This is a serialization of the book titled ‘Crisis in Islam’. The full book and its Endnotes may be accessed at:
The search for the roots of the culture of killing and its glorification as part of the heritage of civilized Islam is the only way to cope with what is happening in the world today by a number of Muslims; from the brutal killing and beheading and ripping bellies open, to rape and looting in the name of Islam. If we find that this is actually what Islam wanted, and I do not think this will happen, Islam has no future on earth. But if we find out that the Qur’an and the Prophet did not say what the advocates of the culture of killing are saying, then it is our rational, civil and religious duty to eradicate them from the centre of Islam and disown them publicly without shame or hypocrisy.
Every Arab student has studied Arab history in school and read something about the ‘wars of apostasy’ that occurred after Prophet Muhammad departed. The gist of what was cemented in the mind of every student is that some people in Arabia forsook Islam; rebelled against the authority of the Caliph, who then sent his armies to fight them and subject them to the authority of the State. Some of them returned to the loyalty, and some of them were killed, while some no doubt did not express what they felt inside them and kept silent and submitted. But what is importantly significant today is not what really happened then but the fact that almost all Muslims believe that those rebels were apostates. But were they?
There is no problem in accepting such political behaviour of any head of state, because the duty of the head of state is to secure stability throughout the country and put down any rebellion, which may put its interests and security at risk. But the history which we have studied and continue to study does not treat this as a political action, but it goes on to treat it as a Divine Order required by Islam, which was carried out by the Companion after the Prophet, for the protection of the religion of Allah. And that’s what I will try to discuss here.
Lest anyone think I want to say that what was political was not religious and what was religious was not political, I would like to stress that it is not so. The political decision may be in conformity with religion or contrary to it, and it may be the subject of a religious conflict. It is also possible that the religious attitude is not in the interest of politics. Such contradiction requires that the ruler should decide which path to follow and, while doing so, he will no doubt expose himself to criticism from one of the parties. This undoubtedly belongs to the difficult choices of any ruler, and whoever takes on the burden of ruling should learn to live with it!
Perhaps one would ask what is the use of talking about ‘wars of apostasy’ now and how would considering them benefit us? The answer to that will be seen through this treatment, which will show how they established a serious precedent in the history of Islam whose realities we still live and depend upon in spreading the culture of killing. It is precisely what the propagators and supporters of the ‘Islamic State’ claim to be doing in fighting and killing Muslims, accusing them of being apostates, relying on that precedent set out in the early days following the Prophet’s departure, and how the fuqahā later identified who the apostates in Islam are.
What is the truth of what happened before the ‘wars of apostasy’ and afterwards?
What has reached us from the ‘wars of apostasy’ is a bunch of sporadic news that drew more than one picture of the event and the reason for some Arab tribes rising against the Caliph. Some said that a number of tribes rose because they believed that their allegiance (bay’a) was for the Prophet, and it had since been dissolved when He was gone and they owed no allegiance to any successor. Some said that a number of tribes did not accept Abu Bakr as the Caliph, while other stories tell us that a number of tribes refused to pay zakāt and did not rise against the Caliph.[i]
And here we must pause and ask: What really happened?
A number of Muslims have fallen victim to suspicion in their interpretation of the verse “Take from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them increase, and invoke [Allah’s blessings] upon them. Indeed, your invocations are reassurance for them. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing” (At-Tawba 9:103) which they took to mean that the Messenger of Allah alone had the right to take zakāt and alms, and when he departed they were absolved of that obligation. That is what they said when they came to Medina to argue with Caliph Abu Bakr. A number of companions, including ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattāb, Abu ‘Ubaidah Al-Jarrāh and Salim Mawla Abu Huthaifa, were of the opinion that these were not unbelievers as long as they had fulfilled their duties towards the other pillars of religion in the shahāda (declaration), prayer and fasting. They argued with Abu Bakr about that and it is narrated that ‘Umar said to Abu Bakr: “How do you fight them when the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon Him, had 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. ”[ii] Abu Bakr is reported to have responded: “I will fight whoever separates prayer from zakāt. By Allah, if they withhold from me a young goat that they used to give to the Messenger of Allah [SAW][iii], I will fight them for withholding it.”[iv] Abu Bakr was quoted elsewhere as stating “By Allah! If they withhold even (camel) tethers which they used to give to the Messenger of Allah, I will fight them for withholding it.”[v]
I shall report herein what happened to Mālik Ibn Nuwaira At-Tamimi, as evidence of the historical records we have of the ‘wars of apostasy’:
“It was the commandment of Abu Bakr that when they enter an area they should call for prayer. If people answered the call, they were to leave them alone, but if they did not answer, then kill them. If they answer you and repeat the Muslim formula, ask them about zakāt, if they concur accept it from them and if they refuse fight them. Khālid Ibn Al-Walid’s horsemen brought Mālik Ibn Nuwaira in a group of Beni Tha’laba Ibn Yarbou’. The company was not in agreement, one of whom was Abu Qatāda, who testified that they had responded to the call for prayer and prayed. When there was disagreement, [Khālid] ordered them to be held in custody on a cold night without anything. Khālid ordered a caller to announce: ‘warm your captives’, which in the language of the Kenana tribe meant ‘killing’, and Kenana was Khālid’s tribe. People thought he wanted them killed, when he only wanted warmth, and they killed them. Dhirār Ibn Al-Azwar killed Mālik, and Khālid married Um Tamim, Mālik’s woman.”[vi]
I will not indulge in the interpretation of historians and scholars about Khālid Ibn Al-Walid’s killing of Mālik Ibn Nuwaira and using his head as firewood to cook his food, because discussing that is without benefit, as Muslims are split between themselves regarding Khālid; not today but since ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattāb dismissed him from leadership in the midst of the peak of his victory.[vii] But I would like to conclude from what happened in the killing of Malik Ibn Nuwaira and the likes of him who refused to pay zakāt in particular, and the ‘wars of apostasy’ in general: One conclusion is that they created two dangerous precedents in Islam adopted by Muslims from that day to this day and contributed to the establishment of the culture of killing in Islam.
The first precedent created by the ‘wars of apostasy’ is that a Muslim should be killed if he renounces Islam.
The second precedent is that whoever refuses to pay zakāt is considered an apostate and infidel who should be killed according to former precedent. Perhaps the followers used this as a guide and subsequently considered that whoever rejected any of the obligations of Islam would be considered an infidel, on the grounds that Islam is an integral whole and that its pillars are indivisible and each of them is a basis of religion.
Is it really so, and what is the effect of these precedents on Islam today?
I will begin with the second precedent before the first, and adopt the Qur’an, without undermining what the Prophet said, but I am wary of relying on a Hadith lest someone accuse me of selectively choosing one and leaving the other, especially when I am not confident of the credibility of a number of the narrators, which is a natural right of any researcher. Muslims do not differ on the truthfulness of the Qur’an, and this is sufficient for me in what I want. I also do not necessarily accept what the companions did after the Prophet because they made their own independent reasoning, and likewise every Muslim is entitled to his/her own independent reasoning: Whoever says contrary to that is trying to deny Divine Wisdom, and this is unacceptable.
The first fact that can be asserted is that the Qur’an is devoid of a single verse that refers even implicitly to a punishment for whoever fails to observe any of the obligations of religion. It is also impossible for anyone to assert definitely that every one of the obligations of religion is equal to any of the other obligations, and that if he defaults on one he defaults on all, assuming that the Qur’an in fact did identify these as pillars which it did not do. I do not think anyone can really say that the hajj (pilgrimage) religious duty is identical to the duty of prayer, for Allah has made the first for whoever is able; as He said: “And [due] to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House – for whoever is able to find thereto a way” (Aal-Imran 3:97), which is subject to more than one interpretation. But Allah ordained that “Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times” (An-Nisaa 4:103), which is not subject to any interpretation and there is no excuse to refrain from it. It is no doubt a statute and a pillar of religion greater than others. A Muslim may be excused for not performing the hajj and remains a Muslim, but he is not excused for failing to pray, which may be performed even when one is fully incapacitated. Similar exemptions may be argued regarding fasting.
