The central conceit of Islam, as taught by the Prophet Muhammad, is that it is God’s perfected religion – the final word from heaven. The corollary to this belief is that Muslims, being the followers of Islam, are superior to people of other faiths or none. This is spelled out explicitly in the Qur’an, which repeatedly describes non-Muslims and non-believers as “kuffar” (those who reject faith), worthy of hellfire for their refusal to embrace Islam.
The result of this supremacist mindset has been 1,400 years of violence against non-Muslims, from Muhammad’s massacre of the Banu Qurayza to ISIS’ genocide of the Yazidis. Indeed, far from having “nothing to do with Islam”, ISIS are merely following a millennial tradition of Islamic imperialism. In this study of the military career of Muhammad, we will demolish the propaganda of jihadist terror being the result of Western foreign policy.
The Character of Muhammad
The beginnings of Islam are shrouded in mystery. There are thousands upon thousands of reports of the words and deeds of Muhammad (hadiths), but virtually all of them date from the eighth and ninth centuries – over a century and a half after Muhammad’s death, which is traditionally set in 632 AD. There is considerable reason to believe that the origins of Islam and the lives of its founding figures are quite different from how they are represented in Islamic sacred history.
And yet, for over a billion Muslims, these reports of the words and deeds of Muhammad represent nothing less than historical fact. As Islam is an ever-growing presence in the West, these elements of the faith should be known: for ultimately, what we believe dictates how we behave. Indeed, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether these events occurred as described; what matters is that Muslims believe that they did, and hold them up as an example for the entire world to follow.
A Promise of Slaughter
Islamic legend has it that Muhammad began as a preacher of religious ideas, expounding the simple and uncompromising message that there was only one god, Allah, and that he was his messenger. These were never claims that one could reject without consequences.
First came warnings of hellfire. Then, when Muhammad’s own people, the Quraysh tribe of Mecca, rejected his claim of being a prophet, his message began to take on a harder edge. The jihad – Arabic for ‘struggle’ – that Muhammad preached would begin to refer specifically to warfare against those who denied his prophethood or the oneness of Allah.
One scorching day, Muhammad approached a group of Quraysh at the Ka’ba, the cube-shaped building in Mecca, said to have been built by the patriarch Abraham and his son Ishmael. Muhammad kissed the black stone, the meteorite that the Arabs believed to have been thrown down by Allah to earth at that spot, and walked around the shrine three times. Then he fixed the Quraysh with a furious gaze and said:
Will you listen to me, O Quraysh? By him who holds my life in His hand, I bring you slaughter.1
And he did – not just to the Quraysh, but to the entire world, as Muslims for fourteen hundred years would hear his message of jihadist warfare against the infidels and act upon his words.
The Warlord Emerges
During his first twelve years of preaching his message of monotheism and hellfire in Mecca, Muhammad gained only a handful of followers, while his relations with those who did not accept his claims grew ever more antagonistic. Finally, twelve years after Muhammad announced his prophethood, Arabs from a neighbouring tribe in the city of Yathrib asked him to emigrate there and become their leader. Muhammad accepted the offer, and proceed to ensconce himself in Yathrib – now renamed Medinat al-Nabi (City of the Prophet), or Medina for short – as its military, political and spiritual leader.
Having achieved this, Muhammad began to make good on his promise to slaughter the Quraysh. His emigration from Mecca to Medina is known as the hijrah, or emigration, which ever after has been marked by Muslims as the beginning of Islam.
In Medina, the Muslims did not take up farming or become merchants; they began raiding Quraysh caravans. Muhammad himself led many of the raids. He once sent out one of his most trusted lieutenants, Abdullah ibn Jahsh, along with eight of the emigrants (muhajiroun) and instructions to lie in wait for a Quraysh caravan at Nakhla, between Mecca and Al-Ta’if. Abdullah and his band obeyed, but once they finally spotted a caravan of Quraysh carrying leather and raisins, it was too late: it was the last day of the sacred month of Rajab, when fighting was forbidden. If, however, they waited for the sacred month to end, the caravan would make it safely back to Mecca.
They decided ultimately, according to Ibn Ishaq, to “kill as many as they could of them and take what they had.” On the way home to Medina, Abdullah set aside a fifth of the booty for Muhammad. However, when they returned to the Muslim camp, Muhammad refused to share in the loot or to have anything to do with them, saying only: “I did not order you to fight in the sacred month.” He was put in a politically uncomfortable position as well, for the Quraysh began to say: “Muhammad and his companions have violated the sacred month, shed blood therein, taken booty, and captured men.”2 But then a helpful revelation came from Allah, explaining that the Quraysh’s opposition to Muhammad was worse than the Muslims’ violation of the sacred month, and therefore the raid was justified:
They ask you about the sacred month – about fighting therein. Say, “Fighting therein is great sin, but averting people from the way of Allah and disbelief in Him and al-Masjid al-Haram and the expulsion of its people therefrom are worse in the sight of Allah. And fitnah is greater than killing.” (Qur’an 2:217)
Whatever sin the Nakhla raiders had committed in violating the sacred month was nothing compared to the Quraysh’s fitnah. Ibn Ishaq explained:
They have kept you back from the way of God with their unbelief in Him, and from the sacred mosque, and have driven you from it when you were with its people. This is a more serious matter with God than the killing of those whom you have slain.3
Once he received this revelation, Muhammad took the booty and prisoners that Abdullah had brought him. This was a momentous incident, for it would set a precedent: if a group was guilty of fitnah, all bets were off, all moral principles could be set aside. Good became identified with anything that redounded to the benefit of Muslims and Islam, and evil with anything that harmed them.
The Badr Offensive
The Muslims’ raids on Quraysh caravans precipitated the first major battle which the Muslims fought. Muhammad heard that a large Quraysh caravan, laden with money and goods, was coming from Syria. He ordered his followers to raid it, saying: “This is the caravan of the Quraysh possessing wealth. It is likely that Allah may give it to you as booty.”4 Some of the Muslims were reluctant, but Allah castigated them in a new revelation:
Those who believe say, “Why has a surah [a chapter of the Qur’an] not been sent down?” But when a precise surah is revealed and fighting is mentioned therein, you see those in whose hearts is hypocrisy looking at you with a look of one overcome by death. (Qur’an 47:20)
Allah told the Muslims to fight fiercely:
So when you meet those who disbelieve, strike necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure their bonds, and either favour afterwards or ransom until the war lays down its burdens. (Qur’an 47:4)
Muhammad set out towards Mecca to lead the raid. He knew that the Quraysh would be defending their caravan with an army this time, but he was confident: “Forward in good heart,” he told his men, “for God has promised me one of the two parties” – that is, either the caravan or the army. “And by God, it is as though I now see the enemy lying prostrate.”5 When he saw the Quraysh marching toward the Muslims, he prayed:
O God, here come the Quraysh in their vanity and pride, contending with Thee and calling Thy apostle a liar. O God, grant the help which Thou didst promise me. Destroy them this morning!6
One of the Quraysh leaders, Amr ibn Hisham (named Abu Jahl, or “Father of Ignorance” by Muslim chroniclers), also felt a defining moment was at hand. Oiling a coat of chain mail before the battle, he declared:
No, by God, we will not turn back until God decides between us and Muhammad.7
At the village of Badr, the Quraysh came out to meet Muhammad’s three hundred men with a force of nearly a thousand.8 Panicking, Muhammad gave his men a promise that would make them, and Muslim warriors after them throughout the ages, fight all the harder:
By God in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, no man will be slain this day fighting against them with steadfast courage advancing not retreating but God will cause him to enter Paradise.9
His men believed him. One exclaimed: “Fine, Fine! Is there nothing between me and my entering Paradise save to be killed by these men?” He flung away some dates that he had been eating, rushed into the thick of the battle, and fought until he was killed. Another asked Muhammad: “O apostle of God, what makes the Lord laugh with joy at His servant?” Muhammad answered: “When he plunges into the midst of the enemy without mail.” The man did so and fought until he was killed.10
Muhammad, far back in the ranks, picked up a few pebbles and threw them toward the Quraysh, saying, “Foul be those faces!” Then he ordered the Muslims to charge.11 Despite their superior numbers, the Quraysh were routed. Some Muslim traditions say that Muhammad himself participated in the fighting; others, that it was more likely that he exhorted his followers from the sidelines. In any event, it was an occasion for him to avenge years of frustration, resentment, and hatred towards those who had rejected him. One of his followers later recalled a curse which Muhammad had pronounced on the leaders of the Quraysh:
The Prophet said, “O Allah! Destroy the chiefs of Quraish, O Allah! Destroy Abu Jahl ibn Hisham, Utba ibn Rabi’a, Shaiba ibn Rabi’a, Uqba ibn Abi Mu’ait, Umaiya ibn Khalaf [or Ubai ibn Kalaf].”12
All of the men whom Muhammad had cursed were captured or killed during the Battle of Badr. One Quraysh leader named in this curse, Uqba, pleaded for his life: “But who will look after my children, O Muhammad?” At this point, Muhammad may have recalled that it had been Uqba who had thrown camel dung, blood, and intestines on him while he prostrated himself in prayer, as the Quraysh chiefs watched and laughed.13 Who would care for Uqba’s children? “Hell”, Muhammad snarled, and ordered Uqba killed.14
Amr ibn Hisham, or Abu Jahl, was beheaded. The Muslim who severed the head proudly carried his trophy to Muhammad: “I cut off his head and brought it to the apostle saying, ‘This is the head of the enemy of God, Abu Jahl.’” Muhammad was delighted and thanked Allah for the murder of his enemy.15 The bodies of all those named in the curse were thrown into a pit. As an eyewitness recalled:
Later on I saw all of them killed during the battle of Badr and their bodies were thrown into a well except the body of Umaiya or Ubai, because he was a fat man, and when he was pulled, the parts of his body got separated before he was thrown into the well.16
Muhammad would thereafter taunt them as “the people of the pit” and posed a theological question: “Have you found what God promised you is true? I have found that what my Lord promised me is true.” When asked why he was speaking to dead bodies, he replied: “You cannot hear what I say better than they, but they cannot answer me.”17
Allah Rewards the Pious
The victory at Badr was the turning point for the early Muslims, and became a cornerstone of the community’s foundational story. Many passages of the Qur’an draw lessons for all believers from this battle. Allah emphasised that it was piety, not military might, that brought victory at Badr:
Already there has been for you a sign in the two armies which met – one fighting in the cause of Allah and another of disbelievers. They saw with their eyes that they were twice their number. But Allah supports with His victory whom He wills. Indeed in that is a lesson for those of vision. (Qur’an 3:13)
Another revelation would announce that Allah had sent armies of angels who joined with the Muslims to smite the Quraysh, and that similar help would come in the future to Muslims who remained faithful to Allah:
And already had Allah given you victory at Badr while you were few in number. Then fear Allah; perhaps you will be grateful when you said to the believers, “Is it not sufficient for you that your Lord should reinforce you with three thousand angels sent down?” Yes, if you remain patient and conscious of Allah and the enemy come upon you in rage, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand angels having marks. And Allah made it not except as good tidings for you and to reassure your hearts thereby. And victory is not except from Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (Qur’an 3:123-126).
Allah proceeded to tell Muhammad that the angels would always help the Muslims in battle and strike terror into the hearts of their enemies:
When you asked help of your Lord, and He answered you, “Indeed, I will reinforce you with a thousand from the angels, following one another”… When your Lord inspired the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.” That is because they opposed Allah and His Messenger. And whoever opposes Allah and His Messenger – indeed, Allah is severe in penalty. (Qur’an 8:9, 12–13)
Allah warned the Quraysh not to attempt another attack, telling them that they would be defeated no matter how much more numerous they were than the Muslims:
If you seek the victory, the defeat has come to you. And if you desist, it is best for you; but if you return, We will return, and you will never be aided by your company at all, even if it should increase, because Allah is with the believers. (Qur’an 8:19)
Allah promised to grant such victories to pious Muslims even though they faced odds even more prohibitive than those they had overcome at Badr:
O Prophet, urge the believers to battle. If there are among you twenty steadfast, they will overcome two hundred. And if there are among you one hundred steadfast, they will overcome a thousand of those who have disbelieved, because they are a people who do not understand. Now, Allah has lightened the hardship for you, and He knows that among you is weakness. So if there are from you one hundred steadfast, they will overcome two hundred. And if there are among you a thousand, they will overcome two thousand by permission of Allah. And Allah is with the steadfast. (Qur’an 8:65–66)
Thus were first enunciated what would become recurring themes of jihadist literature over fourteen-hundred years: piety in Islam will bring military victory. Allah will send angels to fight with the believing Muslims, such that they will be victorious even against the most overwhelming odds.
Muhammad Turns on the Jews
Flush with victory, Muhammad stepped up his raiding operations. He turned his attention to the Jewish tribes of Medina – the Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayza, with whom he had made a covenant when he first arrived in the city. He was beginning to chafe under that covenant, and Allah gave him a way out, in the form of a revelation allowing him to break treaties he had made with groups when he feared they would betray him, not just when any actual betrayal had taken place:
If you fear betrayal from a people, throw their treaty back to them on equal terms. Indeed, Allah does not like traitors. (Qur’an 8:58)
Muhammad announced, “I fear the Banu Qaynuqa”, and resolved to strike them first.18 Striding into the Qaynuqa’s marketplace, he issued a public warning:
O Jews, beware lest God bring upon you the vengeance that He brought upon Quraysh and become Muslims. You know that I am a prophet who has been sent – you will find that in your scriptures and God’s covenant with you.19
He added in a revelation from Allah, referring to the Battle of Badr:
Say to those who disbelieve, “You will be overcome and gathered together to Hell, and wretched is the resting place.” Already there has been for you a sign in the two armies which met – one fighting in the cause of Allah and another of disbelievers. They saw with their eyes that they were twice their number. But Allah supports with His victory whom He wills. Indeed in that is a lesson for those of vision. (Qur’an 3:10)
The Qaynuqa Jews were not impressed, and replied:
O Muhammad, you seem to think that we are your people. Do not deceive yourself because you encountered a people with no knowledge of war and got the better of them; for by God if we fight you, you will find that we are real men!20
Muhammad’s forces laid siege to the Qaynuqa until they offered him unconditional surrender. But then one of the Muslims pleaded that Muhammad be merciful with the Qaynuqa because he had business connections with many of them. Muhammad was angered, but he agreed to spare the Qaynuqa if they turned over their property as booty to the Muslims and left Medina. However, Muhammad wanted to make sure that this sort of thing did not happen again. He thus received a revelation about the relationships which should prevail between Muslims and non-Muslims:
O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as friends and allies. They are friends and allies of one another. And whoever is a friend and ally to them among you – then indeed, he is of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people. (Qur’an 5:51)
Allah harshly scolded those who feared a loss of business prospects because of Muhammad’s jihad, warning them not to hurry to the unbelievers’ side:
So you see those in whose hearts is disease hastening to them, saying, “We are afraid a misfortune may strike us.” But perhaps Allah will bring conquest or a decision from Him, and they will become, over what they have been concealing within themselves, regretful. (Qur’an 5:52)
After the Battle of Badr and the assault on the Bani Qaynuqa, Muhammad turned his wrath against a Jewish poet, Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, who, according to Ibn Ishaq, “composed amatory verses of an insulting nature about the Muslim women.”21 Incensed, Muhammad asked his followers: “Who is willing to kill Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?”22 A young Muslim named Muhammad ibn Maslama volunteered. When the Prophet assented, Maslama made a request: “Then allow me to say a [false] thing [to deceive Ka’b].” Muhammad granted his wish, and so Maslama went to Ka’b and began to complain about the self-proclaimed prophet to whom he had dedicated his life:
That man [Muhammad] demands sadaqa [or zakat, alms] from us, and he has troubled us, and I have come to borrow something from you.23
Maslama worked hard to gain Ka’b’s trust. In order to get close enough to Ka’b to be able to kill him, he professed to admire Ka’b’s perfume: “I have never smelt a better scent than this.… Will you allow me to smell your head?” Ka’b agreed; Maslama thereupon caught Ka’b in a strong grip and commanded his companions: “Get at him!” They killed Ka’b and then hurried to inform the Prophet, carrying Ka’b’s head with them.24 When Muhammad heard the news, he screamed, “Allahu akbar!” and praised Allah.25 After the murder of K’ab, Muhammad issued a blanket command:
Kill any Jew that falls into your power.26
This was not a military order: the first victim was a Jewish merchant, Ibn Sunayna, who had “social and business relations” with the Muslims. The murderer, Muhayissa, was rebuked for the deed by his brother Huwayissa, who was not yet a Muslim. Muhayissa was unrepentant. He told his brother: “Had the one who ordered me to kill him ordered me to kill you, I would have cut your head off.” Huwayissa was impressed: “By God, a religion which can bring you to this is marvellous!” He then became a Muslim.27
Allah Forsakes the Impious
After their defeat at Badr, the Quraysh were itching for revenge. They assembled three thousand troops against one thousand Muslims at a mountain near Mecca named Uhud. Muhammad, brandishing a sword, led the Muslims into battle. This time, the Quraysh were far more determined, and the Muslims were routed. Muhammad’s child bride, Ayesha, later recounted that the Muslims were initially winning at Uhud, but then their lines collapsed in confusion due to a supernatural intervention:
Satan, Allah’s Curse be upon him, cried loudly, “O Allah’s Worshippers, beware of what is behind!” On that, the front files of the [Muslim] forces turned their backs and started fighting with the back files.28
Muhammad himself had his face bloodied and a tooth knocked out; rumours even flew around the battlefield that he had been killed. When he was able to find water to wash the blood off his face, Muhammad vowed revenge: “The wrath of God is fierce against him who bloodied the face of His prophet.”29 When Abu Sufyan, the Quraysh commander, taunted the Muslims, Muhammad told his lieutenant Umar to respond:
God is most high and most glorious. We are not equal. Our dead are in paradise; your dead in hell.30
After Uhud, revelations arrived to explain the setback. While Badr was Allah’s victory, Uhud was not Allah’s defeat, but the result of the Muslims’ lack of courage and lust for the things of this world – in this case, the spoils of war, the goods and women they hoped to win from the Quraysh:
And Allah had certainly fulfilled His promise to you when you were killing the enemy by His permission until when you lost courage and fell to disputing about the order and disobeyed after he had shown you that which you love. Among you are some who desire this world, and among you are some who desire the Hereafter. Then he turned you back from them that He might test you. And He has already forgiven you, and Allah is the possessor of bounty for the believers. (Qur’an 3:152)
Another revelation exhorted the Muslims to fight valiantly, assuring them that their lives were in no danger until the day that Allah decrees they must die:
And it is not for one to die except by permission of Allah at a decree determined. And whoever desires the reward of this world, We will give him thereof; and whoever desires the reward of the Hereafter, We will give him thereof. And we will reward the grateful. (Qur’an 3:145)
Allah reminded them of the help he had given to the Muslims in the past, and reiterated that piety was the key to victory:
And already had Allah given you victory at Badr while you were few in number. Then fear Allah; perhaps you will be grateful, when you said to the believers, “Is it not sufficient for you that your Lord should reinforce you with three thousand angels sent down?” Yes, if you remain patient and conscious of Allah and the enemy come upon you in rage, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand angels having marks. And Allah made it not except as good tidings for you and to reassure your hearts thereby. And victory is not except from Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Wise, that He might cut down a section of the disbelievers or suppress them so that they turn back disappointed. (Qur’an 3:123–127)
