Commentary (Hadeeth # 7):
Let us understand this hadeeth in parts.
Why did Heraclius ask for the man who was the most closely related to the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam? It is because as we read in the Tafseer of Surah Al-Baqarah ayah 187, he who is closest to us knows us the best. As relatives, you know your cousins more than their friends or work colleagues. You know things about their personal lives that no one else knows. It is for this reason that Heraclius asked for the closest person.
The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and Abu Sufyan’s great-great grandfather was ‘Abd Munaf. Hence, they shared the lineage.
Next question arises, why did Heraclius ask for the Prophet’s lineage? It is because a person is known by his family. A noble family will only raise a noble child. Rarely does a person of strong morals give birth to a child of weak and immoral character. Back then people asked about lineage as today we ask about one’s education, status and financial standing.
Why did Heraclius ask Abu Sufyan’s companions to stand behind him? It is because in case, Abu Sufyan lied his companions’ gestures would be evident. One can be embarrassed to contradict their friend on their face, but if they are not in sight they will be honest. Therefore, Abu Sufyan said in the hadeeth above, “By Allah! Had I not been afraid of my companions labeling me a liar, I would not have spoken the truth about the Prophet.”
Why did Heraclius asks if anyone before had claimed Prophethood from among the Arabs? This was to test whether the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was truly the Messenger of Allah or was he copying someone.
Why did he ask if anyone from the Prophet’s ancestors was a king? It was to determine whether he was rising up to claim the lost kingdom.
Then he asks about the followers and he is informed that they were poor. We have studied in the Tafseer that during all times the first to follow their messenger were the weak and poor. It was nothing to be disheartened about but rather a sign of true Prophethood. The rich and the affluent, though considered dignitaries among their people, are often people of hard hearts and arrogance. All that they are concerned about is their status and authority over other people. The only reason many Quraysh leaders did not accept the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam as a prophet of Allah was because they feared their leadership. They believed that if we follow him then who is going to follow us.
It is important to remember that it was not only the weak and destitute who followed the Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Abu Bakr Siddeeq and ‘Usman ibn Affan radhiAllahu ‘anhum – one of the first to embrace Islam were one of the richest and noblest people of their times. However, the majority of the followers were poor.
Why did he ask if anyone renounced Islam after accepting it? It is because if people found the religion to be true then they would not leave it. We know that no Muslim, at the time of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, renounced Islam except ‘Ubaidullah ibn Jahsh. He embraced Islam in Makkah, but when he migrated to Ethiopia he embraced Christianity due to the greed for worldly benefits.
Why did he ask about the honesty of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam? It is because had he been known as a liar among his people then people would not be following him. But we know from the Seerah of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam that he was known as the Sadiq [truthful] and Amin [trustworthy] even before Prophethood. And when he was migrating to Madina, he had trusts of people under his care that he gave to ‘Ali radhiAllahu ‘anhu to return.
Lesson: Heraclius says: a man who does not lie to the people cannot lie about Allah. It shows the strength of one’s character. If we are vigilant about our speech and day-to-day matters only then people will believe us. But if we are those who cheat people and are not conscious of what slips from our mouth, then we can’t expect people to believe what we say.
When Heraclius asks about the promises, Abu Sufyan does not give a clear answer. He says, “We are at truce (referring to the Treaty of Hudaibiyyah) but we do not know what he will do in it.” He took it as an opportunity to speak against the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, but Heraclius was not interested in what is uncertain and lies in the future. He based his judgment on what is current and what has happened in the past, therefore, he moved on to the next questions.
Lesson: This tells us that if you are an honest person and righteous slave of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala then He will protect you no matter what your enemies plan against you. Abu Sufyan intended to harm the Prophet’s character, but Heraclius was not impressed.