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Unfettered Religious Freedom in Islam ‚€“ A Fact or Fiction?

by Alamgir Hossain

25 Dec, 2006

Against the terrible treatment of non-Muslims and violation of their religious and human rights in the Islamic world, many modern educated Muslims, especially those living in the Western countries, often make extraordinary claims that Islam allows unfettered religious freedom to non-Islamic peoples. For example, Brig. Gen. (Retd) Ashrafuzzaman wrote a well-articulated essay on "Religious Freedom in Islam" in a Bangladeshi web magazine, in which he claimed that 'Islam allows total religious freedom' to the non-Muslims. He derived this conclusion from the text of the holy Koran and examples of Prophet Muhammad. This assertion is, however, is in total contrast to what evidently exist in the Muslim world. The history of Islam, usually written by the pious Islamic historians and scholars, does not present a good picture of the treatment of non-Muslims under the Islamic rule either. Moderate Muslims find unfettered religious freedom in Prophet Muhammad's life and actions, but the history and biographies of the prophet, written by the pious Islamic scholars like Ibn-Ishaq, al-Waqidi, ibn-Sa‚€™d, At-Tabari and Imam al-Ghazzali et al., depict a terrible and often cruel treatment of the non-Muslims by the Prophet.

The intolerant verses of the Koran

When the critics of Islam cite violent verses from the Koran to suggest the intolerant nature of Islam, most educated moderate Muslims quickly make allegation of quoting the verses out of context for the purpose of defaming Islam, which otherwise stands for peace and tolerance. Yet, those Muslims will hardly come forward to enlighten the critics about the correct context of the verses in question. Others come up with vague, false or misleading interpretation or context of such verses to make their case in favor of religious freedom in Islam. One of the oft-cited violent verses of the Koran is 'fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them' [Q 9:5], which appears to advocate a complete annihilation of the idolaters (pagan, heathens) instead of tolerance of any kind. Brig. Zaman in has essay presented a circumstantial context of this verse before moving on to making his case for what he calls ‚€˜total religious freedom in Islam‚€™.  

He says Muslims lead by Prophet Muhammad made an expedition towards Syria (expedition of Tabuk in October, 630 AD), because they received intelligence that the Byzantine army was mobilizing a force there for attacking the Muslims. This verse was revealed in the run up to the preparation of this expedition. But when Muslim army arrived near Syria, they found no signs of build-up of the Byzantine army and they returned without any confrontation. 

Brig. Zaman‚€™s has got the context totally wrong to which I will come back later. But his cooked up story, however, is ridiculous in all aspects of it. Even if we would agree that the intelligence of Byzantine army‚€™s preparation was true, the Muslim army, if peaceful and non-aggressive, as claimed by Brig. Zaman, could not set on an aggressive expedition to deter it. Instead, Muslims should have stayed home and fortify their defenses. Moreover, going on an aggressive attack on an army already in preparation is a ridiculous and suicidal war strategy for even an aggressive army. Brig. Zaman, with an illustrious career in defense, should have known this simple fact about war strategies. This story is even more ridiculous when the Byzantine army has just reached the pinnacle of power in the world after defeating the Persians a couple of years earlier. In 630, Muslims were too paltry a force to think that they could trash down world‚€™s most powerful army by going on an aggressive offensive. 

The fact that Muslims did not see any build-up of force in the Syrian border meant that the intelligence was either false or the story of such build-up was concocted by Prophet Muhammad or by later Muslims historians. The fact that Khalid al-Walid had earlier made a limited foray into that territory suggests that Prophet Muhammad had wanted to make a bigger inroad. Given the power of the Byzantine army, a huge expedition was needed and for convincing the people to come onboard, such a story of imminent danger might have been essential. Hence, the Muslim army‚€˜s increasing military might and their limited success in that dangerous front earlier, might have had made them aggressive and launched the expedition on their own in order to conquer the periphery of the Byzantine empire.

