Ethiopia is an ancient country in the eastern part of Africa lying along the coast of the Red Sea which came to be known as Abyssinia since the distant past. Its boundaries, as they existed in the seventh century, are not easy to define now. The kingdom of Abyssinia was also one of the oldest in the world. The Jewish sources denote that the queen Sheba belonged to Abyssinia and her progeny by Solomon ever ruled the country.
The Jews started migrating to the country from the sixth century B.C. after the destruction of Solomonʹs Temple but Christianity became the dominant faith of the people by the fourth century. When the Jewish monarch of Yemen persecuted the Christians of his land, Emperor Justin I wrote to the Negus of Abyssinia to help the Christians.
Negus of Abyssinia is said to have complied by sending an army which captured Yemen in 525 A.D. and retained the hold of Abyssinia over it for about fifty years. Abraha was the viceroy of Abyssinian King in Yemen who led an army to destroy the House of God in Makkah whence came off the memorable event of ʹAm al‐fil or the year of the elephant. The capital of Abyssinia was at Axum. Being a sovereign state, it was neither dependent nor a tributary to any alien power. Of course, as a Christian country, it had friendly relations with Byzantium which was then regarded as the protector of Christendom. The Byzantine Emperor respected the independence of Abyssinia for Justinian had sent his Ambassador by the name of Julian, to the count of Axum.
De lacy OʹLeary writes in the ʺArabia before Muhammedʺ that ʺfrom 522 to the rise of Islam, the Abyssinians controlled the southern end of the Red Sea including trade with Africa, perhaps that with India as well.
The official title of the King of Abyssinia was Nagusa Nagasht or King of Kings of Ethiopia. But, the name of the King to whom the Prophet sent his letter inviting him to embrace Islam has been variously mentioned in different sources.
However, we have before us two kings of Abyssinia. One of these is the king during whose reign the Muslim migrated from Makkah to Abyssinia under the leadership Jʹafar b. Abi Talib, in the fifth year of the Prophet messengership of Muhammed peace be and blessings upon him. But it is highly improbable that the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him wrote any letter to Negus at that time. The circumstances prevailing with the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him at Makkah then were unfavorable for addressing such a letter to any ruler. And in any case, it was neither an appropriate time for inviting any noble or king from a foreign land to accept Islam nor did he send any such letter, according to the Traditions, to any foreign dignitary. All that the Traditions suggest is that the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him had requested the then Negus to afford protection to the Muslims in his country for they were being severely persecuted by the Quraysh.
Similarly, the writings of Ibn Hisham and others imply that the Negus had admitted the truth of divine revelation and accepted that Jesus was a Prophet peace be and blessings upon him and word of God cast by Him unto Mary, the mother of Jesus. In so far as the Negus to whom the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him had sent his letter is concerned, he was, according to Ibn Kathir, the King who succeeded the Negus who had been given asylum to Jʹafar b. Abi Talib. Ibn Kathir maintains that the letter inviting him to accept Islam was written to the Negus before the conquest of Makkah along with other monarchs. ʹIbn Kathirʹs view appears to be preferable for this second Negus accepted Islam, and of whose death the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him informed the Muslims and prayed for his salvation. Waqidi and some other biographers of the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him have stated that the Prophet peace be and blessings upon him had prayed for the Negus after a return from Tabuk in Rajab 09, A.H.
(Saheeh Muslim, Vol. V, p. 166)
The consequential circumstances of the event suggest that Waqidi is correct in holding this view and in its dating.