Examining Quran 9:29 – Does Islam Sanction the Killing of Christians and Jews?

𝐄𝐱𝐚𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐐𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐧 𝟗:𝟐𝟗 – 𝐃𝐨𝐞𝐬 𝐈𝐬𝐥𝐚𝐦 𝐒𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐊𝐢𝐥𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐟 𝐂𝐡𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐚𝐧𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐉𝐞𝐰𝐬?

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


The answer is No!

This verse (Q. 9:29) is by far the most problematic for some, we have come across when reading the Quran. We would say it is ‘problematic’ for some who are unable to understand the verse in a holistic way because this verse is the only one that we know of which does not give context.

When looking at any other verses in the Quran, reading the verses before and after always happened to give an explanation. However, this passage (Q. 9:29) does not.

Let us read it below:

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled. – Qur’an 9:29

Some misguided critics happen to always come across this verse and show it to people who know little about Islam. They give the impression that Islam sanctions the killing of Jews and Christians at all times.

It is important to always get info from the most authentic sources i.e., by reading and collecting information from Muslims, rather than Islamophobes who spread hate, since their job is to bash Islam and Muslims.

For example, would someone go to a Nazi to learn about Judaism – or would you do so to a better source such as a Jew who practices their religion on a daily basis?

The answer would be obvious, is that you would learn from a Jewish person about Judaism.

Upon commenting on this verse, one of the staunchest critics of Islam, Reverend E.M. Wherry, writes:

Verse. 29-128 refer to the events connected with the expedition to Tabuk, which occurred in Rajab of A.H. 9. They were not, however, all enunciated at one time, but partly before the expedition, partly on the march, and partly after the return. Verse. 29-35 may be referred to the time of arrival at Tabuk, when the Christian prince, John of Aylah, tendered his submission to Muhammad, paying tribute (Jizya). [1]

When reading this passage in its historical context, it is clear that it was sent down by God to Prophet Muhammad (p) to fight against the Byzantine (Roman) empire, who mobilised troops in order to attack the Muslims. In one of our authentic early Islamic sources, ‘Sahih Muslim’, it says:

He (Hadrat ‘Umar further) said: I had a companion from the Ansar and we used to remain in the company of the Messenger turn by turn. He remained there for a day while I remained there on the other day, and he brought me the news about the revelation and other (matter), and I brought him (the news) like this. 

And we discussed that the Ghassanids were shoeing the horses in order to attack us. Id my companion once attended (the Apostle). And then came to me at night and knocked at my door and called me, and I came out to him, and he said: A matter of great importance has happened. I said: What is that? Have the Ghassanids come?

He said: No, but even more serious and more significant than that: the Prophet has divorced his wives. [2]

From the above narration, there is clear evidence that the Muslims were informed of an impending invasion by the Ghassanids, who were part of the Byzantine Empire. Additionally, Ibn Sa’d in his book Kitab al-tabaqat al-kabir writes:

“They (narrators) saud:

It (report) reached the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him, that the Romans had concentrated large forces in Syria, that Heraclius had disbursed one year’s salary to his soldiers, and that tribes of Lakhm, Judham, ‘Amilah and Ghassan had joined hands with him.

They had sent their vanguards to al-Balqa. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him, summoned the people to march. He set out and informed them about the place which he intended, so that they could make necessary preparations. He sent (messengers) to Makkah and to the tribes of Arabia (asking them) to send help. This took place in the days of intense heat.” [3]

In the version that is narrated by Mu’jam Tabarani (873 – 918 CE), he states that Christians said it is a “appropriate time to attack the Arabs” (Muslims):

The Battle of Tabuk

Rajab 9 A. H.
On the authority of Imran Ibn Husayn that the Christian Arabs wrote to Hercules, the King of Rome that Muhammad passed away and that the people were dying because of the drought that they were experiencing. It was therefore a very appropriate TIME TO ATTACK THE ARABS (MUSLIMS).

Hercules immediately issued the order for preparations. A fully equipped army of 40 000 was prepared.” (Mu’jam az-Zawa’id, volume 6, page 191) (Siratul Mustafa [Translated by Maulana Mahomed Mahomedy – Madrasah Arabia Islamia and Zam Zam Publishers – Fifth Authorized Edition, 2015] by Hadrat Maulana Idris Sahib Kandehlawi, volume 3, page 96)

Again, we see clear evidence that it was the Byzantine (Roman) empire that started this war. It was in this instance the Prophet Muhammad (p) assembled the Muslim community to go out and fight against these aggressors.

In another early Islamic source, Kitab Futuh Al-Buldan, written by the eminent 9th Century Imam, Amad Ibn Yahya al-Baladhuri, the author says:

“Tabuk make terms. When in the year 9 AH the Prophet marched to Tabuk in Syria for the invasion of those of the Greeks, Amilah, Lakhm, Judham, and others whom he learned had assembled against him, he met no resistance. So, he spent a few days in Tabuk, whose inhabitants made terms with him agreeing to pay poll tax.” [4]

So far, as we have read early Islamic sources when one reads the passage (9:29) in its historical perspective, it is a fact that the Byzantines (Romans) were the ones who intended to wage war against the Muslims.

Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakphuri in his work of Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar) writes:

The invasion and the conquest of Makkah was considered a decisive one between the truth and the error. As a result of which, the Arabs had no more doubt in Muhammad’s mission. Thus, we see that things went contrary to the pagans’ expectations. People started to embrace Islam, the religion of Allah in great numbers.

This is manifested clearly in the chapter. The delegations of this book. It can also be deduced out of the enormous number of people who shared in the Hajjatul-Wad⦣145; (Farewell Pilgrimage). All domestic troubles came to an end. Muslims, eventually felt at ease and started setting up the teachings of All Laws and intensifying the Call to Islam.

The Underlying Reasons

The Byzantine power, which was considered the greatest military force on earth at that time, showed an unjustifiable opposition towards Muslims. As we have already mentioned, their opposition started at killing the ambassador of the Messenger of Allah [pbuh], Al-Harith bin, Umair Al-Azdi, by Sharhabeel bin, Amr Al-Ghassani. The ambassador was then carrying a message from the Prophet [pbuh] to the ruler of Busra.

We have also stated that the Prophet consequently dispatched a brigade under the command of Zaid bin Haritha, who had a fierce fight against the Byzantines at Mu’tah. Although Muslim forces could not have revenge on those haughty over proud tyrants, the confrontation itself had a great impression on the Arabs, all over Arabia.

Caesar, who could neither ignore the great benefit that Mu’tah Battle had brought to Muslims, nor could he disregard the Arab tribes’ expectations of independence, and their hopes of getting free from his influence and reign, nor he could ignore their alliance to the Muslims, realizing all that, Caesar was aware of the progressive danger threatening his borders, especially Ash-Sham-fronts which were neighboring Arab lands.

So, he concluded that demolition of the Muslims power had grown an urgent necessity. This decision of his should, in his opinion, be achieved before the Muslims become too powerful to conquer and raise troubles and unrest in the adjacent Arab territories.

To meet these exigencies, Caesar mustered a huge army of the Byzantines and pro-Roman Ghassanide tribes to launch a decisive bloody battle against the Muslims.

General News About the Byzantines and Ghassanide Preparations for War

No sooner news about the Byzantine’s preparations for a decisive invasion against Muslims reached Madinah than fear spread among them. They started to envisage the Byzantine invasion in the least sound they could hear. This could be clearly worked out by what had happened to Umar bin Al-Khattab one day.

The Prophet [pbuh] had taken an oath to stay off his wives for a month in the ninth year of Al-Hijra. Therefore, he deserted them and kept off in a private place. At the beginning, the Companions of the Messenger of Allah were puzzled and could not work out the reason for such behavior. They thought the Prophet [pbuh] had divorced them and that was why he was grieved, disturbed, and upset. 

In Umar’s version of the very story, he says: “I used to have a Helper friend who often informed me about what happened if I weren’t present, and in return I always informed him of what had taken place during his absence.

They both lived in the high part of Madinah. Both of them used to call at the Prophet alternatively during that time of suspense. Then one day I heard my friend knock at the door saying: “Open up! Open up!” I asked, wondering, “What’s the matter? Has the Ghassanide come?” “No, it is more serious than that. The Messenger of Allah [pbuh] has deserted his wives.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari 2/730]

In another version, Umar said, “We talked about Ghassanide preparations to invade us. When it was his turn to convey the news to me, he went down and returned in the evening. He knocked at the door violently and said Is he sleeping?’

I was terrified but I went out to meet him. Something serious had taken place.’ He spoke. Has the Ghassaindes arrived?’ I Said ‘No,’ he said, it is greater and more serious. The Messenger of Allah [pbuh] has divorced his wives.’” [Sahih Al-Bukhari 1/334]

This state of too much alertness manifests clearly the seriousness of the situation that Muslims began to experience. The seriousness of the situation was confirmed to a large degree by the hypocrites’ behaviour, when news about the Byzantines’ preparations reached Madinah.

The fact that the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] won all the battles he fought, and that no power on earth could make him terrified, and that he had always proved to be able to overcome all the obstacles that stood in his way – did not prevent the hypocrites, who concealed evil in their hearts, from expecting an affliction to fall upon the Muslims and Islam….

Particular News About the Byzantine and Ghassanids Preparations for War

A magnified image of the prominent danger threatening the Muslims life was carried to them by the Nabateans who brought oil from Ash-Sham to Madinah. They carried news about Heraclius’ preparations and equipment of an enormous army counting over forty thousand fighters besides Lukham, Judham and other tribes allied to the Byzantines. They said that its vanguard had already reached Al-Balq. Thus was the grave situation standing in ambush for the Muslims.

The general situation was aggravated seriously by other adverse factors of too much hot weather, drought, and the rough and rugged distance they had to cover in case they decided to encounter the imminent danger.
The Messenger of Allah [pbuh] concept and estimation of the situation and its development was more precise and accurate than all others.

He thought that if he tarried, delayed, or dealt passively with the situation in such a way that might enable the Byzantines to paddle through the Islamic controlled provinces or to go as far as Madinah, this would, amid these circumstances, leave the most awful impression on Islam as well as on the Muslims’ military credibility.