This idea is supported by the fact that during that expedition of Tabuk, Muslims conquered a few small dominions between Damascus and Medina some of them by force and other by threat of military aggression. A letter sent to the prince of the Ayla tribe read:

‚€œTo John ibn Ru‚€™ba and the chief of Ayla. Peace be upon you. .. I will not fight you until I have written thus unto you. Believe or else pay tribute (Jizyah). ‚€¶Ye know the tribute. If ye desire security by sea and by land, obey Allah and his apostle‚€¶. But if ye oppose and displease them, I will accept nothing from you until I have fought against you and taken captive your little ones and slain the elder; for I am the apostle of Allah in truth‚€¶.‚€ [Muir, p402]

It is ridiculous to claim that when Muslims were on a defensive aggression to deter an impending attack on their territory, Muhammad would send such threatening letter expressing barbaric and cruel intents for the purpose of extending the domain of Islam. Neither the content of the letter shows any glimpse of religious freedom for the Christian Ayla tribesmen. Muslim's subsequent aggression and significant inroad into the Byzantine territory by the year 638 AD and into other territories within their power also give credence that there was always an intention to attack the Byzantine territory in the Muslim camp. 

Prophet Muhammad‚€™s first biography by Ibn Ishaq also says nothing of an impending attack by the Byzantine army. But instead, it describes the prophet‚€™s aggressive intent of attacking the Byzantine frontier, much to the Muslim warriors‚€™ disagreement and unwillingness to join the expedition in rough weather condition of the time. [Ibn Ishaq, p602] 

Now coming back to the correct context of the verse 9:5 (Slay the pagans, wherever ye find them), this verse is totally unrelated to the Tabuk expedition. Instead, it was revealed a few months later during the Hajj in 631 AD. After conquering Mecca and capturing the Ka‚€™ba, the Prophet allowed the Pagans to perform the pilgrimage and visitation to the sacred house but only took the charge of collecting the toll. In order to avoid the place, still tainted by the idolaters, the Prophet never undertook pilgrimage to the sacred house during this period, but sent a delegation from Medina. During the 631 Hajj pilgrimage, the Prophet sent a delegation of 300 hundred men with Abu Bakr at its head. Immediately afterwards, Allah allegedly revealed these verses and he later sent Ali forward to join the delegation and pronounce those verses during the Hajj. After the animal sacrifice rituals, Ali pronounced the latest revelations from Allah before the assemble congregation:

[Q 9:1-5 Freedom from obligation (is proclaimed) from Allah and His messenger toward those of the idolaters with whom ye made a treaty. Travel freely in the land four months, and know that ye cannot escape Allah and that Allah will confound the disbelievers (in His Guidance). And a proclamation from Allah and His messenger to all men on the day of the Greater Pilgrimage that Allah is free from obligation to the idolaters, and (so is) His messenger. So, if ye repent, it will be better for you; but if ye are averse, then know that ye cannot escape Allah. Give tidings (O Muhammad) of a painful doom to those who disbelieve, 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). Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

These verses were tailor-made to remove the last vestiges of idolatry from the sacred house of Ka‚€™ba. Secondly, they were also meant for the forcing all pagans into Islam by reneging any obligation Allah and his apostle had offered to them the earlier year and by the giving command to kill the idolaters wherever found after a four-month grace period was over. The idea is supported by the fact that the Prophet made pilgrimage journey the next year in 632 (farewell Hajj) after paganism was completely wiped off from the Ka‚€™ba and the city of Mecca with this command. 

The fact that the Byzantine territory was inhabited by the Christians but the verse is meant for exterminating the idolaters also proves Brig. Zaman totally wrong.

The tolerant verses

 Deceptive Muslims would normally scour the whole Koran to extract a few verses which sound relatively reconciliatory, yet hardly worthy of any value for peaceful coexistence in the modern civilized society. Brig. Zaman has done exactly the same ignoring scores of cruel, aggressive and retaliatory verses. He also did not bother to consider the temporal context of revelation of those apparently non-aggressive verses. Weren't those verses revealed during the early days of Prophet Muhammad's preaching mission when his community was only a feeble force? Isn't it true that all the hate-filled and retaliatory verses were revealed only when the Muslim community had become a fighting force?

