The earliest interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims occurred near the beginning of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission. The Prophet and his companions were greatly oppressed by the polytheists of Makkah. Concerned for their wellbeing, he sent some of his followers to seek refuge with the Negus of Abyssinia-a righteous and just Christian king. He listened attentively to the Prophet’s emissary with great respect and awe, especially the Quranic description of Mary and Jesus. This description led the king and his subjects to affirm that this indeed was a revelation from God and they graciously granted the Muslims the asylum they sought.
The Prophet recognized Christians as one of the ³People of the Book.² He treated them with respect and kindness, contracted treaties with various tribes amongst them, and he assured them the freedom to practice their faith and to determine their own affairs while living under Islamic law.
One noteworthy example is when a large delegation of Christians from Najran visited the Prophet in Madinah. He received them with great hospitality, and they stayed at the Prophet¹s Mosque. When they wanted to leave the Mosque and go outside to perform their church services, the Prophet surprised them by offering the use of his Mosque.
Although they did not reach an agreement on all matters of faith, they left Madinah with a treaty of peace and cooperation given to them by the Prophet. This, and similar incidents, are the examples that Muslims and Christians should emulate in the pursuit of better interfaith relations.