The pre-Islamic beliefs and traditions (Al-Jahiliyah) which were at that time dying because of the strong decisive blow that they had already had at Hunain, could have had a way to come back to life once again in such an environment. The hypocrites who were conspiring against the Muslims so that they might stab them in the back whereas Byzantines would attack them from the front.

If such a thing came to light and they succeeded in their evil attempts, the Prophet, and his Companions’ efforts to spread Islam would collapse and their profits which were the consequences of successive and constant fights and invasions would be invalidated.

The Messenger of Allah [pbuh] realised all that very well. So, in spite of the hardships and drought that Muslims were suffering from, the Prophet [pbuh] was determined that the Muslims should invade the Byzantines and fight a decisive battle at their own borders. He was determined not to tarry at all in order to thwart any Roman attempt to approach the land of Islam.

When the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] had made up his mind and made his final decision, he ordered his Companions to get ready for war and sent for the Makkans and the other Arab tribes asking for their assistance.

Contrary to his habit of concealing his real intention of the invasion by means of declaring a false one, he announced openly his intention of meeting the Byzantines and fighting them. He cleared the situation to his people so that they would get ready and urged them to fight in the way of Allah. On this occasion a part of Surat Bara’a (Chapter 9 The Repentance) was sent down by Allah urging them to steadfastness and stamina.

On the other hand, the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] cherished them to pay charities and to spend the best of their fortunes in the way of Allah.

No sooner had the Muslims heard the voice of the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] calling them to fight the Byzantines than they rushed to comply with his orders. With great speed they started getting ready for war. Tribes and phratries from here and there began pouring in Madinah. Almost all the Muslims responded positively. Only those who had weakness at their hearts favored staying behind.

They were only three people. Even the needy and the poor who could not afford a ride came to the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] asking for one so that they would be able to share in the fight against the Byzantines. But when he said:

“I can find no mounts for you’ they turned back while their eyes overflowing with tears of grief that they could not find anything to spend (for Jihad).” [Al-Qur’an 9:92]

The Muslims raced to spend our money and to pay charities to provide this invasion. Uthman, for instance, who had already rigged two hundred, saddled camels to travel to Ash-Sham, presented them all with two hundred ounces (of gold) as charity. He also fetched a thousand dinars and cast them all into the lap of the Messenger of Allah[pbuh], who turned them over and said:

 “From this day on nothing will harm Uthman regardless of what he does.” [Jami’ At-Tirmidhi 2/211 (The virtues of ‘Uthman)] Again and again Uthman gave till his charity toped to nine hundred camels and a hundred horses, besides the money he paid.

Abdur Rahman bin Awf, on his side, paid two hundred silver ounces, whereas Abu Bakr paid the whole money he had and left nothing but Allah and His Messenger as a fortune for his family. Umar paid half his fortune. Abbas gifted a lot of money. Talhah, Sa’d bin Ubadah and Muhammad bin Maslamah, gave money for the welfare of the invasion.

Asim bin Adi, on his turn, offered ninety camel-burdens of dates. People raced to pay little and many charities alike. One of them gave the only half bushel (or the only bushel) he owned. Women shared in this competition by giving the things they owned, such as musk, armlets, anklets, earrings, and rings. No one abstained from spending out money, or was too mean to grant money or anything except the hypocrites:

“Those who defame such of the believers who give charity (in Allah’s cause) voluntarily, and those who could not find to give charity (in Allah’s cause) except what is available to them, so they mock at them (believers).” [Al-Qur’an 9:79]

The Muslim Army Is Leaving for Tabuk

Upon accomplishing the equipment of the army, the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] ordained that Muhammad bin Maslamah Al-Ansari should be appointed over Madinah. In another version Siba bin Arftah. To Ali bin Abu Talib he entrusted his family’s safety and affairs and ordered him to stay with them.

This move made the hypocrites undervalue Ali, so he followed the Messenger of Allah pbuh] and caught up with him. But the Prophet made Ali turn back to Madinah after saying: “Would it not suffice you to be my successor in the way that Aaron (Harun) was to Moses’?” Then he proceeded saying: “But no Prophet succeeds me.”

On Thursday, the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] marched northwards to Tabuk. The army that numbered thirty thousand fighters was a great one, when compared with the previous armies of Islam. Muslims had never marched with such a great number before.

Despite all the gifts of wealth and mounts the army was not perfectly equipped. The shortage of provisions and mounts was so serious that eighteen men mounted one camel alternatively. As for provisions, members of the army at times had to eat the leaves of trees till their lips got swollen.

Some others had to slaughter camels, though they were so dear, so that they could drink the water of their stomach; that is why that army was called “The army of distress”.

On their way to Tabuk, the army of Islam passed by Al-Hijr, which was the native land of Thamud who cut out (huge) rocks in the valley; that is “Al-Qura Valley” of today. They watered from its well but later the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] told them not to drink of that water, nor perform the ablution with it.

The dough they made, he asked them to feed their camels with. He forbade them to eat anything whatsoever of it. As an alternative he told them to water from that well which Prophet Salih’s she-camel used to water from.