Prophet‚€™s Capture of Ka‚€™ba and destruction of idols therein

The most obvious example of Prophet Muhammad‚€™s intolerance of other religion is the capture of the pagan‚€™s sacred idol-temple of Ka‚€™ba and the immediate destruction of the 360 idol-gods housed therein. Moderate Muslims never fail to make a lame excuse that Ka‚€™ba is house of Allah (founded by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ishmael) and Allah wanted Prophet Muhammad to remove all the idols from the Holy Ka'ba but not from elsewhere. Brig Zaman has made exactly the same claim.

But how credible is this claim? There is no evidence to suggest that Abraham (Prophet Ibrahim), if at all had existed, ever traveled to Mecca. The Torah and the Bible, which carries the legends of Abraham, give no indication of he and his son ever traveled to Mecca. If the house of God was located in Mecca and its capture and restoration was so essential for Allah, he must have instructed Jesus (Prophet Isa) to travel there to restore his sacred house as the first priority. The same should have applied to Moses (Prophet Musa) as well. It is also ridiculous that the creator of the universe needs a house which has to be located only at Mecca, depriving the rest of the world.

Where in the Koran has Allah specifically expressed his wish to destroy all the idols inside Ka'ba for cleansing the His Allah? There is a general hatred of idolatry in the Koran but no specific commands to remove them from the Ka‚€™ba alone. Why did then Muhammad with his Muslim converts used to offer prayers to the ‚€œchief Idol-god of Ka‚€™ba called Allah (Hubal)‚€ during the early years of Islam in Mecca when the Ka‚€™ba was filled with the idols. Why did the Prophet sought to perform pilgrimage in the idol-filled Ka‚€™ba in 628 which lead to the signing the treaty of Hudaibiya? Why did the prophet go back to the Ka‚€™ba to perform pilgrimage the next year in 629 according to the terms of the Hudaibiya treaty? If Idols were so hated by Allah, why didn't He instruct Prophet Muhammad to enter the Idol-littered House of God only when they have cleansed it of the idols? Why did Prophet Muhammad send Khalid ibnul Waleed (al-Walid) for destroying other idol-temples around Mecca, such as the temple of al-Uzza in Nakhla located far from the Ka'ba? After the submission of At-Taif, why did the Prophet sent Abu Sufian and Al-Moghira to destroy the idol temple of al-Lat there, defying the residents‚€™ desperate appeal to spare their age-old sacred temple and the Goddess? They hewed it down in the midst of helpless cries and wailing of the women and residents [Muir, p450-5451].

Furthermore, before conquering Mecca (Makka, Makkah), Prophet Muhammad also captured the abodes and properties of a few major Jewish clans of Medina, namely those of Banu Qainuqa, Banu Nadir and Banu Quraiza, which has been described by all biographers of the Prophet. As for the Banu Qainuqa and Nadir clans, the entire population were evicted and their homes, weapons and other properties immediately captured as the spoils of wars. For the Banu Qurayza tribe, all the grown-up males (600-900) were cruelly slaughtered in the presence of the Prophet. Their homes and properties were captured and the woman and children made captives, who were later sold in Nedj for weapons and horses. These outposts, where Jewish clans used to live, must have had Jewish temples (synagogues). Where is the evidence that after capturing those Jew abodes, Muhammad and the Muslims preserved the places of Jew worship? These temples of Jewish worship were not located inside or near Ka'ba and indeed were located far from Mecca. Why did then Allah wished to have those Jew temples destroyed when He asked Muhammad to protect non-Muslim religious institutions in the Holy Koran?

These instances only points to the fact that Allah required the Muslims to cleanse the vestiges of idolatry from any territory they conquered; not from the Ka‚€™ba alone. This also conforms to the principle of general hatred expressed towards idolatry in the Koran. Prophet Muhammad only executed this command with single-minded conviction.