The lesson was clear: the only path to success was Islam, and the cause of all failure was the abandonment of Islam. Allah promised that the Muslims would soon be victorious again, provided that they depended solely on him and rejected all accord with non-Muslims:
O you who have believed, if you obey those who disbelieve, they will turn you back on your heels, and you will become losers. But Allah is your protector, and He is the best of helpers. We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve for what they have associated with Allah of which He had not sent down authority. And their refuge will be the Fire, and wretched is the residence of the wrongdoers. (Qur’an 3:149–151)
Muhammad Expels the Banu Nadir
Not long after the Battle of Uhud, members of one of the Jewish tribes of Medina, the Banu Nadir, conspired to kill Muhammad by dropping a large stone on his head as he passed by one of their houses. However, some of the Muslims learned of the plot and notified Muhammad. Rather than appealing to the leaders of the Nadir to turn over the guilty men, Muhammad sent word to the Nadir: “Leave my country and do not live with me. You have intended treachery.”31 The Nadir refused, whereupon Muhammad told the Muslims, “The Jews have declared war.”32 He ordered his men to march out against the tribe and lay siege to them.33
Finally, the Nadir agreed to exile themselves. Muhammad demanded that they turn over their weapons and allowed them to keep as much property as they could carry on their camels.34 Some of the Nadir destroyed their houses, loading as much on their camels as they possibly could.35 The rest became Muhammad’s personal property, which he distributed as booty among the muhajiroun, the Muslims who had emigrated with him from Mecca to Medina.36 In a revelation, Allah told Muhammad that it was divine terror that had defeated the Banu Nadir, and that they were all bound for hell:
Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth exalts Allah, and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. It is He who expelled the ones who disbelieved among the People of the Book from their homes at the first gathering. You did not think they would leave, and they thought that their fortresses would protect them from Allah; but Allah came upon them from where they had not expected, and He cast terror into their hearts; they destroyed their houses by their hands and the hands of the believers. So take warning, O people of vision. And if not that Allah had decreed for them evacuation, He would have punished them in this world, and for them in the Hereafter is the punishment of the Fire. (Qur’an 59:2–3)
A Divine Mandate for Conquest
After the expulsion of the Qaynuqa and Nadir Jews from Medina, some of those who remained approached the Quraysh, offering an alliance against Muhammad and the Muslims. The Quraysh readily accepted.37 Muhammad, forewarned of this new alliance, had a trench dug around Medina. During the digging of the trench, Muhammad had visions of conquering the areas bordering Arabia. One of the earliest Muslims, Salman the Persian, the story goes, was working on the trench when he began having trouble with a particularly large rock. In Salman’s words:
The apostle, who was near at hand, saw me hacking and saw how difficult the place was. He dropped down into the trench and took the pick from my hand and gave such a blow that lightning showed beneath the pick. [The flash of lightning] shot out, illuminating everything between the two tracts of black stones – that is, Medina’s two tracts of black stones – like a lamp inside a dark room.38
Muhammad shouted the Islamic cry of victory, “Allahu akbar,” and all the Muslims responded with the same shout.39 This happened again and then a third time, in exactly the same way. Finally, Salman asked Muhammad: “O you, dearer than father or mother, what is the meaning of this light beneath your pick as you strike?” The Prophet of Islam responded: “Did you really see that, Salman? The first means that God has opened up to me the Yaman; the second Syria and the west; and the third the east.”40 Or, according to another version of the same story:
I struck my first blow, and what you saw flashed out, so that the palaces of al-Hirah [in what is today southern Iraq] and al-Madai’in of Kisra [the winter capital of the Sassanian Empire] lit up for me as if they were dogs’ teeth, and Gabriel informed me that my nation would be victorious over them.
The second blow illuminated in the same way “the palaces of the pale men in the lands of the Byzantines,” and the third, “the palaces of San’a” – that is, Yemen. Gabriel promised Muhammad victory over each, repeating three times: “Rejoice; victory shall come to them!” To this Muhammad replied, “Praise be to God! The promise of One who is true and faithful! He has promised us victory after tribulation.”41 Decades later, when the countries named in this legend were indeed conquered by the warriors of jihad, an old Muslim used to say:
Conquer where you will, by God, you have not conquered and to the resurrection day you will not conquer a city whose keys God had not given beforehand to Muhammad.42
As the Quraysh, along with another tribe, the Ghatafan (known collectively in Islamic tradition as ‘The Confederates’), laid siege to Medina, the trench prevented their breaking through and entering the city, but the Muslims were unable to force them to end the siege. Meanwhile, the Banu Qurayza began collaborating with the Quraysh. As the siege dragged on (it lasted three weeks), the Muslims’ situation grew more perilous. Conditions got so bad that one Muslim remarked bitterly about Muhammad’s imperial ambitions:
Muhammad used to promise us that we should eat the treasures of Chosroes and Caesar, and today not one of us can feel safe in going to the privy!43
The Qurayzah attacked the Muslims from one side while the Quraysh besieged them from the other. But then events took a turn in the Muslims’ favour. A strong wind blew up around this time, making it impossible for the Quraysh to keep their tents up or fires going. Abu Sufyan had had enough. He said to his men:
O Quraysh, we are not in a permanent camp; the horses and camels are dying; the [Banu] Qurayza have broken their word to us and we have heard disquieting reports of them. You can see the violence of the wind which leaves us neither cooking-pots, nor fire, nor tents to count on. Be off, for I am going!44
The Quraysh began to abandon their positions around Medina. Islam was saved, and Muhammad was now in a position to exact revenge on the Banu Qurayza, who had dared oppose his expulsion of the Banu Qaynuqa and the Banu Nadir.
Muhammad Slaughters the Banu Qurayzah
After the successful resolution of the Battle of the Trench, the angel Gabriel himself made sure that Muhammad settled the score with the Qurayzah Jews. According to Ayesha:
When Allah’s Messenger returned on the day [of the battle] of Al-Khandaq [Trench], he put down his arms and took a bath. Then Jibril [Gabriel] whose head was covered with dust, came to him saying, “You have put down your arms! By Allah, I have not put down my arms yet.” Allah’s Messenger said, “Where [to go now]?” Jibril said, “This way,” pointing towards the tribe of Bani Quraiza. So Allah’s Messenger went out towards them.45
As his armies approached the fortifications of the Qurayzah, Muhammad addressed them in terms that have become familiar usage for Islamic jihadists when speaking of Jews today – language that, as we have seen, also made its way into the Qur’an: “You brothers of monkeys, has God disgraced you and brought His vengeance upon you?”46 The Qur’an in three places says that Allah transformed the Sabbath-breaking Jews into pigs and monkeys (2:62-65, 5:59-60, and 7:166).
