A lot can be said about ‘values’; ‘British’ values, ‘Christian’ values, ‘their’ values.
The context in which the whole term has been thrown about has nearly always been ‘us’ versus ‘them’. So how different are Syrian refugees, who are predominantly Muslim, from Christians? Let’s make it simpler. How different are the values of Islam from Christianity?
One event in history provides the greatest example of what exactly separates Christianity from Islam. In fact, within this event, one profound statement from a righteous Christian King essentially put the debate to bed when he announced to Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, the spokesperson of the first group of Muslim refugees, that:
‘The difference between you and us, is no thicker than this line’
And with that, he drew a thin line in the sand with his staff.
But what led the Christian King Negus of Abyssinia, who ruled over a land described by the Prophet Muhammad as one ‘where no man is wronged’, to make such a statement to a group of people who we consider today to be so far detached from us that a Finnish teacher saw fit to inform Syrian men that ‘women are not bought here’?
Well the story goes like this…
The Muslims in Makkah were being oppressed by the ruling tribe of Quraish. At the time women sufferred immensely. Daughters were buried at birth, women were bought and sold and the disparity between rich and poor was such that the former openly found the latter distasteful and expressions of disgust were often vocalised in the streets.
When people rallied to Muhammad’s call for equality between the rich and the poor, slaves and their masters and between Black and White, Quraish found the status quo under threat and began using force (and torture) in a bid to stem the growing support for social justice. In one instance, a man called Ammar ibn Yasser was called before the social elites and asked mockingly ‘is Bilal, my black slave, equal to me?’. Ammar replied ‘yes’. The social elites laughed and jeered and ordered Bilal to whip Ammar. Bilal refused the order and was laid on the harsh desert sand at midday (when the desert heat is at its fiercest and most unbearable). A huge rock was rolled on top of him and left there. The Muslims gathered what funds they had and paid a heavily inflated price to free him in order to put an end to his punishment.
Not long thereafter the social situation began to deteriorate further. Houses were raided and Muslims were stoned openly in the streets.
With the situation only becoming more severe for his followers, Muhammad ordered Jafar ibn Abi Talib to take a group of Muslims to Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea) where he bade them that ‘no man is wronged’.
When Quraish got wind of this group’s intentions, they sent out a search party to forcibly bring them back. The group evaded detection and made their way to Abyssinia.
Quraish were worried about their trade relations – Makkah served as a huge and prosperous trade post – and saw the group of refugees as a threat to their regional image and international relations. So they sent Amr ibn al ‘Aas, a friend of the Abyssinian King, as an envoy to convince him not to give refuge to the fleeing party.
When Amr requested the ‘rebels’ to be returned, King Negus replied ‘I cannot put souls into chains without first hearing them.’
The two parties were called before King Negus.
What took place next has been enshrined in history for over 1400 years (transcript is available below):
Can’t see the video? See the transcript below:
King Negus: Do you not bow yourselves before your prophet?
Ja’far: Muhammad is a man. We kneel only to God.
Amr: Where are Muhammad’s miracles Ja’far? If he were a prophet, he’d light the sky with miracles!
King Negus: Indeed, this is true. God has given his prophets the sign of miracles so that we may recognise them.
Ja’far: The miracle of Muhammad is the Holy Qur’an…
Amr: A book?! A book?! Written by an illiterate?! Attributed to God? I think the emperor has heard enough.
King Negus: When God sent down tongues of fire upon the heads of Christ’s apostles, so they could speak the many languages of the world that which they knew not before. But do such miracles happen in our times? I have heard enough. You have made a poor case.
Ja’far: When we suffered persecution in Mecca, Muhammad told us go to Abyssinia, the land of a righteous king where no man is wronged.
Amr: What they call persecution was fair punishment. Their disorder, their…
King Negus: Why did your prophet send you to me?
Ja’far: Because you believe in the book of the one God as we do. He sent us because in your heart, God will protect us.
Amr: Talking with them is like drawing water from a mirage.
King Negus: But they have now laid a duty on me to listen to them my friend. Go on…
Ja’far: For years, we worshipped wood and stone. Images of our own manufacture. We lived in ignorance of god. We had few earthly laws and no heavenly laws. The rich neglect the poor and the naturaly pity of man, whereby he lifts his brother up when he is fallen, is described by them as ‘upsetting social order’. To this…inhumanity…has come a man, whom God chose and in that we believe.
King Negus: You are overcome. I beg you to collect yourself.
Ja’far: I speak of the messenger of God. Muhammad teaches us to worship one God. To speak truth. To love our neighbours as ourselves. To give charity. Even a smile can be charity. To protect women from misuse. To shelter orphans. And to turn away from gods of wood and stone.
Amr: I cannot keep still and hear this blasphemy. We are ancient civilisation. To call our gods ‘wood and stone’ is to speak ignorantly of them. The idol, the form, is not what we worship. But the spirit that resides in the form.
King Negus: I agree that idolatry is not always understood.
Amr: Thank you. Now let me bring him back to the women.
Ja’far: God made women to be the proper companion of man. She is different, but equal…
Amr: Equal?! We buy them. Feed them. Clothe them. Use them. Discard them. Women equal to us?!
Ja’far: God created man from one male and one female. Amr, you must respect in all women the womb that bore you…?
King Negus to Amr: Why are your 300 hundred Gods so tongue tied? While his only God is eloquent?
Ja’far: God has spoken to us before. Through Abraham, Noah, Moses, and through Jesus Christ. Why should we be so surprised that God speaks to us now through Muhammad?
King Negus: Who taught you those names?
Ja’far: They are named in the Qur’an.
Amr: I knew Muhammad when he was an orphan minding sheep!
King Negus: And we knew Christ as a carpenter…what Christ says, and your Muhammad says, is like two rays from the same lamp.
Amr: They are lying to you. They deny Christ. You worship three Gods they say, Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, they say.
King Negus: What do you say of Christ?
Amr: They say God cannot have a Son. Christ is not the son of God!
King Negus: (To Ja’far) Speak to me of Christ!
Ja’far: We say of Christ what our Prophet has taught us. That God case his holy spirit into the womb of a virgin named Mary. And that she conceived Christ, the apostle of God.
Amr: The apostle he says! Not the Son, not the Son!
King Negus: What does your miracle, your Qur’an, say of the birth of our dear Lord Jesus Christ?
Ja’far: May I relate the words?
King Negus: Come closer to me!
Ja’far: In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Relate in the book the story of Mary. How she withdrew from her family to a place in the east. How we sent to her our angel Gabriel who said: ‘ I am a messenger from your God. To announce the birth of a Holy Son to you’. She said how can I, Mary, have a son when no man has touched me? And Gabriel replied: For your lord says it will happen. We appoint him as a sign unto man. And a mercy from us. It is a thing ordained.’
King Negus: The difference between us and you, is no thicker than this line…Not for a mountain of Gold will I give them up to you. You may live in Abyssinia in peace for as long as you wish. And may God’s blessings be upon you on your return.