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The Misunderstood Hadith - 'I Have Been Commanded To Fight the People Until They Say There Is No God but Allah’ - misused by terrorist ideologues and Islamophobes

By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi, New Age Islam

22 December 2018

This Hadith “I have been commanded to fight the people [al-Naas] until they say There is no god but Allah ….” is misunderstood and misused by terrorist groups, Islamophobes and dozens of Muslims and non-Muslims.

A number of widely popular authentic books of Ahadith narrate this Hadith to be authentic. Even mainstream Muslims from the early days till now have supported this Hadith to be authentic. Hadith scholars and jurists have always held the view that any Hadith contradicting the Quran should be considered obsolete, while at the same time, if they find anything to be really Hadith on the criteria of checking authenticity of Hadith, their primary duty is to see the conformity between the Quran and that Hadith. In case of being able to make conformity, they apply that Hadith, otherwise they consider that Hadith obsolete and agree with the Quran. Numerous examples concerning this are seen in their books. One example is related to this Hadith quoted above. 

This Hadith “I have been commanded to fight ‘the people’...”, as said earlier, is misunderstood by terrorist groups. Islamophobes and some non-Muslims also consider it to be Hadith.  They also think much in the same way as the terrorist groups that the Hadith is universal and meant for forced conversion- which is absolutely incorrect as proven in this write-up.

Some reject this Hadith with the argument that this was compiled in the second century of Hijrah and that this is entirely in disagreement with the message of the Quran. Let us assume and hold the view that this Hadith is truly Hadith of the Prophet with the arguments of mainstream Muslim scholars that the ‘second-century claim’ for Hadith corpus is baseless and genuine approach of checking it, whether or not to be a Hadith, inclines to consider it to be Hadith and thus there could be a meaning which is not in disagreement with the Quran.  

Islamophobes, terrorists and other non-Muslims will never accept this rejection of the Hadith, may be for the intention they have. God Almighty Alone knows it best. No matter who does what and why? Our duty should be to find out the truth with the blessing of Allah. This write-up in its genuine approach has made effort to get the truth and the following is the result.   

First it is better to hold the view that Jihadist and Islamophobic understanding of this Hadith is categorically different from the mainstream scholars, classical, traditional or contemporary. If any scholar belonging to any period or any class has ever displayed the understanding just as the Jihadists and Islamophobes are doing today, he can be easily defeated by the understanding which is full in agreement with the Quran. How is it that the popular understanding and application of this Hadith is different from the terrorist groups? Let us see it now.

The original text of this Hadith is in Arabic “أمرت أن أقاتل الناس حتى يقولوا لا إله إلا الله “which is roughly and commonly translated as “I have been commanded to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah…” The problem with understanding of this Hadith between two groups occurs for some reasons detailed as follows

It is highly required for a man having passion for reaching true and satisfactory understanding of the Quran, Sunnah and Hadith to adopt right methodology. Without going in depth and touching upon wider area of right methodology, I am going to discuss it here in short, only up to the point necessarily relevant for this foregoing subject of discussion. So this short point first requires us to learn the linguistic knowledge of Arabic, or at least the basic idea related to ‘Dalalat or Madloolat al-Alfaz’, so as to remove doubts and reach right understanding of the Hadith.

Admittedly, all Ulama, classical, traditional and contemporary, mutually agree with the point that a Hadith can’t go or should not be interpreted against the Quran. If we interpret this Hadith, as the terrorist groups are doing today, to mean that an aggressive war is commanded against the people until they accept Islam, this will contradict the Quranic verses which, as we will show, do not give any injunction to propagate Islam by a war of aggression.    

Alif and Lam are two separate Arabic letters. They are often used together as a single article ‘Alif-Lam’ or ‘Al’ and thereby known as Alif Lam Ta’rif (the definite article). The definite article Alif-Lam is a prefix necessarily found in some Asma’a (nouns). We may use English article ‘The’ as its closest equivalent but not regularly so. Alif Lam has several facets in Arabic language and majorly classified into two types; Ismi and Harfi.

Alif Lam Ismi is the article that is either prefixed to Ism al-Faail (the word that describes the doer of an action and can also be called ‘subject’) or to Ism al-Mafool (the word that describes the object of an action) and gives the meaning of ‘Alladhi’ (relative pronoun ‘who’ or ‘that’). 

Alif Lam Harfi is also divided into two kinds; 1) Zayd (surplus) and 2) Ghair Zayd.

Alif Lam Zaid is prefixed to A’alam (proper names) such as Al-Husain and Al-Hasan and this Alif-Lam Zaid has no clear impact on meaning if omitted from these proper names.