When it comes to zakāt, then its religious basis is the betterment of the Muslim nation through the contribution of Muslims in supporting the state in fulfilling its obligations. Zakāt in Islam is not different from the tax imposed by non-religious states in order to enable them to carry out their obligations in the governing of the state. That is to say that the imposition of zakāt in Islam is a political action complementary to religion and not more important, since both the Muslim in his state and the non-Muslim adheres to it in her/his state. While Allah defined the times for prayer, He did not specify the amount of zakāt. Muslims differed on that, where the Shi’a Muslims said it should be one fifth of wealth earned, the Sunnis said it should be one eighth of that fifth. Each party came up with its argument, and every Muslim has to decide where he/she stands on this issue. Therefore, Allah did not stipulate the percentage of zakāt while He defined prayer times, which gives a different value for each religious obligation. If the obligation of zakāt is no less important than the obligation of prayer, would it not be natural for the servant to expect his Lord to provide the percentage of what he has to pay? Does leaving the percentage undetermined mean that Allah made its amount subject to change, depending on the needs of the community, while He did not make the prayer times subject to change or diligence? Did not the Almighty say “And from their properties was [given] the right of the [needy] petitioner and the deprived” (Adh-Dhaariyat 51:19), and made it an absolute right and not a known right as stated in another verse? Is this not evidence that zakāt is a flexible obligation that changes depending on the need and circumstance? What I want to say is that the value of zakāt in Islam is not the same as the value of prayer, and it is not a fact that it is such a religious obligation that makes it a basic pillar with which religion is invalidated if it is compromised.
However, this does not diminish its seriousness if it is declined, because declining it hinders the state’s ability in fulfilling its obligations. In this, the Caliph’s decision to fight decliners to pay zakāt was a correct political decision, but not necessarily the correct religious decision, because it has not been proven in the Qur’an that whoever declines to pay zakāt removes himself/herself from the community, even though he/she defies the state. Here is where the division between state and religion occurs, whether the Caliph likes it or not!
I have no doubt that scholars accept this even though they do not dare to declare it. By this I mean that they accept that their support for fighting those who decline to pay zakāt is a political stand and not at the heart of religion. Otherwise, they would have called for fighting those who decline to fast and those who do not do the pilgrimage, despite their ability to do so. What about the millions of Muslims who do not pray? Should they all be labelled apostates and put to death? But they have done none of that. Why then have they called for fighting decliners to pay zakāt if it were not purely politically motivated?
Fighting decliners to pay zakāt and killing them raises more than a question regarding the meaning of faith and its essence, because the obligation of fighting decliners to fulfil any of the obligations of Islam, as in the case of zakāt, necessarily means that violating any of the religious obligations is a violation of faith! Is this a sound conclusion?
It would be correct if Islamic rituals would coincide with faith, but they are different. The Almighty has confirmed this in more than one place in the Qur’an, and the most comprehensive one is His saying “The Bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have accepted Islam,'” (Al-Hujuraat 49:14). He ordained that whoever becomes a Muslim is not a believer until he believes, distinguishing between the two cases. The essence of faith is the same in all religions, but the religious obligations vary from religion to religion. Had the obligations of Islam been eternal and original in faith, they would have been imposed on the Jews and the Christians as they were imposed on Muslims in all their types and limits, but we know that it was not like that.
The essence of faith is the same in all religions and examples of evidence from the Qur’an are many. The Almighty said “They are not [all] the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing [in obedience], reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating [in prayer]” (Aal-Imran 3:113), telling us that among the People of the Scripture are believers even though not Muslims, which calls for Allah’s blessing, even if we do not know it.
