Islam Today: Did Prophet Muhammad’s mubahalah challenge fail?

Qamar Ahmed Zafar, London
muhammad g8ddc9acfe 1920


Mubahalah or prayer-duel, a synonym of mula‘anah, literally means “mutual imprecation, curse” (e.g., “may God’s curse over the one of us who is wrong, who lies”), implies swearing a conditional curse (e.g., “may God’s punishment hit me, may I be cursed if…”) and a purifying oath. (EI, New Ed. (1993), Vol. 7, pp. 276 f.) Thus, a mubahalah is invoked by two parties to call upon God’s curse or judgement to determine who is truthful, as mentioned in the following verse of the Holy Quran:

فَمَنۡ حَآجَّكَ فِيۡهِ مِنۡۢ بَعۡدِ مَا جَآءَكَ مِنَ الۡعِلۡمِ فَقُلۡ تَعَالَوۡا نَدۡعُ اَبۡنَآءَنَا وَاَبۡنَآءَكُمۡ وَنِسَآءَنَا وَنِسَآءَكُمۡ وَاَنۡفُسَنَا وَاَنۡفُسَكُمۡ ۟ ثُمَّ نَبۡتَهِلۡ فَنَجۡعَلۡ لَّعۡنَتَ اللّٰهِ عَلَي الۡكٰذِبِيۡنَ

“Now whoso disputes with thee concerning him, after what has come to thee of knowledge, say [to him], ‘Come, let us call our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and our people and your people; then let us pray fervently and invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie.’” (Surah Aal-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.62)

The term ‘mubahalah’, as mentioned in this article, refers to a historical event that took place during a theological dispute between the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa and a delegation of Christians from the town of Najran. To resolve the dispute, the Prophetsa proposed a mubahalah. The Najranis, who had initially agreed to participate in the mubahalah, had second thoughts after realising the potential consequences. Hence, the mubahalah was avoided altogether, and they were granted a treaty of protection with specific rights and duties as non-Muslims. (EI, New Ed. (1993), Vol. 7, pp. 276 f.)

An allegation

It is alleged by a web video producer hell-bent on misrepresenting Islamic historical sources that this event led to the subsequent demise of the son of the Prophetsa, Ibrahimas, in 10/632-3. This was allegedly followed by the demise of the Prophet Muhammadsa and his daughter Fatimahra only one year later. The web video producer alleges that this is sufficient evidence to invalidate Prophet Muhammad’ssa claim of being a true Messenger of God.

They claim to have cited credible, authoritative, historical records such as Ta’rikh at-Tabari, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Ta’rikh al-Ya‘qubi and Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari. If only they had done this in reality, their conclusion would have been very different. In addition, they seem to have failed to comprehensively review other notable resources such as Tafsir al-Kashshaf, as-Sirah al-Halabiyyah, Mafatih al-Ghayb, Asbab an-Nuzul and al-Kamil fi t-ta’rikh etc.

Throughout the course of this article, we will present the very sources the web video producer has claimed to present in their video. This time, we will present an accurate portrayal and present a conclusion that is far from their misrepresentation.


It is indeed correct that a delegation of Christians from Najran arrived to see the Prophet Muhammadsa in 10/632-3. (EI, New Ed. (1993), Vol. 7, pp. 276 f.)

It is written in Tafsir at-Tabari:

“This [above-mentioned] verse was revealed in relation to a delegation of Christians from Najran who came to Prophet Muhammadsa to debate about Jesusas. After the debate, Allah revealed this verse to the Prophetsa.” (Tafsir at-Tabari, Cairo, 1954, Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.62)

However, it is crucial to understand the circumstances behind why this delegation decided to appear before the Holy Prophetsa in Medina. In reality, the Prophetsa had sent a letter to Abu Harithah ibn Alqamah, the Grand Bishop of Najran, among other leaders, inviting them to Islam or giving them the option to agree on a treaty of protection with specific rights and duties as non-Muslims. (Tafsir-i Kamalayn sharh Urdu Tafsir-i Jalalayn, 2008, Dar al-Isha‘at, Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.61; See also al-Bidayah wa-n-nihayah, Maktaba Al Assrya, Beirut, Lebanon, p. 53; Bihar al-Anwar, Al-A’lami Publications Beirut,  Vol. XXI, p. 285.)

