Islamic Studies

A Maltreated Hadith

In the Name of the Most Gracious, Most Merciful God

By Muhammad Al-Ghazali| Translated by Umm Majeed

From Al-‘Ilal wal-Adaweyyah


A Hadith, which at first sight presents a ruling which our scholars and jurists never advocated might seem difficult to understand. However, accepting it without restriction or rejecting it is not permissible. It is our duty to identify its real meaning as it was understood by those who are thoroughly versed and well-grounded in knowledge (Scholars).

It was narrated in Bukhari that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “I was commanded to fight the people until they proclaim that there is no deity worthy of worship except God alone, if they accept this faith then their lives and wealth will be secure except with due process of law.” The source of misunderstanding comes from the misinterpretation of the statement “fight the people”.Perhaps many minds might hastily conclude that the word “people” refers to all of Humanity! This is considered a wrong understanding by the consensus of the scholars. In fact, they are in agreement that this Hadith is not discussing the people of the Book (the Jews and Christians). Why is that?

Because if there was a war between us and them -transgressors from among the Jews and Christians- we would never fight them until they testify to their faith in Islam. On the contrary if they were defeated in war, they would uphold their religion, be disarmed from any weapons and we would be in charge of defending them if any one ever attacked them. Their protection is in exchange for a tax which is required from all citizens of the Islamic State including Muslims. The non-Muslims pay a tax called al-Jizyah which is set depending upon social status. The tax Muslims pay is called Zakah which is the third pillar of Islamic worship. Obviously, since the non-Muslim does not believe in Islam then he cannot pay a tax which is a part of Islamic worship. God Almighty says: “Fight those who do not believe in God or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what God and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth (Islam) from those who were given the scripture – until they give the Jizyah humbly (a tax required of non- Muslims exempting them from military service and entitling them to the full protection of the Islamic State).” (9:29) so it’s clear that the purpose of fighting is not to force people to accept the Islamic creed as it maybe misunderstood from the Hadith mentioned above.

If the mentioned Hadith does not include the people of the Book (the Jews and the Christians) then is this Hadith talking about all the idol worshippers? The answer is: No, because another authentic Hadith adds the status and treatment of Zoroastrians to that of People of the Book. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) stated: “Deal with them (the Zoroastrians) in the same manner as that of the People of the Book.” It is well known that Zoroastrians used to worship fire as well as their belief in the God of good and the God of evil.

In reality this Hadith is talking about the Arab polytheists who were resentfully unwilling to let Islam exist and violated every peace treaty and covenant they agreed to. They were given four months to rethink their actions and to rectify their positions, then if they insist on abolishing Islam, it becomes incumbent upon the Muslims to fight them back and put an end to their actions and establish a safe foundation in Arabia for the final message to thrive. God Almighty says: “Excepted are those whom you made a treaty among the polytheists and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you; so complete for them their treaty until their term (has ended). Indeed God loves the God-Conscious.”(9:4)

However, those who declare war against God, His Messenger, and His servants should not blame anyone but themselves!

Some may ask: Why did the Hadith mention such a general word as ‘people’ in the statement “I was commanded to fight the people”? The answer simply is that “The” as scholars of the Arabic language would explain is for “common familiarity”. God Almighty says: “Those to whom the people said, ‘Indeed, the people have gathered against you, so fear them.’ But it increased them in faith, and they said, ‘sufficient for us is God and (He is) the best disposer of affairs” (3:173) so the first word “the people” that is mentioned in this verse refers to some of the hypocrites who were in Madinah and the second word “the people” refers to an army of pagan polytheists from Makkah. This was well understood by the listeners as well as all the commentators of the Qur’an.

Reflect on the following verse, God Almighty says: “And you see the people entering into the religion of God in multitudes” (110:2) the word “people” in this verse does not mean all of humanity, its only talking about the Arab tribes in Arabia.

I have seen some people who are deceived by the literal meaning of this Hadith, so they picture the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as a man who declared war on all of Mankind forcing them to accept Islam. And this understating- as we mentioned before- is absolutely wrong and No Muslim scholar or jurist ever held such a view as it is in opposition to many clear verses of the Qur’an and authentic narrations in the Sunnah.

On the other hand, I have also seen another group of people who hastily deny and refute the Hadith without comprehension and they use it as a means to attack many different authentic Hadiths without examining the chain of narrators or the texts and without abiding by the fundamental elements of the Arabic language or the contexts in which it was mentioned.

These close minded opinions have no base in Islam and it is necessary to oppose such claims and bring them to an end.

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  • Asalam aleikum

    Jzkheir sister for the clarification of this hadith.

    Indeed its one of the questions that the none muslim always ask and its always good to have a better understanding for ourselve to be able to provide good answers.

    jzkheir for taking the time to share and May Allah swt reward you.

  • Jazakillah khayr for providing this clarification. Reading the literal translation by itself without proper knowledge of its context can indeed be misleading. It’s important that we as Muslims educate ourselves about the details of such ahadith so that we may be better prepared to explain it to others, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

  • subhanallah. I remember teaching this hadith in sunday school like 8 years ago and that exact question came. I don’t recall how I answered it but the question always remained in my mind. I read a similar explanation before and it cleared things up quite a bit alhumdulillah. This shows the importance of the Ulema. May Allah guide us all and increase us in knowledge.


  • Jazaak’Allah khair, I had had an islamic civilization class several years ago, and the teacher taught us many controversial topics. This hadith was one that she gave us as a source for a paper we were supposed to write about jihad. Very manipulative. Alhamdulillah I had a sound understanding of Jihad but this hadith still gave me trouble in the breast. It’s so important that this knowledge gets out. I pressume issues like this are discussed by non-muslim teachers in university throughout America. And I only imagine that it is causing similar trouble if not more in the hearts of many muslim students. may Allah protect us.

    Wa Salaam,

    Abdus Salaam

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  • Excuse me, can I know from which Hadith exactly did you get the informations about Zaraostrians being People of the Book? I’m interested in that subject
    Thank you

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