It was narrated on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas who learned the tradition personally from Abu Sufyan. The latter said:
I went out (on a mercantile venture) during the period (of truce) between me and the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him). While I was in Syria, the letter of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) was handed over to Hiraql (Caesar), the Emperor of Rome (who was on a visit to Jerusalem at that time). The letter was brought by Dihya Kalbi who delivered it to the governor of Basra, and the governor passed it on to Caesar.
(On receiving the letter) Caesar held a grand court. He donned a Crown and sat on his throne and said: 'Is there anyone from the people of this man who thinks that he is a prophet?' People said: 'Yes.'
So I was called along with a few others from the Quraysh. We were admitted to Caesar and he seated us before him. He asked: 'Which of you has the closest kinship with the man who thinks that he is a prophet?' Abu Sufyan said: 'I.' So they seated me in front of him and seated my companions behind me. Then he called his interpreter and said to him: 'Tell them that I am going to ask this fellow (i.e. Abu Sufyan) about the man who thinks that he is a prophet. If he tells me a lie, then refute him.' Abu Sufyan told (the narrator): 'By God, had there not been the fear that falsehood would be imputed to me, I would have lied.'
(Then) Caesar said to his
interpreter: 'Inquire from him about his ancestry.'
I said: 'He is of good ancestry among us.'
He asked: 'Has there been
a king among his ancestors?'
I said: 'No.'
He asked: 'Did you accuse
him of falsehood before he proclaimed his prophethood?'
I said: 'No.'
He asked: 'Who are his
followers - people of high status or low status?'
I said: '(They are) of low status.'
He asked: 'Are they increasing
in number or decreasing?'
I said: 'No, they are rather increasing.'
He asked: 'Does anyone
give up his religion, being dissatisfied with it, after having embraced it?'
I said: 'No.'
He asked: 'Have you been
at war with him?'
I said: 'Yes.'
He asked: 'How did you
fare in that war?'
I said: 'The war between us and him has been wavering like a bucket, up at one turn and down at the other (i.e. the victory has been shared between us and him by turns).'
He asked: 'Has he (ever)
violated his covenant?'
I said: 'No.'
He asked: 'Did anyone make
the proclamation (of prophethood) before him?'
I said 'No.'
He now said to his interpreter: 'Tell him - I asked him about his ancestry and he replied that he had the best ancestry. This is the case with prophets; they are the descendants of the noblest among their people.'
(Addressing Abu Sufyan,) he continued:
'I asked you if there had been a king among his ancestors. You said that there had been none. If there had been a king among his ancestors, I would have said that he was a man demanding his ancestral kingdom.'
'I asked you about his followers, whether they were people of high or low status, and you said that they were of rather low status. Such are the followers of the prophets.'
'I asked you whether you used to accuse him of falsehood before he proclaimed his prophethood, and you said that you did not. So I have understood that when he did not allow himself to tell a lie about the people, he would never go to the length of forging a falsehood about Allah.'
'I asked you whether anyone renounced his religion being dissatisfied with it after he had embraced it, and you replied in the negative. Faith is like this when it enters the depths of the heart (it perpetuates them).'
'I asked you whether his followers were increasing or decreasing. You said they were increasing. Faith is like this until it reaches its consummation.'
'I asked you whether you had been at war with him, and you replied that you had been and that the victory between you and him had been shared by turns, sometimes he suffering loss at your hand and sometimes you suffering loss at his. This is how the prophets are tried before the final victory is theirs.'
'I asked you whether he (ever) violated his covenant, and you said that he did not. This is how the prophets behave. They never violate (their covenants).'
'I asked you whether anyone before him had proclaimed the same thing, and you replied in the negative. I said: If anyone had made the same proclamation before, I would have thought that he was a man following what had been proclaimed before.'
(Then) he asked: 'What does he enjoin upon you?' I said: 'He exhorts us to offer Salat, to pay Zakat, to show due regard to kinship, and to practice chastity.'
He said: 'If what you have told about him is true, he is certainly a prophet. I knew that he was to appear, but I did not think that he would be from among you. If I knew that I would be able to reach him, I would love to meet him; and if I had been with him, I would have washed his feet (out of reverence). His dominion will certainly extend to this place which is under my feet.'
Then he called for the letter of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) and read it. The letter ran as follows:
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious and Most Merciful
From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, to Hiraql, the Emperor of the Romans.
Peace be on him, who follows the right path.
After this, I invite you to the fold of Islam. Therefore, if you desire security, accept Islam. If you accept Islam, Allah shall reward you double and if you refuse to do so, the responsibility for the transgression of the entire nation, shall be yours.
O people of the Book, come to the word that is common between us, that we should worship none other than Allah, should not ascribe any partner to Him, and that none of us should take their fellows as Lords other than Allah.
If you deny this, you must know that we believe in Oneness of Allah, in all circumstances.
Seal: Allah's Prophet Muhammad
The dialogue of Caesar, with Abu Sufyan, highly enraged the courtiers. The Caesar, therefore, sent away the Arabs from the court. The love of crown and throne and the opposition of the courtiers, however, did not allow Caesar to accept Islam. But his searching questions and his talk clearly show that he was convinced of the truthfulness of Islam, as he had correctly judged that a person who never in his life, uttered even a trifling lie, could hardly say anything wrong about Allah. He was also certain that worldly riches, splendor, and ascendancy were not the aims and objects of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.), but the communication of the message of Islam to the entire world, was his mission.
When Caesar was about to return to Constantinople, he again advised his courtiers to follow the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) as he was the one, they were awaiting. He further mentioned that their books contained the description of the Holy Prophet, Muhammad (S.A.W.), and these clearly and unequivocally indicate that he was the true Prophet of Allah. It was, therefore, in their own interest to follow the guidance given by the Holy Prophet (S. A. W.).
However, the courtiers, said that it would mean their acceptance of the lordship of the Arabs, although their's was the biggest kingdom of the world and their nation the greatest nation of the world. Caesar, thereon, said that although they were not prepared to accept Islam then very shortly they would be overpowered by the Arabs. He was much displeased by the arrogant attitude of the courtiers and immediately left Syria. While departing, he looked at the Syrian territory and said that he was leaving Syria for ever. And it was true, he never returned to Syria.
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