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Surah Al-Buruj mentions ditches of fire in which believers of Allah T'ala were thrown in due to their beliefs. Several stories have been mentioned by the scholars in this regard. Below is one such real tale.

The best known event of ditches of fires for the believers perhaps relates to Najran, as related by Ibn Hisham, Tabari, Ibn Khaldun, the author of Mujam al-Buldan and other Muslim historians. The story goes as follows:

Tuban Asad Abu Karib, king of Himyar (Yaman), went to Yathrib once where he embraced Judaism under the influence of the Jews, and brought two of the Jewish scholars of Bani Quraizah with him to Yaman. There he propagated Judaism widely. His son Dhu-Nuwas succeeded him. Dhu-Nuwas attacked Najran which was a stronghold of the Christians in southern Arabia so as to eliminate Christianity and make the people accept Judaism. (Ibn Hisham says that these people were true followers of the Gospel of the Prophet Jesus.) In Najran, Dhu-Nuwas ordered people to accept Judaism but they refused to obey. Thereupon he caused a large number of people to be burnt in the ditches of fire and slew many others with the sword until he had killed nearly twenty thousand of them.

 

Daus Dhu Thalaban, an inhabitant of Najran escaped and, according to one tradition, went to the Byzantine Emperor, but according to another tradition, he went to the Negus king of Abyssinia, and told him what had happened. According to the first tradition, the emperor wrote to the king of Abyssinia, and according to the second, the Negus requested the emperor to provide him with a naval force. In any case, an Abyssinian army consisting of seventy thousand soldiers under a general called Aryat attacked Yaman. Dhu-Nuwas was killed and the Jewish rule came to an end, and Yaman became a part of the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia.

The statements of the Muslim historians are not only confirmed by other historical means but they also give many more details. Yaman first came under the Christian Abyssinian domination in 340 A.D. and continued till 378 A.D. The Christian missionaries started entering Yaman in that period. About the same time, a man named Faymiyun (Phemion), who was a righteous, earnest, ascetic man and possessed miraculous powers, arrived in Yaman and by his preaching against idol-worship converted the people of Najran to Christianity. These people were ruled by three chiefs:

Sayyid, who was the principal chief like the tribal elders and was responsible for external affairs, political agreements and command of the forces,

'Aqib, who looked after the internal affairs, and

Usquf (Bishop), the religous guide.

In southern Arabia, Najran commanded great importance, being a major trade and industrial center with tussore, leather and armament industries. The well-known Yamanite wrapper and cloak (hulls Yamani) was also manufactured there. On this very basis, Dhu-Nuwas attacked this important place for not only religious but also political and economic reasons. He put to death Harithah (called Arethas by the Syrian historians), Sayyid of Najrain, killed his two daughters in front of his wife Romah and compelled her to drink their blood and then even put her to death. He took out the bones of Bishop Paul from the grave and burned them, and ordered women, men, children, aged people, priests and monks, all to be thrown into the pits of fire. The total number of people thus killed has been estimated between twenty and forty thousand. This happened in October, 523 A.D. At last, in 525 A.D. the Abyssinians attacked Yaman and put an end to Dhu-Nuwas and his Himyarite kingdom. This is confirmed by the Hisn Ghurab inscription which the modern archaeologists have unearthed in Yaman.

In several Christian writings of the 6th century A.D., details of the event relating to the people of the ditch have been given, some of which are contemporary and reported from eye-witnesses. Authors of three of these books were contemporaries with the event. They were Procopeus, Cosmos Indicopleustis, who was translating Greek book of Ptolemy under command of the Negus Elesboan at that time and resided at Adolis, a city on the sea-coast of Abyssinia, and Johannes Malala from whom several of the later historians have related this event. After this, Johannes of Ephesus (d. 585 A.D) has related the story of the persecution of the Christians of Najran in his history of the Church from a letter of Bishop Mar Simeon who was a contemporary reporter of this event. Mar Simeon wrote this letter to Abbot von Gabula; in it Simeon has reported this event with reference to the statements of the Yamanite eye-witnesses present on the occasion. This letter was published in 1881 A.D from Rome and in 1890 A.D. In the memoirs of the martyrs of Christianity, Jacobian Patriarch Dionysius and Zacharia of Mitylene have in their Syriac histories also related this event. Ya`qub Saruji also in his book about the Christians of Najran has made mention of it. Bishop Pulus of Edessa's elegy on those who perished in Najran, is still extant. An English translation of the Syriac kitab al-Himyarin (Book of the Himyarites) was published in 1924 from London, which confirms the statements of the Muslim historians. In the British Museum there are some Abyssinian manuscripts relating to that period or a period close to it, which support this story. Philby in his travelogue entitled "Arabian Highlands", writes: Among the people of Najran the place is still well known where the event of the people of the ditch (ashab al-ukhdud) had taken place. Close by Umm Kharaq there can still be seen some pictures carved in the rocks, and the present day people of Najran also know the place where the cathedral of Najran stood.

The Abyssinian Christians after capturing Najran had built a church there resembling the Ka`bah, by which they wanted to divert pilgrimage from the Ka`bah at Makkah to it. Its priests and keepers wore turbans and regarded it as a sacred sanctuary. The Roman empire also sent monetary aid for this "ka`bah". The priests of this very "Ka`bah" of Najran had visited the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings) under the leadership of their Sayyid, `Aqib and Bishop for a discussion with him and the famous event of the mubahala (trial through prayer) took place as referred to in Surah Al-Imran of the Glorious Quran. (Tafheemul Quran)

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