On the authority of Ibn Umar: “Upon passing by Al-Hijr the Prophet [pbuh] said:

“Do not enter the houses of those who erred themselves lest what had happened to them would afflict you, but if you had to do such a thing let it be associated with weeping.”

Then he raised his head up and accelerated his strides till he passed the valley out.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari 2/637]
Shortage of water and the army’s need to it made them complain to the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] about that. So he supplicated to Allah who sent a rainfall cloud. It rained and so all people drank and supplied themselves with their need of water.

When they drew near Tabuk, the Prophet said: “If Allah will, tomorrow you will arrive at Tabuk spring. You will not get there before daytime. So, whoever reaches it should not touch its water; but wait till I come.” Muadh said: “When we reached the spring it used to gush forth some water. We found that two men had already preceded us to it. The Messenger of Allah [pbuh] asked them:

Have you touched its water?’ They replied: ‘Yes’. He said what Allah inspired him to say, then he scooped up little water of that spring, thin stream which gathered together, he washed his face and hand with it and poured it back into it; consequently, plenty of water spouted out of it so people watered. Muadh’, said the Messenger of Allah, if you were doomed to live long life you will see in here fields full of vegetation.’” [Sahih Muslim 2/246]

On the way to Tabuk, or as soon as they reached Tabuk, the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] said: Severe wind will blow tonight, so none of you should stand up. Whoever has a camel should tie it up.’ Later on when the strong wind blew, one of the men stood up and the wind carried him away to Tai’ Mountain. [ibid. Sahih Muslim 2/246]

All the way long the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] was intent on the performance of the combined prayer of noon and the afternoon; and so, did he with sunset and evening prayers. His prayers for both were either pre-time or post-time prayers.

The Army of Islam at Tabuk

Arriving at Tabuk and camping there, the Muslim army was ready to face the enemy. There, the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] delivered an eloquent speech that included the most inclusive words. In that speech he urged the Muslims to seek the welfare of this world and the world to come.

He warned and cherished them and gave them good tidings. By doing that he cherished those who were broken in spirit and blocked up the gap of shortage and mess they were suffering from due to lack of supplies, food, and other substances.

Upon learning of the Muslims’ march, the Byzantines and their allies were so terrified that none of them dared set out to fight. On the contrary they scattered inside their territory. It brought, in itself, a good credit to the Muslim forces. It had gained military reputation in the mid and remote lands of the Arabian Peninsula.

The great and serious political profits that the Muslim forces had obtained, were far better than the ones they could have acquired if the two armies had been engaged in military confrontation.

The Head of Ailah, Yahna bin Rawbah came to the Messenger of Allah [pbuh], made peace with him and paid him the tribute (Al-Jizya). Both Jarba’ and Adhruh peoples paid him tribute, as well. So, the Messenger of Allah [pbuh] gave each a guaranteed letter, similar to Yahna’s, in which he says:

“In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

This is a guarantee of protection from Allah and Muhammad the Prophet, the Messenger of Allah to Yahna bin Rawbah and the people of Ailah, their ships, their caravans on land and sea shall have the custody of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, he and whosoever are with him of Ash-Sham people and those of the sea.

Whosoever contravenes this treaty, his wealth shall not save him, it shall be the fair prize of him that takes it. Now it should not be lawful to hinder the men from any springs which they have been in the habit of frequenting, nor from any journeys they desire to make, whether by sea or by land.”

The Messenger of Allah [pbuh] dispatched Khalid bin Al-Waleed at the head of four hundred and fifty horsemen to Ukaidir Dumat Al-Jandal and said to him: “You will see him hunting onyxes.” So, when Khalid drew near his castle and was as far as an eye-sight range, he saw the onyxes coming out rubbing their horns against the castle gate. As it was a moony night.

Khalid could see Ukaidir come out to hunt them, so he captured him, though he was surrounded by his men, and brought him back to the Messenger of Allah [pbuh], who spared his life and made peace with him for the payment of two thousand camels, eight hundred heads of cattle, four hundred armours and four hundred lances.

He obliged him to recognize the duty of paying tribute and charged him with collecting it from Dumat, Tabuk, Ailah and Taima’.

The tribes, who used to ally the Byzantines, became quite certain that their dependence on their former masters came to an end. Therefore, they turned into being pro-Muslims. The Islamic state had therefore enlarged its borders to an extent that it touched the Byzantines’ and their agents’ borders. So, we see that the Byzantine agents’ role was over.

The Invasion of Tabuk and Its Far-reaching Ramifications

The effect of this invasion is great as regards extending and confirming the Muslims’ influence and domination on the Arabian Peninsula. It was obvious to everybody that no power, but Islam’s would live long among the Arabs.

The remainders of Jahiliyin=ignorants and hypocrites, who used to conspire steadily against the Muslims and who perpetually relied on Byzantine power when they needed support or help, these people lost their expectations and desires of ever reclaiming their ex-influence. Realizing that there was no way out and that they were to submit to the fait accompli, they gave up their attempts.

The Qur’anic Verses Relating to This Invasion

Many verses of Bara’a (Tauba) Chapter handling the event of Tabuk were revealed. Some verses were revealed before the march, while others after setting out for Tabuk, i.e. in the context of the battle. Some other verses were also revealed on the Prophet’s arrival in Madinah.

All of which covered the incidents that featured this invasion: the immanent circumstances of the battle, exposure of the hypocrites, the prerogatives and special rank earmarked for the strivers in the cause of Allah acceptance of the repentance of the truthful believers who slackened and those who hung back, etc. [5]

From that historical point, Quran 9:29 was a war of self-defense. If the Muslims had not done nothing and sat back, the whole Muslim community would have been wiped off in Arabia by the Byzantine (Romans) and other enemies.

More Muslim and non-Muslim scholarly commentaries on Quran 9:29

Dr. Mustafa As-Sibaa’ie, ‘The life of Prophet Muhammad highlights and lessons’ writes:

The Battle of Tabook

This is also known as Ghazwat al-Usrah (the campaign of hardship). It took place in Rajab 9 AH.
Tabook is a place between Wadi al-Qura, in the Hijaz, and Syria. The reason for this battle was that the Byzantines had gathered a huge number of troops in Syria, including the tribes of Lakhm, Judhaam, ‘Aamilah and Ghassan, who were Christianized Arabs.

They did so because Heraclius intended to attack Madeenah and put an end to the state that was developing in the Arabian Peninsula, as the news of this state and its victories had filled Heraclius with fear and terror. So the Prophet ordered the people to prepare for a campaign.

That was a time of great and intense heat. The sincere Muslims responded willingly, but three of them remained behind, even though their faith was sincere. The Prophet commanded the rich to provide equipment for the army, and they brought a huge amount of money. Abu Bakr brought all of his wealth, which was forty thousand dirhams.

Umar brought half of his wealth, and Uthman gave a large amount in charity that day equipped one-third of the army. The prophet prayed for him and said, “Nothing that Uthman does can harm him after this day.”

 Several the poor Ṣahābah=companions of the Prophet came to him who had no animals to ride, and the Messenger said, “I do not have anything that I can give you to ride.” They turned away with tears streaming down their faces because they did not have the means to prepare themselves to join the army. Eighty-odd of the hypocrites stayed behind, and a number of Bedouin gave invalid excuses, but the Prophet accepted them.

The Messenger of Allah set out with the people. There were thirty thousand warriors with him, and ten thousand horses. This was the greatest army that the Arabs had seen at that time. He marched until he reached Tabuk, where he stayed for twenty days, during which he did not engage in any fighting. [6]

Scholar Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi

What was the genesis of this expedition? It is related that the Apostle got reports of Byzantine forces converging in the northern frontiers of Arabia with the intention of mounting an attack on the Muslims. Ibn Sa’ad and Waqidi had reported that the Apostle was informed by the Nabataeans that Heraclius was intending to come upon him and that his advance party had already reached Balqa.

This was after storing one year’s provision for his army and drafting the pro-Byzantine tribes of Lakhm, Jodham, Amla and Ghassan under his banner. [7]

Maulana Muhammad Ali in his book, ‘The Holy Quran, Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction’,

29a “The last word on the wars with the idolaters of Arabia having been said, this verse introduces the subject of fighting with the followers of the Book. Though the Jews had for a long time assisted the idolatrous Arabians in their struggle to uproot Islam, the great Christian power, the Roman Empire, had only just mobilized its forces for the subjection of the new religion, and the Tabuk expedition followed, which constitutes the subject-matter of a large portion of what follows in this chapter.

As the object of this Christian power was simply the subjection of the Muslims, the words in which their final vanquishment by the Muslims is spoken of are different from those dealing with the final vanquishment of the idolatrous Arabians. The Qur’an neither required that the idolaters should be compelled to accept Islam, nor was it in any way its object to bring the Christians into subjection.

On the other hand, the idolaters wanted to suppress Islam by the sword, and the Christians first moved themselves to bring Muslim Arabia under subjection. The fate of each was, therefore, according to what it intended for the Muslims.

The word Jizyah is derived from Jaza, meaning he gave satisfaction, and means, according to LL, the tax that is taken from the free non-Muslim subjects of the Muslim Government whereby they ratify the compact that ensures them protection; or, according to AH, because it is a compensation for the protection, which is guaranteed them, the non-Muslim subjects being free from military service.

The phrase ‘an yad-in has been explained variously. The word yad (lit., hand) stands for power or superiority, the use of the hand being the real source of the superiority of man over all other animals, and the apparent meaning of the phrase is in acknowledgement of your superiority in protecting their lives, etc. (AH).

 It may also be added that the permission to fight, as given to the Muslims, is subject to the condition that the enemy should first take up the sword, Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you (2:190). The Holy Prophet never overstepped this limit, nor did his followers. 

He fought against the Arabs when they took up the sword to destroy the Muslims, and he led an expedition against the Christians when the Roman Empire first mobilized its forces with the object of subjugating the Muslims. And so scrupulous was he that, when he found that the enemy had not yet taken the initiative, he did not attack the Roman Empire, but returned without fighting.

Later on, however, the Roman Empire, like the Persians, helped the enemies of Islam and fomented trouble against the newly established Muslim Kingdom, as a result of which both these empires came into conflict with the Muslims and, 

notwithstanding the fact that both the Persians and the Romans were very powerful nations with unlimited resources and strong military organizations, and that they both tried at one and the same time to subjugate Islam, the result was what is predicted here in clear words — they were both reduced to a state of subjection by an insignificant nation like the Arabs.” [8]

Professor John Andrew Morrow

The early Muslims had to fend of all sorts of aggressive assaults of the unbelievers from the Quraysh and their allies among the bedouin and Jewish tribes, in such well-known Battles as those of Uhud, Al-Khandaq, Mu’tah and Tabuk. [9]

Malik Ghulam Farid commentary on Quran 9:29

1175. The expression ‘An Yadin’ means (1) Willingly and in acknowledgement of the superior power of Muslims. (2) In ready money and not in the form of deferred payment.

* In this verse … is not translated. After the translation … will read as: ‘and Allah is most Forgiving, Merciful.’
(3) Considering it as a favour from Muslims; the practice ‘a meaning, on account of, and Yad denoting power and favour (Lane).

The verse refers to those People of the Book who lived in Arabia. Like the idolaters they too had been actively hostile to Islam and had planned and plotted to exterminate it.

Muslims were, therefore, ordered to fight them unless they agreed to live as loyal and peaceful subjects. The Jizyah was a tax which these non-Muslims had to pay as free subjects of the Muslim state in return for the protection they enjoined under it.

It may be noted that as against Jizyah which was imposed on non-Muslims, a much heavier tax- Zakat was levied on the Muslims, and in addition to Zakat they had to perform military service from which non-Muslims were exempt.

Thus, the latter in a way fared better, for they had to pay a lighter tax and were also free from military duty. The word Saghirun expresses their subordinate political status; otherwise, they enjoyed all social rights equally with Muslims. The idolaters of Arabia and Jews and Christians who lived in their neighbourhood were the principal adversaries of Islam

After having dealt with the believers’ relations with the People of the Book, especially with their religious beliefs and doctrines. [10]

Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali states in his commentary on surah nine:

Muslims are therefore basically opposed to war and are never the ones to start it. By the imperative of their own religion, they are taught not to impose their beliefs on others by force. Their mission is to impart and communicate God’s message, leaving people free to decide whether to believe or reject it.

Those who refuse to believe are free to pursue their lives in peace as long as they do not pose any obstacle or threat to Islam and the Muslims, who perceive their faith as the strongest and most vital binding relationship between God and humankind and that it is their responsibility to make others aware of it and provide them with the opportunity to understand and appreciate it.

This is the basis of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in Islamic society. God says elsewhere in the Qur’an: ‘Therefore if they (the unbelievers) do not trouble you and cease their hostility towards you and offer you peace, God gives you no authority over them’ [al-Nisa: 90].

Those who take up arms against a Muslim state or parts of it must be met by force, and if they are overcome, they should be disarmed. Once that is achieved, they are free to lead their own lives and practise their beliefs in peace and security under the protection of the Muslim authorities, in return for which they must pay a levy.

This is the background against which the prescription of the Jizyah, or exemption tax, came into being. It is not due from those who are neutral and have never taken arms against the Muslim state. The surah gives ample explanation for the reasons behind the establishment of this tax, for it stipulates who should pay it.

They are those ‘who do not believe in God and the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, and who do not follow the true religion, until they pay the exemption tax unreservedly and with humility. [11]

In the book ‘Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia’, Alexander Mikaberidze, commenting on 9:29 writes,

The following verses are widely acknowledged to be the first to grant Muslim’s permission to bear arms:

Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged, and indeed, God has the power to help them: those who have been driven from their homes against all right for no other reason than their saying, ‘Our

Provider is God!’ For, if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques- in all of which God’s name is abundantly glorified- would surely have been destroyed. 


In these verses, the Koran asserts, if people were not allowed to defend themselves against aggressive wrongdoers, all the houses of worship- it is worthy of note here that Islam is not the only religion indicated here- would be destroyed and thus the word of God extinguished.

Another verse states:

They ask you concerning fighting in the prohibited months. Answer them: ‘Fight therein is a serious offence. But to restrain men from following the cause of God, to deny God, to violate the sanctity of the sacred mosque, to expel its people from its environs is in the sight of God a greater wrong than fighting in the forbidden month. [For] discord and strife (fitna) are worse than killing.’ (2:217)

Wrongful expulsion of believers- Muslims and other monotheists- from their homes for no other reason than their avowal of belief in one God is one of the reasons- jus ad bellum- that justify recourse to fighting, according to these verses.

Earlier revelations (Quran 42.40-43) had allowed only non-violent self-defense against wrongful conduct of the enemy.

In another verse (2:291) 

The Quran acknowledges the enormity of fighting, and thus the potential taking of human life, but at the same time asserts the higher moral imperative of maintaining order and challenging wrongdoing. Therefore, 

when both just cause and righteous intention exist, war in self-defense becomes obligatory.

Fighting is enjoined upon you, while it is hard on you. It could be that you dislike something, when it is good for you; and it could be that you like something when it is bad for you. Allah knows, and you do not know. (2:216)

The Quran further asserts that it is the duty of Muslims to defend those who are oppressed and cry out to them for help

 (4.75), except against a people with whom the Muslims have concluded a treaty (8.72)

Regarding initiation of hostilities, the Quran has specific injunctions. Quran 2.190 reads, ‘Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression, for God loves not aggressors,’ which forbids Muslims from initiating hostilities. Recourse to armed combat must be in response to a prior act of aggression committed by the opposite side.

In the month of Ramadan in the third year of the Islamic calendar (624), full-fledged hostilities broke out between the Muslims and the pagan Meccans in what became known as the Battle of Badr. In this battle, the small army of Muslims decisively trounced a much larger, and more experienced, Meccan army.

Two years later, the battle of Uhud was fought in which the Muslims suffered severe reverses, followed by the Battle of Khandaq in 627.

 Apart from these three major battles, a number of other minor campaigns were fought until the Prophet’s death in 632. Some of the most trenchant verses exhorting the Muslims to fight were revealed on the occasions of these military campaigns.

One such verse is 9.5, which is one of what have been termed the ‘Sword verses’ (Ayat al-sayf), states,
And when the sacred months are over, slay the Polytheists wherever you find them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place.

Another verse that is often conjoined to the previous verse runs:

Fight against those who- despite having been given revelation before- do not believe in God nor in the Last Day, and do not consider forbidden that which God and His Messenger have forbidden, and do not follow the religion of the truth, until they pay Jizya with willing hand, having been subdued. (9.29).

The first of the sword verse verses (9.5), with its internal reference to the polytheists who may be fought after the end of the sacred months, would circumscribe its applicability to only the pagan Arabs of Muhammad’s time; this is how in fact many medieval jurists, such as al-Shafii (d. 820), understood the verse. 

The second of the sword verses is seemingly at the People of the Book, that is, Jews and Christians, but again, a careful reading of the verse clearly indicates that it does not intent all the people of the Book but only those from among them who do not, in contravention of their own laws, believe in God and the Last Day and, in a hostile manner, impede the propagation of Islam.

The Koran, in another verse (2.193), makes clear, however, that should hostile behavior on the part of the foes of Islam cease, then the reasons for engaging them in battle also lapses. This verse states: ‘And fight them on until there is no more chaos (fitna) and religion is only for Gd, but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.’ [12]

‘Debating the War of Ideas’, written by two Scholars, John Gallagher and Eric D. Patterson say that the Quran ‘forbids aggressive warfare’.

The Quran also developed a just war ideology. It forbids aggressive warfare and the pre-emptive strike and makes it clear that self-defense was the only possible justification for hostilities. War was always a terrible evil, but it was sometimes necessary in order to preserve decent values, such as freedom of worship.

Even here, the Quran did not abandon its pluralism: synagogues and churches as well as mosques should be protected. The Quran insists on the importance of mercy and forgiveness, even during armed conflict.

While engaged in hostilities, Muslims must fight steadfastly in order to bring the war to a speedy end, but the moment the enemy asks for peace, Muslims must lay down their arms. They must accept any truce, even if they suspect the enemy of double-dealing.

And it is always better to sit DOWN AND solve a problem by rational, courteous discussion. True, retaliation was permitted as in the Jewish tradition– eye FOR EYE, tooth for tooth- but it must be strictly confined to those who had perpetrated the atrocities and ‘he who shall forgo it out of charity will atone better for some of his past sins.’

Later Islamic Law developed additional principles of humane warfare. It forbids war against a country where Muslims are permitted to practice their religion freely; it outlaws the killing of civilians, the deliberate destruction of property, and the use of fire in warfare.

Holy war was not one of the essential principles of Islam the word Jihad does not refer to armed conflict but to the ‘effort’ and ‘struggle’ required to implement God’s will in a flawed and violent world. Muslims are exhorted to strive in his endeavor on all fronts: intellectual, social, economic, spiritual, moral, and domestic. Sometimes they would have to fight, but this was not their chief duty.

An oft-quoted tradition recalls Muhammad telling his companions after a battle: ‘We are returning from the lesser Jihad (the battle) and going to the Greater Jihad,’ the immeasurably more important and difficult struggle to reform their own society and they own hearts.

It is true that Muslim rulers often engaged in wars for territorial aggrandizement and personal interest and dignified their military activities by calling it a Jihad, but, like other Kings and imperialists, they were motivated by political ambition rather than by religion. [13]

‘Out of darkness into light: Spiritual guidance in the Quran with reflections from Christian and Jewish sources’ written by Ann Holmes Redding, Jamal Rahman and Kathleen Schmitt Elias.

The Jihad that is so feared in Western society is known in Islam as the ‘lesser jihad’, and again, the fear is based on misinterpretation not only by non-Muslims but also by Muslim extremists who carry jihad lengths that were never sanctioned or condoned by the Quran. This lesser Jihad is about defending and protecting oneself and others when under attack- and only when under attack.

“Fight in the way of God those who fight you,” says the Quran, “but begin not hostilities, for God loves not the aggressors” (2:190). This verse has also been interpreted to mean “do not transgress limits in the fight.” War is permitted only in self-defense, and the limits are well defined: no hostilities toward women, children, and the aged, no destruction of trees and crops, and no continuation of war once the enemy sues for peace.

In the brutal world of the seventh century the terms of lesser Jihad were remarkably enlightened, but in any age, there are those who ignore the words of scriptures and prophets, wreaking havoc on the earth by over-reaching their role as vice-regents of our compassionate and merciful God.

Properly understood, the lesser Jihad of self-defense is entirely legitimate, but it will always be secondary to the greater Jihad of self-realization as a beautiful manifestation of the Divine. In Rumi’s metaphor, the Lion who breaks the enemy’s ranks is a minor hero compared with the lion who overcomes himself. [14]

In the book, ‘The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era’, Professor Micheline R. Ishay,

The notion of specified limits on the use of violence is also embedded in Islamic teaching, as the Quran echoes the biblical standard of “life for life, eye for eye, ear for ear, tooth for tooth and wound for wound equal for equal.” Yet following the teaching of Jesus and Mohammad, one can still ‘remit retaliation by way of charity’ (Surah 5:45).

While retaliation against an evil must be proportionate to that evil (Surah 42:40), there are instances in which retaliation by means of war, or Jihad (literally meaning ‘exertion’) is, as in the Christian notions of just war, legitimated. 

The Quran justifies wars for self-defense to protect Islamic communities against internal or external aggression by non-Islamic populations, and wars waged against those who ‘violate their oaths’ by breaking a treaty (Surah 9:12, 9:13, 42:40-43).

If God commands us to go to war, a better afterlife, exhorts the Quran, is promised to the true soldiers of faith: “And if ye are slain or die, in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are fare better than all they could amass [in wealth]” (Surah 3:157).

If some modern Islamic religious zealots, such as Osama Bin laden, have found in the concept of the holy war a justification for terrorist activities, they have overlooked the fact that the same Quran, drawing from the Hebrew Bible, urges a soldier of faith “to protect the life of non-combatants, aged ones, children and women, as well as the life of imprisoned soldiers.”

 Temperance, the Quran states, I also mandated:” Fight in the name of God those who fight you; but exceed not the limit. For God loves not those who exceed the limit…. Fight till there is no persecution, and the judgement be God’s. But if they desist, let there be no hostilities save against the unjust.”

One should not forget, after all, that Islamic juridical writings urging tolerance and moderation in war, such as the Abbou Hassan of Baghdad (1036), the Hedaya (1196), and the Vikayat printed in Spain (1280) were composed five hundred years before Grotius and the Christian humanists. Those views live on in the contemporary Islamic writings of the Lebanese Sobhi Mahmassani. [15]


The above evidence refutes the assertion made by some critics that the Muslims fought the Jews and Christians (Byzantines/Romans) for no reason. The claims that Muslims initiated warfare are not true once the historical context was shown.


The Quranic verse 9:29 commanded Muslims, 1400 years ago, to fight only those that were involved in aggression against them, as shown by its historical context. Muslims only fought the Byzantines in self-defense, to save themselves from oppression and extinction.

Allah knows Best.

Credit Kaleef K. Karim


[1] A comprehensive commentary on the Quran – by Reverend E. M. Wherry, volume 2 page 274
[2] Sahih Muslim Book 9, Hadith 3511 http://sunnah.com/muslim/18/44
[3] Ibn Sa’d’s Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Translated by S. Moinul Haq (New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 2009) Volume 2, page 203-204
[4] 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, By Phillip Khurti Hitti, PHD, [1916], volume 1, page 92
[5] Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar) Memoirs of the Noble Prophet [pbuh] by Saifur Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri page 272- 280
[6] The life of Prophet Muhammad highlights and lessons by Dr. Mustafa As-Sibaa’ie page 116 – 117
[7] Muhammad Rasulullah The Apostle of Mercy By S. Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, page 320
[8] The Holy Quran, Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction [Year 2002 Edition] by Maulana Muhammad Ali, Page 404
[9] Islamic Images and Ideas: Essays on Sacred Symbolism, by Professor John Andrew Morrow, page 31
[10] The Holy Qur’an Arabic Text with English Translation & Short Commentary, Malik Ghulam, Farid Page 383 – 384
[11] A Thematic Commentary on the Qurʼan – by Shaykh Muḥammad Ghazālī, page 182 – 183
[12] Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia [Copyright 2011] by Alexander Mikaberidze page Volume 1, 929 – 930
[13] Debating the War of Ideas by John Gallagher, Eric D. Patterson page 57
[14] Out of darkness into Light: Spiritual guidance in the Quran with reflections from Christian and Jewish sources Ann Holmes Redding, Jamal Rahman, Kathleen Schmitt Elias. page 53
[15] The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era By Micheline R. Ishay, page 45 – 47

Almighty Allah is the highest and most knowledgeable, and the attribution of knowledge to him is the safest.

Right from Almighty Allah and wrong from me and Satan


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Arrogance is not only a sign of insecurity, but also a sign of immaturity. Mature and fully realised persons can get their points across, even emphatically without demeaning or intimidating others.