The Qurayzah Jews tried to soften Muhammad’s wrath, saying: “O Abu’l-Qasim [Muhammad], you are not a barbarous person.” But the Prophet of Islam was in no mood to be appeased. He told the Muslims who were with him that a warrior who passed by on a white mule was actually Gabriel, who had “been sent to Banu Qurayza to shake their castles and strike terror to their hearts.” The Muslims laid siege to the Qurayzah strongholds for twenty-five days, until, according to Ibn Ishaq, “they were sore pressed” and, as Muhammad had warned, “God cast terror into their hearts.”47
After the Qurayzah surrendered, Muhammad decided to put the fate of the tribe into the hands of the Muslim warrior Sa’d ibn Mu’adh. Sa’d pronounced: “I give the judgment that their warriors should be killed and their children and women should be taken as captives.” The Prophet of Islam was pleased. “O Sa’d! You have judged amongst them with [or, similar to] the judgment of the King [Allah].”48 He confirmed Sa’d’s judgment as that of Allah himself: “You have decided in confirmation to the judgement of Allah above the seven heavens.”49 Sa’d’s sentence was duly carried out, with Muhammad himself actively participating. According to Ibn Ishaq:
The apostle went out to the market of Medina and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for [the men of the Qurayzah] and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches.50
Sa’d’s judgement had been to kill the men and enslave the women and children. One of the captives, Attiyah al-Qurazi, explained how the Muslims determined who was a man and who wasn’t:
I was among the captives of Banu Qurayzah. They [the companions] examined us, and those who had begun to grow hair [pubes] were killed, and those who had not were not killed. I was among those who had not grown hair.51
Ibn Ishaq puts the number of those massacred at “Six hundred or seven hundred in all, though some put the figure as high as eight hundred or nine hundred.”52 Ibn Sa’d said, “They were between six hundred and seven hundred in number.”53
As the Qurayzah were being led to Muhammad in groups, someone asked Ka’b ibn Asad what was happening. “Will you never understand?” replied the distraught leader of the Qurayzah. “Don’t you see that the summoner never stops and those who are taken away do not return? By Allah it is death!”54 Allah also sent down a revelation referring obliquely to the massacre:
And He brought down those who supported them among the People of the Book from their fortresses and cast terror into their hearts. A party you killed, and you took captive a party. (Qur’an 33:26)
The Muslims Take Sex Slaves
Muhammad was now the undisputed master of Medina, and the Prophet of Islam enjoyed an immediate economic advantage. A hadith records that “people used to give some of their date-palms to the Prophet [as a gift], till he conquered Bani Quraiza and Bani An-Nadir, whereupon he started returning their favours.”55
However, challengers to Muhammad’s consolidation of power over Arabia remained. He received word that the Banu al-Mustaliq, an Arab tribe related to the Quraysh, were gathering against the Muslims, so he led the Muslims out to attack them. And Allah, according to Ibn Ishaq, “put the [Banu] al-Mustaliq to flight and killed some of them and gave the apostle their wives, children and property as booty.”56 There were, according to Muslim warrior Abu Sa’id al-Khadri, “some excellent Arab women” among the captives of the Banu al-Mustaliq:
We desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, [but] we also desired ransom for them.57
The Qur’an permitted them to have sexual intercourse with slave girls captured in battle – “those captives whom your right hands possess” (4:24) – but if they intended to keep the women as slaves, they couldn’t collect ransom money for them. “So,” Abu Sa’id explained, “we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing azl” – that is, coitus interruptus. Muhammad, however, told them this was not necessary:
It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born.58
Conceptions and births were up to Allah alone. The enslavement and rape of the women were taken for granted.
Breaking the Treaty of Hudaybiyya
In 628 AD, Muhammad and the Quraysh commenced a ten-year truce (hudna) with the treaty of Hudaybiyya. Muhammad wanted to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and he was willing to make concessions to the Quraysh to be allowed to do so.
When the time came for the agreement to be written, Muhammad called for one of his earliest and most fervent followers, Ali ibn Abi Talib, and told him to write, “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” But the Quraysh negotiator, Suhayl ibn Amr, stopped him: “I do not recognise this; but write ‘In thy name, O Allah’.” Muhammad told Ali to write what Suhayl had directed.
When Muhammad directed Ali to continue by writing, “This is what Muhammad, the apostle of God, has agreed with Suhayl ibn Amr”, Suhayl protested again. “If I witnessed that you were God’s apostle,” Suhayl told Muhammad, “I would not have fought you. Write your own name and the name of your father.” Again, Muhammad told Ali to write the document as Suhayl wished. The treaty that was finally agreed to read this way:
This is what Muhammad ibn Abdullah has agreed with Suhayl ibn ‘Amr: they have agreed to lay aside war for ten years during which men can be safe and refrain from hostilities on condition that if anyone comes to Muhammad without the permission of his guardian he will return him to them; and if anyone of those with Muhammad comes to Quraysh they will not return him to him. We will not show enmity one to another and there shall be no secret reservation or bad faith. He who wishes to enter into a bond and agreement with Muhammad may do so and he who wishes to enter into a bond and agreement with Quraysh may do so.59
The Quraysh added:
You must retire from us this year and not enter Mecca against our will, and next year we will make way for you and you can enter it with your companions and stay there three nights. You may carry a rider’s weapons, the swords in their sheaths. You can bring in nothing more.60
Muhammad shocked his men by agreeing that those fleeing the Quraysh and seeking refuge with the Muslims would be returned to the Quraysh, while those fleeing the Muslims and seeking refuge with the Quraysh would not be returned to the Muslims. Muhammad insisted that the Muslims had been victorious despite all appearances to the contrary, and Allah confirmed this view in a new revelation: “Indeed, We have given you a clear conquest.” (Qur’an 48:1). As if in compensation, Allah promised new spoils to the Muslims:
Certainly was Allah pleased with the believers when they pledged allegiance to you under the tree, and He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down tranquillity upon them and rewarded them with an imminent conquest and much war booty which they will take. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise. Allah has promised you much booty that you will take and has hastened this for you and withheld the hands of people from you–that it may be a sign for the believers and He may guide you to a straight path. (Qur’an 48:18–20)
Soon after this promise was made, a Quraysh woman, Umm Kulthum, joined the Muslims in Medina; her two brothers came to Muhammad, asking that she be returned “in accordance with the agreement between him and the Quraysh at Hudaybiya.”61 But Muhammad refused their request. Although he had publicly pledged to return members of the Quraysh to their tribe, privately, Allah’s orders came first:
O you who have believed, when the believing women come to you as emigrants, examine them. Allah is most knowing as to their faith. And if you know them to be believers, then do not return them to the disbelievers; they are not lawful for them, nor are they lawful for them. (Qur’an 60:10)
In refusing to send Umm Kulthum back to the Quraysh, Muhammad broke the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. He would deny this at first, claiming that it only obliged the Muslims to return men who came from the Quraysh, not women.62 However, Muhammad soon began to accept men from the Quraysh as well, thus definitively breaking the treaty.63 This event would reinforce the principle that nothing was good except what was advantageous to Islam, and nothing evil except what hindered Islam.
