An examination of

Muslim tradition on Heraclius' response to Muhammad's invitation


Muslim tradition recorded for us a story of Heraclius, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire (610-641 A.D.), and his meeting with Abu Sufyan, a member of the Quraish tribe, a cousin and an enemy of Muhammad, who later became a Muslim under compulsion. The year was 628 A.D. We are told that Muhammad sent a letter to Heraclius inviting him to Islam as well as Heraclius' response. In summary, the story tells of Heraclius recognizing, through his questioning of Abu Sufyan, Muhammad as God's messenger and that he wanted to become a Muslim. However, faced with pressure from his subjects, he changed his mind. It is the purpose of this article to examine this incident carefully.

This account is regularly included in Muslim sites and books [1, 2, 3, 4]. This account is rather impressive especially that such a recognition of Muhammad's prophethood should be given so early in the history of Islam, and by one so powerful as a Christian Emperor, which acts like some kind of authentication of Islam. For example, we find the following:

Furthermore the Prophet displayed numerous qualities which Heraculus, the Byzantine Roman Emperor, recognized as indicating that Muhammad was indeed the Prophet who they (the Christians) had been expecting as the following narration shows: . . . (A Royal Enquiry)
Heraclius' obligation to defend Syria had been inhibited by his vision of "the victorious kingdom of a circumcised man" and his belief that this man was truly a Messenger of God. (Emperor Heraclius and Prophet Muhammad)
Delving into the details of the responses of these kings to Muhammad's messages is beyond the scope of this book. For more see any of the many books available at one of the bookstores listed at the back of this book. However, one response in particular bears a short mention. It is the response of the Caesar of Rome (Hercules) to Muhammad's message. (Misha'al Al-Kadhi, What did Jesus Really Say?, 2nd ed., chapter 10) [ Note: Al-Kadhi misnamed Heraclius to be Hercules, the legendary God-Man figure in Greek Mythology. This is unlikely since Heraclius was a Christian King. Al-Kadhi made this mistake no less than three times in the second edition of his book, even though the translations of Sahih Bukhari had "Heraclius". This mistake appeared in the first edition of 1995, and in the second edition of 1998. (At the time of writing this article, the second edition was online, but not printed yet. Ten years later, it seems it never made it to print, and the online edition was withdrawn.) When the Emperor Theodosius I died in 395 A.D., the Roman Empire was divided into the Western and Eastern halves, never to be united again. The western half had its capital at Rome using Latin, but the eastern half had its capital at Constantinople, and Greek became the official language by the time of Heraclius. The western half fell to the Ostrogoths in 476 A.D., and the eastern half continued as the Byzantine Empire. It is therefore difficult to understand Al-Kadhi's title for Heraclius as "Caesar of Rome" or "Emperor of Rome". ]
Impressive as it may be, however, it is precisely "the details of the response" that Al-Kadhi did not examine in any detail which tell a different story altogether. Our approach in this article is to assume that this account of Heraclius is true, examine the Muslim story carefully and compare this with some known facts about Muhammad and his followers during the time of this story, as well as about Heraclius himself. We will also look at what the Bible says. We want to understand the kind of qualities Muhammad had that Heraclius found important, and see how that was supposed to imply prophethood.

Summary: On closer examination below, we will find many flaws in Heraclius' line of questioning. We will find that Heraclius was also fed misinformation from Abu Sufyan, despite the fact that the latter was supposedly telling the truth (or the truth as he knew it), and when relating the above story to 'Abdullah bin 'Abbas, Abu Sufyan was already a Muslim. Heraclius was probably a pious Christian, yet piety does not a Christian define. In fact, history tells us that Heraclius introduced a heresy (both from a Christian and a Muslim standpoint).

The Muslim Tradition

We are told that in the year 628 A.D., six years after the Hijira from Mecca to Madinah, Muhammad sent letters to various kings around Arabia, including Heraclius, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, inviting them to Islam. In his typical style, Muhammad warned him to "Embrace Islam and yours shall be peace and safety" (Aslem, Taslam), or they will be responsible for the sins of his people. After receiving this letter, Heraclius met with Abu Sufyan, a Meccan who was on a merchantile trip to Syria, and who was an enemy of Muhammad. During this meeting, Heraclius inquired about Muhammad and his followers. The details of this meeting are given in Sahih Bukhari:
Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Abbas:

Abu Sufyan bin Harb informed me that Heraclius had sent a messenger to him while he had been accompanying a caravan from Quraish. They were merchants doing business in Sham (Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan), at the time when Allah's Apostle had truce with Abu Sufyan and Quraish infidels. So Abu Sufyan and his companions went to Heraclius at Ilya (Jerusalem). Heraclius called them in the court and he had all the senior Roman dignitaries around him. He called for his translator who, translating Heraclius's question said to them, "Who amongst you is closely related to that man who claims to be a Prophet?" Abu Sufyan replied, "I am the nearest relative to him (amongst the group)."

Heraclius said, "Bring him (Abu Sufyan) close to me and make his companions stand behind him." Abu Sufyan added, Heraclius told his translator to tell my companions that he wanted to put some questions to me regarding that man (The Prophet) and that if I told a lie they (my companions) should contradict me." Abu Sufyan added, "By Allah! Had I not been afraid of my companions labeling me a liar, I would not have spoken the truth about the Prophet. The first question he asked me about him was:

'What is his family status amongst you?'
I replied, 'He belongs to a good (noble) family amongst us.'
Heraclius further asked, 'Has anybody amongst you ever claimed the same (i.e. to be a Prophet) before him?'
I replied, 'No.'
He said, 'Was anybody amongst his ancestors a king?'
I replied, 'No.'
Heraclius asked, 'Do the nobles or the poor follow him?'
I replied, 'It is the poor who follow him.'
He said, 'Are his followers increasing decreasing (day by day)?'
I replied, 'They are increasing.'
He then asked, 'Does anybody amongst those who embrace his religion become displeased and renounce the religion afterwards?'
I replied, 'No.'
Heraclius said, 'Have you ever accused him of telling lies before his claim (to be a Prophet)?'
I replied, 'No. '
Heraclius said, 'Does he break his promises?'
I replied, 'No. We are at truce with him but we do not know what he will do in it.' I could not find opportunity to say anything against him except that.
Heraclius asked, 'Have you ever had a war with him?'
I replied, 'Yes.'
Then he said, 'What was the outcome of the battles?'
I replied, 'Sometimes he was victorious and sometimes we.'
Heraclius said, 'What does he order you to do?'

I said, 'He tells us to worship Allah and Allah alone and not to worship anything along with Him, and to renounce all that our ancestors had said. He orders us to pray, to speak the truth, to be chaste and to keep good relations with our Kith and kin.'

Heraclius asked the translator to convey to me the following, I asked you about his family and your reply was that he belonged to a very noble family. In fact all the Apostles come from noble families amongst their respective peoples. I questioned you whether anybody else amongst you claimed such a thing, your reply was in the negative. If the answer had been in the affirmative, I would have thought that this man was following the previous man's statement. Then I asked you whether anyone of his ancestors was a king. Your reply was in the negative, and if it had been in the affirmative, I would have thought that this man wanted to take back his ancestral kingdom.

I further asked whether he was ever accused of telling lies before he said what he said, and your reply was in the negative. So I wondered how a person who does not tell a lie about others could ever tell a lie about Allah. I, then asked you whether the rich people followed him or the poor. You replied that it was the poor who followed him. And in fact all the Apostle have been followed by this very class of people. Then I asked you whether his followers were increasing or decreasing. You replied that they were increasing, and in fact this is the way of true faith, till it is complete in all respects. I further asked you whether there was anybody, who, after embracing his religion, became displeased and discarded his religion. Your reply was in the negative, and in fact this is (the sign of) true faith, when its delight enters the hearts and mixes with them completely. I asked you whether he had ever betrayed. You replied in the negative and likewise the Apostles never betray. Then I asked you what he ordered you to do. You replied that he ordered you to worship Allah and Allah alone and not to worship any thing along with Him and forbade you to worship idols and ordered you to pray, to speak the truth and to be chaste. If what you have said is true, he will very soon occupy this place underneath my feet and I knew it (from the scriptures) that he was going to appear but I did not know that he would be from you, and if I could reach him definitely, I would go immediately to meet him and if I were with him, I would certainly wash his feet.' Heraclius then asked for the letter addressed by Allah's Apostle which was delivered by Dihya to the Governor of Busra, who forwarded it to Heraclius to read. The contents of the letter were as follows: "In the name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful (This letter is) from Muhammad the slave of Allah and His Apostle to Heraclius the ruler of Byzantine. Peace be upon him, who follows the right path. Furthermore I invite you to Islam, and if you become a Muslim you will be safe, and Allah will double your reward, and if you reject this invitation of Islam you will be committing a sin by misguiding your Arisiyin (peasants). (And I recite to you Allah's Statement:)

'O people of the scripture! Come to a word common to you and us that we worship none but Allah and that we associate nothing in worship with Him, and that none of us shall take others as Lords beside Allah. Then, if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are Muslims (those who have surrendered to Allah).' (Âl 'Imran 3:64).

Abu Sufyan then added, "When Heraclius had finished his speech and had read the letter, there was a great hue and cry in the Royal Court. So we were turned out of the court. I told my companions that the question of Ibn-Abi-Kabsha) (the Prophet Muhammad) has become so prominent that even the King of Bani Al-Asfar (Byzantine) is afraid of him. Then I started to become sure that he (the Prophet) would be the conqueror in the near future till I embraced Islam (i.e. Allah guided me to it)."

The sub narrator adds, "Ibn An-Natur was the Governor of llya' (Jerusalem) and Heraclius was the head of the Christians of Sham. Ibn An-Natur narrates that once while Heraclius was visiting ilya' (Jerusalem), he got up in the morning with a sad mood. Some of his priests asked him why he was in that mood? Heraclius was a foreteller and an astrologer. He replied, 'At night when I looked at the stars, I saw that the leader of those who practice circumcision had appeared (become the conqueror). Who are they who practice circumcision?' The people replied, 'Except the Jews nobody practices circumcision, so you should not be afraid of them (Jews).

