We are often told that Muslims are commanded to be just and honest and it is certainly true that the Koran contains many verses requiring exactly this of Muslims (see for example: K.2:282; 3:18; 4:58; 6:152 to give but a few examples).

This article is only going to consider “Islamic honesty”. “Islamic Justice” is quite separate issue that involves the study of Shariah Law on which “Islamic Justice” is based.

In the matter of honesty, as is so often the case in the Koran, the verses noted above and other similar verses do not tell the whole story and a more detailed study shows that Islamic honesty is at best a variable and at worst a negotiable quantity, depending on what will benefit Islam most.

Consider the uses to which Islam puts both Zakat (the much vaunted “Islamic charity tax”), Khums (the 20% share for Allah/Muhammad of war-booty of all sorts) and Fai (war-spoils abandoned by an enemy, occupied territory etc.).


The Koran and Tafseers

Key verse of the Koran for this is 9:60

(Hilali-Khan): As-Sadaqat (here it means Zakat) are only for the Fuqara (poor), and Al-Masakin (the destitute) and those employed to collect (the funds); and to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islam); and to free the captives; and for those in debt; and for Allah's Cause (i.e. for Mujahidoon – those fighting in the holy wars), and for the wayfarer (a traveller who is cut off from everything); a duty imposed by Allah. And Allah is All-Knower, All-Wise.”

Other translations interpret the emboldened phrase above as:

Asad: “...and those whose hearts are to be won over...” Note the future tense.

Dawood: “...those whose hearts are sympathetic to the Faith...” A clear reference to non-Muslims.

Haleem: “...those whose hearts need winning over...” Note the future tense.

Irving: “... those (possible converts) whose hearts are being reconciled…” Irving is very clear here.

Kanz-ul Eeman: “...for those whose hearts are to be conciliated for Islam...” this makes one purpose clear.

Malik: “... those whose hearts need to be won over to the truth ...” Malik makes it more urgent.

Nooruddin & Omar: “...those whose hearts require to be consoled...” Note the future tense, “consolation” is ambiguous.

Pickthall: “...those whose hearts are to be reconciled...”  Again, future tense.

Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute:“... those whose hearts are to be reconciled ...” Ditto

Saheeh Int'l: “...for bringing hearts together (for Islam)...”   Ditto

Shakir: “... those whose hearts are made to incline (to truth)...” Note the phrase “are made to incline” by the gift of money “to truth” i.e. Islam.

Stephens-Darwish: “... and to influence hearts (to belief)...”

Yuksel, et al: “...those whose hearts are to be reconciled...” Again, note the future tense.

contrast the above with:

V. Ahamed: “... For those whose hearts have turned (to truth and belief recently)...” i.e. “new” Muslims.

Arberry: “... those whose hearts are brought together ...” implicitly “with Muslims” - i.e. new converts.

Rodwell: “...and to those whose hearts are won (to Islam)...”  i.e. “new” Muslims.

Sale: “...unto those whose hearts are reconciled...” ditto.

Yousaf Ali: “... for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth);” ditto.

The majority view is clearly that one of the uses of Zakat money is to "reconcile" or “win over” people's hearts to Islam or to Muhammad. This obviously refers to giving non-Muslims money in order to entice them to become Muslims or to favour Muslims – i.e. bribing them.

Let me also note that this is the only reason for which a non-Muslim can receive anything from Zakat. Put another way, the other categories apply solely to Muslims.

Let me emphasise that I'm not claiming Muslims won't give charity to non-Muslims, merely that the Zakat giving can (basically) only be used for Muslims. If a Muslim chooses to give more than Zakat demands, it can be used however the donor wishes. However, there is a corollary: Muslim charities that accept Zakat payments (almost all of them) do tend to concentrate their efforts in helping Muslims rather than offering aid irrespective of creed since this simplifies their administration and renders it unnecessary to keep Zakat and free-will charity donations separately accounted. Again note that I'm not saying all Muslim charities do this, some are careful to separate the two types of giving.

In the view of Ahamed, Rodwell, Sale and Yousaf Ali the Zakat money is given to those who are new converts to Islam to cement their allegiance – i.e. to bribe them to remain “good” Muslims.

I should add that in his footnotes Rodwell writes that this money was given to  “petty Arab chiefs with whom Muhammad made terms ...in order to secure their followers”. Thus although Muhammad gave the money to bribe new converts according to Rodwell's translation, part of it at least was used to bribe the rest of the tribe(s) into following Muhammad and Islam according to Rodwell's footnote. Thus Rodwell confirms that both forms of bribe were used.

Nooruddin & Omar's phrase “... require to be consoled...” can be taken to mean either or both of the meanings above.

In case someone thinks I am “misinterpreting” the Koran, or taking the verse “out of context”, how do the Tafseer writers interpret this verse?