Muhammad Raids the Jews of Khaybar
Allah had promised the Muslims disgruntled by the Treaty of Hudaybiyya “much booty” (Qur’an 48:19). To fulfil this promise, Muhammad led them against the Khaybar oasis, which was inhabited by Jews – many of them exiles from Medina. One of the Muslims later remembered:
When the apostle raided a people he waited until the morning. If he heard a call to prayer he held back; if he did not hear it he attacked. We came to Khaybar by night, and the apostle passed the night there; and when morning came he did not hear the call to prayer, so he rode and we rode with him… We met the workers of Khaybar coming out in the morning with their spades and baskets. When they saw the apostle and the army they cried, “Muhammad with his force,” and turned tail and fled. The apostle said, “Allah Akbar! Khaybar is destroyed. When we arrive in a people’s square it is a bad morning for those who have been warned.”64
The Muslim advance was inexorable. “The apostle,” according to Ibn Ishaq, “seized the property piece by piece and conquered the forts one by one as he came to them.”65 Ibn Sa’d reports that the battle was fierce: the polytheists “killed a large number of [Muhammad’s] companions and he also put to death a very large number of them… He killed ninety-three men of the Jews.”66
Muhammad and his men offered the fajr prayer before it was light, and then entered Khaybar itself. The Muslims immediately set out to locate the inhabitants’ wealth. A Jewish leader of Khaybar, Kinana ibn al-Rabi, was brought before Muhammad; Kinana was supposed to have been entrusted with the treasure of the Banu Nadir. Kinana denied knowing where this treasure was, but Muhammad pressed him:
Do you know that if we find you have it I shall kill you?
Kinana said yes, that he did know that. Some of the treasure was found. To find the rest, Muhammad gave orders concerning Kinana: “Torture him until you extract what he has.” One of the Muslims built a fire on Kinana’s chest, but Kinana would not give up his secret. When he was at the point of death, Muhammad ibn Maslama, killer of the poet Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, beheaded him.67
Muhammad agreed to let the people of Khaybar go into exile, allowing them, as he had the Banu Nadir, to keep as much of their property as they could carry.68 The Prophet of Islam, however, commanded them to leave behind all of their gold and silver.69 He had intended to expel all of them, but some farmers begged him to let them stay if they gave him half of their annual yield.70 Muhammad agreed: “I will allow you to continue here, so long as we would desire.”71 He warned them: “If we wish to expel you, we will expel you.”72
The Jews of Khaybar no longer had any rights that did not depend upon the goodwill of Muhammad. Indeed, when the Muslims discovered treasure that some of the Khaybar Jews had hidden, he seized their land and ordered their women to be enslaved.73 A hadith notes that “the Prophet had their warriors killed, their offspring and woman taken as captives.”74 During the caliphate of Umar ibn al-Khattab (634-644 AD), the Jews who remained at Khaybar were banished to Syria, and the rest of their land was seized.75 To this day, Muslims warn Jews of impending massacres by chanting, “Khaybar, Khaybar. O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return.”
The Prophet Takes His Prize
One of the Muslim warriors, Dihya ibn Khalifa, came to Muhammad and said: “O Allah’s Prophet! Give me a slave girl from the captives.” The Prophet of Islam was agreeable, telling Dihya: “Go and take any slave girl.” Dihya chose a woman named Safiyya bint Huyayy.76 Safiyya was the daughter of Huyayy ibn Akhtab, who had induced the Banu Qurayzah to repudiate their alliance with Muhammad. Muhammad had killed Huyayy along with the rest of the men of the Qurayzah. Once captured herself, Safiyya won the admiration of the warriors of Islam, who told their prophet: “We have not seen the like of her among the captives of war.”77 One man added:
O Allah’s Messenger! You gave Safiyya bint Huyayy to Dihya and she is the chief-mistress of [the ladies] of the tribes of Quraiza and An-Nadir, she befits none but you.78
Muhammad accordingly called for Dihya and Safiyya. When the Prophet of Islam saw Safiyya, he told Dihya: “Take any slave girl other than her from the captives.” Muhammad then immediately freed her and married her himself. Since she agreed to convert to Islam, she was able to be elevated above the position of a slave. That night, Safiyya was dressed as a bride and a wedding feast was hastily arranged. On the way out of Khaybar, Muhammad halted his caravan as soon as they were outside the oasis, pitched a tent, and consummated the marriage.79 Safiyya went from being the wife of a Jewish chieftain to being the wife of the man who had murdered her father and husband in a single day.
The Conquest of Mecca
Muhammad then marched on Mecca with an army of, according to some reports, ten thousand Muslims.80 When the Meccans saw the size of their force, which Muhammad exaggerated by ordering his men to build many extra fires during the night, they knew that all was lost. Many of the most notable Quraysh warriors now deserted and, converting to Islam, joined Muhammad’s forces. As they advanced, they were met by Abu Sufyan himself, who had opposed Muhammad bitterly as a leader of the Quraysh; but now Abu Sufyan wanted to become a Muslim. Allowed into Muhammad’s presence, Abu Sufyan recited a poem that included these lines:
I was like one going astray in the darkness of the night,
But now I am led on the right track.
I could not guide myself, and he who with God overcame me
Was he whom I had driven away with all my might.