'Just Issue orders to kill every Jew present in the country.' While they were discussing it, a messenger sent by the king of Ghassan to convey the news of Allah's Apostle to Heraclius was brought in. Having heard the news, he (Heraclius) ordered the people to go and see whether the messenger of Ghassan was circumcised. The people, after seeing him, told Heraclius that he was circumcised. Heraclius then asked him about the Arabs. The messenger replied, 'Arabs also practice circumcision.'

(After hearing that) Heraclius remarked that sovereignty of the 'Arabs had appeared. Heraclius then wrote a letter to his friend in Rome who was as good as Heraclius in knowledge. Heraclius then left for Homs (a town in Syria) and stayed there till he received the reply of his letter from his friend who agreed with him in his opinion about the emergence of the Prophet and the fact that he was a Prophet. On that Heraclius invited all the heads of the Byzantines to assemble in his palace at Homs. When they assembled, he ordered that all the doors of his palace be closed. Then he came out and said, 'O Byzantines! If success is your desire and if you seek right guidance and want your empire to remain then give a pledge of allegiance to this Prophet (i.e. embrace Islam).'

(On hearing the views of Heraclius) the people ran towards the gates of the palace like onagers but found the doors closed. Heraclius realized their hatred towards Islam and when he lost the hope of their embracing Islam, he ordered that they should be brought back in audience.

(When they returned) he said, 'What already said was just to test the strength of your conviction and I have seen it.' The people prostrated before him and became pleased with him, and this was the end of Heraclius's story (in connection with his faith). (Sahih Bukhari, vol.1, book 1, no. 6)

Analysis of the Line of Questioning by Heraclius

The Muslim tradition recorded for us Heraclius' logic when determining Muhammad's prophethood and this truth. Let us look at each of these in turn (note that most of these are purely common sense anyway):

  1. Noble birth.

    The hadith tells us:

    Heraclius asked the translator to convey to me the following, I asked you about his family and your reply was that he belonged to a very noble family. In fact all the Apostles come from noble families amongst their respective peoples.
    How does one define noble? Was Noah of a noble family? Was Abraham? We really have no such knowledge. Now, of course, not all Arabs are of noble descent (otherwise that question is totally useless), but perhaps due to the high social status of the Quraish (due to their custodial role of the Ka'aba), Muhammad was regarded as of a noble family.

    Yet we know that Jesus came from a poor family and Joseph too, and Jesus worked as a carpenter before His ministry. Moses and Aaron were descendents of slaves in Egypt (descendents of Jacob about 400 years later). Also, we know that David was descended from an incestuous relationship between Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17 listed exactly four women, an extremely unusual phenomenon in Jewish genealogy: Tamar (v. 3), Rahab (v. 5), Ruth (v. 5) and Bathsheba (v. 6, indirectly as Uriah's wife). Tamar had an incestuous relationship with Judah; Rahab was a foreigner and a prostitute; Ruth was a Moabitess forbidden to enter into the assembly of God, and Bathsheba and David had adultery. Such unglamorous ancestry! Such gossip-inviting ancestry!

    Should Heraclius disqualify David, Solomon and Jesus?

  2. No one else among them claimed prophethood

    Heraclius said:

    I questioned you whether anybody else amongst you claimed such a thing, your reply was in the negative. If the answer had been in the affirmative, I would have thought that this man was following the previous man's statement.
    Now of course, Heraclius, according to this account, must be quite ignorant of his own religion. Was not Jesus' relative, John the Baptist, also ministering slightly earlier than Jesus. So, does that disqualify Jesus? How should Heraclius deal with the Biblical prophets, many of whom are contemporaries? Clearly, this line of argument is also specious.

  3. No ancestor was a king.

    Heraclius said:

    Then I asked you whether anyone of his ancestors was a king. Your reply was in the negative, and if it had been in the affirmative, I would have thought that this man wanted to take back his ancestral kingdom.
    Again, we find that David and Solomon were kings (and a number of their descendents), and in fact, the Jews were looking for the restoration of this Davidic Kingdom under the Messiah. And Jesus' human ancestry was from David. So, should Heraclius disqualify Jesus?

    On the other hand, Muhammad's great grandfather was the custodian of the Ka'aba, and so although Muhammad's ancestors may not have kings, his family was a powerful and influential one, although by the time it reach Muhammad's time, he was not. Yet, when faced with opposition from other Meccans, his uncle Abu Talib was influential enough to protect Muhammad.

    Note: Now, we should understand that, at most, these first three questions can only establish if Muhammad was sincere (more or less), but play no part really in prophethood, because we find that previous prophets contradict these attributes. Unless one denies these previous prophets' prophethood, these cannot be determining factors.

  4. Not a liar.

    Heraclius said:

    I further asked whether he was ever accused of telling lies before he said what he said, and your reply was in the negative. So I wondered how a person who does not tell a lie about others could ever tell a lie about Allah.
    Now, this is of course reasonable, but very dangerous. Almost everyone that is pious (of whatever religion) is sincere and very often very honest about their faith. Yet, these different honest people held to conflicting views of God. Surely, not all of them are correct. At best, we can only say that they believed that to be true, not necessarily the truth. Only the external evidence of God Himself can authenticate them. In fact, a person can be lying about God but he himself is unaware of it.

    In fact, at the end of the Job's (Ayub's) severe trial, God asked:

    Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. (Job 38:1-3)
    One would disqualify a habitual liar, but what about an occasional one? Interestingly, both the Bible and Muslim traditions recorded that Abraham had lied. Yet, this did not disqualify Abraham from being a prophet. Sahih Bukhari records for us:
    Narrated Abu Huraira:

    Abraham did not tell a lie except on three occasion. Twice for the Sake of Allah when he said, "I am sick," and he said, "(I have not done this but) the big idol has done it." The (third was) that while Abraham and Sarah (his wife) were going (on a journey) they passed by (the territory of) a tyrant. Someone said to the tyrant, "This man (i.e. Abraham) is accompanied by a very charming lady." So, he sent for Abraham and asked him about Sarah saying, "Who is this lady?" Abraham said, "She is my sister." Abraham went to Sarah and said, "O Sarah! There are no believers on the surface of the earth except you and I. This man asked me about you and I have told him that you are my sister, so don't contradict my statement." The tyrant then called Sarah and when she went to him, he tried to take hold of her with his hand, but (his hand got stiff and) he was confounded. He asked Sarah. "Pray to Allah for me, and I shall not harm you." So Sarah asked Allah to cure him and he got cured. He tried to take hold of her for the second time, but (his hand got as stiff as or stiffer than before and) was more confounded. He again requested Sarah, "Pray to Allah for me, and I will not harm you." Sarah asked Allah again and he became alright. He then called one of his guards (who had brought her) and said, "You have not brought me a human being but have brought me a devil." The tyrant then gave Hajar as a girl-servant to Sarah. Sarah came back (to Abraham) while he was praying. Abraham, gesturing with his hand, asked, "What has happened?" She replied, "Allah has spoiled the evil plot of the infidel (or immoral person) and gave me Hajar for service." (Abu Huraira then addressed his listeners saying, "That (Hajar) was your mother, O Bani Ma-is-Sama (i.e. the Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael, Hajar's son)." ( Sahih Bukhari, vol. 4, book 55, no. 578, also no. 577 and vol. 7, book 62, no. 21)

    The second occasion mentioned in this hadith is the apocryphal story of Abraham breaking the idols and then lying about it when confronted. More details here. This is not mentioned in the Bible.

    The last occasion was mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 20 with some differences [we will not discuss the differences here]. The hadith was unable to name the "tyrant", but the Bible says that it was the king of Gerar, Abimelech. Interestingly, Isaac committed the same mistake (like father, like son?) with regards his wife Rebecca before Abimelech, King of the Philistines (Genesis 26:1-31).

    Now, given that the Bible recorded these, should Heraclius disqualify Abraham and Isaac under this criterion? Should Abraham be disqualified under Muslim traditions?

    Therefore, this criterion is flawed, even though it is important. No doubt, we should dismiss a habitual liar, but even a liar can be used of God to be his messenger, as we saw in Abraham and Isaac [The Muslim argument that prophets are sinless falls flat on these two examples. The argument also that prophets do not sin after being called to be prophets is also not true, since Isaac was already a prophet according to Islam when he was born. (as-Saffat 37:112).]. In fact, many people fit into the profile of an occasional liar. This criterion is not at fault, but humans are. And all humans are sinners.

  5. Followers are poor.

    Heraclius said:

    I, then asked you whether the rich people followed him or the poor. You replied that it was the poor who followed him. And in fact all the Apostle have been followed by this very class of people.
    This is actually reasonable, but again we find that it is not always true. Job, Abraham and Lot were rich people, and Abraham, Issac, Jacob dealt with Kings. What kind of followers did they have? Even Jesus had rich followers (like Joseph of Arimathea). But of course, a prophet's message must appeal to the under-privileged.

  6. Increasing or decreasing.

    Heraclius said:

    Then I asked you whether his followers were increasing or decreasing. You replied that they were increasing, and in fact this is the way of true faith, till it is complete in all respects.
    This is again reasonable. Yet when the number of followers of Jesus was swelling, He acted to make sure that only true believers followed him. We find that Jesus said difficult words to his followers so that many of them turned from following him after that (cf. John 6:53-66). What we learned is that numbers of so-called followers is not an issue, only true disciples. In fact, how many prophets in the Bible can we count that had many followers? Even in the Qur'an most prophets seem not to have found a large following. Man may be interested in numbers, but God looks at the heart.

    We note that many religions are increasing in number, simply because of the population growth. The number of Christians, Muslims, Hindus are all increasing. Even the number of Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, the Ahmadis, the Nation of Islam, etc, are increasing. Clearly, it is just not possible to use this to test the truthfulness of a religion. In fact, Jesus tells us that numbers don't count:

    "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14).
    Further reading: Sura 61:14 and Church History

  7. No apostates.

    I further asked you whether there was anybody, who, after embracing his religion, became displeased and discarded his religion. Your reply was in the negative, and in fact this is (the sign of) true faith, when its delight enters the hearts and mixes with them completely.
    In another hadith, we are told that the last sentence was:
    When its delight enters the heart and mixes with them completely, nobody can be displeased with it." (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 1, book 2, no. 48)
    This is false! There was a very highly regarded hanif (by Muslims) that became a Muslim, and later gave up Islam. He was Abu Sufyan's son-in-law, and his apostasy occurred long before Abu Sufyan's alleged meeting with Heraclius!

