The Muslim sacred texts mention that Prophet Mohammad sent letters to all the major Kings in the Middle East inviting them to embrace Islam. Amongst others, these included the Negus of Axum, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641), the Muqawqis of Egypt, and the Sasanid emperor Khosrau II (r. 590–628).
This tradition mentions a letter to the Ghassanid King Al-Harith Ibn Abu Chemor V (ruled 529-569 AD). The way that the Prophet addresses the Ghassanid King is very interesting. He calls him “The King of Damascus“. That was the capital of the region called by Arabs ash-Shām “north country, the Levant” in contrast to al-Yaman “south country, the Yemen“. The mere fact that the Founder of Islam wrote a letter to the Ghassanid King shows his importance and status at the time. Many scholars call the Ghassanid Kingdom a “vassal State” of the Byzantine empire in a derogatory way, implying inferiority. As aforementioned, he also sent a letter to Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. Obviously, if the Ghassanids had no sovereignty and were subordinated to the Byzantine empire there would be no need to write the Ghassanid King since writing the Byzantine emperor would suffice.
Here is the letter’s content, according to the Islamic tradition:
“A Letter to Harith bin Abu Chemor Al-Ghassani, King of Damascus
In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most. Merciful.
From Muhammad, Messenger of Allah to Al-Harith bin Abu Chemor
Peace be upon him who follows true guidance, believes in it, and regards it as true. I invite you to believe in Allah Alone with no associate, thence after your kingdom will remain yours ...”
Shuja’ bin Wahab had the honor of taking the letter to Al-Harith, who upon hearing the letter read in his audience, was madly infuriated and uttered: “Who dares to dispose me of my country, I’ll fight him (the Prophet),” and arrogantly rejected the Prophet’s invitation to the fold of I lam. [Za’d AI-Ma’ad 3/62; Muhadarat Tareekh AI-Umam Allslamiyah 1 /146]
The fact that King Al-Harith refused to convert to Islam started a chain of events that ended up with the fall of the First Ghassanid State in 638 CE. King Jabalah and the Royal Family were evacuated going to Mount Lebanon and Anatolia (today’s Turkey but back then part of the Byzantine empire). However, many Ghassanids remained in the region under the First Islamic Caliphate and due to several factors like the payment of the Jiziya tax (for Non-Muslims), slowly many ended up converting to the new faith.
History would repeat itself with the Ottoman persecution of the Ghassanid Christian principalities in Northern Mount Lebanon starting in the 18th century until the exodus to the Americas at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th (WWI).
“Descent from the Royal Ghassanids was an honour to be claimed by many Christians as was the honour for Muslims in claiming descent from Quraysh, the tribe of the Prophet [Muhammad].” — Professor Doctor Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected”, 2006, p.149
Although the Ghassanid Dynasty was always a synonym for Christian resistance to Muslim regimes many Ghassanid Muslim families proudly kept their Ghassanid identity until today, like in the city of Karak, Jordan. Another good example is the Muslim Al-Ghassani family of the Sultanate of Oman.
Today, approximately 30% of the Ghassanid’s world population (estimated at 15 million people) is Muslim.
The Christian tradition was so important to the Ghassanids that there was a royal decree forbidding Ghassanids to marry non-Chrsitians.
“While Ghassanid Christians clung to their identity as a minority and were interbed because of the prohibition of marriage with non-Christians..” Professor Doctor Yasmine Zahran, “Ghassan Resurrected”, 2006, p.149
Knowing that fact, HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor of Ghassan Al-Numan VIII, head of the Royal House of Ghassan, had the ancient decree symbolically revoked in 2014 in the advent of his official visit to the Grand Mufti of Jordan, the highest Islamic authority in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor in an official audience with the Grand Mufti of Jordan in 2014