Chapter 6 – Islam, Jizya or Death

This is a serialization of the book titled ‘Crisis in Islam’. The full book and its Endnotes may be accessed at:

In the previous chapter, I concluded that Islam came to the Arabs in their tongue and it did not come to others, because Allah has committed Himself that He would not punish until He sends a messenger, and He would warn every people in their tongue. That is what He did with the Hebrews in Hebrew, with Arameans in Aramaic, and no doubt with the Chinese in Chinese and with the Indians in Hindi and the like. Thus He equally did with the Arabs in Arabic.

This is His wisdom and His justice and they cannot be but that.

When His non-Arab servant stands before Him, how is He going to judge that servant for not accepting the Qur’an, which came in a language foreign to him? Isn’t that servant entitled to ask the Almighty, why he was told to follow a Messenger in a language he was not created with, and to read a book that was sent to another people, telling them stories and lessons from their history, without this book mentioning one story or lesson of what happened to the people of that servant, now standing before Him?

More than one has commented that I have overlooked the Sunnah of the Prophet 1, and pointed out only to the verses in the Qur’an. I have no doubt that what the Prophet said and did is binding and what he did not say or did not do is not binding “And whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from” (Al-Hashr 59:7). What those who followed the Prophet said or did may have been right or wrong, because Allah did not say (And whatever the Messenger and his companions have given you – take).  Let no one say that one of his companions arrived at a juristic deduction, and that makes it part of religion because religion is the Qur’an, and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Anything outside that is mere politics. Why am I required to accept what someone invented or deduced as being from Allah, while that person was not given more abilities than what is given to us? If there is to be interpretation of Allah’s will, we stand equal, and no one has precedence in knowledge simply because he came before us. Even among the forerunners in Islam, who knew the Messenger, were hypocrites, which the Almighty mentioned and of whom He warned 2. Thus, their precedence in witnessing the Message is not enough to make them ahead of us in knowledge and faith. In addition to that, some of the companions will go to hell because this companionship did not prevent misguidance. It is narrated that the Prophet had said that on the Day of Judgment some of his companies are brought and diverted from Heaven to Hell, and when he enquired about them and was told that they had gone astray, he would curse them! 3

The Prophet had been adamant in saying that his people are not protected from aberrance into which people before them have gone astray. He said to them in his last sermon in the Farewell Pilgrimage “Do not return to unbelief after me by striking the necks of one another” 4 . If he did not know that this would happen, he would not have said it, “Nor does he speak from [his own] inclination. It is not but a revelation revealed.” (An-Najm 53:3-4)

The question that comes to mind is this: did the Prophet make it his Sunnah to invite Jews and Christians to Islam?

If it can be proven that he did that, and as his Sunnah complements the Qur’an and does not contradict it, then we should adopt it. If on the other hand it cannot be proven that he called Jews and Christians to Islam, then the matter is closed and there are no grounds for a debate on it. By ‘calling to Islam’ I do not mean to argue or have a dialogue, because it is obvious that this must have happened. It is not possible for a religion that had shaken the Arabian Peninsula and uprooted idolatry, to pass without creating a dialogue and debate with the Jews and the Christians, especially since the Qur’an talked a lot about these two religions that preceded Islam. But what we are looking for in history is whether the Prophet Muhammad had invited the Jews and Christians among the Arabs to it, which was instilled in subsequent years, in the choice between Islam or jizyah or death, and which later became the option of killing in the name of religion!

The Arabian Peninsula had Jews and Christians, and the Jews were in constant contact with Muslims because of their presence in Medina as well as their presence in Yemen, where Christians also lived. Nowhere in the Prophet’s biography is it mentioned that he made any of those two groups choose one of the above three options, i.e. Islam, jizyah or death. He let the Jews live in Medina according to their religion, and Ibn Hishām wrote in the biography ‘Said Ibn Ishāq the apostle wrote a document concerning the emigrants and the helpers in which he made a friendly agreement with the Jews and established them in their religion and their property, and stated the reciprocal obligations as follows.’ 5 When he was asked to arbiter in some of their differences, he directed them to rule in accordance with what the Torah brought. Some Jews converted to Islam voluntarily. Otherwise they remained so until they conspired against him and fought him, which forced him to fight back and expel them from Medina. “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” (Al-Hashr 59:3). The biography does not tell that a messenger had even been sent to the Christians calling them to Islam, but the Christians of Najrān came and challenged him, and some of them converted.  All of this happened without the option of Islam, jizyah or death.

This behaviour of the Prophet was neither tactical, interim, nor because Islam came gradually with its principles as most ordinary Muslims say. But it was consistent with the Qur’an, which he no doubt knew better than all of us. Evidence from the Qur’an agrees on the inadmissibility of fighting the People of the Book, as the Jews and Christians are called in Qur’an, except in the case of their committing an aggression against Muslims in which case fighting would be in self-defence and in response to aggression. Here are some examples to demonstrate this.