    In the year 615 A.D., a group of Muslims were persecuted and some of them went to the Christian King of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) for refuge. There they were accepted and allowed to live. A man, who was regarded as a hanif before he become a Muslim was among them. This man was Ubaidullah b. Jash, and his wife was Umm Habiba, daughter of Abu Sufyan. Thus Ubaidullah was Abu Sufyan's son-in-law. The Muslim chronicler, Ibn Ishaq, tells us:

    "`Ubaydullah went on searching until Islam came; then he migrated with the Muslims to Abyssinia taking with him his wife who was a Muslim, Umm Habiba, d. Abu Sufyan. When he arrived there he adopted Christianity, parted from Islam, and died a Christian in Abyssinia.

    Muhammad b. Ja`far b. al-Zubayr told me that when he had become a Christian `Ubaydullah as he passed the prophet's companions who were there used to say: `We see clearly, but your eyes are only half open,' i.e. `We see, but you are only trying to see and cannot see yet.' He used the word sa'sa' because when a puppy tries to open its eyes to see, it only half sees. The other faqqaha means to open the eyes. After his death the apostle married his widow Umm Habiba." (Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, tr. Guillaume, 1967, p. 99)

    A group of refugees returned around AD 628. Ubaidullah become a Christian not long after arriving at Abyssinia. Not only that, we see that Ubaidullah used to debate with the Muslims on religion. Now, Abu Sufyan was the father-in-law of Ubaidullah, so thirteen years later, at the meeting with Heraclius, Abu Sufyan should have known that his son-in-law had become an apostate of Islam. Even if he did not know, the facts given to Heraclius were false.

    There were also other instances of apostasy from Islam during Muhammad's lifetime.

    Narrated Abu Burda:
    .... The Prophet then sent Mu'adh bin Jabal after him and when Mu'adh reached him, he spread out a cushion for him and requested him to get down (and sit on the cushion). Behold: There was a fettered man beside Abu Muisa. Mu'adh asked, "Who is this (man)?" Abu Muisa said, "He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism." Then Abu Muisa requested Mu'adh to sit down but Mu'adh said, "I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed. Abu Musa added, "Then we discussed the night prayers and one of us said, 'I pray and sleep, and I hope that Allah will reward me for my sleep as well as for my prayers.'" (Sahih Bukhari vol. 9, book 84, no. 58, also Sahih Bukhari, vol. 5, book 59, no. 632)
    Narrated Anas:
    There was a Christian who embraced Islam and read Surat-al-Baqara and Âl 'Imran, and he used to write (the revelations) for the Prophet. Later on he returned to Christianity again and he used to say: "Muhammad knows nothing but what I have written for him." Then Allah caused him to die, and the people buried him, but in the morning they saw that the earth had thrown his body out. They said, "This is the act of Muhammad and his companions. They dug the grave of our companion and took his body out of it because he had run away from them." They again dug the grave deeply for him, but in the morning they again saw that the earth had thrown his body out. They said, "This is an act of Muhammad and his companions. They dug the grave of our companion and threw his body outside it, for he had run away from them." They dug the grave for him as deep as they could, but in the morning they again saw that the earth had thrown his body out. So they believed that what had befallen him was not done by human beings and had to leave him thrown (on the ground). (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 4, book 56, no. 814) [This man was said to have lived many years after Muhamamd's death]
    Even Muhammad knew that there will be apostates.
    Narrated Ibn Abbas:
    . . .
    Then it will be said, '(O Muhammad) These people never stopped to apostate since you left them." (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 6, book 60, no. 264)
    Narrated Ibn Al-Musaiyab:
    The companions of the Prophet said, "Some men from my companions will come to my Lake-Fount and they will be driven away from it, and I will say, 'O Lord, my companions!' It will be said, 'You have no knowledge of what they innovated after you left: they turned apostate as renegades (reverted from Islam). (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 8, book 76, no. 586. also no. 585, and no. 587 )
    Shari'a law also prescribes punishment for the apostate (see here for a more detailed discussion). There wouldn't be a need for such a punishment if there is no prospect of apostasy.
    Narrated 'Abdullah:
    Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims." (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 9, book 83, no. 17)
    Narrated Abu Qilaba:
    Once 'Umar bin 'Abdul 'Aziz sat on his throne in the courtyard of his house so that the people might gather before him. Then he admitted them and (when they came in), he said, "What do you think of Al-Qasama?" They said, "We say that it is lawful to depend on Al-Qasama in Qisas, as the previous Muslim Caliphs carried out Qisas depending on it." Then he said to me, "O Abu Qilaba! What do you say about it?" He let me appear before the people and I said, "O Chief of the Believers! You have the chiefs of the army staff and the nobles of the Arabs. If fifty of them testified that a married man had committed illegal sexual intercourse in Damascus but they had not seen him (doing so), would you stone him?" He said, "No." I said, "If fifty of them testified that a man had committed theft in Hums, would you cut off his hand though they did not see him?" He replied, "No." I said, "By Allah, Allah's Apostle never killed anyone except in one of the following three situations: (1) A person who killed somebody unjustly, was killed (in Qisas,) (2) a married person who committed illegal sexual intercourse and (3) a man who fought against Allah and His Apostle and deserted Islam and became an apostate." Then the people said, "Didn't Anas bin Malik narrate that Allah's Apostle cut off the hands of the thieves, branded their eyes and then, threw them in the sun?" I said, "I shall tell you the narration of Anas. Anas said: "Eight persons from the tribe of 'Ukl came to Allah's Apostle and gave the Pledge of allegiance for Islam (became Muslim). The climate of the place (Medina) did not suit them, so they became sick and complained about that to Allah's Apostle. He said (to them ), "Won't you go out with the shepherd of our camels and drink of the camels' milk and urine (as medicine)?" They said, "Yes." So they went out and drank the camels' milk and urine, and after they became healthy, they killed the shepherd of Allah's Apostle and took away all the camels. This news reached Allah's Apostle, so he sent (men) to follow their traces and they were captured and brought (to the Prophet). He then ordered to cut their hands and feet, and their eyes were branded with heated pieces of iron, and then he threw them in the sun till they died." I said, "What can be worse than what those people did? They deserted Islam, committed murder and theft." (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 9, book 83, no. 37)
    And do we not remember that after Muhamamd's death, many Arab Muslims apostatize so that it took Abu Bakr more than a year to quell it all?

