In this article, I will spotlight the most prominent Christians who embraced Islam in Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime. We may wonder: could those people have been believers in the Trinity or such monotheists who embraced Islam as a final monotheistic message which came as an extension to the previous monotheistic messages conveyed by the past prophets and messengers of God?
Monotheistic Christians & Profession of Islam upon the Advent of Prophet Muhammad
An-Najashi was the title of the king of Abyssinia. One Najashi, namely As-hamah ibn Abjar, who was contemporary with Prophet Muhammad embraced Islam, became a good Muslim and was counted as a grand Companion of Prophet Muhammad though he did not migrate to Medina or even meet Prophet Muhammad. He died during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad who offered funeral prayer for him in absentia. It is not reported that Prophet Muhammad offered funeral prayer for an absent deceased except An-Najashi.
In Siyar A`lam An-Nubala’, Adh-Dhahabi reported that when `Amr ibn Al-`As and `Abdullah ibn Abi Rabia`h (or `Imarah bn Al-Walid) asked An-Najashi to extradite the Companions who migrated to Abyssinia, the following conversation took place between An-Najashi and the grand Companion Ja`far ibn Abi Talib:
An-Najashi wondered: “Do you memorize some revelation he (Prophet Muhammad) received from God?” Ja`far replied: “Yes.” An-Najashi said: “Read it to me!” Then Ja`far read to him the opening verses of the Chapter of Maryam (Mary). Thereupon, An-Najashi kept crying until he moistened his beard and his bishops also kept crying until they moistened their scriptures. Then, An-Najashi said: “Indeed, this (Qur’an) and the revelation conveyed by Moses get out of the same lantern. Go where you like. By God, I will not, and even may not extradite you!”
On the next day, at Amr ibn Al-`As’ request, An-Najashi summoned the Companions and wondered: “What do you believe about Jesus?” Ja`far replied: “We have the same belief which our Prophet affirmed. We believe that he is God’s servant, messenger, spirit and word which He communicated to Mary, the Virgin.” Then, An-Najashi struck the ground, picked up a rod and said: “Jesus did not come out with as much as this rod more than what you said.” Then, patriarchs around him kept snorting. Then, he said: “Even though you snort, by God! Go where you like. You are safe in my land.”
Ibn Ishaq reported: Ja`far ibn Muhammad quoted his father as saying: “The Abyssinians rebelled and revolted against An-Najashi whom they accused of the renunciation of their faith. So he prepared ships for Ja`far and his comrades and told them: “Board the ships! If I am defeated, go away. If I clinch victory, stay here.” Then, he had a piece of writing in which he bore witness that there is no god but God, Muhammad is God’s servant and messenger and Jesus is God’s servant, messenger, spirit and word which He communicated to Mary. Then, he kept this piece of writing in his garment.
Thereupon, he went out to the Abyssinians who lined up for him. Then he wondered: “O people of Abyssinia, am I not the worthiest one to rule over you?” They said: “Yes.” He asked: “How have you found my rule?” They answered: “It is the best rule.” Then, he asked: “So what is wrong with you?” They replied: “You have renounced our faith, alleging that Jesus is just a servant (of God).” Then, he asked: “What do you believe about Jesus?” They replied: “He is the son of God.” Then he made a signal at his chest towards the piece of writing, indicating his belief in the piece of writing. But, the Abyssinians thought that he meant by this signal that he agreed with them. Then, they became pleased with him and dispersed. When An-Najashi died, Prophet Muhammad offered funeral prayer for him and prayed to God for his forgiveness.
Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Imam Ahmad, and other hadith compilers reported on the authority of `Abdullah ibn `Abbas that Prophet Muhammad wrote to Caesar and invited him to Islam … When the letter of Prophet Muhammad reached Caesar, he said after reading it, “Seek for me anyone of his people (Arabs from Quraish tribe) if present here, in order to ask him about Muhammad.” At that time, Abu Sufyan ibn Harb was in the Levant with some men from Quraish who had come (to the Levant) as merchants … Abu Sufyan said, “Caesar’s messenger found us somewhere in the Levant so he took me and my companions to Jerusalem and we were admitted into Caesar’s court.”
