Heraclius

Posted on 04/03/2012 by marina

HERACLIUS Arabic هرقل
The Roman Emperor to whom Muhammad sent an embassy with a letter inviting him to Islam, A.H. 7 A.D. 628.
“In the autumn of this year (A.D. 628), Heraclius fulfilled his vow of thanksgiving for the wonderful success which had crowned his arms (in Persia); he preformed on foot the pilgrimage from Edessa to Jerusalem, where the ‘true cross’, recovered from the Persians, was with solemnity and pomp restored to the Holy Sepulchre. While preparing for this journey, or during the journey itself, an uncouth despatch in the Arabic character was laid before Heraclius. It was forwarded by the Governor of Bostra, into whose hands it had been delivered by an Arab chief. The epistle was addressed to the Emperor himself, from ‘Mahomet the Apostle of God’, the rude impression of whose seal could be deciphered at the foot. In strange and simple accents like those of the Prophets of old, it summoned Heraclius to acknowledge the mission of Mahomet, to cast aside the idolatrous worship of Jesus and his Mother, and to return to the Catholic faith of the one and only God. The letter was probably cast aside, or preserved, it may be, as a strange curiosity, the effusion of some harmless fanatic.” (Muirs Life of Mahomet, new ed. p. 383.)
Tradition, of course, has another story. “Now the Emperor was at this time at Hims, performing a pedestrian journey, in fulfillment of the vow which he had made, that, if the Romans overcame the Persians, he would travel on foot from Constantinople to Aelia (Jerusalem). So having read the letter, he commanded his chief men to meet him in the royal camp at Hims. And thus he addressed them: – ‘Ye chiefs of Rome! Do you desire safety and guidance, so that your kingdom shall be firmly established, and that ye may follow the commands of Jesus, Son of Mary?’ ‘And what, O King! shall secure us this?’ ‘Even that ye follow the Arabian Prophet,’ siad Heraclius. Where-upon they all started aside like wild asses of the desert, each raising his cross and waving it aloft in the air. Whereupon Heraclius despairing of their conversion, and unwilling to lose his kingdom, desisted, saying that he had only wished to test their constancy and faith, and that he was now satisfied by this display of firmness and devotion. The courtiers bowed their heads, and so the Prophet’s despatch was rejected (Katibu ‘l-Waqidi. p 50, quoted by Muir, in a note to the above passage.)
The letter written by Muhammad to Heraclius is, according to a tradition by Ibn ‘Abbas, as follows:-
“In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate. This letter is from Muhammad the Messenger of God, to Heraql, chief of ar-Rum. Peace be upon whosoever has gone on the straight road! After this, I say verily I call thee to Islam. Embrace Islam and God will give thee a double reward. If ye reject Islam, then on thee shall rest the sins of thy subjects and followers. O ye people of the Book (i.e. Christians) come to a creed which is laid down plainly between us and you, that we will not serve other than God, nor associate aught with Him, nor take each other for lords rather than God. But if they turn back, then say, ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims.’” (Qur’an, iii. 57.) (See Sahihu Muslim, p. 98.)
The Shi’ah traditions give the above letter almost verbatim. (See Merrick’s Hayatu ‘l-Qulub, p. 89.)
“Not long after, another despatch, bearing the same seal, and couched in similar terms, reached the court of Heraclius. It was addressed to Harith VII., Prince of the Bani Ghassan, who forwarded it to the Emperor, with an address from himself, soliciting permission to chastise the audacious imposter. But Heraclius regarding the ominous voice from Arabia beneath his notice, forbade the expedition, and desired that Harith should be in attendance at Jerusalem, to swell the imperial train at the approaching visitation of the temple. Little did the Emperor imagine that the kingdom which, unperceived by the world, this obscure Pretender was founding in Arabia, would in a few short years wrest from his grasp that Holy City and the fair provinces which, with so much toil and so much glory, he had just recovered from the Persians!” (Muir’s Life of Mahomet, p. 384.)
(For the Shi’ah account of the embassy to Heraclius, see Merrick’s Hayatu ‘l-Qulub, p. 88.)

Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam