What Is The Explanation Of “I have Been Commanded To Fight The People Until They Testify…”?

Kaleef K. Karim


1. Introduction
2. Background
3. Quraysh Broke The Treaty And Waged War
4. Analysing The Hadith
5. The Hadith rejects Forced Conversion Claim
6. The Quran Rejects Forced Conversion Claim
7.  Various Commentaries On The Hadith
8. Conclusion

1. Introduction

The following Hadith quotation (below) has often been quoted by some critics claiming that Prophet Muhammed (p) sanctions and/or approves of Muslims to forcefully convert non-Muslims to Islam:

“I have been commanded to fight the people until they testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establish the prayer and pay the Zakah.” (Fath al-Bari, volume 1, page 95) (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) [Abridged by A Group of Scholars Under The Supervision Of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri. Maktaba Dar-us-Salam – Second Edition, 2003] volume 4, page 377)”

When we get to read the Hadith and its historical context we find that this claim has no support from the Hadith nor was it interpreted in such a way. So what is the historical understanding of the Hadith report?

2. Background

Some of the earliest to contemporary scholars state that the Hadith report was said in connection to the pagan Arabs in Prophet Muhammed’s life time. Those words were uttered on the occasion of Surah al-Tawbah, specifically Surah 9:5, the “sword verse” as some would like to call it (Tafsir Ibn Kathir and Ibn Juzayy). [1] [2]

We wrote previously an article dedicated to Quran 9:5 – the verse was revealed as a result of the polytheists of Makkah breaking the treaty, attacking and killing Muhammed’s allies. As a result of their heinous and treacherous act, the Prophet (p) engaged the enemy.

Furthermore, it should be noted to our respected readers that in light of the Hadith report we are going to analyse, the Quraysh polytheists persecuted and murdered Muslims in Makkah for over ten years, and even when the Muslims fled to find safe sanctuary in Madinah they were persecuted once more: “Did Quraysh Persecute Muslims When They Fled To Madinah?

3. Quraysh Broke The Treaty And Waged War

Before we analyse the Hadith report, let’s briefly explain what happened on the occasion of Surah 9:5. In the sixth year of Hijri the Muslims and the polytheist Makkans made a treaty. Part of the treaty, the agreement was that neither parties would attack the other, nor would they attack any of their own allies. In this, all parties agreed and went their own ways. It didn’t take long when Banu Bakr tribe (who were an ally of Quraysh) attacked and murdered many of Banu Khuza’a’s tribe (they were the ally of the Muslims). The Quraysh being in the middle, the Muslims presumed that they would have tried to stop their ally (Banu Bakr) attacking and killing Banu Khuza’a. To the contrary, historical reports inform us that the polytheistic Quraysh supported Banu Bakr with weapons and their members also partook in killing Banu Khuza’a members. The Quraysh were the first to breach the terms of the treaty, attacking and murdering Prophet Muhammed’s ally. This is reported from many early sources.

Ibn Kathir (1301 – 1373 AD):

“‘then stand you true to them. Verily, Allah loves those who have Taqwa.’ The Messenger of Allah and the Muslims preserved the terms of the treaty with the people of Makkah from the month of Dhul-Qa`dah in the sixth year of Hijrah, until the QURAYSH BROKE IT AND HELPED THEIR ALLIES, BANU BAKR, AGAINST KHUZA`AH, the allies of Allah’s Messenger . AIDED BY THE QURAYSH, BANU BAKR KILLED SOME OF BANI KHUZA’AH in the Sacred Area! The Messenger of Allah led an invasion army in the month of Ramadan, of the eighth year, and Allah opened the Sacred Area for him to rule over them…It was also said that these Ayat refer to the idolators BREAKING THE PEACE AGREEMENT WITH MUSLIMS AND AIDING BANI BAKR, THEIR ALLIES, AGAINST KHUZA`AH, the ally of the Messenger of Allah. THIS IS WHY THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH MARCHED TO MAKKAH in the year of the victory, thus conquering it…” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) [Supervised by Abdul Malik Mujahid – First Edition, 2000] volume 4, page 377 – 378)

Tafsir Jalalayn:

“‘except for those you made a treaty with at the Masjid al-Haram’ Referring to the Treaty of Hudaybiyya. They are the Quraysh who were exempted before. ‘As long as they are straight with you, be straight with them’ i.e. as long as they carry out the treaty and do not break it, you should fulfill it. The ma is conditional and not adverbial. ‘Allah loves those who have taqwa’ The Prophet WAS STRAIGHT IN HIS TREATY WITH THEM UNTIL THEY BROKE IT BY HELPING THE BANU BAKR AGAINST KHUZA’A. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn on Surah 9:7 – Online source http://bewley.virtualave.net/tawba1.html)

Tafsir al-Jalalayn goes further:

“Will you not (a-la, ‘will not’ or ‘is not’, denotes incitement) fight a people who broke, violated, their oaths, their pacts, and intended to expel the Messenger, from Mecca — for they discussed this between them in their council assembly — initiating, combat, against you first?, when THEY FOUGHT ALONGSIDE BANU BAKR AGAINST KHUZA‘A, YOUR ALLIES? So what is stopping you from fighting them? Are you afraid of them? God is more worthy of your fear, when you fail to fight them, if you are believers.” (Tafsir al-Jalalayn on Surah 9:13, Online source http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=74&tSoraNo=9&tAyahNo=13&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2)


“[ As-Sawi: This refers to the Treaty of al-Hudaybiyya which stipulated that there would be no war for twenty years. The Banu Bakr formed an alliance with Quraysh and the Khuza’a with the Prophet. BANU BAKR THEN ATTACKED KHUZA’A AND QURAYSH HELPED THEM WITH WEAPONS, THUS BREAKING THE TREATY. ‘Amr b. ‘Allam al-Khuza’i went and informed the Prophet what had happened. The Prophet said, “You will not be helped if I do not help you,” and made preparations and went to Makka and conquered it in 8 AH. …”(Tafsir as-Sawi on Surah 9:3 – Online source http://bewley.virtualave.net/tawba1.html)

Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas:

“(Will ye not fight a folk) why is it that you do not fight a people, i.e. the people of Mecca (who broke their solemn pledges) which are between them and you, (and purposed to drive out the messenger) and wanted to kill the Messenger when they entered Dar al-Nadwah (and did attack you first) by BREAKING THEIR PLEDGE WHEN THEY HELPED THE BANU BAKR, THEIR ALLIES, AGAINST THE BANU KHUZA’AH, THE ALLIES OF THE PROPHET? (What! Fear ye them?) O believers, do you fear fighting them? (Now Allah hath more right that you should fear Him) because of leaving His command, (if ye are believers).” (Tanwir al-Miqbâs min Tafsir Ibn ‘Abbas on Surah 9:13 – Online Source http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=9&tAyahNo=13&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2)

Besides the above evidence, many earlier historical sources report similar accounts of this incident. That the Quraysh and Banu Bakr initiated warfare against Muhammed’s ally.

One of the earliest sources is Kitab al-Maghazi by Ma’mar Ibn Rashid (714-770 AD). He states that the Quraysh along with Banu Bakr attacked the Banu Khuza’ah tribe which were an ally of the Muslims at the time:

“During the two-year period of the Messenger of God’s truce with the Quraysh at al-Hudaybiyah, it is said that there was a war between the Bakr clan, allied with the Quraysh, and the KHUZA’AH CLAN, ALLIED WITH GOD’S MESSENGER. Now, THE QURAYSH PROVIDED AID TO THEIR ALLIES AGAINST KHUZA’AH, and when word of this reached the Messenger of God, he said, ‘By Him in Whose hands my soul resides, I will surely deny them what I and my household have been denied!’ He then began making preparations for war against the Quraysh.” (The Expeditions (“Kitab al-Maghazi”)- An Early Biography Of Muhammad by Ma’mar Ibn Rashid – According to the recension of Abd al-Razzaq al-San’ani [Edited and translated by Sean W. Anthony – Foreword by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem., NEW YORK University Press., 2014], page 95)

Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-Muluk – Abu Ja’far Muhammad b Jarir al-Tabari:

