“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, our souls and your souls: Then let us earnestly pray, and invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie!'” (The holy Qur’an 3:61)
After the conquest of Mecca, when Islam started spreading rapidly and the warring groups came under the flag of Islam, the holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) started sending emissaries to the tribes who had not yet accepted Islam. 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 holy 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 Usquf (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 religion.
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. When they entered the Masjid al-Nabi, the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) looked at the precious stones, gold and silk clothes that they were wearing and turned away his face and did not pay any attention to them. After a while when no one noticed their pomp and show, they left the mosque and went to Imam Ali (PBUH) by Uthman Ibn-e ‘Affan’s recommendation to ask him about the reason of this bahviour by the holy Prophet. Imam Ali (PBUH) told them that they were wearing dresses of silk and ornaments of gold which depicted their pride and that they should take them off and dress simply. Only then would the Prophet allow them to visit him and entertain them. Finally they changed to normal dress and came 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 Jibreel 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 our souls and your souls, 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 left 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 Hassan (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 Amen.” The Prophet brought Imams Hassanain as his “sons”, Lady Fatima as his “women”, and Imam Ali as his “soul”.
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 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 Ahl al-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. The significance of the event of al-Mubahila is as follows:
1) It proved to be a silencing lesson for all the Christians of Arabia who no longer dared any competition with the holy Prophet (PBUH).
2) The invitation of “Mubahila” was directed by God, and it was in compliance with His Command that the holy Prophet took his Ahl al-Bayt along with him to the field of Mubahila. This serves to generalize how affairs pertaining to Apostleship and the religion of God are determined by the Will of God; allowing no margin of interference from the common people (Ummah). The matter of Imam Ali's succession followed by eleven Imams to the office of religious leadership should be viewed in this perspective.
3) The indispensability of ‘Ali, Fatimah, al-Hassan and al-Hussain in following the precepts of the holy Prophet could no longer be disputed. This event established who the members of the Prophet’s household (Ahl al-Bayt) were, and their spiritual purity.
4) That notwithstanding their childhood, Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn did, nevertheless, serve as the active partners of the holy Prophet in the field of Mubahila. This yields the conclusion that age is no criteria for the greatness of the infallibles (Ma’sumeen). They are born adorned with virtues and knowledge.
5) That the holy Prophet's act of having preferred a few obviously elevates their status above all others. As Islam emerged triumphantly over Christianity on the occasion of Mubahila, this historic event is celebrated as a festival (‘Eid) of thanksgiving for the triumph of the truth of the message of Islam.
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 al-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 al-Mubahila were an occasion when Christians and Muslims came together to talk about Jesus?