According to Ibn Ishaq, when he got to the lines “he who with God overcame me / Was he whom I had driven away with all my might,” Muhammad punched him in the chest and said, “You did indeed!”81 But when Muhammad said, “Woe to you, Abu Sufyan, isn’t it time that you recognise that I am God’s apostle?” Abu Sufyan replied, “As to that I still have some doubt.”82 At that, one of Muhammad’s lieutenants, Abbas, said to Abu Sufyan: “Submit and testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the apostle of God before you lose your head.” Abu Sufyan complied.83
When Muhammad forced his entry into Mecca, according to Ibn Sa’d, “the people embraced Islam willingly or unwillingly.”84 The Prophet of Islam ordered the Muslims to fight only those individuals or groups who resisted their advance into the city – except for a list of people who were to be killed, even if they had sought sanctuary in the Ka’ba itself.85
Consolidating Power in Arabia
Muhammad was now the master of Mecca, but there was one great obstacle left between him and mastery of all Arabia. Malik ibn Awf, a member of the Thaqif tribe of the city of Ta’if, south of Mecca, began to assemble a force to fight the Muslims. The people of Ta’if had rejected Muhammad and treated him shabbily when he presented his prophetic claim to them ten years earlier. They had always been rivals of the Quraysh and viewed the conversion of the latter to Islam with disdain. Malik assembled a force and marched out to face the Muslims; Muhammad met him with an army twelve thousand strong, saying, “We shall not be worsted today for want of numbers.”86
The two forces met at a dry riverbed called Hunayn, near Mecca. Malik and his men arrived first and took up positions which gave them an immense tactical advantage. The Muslims, despite their superior numbers, were routed. As they broke ranks and fled, Muhammad called out: “Where are you going, men? Come to me. I am God’s apostle. I am Muhammad the son of Abdullah.”87 Some of the Muslims did take heart, and gradually the tide began to turn – although with tremendous loss of life on both sides. The Muslims eventually prevailed, wiping out the last major force that stood between the Prophet of Islam and mastery of Arabia. After the battle, Muhammad received another revelation explaining that the Muslims had won because of supernatural help:
Allah has already given you victory in many regions and on the day of Hunayn, when your great number pleased you, but it did not avail you at all, and the earth was confining for you with its vastness; then you turned back, fleeing. Then Allah sent down His tranquility upon His Messenger and upon the believers and sent down soldier angels whom you did not see and punished those who disbelieved. And that is the recompense of the disbelievers. Then Allah will accept repentance after that for whom He wills; and Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (Qur’an 9:25–27)
With Malik defeated, the Muslims later conquered Ta’if with little resistance. On his way into the city, Muhammad stopped under a tree and, finding the area to his liking, sent word to the owner of the property: “Either come out or we will destroy your wall.”88 The owner refused to appear before Muhammad, so the Muslims indeed destroyed his property.89
In his distribution of the booty, Muhammad favoured some of the recent converts among the Quraysh, hoping to cement their allegiance to Islam. His favouritism, however, led to grumbling. One Muslim approached him boldly: “Muhammad, I’ve seen what you have done today… I don’t think you have been just.” The Prophet of Islam replied incredulously: “If justice is not to be found with me, then where will you find it?”90
Muhammad Targets Rome and Persia
Muhammad was determined to extend his rule to the world at large. Islamic tradition holds that he wrote to Heraclius, the Eastern Roman emperor in Constantinople:
In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the Most Merciful. [This letter is] from Muhammad, the slave of Allah, and His Messenger, to Heraclius, the ruler of the Byzantines. Peace be upon him, who follows the [true] guidance. Now then, I invite you to Islam [that is, surrender to Allah], embrace Islam and you will be safe; embrace Islam and Allah will bestow on you a double reward. But if you reject this invitation of Islam, you shall be responsible for misguiding the peasants [that is, your nation].91
The letter then quoted the Qur’an:
Say, “O People of the Book, come to a common word between us and you–that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah.” But if they turn away, then say, “Bear witness that we are Muslims.” (3:64)
The letter contains a clear threat: “embrace Islam and you will be safe.” Presumably, then, Heraclius and his people would not be safe if they did not embrace Islam. Heraclius, of course, did not accept Islam, and soon the Byzantines would know well that the warriors of jihad indeed granted no safety to those who made such a choice.
Muhammad sent a similar letter to Khosrau, the ruler of the Persians. After reading the letter of the Prophet of Islam, Khosrau contemptuously tore it to pieces. When news of this reached Muhammad, he called upon Allah to tear the Persian emperor and his followers to pieces.92 He told his followers that they would enjoy the fruits of victories over both Heraclius and Khosrau:
When Khosrau perishes, there will be no [more] Khosrau after him, and when Caesar perishes, there will be no more Caesar after him. By Him in Whose hands Muhammad’s life is, you will spend the treasures of both of them in Allah’s Cause.93
Jihad Against the Christians
One of Muhammad’s more infamous revelations commands Muslims to fight against Jews and Christians until they accept Islamic hegemony, symbolised by payment of a poll tax (jizyah) and discriminatory regulations which ensure that they are constantly reminded of their subordinate position:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Qur’an 9:29)
He told his followers to offer these unbelievers conversion to Islam, as he had offered to the rulers, and if they refused, to offer them the opportunity to pay tribute as vassals of the Islamic state, and if they refused that also, to go to war:
Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war, do not embezzle the spoils; do not break your pledge; and do not mutilate [the dead] bodies; do not kill the children. When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to [accept] Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them… If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizyah. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them.94
After commanding his followers to make war against Christians, Muhammad resolved to set an example by doing just that. In 631 AD, he ordered the Muslims to begin preparations for a raid on the Byzantine Empire, at its northern Arabia garrison at Tabuk. The journey across the desert sands in the height of summer was arduous, and when Muhammad and army arrived at the Byzantine holdings in northwestern Arabia, they found that the Byzantine troops had withdrawn rather than trying to engage them.
On the way back, Allah gave Muhammad revelations scolding those Muslims who had declined to go on the expedition. Allah reminded them that their first duty was to him and his prophet, and that those who refused to wage jihad would face a most terrible punishment:
O you who have believed, what is with you that, when you are told to go forth in the cause of Allah, you adhere heavily to the earth? Are you satisfied with the life of this world rather than the Hereafter? But what is the enjoyment of worldly life compared to the Hereafter except a little. If you do not go forth, He will punish you with a painful punishment and will replace you with another people, and you will not harm Him at all. And Allah is over all things competent. (Qur’an 9:38–39)
Not that Muhammad needed their help, of course, because he had Allah on his side:
If you do not aid the Prophet, Allah has already aided him when those who disbelieved had driven him out as one of two, when they were in the cave and he said to his companion, “Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us.” And Allah sent down his tranquillity upon him and supported him with angels you did not see and made the word of those who disbelieved the lowest, while the word of Allah, that is the highest. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (Qur’an 9:40)
The Pre-eminence of Jihad
In Islam, the best deed that a Muslim can perform is to go forth in jihad fi sabil Allah (armed struggle to establish Islamic hegemony):
Go forth, whether light or heavy, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the cause of Allah. That is better for you, if you only knew. (Qur’an 9:41)
The Prophet of Islam emphasised this on many occasions. Once a man asked him, “Guide me to such a deed as equals jihad [in reward].” Muhammad answered: “I do not find such a deed.”95 Allah told Muhammad that the true Muslims do not hesitate to wage jihad. The ones who refused to do this weren’t even believers at all:
Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day would not ask permission of you to be excused from striving with their wealth and their lives. And Allah is Knowing of those who fear Him. Only those would ask permission of you who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and whose hearts have doubted, and they, in their doubt, are hesitating. (Qur’an 9:44–45)
This “striving with their wealth and their lives” was unmistakeably a military command – particularly given that Allah was guaranteeing paradise to those who would “fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain” (Qur’an 9:111). Indeed, the Arabic word for ‘striving’ is a form of the word ‘jihad’. On another occasion he said:
I have been commanded to fight against people, till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me [that] I am the messenger [from the Lord] and in all that I have brought. And when they do it, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection on my behalf except where it is justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah.96
The obverse was also true: if they did not become Muslims, their blood and riches would not be guaranteed any protection from the Muslims.
