This is the story of Christianity in ancient Najran, in Yemen, as found in Ibn Ishaq’s Life of the Messenger of Allah. I quote almost the entirety of it in the above essay, so I figured I would put it up in its original form, as it does not appear to be easily available online otherwise. Faymiyun appears to be the Arabic form of the Greek name Phemion, a saint otherwise unknown to me.
Al-Mughira bin Abu Labid, a freedman of Al-Akhnas, on the authority of Wahb bin Munabbih the Yemeni told me that the presence of Christianity in Najran was due to a man named Faymiyun, who was a righteous, earnest, ascetic man whose prayers were answered. He used to wander between towns: as soon as he became known in one town he moved to another, eating only what he earned, for he was a builder by trade using mud bricks. He used to keep Sunday as a day of rest and would do not work then. He used to go into a desert place and pray there until evening. While he was following his trade in a Syrian village, withdrawing himself from men, one of the people there called Salih perceived what manner of man he was and felt a violent affection for him, so that unperceived by Faymiyun he used to follow him from place to place, until one Sunday he went as his wont was out into the desert followed by Salih. Salih chose a hiding-place and sat down where he could see him, not wanting him to know where he was. As Faymiyun stood to pray a tinnin, a seven-horned snake, came towards him and when Faymiyun saw it he cursed it and it died. Seeing the snake but not knowing what had happened to it and fearing for Faymiyun’s safety, Salih could not contain himself and cried out: “Faymiyun, a tinnin is upon you!” He took no notice and went on with his prayers until he had ended them. Night had come and he departed. He knew that he had been recognized and Salih knew that he had seen him. So Salih said: “Faymiyun, you know that I have never loved anything as I love you; I want to be always with you and go wherever you go.” He replied: “As you will. You know how I live and if you feel that you can bear the life well and good.” So Salih remained with him, and the people of the village were on the point of discovering his secret. For when a man suffering from a disease came in his way by chance Faymiyun prayed for him and he would be cured; but if Faymiyun was summoned to a sick man he would not go. Now one of the villagers had a son who was blind and he asked about Faymiyun and was told that he never came when he was sent for, but that he was a man who built houses for people for a wage. Thereupon the man took his son and put him in his room and threw a garment over him and went to Faymiyun saying that he wanted him to do some work for him in his house and would he come and look at it, and they would agree on a price. Arrived at the house Faymiyun asked what he wanted done, and after giving the details the man suddenly whisked off the covering from the boy and said, “O Faymiyun, one of God’s creatures is in the state you see. So pray for him.” Faymiyun did so and the boy got up entirely healed. Knowing that he had been recognized he left the village followed by Salih, and while they were walking through Syria they passed by a great tree and a man called from it, saying, “I’ve been expecting you and saying, ‘When is he coming?’ until I heard your voice and knew it was you. Don’t go until you have prayed over my grave for I am about to die.” He did die and Faymiyun prayed over him until they buried him. Then he left followed by Salih until they reached the land of the Arabs who attacked them, and a caravan carried them off and sold them in Najran. At this time the people of Najran followed the religion of the Arabs worshipping a great palm-tree there. Every year they had a festival when they hung on the tree any fine garment they could find and women’s jewels. Then they sallied out and devoted the day to it. Faymiyun was sold ot one noble and Salih to another. Now it happened that when Faymiyun was praying earnestly at night in a house which his master had assigned to him the whole house was filled with light so that it shone as it were without a lamp. His master was amazed at the sight, and asked him about his religion. Faymiyun told him and said that they were in error; as for the palm-tree it could neither help nor hurt; and if he were to curse the tree in the name of God He would destroy it, for He was God Alone without companion. “Then do so,” said his master, “for if you do that we shall embrace your religion, and abandon our present faith.” After purifying himself and performing two rakas, he invoked God against the tree and God sent a wind against it which tore it from its roots and cast it on the ground. Then the people of Najran adopted his religion and he instructed them in the law of Jesus son of Mary. This was the origin of Christianity in Najran in the land of the Arabs. Such is the report of Wahb bin Munabbih on the authority of the people of Najran.
Yazid bin Ziyad told me on the authority of Muhammad bin Kab al-Qurazi, and a man of Najran also told me, that according to his people they used to worship idols. Najran is the largest town in which the people of the neighboring districts congregated, and in a village hard by there was a sorcerer who used to instruct the young men of Najran in his art. When Faymiyun came there – they did not call him by the name that Wahb bin Munabbih gives him but simply said a man came there – he put up a tent between Najran and the place where the sorcerer was. Now the people of Najran used to send their young men to that sorcerer to be taught sorcery and al-Thamir sent his son Abdullah along with them. When he passed by the man in the tent he was immensely struck by his prayers and devotion and began to sit with him and listen to him until he became a Muslim and acknowledged the unity of God and worshipped Him. He asked questions about the laws of Islam [technically Islam did not exist at the time, but Muhammad insisted that he brought no innovations but was merely restoring the old-time religion, and venerable figures from the past are hence considered Muslims] until when he became fully instructed therein he asked the man what was the Great Name of God. Although Faymiyun knew it he kept it from him, saying, “My dear young man, you will not be able to bear it; I fear that you are not strong enough.” Now al-Thamir had no idea that his son was not visiting the sorcerer along with the other young men. Abdullah seeing that his master had kept the knowledge from him and was afraid of his weakness, collected a number of sticks and whenever Faymiyun taught him a name of God he wrote that name on a stick. When he had got them all he lit a fire and began to throw them in one by one until when he reached the stick with the Great Name inscribed on it he threw it in, and it immediately sprang out untouched by the fire. Thereupon he took it and went and told his master that he knew the Great Name which he had concealed from him. The latter questioned him and when he learned how he found out the secret he said, “O my young man, you have got it, but keep it to yourself, though I do not think you will.”
Whenever Abdullah son of Al-Thamir entered Najran and met any sick person he would say to him, “O servant of God [“Abdullah”], will you acknowledge the unity of God and adopt my religion so that I may pray to God that he may heal you of your affliction?” The man would agree, acknowledge the unity of God, and become a Muslim, and he would pray for him and he would be healed, until in the end there was not a single sick person in Najran but had adopted his religion and become whole from his sickness. When the news reached the king he sent for him and said: “You have corrupted the people of my town so that they are against me and have opposed my religion and the religion of my fathers. I will make a terrible example of you!” Abdullah replied, “You have not the power to do that.” The king had him taken to a high mountain and thrown down headlong, but he reached the ground unhurt. Then he had him thrown into deep water in Najran from which no one had ever emerged alive, but he came out safely.
Having thus gotten the better of him Abdullah told him that he would not be able to kill him until he acknowledged the unity of God and believed in his religion; but that if he did he would be given the power to kill him. The king then acknowledged the unity of God and pronounced the creed of Abdullah, and hitting him a moderate blow with a stick which he had in his hand he killed him, whereupon the king himself died on the spot. The people of Najran accepted the religion of Abdullah son of Al-Thamir according to the Gospel and the law which Jesus son of Mary brought. Afterwards they were overtaken by the misfortunes [or “innovations”] which befell their co-religionists. Such is the origin of Christianity in Najran. But God knows best [what the facts are]….
I was told by Abdullah the son of Abu Bakr that he was told that in the days of Omar the son of Al-Khattab a man of Najran dug up one of the ruins of Najran intending to make use of the land, when they came upon Abdullah the son of Al-Thamir under a grave; he was in a sitting posture with his hand covering a wound in his head and holding firmly to it. When his hand was removed the blood began to flow; when they let go of his hand it returned to its place and the flow of blood ceased. On his finger was a ring inscribed “Allah is my Lord.” A report was sent to Omar [the caliph] and he replied, “Leave him alone and fill in the grave,” and his orders were duly carried out. [pp.16-8, Guillaume translation with edits]