Another type of Alif Lam is Ghair Zayd that is of four types; 1) Jinsi, 2) Istighraqi, 3) Ahd Zihni and 4) Ahd Khariji.     

To understand these four types of Alif Lam Ghair Zayd, it is essential to understand that a word has a definition (Haqiqat) and constituents (Afraad) which are entities or members included in that definition. For example, the Arabic word ‘Rajul/رجل’ (lit. man) is a definition whereas Khalid, Hasan, Ahmad etc are constituents of this definition. While uttering a word such as ‘Rajul’ one may concentrate on the definition itself or perhaps all, some or a specific member of its constituents. For instance, “Man is stronger than a boy”, “I fear that man may cheat her”, and “the man has gone”. In all these examples, the focus of the word man is different.

Similarly in Arabic language, Alif Lam Ghair Zayd is one of the devises used to vary attention and thus Alif Lam is given four different names. (1) When Alif-Lam is prefixed to any word to focus on the definition [Haqiqat] of that word and not its constituents, it is known as Alif Lam Jinsi. (2) When Alif Lam is prefixed to any word to focus on all the constituents of that word, it is called Alif Lam Istighraqi. (3) When Alif Lam refers to some of the constituents of the word to which it prefixed, it may refer to some unspecified constituents or to some specific constituents. When it refers to some unspecified constituents, it is called Alif Lam Ahd Zihni. (4) When Alif Lam refers to some specific constituents of the word to which it is prefixed, it is called Alif Lam Ahd Khariji. 

Technically checking the letters ‘Alif Lam’ mentioned in the aforementioned Hadith, we find that here in this Hadith ‘Alif Lam’ is meant for Ahd Khariji. Thus the Hadith means “I have been commanded to fight some specific people until they say ‘There is no god but Allah ....”

Obviously some specific people meant in this Hadith were those who had persecuted the Prophet and his followers for as long as 14 or 15 years in the city of Makkah. The context of that era could be shortly portrayed as follows.

“Those who embraced the religion chosen for them by Allah were subjected to all sorts of indignities and persecutions. Hadrat Bilal was rolled on the glowing embers. Yasir and his wife Samiya were wounded with spears. Not to speak of the poor and the helpless, even the blue-blooded could not go unmolested. For instance, Osman’s uncle would tightly wrap him in a fresh animal skin, and throw him in the scorching sun. The searing sun, profuse sweat and foul smell of the skin would choke his breath and be unbearably excruciating and painful. Similarly, Abu Bakr was once subjected to such a cruel and painful torture that he lay unconscious for a long time. Besides inflicting physical torture, they stooped to make them the butts of their playful jokes.

They raised baseless objections to the verses revealed by Allah, derided the injunctions of Shariat. In brief, they left no stone unturned. Although the Muslims suffered heartless oppression, torture and abuse for thirteen years, yet they were not allowed to exact a measure of retaliation. They were commanded to persevere patiently. During the thirteenth year after the declaration of his Prophet-hood, Allah commanded the prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions to migrate. They carried out Allah’s command worshipfully and migrated to Madina –nearly 300 miles away from Makkah. Still the animosity of the inveterate enemies of Islam had not subsided. They inflicted fresh injuries on the Muslims; robbed them of the peace of mind and heart. A band of pagan Arabs would raid the pastures of the Muslims and take away their cattle. If they encounter a lonely Muslim, they would not hesitate in killing him mercilessly.

“For as long as 14 or 15 years, the Muslims suffered insults, outrages and injuries at the hands of their persecutors. They bore all these indignities with the utmost humility and patience. When the aggression and ruthlessness of the pagan Arabs grew more hotly than ever, Allah granted permission to the believers to take up arms in their own defence and make the mischief-loving pagan Arabs believe that the torch of Islam – that lights up darkness – would never be allowed to be blown out. Likewise the flag held aloft for the dissemination of the truth will never be let down, however hot they might grow. This torch will remain lit until the doomsday. And the flag of the truth will continue to flutter so long as the world exits. (Zia-ul-Quran, Vol: 3; p.218-/ The Enlightening Commentary on the War Related Quranic Verses- Part 2

Initially the Muslims were not given permission to fight back even in defence. The Quranic verses which initially debarred Muslims from fighting in defence are as follows;

“Repel evil with the best deeds; We well know the matters that they fabricate”. (23:96)

“So forgive them and excuse them; indeed Allah loves the virtuous”. (5:13)

“And be patient over what they say and avoid them with gracious avoidance”. (73:10)

