Amr ibn Al-Aas was a shrewd, highly intelligent man who belonged to the nobility of the Quraysh. He was determinedly hostile to Islam. In fact he was the Quraysh’s envoy to Negus seeking the extradition of the early Muslims who migrated to Abyssinia. He fought with the Quraysh against Islam in several battles. Little did he know then that he would come to be one of the great commanders fighting for the Islamic cause. His account of his conversion to Islam makes highly interesting reading. He says:
“I was strongly hostile to Islam. I took part in the Battles of Badr, Uhud and the Moat, fighting alongside the idolaters, and I was able to survive. Now I started thinking that Muhammad would eventually triumph over the Quraysh. I, therefore, went to my place at Al-Ruht where I lived in semiseclusion. I was still very hostile to Islam and I felt that even if every man in the Quraysh would embrace Islam, I would not.
I went to Makkah, where I spoke to a group of my people who valued my opinion and consulted me on every serious matter. I told them that I thought Muhammad was on the crest of a wave. He was bound to overcome whoever resisted him. I then explained that I felt it was wiser to seek refuge in Abyssinia, where we could join Negus. If Muhammad did overcome his enemies, we would be safe with Negus. If the Quraysh turned out to be the winners, they would know that we were on their side. They all agreed with me and we started preparing for our departure. I suggested to them to put together a valuable gift which Negus would like. The gift he liked best from our part of the world was hide. We, therefore, took with us a large quantity of hide and traveled until we reached Abyssinia.
When we were in the court of Negus, Amr ibn Umayyah Al-Damri, the envoy sent by Muhammad, arrived with a message. When I saw Amr ibn Umayyah go in for his audience with Negus and leave soon afterward, I said to my people: “This is Amr ibn Umayyah. If I can persuade Negus to give him up to me, I will kill him to give the Quraysh infinite pleasure.”
When I was admitted into the presence of Negus, I prostrated myself to him as I used to do. He said to me: “Welcome, my friend. Have you brought me any gifts from your part of the world?”
I said: “Yes, I have brought you a gift of hide.”
I presented my gift and he was very pleased with it. He gave some of it to his bishops and patriarchs and ordered that the rest be kept and recorded. When I saw that he was very pleased with my gift, I said to him: “Your Majesty, I have seen a man come out of your court. He is the envoy of our enemy, who has killed a number of our chiefs and noblemen. May I request that you give him up to me so that I can kill him?”
He was very angry with me for what I said. He hit me with his hand on my nose and I felt as if my nose was broken. I was bleeding heavily through the nose and tried to wipe the blood with my clothes. I was so humiliated that I wished the earth would open up and swallow me because I was so afraid of him. I then said to him: “Your Majesty, had I known that you would dislike what I said I would not have made that request.”
He felt a little ashamed and said to me: “Amr, you are asking me to give up to you the envoy of a man who receives the archangel who used to come to Moses and Jesus so that you can kill him?”
When I heard his words, I felt a great change overcoming me. I thought that Negus, the Arabs and the non-Arabs, recognized the truth while I was deliberately turning away from it. I said to him: “Do you testify to that, Your Majesty?”
He said: “Yes, I bear witness to that in front of God. Amr, do as I say and follow him, for his cause is that of the truth, and he will win over all those who oppose him, in the same way as Moses won against Pharaoh and his soldiers.”
I said to Negus: “Do you accept on his behalf my pledge to follow Islam?”
He answered in the affirmative and put out his hands and I gave him my pledge to be a Muslim.
He then called for a bowl of water to be brought for me to wash. He also gave me new clothes, because my own clothes were full of blood. When I went out, my friends were very pleased to see me wearing new clothes given me by Negus. They asked me whether he had granted my request, and I said that I did not feel the occasion was suitable for such a request, since I was speaking to him for the first time. They agreed with me and I pretended that I was going out for some private purpose and left them there. I went straight to the port area, where I found a ship ready to sail. I went on board and sailed to a place called Al-Shu’bah, where I disembarked. I bought a camel and traveled on toward Madinah. I passed through Marr Al-Zahran and went on until I arrived at Al-Haddah. I saw two men who had arrived there a short while earlier, trying to find a place to encamp. One of them was inside the tent; the other was holding the reins of their two camels. Presently, I recognized Khalid ibn Al-Waleed. When I asked him where he was going, he answered: “To Muhammad. All people of any significance have become Muslims. If we were to remain non-Muslim, he would catch us by the neck in the same way as the hyena is caught in its cave.”
I told him that I also was going to Muhammad and wanted to be a Muslim. Uthman ibn Talhah came out of the tent and welcomed me. We stayed there together that night.
We traveled on together until we arrived at Madinah. I will never forget a man saying as we drew near: Ya Rabah, “What a profitable morning!”’ He repeated that three times. We were very pleased when we heard him say that. As he looked at us, he said: “Makkah has given up the reign after these two have come to join us.” I thought he was referring to me and Khalid ibn Al-Waleed. He went quickly toward the mosque. I thought that he went to give the Prophet (peace be upon him) the news of our arrival. I was proved right.
We stopped for a short while at the old volcanic area outside Madinah, where we put on our best clothes. When the midafternoon prayer, Asr, was called for, we went on until we arrived at the mosque to meet the Prophet. His face was beaming with pleasure and all the Muslims were pleased when they learned that we had adopted Islam.
Khalid ibn Al-Waleed went first to give his pledge of loyalty to the Prophet. He was followed by Uthman ibn Talhah. I was third. When I sat down opposite him I could not lift my face up to him because I was feeling very shy. I gave him my pledge of loyalty, provided that God would forgive me all my sins which I had committed in the past. I did not remember to include what I might do in future. The Prophet said to me: “When you embrace Islam, all your past sins are forgiven. When you emigrate for the cause of God, your emigration ensures also the forgiveness of your past sins.”
After we embraced Islam, the Prophet placed me and Khalid ibn Al-Waleed at the top of his advisers in any serious matter confronting him. We enjoyed the same positions with Abu Bakr. I continued to enjoy that position during the reign of Umar, but Umar had perhaps some reservations with respect to Khalid.”
This is the account of one of the great servants of Islam who was later to command Muslim armies which liberated both Palestine and Egypt. He also ruled over Egypt for a long time.