The Creator of Heavens and the Earth advised His prophet and us that He and not us is the arbiter between religions, when He said: “Indeed, those who have believed and those who were Jews and the Sabeans and the Christians and the Magians and those who associated with Allah – Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Indeed Allah is, over all things, Witness.” (Al-Hajj 22:17). If He is the one who judges His servants, how can we judge when we do not know His judgement?

The Almighty outlined the minimum rule for obeying him in saying: “Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans, those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day 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).  Allah made belief in Him and the Last Day together with good deeds, conditions to His blessings. How can a Muslim then doubt as to whom of the People of the Book these conditions apply? Perhaps even more important is how does a Muslim know whether the non-Muslim before him is not one of those whom Allah had blessed in this verse? How in this case can someone issue a fatwa calling for fighting the People of the Book without them having committed an aggression on Muslims?

It is also conveyed that the Prophet emphasised these facts when He is quoted as saying: “The Jews split into seventy-one sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy in Hell. The Christians split into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which will be in Hell and one in Paradise. I swear by the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, my nation will split into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two in Hell” 6 In this Hadith he is telling us that in every one of the three religions a sect survives. How can he, after that, call for the killing of a person who may be of the surviving sect, because the intentional killing of a believer is a crime punishable in Hell: “But whoever kills a believer intentionally – his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment” (An-Nisaa 4:93).

The Qur’an emphasizes the core of the above Hadith in more than one verse. Of the children of Israel, Allah says “O Children of Israel, remember My favour that I have bestowed upon you and that I preferred you over the worlds” (Al-Baqara 2:47), which is an absolute preference. The Almighty says of them “And We certainly chose them by knowledge over [all] the worlds” (Ad-Dukhaan 44:32), and said “And among the people of Moses is a community which guides by truth and by it establishes justice” (Al-A’raaf 7:159). These and others tell us that the children of Israel are a group of believers. It must be pointed out here that there is a grave mistake that occurred when most Muslims, including scholars, are unable to distinguish between “Jews” and “Children of Israel” in the Qur’an. This confusion in understanding has led to major blunders in interpreting verses 4 to 8 of Chapter 17, Surat Al-Israa 7, because they are verses in praise and not in slander as some of the half-knowledgeable had written. If the children of Israel are a group of believers, how can a Muslim know whether the Jew in front of him is not from among the Children of Israel whose killing would end him up in Hell?

As to the Christians, then the Qur’an said more explicitly that we should be cautious in dealing with them. He said “and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, ‘We are Christians.’ That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant” (Al-Maaida 5:82). There are among the Christians those who are believers as was the case with Waraqa Ibn Nawfal, the Meccan Christian, whom the Prophet favoured, even though it is not reported that he converted to Islam. 8

One verse which all Muslims should heed is His saying “[Mention] when Allah said, “O Jesus, indeed I will take you and raise you to Myself and purify you from those who disbelieve and make those who follow you superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return, and I will judge between you concerning that in which you used to differ” (Aal-Imran 3:55). There is more than one piece of Qur’anic evidence in this verse and a call for Muslims to ponder. If Allah willed that the Christians should prevail on Earth until the Day of Resurrection, our Prophet cannot repeal this will and call for fighting Christians to divert them from what they are in, because Christians must prevail as Allah willed! This verse also calls more than ever today to wonder about the meaning of the rule of the Christians on Earth now!

If the Prophet did not call Arab Christians and Jews to one of three options of Islam, jizyah or death, how would He call on non-Arabs to convert to Islam?

Someone wrote to me asking about the Prophet’s call on Kings outside the land of the Arabs to Islam, a topic that is almost taken for granted that very few have ever questioned. Let us look at the background of this issue to see how accurate the historical narrative is.

The starting point is what is stated in this regard in Ibn Hishām’s biography of the Prophet:

“The Apostle of Allah, peace be upon him, sent messengers of his companions, and wrote with them letters to the Kings inviting them to Islam; he sent Dihya Ibn Khalifa Al-Kalbi to Caesar who was Heraclius King of Rome; and sent Abdullah Ibn Huthāfa As-Sahmi to Chosroes, King of Persia; and sent ‘Amru Ibn Umayya Al-Damri to the Negus, King of Abyssinia; and sent Hātib Ibn Abu Balta to the Muqauqis ruler of Alexandria; and sent ‘Amr Ibn Al-‘Ās to Jayfar Ibn Julanda and his brother Iyadh the Azdis rulers of Oman; and sent Salit Ibn ‘Amru of Beni ‘Amir Ibn Lu’ay to Thamama Ibn Athal and Hudha Ibn ‘Ali rulers of Al-Yamāma; and sent Al-‘Alā Ibn Al-Hadrami to Al-Mundhir Ibn Sāwa Al-Abdi ruler of Al- Bahrain; and sent Shuja’ Ibn Wahab Al-Asadi to Al-Hārith Ibn Abi Shimr Al-Ghassāni ruler of the surroundings of Sham”.  9

It is possible to accept the idea that the Prophet sent messengers because he had established a state and it was natural to send emissaries to other states to achieve recognition of the emerging state and establish peace and good neighbourly relations as should be. There is no reason for us to doubt that he sent emissaries to Arab kings and princes like the kings of Oman and Yamāma and the king of the surroundings of Sham and Hamadan and many others, because he was charged with warning Mecca and its surroundings and these were undoubtedly the towns around Mecca in question. But we must stop at the calling of non-Arab kings like the Caesar of Rome, Chosroes of Persia, Muqauqis of Egypt and Negus of Abyssinia. Ibn Hishām may have confused the two and thus generalized by stating that all the emissaries were sent to call to Islam, while it would have been much wiser to distinguish between those who were sent to the Arab kings with the call to Islam and those sent to non-Arab as ambassadors of peace and good neighbourly relations when it was not proven otherwise.

The reader would have to pause and ask: If the Great Prophet really wanted to call the Negus to Islam, why did He not charge his cousin, Ja’far Ibn Abi Tālib, to carry out the mission of calling Negus to accept Islam when He sent him with a group of believers in the first migration to Abyssinia?10 ‘Amru Ibn Umayya Al-Damri did not precede Ja’far in Islam, nor was he more assiduous than Ja’far in communicating the message of the Meccan Prophet who had been reported to have said “no one should communicate the Message on my behalf except me or a man from my family.” 11 Ja’far Ibn Abi Tālib was a man from his family.

But doubt does not stop at this. Subsequent tellers have narrated stories about texts of letters which they claimed were the Prophet’s messages to the Kings. I am skeptical of the credibility of these texts, because if they were true, they would have been known at the time of Ibn Ishāq and Ibn Hishām. And if they were well-known in their time, which was closer to the Messenger, then it would have been logical to have been included in their biographies. But Ibn Hishām, who cited the provisions of contracts and covenants and letters, much inferior in value, did not cite the text of a single one of the alleged letters from the Prophet to the Kings of the world.  Those appeared only in a later period!

The second reason, which calls for doubt in these texts that emerged later, is evidence from the history of others. I will not go into what was written or not written by the Persians or the Ethiopians, but I am concerned with the Romans. This is because one of the sciences in which the Romans excelled was the science of history and its codification. Roman historians did not leave anything small or large undocumented. Is it conceivable that an event of this seriousness, like a letter from the Prophet of the Arabs and their rising commander, who was threatening the borders of the Roman State, had reached the court of Caesar and remained undocumented by Roman historians of that period, when they documented the events of less importance than the relationship of their Caesars with others? The lack of Roman historical documents of any reference to this letter is powerful evidence that indicates that these texts were inserted later for political reasons. It suffices to say that it confirms the doubt that I put in front of scholars searching for truth in history.

The third reason for doubt is Arabic and Qur’anic, overlooked by researchers, dismissed by Arab linguists and undoubtedly unknown to religious scholars. I do not want to turn this writing into a linguistic research to show the faults in the texts, because the western reader would not be able to follow the grammatical argument. But it would suffice to say that the use of some words casts doubt on the authenticity of the alleged letter, because it contains incorrect words that the Prophet would have never used. It is difficult to understand, though, why Arab linguists have kept quiet about attributing letters with poor language to the Prophet. I don’t think they did not appreciate that reality, but perhaps they were apprehensive about questioning what the religious scholars have narrated.

Had the matter stopped at language mistakes, it may be somehow overlooked. But it also extended to touching the essence of religion and its jurisprudence. The text still contained the same confusion in which every Muslim scholar has participated, and that is the inability to distinguish between the (Rooh) Spirit and the (Nafs) Soul, using the words alternatingly as synonyms for the same essence. The Spirit and Soul are not the same, because the Soul in Islam is created while the Spirit is an uncreated entity. Without going into details explaining this, it is enough to read Allah’s words: “And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the Spirit (Rooh). Say, “The Spirit is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind have not been given of knowledge except a little” (Al-Israa 17:85). Our Prophet is knowledgeable and would not make the mistake expressed by the ignorance of the scholars in this confusion and say about Jesus, son of Mary that “God created him from His Spirit.” That is impossible because God did not create from His Spirit anything, because His Spirit is indivisible for Him to create something from it, as He told us that he created everything from a Soul not a Spirit! Allah explained to us the creation of Jesus as follows: “Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, “Be,” and he was” (Aal-Imran 3:59). Where in this verse is there any mention of creating Him from His Spirit as allegedly attributed to the Prophet as having said in his message to the Christian Romans?

If Muslims were honest in attributing these texts to our Prophet, there is an easy, scientific and firm way. Why not subject these parchments which they claim are the original messages sent by the Prophet to the Kings of the world to scientific examinations and tests to determine their history accurately, because nowadays it is even possible to determine the age of the ink used quite accurately. Once this is done, this controversy can be brought to an end and one side will have to acquiesce. Should I be proven wrong, I will be the first to apologize.

Fourteen centuries after our Prophet we stop to read what was attributed to Him of sayings and acts, in some of which we find faults and inconsistency. Is it not time that we face this reality and do justice to our Prophet and cleanse our religion from all that has entered it which defies Allah’s infallibility?


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