Peace treaties with the non-Muslims‚€

Educated moderate Muslims, like Brig. Zaman, also typically cite a few allegedly equitable treaties (covenants) the Prophet had signed with the non-Muslims as evidence of Islam's principle of peaceful coexistence with the latter. Before coming back to how equitable those treaties were, I will first consider the contextual circumstances of the Muslim community when those treaties were signed? One of the oft-cited treaties was the one signed allegedly with the Jews of Medina after the Prophet‚€™s arrival there in 622 AD. According to Ibn Ishaq‚€™s account, it must have been signed within the first year of Prophet Muhammad‚€™s relocation to Medina [Ibn Ishaq, p231]. The question is: weren't the newly arrived refugee Muslim community a weak force in Medina during the signing of this covenant? Muslims were earlier allowed to settle in their city in a welcoming atmosphere by the Jews. If such a treaty of mutual protection and nonaggression was truly offered by the Jews soon afterwards, this constituted a gesture of offering further refuge, protection and peace to the Muslims by the Medina Jews but not vice-versa. In other words, the gesture of peace was shown by the Jews towards the helpless Muslim community, not the other way round.

If wanted, the Jews could have destroyed the few Muslims that arrived there from Mecca. But what followed as a result of the Jews‚€™ offering refuge and treaties of protection was a tragedy on their community. The Jews had to pay a heavy price for offering refuge and peace to the community of Prophet Muhammad? The eviction and annihilation of Jewish clans for no major offenses (there are some flimsy claims by Muslims only without substantiation, which are minor offense and easily excusable) is a clear evidence of that.

Furthermore, isn't it true that most of the treaties, which the Prophet had signed with the non-Muslims, were eventually broken by the Prophet himself on minor and often unsubstantiated offenses or breaches of the non-Muslim parties?

Indeed, breaking the treaties was one of his principles in his own words, as soon as situation became conducive:

"The Prophet said, 'If I take an oath and later find something else better than that, then I do what is better and expiate my oath.'" [Bukhari: 7:67:427]

The treaty of Hudaibiya with the Mecca citizens was signed for a period of 10 years in 628 AD but was broken by the Prophet on a petty excuse when barely into its second year. They broke it just because the Muslims had become an indomitable force to take over Mecca by that time and they did not want to wait another eight years for the terms of the treaty to expire. This was proven when Muhammad truly attacked Mecca in 630, subdued the citizens, captured their age-old sacred temple of Ka‚€™ba and destroyed all the idols housed therein.

Was there one single treaty which the Prophet had signed after conquering Mecca, that is, after they had become a powerful force? Of course, there were treaties of submission and payment of Jizyah after non-Muslim communities and territories were overrun or brought into submission under the treat of attack. Until his death, the Prophet only strove to expand his domain as far as possible by aggressive attacks or threats to do so. There is no single evidence that the prophet ever offered a true gesture of peace to non-Muslims.


‚€œEquitability of the treaties‚€

As Muslims make lofty claims about the Prophet‚€™s signing the just and equitable treaties of protection and nonaggression, it is time to look into the terms of the treaties to judge how equitable and just they were. Let us here consider the treaty Muslims had signed soon after they had arrived at Medina as refugees, which has been documented by Ibn Ishaq in Sirat Rasul Allah [Ibn Ishaq, p231; Watt, p221]. Some of the salient points are listed below:

1.      No believer shall be put to death for the blood of an infidel, neither shall any infidel be supported against Muslims.

2.      Whosoever of the Jews follow us (Muslims) shall have our aid and succor; they shall not be injured nor shall any enemy be aided against them.

3.     No one shall go to war excepting with the permission of Muhammad

4.     Any disputes shall be referred to Allah and His apostle

5.     Contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib (Medina).

6.     The polytheists (of Medina) shall not take the property or person of Quraysh under his protection, nor shall intervene against a Muslim.

7.      Contracting parties of this document will have protection against attack and injuries

8.     Allah approves this document. Allah is the protector of the good and God-fearing man and Muhammad is the apostle of God.