THE NIGHT THAT THE BANU BAKR ATTACKED THE KHUZA’AH at al-Watir, they killed a man of Khuza’ah named Munabbih. Munabbih was a man with weak heart. He had gone out with a tribesman of his named Tamim b. Asad. Munabbih said to him: ‘Tamim save yourself! As for me, by God I am a dead man whether they kill me or spare me, for my heart has ceased beating.’ Tamim ran away and escaped, Munabbih they caught and killed. When the Khuza’ah entered Mecca, they took refuge in the house of Budayl b. Warqa al-Khuza’I and the house of one of their mawlas names Rafi. When THE QURAYSH LEAGUED TOGETHER [WITH THE BANU BAKR] AGAINST KHUZA’AH AND KILLED SOME OF THEIR MEN, BREAKING THE TREATY AND COVENANT THAT EXISTED BETWEEN THEM AND THE MESSENGER OF GOD BY VIOLATING THE KHUZA’AH, WHO HAD A PACT AND TREATY WITH HIM, Amr b. Salim al-Khuza’ah, one of the Banu Ka’b, went to the Messenger of God in Medina. This was one the things that prompted the conquest of Mecca. Amr stood before the Messenger of God while he was in the mosque sitting among the people…
AMONG THE TERM ON WHICH THE MESSENGER OF GOD AND QURAYSH HAD MADE PEACE WAS THAT THERE SHOULD BE NEITHER BETRAYAL NOR CLANDESTINE THEFT. QURAYSH AIDED THE BANU BAKR WITH WEAPONS… That is why the Messenger of God attacked the people of Mecca. …” (The History Of al-Tabari (“Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-Muluk”) – The Victory of Islam [Translated and annotated by Michael Fishbein, University of California, Los Angeles – Bibliotheca Persica, edited by Ehsan Yar-Shater – State University Of New York Press, Albany., 1997], by Abu Ja’far Muhammad b Jarir al-Tabari, volume VIII (8), page 162 – 175)

In Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya Ibn Kathir reports in greater detail on this incident:

“’It was stipulated in the truce of al-Hudaybiyya that whoever wished to enter into an alliance with Muhammad could do so, and that those wishing to ally with Quraysh could also do that. Thereafter Khuza’a stated that they wished to be allied with the Messenger of God (SAAS) while Banu Bakr joined with Quraysh. ‘The truce remained in effect for some 17 or 18 months. But THEN BANU BAKR ATTACKED KHUZA’A AT NIGHT at a well called al-Watir, close to Mecca. QURAYSH, THINKING THAT BECAUSE IT WAS NIGHT AND THAT THEY WOULD NOT BE OBSERVED, ASSISTED BANU BAKR BY PROVIDING HORSES AND WEAPONS, AND THEY FOUGHT ALONG WITH THEM in order to express their hatred for the Messenger of God (SAAS). … Then Budayl b. Warq went with a group of Khuza’a to the Messenger of God (SAAS) and told how they had BEEN ATTACKED AND HOW QURAYSH HAD JOINED WITH BANU BAKR AGAINST THEM.” (The Life of the Prophet Muhammed (‘Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya’) [Translated by Professor Trevor Le Gassick, Garnet Publishing – Copyright 2000, The Center for Muslim Contribution To civilization], by Ibn Kathir, volume 3, page 377 – 399)

It is clear from some of the earliest sources that Prophet Muhammed (p) nor his companions initiated war against the polytheist Quraysh. It was the Quraysh with Banu Bakr who provoked – led the Muslims to retaliate against them.

4. Analysing The Hadith

With above out of the way, we can now focus on the Hadith report:

“It was narrated from Anas bin Malik that: The Prophet said: “I have been commanded to fight the idolators until they bear witness to La ilaha illallah (there is none worthy of worship except Allah) and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger. If they bear witness to La ilaha illallah and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger, and they pray as we pray and face our Qiblah, and eat our slaughtered animals, then their blood and wealth becomes forbidden to us except for a right that is due.” (Sunan an-Nasa’i volume 5, Book 37, Hadith 3971, (Sahih, Darussalam) http://sunnah.com/nasai/37/1 )


“It was narrated from Anas bin Malik that: The Messenger of Allah said: “I have been commanded to fight the idolators until they bear witness to La ilaha illallah (there is none worthy of worship except Allah) and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. If they bear witness to La ilaha illallah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and they face our Qiblah, eat our slaughtered animals, and pray as we do, then their blood and wealth become forbidden except for a right that is due, and they will have the same rights and obligations as the Muslims.” (Sunan an-Nasa’i volume 5, Book 37, Hadith 3972, (Sahih, Darussalam) http://sunnah.com/nasai/37/2 )

The controversy among critics surrounds the following part of the Hadith:

“I have been commanded to fight the idolaters (or ‘people’) until they say La ilaha illallah (there is none worthy of worship except Allah) and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”

Some critics have deduced from this part of the report that Prophet Muhammed (p) and his companions roamed around Arabia forcefully converting people to Islam with the point of the sword. This fanciful tale has sadly been perpetuated by orientalists and other critics of Islam for a while.

The classical understanding of the Hadith: as a result of the polytheists breaking the treaty, murdering members of Muhammed’s ally and persecuting the Muslims over for many years, the Muslims had no choice but to deal with those who continued hostility and bloodshed with the point of the sword, 1300 years ago.

Since they murdered and persecuted people for so many years, the polytheist warmongers had no right over their land. Expulsion of the criminals was a must rule in this circumstance in order to save the community from further harm they would commit. If they did abide by the treaty and didn’t do the things they did, they would have still had full control over their territory, but since they persecuted and murdered, they longer had a right to this. Now, the only choice that would have been offered to the criminals was one of the following:

1. Stop their hostilities, put their weapons down and live under the Muslim rule (government).
2. Embrace Islam.
3. Or leave the Muslim lands.

Scholars in the past have interpreted the Hadith slightly different and sometimes offered different choices shown to the one presented. I would argue that this position is in line with what the Prophet (p) did on this incident as our earliest sources confirm this. The decision to add choice number one with the other two was because of the Biography of Prophet Muhammed’s life (Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah) and other sources.

For example, when the Prophet Muhammed (p) conquered Makkah, he commanded his companions only to fight those who fought them. He went further, anybody that goes inside Abu Sufyan’s house or lock their doors and don’t engage in any fighting, they were safe and protected. Furthermore, We understand from history that when the Muslims took over Makkah they gave the polytheists amnesty and forgave them for the wrong they had done. As such, conversion nor expulsion on this occasion was necessary as long as the polytheists laid down their weapons and repented from the wrong they had done.

Sirat Rasul Allah – Ibn Ishaq:

THE APOSTLE HAD INSTRUCTED HIS COMMANDERS WHEN THEY HAD ENTERED MECCA ONLY TO FIGHT THOSE WHO RESISTED THEM… When the apostle of halted in the upper part of Mecca two of my brothers-in-law from B. Makhzum fled to me. (She was the wife of Hubayra b. Abu Wahb al-Makhzumi). Ali came in swearing that he would kill them, so I bolted the door of my house on them and went to the Apostle… Then he came forward and welcomed me and asked why I had come. When I told him about the two men and Ali he said: ‘WE GIVE PROTECTION TO WHOMSOEVER YOU GIVE PROTECTION AND WE GIVE SAFETY TO THOSE YOU PROTECT. HE MUST NOT KILL THEM.’” (The Life Of Muhammad – A Translation Of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah [With Introduction And Notes by A. Guillaume – Oxford University Press, Seventeenth Impression, 2004], page 550 – 552)

Kitab al-Maghazi – Ma’mar Ibn Rashid (714 – 770 AD):

“‘O Messenger of God!’ al-Abbas interjected . ‘Indeed, Abu Sufyan is one of the notables of our tribe, one of its elders. It would please me if you were to grant him something in recognition of his status.’
The Prophet decreed, ‘WHOEVER ENTERS THE HOUSE OF ABU SUFYAN IS SAFE.’ Abu Sufyan replied, ‘My house? My house!’
Abu Sufyan left with al-Abbas, and while they were going down the road, al-Abbas feared that Abu Sufyan might still commit some act of treachery, so he sat him down on a mound of earth until the armies passed. …” (The Expeditions (“Kitab al-Maghazi”) – An Early Biography Of Muhammad by Ma’mar Ibn Rashid – According to the recension of Abd al-Razzaq al-San’ani [Edited and translated by Sean W. Anthony – Foreword by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem., NEW YORK University Press., 2014], page 99)

Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-Muluk – Abu Ja’far Muhammad b Jarir al-Tabari (838 – 923 AD):

“So I said to him, ‘Messenger of God, Abu Sufyan is a man who loves glory. Grant him something that shall be [a cause for him] among his clansmen.’ He said, ‘YES, WHOEVER ENTERS THE HOUSE OF ABU SUFYAN SHALL BE SAFE; ANYONE WHO ENTERS THE SANCTUARY SHALL BE SAFE; AND ANYONE WHO LOCKS HIS DOOR BEHIND HIM SHALL BE SAFE.’
… Abu Sufyan departed in haste. When he reached Mecca, he shouted in the sanctuary, ‘People of Quraysh, behold Muhammad has come upon you with forces you cannot resist.’ ‘What then?’ They said, ‘Alas, what will your house avail us!’ He said, ‘ANYONE WHO ENTERS THE SANCTUARY WILL BE SAFE, AND ANYONE WHO LOCKS HIS DOOR BEHIND WILL BE SAFE.’ … When THE MESSENGER OF GOD ORDERED HIS COMMANDERS TO ENTER MECCA, HE CHARGED THEM TO KILL NO ONE except those who fought them…” (The History Of al-Tabari (“Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-Muluk”) – The Victory of Islam [Translated and annotated by Michael Fishbein, University of California, Los Angeles – Bibliotheca Persica, edited by Ehsan Yar-Shater – State University Of New York Press, Albany., 1997], by Abu Ja’far Muhammad b Jarir al-Tabari, volume VIII (8), page 173 – 178)

Kitab Futuh Al-Buldan – al-Imam Abu’l Abbas Ahmad Ibn Jabir Al Baladhuri (d. 892 AD):

“…Kuraish had gathered their mob and followers saying, ‘Let us send these ahead. If they win, we will join them; and if defeated, we shall give whatever is demanded.’ ‘Do ye see’ said the Prophet, ‘THE MOB OF KURAISH?’ ‘We do,’ answered the Ansar. He then made a sign with one hand over the other as if to say, ‘kill them.’ To this the Prophet added, ‘Meet me at ‘as-Safa’. Accordingly we set out, each man killing whomever he wanted to kill, until abu-Sufyan came to the Prophet saying, ‘O Prophet of Allah, the majority of Kuraish is annihilated. … THE PROPHET THEREUPON ANNOUNCED, ‘HE WHO ENTERS THE HOUSE OF ABU SUFYAN IS SAFE, HE WHO CLOSES HIS OWN DOOR IS SAFE, AND HE WHO LAYS DOWN HIS ARMS IS SAFE.’ On this the Ansar the Ansar remarked one to the other, ‘The man is moved by love to his relatives and compassion on his clan.’ …
THE PEOPLE THEN CROWDED TO THE HOUSE OF ABU SUFYAN AND CLOSED ITS DOORS LAYING DOWN THEIR ARMS. … On the occasion of the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet made the following statement, ‘Slay no wounded person, pursue no fugitive, execute no prisoner; and whoever closes his door is safe.’ … On the day of the conquest of Makkah the Prophet asked Kuraish, ‘What think ye?’ To which they replied, ‘What we think is good, and what say is good. A noble brother thou art, and the son of a noble brother. Thou hast succeeded.’ The Prophet then said, ‘My answer is that given by my brother Joseph, ‘NO BLAME BE ON YOU THIS DAY. ALLAH WILL FORGIVE YOU; FOR HE IS THE MOST MERCIFUL OF THE MERCIFUL. …” (The origins of the Islamic State, being a translation from the Arabic accompanied with annotations Geographic and historic notes of the Kitab Futuh Al-Buldan of al-Imam Abu’l Abbas Ahmad Ibn Jabir Al Baladhuri, [Translated by Phillip Khurti Hitti, PHD – NEW YORK: Columbia University, Longmans, Green & Co., Agents – London: P. S. King & Son. Ltd., 1916], volume 1, page 65 – 68)

Although the polytheists were given amnesty and forgiven as long as they laid their weapons down and sought peace, there was an exception to few people. The Prophet (p) ordered his companions to kill certain specific individuals even if they were caught holding on the curtains of the Kab’ah. The names are, Abdullah Ibn Sa’d Ibn Abi Sarh, Abdullah Ibn Khattal, Miqyas b. Subahah, Al-Huwayrith b. Nuqaydh b. Wahb b. Abd. B. Qusayy, Ikrima b. Abi Jahl and Hind b. Utbah and few other names. These individuals persecuted, murdered people cold bloodily, and in some cases committed treachery against the State. As such, the Prophet (p) ordered that they should be dealt with wherever they may be.

It would be similar to a criminal making a run for a serious crime he or she may have committed in America today. If the authorities apprehend him or her they could get the death penalty in the court of law. The seriousness of the crime would not absolve the perpetrator from being tried. This is similar to this incident, 1300 years ago.

Since Prophet Muhammed (p) was the head of State, judge, jury and had the authority from God to execute those who committed heinous crimes, at the same time it was also in his hand to forgive. But in the case of these individuals, the only thing that could save their lives is if they went on the run (left Muslim lands) or embraced Islam, and repented from past crimes they had done. Some ran away, others came to the Prophet (p) asking for forgiveness and were granted. And some were executed for the past crimes.

It should be noted, those who insisted on hostility and warfare against the Muslims, they would have been dealt with the point of the sword or exiled (leave the lands where the Muslims resided), 1300 years ago. They would have no right to stay on the same land with the Muslims or other peaceful tribes who were non-Muslim. These rules were intended to make sure the community as a whole (Muslim and non-Muslim) were safe and were free to live without being persecuted against.

Indeed Prophet Muhammed’s (p) role in the community as a whole was to defend the rights of the marginalised and protect those who were victims of injustice. As such, if the polytheists at the time wanted protection and laid down their weapons, the Prophet (p) protected them as the evidence has shown.

This evidence here shows that the Prophet (p) nor his companions fought as a result of their beliefs. Rather it was due to them breaking the treaty and shedding blood which subsequently led to the Muslims conquering Makkah.

5. The Hadith rejects Forced Conversion Claim

The forced conversions claim, it is not permissible to force anyone to enter Islam. It is haram (forbidden).

In the book “Hidayatul Hayara Fi Ajwibatul Yahud wa al-Nasara” the scholar Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (1292 – 1350 AD) comments on Surah al-Tawbah. He writes that the Prophet (p) never forced anyone to accept Islam:

“When God sent His Apostle (p), most of the followers of these religions responded to him and to his successsors, voluntarily and willingly. NOBODY WAS COMPELLED TO DO SO. THE APOSTLE FOUGHT ONLY THOSE WHO FOUGHT AND WAGED WAR AGAINST HIM. He did not fight those who made peace with him, neither did he fight those who were under the pledge of truce. He was obeying the bidding of God Most Sublime were he said:

‘Let there be no compulsion in Religion: Truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects Evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks, and God heareth and knowth all things ‘ (al-Baqarah: 256).

THE APOSTLE DID NOT COMPEL ANYONE TO ADOPT ISLAM. The above quoted verse from the Qur’an negates compulsion in the sense of prohibition that is: do not compel a soul to embrace the Religion. The verse (Sura) was revealed to admonish some of the men among the companions whose children embraced Judaism and Christianity before the advent of Islam, and where with the advent of Islam, their fathers embraced the religion of Muhammad and attempted to compel their children to follow their lead. God Most Exalted prohibited the fathers from resorting to compulsion to inspire their children to embrace Islam out of their choice. … To him who ponders over the biography of the Prophet (p) it becomes clear that he did not compel anyone to embrace his religion, and that he only fought those who fought him. He did not fight those who made truce with him as long as they kept and honoured the truce. He never broke a promise, for God Most High bid him to fulfil his promises to them as long as they kept theirs. A propos, God Most Exalted said:

‘How can there be a league before God and His apostle, with the pagans, except thoe with whom ye made a treaty near the Sacred Mosque? As long as these stand true to you, stand ye true to them for God doth love the righteous’ (AL-TAWBAH: 7).

… Likewise, when the Prophet Muhammad made truce with (the tribe of) Quraysh holding for ten years, HE DID NOT START ANY FIGHT WITH THEM; BUT WHEN THEY VIOLATED THE MUTUAL AGREEMENT AND RAISED ARMS AGAINST HIM, HE FOUGHT BACK… he stopped the fight when they retreated and went off. The point is that he did not compel anyone at all to embrace his religion; but people embraced his RELIGION VOLUNTARILY and willingly. When most of the people earth realized the True Guidance, and that he is genuinely the Apostle of God, they embraced his call. (Guidance To The Uncertain In Reply To The Jews And The Nazarenes (‘Hidayatul Hayara Fi Ajwibatul Yahud wa al-Nasara’) – [Translated by Abdelhay El-Masry, Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah] by Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziah, page 25 – 27)

In fact, the very report that is used by proponents tells us that forced conversion is forbidden (haram):

“Jabir narrated that: the Messenger of Allah said: “I have been ordered to fight the people until they say: ‘La ilaha illallah’. So when they say that, their blood and their wealth are safe from me, except for a right, and their reckoning is for Allah.” Then he recited: So remind them – ‘YOU ARE ONLY ONE WHO REMINDS. YOU ARE NOT A DICTATOR OVER THEM’ (Quran 88:22). (Jami at-Tirmidhi volume 5, Book 44, Hadith 3341 (Sahih, Darussalam))

This Hadith is also reported in Sahih Muslim:

“It is narrated on the authority of Jabir that the Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded that I should fight against people till they declare that there is no god but Allah, and when they profess it that there is no god but Allah, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection on my behalf except where it is justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah, and then he (the Holy Prophet) recited (this verse of the Holy Qur’an):” THOU ART NOT OVER THEM A WARDEN(lxxxviii (88), 22).” (Sahih Muslim Book 1, Hadith 32 http://sunnah.com/muslim/1/35 )

Notice the words:

“You’re only one who reminds. You are NOT a dictator over them”.

