Mubahala (Arabic: مباهلة) is derived from its Arabic root 'Bahlah' meaning 'curse', so the term 'Mubahala' literally means cursing each other. In Islamic tradition it refers to the ancient ceremony of mutually and formally calling God's curse down upon whichever of the two parties was not speaking truthfully on the occasion in Medina when the question as to the true identity of Messiah was put.[a] Mubahala is a Qur'anic evocation of the occasion of a Muslim / Christian encounter during Muhammad's lifetime. In this occasion Muhammad is instructed by quran to issues a challenge to the visiting Christians of Najran. It is an instance of Qur'an's critique of a central Christian doctrine, the doctrine of the Incarnation. This event of Mubahala might serve as a Qur'anic icon for the character of the Christian / Muslim dialogue which took place within the world of Islam after the Islamic conquest and after Christians in the occupied territories adopted the Arabic language. In this milieu Muslims challenged and critiqued major point of Christian faith, and Christians responded in defense of their defining doctrine and practice.
The Quran and Dialogue
The Quran envisions a continuous dialogue between Muslims and Christians, and while dialogue, understood as simply conversation between two or more partners is not always agreeable or friendly, it is nevertheless communication. Indeed, the Quran presume the priority of Torah and the Gospel and insists that in reference to the earlier divine revelations it is itself "a corroborating scripture in the Arabic language to warn wrong doers and announce good news to the who do well".[b] In the Quran God then advises the Muslims, "If you are in doubt about what We have sent down to you, ask those who were reading scripture before you."[c] Further, the Quran assumes that the dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims will sometimes even take the form of arguments about religion, for one passage says, "Do not dispute with the people of the book save in the fairest way;[d] Except for those who are evil doers. And say: "We believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent to you. Our God and your God are one and to Him we are submissive."[e] In this context of dispute between Jews, Christians, and Muslims the Quran foresees that the disputants will want to put forward proof-texts from the scriptures in support of their contentions. In this connection the Quran has advice for the Muslims: "They say: "None will enter Paradise except those who are Jews and Christians', such are their vain wishes. Say: 'Bring forth your proof if you are truthful." [f] Here the proof envisioned is precisely proof from scripture. These and similar passages are the text that corroborate the presumption that Quran envisions a continues inter-religious conversation between the Muslims and the Scripture people.
Verse of Mubahala
In the ninth year of Hijra the Prophet of Islam wrote a letter to Abdul Haris Ibn Alqama, the Grand Bishop of Najran who was the official representative of the Roman Church in the Hijaz, and invited the people of that area to embrace Islam.[g]
In response to that letter the Christians sent a representative deputation to Muhammad. There is one Qur'anic narrative in particular in which the occasion of revelation of a passage, according to Islamic tradition, was the visit of Najran to Muhammad in Medina.[h] On that occasion the discussion between them had turned to the subject of Jesus, the Messiah, and the question of what is the truth concerning him. Muhammad preached to them and requested them to accept Islam. The Christians, however, remained obstinate and refused to be convinced. Their argument was that Jesus was born without a father, so he was the son of God. Thereafter, according to the traditional account on this occasion the following verses came down to Muhammad.
Surely the likeness of Jesus is with Allah as the likeness of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him 'Be', and he was. (This is) the truth from your Lord, so be not of the disputers.[i]
Muhammad recited the verses to them, and after lengthy discussions which have been presented in details in Ibn Hisham's Sirah,[j] no agreement was reached on the position and standing of Jesus. At the end of the discussions, Muhammad was instructed to suggest that the two sides engage in Mubahala:
O Messenger! If they dispute with you in this matter after the knowledge has come to you, then, say, 'Come, let us call our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and ourselevs and yourselves. Then let us earnestly invoke and lay the malison (curse) of Allah on those who lie.[k]
It is interesting to note in this connection that while the Quran invokes malediction and curse, it nevertheless also on the face of it, once the adversaries would have stacked their lives and those of their loved ones of their own steadfastness in faith, leaves the judgment between the two parties in this matter in the hand of God.
Incident of Mubahala
The verse of Mubahala was Muhammad's call for Mubahala. The Christians returned to the place they were staying. Their leader al-Sayyid, al-'Aqib advised them saying: “If he challenges us with his people, we accept the challenge for he is not a Prophet; but if he challenges us with his family in particular we don't challenge him, for he is not going to put forward his family unless he is truthful”. It was on the morning of 24th Zilhajj that Muhammad emerged at the appointed time. He brought only select members of his family, carrying Husayn in his arm with Hasan holding his hand, followed by Fatima and Ali and said this is my family and covered himself and his family with a cloak.[l]
He offered to do the Arabic tradition Mubahala, where each conflicting party should cover themselves, and together all parties ask God sincerely to destroy and inflict with curses on the lying party and their families.[m] The Christians consulted each other and Abdul Haris lbne Alqama, the greatest scholar among them, talked them out of doing Mubahala.[n] When the Christians refrained from Mubahala, Muhammad put before them two alternatives: either to embrace Islam or to pay Jizya, a levy on free non-Muslims under Muslim rule. The Christians continued, asking Muhammad to send with them a trustworthy man to aid them in judging monetary disputes amongst themselves. Muhammad agrees and appoints 'Abu 'Ubaydah bin Al-Jarah out of a large group of willing and hopeful contenders.
