The Christian Delegation from Najran
while the war of words was raging between muhammad and the jews in full intensity, a delegation from the christians of najran consisting of sixty riders arrived in madinah. among them were some of the nobles, learned men, and religious leaders of the tribe whom the emperors of byzantium had been protecting, encouraging, financing, and assisting in the building of churches. perhaps this delegation arrived in madinah after they learned of the conflict between muhammad and the jews with the hope of adding fuel to the fire so that neighboring christendom, whether in al sham or in yaman, might relax and feel safe from jewish plots and arab aggression. the three scriptural religions thus confronted one another in madinah. the delegation entered with the prophet into public debate and these were soon joined by the jews, thus resulting in a tripartite dialogue between judaism, christianity and islam. the jews were obstinately denying the prophethood of jesus as well as of muhammad, as we have seen earlier, and pretending that ezra was the son of god. the christians were defending trinitarianism and the divinity of jesus. muhammad was calling men to recognize the unity of god and the spiritual unity of mankind. most jews and christians asked muhammad which prophets he believed in. he answered: "we believe in god, in what has been revealed to us, to ibrahim, isma'il, ishaq, ya'qub, and his children. we believe in what has been revealed to moses, to jesus, as well as in all the revelations which the prophets have received from their lord. we do not differentiate between them. and we have submitted ourselves to god."[qur'an, 2:136]. muhammad criticized both jews and christians in very strong terms for their compromise of the monotheistic faith that god is one, for tampering with the words of god in their scriptures, and for interpreting them in ways violating the understanding of the prophets whose prophethood they themselves acknowledged. he criticized them for asserting that the revelation of jesus, moses, and their predecessors in prophethood differed in many essential matters from his own revelation. in support of this, muhammad argued that what those prophets had received from god was the same eternal truth as that revealed to him. being the truth, its light shines forth clear and distinct, and its content is majestic and simple to any researcher submitting to none but god and to anyone capable of seeing the world as a connected and integrated unity rather than as ephemeral intimations of desire, passion, and ulterior motives. being the truth, it must be readily recognized by the man liberated from blind submission to old wives' tales or to the sanctified legends of the fathers and ancestors. by nature, such truth must be open and possible for everyone to perceive.
congress on the three religions
this was a truly great congress which the city of yathrib had witnessed. in it, the three religions which today dominate the world and determine its destiny had met, and they did so for the greatest idea and the noblest purpose. it had neither political nor economic aims, but stood beyond the materialistic objectives which our present world is anxiously, yet so vainly trying to realize. the objective of the congress was purely spiritual. whereas in the case of christianity and judaism the spiritual objective was backed or motivated by political, capitalistic, and worldly ambitions, muhammad's spiritual purpose was pure and advocated for the sake of humanity as a whole. it was god that gave this purpose of muhammad's its form, and this same form was proclaimed not only to the jews but to the christians and all mankind. muhammad was commanded to address the delegates of both faiths,
"say, `o people of the book, come now to a fair principle common to both of us, that we do not worship aught but god, that we do not associate aught with him and that we do not take one another as lords besides god.' but if they turn away, then say, `bear witness that we are muslims.”[qur'an, 3:64]
withdrawal of the christian delegation
what can jews, christians, or any other people say of this call to worship none but god, to associate none with him and never to take one another as lords besides god? the spirit which is sincere and truthful, which is endowed with reason and candid emotion cannot but believe in this call and in it alone. but human life is not entirely dominated by such noble dispositions. there is yet the materialistic consideration. man is indeed weak; and it is this inclination to material gain which causes him to subject himself to the dominion of another man for material advantage. man suffers terribly from false pride, his considerateness, self-respect and reason are destroyed thereby. it was this materialistic ambition for wealth, worldly prestige and social eminence that caused abu harithah, the most learned of the people of najran, to tell a friend of his that he was perfectly convinced of the truth of which muhammad was teaching. when that friend asked him why he did not then convert to islam, he answered: "i cannot do so on account of what my people have done to me. they have honored, financed, and respected me; and they insist on differing from him. should i follow him, they would take away from me all this that i now have."
it was to this message that muhammad summoned jews and christians alike. muslim relationships with the former were already under the governance of the covenant of madinah. those of the latter depended upon the christians' response to muhammad's invitation. though they did not join islam at this time, the christians resolved neither to oppose muhammad nor the missionary activity of his followers. appreciating the perfect justice of muhammad's new order, they asked him to appoint for them a muslim to act as judge in their own disputes at home. muhammad sent with them abu `ubaydah ibn al jarrah, who was vested with the proper judicial authority.