The encounter in Medina of the Najrani Christians with Muhammad provides a clear picture of Muhammad’s interaction with, and policy toward, Christians. As Muhammad and the Muslims gained political hegemony over Arabia, various tribes came to seek terms of peace with the Prophet of Islam. The town of Najran sent a Christian delegation to seek such a peace agreement. The Najranis, who were accompanied by their bishop, spent three days in theological discourse with Muhammad in Medina. This episode is referred to in Sura 3 (al-Imran). Gordon Nickel provides a thorough recap of the encounter and its treatment by Qur’anic commentators.19
The Najrani Christians offered to pledge their political allegiance to Muhammad if he would embrace their belief in the divinity of Jesus. This Sura recounts their testimony to the Annunciation (3:42–46), the Virgin Birth (3:47), Jesus’s miracles (3:49, including some apocryphal miracles).
The Qur’anic narrative then markedly pivots to an antibiblical Christology in which Jesus denies his own Lordship (3:51). Jesus’s disciples then shockingly declare: “We have believed in Allah and testify we are Muslims” (3:52). Sura 3:57 establishes salvation by works, and also states that “Allah does not love those who do wrong,” another drastic departure from biblical theology. The Najrani episode concludes with Muhammad declaring that Jesus was no more the Son of God than was Adam, who also was created without a human father (3:59).
Because of this theological impasse, Muhammad insisted on a mutual cursing ceremony with these Najrani Christians. Though the Najranis declined to curse Muhammad, Muhammad gathered his daughter Fatima, his son-in-law Ali, and his two grandsons under his cloak, and cursed the Najranis. The incident is known in Islamic history as “The Cursing” (al-Mubahala) with Muhammad’s indictment stated in Sura 3:61: “May God’s curse be upon those who lie!” The Qur’anic narrative ends here with: “This is the true account. There is no god but Allah. . . . If they turn back, God has full knowledge of those who do mischief.” (3:62–63).
For those keeping track of the verse numbers, the next verse in this passage is 3:64. This is the “common word” verse in which Christians are called to repent of associating partners with Allah (i.e., worshipping Jesus) and to return to Tawhid. Thus, Muhammad’s single notable encounter with a Christian community ended with him cursing that community because of their biblical beliefs regarding the Lord Jesus Christ.