Najasyi – a pious Muslim king

© Muhammad Haniff Hassan, March 2003

Many of us are familiar with the names of Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, well known as outstanding leaders among the companions and recognised for their noble characteristics and contributions. Very few however know of another companion of the Prophet pbuh, a Najasyi (Negus, The Ethiopian King) named Ashamah.

Ashamah was the name of a Najasyi. He was the king who provided refuge for the companions who migrated from Mecca to Habsyah. Hence he is also included among the “companions” of the prophet, which refers to those who lived in the same era as the Messenger, believed in him and died as a mukmin.

Does it come as a surprise to you that Najasyi was a companion of the prophet, was a believer and died a believer? Or do you remember him as the Christian king who offered protection to the companions who migrated to his country?

While Najasyi was a Christian when he first received the companions who arrived in Habsyah, he later embraced Islam and died a Muslim. This is based on the authentic hadith that said that upon hearing of Najasyi’s death, the Messenger pbuh said (meaning),

“There departs today a pious man. So stand up and offer solat for you brother Ashamah” (Al-Bukhari)

If Najasyi was not a Muslim, then surely the prophet would not have offered Janaza Ghaib prayers for him. It would be haram to offer prayers to those who were not Muslims.

Some ulama claimed that the Najasyi who became a Muslim and was offered the janaza prayer was not the man who offered refuge for the companions, but another Najasyi whom the Messenger called to Islam during the period when he was sending out letters to the leaders in the surrounding areas calling them to Islam.

However this is not an opinion that is widely accepted among most ulama. There were indications that the Najasyi who received the companions was already inclined to accept Islam from the start. He was moved to tears upon hearing verses of the Quran on the Prophet Isa and he had asked his ministers’ views on the possibility of accepting the teachings of Islam. These are facts stated in many books on seerah and hadiths.

But what are some of the learning points from the story of Najasyi?

1. He was a king and a Muslim
2. He ruled over a kingdom where the majority were Christians
3. Despite being a Muslim in a position of authority, he was unable to practice his faith fully for fear that it would result in a revolt in his country. Such instability would affect his ability to protect the companions or the opportunity for justice in his government.
4. Despite his position, Najasyi was unable to fully practice Islam due to certain limitations. Nonetheless, the prophet acknowledged the piety of the Najasyi.

Other ulama highlighted other aspects for our reflections.

Dr Omat Al-Asyqar wrote:

“Our studies have led us to conclude that Najasyi Ashamah who became a believer was the same Najasyi who offered refuge to the companions who migrated to his country. He remained in power for more than 10 years without being able to carry out the syariat of Allah in the country that he governed. Nevertheless he ensured the protection and peace for the people who migrated there and undoubted there must have been some among his people who also became Believers.” (taken from the book Islamic Jurisprudence on Participation in Ministries and Parliaments, pg 77)

Ibn Taimiyah said:

“And Najasyi and those like him are the people who will be blessed in Paradise, even though they were unable to practice the syariah of Islam beyond what little they could. They took from the syariah what could only apply by them.” (Majmu’ Al-Fatawa, book 19, pg 218-219)

This simple story is full of wisdom for those who would reflect and is relevant in the context of the minority Muslims in Singapore who find themselves constraint in practising Islam. Among them are:

1. Muslims who find themselves among the jahiliyah should not adopt the “escape” mentality by migrating or moving away.
2. When faced with the jahiliyah, we should not necessarily be confrontational without weighing the benefits and repercussions.
3. The inability of a person to practice Islam fully due to certain limitations does not make the person despicable.
4. Living among the jahiliyah does not mean that a person will be unable to attain piety and paradise.
5. While be should believe in the syariat we are obligated to carry out only what we can safely practice.
6. It is permissible in Islam for us to accept a small mudharat for the greater maslahat. We should not dismiss rukhsah (leniency) for ourselves and in the course of our dakwah.
7. Working under a jahiliyah system is not necessarily wrong and should not be deemed kufr.
8. We should not look down upon our brothers and sisters who are working under a jahiliyah system for they may be another Najasyi in the sight of Allah taala while we do not know how we stand with Him.
9. It is best to forgive those who are among the jahiliyah for their wrongdoings due to the situations they are in. A person should be valued as a whole rather than from isolated incidences.

For those who refuse to bear small injustice yet cause greater injustice on others, Ibn Taimiyah said,

“Those who prohibit others from committing even a small injustice, where if it becomes an acceptable view may cause even greater injustices and destructions. The example is that of a group of people who are stopped by bandits while on a journey. If they do not surrender a small portion of their wealth based on the advise that it is not halal for them to give anything to bandits, then it is possible that the bandits will forcibly take all their wealth and perhaps even their lives. While the intent is to prevent a small injustice by giving up only a small portion of wealth to the bandits, if others were to follow the advise, they may end up losing everything. Hence this is not something which a rational person should advocate, or that the syariah would. Verily Allah taala has sent the messengers for benefit and perfection, and to curtail or at least reduce destruction as far as possible.” (Majmu’ Al-Fatawa, vol. 30, pgs 357-359)

Ibn Taimiyah also said:

“If in order to accomplish the maslahat that is obligatory, it becomes unavoidable for a person to commit something that is prohibited, then it is similar to making something that is imperfect as obligatory. Similarly if it is necessary for something that is sunnah, then committing something that is prohibited may become sunnah or obligatory, provided the level of damage is minor compared to its maslahat. If there was a situation where everyone who is in authority commits great injustice, and along comes another whose intent is only to commit minor injustices when he is in power, then the act of committing something that is prohibited at a smaller scale in order to prevent greater injustice is a far better act.” (Majmu’ Al-Fatawa, book 30, pg 52)

Sheikh Muhammad Abduh was asked, “Is it right for a Muslim who works for the British government to practice the British laws even though it is not a revealed law?”

He answered,

“It is acceptable for a Muslim to work in the British government in India and elsewhere and practice the British law as a rukhsah. It falls under the category of accepting a lighter form of difficulty, as long as it does not fall under the rule of azimah, for the benefits of all Muslims.”(Tafsir Al-Manar, book 5, pg 408)