Ibn Kathir commenting on Surah 88:22 states that one cannot force someone to “faith” i.e., force someone to believe in Islam:

“‘You are not a Musaytir over them.’ Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid and others said, “You are not a dictator over them.” This means that you CANNOT create faith in their hearts. Ibn Zayd said, “You are NOT the one who can force them to have faith.’” (Tafsir Ibn Kathird (Abridged) – (Surat At-Taghabun to the end of the Qur’an) [Abridged by A group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri., Darussalam., Second Edition, 2003], volume 10, page 464 )

Similarly, this is also said by Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas:

“‘Thou art not’ O Muhammad ‘at all a warder over them’ you are NOT imposed on them such that you force them to accept faith.” (Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas on Surah 88:22 online source, http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=88&tAyahNo=22&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2 )

Tafsir Anwarul Bayan – Muhammad Aashiq Elahi Muhajir Madani states that the responsibility of the Prophet (p) was only to preach the Message and “not force people to believe (in Islam)”:

“…because of his overwhelming concern for his Ummah, the Holy Prophet used to become extremely grieved when people REFUSED TO ACCEPT ISLAM. Therefore, Allah said to him, ‘So give advice, for you are an advisor. You have not been appointed as a warder over them’ i.e., YOUR RESPONSIBILITY IS ONLY TO PREACH THE MESSAGE AND NOT FORCE PEOPLE TO BELIEVE. Whoever believed after the message reached him, shall be successful.“ (Illuminating Discourses On The Quran (“Tafsir Anwarul Bayan”) [Translation Edited by Mufti Afzal Hussain Elias. – Revised by Maulana Arshad Fakhri based on Ma’ariful Quran. – Darul Ishaat, Urdu Bazar, Karachi. First Edition, 2005] by Muhammad Aashiq Elahi Muhajir Madani, volume 5, page 390)

Maarif ul Quran – Mufti Mohammad Shafi says that it is God who guides the “unbelievers”, and Muhammed (p) is only a “preacher”:

“In conclusion of the Chapter, the Messenger of Allah is comforted thus:
… ‘You are not a taskmaster set up over them, … 88:22’
THE HOLY PROPHET IS TOLD THAT HE IS ONLY A PREACHER, and as such he must keep on preaching. He should not worry beyond that. IT IS FOR ALLAH TO CALL THE UNBELIEVERS TO HIM to render account of their deeds and actions…” (Maarif ul Quran: Quran Translation and Commentary [Translated by Maulana Ahmed Khalil Aziz. Revised by Justice Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani] by Maulana Mufti Mohammad Shafi, volume 8, page 777)

Tafsir-Ul-Qur’an – Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi:

“325. (with either power or authority to force their will).” (Tafsir-Ul-Qur’an – Translation and Commentary Of The Holy Qur’an [Published By Darul Ishaat Urdu Bazaar Karachi: Pakistan. First edition, 1991] by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi, volume 4, page 498)

The above evidence refutes the “sanctioning compulsion in religion” claim. We see that after declaring the command to fight the polytheistic Quraysh, the Prophet Muhammed recited verses affirming that his and the companions duty is only to deliver the message of Islam, which clearly shows that he was not forcing anyone to Islam.

6. The Quran Rejects Forced Conversion Claim

Furthermore, the Quran also affirms that forced conversion did not take place. It was not obligatory on this occasion for the polytheists to accept Islam in order to make peace with the Muslims. If they stopped their hostilities against the Muslims and sought refuge, then the Muslims were commanded to grant them protection and safe passage even if they did not accept Islam, as the following verse (Quran 9:6) testifies:

“And if anyone of the IDOLATERS SEEKETH THY PROTECTION (O Muhammad), THEN PROTECT HIM so that he may hear the Word of Allah, and AFTERWARD CONVEY HIM TO HIS PLACE OF SAFETY. That is because they are a folk who know not.” – Quran 9:6 (Pickthall Translation)

Some of the earliest exegesis have said that if the polytheists wanted to hear the message of Islam, the Muslims were obligated to convey the message to them. Even if they rejected Islam, they were allowed and should be send back to the area where they felt safe (Mujahid Ibn Jabr (645 – 722 AD) [3], Hud b. Muhakkam (9th Century) [4], Al-Tabari (838 – 923 AD) [5], Al-Wahidi (d. 1075 AD) [6], Al-Zamakhshari (1070 – 1143 AD) [7], Al-Razi (1149 – 1209 AD) [8], Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas (d. 1414 AD) [9], and Tafsir al-Jalalayn (15/16th Century) [10]). The Muslims were commanded by God to take them to a place of safety  where they felt safe. They were not harmed even when they rejected Islam. This verse (Q. 9:6) shows, the Muslims then were only fighting specific individuals from Quraysh as a result of the aggression and hostilities, not because of their beliefs.

7. Various Commentaries On The Hadith

The 13th-century scholar Taqi ad-Din Ahmed Ibn Taymiyyah (1263 – 1328 AD) comments on this Hadith report and says it speaks about those who wage war against the Muslims:

“It refers to FIGHTING THOSE WHO ARE WAGING WAR, whom Allah has permitted us to fight. It does not refer to those who have a covenant with us with whom Allah commands us to fulfill our covenant.” (Majmu al-Fatawa by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, volume 19, page 20)

Shaykh Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo presents Wamaidh al-Umari’s view and he states the fighting that is mentioned in the Hadith is in reference to some “form of wrong or evil” the other side have done:

“According to al-Umari, the goal of the fighting mentioned in this Hadith is not to bring about death to the other party as a type of punishment, as in the Hadith of ibn Masood which is Hadith #14 in this collection. Instead, IT IS FIGHTING FOR THE PURPOSE OF BRINGING TO END SOME FORM OF WRONG OR EVIL. KILLING IN THIS CASE IS AN INCIDENTAL OR UNAVOIDABLE POSSIBLE RESULT OF THE FIGHTING AND NOT A GOAL IN ITSELF. It is similar to the type of fighting that is mentioned in the verse,
‘If two parties of believers fight, make reconciliation between them. If one of them rebels against the other, then fight you [all] against the one who rebels until it complies with the command of Allah (al-Hujuraat 9). When one fights the rebel forces, one is not trying to kill the individual Muslims but to defeat them and make them surrender to what is right. Therefore, this Hadith cannot be used as evidence that the one who does not pray is to be killed as a form of punishment because it is concerned with a completely different topic.” (Fiqh al-Imaan ala Minhaj al-Salaf al-Saalih [Jordan Daar al-Nafaais, 1998], Al-Umari, Wamaidh, page 324) (Commentary On The Forty Hadith Of al-Nawawi [Introduction by Prof. Jaafar Sheikh Idris T., Al-Basheer Company for Publications & Translations., 1999] by Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo volume 1, page 424 – 425)

The late respected scholar Amin Ahsan Islahi (1904 – 1997) writes:

“Some tradition contain following words of the Prophet (sws):
I have been commanded to fight the people until they profess there is no God but Allah. (Bukhari, No: 385)
Apparent and literal meaning of the narrative, disregarding its true context, validates the Orientalists’ view that Islam was spread by the sword. It also entails that the war against unbelief that the Prophet (sws) started has to go on till the whole mankind embraces Islam and declares Allah to be the only deity. THIS IS PLAINLY WRONG. HISTORY FALSIFIES THIS INTERPRETATION. We know that the Prophet (sws) accepted Jizyah from the People of the Book as well as the Magians (al-majus). HE DID NOT FORCE THEM TO SAY THAT THERE IS NO GOD BUT ALLAH. Similarly all such people who contracted treaties with Muslims, before their subjugation (mu‘ahid/ahl al-ṣulḥ), WERE ALLOWED TO FOLLOW THEIR RELIGION. THEY TOO WERE NOT FORCED TO CONVERT.” (Fundamentals of Ḥadith Interpretation An English Translation of Mabadi Tadabbur-e Ḥadith [Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi – AL-MAWRID 51-K Model Town, Lahore – First Edition] by Amin Ahsan Islahi page 42 – 43)

Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali (1917 – 1996):

“… Throughout its suras we find fervent appeals to man to take heed, return to right guidance and to return to right guidance and turn to his Lord. The policy of the big stick only began after the STICKS OF THE ENEMIES HAD INFLICTED PAIN ON THE BACKS OF THE BELIEVERS AND BROKEN THEIR BONES. Allah Almighty revealed,

‘Permission to fight is given to those who are fought against because they have been wronged – truly Allah has the power to come to their support.’ (22:39)

The fact is that fighting was a policy of last resort when all other means had failed. The important thing is that those who are known for their relationship with Allah first of all call people to Allah in an excellent manner and offer opportunities for peace and truces, taking account of the errors to which human nature is prone, Then when they resort to fighting after that, they behave as men and they act in the most noble way. This is what Muhammad, peace be upon him, did, and what is shown clearly in his conduct. But when the first thing a short-sighted Muslim mentions about dealing with the enemies of Islam is the famous Hadith:

‘I was commanded to fight people until they say, There is no god but Allah,’

Then the man is one of those who move words from their proper place and treat the legacy of the Prophet with great stupidity. We explained in another book that this Hadith came at the time when Surat at-Tawba was revealed, about a year before the death of the Messenger, and after a fearsome STRUGGLE WITH THE PAGANS WHOM ISLAM GAVE THE RIGHT TO LIVE WHILE THEY OFFERED ONLY DEATH. He lived with them for a time on a basis of,

‘To you your deen and to me my deen,’

The beginning of SURAT AT-TAWBA GIVES COMPLETE PICTURE OF THAT INSOLENT TREACHEROUS PAGANISM, AND IT WAS IN THIS ATMOSPHERE THAT THIS HADITH WAS UTTERED: ‘I have been commanded to fight people until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah,’ It is not permitted for an ignorant person to take it out of context.” (The Sunna Of The Prophet – The People of Fiqh Versus the People of Hadith [Translation by Aisha Bewley, Editor Abdalhaq Bewley. – Sixth Edition – Dar Al Taqwa Ltd., 2009] by Muhammad al-Ghazali, page 104 – 105)

Professor Jonathan A.C. Brown, says that the Hadith was understood to mean that the conquered polytheists will agree to submit to the Muslim rule:

“Jihad was understood as the unceasing quest to ‘make God’s word supreme,’ as Hadiths described, through the ongoing expansion of the rule of God’s law on earth. THIS WAS NOT ENVISIONED IN ANY WAY AS A QUEST FOR FORCED CONVERSION, which never featured in the Islamic conquests. The Qur’anic edict of ‘no compulsion in religion’ governed the interpretation of Hadiths like the authenticitated report of the Prophet declaring, ‘I have been commanded to fight the people until they testify that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, establish prayer and pay the charity tithe.’ Read in light of the Qur’anic prohibition on coerced belief, this mission to extract confessions of belief WAS NOT INTERPRETED LITERALLY. Rather, it was understood as referring either only to Arabia’s pagans (not followers of monotheistic religions) or as a metaphor for the conquered non-Muslims agreeing to submit to Muslim rule.” (Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices Of Interpreting The Prophet’s Legacy [Oneworld Publications, 2014], by Jonathan A. C. Brown, page 102)

Abdul Hamid Siddiqi’s commentary on the Hadith report:

“This hadith has been made the target of criticism by the hostile critics of Islam. They wrongly assert that it is by sheer force that people are converted to Islam. But THERE IS NOT AN IOTA OF TRUTH IN IT. They do not look into the words used by the Holy Prophet. Here the verb قات is highly meaningful. A person who is conversant even with the rudiments of Arabic grammar knows fully well that it is from the bab مفا علم which implies that it is not a one-sided action but a participation of both sides. Thus according to the bab of the verb used, IT BECOMES CLEAR THAT THE HOLY PROPHET EXHORTED TO FIGHT AGAINST THOSE WHO HAD RAISED ARMS AGAINST THE MUSLIMS. THIS COMMAND IS NOT DIRECTED AGAINST EVERY NON-MUSLIM.” (Commentary Of: Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 30 – Abdul Hamid Siddiqi’s Commentary – [Dar Al Arabia, Chapter IX] – volume1, page 16-17 (footnote 54))

Professor Asma Afsaruddin provides Dr. Buti’s assessment in regards to this report, and he says that the Hadith speaks about someone who “opposes you” or “fight someone who attacks you”:

“The seemingly problematic Hadith related by Ibn Umar, ‘I have been commanded to fight people until they bear witness that there is no god but God…’ has led to grave misunderstanding of its meaning because most people do not take note of the fundamental distinction between the two verbs uqatil and aqtul and tend to confuse and/or conflate the two, continuous al-Buti. The first would mean ‘[that] I fight’ and the second would mean [that] I kill.’ If the second verb had occurred in the Hadith, then that would indeed have been contrary to the texts of numerous Qur’anic verses and hadiths that prohibit coercion in matters of religion. The actual verb uqatil as it occurs in the Hadith is not contrary to these texts because it broadly means, according to the third verbal form, ‘TO FIGHT SOMEONE WHO OPPOSES YOU,’ AND MORE NARROWLY MEANS ‘TO FIGHT SOMEONE WHO ATTACKS YOU FIRST WITH INTENT TO KILL.’ For it is the aggressor (al-badi) who is called qatil, and ‘the one who resists the aggressor’ is called muqatil.’ On the basis of the linguistic analysis, it is compellingly established that THE PURPOSE OF FIGHTING IN THIS HADITH IS DEFENDING ONESELF IN RESPONSE TO A PRIOR ACT OF AGGRESSION. The proper meaning of Hadith may then be rendered as follows:
I have been commanded to prevent any act of aggression [directed] at my summoning of the people to faith in the oneness of God, even if this prevention of aggression against this summoning is accomplished through fighting the aggressors, for that is a duty I have been commanded to [undertake] by God, and which must be carried out. …” (Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought by Asma Afsaruddin, page 250)

Shaykh Sami al-Majid, professor at al-Imam Islamic University, Riyadh, writes:

“… This is further emphasized a few verses later where Allah says: “Will you not fight people who broke their covenants and plotted to expel the Messenger and attacked you first?” [Sûrah al-Tawbah: 13]
Ibn al-`Arabi, in his commentary on the Qur’ân, writes: “It is clear from this that the meaning of this verse is to kill the pagans who are WAGING WAR AGAINST YOU.” [Ahkam al-Qur’an: (2/456)]
Allah also say right after the verse under discussion: “How can there be a covenant before Allah and His Messenger with the pagans except those with whom you have made a treaty near the Sacred Mosque? As long as they stand true to you, stand true to them, for Allah does love the righteous.” [Surah al-Tawbah: 7]
Another misunderstood text is the hadith where the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I have been commanded to fight the people until they bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that I am Allah’s Messenger. If they do so, then there blood and their wealth are inviolable except in the dispensation of justice, and their affair is with Allah.” [Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim]
There can be no qualms about this hadith’s authenticity, since it is recorded in both Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. However, THIS HADITH IS ALSO NOT TO BE TAKEN GENERALLY, out of context, and in complete disregard to all the other textual evidence.
The term “people” here is not referring to all humanity. Ibn Taymiyah says: “It refers to fighting THOSE WHO ARE WAGING WAR, whom Allah has permitted us to fight. It does not refer to those who have a covenant with us with whom Allah commands us to fulfill our covenant.” [Majmu` al-Fatawa (19/20)]
ISLAM COMMANDS THE MUSLIMS TO BE JUST WITH PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS, WHETHER THEY BE JEWS, CHRISTIANS, OR PAGANS. ISLAM CALLS US TO TREAT THEM KINDLY and try to win their hearts as long as they do not take up arms against us. Allah says: “Allah forbids you not with regard to those who neither fight against you for your faith nor drive you out of your homes from dealing kindly and justly with them, for Allah loves those who are just.” [Surah al-Mumtahanah: 9-10]
The Qur’an commands us to argue with them in the best manner. Allah says: “Argue with the People of the Scripture in the best manner except those among them who act oppressively. Say: We believe in the revelation that has come down to us and in that which came down to you. Our God and your God is one, and it is to Him we submit ourselves as Muslims.” [Sûrah al-`Ankabût: 46]
We are ordered to uphold our covenants with the non-Muslims and not betray them or transgress against them. The Prophet (peace be upon him) gave a stern warning to us against killing a non-Muslim with whom we are at peace. He said: “WHOEVER KILLS ONE WITH WHOM WE HAVE A COVENANT WILL NOT SMELL THE SCENT OF PARADISE.” [Sahîh Muslim]
The faith of a Muslim is not acceptable unless he believes in all of the Prophets who were sent before (peace be upon them all). Allah says: “O you who believe! Believe in Allah, His Messenger, the scripture that He revealed to His messenger and the scripture that he revealed before. Whoever disbelieves in Allah, His angels, His books, His Messengers, and the Last Day has gone far astray.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 136]” (“Let there be no compulsion in religion” by Sheikh Sami al-Majid, professor at al-Imam Islamic University, Riyadh, online source, last accessed 22st December 2016, http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-262-3441.htm )