    Thus Heraclius was given a false fact: at that meeting, there already were apostates, and in later days of Muhammad as well, and there were many dissatisfied Muslims that reneged immediately after Muhamamd's death when they had the chance [doesn't that tell us something?], and Muhammad expected it and made laws to punish them. Thus, Islam did not have "(the sign of) true faith, when its delight enters the hearts and mixes with them completely, nobody can be displeased with it" since there really were apostates. Since the premise if false, the conclusion is of no consequence. [Prior to my reading this, I did not think to doubt Abu Sufyan's testimony. After reading this more carefully, I now have a lot more doubt about this guy.]

  8. Never betrayed.

    Heraclius said:

    I asked you whether he had ever betrayed. You replied in the negative and likewise the Apostles never betray.
    For this, one should read about Muhammad and the Jewish tribe Bani Qurayza: The Bani Quraytha Jews, Traitors or Betrayed? and What really happened to the Banu Qurayza?.

  9. His order.

    The last point is not really a reasoning, but rather more like an acclamation of faith:

    Then I asked you what he ordered you to do. You replied that he ordered you to worship Allah and Allah alone and not to worship any thing along with Him and forbade you to worship idols and ordered you to pray, to speak the truth and to be chaste. If what you have said is true, he will very soon occupy this place underneath my feet and I knew it (from the scriptures) that he was going to appear but I did not know that he would be from you, and if I could reach him definitely, I would go immediately to meet him and if I were with him, I would certainly wash his feet.
    It should be noted that the phrase "from the scriptures" is an interpolation as given in parenthesis and not in the text of the tradition. Since no scripture verse was brought forward, we cannot say that he meant scripture. In fact, in the next section, we will find that the tradition says that Heraclius was a diviner, so it is more likely that he meant that he knew through divination.

    His attitude certainly does not accord with what we know of Heraclius later on, when he fought against the Muslims (see the next section).

In summary, we looked at each of Heraclius' reasons in determining prophethood:

Reason Acceptability Counter-Example
Noble birth Useless Jesus was not of a noble birth
No one else among them claimed prophethood Useless, but may show sincerity John the Baptist was a prophet before and concurrent with Jesus
No ancestor was a king Useless, but may show sincerity David, Solomon were kings before Jesus
Not a liar Acceptable and important, but not foolproof. Abraham and Isaac had lied
Followers are poor Useless Jesus had rich followers
Increasing numbers Useless, not necessarily true Many prophets had small followings
No apostates Not true Abu Sufyan's son-in-law, Ubaidullah, was an apostate of Islam
Never betray not true Banu Qurayza

All that Heraclius maybe managed to establish is Muhammad's sincerity but not his prophethood. His reasons were contradicted by previous prophets. But again, not only do we see flaws in his reasoning, but also that he was not given the complete picture, and even untruths.

Jesus himself gave us these words on how to recognize a true prophet:

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 7:15-20).

About the life of Muhamamd: One

What kind of a Christian was Heraclius?

In this section, we will examine what kind of a Christian Heraclius was. We will consider the Muslim tradition, assuming it is true, and also Biblical and historical data.

  1. Heraclius was a diviner.

    We are told in Sahih Bukhari that the sub-narrator said that "Heraclius was a foreteller and an astrologer." And since his means were astrology to tell the future, that is divination. Despite its popularity among many people, the Bible forbids divination and considers it a sin:

    For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king." (1 Samuel 15:23)

    This is what the LORD says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. (Jeremiah 10:2)

    "So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:5)

    see also Isaiah 44:24-25, Micah 3:7, Malachi 3:5, Acts 19:19,

    A Christian has no business in divination, not even to consult diviners, much less be a diviner himself. If the hadith is true, then Heraclius, according to the Bible, has the judgment of God upon him, and his subsequent losing of Syria and Palestine to the Arabs must also be seen in this light (just as God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish the northern and southern kingdom of Israel and Judah respectively).