“Then if they turn away, O dear Prophet, (Mohammed – peace and blessings be upon him) upon you is nothing but to clearly convey (the message)”. (16:82)

“Therefore advise; indeed you are a proclaimer of advice. (The Holy Prophet is a Remembrance from Allah.) You are not at all a guardian over them”. (88:21-22)

“And you are not one to use force over them” (50:45)

But later the revelation of 2:190 allowed fighting against those who had persecuted for 14 or 15 years and initiated fighting, as the verse reads “And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Truly Allah loves not the transgressors.” (2:190). [Read this point in more details, An Enlightening Commentary on the War Related Quranic Verses- Part-1 on 2:190]

It was during the war ongoing between the pagans of Makka and the Muslims that the Prophet said, “I have been commanded to fight some specific people [pagans of Makkah or religious persecutors] until they say “there is no god but Allah ....”. It was stipulated that even during the wartime if anyone came and uttered ‘there is no god but Allah’, the fighting would not be waged against him. This stipulation was not primarily or purposely for forceful conversion, but rather it was because the pagans of Makka had exceeded in their enmity against Muslims so much that they, being pagans of Makka, could not tolerate the faith of Muslims. This excessive enmity of the pagans was properly understood by the Prophet (peace be upon him) and he knew that these specific pagans would not refrain from attacking him and his followers living as civilians of Madina and that the Quranic verse 2:190 had allowed him to fight back in defence, so he declared, “I have been commanded to fight the people [specific pagans of Makkah] until they say ‘there is no god but Allah....”. In short, forced conversion is never justified but when the war had to be waged from both sides, an exceptional condition was stipulated that if any persecutor during the war already waged uttered ‘there is no god but Allah’, fighting would not be waged against him.

This however does not support the view that a person or an organization starts fighting with intention of forced conversion, as the purpose of fighting in the full context of this Hadith was to stop persecution and not to justify forced conversion. In the broader understanding, it can be explained that the persecutors gave Muslims two options; stop following Islam or get ready for being killed, while the Muslims had given three options to the persecutors of Makka; 1) stop persecuting the Muslims, or 2) utter “there is no god but Allah” or 3) get ready for fighting as it was too much to have patience against persecutions.           

Another point to correct the misunderstanding related to this Hadith is that the Arabic word ‘Uqatilu / أقاتل’, as per the rule of Arabic Morphology/Etymology [Ilm al-sarf] is from the schema of ‘Mufa’alat’ which is noted for involvement of two persons, things or groups in the meaning of the word which comes on the pattern of this schema. Thus the word ‘Uqatilu’ refers to involvement of two persons or two groups in the state of fighting. This word ‘Uqatilu’ does not refer to one-side fighting or offensive fighting. Linguistically speaking, this word ‘Qaatala/ Yuqatilu/ Uqatilu/ Nuqatilu/ Tuqatilu’ or any of its derivatives in Arabic is used only when two groups have entered into the state of war.

It was this war or fighting referred to as ‘Uqatilu’ in the Hadith “I have been commanded to fight the specific people ...’ in the state of which the Quranic verse 2:191 was to be applied. This Quranic verses 2:191 “kill them wherever you find them ...” and 9:5 “kill the Mushrikin wherever you find them” were specific for specific people. In the words of popular classical Hanafi exegetes Al-Baydawi [d. 685 H] and Al-Alusi [d. 1270H] the word ‘Mushrikin’ refers to “Nakithin’ [lit. Those who violated peace treaties by waging war against Muslims] and in the words of Abu Bakr al-Jassas [d. 370 H] only to “the mushrikin of Arab” [the pagans of Makka who were persecuting Muslims]

Imam Jalaluddin Suyuti writes, “In his commentary on the above mentioned Quranic Ayah 9:5, Imam Ibn Hatim quotes Hazrat Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him, who was the companion and cousin of the beloved Prophet peace be upon him) as saying: ‘The Mushrikin mentioned in this Ayah refer to those Mushrikin of Quraish with whom the Prophet –peace be upon him- had made treaty [of peace]”. He also reports, “Imam Ibn Munzir, Ibn Abi Hatim and Abu Shaikh (may Allah be pleased with them) have quoted Hazrat Muhammad bin Ibad b. Jafar as saying “These Mushrikin are Banu Khuzaima b. Amir who belong to  Bani Bakr b. Kananah”  (Durr-e-Manthoor, V.3, p.655- Urdu version) For more details, one can read this article, Did War-related Madani Verses Abrogate Makki Verses in the Sense of Not Allowing Peaceful Coexistence between Muslims and Non-Muslims?