Dr. Jamal Badawi:

“There is no single verse in the Qur’an properly interpreted in its context and historical circumstances that ever allowed the Muslim to fight non-Muslims simply because they are non-Muslims. The opposite is true; in Chapter 60, verse 8 and 9 in the Qur’an, it clearly says that non-Muslims who are not fighting against Muslims or oppressing them are ENTITLED TO KIND AND JUST TREATMENT. Also, in the Qur’an, Chapter 2, verse 256, it says: let there be no compulsion in religion.” It is in the light of these two verses and many others in the Qur’an that the Hadith referred to should be understood.
The word “people” in this hadith and in the Qur’an may mean a subset of people but not all of them. There are a lot of evidences of variant usage in the Qur’an and also in this hadith. This hadith in all likelihood REFERS TO THE PAGAN ARABS WHO PERSECUTED MUSLIMS, MURDERED THEM, AND BROKE THEIR TREATIES WITH THEM. As such, they deserved capital punishment, yet they are given the opportunity to repent in which case they are to be forgiven, and their property will be protected. This shows, like other instances in the Qur’an and in hadith, that the purpose of Islam is punitive, but rehabilitative. To interpret this hadith in a generalized way is to violate the text of the Qur’an and basic rules of interpretation.” (Towards a Better Muslim/Non-Muslim Relation: Does Islam Teach Violence? By Jamal Badawi – online source http://web.archive.org/web/20110401225017/http://livedialogue.islamonline.net/livedialogue/english/Browse.asp?hGuestID=GRdp6I )

Shaykh Muhammad Hashim Kabbani:

“The Imams argued from this that as long as the unbelievers are willing to live peacefully among the believers our divine obligation is to treat them peacefully, despite their denial of Islam. The succeeding verse affirms this: So long as they are true to you, stand you true to them. Verily! God loves those who fear God. (Qur’an 9:7) This verse instructs the Muslims to observe treaty obligations with meticulous care, and not to break them unless the other side breaks them first. On the basis of the clear arguments of the scholars of Qur’an and Hadith, the majority concluded that physical fighting is not a permanent condition against unbelievers, but is resorted to only when treaties are broken or aggression has been made against Muslim territory (dar al-Islam) by unbelievers. On the other hand, educating non-Muslims about Islam is a continuous Jihad, per the agreed-upon, multiply transmitted hadith: The Messenger of God said, ‘‘I have been ordered to fight the people until they declare that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is His Messenger, establish prayers, and pay Zakat….’’39 In his book al-Jihad fil-Islam, Dr. Sa‘id Ramadan al-Buti explains this hadith in detail based on the understanding of the majority of jurists, showing that linguistically the word ‘‘fight’’ here and in many other places does not refer to combat, rather to struggle, including in its scope da‘wa, preaching, exhortation, and establishment of the state apparatus whereby Islamic preaching is protected. IT DOES NOT MEAN FORCING ANYONE TO BECOME MUSLIM at the point of a sword, and numerous examples can be cited from the life history of the Prophet showing that he never forced conversion, nor did his successors.
Dr. Buti explains that the linguistic scholars of Hadith showed that the word uqatil used by the Prophet in fact means ‘‘fight’’ and not aqtul, ‘‘kill.’’ In Arabic, THIS WORD IS USED IN TERMS OF DEFENDING AGAINST AN ATTACKER OR AN OPPRESSOR; IT IS NOT USED TO MEAN ATTACK OR ASSAIL.
In light of this, Dr. Buti shows that this hadith connotes: I have been ordered by God to fulfill the task of calling people [peacefully] to believe that God is One and to defend any aggression against this divine task, even though this defense requires fighting aggressors or enemies.40
Dr. Buti explains that this hadith is reminiscent of a saying by the Prophet on the occasion of the Treaty of Hudaybiyya: where he told his mediator, Badil ibn Waraqa, ‘‘But if they do not accept this truce, by God in whose Hands my life is, I will fight with them, defending my Cause till I get killed.’’41
By these words, Badil ibn Waraqa was tasked with inviting the Quraysh to peace, and simultaneously, warning of the ongoing war which had already exhausted them. Dr. Buti remarks: The Prophet’s words ‘‘I will fight with them defending my Cause,’’ in this context certainly means that he, while inclining to peace with the enemy, would react to their combative aggression in the same way, if they had insisted on their aggression.42 Jihad in Islam 233 Note also that in the years after the Treaty was signed, it was the Quraysh who violated the treaty. Near the end of the seventh year after the migration to Medina, the Quraysh along with the allied Banu Bakr tribe attacked the Banu Khuza’a tribe, who were allies of the Muslims. The Banu Khuza’a appealed to the Prophet for help and protection. The Banu Khuza’a sent a delegation to the Prophet requesting his support. Despite the Meccan provocation and clear violation of the treaty, the Prophet avoided acting in haste to renew hostilities. Instead he sent a letter to the Quraysh demanding payment of blood money for those killed and the disbanding of their alliance with the Banu Bakr. Otherwise, the Prophet said, the treaty would be declared null and void. Quraysh then sent an envoy to Medina to announce that they considered the Treaty of Hudaybiyya null and void. However, they immediately regretted this step—and therefore, the leader of Quraysh Abu Sufyan himself traveled to Medina to renew the contract. Despite having been the greatest enemy of the Muslims, and despite the Quraysh already being in violation of the pact they had solemnly entered into, no hand was laid on this Qurayshi chief—someone who is infamous for his persecution and harm to Muslims in Mecca. He was even permitted to enter the Prophet’s mosque and announce his desire to reinstate the treaty. From this, one can argue that if a state of unbelief were sufficient pretext for war, then the Prophet would have been warranted in seizing Abu Sufyan and initiating hostilities against the Quraysh then and there. However, on the contrary, Abu Sufyan came and went from Medina freely and only after some time were the hostilities renewed based on the Meccans’ aggressive violation of the pact. (Voices of Islam – Voices Of The Spirit, by Shaykh Muhammad Hashim Kabbani, volume 2, page 232 – 234)

The late Egyptian Sunni scholar and Islamic theologian Mahmoud Muhammad Shaltut (1893 – 1963) writes:

“Some people who were bent on disparaging Islam did not go beyond the ostensible interpretation of “…fight the unbelievers that are near to you…’ and pretended that the Islamic religion ordered to fight the unbelievers in general, regardless of whether they had committed aggression or not, until they had been converted to Islam. They said that this rule was founded on this verse. However, the meaning of the word “unbelievers” in this and similar verse is: “THOSE HOSTILE POLYTHEISTS WHO FIGHT THE MOSLEMS, COMMIT AGGRESSION AGAINST THEM, EXPEL THEM FROM THEIR HOMES AND THEIR PROPERTY AND PRACTISE PERSECUTION FOR THE SAKE OF RELIGION”. The morals of those polytheists have been discussed in the opening verses of Surat al-Tawbah. The word “people” in the tradition: “I have been ordered to fight the people” should be understood in the same manner. For according to the Consensus [ijma], fighting must only cease at what is mentioned in this tradition…” (The Quran And Combat [MBDA – English Monograph Series — Book No. 18], Imam Mahmoud Muhammad Shaltut, page 87)

Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi:

“The main goal of fighting people, then, is not to make them testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah. If the People of the Book are excluded from the above mentioned hadith, then does the hadith deal with all polytheists and idolaters? The answer is definitely “no”! In another authentic hadith, the Magians are included with the People of the Book, as the hadith states, “Treat them as you treat the People of the Book” (reported by Malik, Al-Bayhaqi, and others. It was deemed weak by Sheikh Al-Albani). Hence, the fact is that this hadith is pertinent to the Arab polytheists who were reluctant to respect Islam and its followers, SEEKING TO DESTROY THEM COMPLETELY, AND WHO ALSO FAILED TO RESPECT ANY CONCLUDED TREATY or given covenant. Those people were granted four months to reconsider their situation and rectify their stance. If they insisted upon obliterating Islam, then it would be necessary to fight them. …
Ibn Taymiyah dealt with this hadith in his thesis entitled, A Rule in Fighting Against the Disbelievers. He adopted another approach in his understanding and explanation of this hadith, which is entirely different from what is said by the majority of Muslim scholars. Hence, we have to state this view on account of its depth, clarity and significance. Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy upon him) said, “The meaning of the Prophet’s saying “I have been ordered to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah, and I am the Messenger of Allah. If they did so, then they would save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws, and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah” is just a mention of the objective during which fighting against them will be permissible. Hence, if those people carried out what the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked them for, then fighting against them would be prohibited … Thus, this hadith does not mean that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was commanded to fight against all people only for this objective, as this meaning contradicts the religious texts and the consensus of Muslim scholars. Yet, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never committed such an act; rather, he (peace and blessings be upon him) USED TO MAKE PEACE WITH THOSE WHO WANTED TO MAKE PEACE WITH HIM. (Fiqh of Jihad (“Fiqh al-Jihad”), [Online pdf] volume 1, page 327-337)

Scholar Zaid Shakir:

“First of all, many of the classical exegetes explain that these verses do not apply to Jews and Christians. Their discussion of the verses in question center on relations with the polytheists, to the exclusion of the “People of the Book.” For example, Imam al-Qurtubi (d. 671AH [22]/ 1272 CE), renowned for his exposition on the legal implications of the Qur’anic text, states, concerning the verse in question, “… it is permissible to [understand] that the expression ‘polytheists’ does not deal with Jews and Christians (Ahl al-Kitab).” [23] This opinion is reinforced by the interpretation of a related prophetic tradition, “I’ve been ordered to fight the people until they testify that there is no deity but God. …” [24] Imam Nawawi mentions in his commentary on this tradition, “Al-Khattabi says, ‘It is well-known that what is intended here are the people of idolatry, not the people of the Book (Jews and Christians).’” [25] Among contemporary exegetes, Dr. Mustafa al-Bugha says, commenting on the term for people (nas), which occurs in this tradition, “They are the worshipers of idols and the polytheists.” [26] Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Ahmad, and most contemporary scholars are of the opinion that the polytheists who are to be indiscriminately fought were those living in the Arabian Peninsula. [27] As that area has been free from polytheism since the earliest days of Islam, according to their opinion, the order is now a dead letter.
Just as we can argue that the people who are to be fought against are not an unrestricted class, based on a classical understanding of the “Verse of the Sword,” there are also considerations governing when the restricted classes can be fought. In the verse preceding the “Verse of the Sword,” we read, … except those you have convened a treaty with from the polytheists; when they have not breeched any of its conditions, nor supported anyone in aggression against you, complete the terms of the treaty. [9:4]
Imam al-Qurtubi says concerning this verse, “Even if the terms of the covenant are for more than four months.”[28] This condition and others mentioned in the verses following the “Verse of the Sword,” lead Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi (d. 543AH/ 1148 CE), the great Maliki exegete and jurist, to conclude, “It is clear that the intended meaning of the verse is to kill those polytheists WHO ARE WAGING WAR AGAINST YOU.” [29] IN OTHER WORDS, FIGHTING THEM IS CONDITIONAL ON THEIR AGGRESSION AGAINST THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY. THIS POSITION, THE PERMISSIBILITY TO FIGHT IN ORDER TO REPULSE AGGRESSION, IS THE VIEW OF THE MAJORITY OF THE SUNNI MUSLIM LEGAL SCHOOLS as has been explained in great detail by Dr. Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti in his valuable discussion of the rationale for Jihad. [30] ” (Jihad is Not Perpetual Warfare, Imam Zaid Shakir, online source, last accessed 21st December 2016, http://www.newislamicdirections.com/nid/notes/jihad_is_not_perpetual_warfare#sthash.SkfRDRLn.dpuf )

With the above in perspective, the command of the Hadith was specific to one group only, those who caused bloodshed and showed open aggression against the Muslims and their non-Muslim allies, 1300 years ago.

Furthermore, it should be noted while this issue with the polytheist Quraysh was taking place, Quran 9:4 tells us that the Prophet (p) had treaties with other polytheists in Arabia who were faithful and did not engage in any hostility against the Muslims nor their allies. Here the Muslims are ordered to abide by this treaty:

Excepting those of the idolaters with whom ye (Muslims) have a treaty, and who have since abated nothing of your right nor have supported anyone against you. (As for these), fulfil their treaty to them till their term. Lo! Allah loveth those who keep their duty (unto Him).” – Quran 9:4 (Pickthall Translation)

Quran 9:7 also repeats this treaty. Here, the Muslims are commanded to abide by the treaty so long as they are true to the Muslims:

“How can there be an agreement for the idolaters with Allah and with His Messenger; except those with whom you made an agreement at the Sacred Mosque? SO AS LONG AS THEY ARE TRUE TO YOU, BE TRUE TO THEM; SURELY ALLAH LOVES THOSE WHO ARE CAREFUL (OF THEIR DUTY).” – Quran 9:7

We see here the Prophet and his companions did abide by the treaty with other polytheists like the Banu Kinanah, Banu Damra, Banu Mudlaj and other tribes who were peaceful (Surah 9:4, 7) and weren’t touched as classical and contemporary exegesis have reported to us. This clearly shows that the Prophet (p) did not fight the Quraysh polytheists because of their beliefs. [11] [12] [13] [14] [15]

8. Conclusion

We see the historical context in which those words were uttered – the Muslims made a treaty with the Quraysh and the agreement was that no party would break the treaty, nor attack them or any of their own allies. Everyone agreed to the treaty’s order at the time. It didn’t take long before the Quraysh with Banu Bakr attacked, and murdered Muhammed’s non-Muslim ally at night. Soon after this, the Prophet and his companions led to conquering Makkah. The uttering of the statement was in the context of the Quraysh criminals who broke the treaty and murdered members of Muhammed’s ally and were given a choice of the following to choose:

1. Stop their hostilities, put their weapons down and live under the Muslim rule (government).
2. Embrace Islam.
3. Or Leave the land.

Final words, as we have seen, this hadith refers to some polytheistic Arabs who persecuted, murdered Muslims and their allies, and broke their treaties with them. As such, some deserved capital punishment, yet they are given the opportunity to repent in which case they are to be forgiven, and their property will be protected. This shows, the command of the Hadith was specific to one group only, those who caused bloodshed and showed open aggression against the Muslims and their non-Muslim allies, 1300 years ago. And history is a witness that no one was forced to accept Islam, since the very report and other early historical sources refute this claim. [16]

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Related articles:

(1) – “Early Expeditions And Battles Of Islam

(2) – “Muhammed A Mercy: Analysing Dogs Killed In Madinah

(3) – “What Happened To The Captive Women In Awtas Incident?

(4) – “Most Misinterpreted Verses Of The Quran?

(5) – “‘Those Who Wage War And Make Mischief’ – Quran 5:33

(6) – “Did Jews Get Expelled From Arabia?



[1]  Kathir mentions the exact battle this Hadith was uttered – Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) [Supervised by Abdul Malik Mujahid – First Edition, 2000], volume 4, page 377
[2] Ibn Juzayy mentions that the Hadith was first said in relation to Surah 9:5, which was revealed in connection with the conquest of Makkah. Tafsir Ibn Juzayy, last accesed 22st December 2006 http://bewley.virtualave.net/tawba1.html
[3] Mujahid Ibn Jabr (645 – 722 AD) on Surah 9:6:
“…this verse guarantees the safety of people in general (insan) who came to listen to the Prophet recite from the Qur’an until they had RETURNED TO THE PLACE OF REFUGE WHENCE THEY CAME.” (Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought [Oxford University Press; 1st Edition., 2013] by Asma Afsaruddin, page 88)
[4] The 9th Century scholar Hud b. Muhakkam on Surah 9:6:
“…the polytheists who requests safe conduct from Muslims in order to listen to the word of God is to be so granted and returned unharmed to his place of origin, whether he embraces Islam or not. This was the view of Mujahid, for example. Al-Kalbi is quoted as saying that the verse referred instead to a group of polytheists who wished to renew their pact with Muhammad asked them to profess Islam, offer prayers, and pay the zakat, they refused, and the Prophet LET THEM RETURN SAFELY TO THEIR HOMES. Ibn Muhakkam further notes that al-Hasan al-Basri had remarked thus on the status of this verse: ‘It is valid and unabrogated (muhkama) until the Day of Judgement.’” (Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought [Oxford University Press; 1st Edition., 2013] by Asma Afsaruddin, page 88)
[5] Al-Tabari (838 – 923 AD):
“…in this verse God counsels Muhammad, ‘If someone from among the polytheists (al-Mushrikun) – those whom I have commanded that you fight and slay after the passage of the sacred months – were to ask you, O Muhammad, for safe conduct in order to listen to the word of God, then grant this protection to him so that he may hear the word of God and you may recite it to him.’ Such an individual, according to the verse, is to be subsequently ESCORTED BACK TO HIS PLACE OF SAFETY EVEN IF HE REJECTS ISLAM AND FAILS TO BELIEVE AFTER THE PROPHET’S RECITATION OF THE QUR’AN BEFORE HIM. SCHOLARS IN THE PAST WHO HAVE AGREED WITH THIS GENERAL INTERPRETATION INCLUDE IBN ISHAQ, AL-SUDDI, AND MUJAHID…” (Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought [Oxford University Press; 1st Edition., 2013] By Asma Afsaruddin, page 89)
[6] Al-Wahidi (d. 1075 AD):
“…should someone from among the same group of polytheists request safe conduct and refuge among Muslims so that he may listen to the word of God and learn of its positive commandments and interdictions, he is to be so granted and ESCORTED BACK TO A PLACE OF SAFETY. This is so because they are an ignorant people, and SO SHOULD BE GIVEN PROTECTION and the opportunity to acquire knowledge and perhaps submit to Islam.” (Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought [Oxford University Press; 1st Edition., 2013] by Asma Afsaruddin, page 89)
[7] Al-Zamakhshari (1070 – 1143 AD):
“…if one of the polytheists, with whom no pact (mithaq) exists, were to request safe conduct from the Muslims in order to listen to the Qur’an, then he should be granted it so that he may reflect God’s words. AFTERWARD, HE IS TO BE ESCORTED BACK TO HIS HOME WHERE HE FEELS SAFE. This, al-Zamakhshari says, is established practice for all time. Al-hasan al-Basri had similarly maintained that this verse is ‘valid till the day of resurrection.’ …” (Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought [Oxford University Press; 1st Edition., 2013] by Asma Afsaruddin, page 89)
[8] Al-Razi (1149 – 1209 AD):
“on the authority of Ibn Abbas, who relates that a polytheist man asked Ali b. Abi talib, ‘if we wished to approach the Messenger after the end of this period (the four sacred months) in order to listen to the word of God or for some other reason, will we be killed?’ Ali replied in the negative and recited this verse, affirming the granting of safe conduct to him so that he may listen to the Qur’an. … al-Razi further comments that this verse indicates that imitation of precedent (al-taqlid) is not sufficient in religion, and that critical inquiry (al-nazar) and the seeking of proofs (al-istidlal) are indispensable requirements within religion.
If emulation of precedent were enough, he argues, then this verse would not have granted a respite to this unbeliever, and would have been merely given a choice between professing his belief [In Islam] or death. As this did not occur, IT CONFIRMS THAT MUSLIMS ARE REQUIRED TO OFFER SAFE CONDUCT TO SUCH PERSON and thereby assuage his fears and allow him the opportunity to deliberate upon the proofs of religion. How long such a respite should last is not known; perhaps it should be determined according to the prevalent custom (bi-l-urg), he says.” (Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought [Oxford University Press; 1st Edition., 2013] By Asma Afsaruddin, page 89 – 90)
[9] Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn ‘Abbas (d. 1414 AD) states that Prophet Muhammed granted safe passage to any of the idolaters who asked for it. So that they may hear the Quran. If he does not believe (i.e., embrace Islam), then he is to be left alone and granted safe passage back to the land he come from:
(And if anyone of the idolaters seeketh thy protection (O Muhammad), then protect him so that he may hear the word of Allah) so that he may hear your recitation of the words of Allah; (and AFTERWARD CONVEY HIM TO HIS PLACE OF SAFETY) TO THE PLACE HE IS GOING, IF HE REMAINS AN UNBELIEVER. (That) which I have mentioned (is because they are a folk who know not) Allah’s command and His divine Oneness. (Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn ‘Abbas on Surah 9:6 online source http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=74&tSoraNo=9&tAyahNo=6&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2 )
[10] Tafsir al-Jalalayn also emphasizes that they were left alone if they didn’t believe in Islam, and were taken to their place of safety:
“And if any one of the idolaters (ahadun, ‘one’, is in the nominative because of the [following] verb [istajāraka, ‘seeks your protection’] that validates it) seeks your protection, requests security from you against being killed, then grant him protection, provide security for him, SO THAT HE MIGHT HEAR THE WORDS OF GOD — THE QUR’AN — AND AFTERWARD CONVEY HIM TO HIS PLACE OF SECURITY, THAT IS, THE DWELLING-PLACES OF HIS FOLK, IF HE DOES NOT BELIEVE, SO THAT HE MIGHT REFLECT UPON HIS SITUATION — that, which is mentioned, is because they are a people who do not know, the religion of God, and so they must [be made to] hear the Qur’ān in order to [come to] know [religion]. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn on Surah 9:6 – online source http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=74&tSoraNo=9&tAyahNo=6&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2 )
[11] Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas on Surah 9:4,
“(Excepting those of the idolaters with whom ye (Muslims) have a treaty) i.e. the Banu Kinanah after the year of al-Hudaybiyyah, (and who have since abated nothing of your right) who they did not break their treaties, i.e. those who had a nine month treaty (nor have supported anyone) of your enemies (against you. (As for these), fulfil their treaty to them till their term) i.e. nine months. (Lo! Allah loveth those who keep their duty (unto Him)) by not breaking their treaties.” (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsir Ibn ‘Abbas on Surah 9:4, online source http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=9&tAyahNo=4&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2 )
[12] As-Sawi on 9:4,
:“[As-Sawi notes that the exception is made to the absolute statement in the first ayat. This is the Banu
“[As-Sawi notes that the exception is made to the absolute statement in the first ayat. This is the Banu Damra who still had nine months of their treaty remaining.]” (As-Sawi on Surah 9:4 – online source http://bewley.virtualave.net/tawba1.html )
[13] Maulana Mufti Mohammad Shafi:
“…commanded in the fourth verse of Surah Al-Taubah where Muslims were required to fulfil their treaty obligations to the tribes of Banu Damurah and Banu Mudlaj for the remaining nine months.” (Maarif ul Quran: Quran Translation and Commentary [Translation by Prof. Muhammad Hasan Askari & Prof. Muhammad Shamim Revised by Justice Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani] by Maulana Mufti Mohammad Shafi, volume 4, page 311)
[14] Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi’s commentary on 9:7,
“2 This declaration of the abrogation of the treaties with the mushriks was made in accordance with the law enjoined in VIII: 58 regarding the treacherous people, for it is treachery from the Islamic point of view to wage war against any people with whom a treaty of peace had been made, without openly declaring that the treaty had been terminated. That is why a proclamation of the abrogation of the treaties was necessitated against those clans who were always hatching plots against Islam in spice of the treaties of peace they had made. They would break the treaties and turn hostile on the first opportunity for treachery, and the same was true of all the mushrik clans WITH THE EXCEPTION OF BANI KANANAH, BANI DAMRAH AND ONE OR TWO OTHER CLANS. …
9 That is: Bani Kinanah and Bani Khuza`ah and Bani Damrah.” (Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi – Tafhim al-Qur’an – The Meaning of the Qur’an, on Surah 9, online source http://englishtafsir.com/Quran/9/index.html)
[15] Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi also mentions Kinana tribe and others who were true to the treaty:
“201. The reference is to Banu Dhamra and Banu Mudlaj, two classes of Kinana tribe, who, it was expected, would keep the pledge.” (Tafsir-Ul-Qur’an – Translation and Commentary Of The Holy Qur’an [Academy of Islamic Research And Publications, Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow – 226 007, (Indian)] by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi volume 2, page 217)
[16] According to al-Shanqeeti the action is performed by bother sides. From the scholar’s writing he suggests to us that there was a war:
“However, as Ibn Daqeeq al-Eid pointed out, it seems very clear that this particular Hadith cannot be used as evidence that a person who intentionally does not pray is to be put to death. There is a difference between ‘fighting’, which implies opposing struggle between two parties, and ‘killing’ someone. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used the faa’il form of the word. THIS IMPLIES THAT THE ACTION BEING PERFORMED BY BOTH PARTIES INVOLVED. (Kauthar al-Maani al-Daraari fi Kashf Khabaaya Saheeh al-Bukhaari [Beirut: Muassasat al-Risaalah., 1995], by Al-Shanqeeti, Muhammad al-Khidr, volume 2, page 55)



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