  2. Heraclius lied.

    We are told in the hadith above that:

    When they assembled, he ordered that all the doors of his palace be closed. Then he came out and said, 'O Byzantines! If success is your desire and if you seek right guidance and want your empire to remain then give a pledge of allegiance to this Prophet (i.e. embrace Islam).'

    (On hearing the views of Heraclius) the people ran towards the gates of the palace like onagers but found the doors closed. Heraclius realized their hatred towards Islam and when he lost the hope of their embracing Islam, he ordered that they should be brought back in audience.

    (When they returned) he said, 'What already said was just to test the strength of your conviction and I have seen it.' The people prostrated before him and became pleased with him, and this was the end of Heraclius's story (in connection with his faith).

    According to this tradition, Heraclius was willing to lie and turn his back from what he knew to be true to save his skin (and throne). Are you sure you want to trust such a man?

  3. Heraclius' heresy.

    Perhaps, the most revealing of Heraclius' spirituality, was Heraclius' introduction of the heresy known as Monothelitism in order to win over the Monophysites (a belief that Jesus' had only a divine nature, no human nature... the exact opposite of Islam's belief. The modern day Abyssinian church, Armenian church, Coptic church, and Jacobite church are Monophysitic. [Maria, a wife/concubine of Muhammad who bore him Ibrahim, was a Coptic Christian. Isn't it interesting that she did not convert and accept Islam?]):

    Monothelitism, 7th-century belief that Christ has two distinct natures, divine and human, manifested in only one will and activity (See Christology). The doctrine was first promulgated about 624 by Byzantine emperor Heraclius, in an attempt to bring back into the church thousands of followers of Monophysitism who had been excommunicated for heresy for claiming that Christ had only one nature. Controversy on the question continued until the third Council of Constantinople settled the issue in 680. (Encarta Online)
    In 638 A.D., the Patriarch Sergios of Constantinople wrote a document called the Ekthesis (meaning "Statement of Faith") and Heraclius used it to promote this doctrine, although this doctrine was already earlier introduced. The Ekthesis forbade discussion of Monoergetism (one energy) and stated that the two natures of Christ were joined in a single Will (Monotheletism).

    This doctrine is of course blasphemous to Muslims, for it claimed that Jesus is divine.

  4. Heraclius believed in other than God's protection.

    The Emperor Heraclius later transported St. Theodore's body to Constantinople in order that its presence there might protect the capital from the Persian attack: [cf. C. Kirch, Nicephori sceuophylacis encomium in S. Theodorum Siceotam, Analecta Bollandiana 20 (1901), pp. 24972]. (Medieval Sourcebook: The Life of St. Theodore of Sykeon)
    This incident also demonstrate the continual problem among many Christians who believed in relics and charms, much like Muslims do, instead of relying solely on the protection of God.

  5. Heraclius' marriage to his niece

    In 612 AD, Heraclius' first wife, Eudocia, died, and in the following year, he married his niece Martina. The marriage of a man with an aunt is forbidden in the Bible (Leviticus 18:12-13), and the reversal of sexual roles is also considered incestuous.

  6. Heraclius restored the "True Cross"

    In AD 630, two years after the meeting with Abu Sufyan, Heraclius restored the True Cross, believed to be the cross on which Jesus died, to Jerusalem, which had earlier been captured by the Persians.

    A month later [Jan 628 AD], Heraclius entered Dastagird with its stupendous treasure. Khosrow was overthrown by his son, with whom Heraclius made peace, demanding only the return of the Cross, the captives, and conquered Roman territory. Returning to Constantinople in triumph, he was hailed as a Moses, an Alexander, a Scipio. In 630 he personally restored the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. ("Heraclius" Britannica Online)
    Here, we see that Heraclius must have believed in the death of Jesus (or at least paid verbal assent), contrary to Islam. His exploits mean that he was still a defender of (Catholic) Christianity, at least in name, (and his heretical views).

  7. Heraclius fought the Muslims

    After the conquest of Mecca, the sovereign of Arabia [i.e. Muhammad] affected to prevent the hostile preparations of Heraclius; and solemnly proclaimed war against the Romans, without attempting to disguise the hardships and dangers of the enterprise. The Moslems were discouraged: they alleged the want of money, or horses, or provisions; the season of harvest, and the intolerable heat of the summer: "Hell is much hotter," said the indignant prophet [i.e. Muhammad]. He disdained to compel their service: but on his return he admonished the most guilty, by an excommunication of fifty days. (Edward Gibbon, History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire Volume 5, emphasis mine)
    When in 633 A.D., the ruthless Khalid ibn al-Walid, nicknamed "Sword of Islam", a Muslim general highly regarded by Muhammad, came to conquer Syria, Khalid said:
    A smile of indignation expressed the refusal of Caled. "Ye Christian dogs, you know your option; the Koran, the tribute, or the sword. We are a people whose delight is in war, rather than in peace: and we despise your pitiful alms, since we shall be speedily masters of your wealth, your families, and your persons." (Edward Gibbon, History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire Volume 5)

    In 635 A.D., the Muslims attacked Damascus, which then surrendered. Heraclius counter-attacked in 636 A.D. and went to war with the Muslims with an army of 200,000 at the Battle of the Yarmuk in Syria on 20th August. At that time, the aging Heraclius was more than 60 years old, and had been involved in more than 100 battles. He was soundly defeated, and lost Syria to the Muslims.