“You're misinterpreting” (or “misunderstanding”) the Koran is a favourite ploy by Muslims when speaking to non-Muslims. The best defence is to refer to the authoritative Tafseers to see how eminent Muslims through time have understood and interpreted the Koran.

The “out-of-context” argument is another favourite ploy. Again the Tafseers provide the best defence against this. But there is an irony here: Muslims themselves often quote single verses or even verse fragments to make a point – but that's never quoting out-of-context, indeedy not, no Sirree.


The Tafseers

Tafseers are commentaries on the Koran. What needs to be understood is that they are used in order to give context to the verses of the Koran. An associated branch of the “Islamic sciences” is called “Asbāb al-Nuzūl” - “the contexts and occasions of the Revelation of the Quran”. All Tafseers aim to make the Koran more intelligible and to clarify the meaning of verses. I have selected both “classical” - including the pre-eminent Tafseer of ibn Kathir – and modern Tafseers for comparison. Footnotes at the end of the article give some extra details about the authors.

Tafsir al-Jalalayn: The voluntary almsgivings, the alms to be dispensed, are only for the poor, who cannot find anything to suffice them in the least, and the needy, who cannot find anything to suffice them, and those who work with them, that is, ... the one who collects (them), the one who takes the oaths (from those who claim them), the slave to be manumitted by contract, as well as the tax-summoner; and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, so that they might become Muslims, or that Islam might be firmly established, or that their peers might become Muslims, or that they might defend Muslims, all of whom are (classed according to different) categories. Comment: Here we see clearly that the aim of giving money to non-Muslims is to bribe them either to convert, and/or encourage others to do the same, to increase Shariah compliance, or to defend Muslims. This latter-most means more than physical defence, it can include any form of defence of Muslims or Islam itself – from criticism for instance.

Tafsir Ibn Abbas: Allah then explained who is entitled to these alms, saying: (The alms are only for the poor) for the folk of the Platform (and the needy) among the pilgrims, (and those who collect them) i.e. the collectors of alms, (and those whose hearts are to be reconciled) by giving them gifts such as Abu Sufyan and his companions. Comment: Ibn Abbas actually gives an example of the use of Zakat to bribe non-Muslims (here the pagan Quraish – Abu Sufyan et al) to act in a way favourable (or perhaps less unfavourably!) towards Islam.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir: There are those who are given alms to embrace Islam. For instance, the Prophet of Allah gave something to Safwan bin Umayyah [aka Abu Sufyan] from the war spoils of Hunayn, even though he attended it while a Mushrik. Safwan said, "He kept giving me until he became the dearest person to me after he had been the most hated person to me.''  Imam Ahmad recorded that Safwan bin Umayyah said, "The Messenger of Allah gave me (from the spoils of) Hunayn while he was the most hateful person to me. He kept giving me until he became the most beloved person to me.'' Muslim and At-Tirmidhi collected this Hadith, as well. Some of Al-Mu'allafatu Qulubuhum are given from alms so that they become better in Islam and their heart firmer in faith. For instance, the Prophet gave some of the chiefs of the Tulaqa' a hundred camels each after the battle of Hunayn, saying, "I give a man (from the alms) while another man is dearer to me than him, for fear that Allah might throw him on his face in the fire of Jahannam." It is recorded in the Two Sahihs that Abu Sa`id said that `Ali sent the Messenger of Allah a gold nugget still in its dirt from Yemen. The Prophet divided it between four men: Al-Aqra` bin Habis, `Uyaynah bin Badr, `Alqamah bin `Ulathah and Zayd Al-Khayr, saying, "To draw their hearts closer." Some people are given because some of his peers might embrace Islam, while others are given to collect alms from surrounding areas, or to defend Muslim outposts. Allah knows best. Comment: ibn Kathir extends the examples to several categories: those Muhammad could bribe to convert, those for whom a bribe would make them “more Muslim” (despite what ibn Kathir says, in practice this meant bind them tighter to sword-jihad under Muhammad – many of those so bribed tried to leave Islam on the death of Muhammad which caused Abu Bakr to institute the “Ridda” or “apostasy” wars against them), to entice someone's peers to become Muslim (on seeing how bribes enriched their friend) and to defend Muslims, which ibn Kathir sees in purely military terms.

(In case it might be thought that these are merely old ideas that no longer have currency, here are three modern Tafseer writers of the 19-20th Century A.D.)

Maududi: A portion of Zakat Funds may also be given to win over to Islam those who might be engaged in anti-lslamic activities or to those in the camp of the unbelievers who might be brought to help the Muslims or to those newly converted Muslims, who might be inclined to revert to kufr [apostatise] if no monetary help was extended to them. It is permissible to award pensions to them or give them lump sums of money to make them helpers of Islam or submissive to it or at least to render them into harmless enemies. A portion of the spoils or other incomes may be spent on them and, if need be, also a portion of Zakat Funds. In such cases, the condition of being needy or indigent or on a journey etc., is also waived; nay, they might be even rich people or chiefs who are otherwise not eligible for anything from Zakat Funds. Comment: Maududi  is writing in the 20th century and as such affirms that the uses of Zakat etc. have not changed over time since they can still be  used to “win over” or bribe those engaged in “anti-lslamic activities” to make them “into harmless enemies” or to bribe unbelievers to help Muslims or to bribe new converts.