This understanding so far clear from the afore-mentioned discussion that “the people” mentioned in the Hadith were specifically for specific pagans of Makkah is the best and in full agreement with the Quran and other Ahadith. This Hadith can’t be applied outside that specific war waged between pagans of the Makka and the early believers. It is thus not applicable today for anyone to quote this Hadith for forced conversion or initiating offensive war or violating peace treaties, otherwise it will be categorically in disagreement with the following Quranic verses which universally forbid forceful conversion and with those Ahadith which universally forbid the killing of peaceful non-Muslims.

The Quranic verses Forbidding Forceful-Conversion

“There is no compulsion at all in Deen (Religion). Surely, the guidance has become evidently distinguished from error. So he who rejects false gods and believes in Allah has grasped such a firm handhold that will never loosen. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” (2:256)

“And if your Lord willed, all those who are in the earth – every one of them – would have accepted faith; so will you (O dear Prophet Mohammed – peace and blessings be upon him) force the people until they become Muslims?” (The Quran -10:99)

“And proclaim, “The Truth is from your Lord”; so whoever wills may accept faith, and whoever wills may disbelieve – We have indeed prepared for the wrongdoers [Zalimin] a fire the walls of which will surround them; if they plead for water, their plea will be answered with water like molten metal which shall scald their faces; what an evil drink it is; and what an evil destination is hell!” (The Quran - 18:29)

The verse “There is no compulsion at all in Din (Religion)” is not abrogated as can be seen in this article;  Has the Ayat, La Ikraha fid Deen (There is No Compulsion in Religion), been Abrogated?

The Ahadith Forbidding Killing of non-Muslims

We discussed earlier that if by the word ‘the people /al-Nas’ mentioned in the Hadith we mean all people in addition to the pagans of Makkah, it will contradict the Quranic verses as quoted above and the following Ahadith and thereby a totally wrong understanding.  

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said,

أَلاَ مَنْ ظَلَمَ مُعَاهِدًا أَوِ انْتَقَصَهُ أَوْ كَلَّفَهُ فَوْقَ طَاقَتِهِ أَوْ أَخَذَ مِنْهُ شَيْئًا بِغَيْرِ طِيبِ نَفْسٍ فَأَنَا حَجِيجُهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ‏"


 “Beware, if anyone persecutes any peaceful non-Muslim citizen [Mu’ahid], or diminishes his right, or forces him to work beyond his capacity, or takes from him anything without his consent, I shall plead for him on the Day of Judgment.” (Please see Sunan Abi Dawud – Book 20, Hadith 125- Arabic reference).

The purport of this Hadith is that if any Muslim persecutes any peaceful non-Muslim citizen, or diminishes his right and so on, as mentioned above in the Hadith, the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) will plead for that peaceful non-Muslim on the Day of Judgment.

This Hadith is not simply a warning but a law promulgated in the blessed era of the beloved Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) even after the conquest of Makka [Fath-e-Makka]. This law is still a part of Islam. There is not a single hint of its being abrogated. Thus, according to the great Ulema and Fuqaha of Islam, this law is universal and all-time valid in its essence and application. Therefore, none of the followers of Ahadith or the followers of the interpretation of great Ulema and Fuqaha should hesitate to accept the message inherent in this Hadith.

Similar Hadith has been reported by several well-known Muhaddethin like Bukhari, Nasai, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, as follows;

Whoever kills a peaceful non-Muslim living in minority [Mu'ahid] shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise, though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of travelling). (Sahih Bukhari, Book 87, Hadith 52)

 “Whoever kills a peaceful non-Muslim living in minority or under Muslim-governed country [Mu'ahad] with no justification, Allah will forbid Paradise to him.” (Sunan Nasai, Book 45, Chapter “Seriousness of killing the Mua’hid”, Hadith 42)

 “If anyone unjustly kills a peaceful non-Muslim living in minority or Muslim protection [Mu’ahid], Allah will forbid him [the killer] to enter Paradise” (Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 15, Hadith 284)

 “Indeed, whoever kills a peaceful non-Muslim living in minority or under the Muslim protection [Mu'ahid] that has a covenant from Allah and a covenant from His Messenger (peace be upon him), then he has violated the covenant with Allah and the covenant of His Messenger, so he shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise; even though its fragrance can be sensed from the distance of seventy autumns.” (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Book 16, Hadith 19)

 “Whoever kills a peaceful non-Muslim living under the protection of Muslim-run country [Mu’ahid], will not smell the fragrance of Paradise, even though its fragrance may be detected from a distance of forty years” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 21, Hadith 2789-Arabic reference)

 “Whoever kills a peaceful non-Muslim (living in Muslim-run country) who has the covenant with Allah and the covenant with his Messenger, will not smell the fragrance of Paradise, even though its fragrance may be detected from a distance of seventy years” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 21, Hadith 2788-Arabic reference)

Besides there are other Ahadith which forbid killing of non-Muslim children, women, sick or elder and other non-warriors; which can be also considered evidence that war can’t be waged against non-warriors.