In response to this letter, 60 Christians from Najran, comprising 14 leaders, departed to meet the Holy Prophetsa to offer a formal response to the letter. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Maktabah Quddusiyya, 2006, Surah Aal ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.61)

Among these members, we find three notable individuals who were responsible for swaying public opinion and decision-making among the Najran delegation. They were Abu Harithah ibn Alqamah, the Grand Bishop; al-‘Aqib ‘Abd al-Masih, the leader of the convoy; and as-Sayyid al-Ayham, a highly revered priest who was also the Grand Teacher and many churches were built in his name. In reality, he was in awe of the message of Islam but remained silent as he had been chosen for the delegation. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.61; See also at-Ta’rikh al-Ya‘qubi, Vol. 2, p. 66)

The debate

When this delegation arrived in Medina, they began debating with the Holy Prophetsa about the divinity of Prophet Jesusas. The contents of the debate are slightly varied depending on the sources, but there is no major difference in how the events proceeded. A comprehensive yet concise summary is presented here in as-Sirah l-Halabiyyah:

“The Prophetsa: I invite you to the religion of monotheism and the worship of One Allah and submission to His commands. (Then he recited some verses of the Holy Quran before them.)

“The representatives of Najran: If Islam means faith in the only Lord of the World, we already believe in Him and act according to His commands.

“The Prophetsa: Islam carries a few signs and some of your actions show that you do not believe in Islam. How do you say that you worship One Allah when you worship the cross, do not abstain from pork, and believe that Allah has a son?

“Representatives: We believe him (i.e. Jesusas) to be God because he brought the dead to life, cured the sick, made a bird with clay and made it fly, and all these things show that he is God.

“The Prophetsa: No. He is the servant of Allah and His creation. Allah placed him in the womb of Mary. And all this power and strength was given to him by Allah.

“One of the representatives: Yes! He is the son of God, because Mary gave him birth without marrying anyone, and it is, therefore, necessary that his father be the very Lord of the World.

“At this juncture, the Archangel Gabriel came and advised the Prophetsa to tell them: ‘From this point of view, the condition of Jesusas resembles that of Adamas, who was created by Allah with His unlimited power from clay without his having a father and a mother and if one’s not having a father is the proof of one’s being the son of Allah, Adamas is all the more entitled to this position, because he had neither a father nor a mother.’” (as-Sirah al-Halabiyyah, Dar-ul-Isha’ah Karachi, 2009 ,Vol. 3, p. 239)

The verse revealed regarding the argument of Adamas, in particular, is:

“Surely, the case of Jesus with Allah is like the case of Adam. He created him out of dust, then He said to him, ‘Be!,’ and he was.” (Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.60)

Despite the clear arguments presented by the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa to the Christians of Najran, they did not wish to accept Islam openly, even though some of them were convinced of it in their hearts. All of the cited sources are unanimous that it was at this time that the above-mentioned verse of the mubahalah was revealed.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah, also states that the prayer-duel was a commandment revealed once the Christians failed to accept the clear and manifest arguments that refuted the divinity of Jesusas. He writes:

“Furthermore, these verses indicate that initially, God Almighty clarified to the Christians with clear proofs that there is no divine element in Jesusas, son of Mary, and when they persisted, [the Holy Prophetsa] proposed a mubahalah to settle the matter. These verses also demonstrate that the prescribed method of mubahalah requires both parties to be present. (Majmu‘a-e Ishtiharat [1989], Vol.1, p. 215)

Regarding the discussion between the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa and the Christians of Najran, the dispute is recorded in Asbab an-Nuzul by al-Wahidi to be based upon the following differences:

“On the authority of al-Hasan, who said: “[The delegation of] Najran came to see the Prophetsa and he invited them to surrender to Allah. One of them said: ‘We have surrendered to Allah before you’. He said: ‘You lie! Three things prevent you from surrendering to Allah: your prostration before the cross, your claim that Allah has a son and your consumption of wine’.” (Asbab an-Nuzul, Surah Aal ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.61)

Islam 1

Christian delegation has second thoughts

Hearing this verse of the Holy Quran, the Christians of Najran were awestruck and decided to negotiate amongst themselves. (as-Sirah al-Halabiyyah, Dar-ul-Isha’ah Karachi, 2009, Vol. 3, p. 240)The Najranis, who had been summoned to this and had had second thoughts, are said to have been given a respite for reflection and deliberation. Under the impression of the presumed calamity that was most certainly going to hit their community and native town, and of the increasingly growing certainty that Muhammadsa indeed was the promised Prophet and an authorised messenger of God, they decided to request him to postpone the threatening curse. This allowed them for an intermission for deliberation. (EI, New Ed. (1993), Vol. 7, pp. 276 f.)

Second meeting

The decision was made that the party of Najran would meet with the Holy Prophetsa outside Medina in a desert the next day.  (as-Sirah al-Halabiyyah, Dar-ul-Isha’ah Karachi, 2009,  Vol. 3, p. 240)

Before the meeting occurred, the chiefs of Najran concluded with the following decision:

“In case you see that Muhammad has brought his warriors and officers into the field of mubahalah and has displayed his material grandeur and external strength, you should conclude that his claim is not true and that he has no faith in his prophethood.

“If, however, he comes for mubahalah along with his children and the dearest ones and appears before the Almighty Allah devoid of every sort of material might and glory, it would mean that he is a true Prophet and has so much faith and self-reliance that he is not only ready to be annihilated personally, but is fully prepared with perfect courage to let his dearest ones also meet destruction and extinction.” (Tafsir al-Kashshaf, Vol. 1, pp. 282 f..; Tafsir Mafatih al-Ghayb, Al-Qahirah, 1862,  Vol. 2, pp. 481 – 482; Tarikh-i Kamil, Dar-ul-Hadith, Vol. 2, p. 112)

It is written in Majma‘ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an that indeed, the Christians feared a mubahalah with the Prophet Muhammadsa, especially if he were to turn up with only his family and himself:

“When they returned to their people, the bishop said to them, ‘If tomorrow he is with his family, then do not participate in the mubahalah, for it will not achieve anything.’ When the next day came, the Prophetsa came out holding the hands of Alira, al-Hasanra, and al-Husaynra, with Fatimahra walking behind him, and the Christians came out with their bishop.” (Majma‘ l-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.61)

Ibn Ishaq reports that the leaders of the Najran delegation were convinced of the Prophet Muhammad’ssa prophethood and strongly advised against entering the prayer duel. (Sirat an-Nabi, Vol. 2, p. 422)

When the delegation arrived at the scene, they witnessed that the Prophet Muhammadsa had indeed turned up without an army. Instead, he had brought with him Fatimahra, Alira, al-Hasanra and al-Husaynra. Seeing this, they remembered their previous decision and exclaimed:

“This man has perfect faith in his call and claim, because a wavering person does not bring his dearest ones into the arena of divine wrath.” (Tafsir Kashshaf, Dar-ul-Ma’rifah, 2009, Vol. 1, p. 282)

The Bishop of Najran said, “I see such faces that if they raise their hands in supplication and pray to Allah that the biggest mountain may be moved from its place, the same will happen immediately. We should, under no circumstances, engage in mubahalah with these sacred and virtuous personalities because it is not improbable that we may be annihilated and it is also possible that the divine wrath may expand and engulf the entire Christian world and not even one Christian may remain alive on the face of the earth!” (Tafsir al-Kashshaf, Dar-ul-Ma’rifah, 2009, Vol. 1, pp. 282 f.)

The outcome of the meeting

It is narrated in Tafsir Ibn Kathir that, upon witnessing the arrival of the Prophetsa with this family, the delegation of Najran reverted to conferring amongst themselves. They returned and exclaimed, “We cannot enter into a prayer duel with you. We are on our faith and you are on your faith. However, please select an ambassador from among your people whom you are pleased with, so that he may deal with us regarding our financial matters (i.e., paying the jizya).” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.61)

The representatives of Najran held mutual consultations and unanimously decided not to participate in mubahalah at any cost. They also agreed to pay a fixed sum per year as jizya. The Prophetsa agreed to this and it was agreed that, against the payment of that petty amount, they should be entitled to the privileges granted by the Islamic Government.

Then the Holy Prophetsa said: “Trouble had spread its inauspicious shadow on the heads of the representatives of Najran and if they had decided to participate in mubahalah and cursing, they would have lost their human shapes and would have been burnt in a fire that was being kindled in the desert and the torture would have spread up to the territory of Najran.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.61; Tafsir al-Kashshaf, Dar-ul-Ma’rifah, 2009,  Vol. 1, pp. 282 f.)

It is also written in al-Wahidi’s Asbab an-Nuzul that the Christians decided to pay jizya rather than partake in the mubahalah:

“The Messengersa of Allah went and brought al-Hasanra, al-Husaynra, Fatimahra and all his family and children. When the two Christians left, one of them said to the other: ‘Consent to pay the jizya and do not agree to invoke Allah’s curse’. They went back and said: ‘We agree to pay the jizya and abstain from invoking Allah’s curse.” (Asbab an-Nuzul, Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.6)

It is also mentioned in Tafsir Ibn Kathir that al-‘Aqib ‘Abd al-Masih, the leader of the convoy, instructed the delegation to either accept Islam or pay the tax because he believed that entering into a prayer-duel would bring about their own destruction. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Maktabah Quddusiyya, 2006, Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.61)

It is recorded in Ta’rikh at-Tabari that ‘Alira was commissioned in 10/632-3 to go and collect the tax from the people of Najran:

“He sent al-‘Ala’ ibn al-Hadrami to al-Bahrayn, and ‘Alira ibn Abi Talib to Najran to collect their alms and bring their poll tax to him.” (Ta’rikh at-Tabari, Vol. 9, translated and annotated by Ismail K. Poonawala, p. 108)

It is also written in Tafsir al-Jalalayn:

“The Prophetsa had called upon the Najran delegation to do this when they disputed with him about Jesus. They said, ‘Let us think about it and we will come back to you’. The judicious one among them said, ‘You know that he is a prophet and that every people that has ever challenged a prophet to a mutual imprecation has been destroyed’. They left him and departed. When they went to see the Prophetsa, who had set out with al-Hasanra, al-Husaynra, Fatimahra, and Alira he said to them, the Najran delegation, ‘When I supplicate, you say ‘Amin’’; but they refrained from this mutual imprecation and made peace with the Prophet on the condition that they pay the jizya as reported by Abu Nu‘aym. According to Ibn ‘Abbas, the Prophetsa said, ‘Had they set out and performed the mutual cursing, they would have gone home and found neither possessions nor family’. It is also reported that had they set out with this intention, they would have been consumed by fire.” (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Surah Al ‘Imran, Ch.3: V.61)

Az-Zamakhshari concludes this historical incident by stating:

“The incident of mubahalah and the substance of this verse are the greatest evidence of the excellence of the People of the Mantle and is a vital proof of the rightfulness of Islam.” (Tafsir al-Kashshaf, Dar-ul-Ma’rifah, 2009, Vol. 1, p. 283)

In fact, all of the sources agree on the fact that this prayer-duel never even took place. The Christian delegation of Najran completely backed out and decided to agree to the conditions of the original letter instead. Therefore, any insinuation that the mubahalah happened and that it somehow impacted future proceedings is completely false.

A final question resolved

Some may argue that even though the prayer-duel was not officially accepted by either party, it can still influence the individuals who proposed it. In fact, there are some who allege that one of the conditions of the mubahalah was that the party who lied would see an accursed outcome within one year of the duel. This is used in an attempt to infer that the demise of the Prophet Muhammadsa one year later was a result of this very prayer-duel.

