We can learn from the first encounter of a Christian king and Muslim leader

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The historic meeting between a Tigray king and a Muslim leader in Aksum was a high point in Christian-Muslim relations. This story of two leaders discovering they share much in common is a lesson for the world today.

About 20 years ago I was working as neurosurgeon contracted to the United Arab Emirate military hospital in part to help provide care for civilian victims of ISIS terror in the Middle East. As a part of learning to function in an Islamic culture I studied Islamic medical tradition, the Qu’ran, and other documents. At the time I also had a good friend who was an internationally known executive from Egypt who was teaching me the basics about Islam. When I went to Ethiopia in 2012 having discovered that 40% or more of the population is Islamic also continued this interest.

In the 7th century, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) sought refuge in the Christian Aksumite kingdom from pagan Saudi authorities. He met King Nijashi sometimes referred to as Armah in Geez. Despite claims by his pursuers that he had nothing in common with Christians he explained that the Holy Qur’an sanctified the early Hebrew profits as well as recognizing that Mary had given birth to an important prophet, Jesus Christ. On hearing the similarities in Islam and Christianity, Nijashi was deeply touched in seeing what he had in common with Islam. He decided to grant permanent asylum to Mohammed’s followers.

Early Christian’s did not carry crosses historians tell us and Ethiopians did not use crosses until the 10th century. The movie, The Message, telling the story of the early Muslims was supervised by Muslim scholars and portrays this event. It is a great movie for Christians to see to better understand Islam. However, it is unlikely Nijashi carried a cross as depicted. Yet one of the holiest days for the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition is Meskel. This celebrates when St. Helen, mother of Constantine, found the remnants of the True Cross which occurred in the 4th century. So in my representation I have placed a painting of this event by the Aksumite king.

We can learn from the story of a merciful Christian Aksumite king from what is now Tigray granting asylum to persecuted Muslims in the 7th century when he realized they shared many values and believes. I have trained and met many greatly compassionate and skilled Muslim doctors who are like sons to me. Ethiopia and Tigray have not always been fair to Muslims but I will never forget it was the muazzin of a Mekelle mosque that called the population together to save Ayder Hospital. That is another story I will tell for another day.

Professor Tony Magana https://myfindinggrace.com

Dr. Tony Magana is Professor Emeritus in Neurosurgery who spent many years doing international teaching and research including 10 years in Ethiopia. Over the past 15 years he concomitantly intensified his Christian faith through study and worship through the Episcopal Church. He grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Attended Texas A&M University, Harvard Medical School, and trained at the University of Miami. Additionally he took the University of South Education for Ministry as well as attending the Southeast Florida Episcopal Diocesan School for Christian Studies.
Professor Tony Magana, a seasoned neurosurgeon, has not only dedicated his life to medical practice but also embarked on a profound spiritual journey. Over the past 15 years, he has deepened his Christian faith through study and worship within the Episcopal Church. His experiences span international teaching, research, and a decade of service in Ethiopia
Dr. Tony Magana’s writings blend faith, compassion, and wisdom, inviting readers to explore the intersection of spirituality and the human experience. His journey serves as an inspiration for those seeking deeper connections with faith and humanity.

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