A district between Yaman and Najd, inhabited by a Christian tribe, whose endurance and constancy in their Christian belief are the subject of the following verses in the Qur’an. Surah lxxxv. 4-11. (The verses are said to have been revealed at an early date, and indicated Muhammad’s kind feeling towards the Christians): –
“Cursed be the diggers of the pit,
Of the fuel-fed fire,
When they sat around it.
Witness of what they inflicted on the believers!
Nor did they torment them but for their faith in God, the Mighty the Praiseworthy;
His the kingdom of the Heavens and of the Earth; and God is the witness of everything.
Verily, those who vexed the believers men and women, and repented not, doth the torment of Hell, and the torment of the burning, await.
But for those who shall have believed and done the things that be right, are the Gardens beneath whose shades the rivers flow. This is the immense bliss!”
Sir William Muir gives the following account of the persecution:
“Dzu Nowas was a votary of Judaism, which he is said to have embraced on a visit to Medina. This creed he supported with an intolerant and proselytizing adherence, which at last proved fatal to his kingdom. His bigotry was aroused by the prevalence and success of Christianity in the neighboring province of Najran; and he invaded it with a large army. The Christians offered a strenuous resistence, but yielded at length to the treacherous promise that no ill would be done to them. They were offered the choice of Judaism or death, and those who remained constant to the faith of Jesus were cruelly massacred. Deep trenches were dug and filled with combustible materials; the pile was lighted, and the Christian martyrs cast headlong into the flame. The number thus miserably burned, or slain by the sword, is stated at no less than twenty thousand.”
“However much the account of this melancholy carnage may have been exaggerated, there can be no doubt of the cruel and bloody character of the tyrant’s administration in Najran.”
“News of the proceedings reached the Emperor Justin I, through his ambassador at Hira, to which court Dzu Nowas had exultingly communicated tidings of his triumph. One of the intended victims, Dous dzu Tholaban, also escaped to Constantinople, and holding up a half-burnt gospel, invoked, in the name of outraged Christendom, retribution upon the oppressor. The Emperor was moved, and indited a despatch to the Najashi, or Prince of the Abyssinians, desiring him to take vengeance upon the barbarous Nimyarite. Immediately an armament was set on foot, and in a short time seventy thousand warriors embarked in thirteen hundred merchant ships or transports, crossed the narrow gulph which separates Yemen from Adulis. Dzu Nowas was defeated. In despair, he urged his horse into the sea, and expiated in the waves the inhumanities of his career. The Abyssinian victory occurred in 525 A.D.” (Life of Mahomet, 1st ed., Intro., p. clxii.)
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam