According to Arabic sources, Aṣḥama ibn Abjar was Emperor or al-Najashi (Arabic: النجاشي al-Najāshī) of Aksum at the time of Muhammad, and gave refuge to several Muslims in the Kingdom of Aksum. The term "al-Najashi" has the variant al-Negashi; it corresponds to the ancient Aksumite title Negus, with the variant Negash. The name "Ashama" seems to correspond to the original Ge'ez name Ella-Seham, variant Sahama. This is an Aksumite king known from coinage. According to other authors, Ashama may have been the same person as king Armah, or his father or son. Taddesse Tamrat records that the inhabitants of Wiqro, where he is known as Ashamat al-Negashi claim his tomb is located in their village.
Due to persecution from the current Arab leadership in Mecca, a number of Muslims emigrated to Axum. In response, the Arab leaders sent Amr ibn al-Aas to bring them back. Amr was a friend of Sahama, and at the same time also had good relations with Abu Sufyan, the then leader of Quraish.
Sahama did not act in a hurry but showed patience and demanded the holy scripture of Muslims to be read. At this, Ja`far ibn Abi Talib recited some verses from the Quran from the chapter of Maryam (Mary). According to Ibn Hisham, al-Najashi and the Ethiopian Orthodox priests in his court were greatly affected by the touching verses that they began to shed tears. And so, Sahama firmly denied Amr's request to be handed the Muslim refugees. The very next day, Amr tried to play a trick, in order to sow dissension between Sahama and the Muslim refugees. Amr was greatly distressed, and promised Ja`far and other Muslims that he's going to cause a great schism between them and King Sahama. Amr arrived the next day at the court of Sahama, and demanded in his presence that the Muslims make known their creed about Jesus. This was a difficult situation because Jesus is not considered as the son of God in the Qur'an, which was expected to greatly enrage a devout Christian like Emperor Sahama. To this, he explained that Jesus is considered in Islam to be a messenger of God, the word of God, and the miraculously born son of the Virgin Mary. In reply to this statement, King Sahama made a line on the sand with his mace and said, "By God, Jesus is not more than what you have described him. By God, I will never give you up to anyone." He then declared that Muslims could live in Axum for as long as they wished for. According to Muslim tradition, it is during this situation that King Sahama converted to Islam.
In a letter from Muhammad to Negus, king of Axum, Muhammad invites Negus and his men to follow his message and believe in Allah. When this letter was presented to Negus, he took the parchment and placed it on his eye, descended to the floor, confessed his faith in Islam. He then responded to Muhammad acknowledging him as the Messenger of Allâh and surrendering himself "through him to the Lord of the worlds."
Islamic scholar al-Nawawi wrote in his "Commentary on Sahih Muslim" that Imam Shafi`i and those who agree to his doctrine in fiqh see in this hadith a proof for praying in absence over a dead Muslim. There is in the hadith an evident miracle of the Prophet's due to his proclamation of the Negus's death on the same day that the latter died in Axum. There is also in the hadith the desirability of proclaiming the death of someone, but not in the pre-Islamic fashion which means to glorify and so forth.
Muhammad had asked the Negus to send Ja‘far and his companions, the emigrants to Axum, back home. They came back to see Muhammad in Khaibar. Negus later died in Rajab 9, A.H. shortly after the Ghazwa of Tabuk. Muhammad announced his death and observed prayer in absentia for him.
- See the article on Ellä Säham by Gianfranco Fiaccadori in the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 2, Wiesbaden 2005
- Sergew Hable Sellassie. Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History to 1270 (Addis Ababa: United Printers, 1972), p. 185.
- Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia (1270 - 1527) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 34.
- "The history of Islam", by Nomani.
- Ibn al-Qayyim - Zad al-Ma'ad 3/60.
- Ibn al-Qayyim - Zad al-Ma'ad 3/61
- Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim (al-Mays ed.) 7/8:25-28.
- Islam's History in Ethiopia
- Interfaith Dialog Site Inspired by al-Najashi
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- Video Excerpt from The Message
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