Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Prophet of Terror and Mayhem Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun 

In this part I am going to address a couple of responses that Muslims raise to explain away the plain statements of the Quran and ahadith that Muhammad was a terrorist sent to murder and plunder all the unbelievers unless and until they submitted to his rule and wishes.


Certain polemicists appeal to the following version of Muhammad’s saying to disprove the notion of their prophet being a tyrant sent to terrorize the disbelievers: 

Jami` at-Tirmidhi 

Chapters on Tafsir 

Jabir narrated that: the Messenger of Allah said:

I have been ordered to fight the people until they say: ‘La ilaha illallah’. So when they say that, their blood and their wealth are safe from me, except for a right, and their reckoning is for Allah.” Then he recited: So remind them – you are only one who reminds. You are not a dictator over them

Grade: Hasan (Darussalam) 

English reference: Vol. 5, Book 44, Hadith 3341 

Arabic reference: Book 47, Hadith 3664 (; underline emphasis ours) 

(8) Chapter: The command to fight the people until they say "La ilaha illallah Muhammad Rasul-Allah", and establish Salat, and pay the Zakat, and believe in everything that the prophet brought. Whoever does that, his life and his wealth are protected except by its right, and his secrets are entrusted to Allah, the most high. Fighting those who withhold Zakat or other than that is one of the duties of Islam and the Iman should be concerned with the Laws of Islam 

It is narrated on the authority of Jabir that the Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded that I should fight against people till they declare that there is no god but Allah, and when they profess it that there is no god but Allah, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection on my behalf except where it is justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah, and then he (the Holy Prophet) recited (this verse of the Holy Qur’an): ”Thou art not over them a warden” (lxxxviii, 22).” (Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 32

These polemicists assume that Muhammad’s appeal to Q. 88:22, 

Thou art not impowered to act with authority over them. Sale 

Confirms that he wasn’t sent to murder all those who refused to become Muslims.

Before we reply it is important that we quote some more of the immediate context so as to get a clearer picture of what is being said here: 

So remind them (O Muhammad), you are only a one who reminds. You are not a dictator over them. Save the one who turns away and disbelieves Then Allah will punish him with the greatest punishment. Verily, to Us will be their return; Then verily, for Us will be their reckoning. S. 88:21-26 Hilali-Khan

In view of the immediate context, the passage is not saying that Muhammad has no authority to go around slaying the disbelievers. On the contrary, the point of the passage is that Muhammad doesn’t have the ability to make any one believe, and therefore cannot force the unbelievers to become Muslims, which is why he has been sent to fight them. I.e., since not everyone will come to “faith” Muhammad is left with no choice but to murder them since he is Allah’s agent of judgment sent to punish the unbelievers for refusing to submit to Allah and his “messenger”.  

This is precisely what the Quran says elsewhere,

Fight them, Allah will punish them by your hands and bring them to disgrace, and assist you against them and heal the hearts of a believing people. S. 9:14 Hilali-Khan 

And how some of the Muslim expositors understood the Quran’s message concerning the role Muhammad and his followers were to play in bringing about the punishment of Allah upon the disbelievers for their refusal to believe: 

God will chastise him with the greater chastisement the chastisement of the Hereafter the lesser chastisement being that of this world that of being killed or taken captive. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Q. 88:24; bold and underline emphasis ours) 

Other commentators believed that Q. 88:22 and similar verses had actually been abrogated by texts such as Q. 9:5 and 29, which commanded Muhammad to kill the pagan Arabs and the Jews and Christians, with the exception that the latter had the additional choice of remaining in their respective faiths provided they were willing to pay the jizyah

you are not a taskmaster over them a variant reading for musaytir has musaytir that is to say not one who has been given authority over them — this was revealed before the command to struggle against the disbelievers. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Q. 88:22; bold emphasis ours) 

(Thou art not) O Muhammad (at all a warder over them) you are not imposed on them such that you force them to accept faith. Later on, Allah commanded him to fight them, saying: (But whoso is averse and disbelieveth) except he who turns away from faith and disbelieves in Allah, (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs, Q. 88:22-23; *; bold emphasis ours) 

