation, he rebukes them: “What have you done? If Muḥammad is a prophet, and he invokes Allah against you, Allah would never anger him by not answering his prayers. If, on the other hand, he is a king, and he were to prevail over you, he would never spare you.” Jāmi‘ al-Bayān, VI, p. 478. IBN SA‘D did not give details of the deliberations, but had the leader respond to Muḥammad, “We think it proper not to curse you. You may order us as you like and we shall obey you and shall make peace with you.” Al-Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā (Beirut: Dār Ṣādir, 1957), I, p. 358” (Gordon Nickel, “‘A Common Word’ in Context”, 9). See Gordon Nickel, “‘We Will Make Peace With You’: The Christians of Najrān in Muqātil’s Tafsīr,” Collectanea Christiana Orientalia 3 (2006), pp. 171-188).
- To learn more about what Christians really believe about the Trinity and monotheism see “Trinity, Tawhid, and Monotheism“