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30.4 The First Message from Islam

It Was while Heraclius was engaged in restoring order in this already desolated Syria after the death of Chosroes II, and before the final peace with Persia, that a strange message was brought to him. The bearer had ridden over to the imperial outpost at Bostra in the wilderness south of Damascus. The letter was in Arabic, the obscure Semitic language of the nomadic peoples of the southern desert; and probably only an interpretation reached him–presumably with deprecatory notes by the interpreter.

It was an odd, florid challenge from someone who called himself «Muhammad, the Prophet of God». This Muhammad, it appeared, called upon Heraclius to acknowledge the one true God and to serve him. Nothing else was definite in the document.

There is no record of the reception of this missive, and presumably it went unanswered. The emperor probably shrugged his shoulders, and was faintly amused at the incident.

But at Ctesiphon they knew more about this Muhammad. He was said to be a tiresome false prophet, who had incited Yemen, the rich province of Southern Arabia, to rebel against the King of Kings. Kavadh was much occupied with affairs he had deposed and murdered his father Chosroes II, and he was attempting to reorganize the Persian military forces. To him also came a message identical with that sent to Heraclius. The thing angered them. He tore up the letter, flung the fragments at the envoy, and bade him be gone.

When this was told to the sender far away in the squalid little town of Medina, he was very angry. «Even so, 0 Lord!» he cried; «rend Thou his kingdom from him». (A.D. 628.)

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