Gordon Nickel alleges, in his book, We Will Make Peace With You: The Christians of Najran in Muqatil’s Tafsir, that the Tafsir of Muqatil cites that the chiefs of Najran said: “Cursing Muhammad would be disastrous and if Muhammad is a true prophet, Allah will destroy the liars by the end of the year.” (Tafsir Muqatil, Vol. 6, p. 282). It is important to mention that this is not a citation found in any of the above historical records.

In any case, this would be partially true, had at least one side even participated in the actual cursing. However, it is clear from the sources stated above that neither party actually conducted any cursing. Had they done so, even without accepting the prayer-duel formally, that would have been a different matter. Factually, this was not the case.

As we know, the Bishop of Najran said: “We should under no circumstances engage in mubahalah with these sacred and virtuous personalities because it is not improbable that we may be annihilated and it is also possible that the Divine wrath may expand and engulf the entire Christian world and not even one Christian may remain alive on the face of the earth!” (Tafsir al-Kashshaf, Dar-ul-Ma’rifah, 2009,  Vol. 1, p. 282)

Equally, the Prophet Muhammadsa testified to the fact that no invocation of God’s curse took place, formally or informally:

“If they had decided to participate in mubahalah and cursing, they would have lost their human shapes and would have been burnt in a fire that was being kindled in the desert and the torture would have spread up to the territory of Najran.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ch.3: V.61. See also Tafsir al-Kashshaf, Dar-ul-Ma’rifah, 2009,  Vol. 1, p. 283)

To supplement this as the final and actual outcome of the “mubahalah”, which did not even happen, the written agreement is cited here as follows:

“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

“This is a deed from Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah, in favour of the people of Najran and its outskirts. The order and decision of Muhammad about the entire property and wealth of the people of Najran is that they will supply to the Islamic Government every year two thousand garments, the price of each of which will not exceed forty dirhams. They will be at liberty to supply half of this quantity in the month of Safar and the remaining half in Rajab.

“And in case there is a danger of war from the side of Yemen, they (the people of Najran) shall, as a mark of co-operation with the Islamic Government, place thirty coats of mail, thirty horses and thirty camels at the disposal of the army of Islam by way of a guaranteed loan, and they shall also be responsible for entertaining the representatives of the Prophet in the territory of Najran for a period of one month.

“Furthermore, as and when a representative of it comes to them, they shall receive him. And the lives, property, lands, and places of worship of the people of Najran shall be under the protection of Allah and His Prophet, provided that they will immediately give up usury, failing which Muhammad will not be responsible for them and no commitment made by him will be operative.” (Futuh-ul-Buldan, al-Baladhuri, p. 76)


If any doubt remains in the mind of any individual, then we shall once again present below the simple criterion and definition of a mubahalah. If these criteria are not fulfilled, then no future outcomes can be attributed to such a mubahalah; otherwise, this could be excused and manipulated by anyone.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah, says:

“The definition of mubahalah according to Arabic lexicon and Islamic legal terminology is that two opposing parties beseech for chastisement and the wrath of God upon one another.” (Arba‘in, Ruhani Khazain, V. 17, p. 77, footnote) 

It is clear that none of the involved parties prayed for the punishment of the other party.

The mubahalah that the opponents of Islam have used as a causation for the demise of the Prophetsa and his family never even happened. The Christians of Najran were able to maintain a relationship after this event and Islam spread far and wide beyond the borders of Arabia, rejecting the notion that any kind of curse had been placed on Islam.

Conclusive evidence has now been presented, highlighting the fact that the Prophet Muhammadsa did not die an accursed death, God forbid. However, it may be considered ironic that the trinitarian “Christians”, who have raised this allegation, hold the blasphemous and erroneous belief that their “god”, died an accursed death on the cross. (“Anyone who is hanged is a curse of God.” —Deuteronomy 21:23)

Of course, as Muslims, we place Jesus, may peace be upon him, far above dying an accursed death on the cross. He was a pious prophet and a humble servant of Allah the Exalted. The Holy Quran states, “They slew him not, nor crucified him.” (Surah an-Nisa’, Ch.4, V.158)

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