This is a document Muhammad had created soon after arriving at Medina with his Muslim community as refugees. But if one considers the terms of the document, it is not a document of equitable justice and rights but a constitution of an Islamic state (territory) in which the Jews ‚€“ the wealthiest and dominant community in Medina are placed as a negligible entity. Their life and properties are protected only if they show allegiance to this autocratic document. They do not have the right to arbitrate any dispute, which must be referred to Muhammad. They are bound to join the fight if the Muslims are attacked by external enemies. The Jews and non-Muslims cannot wage a war against their enemies from outside without the permission of the Prophet. The blood of the Jews and other pagans has no value; only the blood of the Muslims would be avenged or compensated. Is this a document any better than the terms Dhimmis historically used to get from the Islamic state? Absolutely not! Are the terms and treatment of the Dhimmis in Islamic state equitable and present justice and human rights? Absolutely not!

Modern-day educated Muslims make so much of such a vile document that presents terms of subjugation, humiliation and gross violation of rights and justice of the non-Muslims. Another thing must be understood that there were nine contracting parties in this document and they were the Muslim refugee and Arab tribes (non-Jewish) who had become essentially Muslims by converting to Islam in great number after Muhammad‚€™s arrival in Medina [Watt (2), p19]. Despite the Jews being influential and economically dominant, none of them were a co-signatory. Some of have only got a peripheral mention. Most importantly, the three most influential and wealthy Jewish clans, namely the Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayzah, got no mention at all. Those Jewish tribes who got negligible mention are likely to be allies of Arab tribes who had been the co-signatory of this document. It should be understood that there was a bitter age-old rivalry between the pagan Arabs and Jewish tribes in Medina. It is also ridiculous that the Jews of Medina, who so stubbornly rejected Muhammad‚€™s religion, would accept this document which does not only recognize him as the apostle of Allah but also put him as the autocratic head of all affairs of Medina soon after his arrival there as a refugee leader. These issues suggest this document might have had been signed in secret between the Muslim refuges and the essentially Islamic Arab tribes (who were fast becoming Islamic) to form an alliance against the Jews. The fact that the Jewish tribes were exiled or exterminated one after another at the first opportunity gives credence to such a purpose behind this so-called equitable and just document famously known as the ‚€˜Constitution of Medina‚€™ in Islam.

Whatsoever, this document has nothing equitable and just towards the non-Muslims. Instead, it is constitution of subjugation, humiliation, deprivation and violation of rights and justice of the non-Muslims in their own territory by a refugee leader.

Conquest of Mecca and Quraysh pagans‚€™ embracing of Islam in great number

Apologist moderate Muslims also typically cite the allegedly peaceful entry of Muslim army into Mecca in 630 and the conversion of large number of the Quraysh to Islam under no duress. Brig. Zaman also did not miss the same as he wrote: "The Muslims occupied Makkah in January, 630 almost unopposed. Makkans in great numbers embraced Islam." 

It is important to consider if the un-opposed entry of the Muslims into Mecca was because they were a peaceful and lovable people or because that the Muslims were deadly and cruel enough to destroy the weak Mecca pagans had they opposed their entry. Weren't the fates of unfortunate Jewish clans of Medina alive in the minds of the Mecca pagan? How come, the Mecca citizens did not choose the religion of peace just two years earlier when Muhammad had led a pilgrimage to Mecca? Instead, they had sought to prevent Muslims‚€™ entry into their city with their lives which resulted in the negotiated signing of the Hudaibiya treaty. 

Is there any evidence that Muslims did any work of peace and love during those two intervening years after singing the Hudaibiya treaty, which might have convinced the Mecca pagan to convert to Islam in such great number as soon as the Muslim conquered Mecca in 630. Instead, Islamic history tells us that Muslims engaged in a number of aggressive and violent attacks, raids and expeditions against non-Muslim tribes and territories around Medina that came within their reach and power during those two intervening years. What then may have convinced the Mecca pagans to embrace Islam in such great number as soon as Muslims captured Mecca?

Let us examine what took place behind this mass conversion of the Quraysh pagans on the day of the Prophet‚€™s capture of Mecca.  By discarding the treaty of Hudaibiya, the Prophet ordered preparation for attacking Mecca. He wanted to take the Quraysh by surprise and so he kept praying as the preparation went on: ‚€œO Allah, take eyes and ears from the Quraysh so that we may take them by surprise in their land‚€ [Ibn Ishaq, 544].

An invincible Muslim army approached near Mecca and camped at Marr al-Zahran at night each lighting fire to show to the Quraysh a glimpse of the huge army assembled. Catching a glimpse of the Muslim army, Al-Abbas who had joined the Muslim camp a while earlier said, ‚€œAlas, Quraysh, if the apostle enters Mecca by force before they come and ask for protection; that will be the end of the Quraysh forever‚€.

Quraysh leader Abu Sufian, Prophet Muhammad‚€™s father-in-law, received the news and set off for a negotiation and mercy to his citizens. On the way, his brother Al-Abbas met him in the darkness and assured him protection and led him to the Prophet. On the way, Omar al-Khattab met them and seeing Abu Sufian, he cried out: ‚€œAbu Sufian, the enemy of God! Thanks be to God who has delivered you up with out agreement or word‚€. He then rushed for his sword, adding: ‚€œLet me take off his head‚€.  [Ibn Ishaq, p547]

Al-Abbas overcame Omar on the ground of his promise of protection to Abu Sufyan and brought him to the prophet, who asked to bring him back the next morning. When brought back the next morning, the apostle said, ‚€œIsn‚€™t it time that you should recognize there is no God but Allah?‚€ When Abu Sufyan showed hesitation, the apostle exclaimed, ‚€œWoe to you, Abu Sufian! Isn‚€™t it time that you recognized that I am the apostle of God?‚€ To which he answered, ‚€œAs to that I still have some doubt.‚€ At this point, Al-Abbas forcefully intervened and said to him, ‚€œSubmit and testify that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the apostle of god before you lose your head‚€; so he did. Then Al-Abbas requested the Prophet to do something for Abu Sufian‚€™s people in Mecca. The Prophet said, ‚€œHe who enters Abu Sufians house is safe, and he who locks his door is safe and he, who enters the mosque (become Muslim) is safe‚€ [Ibn Ishaq, p547-48].

Here is the cruel saga behind Muslims‚€™ lofty claims of Muhammad‚€™s peaceful entry into Mecca and many Quraysh people‚€™s embracing of Islam in great number on that day under no compulsion. Of course, when ‚€˜entering the mosque‚€™, that is, ‚€˜becoming Muslims‚€™ is one of the two choices in face of the complete submission of their city to Muhammad‚€™s army, many Quraysh were to convert to Islam naturally. However, those stubborn ones, who had persisted on practicing idolatry, did not have much time before they were forced to convert to Islam on the pain of death (see the conclusion).


Muhammad‚€™s display of great kindness and forgiveness to the Quraysh

Another gigantic claim Muslims make is about Prophet Muhammad‚€™s display of great generosity and forgiveness to the citizens of Mecca for sparing their lives. This is also a proof of the Prophet‚€™s kindness towards his enemies and tolerance towards people of pagan religion. Muslims give such an impression that never in history, such accordance of forgiveness and tolerance was shown by any leader in the world.  

Let us first consider why the pagans of Quraysh should be considered such great enemies by the Muslims at all, which warranted forgiveness. The bitterness of the rivalry between the Quraysh of Mecca and the Muslims has been clearly outlined once by Allah in the Quran: 

[Quran 2:217] They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: 'Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members.' Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can.... 

The Prophet also describes his rivalry with the Quraysh in the battle field of Badr. As the dead-bodies of the slain Koreish were being unceremoniously thrown into a mass-grave, an indignant Prophet yelled over them:  

‚€œOh people of the pit, you evil kinsfolk of your prophet. Have ye now found true that which your Lord did promise to you? What my Lord promised to me, that have I verily found to be true. Woe unto these people! Ye have rejected me, your Prophet! Ye cast me forth, and others gave me refuge; ye fought against me, and others came to my help!" [Ibn Ishaq, p305-6] 

These statements of the Quran and the Prophet clearly say that the fault of the pagans were their non-acceptance of Muhammad‚€™s new religion, advising others not to accept it, and stopping him from entering the Ka‚€™ba (which was pagan‚€™s sacred temple for centuries), which resulted in the Prophet‚€™s relocation to Medina (seeing a better prospect of success of his religion there). Islamic literatures do not list any incidence of violence by the Quraysh against Muhammad and his converts except some of their slaves who had converted. By ‚€˜ye fought against me‚€™, the Prophet probably meant the fighting and wars that were initiated by the Prophet after relocating to Medina since there is no incidence of fights between them when the Prophet was living in Mecca. 

The Quran is hateful to non-Islamic religions, people and their cultures on every page of it. The Quraysh tolerated the preaching of such hateful messages for 12 years before Muhammad relocated to Medina (al-Hijrah). Quran also makes a claim on the Ka‚€™ba, the most sacred temple of the pagans in Arabia for centuries, as the house of Allah, the God of Muhammad‚€™s new religion. After all these, they never tortured or attacked him other than putting the Muslims under social exclusion for two years, which is very much a civilized measure in even today‚€™s standard. 

This most tolerant and civilized gestures of the Quraysh were termed as ‚€˜tumult and oppression‚€™ which were worse than slaughter in the eyes of Allah and His prophet. So, Muhammad started attacking the Quraysh caravans and killing their people which resulted in a number of blood-letting confrontations. Muhammad disrupted most of the trading pathways of the Quraysh causing great sufferings to them. On top of that, when Muhammad became strong enough, he disregarded an existing treaty and attacked Mecca, captured the Ka‚€™ba and destroyed the idol-gods therein, which were revered by the citizens for centuries. It appears that Muhammad had not yet had enough of barbaric brutalization of the Quraysh of Mecca. Muslims of all shades think that the Quraysh had done such unpardonable crime out of their most civilized and tolerant behavior that Muhammad should have slaughtered them all after capturing Mecca in 630.

Conclusion: No tolerance of other religion or creed in Islam‚€

In truth, there is no total freedom of non-Islamic religions in Islam. Instead, they are relegated to a lower status to Islam or are completely intolerable, which Allah and His apostle made very clear towards the ending stage of the prophet‚€™s career. We have to go back to the verse 9:1-5 mentioned above to explain these issues.

The terms, negotiated by Abu Sufyan, under which the Quraysh were allowed to keep their religion on the day of conquest of Mecca, has been outlined above as accounted by Ibn Ishaq. However, one recalcitrant group of Meccans, who are said to have fallen on the way of Khalid al-Walid‚€™s army, showed a meek resistance and Khalid slaughtered those fallen within his reach and pursued others running for their lives.

Although many Quraysh embraced Islam on that day, there were some who apparently persisted on practicing idolatry and they were allowed to enter the Ka‚€™ba for worships but on paying toll to the Muslim guardian appointed by the Prophet. The Prophet now wanted to do away with the practice of idolatry not only in Ka‚€™ba but the rest of Mecca and elsewhere. To achieve this goal, the verse 9:1-5 (slay the pagans wherever ye find them etc.) were revealed, which will be discussed more in detail here.

Now consider the verse 9:2 & 9:3:

[Q 9:2] Go ye, then, for four months, backwards and forwards, (as ye will), throughout the land, but know ye that ye cannot frustrate Allah (by your falsehood) but that Allah will cover with shame those who reject Him.

[Q 9:3] ‚€¶If then, ye repent, it were best for you; but if ye turn away, know ye that ye cannot frustrate Allah. And proclaim a grievous penalty to those who reject Faith.

So, Allah warned that the pagans were frustrating Him by sticking to paganism and urging them to repent and submit to Islam or else face Allah‚€™s wraths. However, they could only vacillate (go backwards and forwards) for another four months.

On the day of conquest of Mecca the earlier year, Allah and his apostle had promised the safety of the pagans at the pain of accepting defeat and acceding their territory to the Muslim rule. But how does the frustrated Allah, Who has lost patience by now, make those remnant pagans accept Islam unconditionally? Find it out in verses 9:1 and 9:3:

[Q 9:1] Freedom from obligation (is proclaimed) from Allah and His messenger toward those of the idolaters with whom ye made a treaty.

[Q 9:3] And a proclamation from Allah and His messenger to all men on the day of the Greater Pilgrimage that Allah is free from obligation to the idolaters, and (so is) His messenger‚€¶.