"Fight in the way of God with those who fight with you, but aggress not: God loves not the aggressors” (2:190). On the authority of Ja'far ar-Razi from Rabi' Ibn 'Ons, from 'Abil-'Aliyah who said: This is the first verse that was revealed in the Qur'an about fighting in the Madina. When it was revealed the prophet used to fight those who fight with him and avoid those who avoid him, until Sura 9 was revealed. And so is the opinion of 'Abd ar-Rahman Ibn Zayd Ibn 'Aslam who said this verse was cancelled by 9:5 "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them.” (Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh [Dar al-Kotob al-'Elmeyah, Beirut, 1986], p. 27) 

This is the Ayah of the Sword… 

<But if they repent and perform the Salah, and give Zakah, then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.> 

Abu Bakr As-Siddiq used this and other honorable Ayat as proof for fighting those who refrained from paying the Zakah. These Ayat allowed fighting people unless, and until, they embrace Islam and implement its rulings and obligations... In the two Sahihs, it is recorded that Ibn ‘Umar said that the Messenger of Allah said… 

<I have been commanded to fight the people until they testify there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establish the prayer and pay Zakah.> 

This honorable Ayah (9:5) was called the Ayah of the Sword, about which Ad-Dahhak bin Muzahim said, "IT ABROGATED EVERY AGREEMENT OF PEACE BETWEEN THE PROPHET AND ANY IDOALTOR, EVERY TREATY, AND EVERY TERM." Al-‘Awfi said that Ibn ‘Abbas commented: "No idolator had any more treaty or promise ever since Sura Bara’ah was revealed. The four months, in addition to, all peace treaties conducted before Bara’ah was revealed and announced had ended by the tenth of the month of Rabi’ Al-Akhir." (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged), Surat Al-A’raf to the end of Surah Yunus, abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; First Edition: May 2000] Volume 4, pp. 375, 377; capital and underline emphasis ours) 

The following quotes are taken from these two pages: 12

Ibn Juzayy:

(Then when the sacred months are over) i.e. the four months designated for them. Those who say that they are Shawwal, Dhu’l-Qa’da, Dhu’l-Hijja and al-Muharram, says that they are the well-known Sacred Months - with the addition of Shawwal and omission of Rajab. They are called "sacred" because the majority dominates in an Arabic phrase. Those who say that they last until Rab' ath-Thani calls them sacred because of their inviolability and because fighting in them was forbidden. 

(kill the mushrikun wherever you find them) ABROGATING EVERY PEACE TREATY IN THE QUR’AN. It is said that it abrogates, "by setting them free or ransom." (47:4) It is also said that it is abrogated by it and so setting them free and ransom are permitted. (seize them) means to capture, and the one taken is the captive. 

(If they make tawba) after disbelief. Then He connects belief to the prayer and zakatThat is an indication that one should fight anyone WHO ABANDONS THE PRAYER AND ZAKAT as Abu Bakr as-Siddiq did. The ayat encompassed the meaning of the Prophet’s words, "I am commanded to fight people until they say, 'There is no god but Allah and establish the prayer and pay the zakat." (let them go on their way) granting them security… 

(Fight those of the people who do not have iman in Allah and the Last Day) A command to fight the People of the Book and denying their belief in Allah because of the words of the Jews, "'Uzayr is the son of Allah" and the words of the Christians, "The Messiah is the son of Allah." Their belief in the Last Day is denied because their belief in it is incorrect. They do not accept the Next World or the Reckoning. 

(who do not make haram what Allah and His Messenger have made haram) because they consider as lawful carrion, blood, pork, etc. (and do not take as their deen the deen of Truth) i.e. THEY DO NOT ENTER ISLAM. 

(who were given the Book) Clarifying those they were commanded to fight. When this ayat was revealed, the Messenger of Allah set out on the expedition to Tabuk to fight the Christians. 

(until they pay the jizya) Scholars agree about accepting jizya from the Jews and Christians. The Magians/Zoroasterians have been added to them going by the words of the Prophet, "Treat them as People of the Book." There is disagreement about accepting it from idolaters and Sabians. It is not collected from women, children or the insane. Malik says that it is 4 dinars for the people who use gold and 40 dirhams for the people who use silver. It is a head tax. (with their own hands) This has two interpretations. One is that the dhimmi pays it with his own hand and does not send anyone with it nor postpone it as is said, "from hand to hand." The second is submission and obedience as you say, "he gave his hand to so-and-so [an _expression meaning "he surrendered to so-and-so"]." (STATE OF ABASEMENT) i.e. they are humble. 


This [Q. 9:5] is an Ayat of the Sword WHICH ABROGATES PARDON, TRUCE AND OVERLOOKING(seize them) is used as evidence for the permission to take captives. (and besiege them) is permission for besieging and raiding and attacking by night. Ibn Abi Hatim reported that Abu 'Imran al-Jawfi said that ribat in the way of Allah is found in the words, "lie in wait for them on every road." (if they make tawba and establish the prayer and pay the zakat, let them go on their way) Repentance from shirk is not enough to let them go their way until they establish the prayer and pay the zakatAsh-Shafi'i took this as a proof FOR KILLING ANYONE WHO ABANDONS THE PRAYER and fighting ANYONE WHO REFUSES TO PAY ZAKAT. Some use it as a proof that they are kafirun… 

(Fight those of the people who do not have iman in Allah and the Last Day) This is the basis for accepting jizya from the People of the Book, and it is a refutation of those who accept it from others. "With their own hands". It is related by Abu Hatim from Qatada to be BY FORCE, and by Abu Sufyan to be by ability. Its literal meaning is that it is not taken from someone in a state of hardship as Ibn al-Majishun stated. Ibn 'Uyayna said that "with their own hands" means that it is not sent with someone else. This is used as evidence by those who say that a Muslim cannot be delegated to do it, nor can he guarantee it for him nor transfer it from him to himself, but the dhimmi must pay it in person. 

(state of abasement) Ibn 'Abbas said: they are pushed. Ibn Abi Hatim transmitted that. It is transmitted that al-Mughira told Rustam, "I call you to Islam or else you must pay the jizya while you are in a state of abasement." He said, "I know what jizya means, but what does 'a state of abasement' mean?" He replied, "You pay it while you are standing and I am sitting AND THE WHIP IS HANGING OVER YOUR HEAD." Abu'sh-Shaykh related that Sa'id ibn al-Musayyab said, "I prefer that the people of the dhimma become tired by paying the jizya since He says, 'until they pay the jizya with their own hands in a state of complete abasement.'" It is used as a proof by those who say THAT IT IS TAKEN IN A HUMILIATING WAY, and so the taker sits and the dhimmi stands with his head bowed and his back bent. The jizya is placed in the balance and the taker seizes his beard and hits his chin. This is rejected according to an-Nawawi who said, "This manner is invalid." This ayat is used as a proof by those who say that the people of the dhimma are left in the land of Islam because it is understood that one refrains from fighting them when they pay it. (Capital and underline emphasis ours) 

The following is taken from the Encyclopaedia of the Quran, Volume 3. J-Q, starting from p. 40. Paragraph breaks have been inserted to facilitate easier reading. All bold and capitalized emphasis within the bolded parts will be ours: 

… There are also Quranic references to treaties with infidels and to peace (Q 2:208; 4:90; 8:61; cf. Q 3:28; 47:35; see CONTRACTS AND ALLIANCES). All these are in conflict with the clear order to fight the idolaters (mushrikun), until they are converted to Islam and is known as "the sword verse" (ayat al-sayf, SEE POLYTHEISM AND ATHEISM). Q 9:29 orders Muslims to fight the People of the Book (q.v.) until they consent to pay tribute (jizya, SEE POLL TAX), thereby recognizing the superiority of Islam. It is known as "the jizya verse" (ayat al-jizya, occasionally also as "the sword verse"). The Quran does not lay down rules for cases of Muslim defeat, although there is a long passage discussing such an occurrence (Q 3:139-75, SEE ALSO 4:104; SEE VICTORY).