Heracle kept asking Abu Sufyan about Prophet Muhammad and Abu Sufyan kept answering his questions. Then, Heracle said to Abu Sufyan: “These are really the qualities of a prophet who, I knew (from the previous Scriptures) would appear, but I did not know that he would be from amongst you. If what you say should be true, he will very soon occupy the earth under my feet, and if I knew that I would reach him definitely, I would go immediately to meet Him; and were I with him, then I would certainly wash his feet.” Abu Sufyan added, “Caesar then asked for the letter of the Messenger of God and it was read. It read: “In the name of God, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful, (This letter is) from Muhammad, the servant and messenger of God to Heraclius, the Roman Emperor. Peace be upon the followers of guidance. Now then, I invite you to Islam, so embrace Islam and you will be safe; embrace Islam and God will bestow on you a double reward. But if you reject this invitation of Islam, you shall be responsible for misguiding the peasants (i.e. your nation). O people of the Scriptures! Come to a word common to us and you, that we worship none but God, and that we associate nothing in worship with Him; and that none of us shall take others as lords besides God. Then if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him) (3:64)”
Abu Sufyan added, “When Heraclius had finished reading, there was a great hue and cry caused by the Byzantine royalties surrounding him, and there was so much noise that I did not understand what they said. So, we were turned out of the court. When I went out with my companions and we were alone, I said to them, ‘Verily, Ibn Abi Kabsha’s (i.e. the Prophet’s) affair has gained power. This is the King of Bani Al-Asfar fearing him.’” Abu Sufyan added, “By Allah, I remained low and was sure that his religion would be victorious till God converted me to Islam, though I disliked it.”
Al-Mundhir Ibn Sawa
Al-Mundhir ibn Sawa was the King of the Persian Gulf during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad. He was a Christian as his people, namely `Abd Shams, were Christians. Prophet Muhammad wrote him a letter in which he invited him to Islam.
Then, Al-Mundhir embraced Islam but he was not a member of the delegation who attended from Bahrain to meet Prophet Muhammad. Instead, he wrote Prophet Muhammad a letter affirming his profession of Islam.
Al-Mundhir’s letter to Prophet Muhammad read: “O Messenger of God, I read your letter, which you wrote to the people of Bahrain extending to them an invitation to Islam. Islam appealed to some of them and they entered the fold of Islam, while others did not find it appealing. In my country, there live Magians and Jews; therefore, you may inform me of the treatment to be extended to them.”
In reply to Al-Mundhir’s letter, Prophet Muhammad wrote: “In the name of God, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful, (This letter is) from Muhammad, the Messenger of God to Al-Mundhir ibn Sawa. May peace be on you! I praise God, Who is One and there is none to be worshipped except Him. I bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is a servant and messenger of God.
Thereafter I remind you of God. Whoever accepts admonition does it for his own good. Whoever followed my messengers and acted in accordance with their guidance; he, in fact, accepted my advice. My messengers have highly praised your behavior. I authorize you to deal with your people. So let Muslims follow Islam. I forgive the offences of the offenders. Therefore, you may also forgive them. Whoever wants to continue in their Jewish or Magian faith should be made to pay tribute.”
Waraqah ibn Nawfal
Waraqah ibn Nawfal was the cousin of Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Lady Khadijah, the Mother of the Believers. He was a Christian before Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood, but he embraced Islam at the outset of Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood.
In his Sahih, under the Chapter of the Outset of Revelation, Al-Bukhari reported on the authority of `Aishah that Khadija accompanied Prophet Muhammad to her cousin Waraqah ibn Naufal ibn Asad ibn `Abdul `Uzza, who, during the pre-Islamic period, became a Christian and used to write writings with Hebrew letters. He would write from the Gospel in Hebrew as much as God wished him to write. He was an old man and had lost his eyesight. Khadija said to Waraqah, “Listen to the story of your nephew, O my cousin!” Waraqah asked, “O my nephew! What have you seen?” The Messenger of God described whatever he had seen. Waraqah said, “This is the same one who keeps the secrets (Angel Gabriel) whom God had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would drive you out.” The Messenger of God asked, “Will they drive me out?” Waraqah replied in the affirmative and said, “Anyone who came out with something similar to what you will come out with was treated with hostility; and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be driven out then I would support you strongly.” But after a few days Waraqah died.
It is noteworthy that Waraqah ibn Nawfal was the first person to bring Lady Khadijah glad tidings about Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood after she had told him about what happened during Prophet Muhammad’s journey with her slave Maysarah along with her caravan travelling to the Levant, especially the cloud which was shading him until he came back to Mecca.
It is reported that he said to her: “If this is true, O Khadijah, Muhammad will be the prophet of this nation. I have known that this nation waits for a prophet who is about to appear.” (Ar-Rawd Al-Unuf: vol. 2, p. 161) About one month later, Lady Khadijah married the Messenger of God. Waraqah composed a poem apparently after this conversation, given the mention of Prophet Muhammad’s journey with Khadijah’s caravan, the glad tidings about Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood and the promise to follow him.
In his Musnad, At-Tayalisi reported that Waraqah ibn Nawfal and Zayd ibn `Amr ibn Nufayl went out in quest of the true religion. So they went to a monk at Mosul. The monk said to Zayd ibn `Amr ibn Nufayl: “Where have you come from, O camel rider?” He replied: “From Abraham’s household.” The monk wondered: “What do you seek after?” He replied: “I seek after the true religion.” He said to him: “Come back for the one you seek after is about to appear at your homeland.”
Nestorian Monk: Bahira
At-Tirmidhi and Al-Hakim reported on the authority of Abu Bakr ibn Abu Musa Al-Asha`ri on the authority of his father that Abu Talib traveled to the Levant, and the Prophet left with him, along with some older men from Quraish. When they came across the monk they stopped there and began setting up their camp, and the monk came out to them. Before that they used to pass by him and he wouldn’t come out nor pay attention to them. They were setting up their camp when the monk was walking amidst them, until he came and took the hand of the Messenger of Allah. Then he said: “This is the master of men and jinn, this is the Messenger of the Lord of the Worlds. God will send him as mercy to men and jinn.” So some of the older people from Quraish said: “How do you know that?” He said: “When you came along from the road, neither a rock nor a tree was left, except that it prostrated, and they do not prostrate except for a prophet. And I can recognize him by the seal of prophethood which is below his shoulder blade, like an apple.” Then he went back, and made them some food, and when he brought it to them, he [Prophet Muhammad] was tending camels. So he said: “Summon him.” So he came, and there was a cloud over him that was shading him. When he came close to the people, he found that they had sat down under the tree’s shade before he came. So when he sat down, the shade of the tree leaned towards him. He (the monk) said: “Look at the shade of the tree leaning towards him.’” While he was standing with them, telling them not to take him to the Romans – because if the Romans were to see him, they would recognize him by description, and they would kill him – he turned, and there were seven people who had come from among the Romans. So he received them and said: “Why have you come?” They said: “We came because a prophet is going to appear during this month, and there isn’t a road left except that people have been sent to it, and we have been informed of him, and we have been sent to this road of yours.” So he said: “Is there anyone better than you behind you?” They said: “We only have news of him from this road of yours.” He said: “Do you think that if there is a matter which God wishes to bring about, there is anyone among people who can prevent it?” They said: “No.” So they gave him their pledge, and they stayed with him. And he said: “I ask you by God, which of you is his guardian?” They said: “Abu Talib.” So he kept adjuring him until Abu Talib returned him (back to Mecca).
In his Musnad, Imam Ahmad reported on the authority of `Abdullah ibn `Abbas that Salman Al-Farisi had a long conversation with him, in which he said: “I was a Persian man … I strove hard in the Magian religion … I passed by one of the Christian churches, where I could hear their voices as they were praying … When I saw them, I was impressed with their prayer … I said to them: ‘Where did this religion originate?’ They said: ‘In the Levant’ … I sent word to the Christians saying: ‘If any Christian merchants come to you from the Levant, tell me about them.’ He said: ‘Some Christian merchants came to them from the Levant … and I went out with them, until I came to the Levant …
Salman kept serving monks, one after another, from the Levant through Mosul and Nusaybin to Amorium. When the monk of Amorium was about to die, and Salman asked him to tell him about the next monk to serve, he said to him: ‘O my son, by God, I do not know of anyone who follows our way to whom I can advise you to go. But there has come the time of a prophet, who will be sent with the religion of Abraham. He will appear in the land of the Arabs and will migrate to a land between two harrahs (lands with black rocks), between which there are palm trees. He will have characteristics that will not be hidden. He will eat of what is given as a gift but he will not eat of what is given as charity. Between his shoulder blades is the seal of prophethood. If you can go to that land then do so.’
Then, Salman traveled to Arabia and stayed in Medina. When he knew that the people of Medina were gathering in Quba’ to receive a man whom they believed to be a prophet, he went to him.
Salman said: “I had something that I had collected, and when evening came, I went to the Messenger of God when he was in Quba’, and I entered to him and said to him: ‘I have heard that you are a righteous man and that you have companions who are strangers and are in need. This is something that I have to give in charity, and I see that you are more in need of it than anyone else.’
I brought it near to him and the Messenger of God said to his companions: “Eat,” but he refrained from eating. I said to myself: ‘This is one.’ Then I went away and collected some more.
The Messenger of God settled in Medina, then I came to him and said: ‘I see that you do not eat (food given in) charity; this is a gift with which I wish to honor you.’ The Messenger of God then ate some of it and told his companions to eat too. I said to myself: ‘This is two.’
Then I came to the Messenger of God when he was in Baqi` Al-Gharqad, where he had attended the funeral of one of his companions and he was wearing two shawls and was sitting down among his companions. I greeted him, then I moved behind him, trying to look at his back to see the seal that my companion had described to me. When the Messenger of God saw me going behind him, he realized that I was trying to ascertain something that had been described to me, so he let his garment drop from his back, and I saw the seal and recognized it. Then I embraced and kissed him, while weeping … Then, Salman embraced Islam and became a good Muslim.