Where then is the Qur’anic evidence that indicates the obligation and permissibility of fighting those who refuse to pay zakāt, despite their faith in Allah and the Last Day, when the Lord reminds us in more than one verse that “Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans – who believed in Allah and the Last Day (Day of Judgment) and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve”? (Al-Baqara 2:62).
And that those who “believe in Allah and the Last Day, and enjoin what is right and forbid what is evil and hasten to good deeds, those are among the righteous” (Aal-Imran 3:114).
And “and he who hopes to meet his Lord, let him do a good deed and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone” (Al-Kahf 18:110).
The Lord has thus ordained that whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, and does righteous deeds is saved. No verse in the Qur’an requires that whoever violates a religious obligation, is irredeemable. What is even worse is that there is no verse that gives the guardian the right to kill anyone who violates all the obligations of Islam, let alone only one of them.
Allah has pointed out a serious matter regarding faith when he said: “O you who have believed, do not invalidate your charities with reminders or injury as does one who spends his wealth [only] to be seen by the people and does not believe in Allah and the Last Day. His example is like that of a [large] smooth stone upon which is dust and is hit by a downpour that leaves it bare. They are unable [to keep] anything of what they have earned. And Allah does not guide the disbelieving people.” (Al-Baqara 2:264). He also said: “And those who spend of their wealth to be seen by the people and believe not in Allah nor in the Last Day. And he to whom Satan is a companion – then evil is he as a companion” (An-Nisaa 4:38).
He informed us that it is not only insufficient to pay zakāt and alms to achieve faith, but that it would be hypocritical if not accompanied by belief in Allah and the Last Day, which He clearly indicated to be the true pillars of the faith.
This merciful Lord, whose mercy encompassed everything, went further than that in forgiveness, clemency and amnesty, and said: “and do not say to one who gives you [a greeting of] peace ‘You are not a Muslim’” (An-Nisaa 4:94). How then can those who only refuse to pay zakāt be called infidels and must be fought, when Allah has denied killing a soul except by right?
Then there is the second precedent created by the ‘wars of apostasy’, namely, the obligation of fighting the apostate from Islam. If we assume for the sake of argument, that there exists Qur’anic evidence that abstention from paying zakāt is a violation of religion and apostasy from Islam, the question that arises from this is: Should we, or is it even permissible to, fight the apostate?
It is not a secret that almost all of Muslim scholars since the ‘wars of apostasy’ until today, agree on the necessity of fighting the apostate from Islam. They have devised a mechanism to achieve this killing that requires among other things that the apostate should be given the opportunity to repent to save him from being killed.
Has the Almighty ordained that the apostate from Islam should be fought and killed? The brief and unequivocal answer is: No!
If we look at what the Forgiving and the Merciful said, away from what someone did, or a fatwa by one or two fuqahā, we will find that Allah not only has not ordained the killing of an apostate, but in fact ordained that the killer of an apostate should be punished if that killing had happened simply because the victim was an apostate and not because he carried a weapon and killed Muslims or caused corruption in the land.
The first Divine Rule is the eternal text decreed upon believers since our last Adam, according to what He told us, as we have no knowledge except what He has taught us, which stipulates:
“Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely” (Al-Maaida 5:32).
How can anyone, whether a Prophet or Caliph or guardian, order the killing of a soul outside this Divine Decree? The apostate is neither a murderer nor spreading corruption in the land. If he had fallen victim to uncertainty or infidelity, his affair and judgement rest with Allah and not with man.
Allah strengthened that decree by saying “No compulsion in religion, the right course has become clear from the wrong” (Al-Baqara 2:256). If the Almighty had decreed that no one shall be compelled to enter Islam, how can He enjoin killing whoever chooses to voluntarily leave it like he entered it? He instructed His Prophet in saying: “And had your Lord willed, those on Earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, would you compel the people in order that they become believers?” (Yunus 10:99).