Family of Muhammad Present at Mubahala and the Quranic Text
Mubahala provided an opportunity for Mohammad to introduce the Ahl al-Bayt (People of the House) who were also given the title Ahl al-Kisa (People of the Mantle) afterward. Shiite believe this authentic hadith proves whom the Quran is referring to when it mentions the Ahl al-Bayt which includes only Ali, Fatimah, and their descendants. For, in the day of Mubahala, In place of our sons mentioned in the verse of Mubahala, Mohammad took with him his grandsons, Hasan and Husayn. In place our women, he took his daughter, Fatima, wife of Ali and mother of Hasan and Husayn. In place of ourselves, he took his cousin and son-in-law, Ali. This event causes some scholars to conclude the power and superiority of Ali especially when it comes to his right of Imamah and immediate successorship following Muhammad. It is mentioned in Tabatabai's Tafsir al-Mizan that al-Ma'mun had asked Ali al-Ridha several questions, one of which was as follows:
- "The verse of our selves"; The Imam replied.
- "If there were not our women"; al-Ma'mun said
- "If there were not our sons"; the Imam said.
Tabatabai says: The Imam argued on the strength of the word, ourselves. He meant that God had made Ali like the person of the Prophet. (And who could have more right to succeed the Prophet than his own person?). al-Ma'mun said: "If there were not our women." He wanted to say that the reference to "women" indicates that the word "ourselves" means "our men", and as such it would not show any excellence. The Imam replied: "If there were not our sons." That is, if "ourselves" referred to the men, then why should the sons be mentioned separately? They would have been included in "our men".
- See Louis Massignon, La Mubahala de Medine et I'hyperdulie de Fatima, in Louis Massignon, parole donnee (paris: Editions du Seuil, 1983), 147-67
- Quran, 46:12
- Quran, 10:94
- For useful discussion of this Quran passage, see Jane Dammen McAuliffe, "Debate with them in the better way": The Construction of a Qur'anic Commonplace." In Aspects of Literary Hermeneutics in Arabic Culture: Myths, Historical Archetypes and Symbolic Figures in Arabic Literature. Beiruter Texte und Studien, edited by A. Neuwirth, S. Gunther, M. Jarrar, 163-188. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1999.
- Quran, 29:46
- Quran, 2:111
- The text of the said letter runs as follow: "In the name the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … I invite you all to worship God instead of worshiping His creatures, so that you may come out of the guardianship of the creatures of Allah and take place under the guardianship of Allah Himself…"
- On the Christians of Najran, see Rene Tardy, Najran: Chretiens d'Arabic avant l'Islam, Dar el-Machreq,1999
- Quran, 3:59,60
- As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah, an edited (though not copied) version of Ibn Ishaq's original work. It is now considered one of the classic works on the biography of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
- Quran, 3:61
- It was uncommon for Mubahala to include families of the parties involved but when included, the family causes the process to become more effective.
- Ibn al-Qayyim says: "It is part of Sunnah when arguing with people of falsehood—when they insist on falsehood regardless of arguments and proofs—to call them to Mubahala." See Ibn al-Qayyim,Zad al-Ma'ad Vol.3 p.643
- He addressed his people saying: "By Allah! You are well-aware, O Christians, that Muhammad is a prophet sent by Allah, and that he has brought to you the decisive word about your Companion (Isa). By Allah! Whenever a nation has entered into imprecation with a prophet, their elders have perished and their youngsters have died. And if you do it, we shall surely perish; but, if you turn down, for the love of your religion and (want) to remain on what you have at present, then make peace with the man and go back to your towns."
- Massignon, Louis (1378). Mubahala dar Medina (in Farsi). Translated by mahmoodreza Eftekhar zadeh. Tehran: Resalate Ghalam Publication.
- Tabatabai, Muhammad Husayn. "Tafsir al-Mizan, SURAH AALE IMRAN, VERSES 61-63". Tawheed Institute Australia Ltd. Retrieved 2014.
- Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman (29 October 2009). Tafsir Ibn Kathir Juz' 3 (Part 3): Al-Baqarah 253 to Al-I-'Imran 92 2nd Edition. MSA Publication Limited. pp. 125–126. ISBN 978-1-86179-679-0.
- Eduardo Campo, Juan (February 1, 2009). Encyclopedia of Islam. Checkmark Books. p. 124. ISBN 978-0816077458.
- Griffith, Sidney H. (April 4, 2010). The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam. Princeton University Press. pp. 160–162. ISBN 9781400834020.
- Zayn, Samih Atif (1379). Mohammad (s) dar Medina (in Farsi). Translated by Masoud Ansari. tehran: Jami. pp. 1091–1103.
- Ul-Hasan, Mahmood (2005). Ibn Al-Athir: An Arab Historian : a Critical Analysis of His Tarikh-al-kamil and Tarikh-al-atabeca. New Delhi: Northern Book Center. p. 71. ISBN 9788172111540.
- Wessels, Antonie (1972). A Modern Arabic Biography of Muḥammad: A Critical Study of Muḥammad Ḥusayn. Leiden: Brill Publishers. p. 1.
- Lapidus, Ira M. (2002). A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 18. ISBN 9780521779333.
- Walbridge, Linda S. (August 6, 2001). The Most Learned of the Shi`a. Oxford University Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-19-534393-9.
- Tajddin, Mumtaz Ali. "AYAT AL-MUBAHILA". Ismaili.NET - Heritage F.I.E.L.D.
- Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim, Chapter of virtues of companions, section of virtues of Ali, 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, Arabic version, v4, p1871, the end of tradition #32 and Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v5, p654
- Datoo, Bashir A. (1 November 2007). Perspectives on Islamic Faith and History: A Collection of Analytical Essays. TTQ, INC. ISBN 978-1-879402-17-1.
- Tabataba'i, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn (1973). al Mizan fi tafsir al-Quran. Beirut. p. 311.
- Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari. Tafsir al-Tabari vol. XXII. pp. 5–7.
- Madelung, Wilferd (15 October 1998). The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate. Cambridge University Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-521-64696-3.