Here, Allah and His apostle abruptly break the treaty or obligation of protecting the idolaters made the earlier year. Once made Himself arbitrarily free of any obligation to the pagans, here is how He plots the complete annihilation of the vestiges of idolatry in verse 9:5.

[Q 9:5] But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

Once the forbidden months, that is, the grace period of four months (Q 9:1, 9:4) is over, kill the idolaters wherever you find them and you can use every strategic and deceptive means to accomplish this final goal of Allah. However, they will be spared only if embraced Islam and performed all the rituals and obligations binding on the Muslims. Hence, according to the Koran, the freedom of religion in Islam for the pagans/idolaters (like the Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists etc.) is acceptance of Islam or death. This is how Allah becomes Oft-forgiving and Most Merciful. 

Finally in verse 9:28, Allah specify that complete prohibition of the pagans to enter the Ka‚€™ba. 

[Q 9:28] O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque. And if ye fear poverty, soon will Allah enrich you, if He wills, out of His bounty, for Allah is All-knowing, All-wise. 

Now that the Ka‚€™ba had been cleansed of idolatry, the Prophet could make his pilgrimage the following year in 632, which was also incidentally his last Hajj (farewell Hajj). 

How about the Christians and Jews? Now that position of the idolaters in Islam has been made clear, I will now allude to the final status ordained to the Christians and Jews (people of the book) in Islam. Let us turn to verse 9:28 again. After prohibiting the entry of idolaters for worship and pilgrimage to Ka‚€™ab, Allah recounts the worries of the Muslims as follows: 

[Q 9:28] ‚€¶And if ye fear poverty, soon will Allah enrich you, if He wills, out of His bounty, for Allah is All-knowing, All-wise. 

How this fear of poverty is linked to the prohibition of the entry of the idolaters in Ka‚€™ba? It is because, the Ka‚€™ba had traditionally been a source of great revenue from tips/toll paid by pilgrims coming from far-flung places around Arabia. For this reason, the guardianship of Ka‚€™ba had been the most coveted object amongst the Mecca tribes and was the centre of many disputes and dissensions. When the idolaters are not allowed to enter the Ka‚€™ba, from where to get the lost revenues? It should be understood that in the original Islamic rules, Muslims are supposed to pay only the Zakat (2.5% of produce, profits) and nothing else. This practice was in vogue during the early period of Islam. 

And here in verse 9:29, Allah devise the policy of making up for the lost revenues (from the Ka‚€™ba) as promised in verse 9:28 (soon will Allah enrich you‚€¶): 

[Q 9:29] Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued

The stubborn Jews and Christians, the so-called people of the book in Islam, need not convert to Islam. They can keep their religion by accepting subjugation and submission to the Muslim rule and paying Jizyah, which was to make up for the revenues lost from the coffer of Ka‚€™ba as a result of complete prohibition of idolatry. 

Idolatry, which is out and out disapproved by Allah, cannot be tolerated. However, the people of the book, despite the faulty and unperfected nature of their religion, can be tolerated but at a price, which is accepting subjugation (lower status) to the supreme and perfect truth of Islam and by paying the Jizyah. After all, same Allah was the architect of those religions which must contain His partial truth and guidance. On the hand, religion of idolatry, paganism or heathenism holds no truth but complete falsehood and is an affront to the almighty creator and must be annihilated. 

Modern educated Muslims‚€™ spreading the cooked-up notion of Islam‚€™s according ‚€˜total religious freedom to all other religions‚€™, thus, amounts to misinforming, misleading and spreading falsehood. This has been called the spreading of mischief and hypocrisy, that is, fitnah or al-fasad in the Islamic jargons. The punishment for spreading fitnah in Islam is death, crucifixion or cutting-off hands and feet from opposite ends.



1.     Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad (Sirat Rasul Allah, trs. A Guillaume) Oxford University Press, Karachi.

2.     William Muir, The Life of Mahomet, Voice of India, New Delhi, 2002.

3.      WM Watt, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1981

4.      WM Watt (2), Islam and The Integration of Society, Routledge & Kegan Paul; London, 1961   [Hit Counter]