He concluded this by telling the faithful: “O you who have believed, upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah is your return all together; then He will inform you of what you used to do” (Al-Maaida 5:105). He is telling His servants that it is not their affair whoever believes or disbelieves if they are concerned with guiding and validating themselves. That is because the Almighty took over the affairs of the unbelievers in this world and of their torment in the Hereafter, and evidence of that in the Qur’an is plentiful!
Had the Almighty not mentioned the apostate in the Qur’an, we might have found a way to interpret how to deal with him/her. But He says in His Book:
“O you who have believed, whoever of you should revert from his religion – Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him [who are] humble toward the believers, powerful against the disbelievers; they strive in the cause of Allah and do not fear the blame of a critic. That is the favour of Allah; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” (Al-Maaida 5:54)
Allah told us that if people revert from Islam, then He would make that up for Muslims by bringing other peoples who will strive for Him with the striving due to Him, but He did not tell us to fight those apostates. Had He wanted that, He would have charged us with fighting them when He talked of their apostasy.
Then He said: “And they will continue to fight you until they turn you back from your religion if they are able. And whoever of you reverts from his religion [to disbelief] and dies while he is a disbeliever – for those, their deeds have become worthless in this world and the Hereafter, and those are the companions of the Fire, they will abide therein eternally” (Al-Baqara 2:217).
He thus ordained that whoever reverts fromreligionanddiesas an infidel that his judgement with His Lord is eternal Fire, and not in our hands as scholars have mistakenly decreed.
The Forgiving and Merciful Allah did not leave the matter there, but alerted us to a serious matter when he said: “Indeed, those who have believed then disbelieved, then believed, then disbelieved, and then increased in disbelief – never will Allah forgive them, nor will He guide them to a way” (An-Nisaa 4:137), telling us that the unbeliever could come back to the faith. If so, how is it permissible to kill him/her if Allah enabled the possibility of his/her return to the faith?
So what has reached us from this culture produced by the ‘wars of apostasy’?
The obligation of killing an apostate from Islam and even one who rejects any of the religious obligations of Islam, has become a part of the culture of Islam, according to which Muslims have been raised for thirteen centuries. Let us take two examples from the Shi’as and Sunnis.
Ruhollāh Al-Musawi Al-Khomeini, herald of the theory of ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’[viii] and founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa for the killing of Salmān Rushdie, the Indian-born British writer, on the grounds of apostasy from Islam, where all scholars agreed on Khomeini’s fatwa that it is a duty to fight anyone who abuses the Prophet.[ix] Perhaps it was the biggest service Khomeini did to the miserable book, which made Salman Rushdie, who previously was an insignificant writer like tens of thousands of writers in English, who produce mediocre work every year and are forgotten in the next year, a famous writer worldwide, and even made his book of interest to the world, translating it into dozens of languages, spreading his wretched tales of our Prophet and His household. Had Khomeini kept silent on the book, he would have benefited Islam more, but he committed himself to the consensus of scholars, committing a mistake no doubt!
The second example is adversity caused by the Bedouin scholars in the past two decades which called for the killing of Muslims and non-Muslims, more precisely, calling for the killing of anyone who differs with Bedouin backward interpretation of Islam. The devastation and killing that we have seen and continue to witness today in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Algeria can all be attributed to the culture of killing born of the ‘wars of apostasy’ which decreed the necessity of killing a Muslim apostate. All that a simple-minded Muslim requires today during his brainwashing process is to be told that this group of people have reverted from Islam, for him to impose murder, rape and ruin, just as Muslims in the ‘wars of apostasy’ did!
So if the ‘wars of apostasy’ have made the killing of a Muslim apostate a religious obligation, would it be difficult to make a Muslim fundamentalist believe that the killing of non-Muslims is more of a religious obligation?