Judaism and Christianity in Yaman

this civilization founded upon agricultural prosperity and settled life, brought upon yaman great misfortune, unlike the desert whose barrenness was for it a sort of protector. sovereigns in their own land, banu himyar ruled yaman generation after generation. one of their kings, dhu nuwas, disliked the paganism of his people and inclined toward the mosaic religion. in time, he was converted to this faith by the jews who had migrated to yaman. historians agree that it was to this himyari king that the qur'an referred in the "story of the trench," reported in the following verses

"cursed be the fellows of the trench who fed the fire with fury, sat by it and witnessed the burning of the believers whom they threw therein. they executed the believers only because the latter believed in god, the almighty, the praiseworthy." [qur'an, 85:5-9]

the story is that of a pious christian, qaymiyun by name, who emigrated from byzantium, settled in najran, and converted the people of that city by his piety, virtue, and good example. when the news of the increasing converts and widening influence of christianity reached dhu nuwas, he went to najran and solemnly warned its people that they must either convert to judaism or be killed. upon their refusal to apostasize, the king dug a wide trench, set it on fire, and threw them in. whoever escaped from the fire was killed by the sword. according to the biographies, twenty thousand of them perished in this manner. some nonetheless escaped, sought the byzantine emperor justinian and asked for his help against dhu nuwas. byzantium was too far from yaman to send any effective assistance. its emperor therefore wrote to the negus of abyssinia to avenge the christians of yaman. at the time-the sixth century c.e.-abyssinia was at the height of its power, commanding a wide sea trade protected by a strong maritime fleet and imposing its influence upon the neighboring countries [this fact is confirmed by most historians in a number of works of history and reference. it is confirmed by the encyclopedia britannica and the historian's history of the world. in his book, the life of muhammad, dermenghem accepts it as true. al tabari reports from hisham ibn muhammad that when the yamani christians solicited the negus's assistance against dhu nuwas, informed him of what the jewish king did to the christians and showed him a partially burnt evangel, the negus said: "my men are many but i have no ships. i shall write to the byzantine emperor to send me ships with which to carry the men over to yaman." the negus wrote to the byzantine emperor and sent him the partially burned evangel. the emperor responded by sending many ships. al tabari adds: "hisham ibn muhammad claims that when the ships arrived, the negus sent his army therein and landed them on the shores of mandib" (a1 tabari, ibn jarir, tarikh al rusul wa al muluk, cairo: a1 matba'ah al husayniyyah, vol, ii, pp. 106, 108).]. the abyssinian kingdom was the ally of the byzantine empire and the protagonist of christianity on the red sea just as the byzantine empire was its protagonist on the mediterranean. when the negus received the message of the byzantine emperor, he sent with the yamani, who carried the emperor's message to him, an abyssinian army under the command of aryat? one of the officers of this expeditionary force was abraha al ashram [literally, "the man with the cut lip."]. aryat conquered yaman and ruled it in the name of the negus of abyssinia. later on he was killed and succeeded by abraha, "the general with the elephant," who sought to conquer makkah and destroy the ka'bah but failed, as we shall see in the next chapter. [some historians give a different explanation of the conquest of yaman by abyssinia. they claim that trade moved along connected links between abyssinia, yaman, and hijaz; that abyssinia then had a large commercial fleet operating on the shores of the red sea. the byzantines were anxious to conquer yaman in order to reap some of its produce and wealth. anxious to conquer yaman for byzantium, aelius gallus, governor of egypt, equipped and prepared the army on the shore of the red sea, sent it to yaman, and occupied najran. the yamanis put up a stiff resistance and were helped by the epidemic which ravaged the expeditionary force and compelled a withdrawal to egypt. a number of other attempts to conquer yaman were made by the byzantines, but none of them succeeded. it was this long history of conflict which opened the eyes of the negus and prompted him to avenge his fellow christians against the yamani jews; it also explains why he prepared the army of aryat, sent it to conquer yaman (525 c.e.). -tr. the abyssinians ruled the country until the persians forced them out of the peninsula.]

the successors of abraha ruled yaman tyrannically. seeking relief from the yoke the himyari sayf ibn dhu yazan approached the byzantine emperor complaining against the abyssinians and pleading for a byzantine governor to be sent to establish justice. he was turned down because of the alliance between byzantium and abyssinia. disappointed, he stopped on his way back at the court of nu'man ibn al mundhir, viceroy of chosroes for al hirah and surrounding lands of `iraq.

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