A broad consensus among medieval exegetes and jurists exists on the issue of waging war. The simplest AND EARLIEST SOLUTION of the problem of contradictions in the Quran was to consider Q 9:5 and 9:29 as abrogating all the other statements. Scholars seem sometimes to have deliberately expanded the list of the abrogated verses, including in it material that is irrelevant to the issue of waging war (e.g. Q 2:83, see Ibn al-Barzi, Nasikh,23; Ibn al-Jawzi, Musaffa, 14; id., Nawasikh, 156-8; Baydawi, Anwar, i, 70; Tabari, Tafsir, i, 311; other examples: Q 3:111; 4:63; 16:126, 23:96; 25:63; 28:55; 38:88; 39:3). The number of verses abrogated by Q 9:5 and 9:29 is sometimes said TO EXCEED 120 (Ibn al-Barzi, Nasikh, 22-3 and passim; also Powers, Exegetical genre, 138). Several verses are considered as both abrogating and abrogated, in turn, by others. The Muslim tradition, followed by modern scholars (SEE POST-ENLIGHTENMENT ACADEMIC STUDY OF THE QURAN), associated various verses with developments in the career of the Prophet. It is related that, in the beginning, God instructed the prophet to avoid the infidels and to forgive them. The Prophet was actually forbidden to wage war while in Mecca (q.v.). After the emigration to Medina (hijra) the Muslims were first permitted to fight in retaliation for the injustice (see JUSTICE AND INJUSTICE) done them by the Meccans (Q 22:39-40). Then came the order to fight the infidels generally, yet certain restrictions were prescribed. Eventually ALL RESTRICTIONS WERE REMOVED and ALL TREATIES with infidels WERE REPUDIATED by Q 9:1-14, and the ultimate divine orders were expressed in Q 9:5 and 9:29. (There are many versions of this scheme, see ‘Abdallah b. Wahb,Jami’, fol. 15b; Abu ‘Ubayd, Nasikh, 190-7; Baydawi, Anwar, i, 634; Khazin, Lubab, i, 168; Shafi’i, Tafsir, 166-73; Jassas, Ahkam, i, 256-63; cf. Ibn al-Jawzi, Nawasikh, 230.) 

This evolutionary explanation relies on the technique of abrogation to account for the contradictory statements in the Quran. Although details are disputed, this explanation is not a post-quranic development constructed retrospectively (see Firestone, Jihad, exp. chaps. 3-4). In addition to its obvious rationality, this evolution is attested in the Quran itself (Q 4:77). Many exegetes, however, avoided the technique of abrogation for theological and methodological reasons, but achieved the same result by other means (e.g. Ibn al-Jawzi, Nawasikh). Thus, in spite of differences of opinions regarding the interpretation of the verses and the relations between them, the broad consensus on the main issue remained: whether by abrogation, specification or other techniques, THE ORDER TO FIGHT UNCONDITIONALLY (Q 9:5, 9:29) PREVAILED. Some commentators, however, argued that the verses allowing peace (Q 4:90, 8:61) were neither abrogated nor specified, but remained in force. By the assignation technique, peace is allowed WHEN IT IS IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE MUSLIMS (e.g. IN TIMES OF MUSLIM WEAKNESS, see e.g. Jassas, Ahkam, ii, 220; iii, 69-70). In fact this was the position adopted by the four major schools of law (see Peters, Jihad, 32-7). 

In a few verses, the cause or purpose of Muslim warfare is mentioned as self-defense, and retaliation for aggression, for the expulsion from Mecca and for the violation of treaties (Q 2:217; 4:84, 91; 5:33; 9:12-3; 22:39-40, 60:9, cf. 4:89). In one case, defense of weak brethren is adduced (Q 4:75; see BROTHER AND BROTHERHOOD). On the basis of the "sword verse" (Q 9:5) and the "jizya verse" (Q 9:29) it is clear that the purpose of fighting the idolaters IS TO CONVERT THEM TO ISLAM, whereas the purpose of fighting the People of the Book IS TO DOMINATE

Many commentators interpret Q 2:193 and 8:39 ("fight them until there is no more fitna") as an instruction to convert all the polytheists to Islam BY FORCE IF NEED BE (e.g. Khazin, Lubab, ii, 183; Jassas, Ahkam, i, 260). It appears, however, that fitna (see DISSENSION; PARTIES AND FACTIONS) originally did not mean polytheism, but referred to attempts by infidels to entice Muslims away from Islam. Such attempts are mentioned in many Quranic verses (e.g. Q 3:149; 14:30; 17:73-4; for Q 2:193 see e.g. Tabari, Tafsir, ii, 254 see APOSTASY). Thus the purpose of war in Q 2:193 and 8:39 would be not conversion of infidels, but the preservation of the Muslim community. Conversion as the purpose of Muslim warfare is also implied by some interpretations of Q 2:192 and 48:16. In later literature the formulation of the purpose of war is "that God’s word reign supreme" (li-takuna kalimatu llahi hiya l-ulya), but in the Quran this phrase is not associated with warfare (Q 9:40; cf. 9:33 = 61:9; 48:28) 

Hence, no matter what position one takes the fact remains that there is nothing in this particular version of the hadith that refutes the fact that Muhammad was sent to terrorize and kill all those who refused to submit to his religion. 

With the foregoing in view we are now ready to proceed to the third part of our discussion.