Islam or Subjugation
Muhammad was now the undisputed master of Arabia. The Arabian rulers and tribes who had not yet submitted to his authority now made their way to Medina to accept Islam and pay him homage. To the lands of those who did not come, Muhammad sent the warriors of jihad. He sent the fearsome fighter Khalid ibn al-Walid to the Al-Harith tribe, telling him to give them three days to accept Islam before attacking them, and to call off the battle if they converted. Khalid duly told the tribe leaders: “If you accept Islam, you will be safe” – whereupon the tribe converted. Khalid notified the Prophet of Islam and sent a deputation from the tribe to Medina to see Muhammad, who told them:
If Khalid had not written to me that you had accepted Islam and had not fought, I would throw your heads beneath your feet.97
From Himyar in south Arabia came a letter informing Muhammad that the kings of the region had not only accepted Islam, but waged war in Allah’s name against the remaining pagans in the area. Muhammad was pleased with this, replying:
Your messenger reached me on my return from the land of the Byzantines and he met us in Medina and conveyed your message and your news and informed us of your Islam and of your killing the polytheists. God has guided you with His guidance.98
He detailed their obligations as Muslims and directed that Jews and Christians in their domains should be invited to convert to Islam, but if they refused, they were “not to be turned” from their religions. Rather, the Jews and Christians in these newly Muslim lands “must pay the poll tax – for every adult, male or female, free or slave, one full dinar”, and he gave instructions for how that amount was to be calculated. He reminded the kings that the lives of the Jews and Christians depended on their payment of this tax:
He who pays that to God’s apostle has the guarantee of God and His apostle, and he who withholds it is the enemy of God and His apostle.99
The jizyah tax was so important because, besides raiding (which produced inconsistent results), it was the Muslims’ chief source of income. This is clear in a letter Muhammad sent to another Jewish tribe, the Banu Janbah. He assured them that “under the guarantee of Allah and the guarantee of His Apostle, there will be no cruelty or oppression on you. Verily, the Apostle of Allah will defend you.” However:
Verily, for the Apostle of Allah will be the booty which you receive on making peace [with some party] and every slave you get, as well as animals and other objects, except that which the Apostle of Allah or his envoy remits. Verily, it is binding on you to pay one-fourth of the yield of your date-palms, and one-fourth of your game from the rivers, and one-fourth of what your women spin.100
Likewise, to a Christian ruler Muhammad wrote:
I will not fight against you unless I write to you in advance. So, join the fold of Islam or pay the jizyah. Obey Allah and His Apostle and the messengers of His Apostle, honour them and dress them in nice clothes… Provide Zayd with good clothes. If my messengers will be pleased with you, I shall also be pleased with you… Pay three wasaq of barley to Harmalah.101
The onerous tax burdens which Jews and Christians in Muslim domains bore for the privilege of being allowed to live in relative peace would become the key source of income for the great Islamic empires which carried Muhammad’s jihad into Africa, Europe, and Asia. The dhimmis were the “protected people” in the Islamic state, who paid the jizyah and accepted discrimination and humiliation in exchange for permission to remain in their ancestral religions, rather than convert to Islam.
According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad died in 632 AD. On his deathbed, the Prophet of Islam decreed that Jews and Christians would no longer be allowed in Arabia at all. “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula,” he told his companions, “and will not leave any but Muslims.”102
1. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, translated by Alfred Guillaume (Oxford University Press, 1955), 131.
2. Ibid., 287-88.
3. Ibid., 288.
4. Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, translated by S. Moinul Haq and H. K. Ghazanfar, vol. 2.
5. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 294.
6. Ibid., 297.
7. Ibid., 298.
8. Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 20-21.
9. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 300.
11. Ibid., 301.
12. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 4, bk. 58, no. 3185.
13. Ibid., vol. 1, bk. 8, no. 520.
14. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 308.
15. Ibid., 304.
16. Ibid., vol. 4, bk. 58, no. 3185.
17. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 306.
18. Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, vol. 7, translated by M. V. McDonald (State University of New York Press, 1987), 86.
19. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 363.
21. Ibid., 367.
22. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 5, bk. 64, no. 4037.
24. Ibid.; Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 37.
25. Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 37.
26. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 369.
28. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 5, bk. 64, no. 4065.
29. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 382.
30. Ibid., 386.
31. Al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, vol. 7, 158.
32. Ibid., 159.
33. Imam Muslim, Sahih Muslim, rev. ed., translated by Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, bk. 19, no. 4326 (Kitab Bhavan, 2000).
34. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 437.
35. Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 70.
36. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 438.
37. Ibid., 450.
38. Ibid., 452.
39. Al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, vol. 8, translated by Michael Fishbein (State University of New York Press, 1997), 11.
40. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 452.
41. Al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, vol. 8, 12.
42. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 452.
43. Ibid., 454.
44. Ibid., 460.
45. Sahih al-Bukhari: The Translation of the Meanings, translated by Muhammad M. Khan, vol. 4, bk. 56, no. 2813 (Darussalam, 1997).
46. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 461.
48. Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 4, bk. 56, no. 3043.
49. Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, vol. 2, 93.
50. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 464.
51. Sunan Abu-Dawud, translated by Ahmad Hasan, bk. 38, no. 4390 (Kitab Bhavan, 1990).
52. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 464.
53. Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, vol. 2, 93.
54. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 464.
55. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 4, bk. 57, no. 3128.
56. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 490.
57. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 9, bk. 97, no. 7409.
59. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 504.
61. Ibid., 509.
62. Yahiya Emerick, The Life and Work of Muhammad (Alpha Books, 2002), 239.
63. Ibid., 240.
64. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 511.
66. Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, vol. 2, 132-33.
67. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 515.
68. Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, vol. 2, 136.
69. Ibid., 137.
70. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 4, bk. 57, no. 3152.
71. Imam Muslim, Sahih Muslim, bk. 10, no. 3761.
72. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 515.
73. Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, vol. 2, 137.
74. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 5, bk. 64, no. 4200.
75. Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, vol. 2, 142.
76. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 1, bk. 8, no. 371.
77. Imam Muslim, Sahih Muslim, bk. 8, no. 3329.
78. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 1, bk. 8, no. 371.
80. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 545.
81. Ibid., 546.
82. Ibid., 547.
84. Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, vol. 2, 168.
85. As-Sijistani, Sunan Abu-Dawud, bk. 38, no. 4346.
86. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 567.
87. Ibid., 569.
88. Guillaume explains: “Ha’it means wall and also the garden which it surrounds.”
89. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 589.
90. Ibid., 595-96.
91. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 4, bk. 56, no. 2941.
92. Ibid., vol. 5, bk. 64, no. 4424.
93. Ibid., vol. 4, bk. 61, no. 3618.
94. Muslim, Sahih Muslim, bk. 19, no. 4294.
95. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 4, bk. 56, no. 2785.
96. Muslim, Sahih Muslim, bk. 10, no. 31; cf. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 1, bk. 2, no. 25.
97. Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, 645-46.
98. Ibid., 643.
100. Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, vol. 1, 328.
101. Ibid., vol. 1, 328-29.
102. Muslim, Sahih Muslim, bk. 19, no. 4366.
This article was written by co-founder Kareem Muhssin, with support from other Alliance members.