Abu Sufyan

We read in the hadith that:
Abu Sufyan then added, "When Heraclius had finished his speech and had read the letter, there was a great hue and cry in the Royal Court. So we were turned out of the court. I told my companions that the question of Ibn-Abi-Kabsha) (the Prophet Muhammad) has become so prominent that even the King of Bani Al-Asfar (Byzantine) is afraid of him. Then I started to become sure that he (the Prophet) would be the conqueror in the near future till I embraced Islam (i.e. Allah guided me to it)."
This, however, does not really accord with what we know of Abu Sufyan. Just before the Muslim attack of Mecca (one year after the incident of Abu Sufyan meeting with Heraclius), Abu Sufyan was caught and brought before Muhammad:
When Muhammad and his followers were about to attack Mecca to subjugate it to Islam, his adherents arrested Abu Sufyan, one of Mecca's inhabitants. They brought him to Muhammad. Muhammad told him: "Woe to you, O Abu Sufyan. Is it not time for you to realize that there is no God but the only God?" Abu Sufyan answered: "I do believe that." Muhammad then said to him: "Woe to you, O Abu Sufyan. Is it not time for you to know that I am the apostle of God?" Abu Sufyan answered: "By God, O Muhammad, of this there is doubt in my soul." The 'Abbas who was present with Muhammad told Abu Sufyan: "Woe to you! Accept Islam and testify that Muhammad is the apostle of God before your neck is cut off by the sword." Thus he professed the faith of Islam and became a Muslim. (Ibn Hisham, Biography of the Prophet, part 4, p. 11, "The Chronicle of the Tabari", part 2, p. 157, Ibn Kathir, "The Prophetic Biography", part 3, p. 549, and "The Beginning and the End", Ibn Khaldun, the rest of part 2, p. 43 and on Al-Sira al-Halabiyya, Vol. 3. p. 18, Al Road Al Anf, part 4, p. 90, by Al Sohaily, as quoted by Behind the Veil, Chapter 2 )
On the threat of being killed, Abu Sufyan became a Muslim. After becoming a Muslim, we read:
Narrated 'Aisha:
Hind, the mother of Mu'awiya said to Allah's Apostle, "Abu Sufyan (her husband) is a miser. Am I allowed to take from his money secretly?" The Prophet said to her, "You and your sons may take what is sufficient reasonably and fairly." (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 3, book 34, no. 413, vol.3, book 43, no. 640)
It would be interesting to speculate on why Abu Sufyan said what he said.

Conclusion

The Britannica Online has this to say about Heraclius:
No doubt he was an inspiring military leader who fired his army with religious fervour and whose personal intrepidity, imaginative tactics, and constant concern for his men evoked their love and loyalty. But he was also a cautious and calculating strategist who did not hesitate to employ religion to serve his military ends. Thus, when in 623 his victorious soldiers wanted to penetrate deeper into Persia, contrary to his plan to retire, he referred the matter to God. After his troops had fasted and prayed three days, he opened the Bible in their presence, apparently at random, and read a passage that could be interpreted only as a divine command to withdraw. Moreover, even though he fostered the crusading spirit, he waged war in a less inhumane manner than most of his contemporaries. He did not enslave or massacre the inhabitants of conquered towns and he treated his prisoners of war well, releasing them rather than butchering them when he could not feed them. His mercy contrasted sharply with Khosrow's acerbity and probably hastened his victory in Persia. ("Heraclius" Britannica Online)
In general, history tells us that Heraclius was a religious man, championing the cause of Christianity, and in contrast to other rulers, benevolent. He was also capable in his administration, and most historians credit him with the system of theme for securing the loyalty and payment of his soldiers. However, his spiritual state is something else. In his eagerness to preserve his political empire, he introduced the heresy of Monothelitism, which the church had to wrestle for another 40 years after his death. I have not come across documentation about Heraclius' divination, except in the Muslim tradition, so I can't really say if that is the case. However, if the Muslim story is correct, and Heraclius was indeed a diviner, then he is condemned by the Bible. In short, Heraclius was a pious ruler, but his religion is circumspect in many areas as we have seen above.

We have also reviewed the Muslim tradition on Heraclius' meeting with Abu Sufyan and also historical facts about Heraclius. We scrutinized Heraclius' line of questioning of Abu Sufyan as he tried to understand Muhammad and Islam. Clearly, he was a man who sought to understand before making conclusions. We found that his questions do not adequately reveal if a person is really a true prophet or not, although they can be used to partially assess a person's sincerity. Most importantly, certain false information were given to Heraclius. If Heraclius were to know the truth of the matter, his conclusions might have been rather different.

In summary, would I trust Heraclius with my home (if I were living in his Empire)? Probably. Would I expect him to rule well? Most likely. Would I expect to trust him to lead me in spiritual matters? No, thank you.


About Muhammad
Answering Islam Home Page