(1)      “Do not kill any child, any woman, or any elder or sick person.” (Sunan Abu Dawud)

(2)      “Do not practice treachery or mutilation. (Muwatta Malik)

(3)   “Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter the cattle.” (Sahih Bukhari; Sunan Abu Dawud)

(4)      “Do not kill the monks in monasteries, and do not kill those sitting in places of worship. (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal)

(5)      “Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees. (Al-Muwatta)

(6)      “Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy; pray to Allah to grant you security; but when you [are forced to] encounter them, exercise patience.” (Sahih Muslim)

(7)      “No one may punish with fire except the Lord of Fire.” (Sunan Abu Dawud).     

Explanation of the Hadith “I have been commanded to fight the people...” by Contemporary Scholars and Ulama

Sheikh al-Azhar, during an interview also uploaded on YouTube, was asked to explain the Hadith “I have been commanded to fight the people ....” His implication was that the extremist people’s understanding of this Hadith is wrong. The word “the people [al-nas]” mentioned in this Hadith was meant only for the pagans of Makkah who drove the Prophet and his companions out of their homeland Makkah, continuously persecuted them for about 9 years and initiated attacks against him and his companions. He implies that if the understanding of the extremist people is supposed to be true, this Hadith will contradict those Ahadith in which fighting against Jews, Christians [Ahle Kitab/ people of book] and other non-Muslims were forbidden. Thus it is therefore, he says, not allowed to adopt the general meaning of word “the people [al-Nas]”, as this was meant only for a specific group of people. He briefly discusses the technical application of two letters used as one ‘Alif Lam or ‘al+noun’ and says that in Arabic ‘al’ comes for two reasons; 1) ‘al’ for Jins [specie] and ‘al’ for Ahd [specific individuals]. Here, he says, ‘Alif Lam’ is for Ahd, that is, for specific pagans of Makka who had persecuted the Prophet and his followers.  (see:

Dr. Adnan, though a controversial figure, in one of his speeches uploaded on YouTube urges his audience to keep away from “the understanding of all Takfiri groups that unfortunately do exist and say, “The Prophet says I was ordered to fight the people, all the people, in all times and all places”. He asks the audience to “keep away from all such ignorance of Takfiri groups and stop making such a false accusation against Islam due to lack of knowledge and understanding.” He says, “the Four Imams, Ahmad b. Hanbal, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi’i and Malik (May Allah Almighty be pleased with them) have clearly expressed their opinion in this regard. We do not need to hear others. We do not need to hear any Jihadi groups or anyone except for the four Imams. The Four Imams unanimously agreed that the word “people” (Nas), (عام يراد به خصوص) is general intended for specific people”. He then gives a number of examples from the holy Quran to show that the word ‘the people’/al-Nas has been used to mean only some specific people and not all people. (

Doctor Abdul Mahdi Abdul Qadir holds the view that this Hadith does not contradict the Quranic verses, but rather it conforms to the Quranic verses in the sense that the fighting was initiated to stop persecution and attain religious freedom for the people. He holds the view that the pagans of Makka persecuted Muslims because they had started following Islam. He also refutes the Hadith rejecters [Munikirin –e-Hadith] with the explanation that they have forcefully attributed false meaning to this Hadith and supposed as if this Hadith were like “I have been commanded to fight all people of the world until they accept Islam under compulsion”. He says “such interpretation of this Hadith by Hadith rejecters is false and misguiding because Islam has nothing to do with compulsion”.  (Dr. Abdul Mahdi, Dafu’ al-Shubhat An al-Sunnah Al-Nabawiyya, Arabic edition, p.168-172, Maktabatul Iman)    

This write-up concludes that by the word ‘the people’ mentioned in the Hadith, were meant only some specific people who were religious persecutors of Makka and that this Hadith never justified forced conversion. Applying this Hadith outside this context to make it universal or justify forced conversion just as the Jihadist groups are doing today is categorically against the Quran and numerous Ahadith as mentioned above.

(Allah Almighty Knows The Best!)

A regular Columnist with, Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (Classical Islamic scholar) with a Sufi background and English-Arabic-Urdu Translator.


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