M. Shafi: In his “Maariful Quran” Shafi takes no less than 24 pages to discuss this verse alone. Here is the pertinent bit: “These were people who were given Sadaqat [here Zakat] so that their attitude towards Islam could be mollified. The general impression about this category is that it included both Muslims and non-Muslims. The object was to persuade non-Muslims in favour of Islam and neo-Muslims to become more firm [in allegiance]”. Comment: again a modern Tafseer writer states that bribery is fine and dandy – provided it benefits Islam.

Sayyid Qutb: the sūrah makes clear that the final decision on the distribution of charity does not belong to the Prophet. It is all God’s decision, and it is He who determines which groups of people are entitled to receive a share. .. Its beneficiaries are certain groups of people specified in the Qur’ān. There can be no addition to, or reduction from, these groups by anyone, not even the Prophet himself...“And those whose hearts are to be won over.” This description applies to several groups of people. Among them may be people who are newcomers to Islam and it is felt that they may be helped to consolidate their conviction of its truth. Also included in this category are those whom we hope to win over to the faith. Similarly, we may include here people who have already become Muslim, but we may give them zakāt money to win over some of their colleagues and friends who may start to think about Islam when they see that those who have become Muslim are being given gifts. Comment: Qutb is almost blunt is stating that Zakat can be used to bribe non-Muslims to convert, to bribe new Muslims to consolidate their faith and to lure (avaricious) non-Muslims who see those Muslims getting bribes .


The Hadith:

The hadith are collections of “the sayings of Muhammad”. I have limited myself to the six most important Sunni collections in what follows.

Sahih Muslim has an entire chapter entitled “Bestowal upon one who is not firm in faith” amounting to 16 recorded Ahadith, beginning with 2300.

Bk 5, Number 2300: Sa'd reported that 'the Messenger of Allah bestowed (some gifts) upon a group of people ... however [he] left a person and he did not give him anything … [I] said: “Messenger of Allah, what about so and so? By Allah, I find him a believer.” Upon this he (Muhammad) said: “He may be a Muslim. I often bestow (something) upon a person... because of the fear that he may fall headlong into the fire.” (And in the hadith transmitted by Hulwani this statement was repeated twice.)' Comment: here we see that Muhammad gives giftsbecause of the fear that he may fall into the [hell]firei.e. may remain a non-Muslim, or leave Islam. Thus Muhammad is attempting to bribe people to convert or remain in Islam. The source of the “gifts” is not defined. Hadith 2301 and 2302 repeat the hadith with a different Isnad.

An “Isnad” or “Sanad” is the chain of narration. It must be realised that the Hadith were only written down in the great collections about 250 years after the death of Muhammad. Thus the hadith were originally part of the oral tradition that was passed on generationally through narrators. Hence, by the time the Hadith were compiled into the great Sahih collections of Bukhari and Muslim each hadith would have a chain of people who had narrated it orally one to the other. This chain of narrators is the Isnad or Sanad. Bukhari and Muslim were scrupulous in ensuring that only hadith narrated by reliable and complete chains of narrators were included in their collections in order to establish (as far as possible) the provenance of the hadith. (I should add that there is much more to Hadith classification than this, which is just a thumbnail sketch of the Isnad and it's purpose.)

2303: Anas b. Malik reported that 'when on the Day of Hunain Allah conferred upon His Apostle  the riches of Hawazin (without armed encounter), the Messenger of Allah set about distributing to some persons of Quraish one hundred camels. Upon this they (the young people from the Ansar) said: “May Allah grant pardon to the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) that he bestowed (these camels) upon the people of Quraish, and he ignored us, whereas our swords are still dripping blood. … the Messenger of Allah said: “I give (at times material gifts) to persons who were quite recently in the state of unbelief, so that I may incline them to truth ...” Comment: despite interpolation into the English text “without armed encounter”, the phrase “our swords are still dripping blood” tells us that the Muslims had just finished killing those of the Hawazin who had not fled and already Muhammad was giving bribes to non-Muslims and/or recent converts from the war-booty. Hadith 2304-5 repeat this story. Compare with the version in Bukhari, below:

Bukhari 4.375: This hadith re-tells that of Muslim No.2303 “...Allah's Apostle replied, I give to such people as are still close to the period of Infidelity (i.e. they have recently embraced Islam and Faith is still weak in their hearts)...” Comment: Bukhari records this as a case of bribery to new-converts to “strengthen their Islam” rather than to infidels to encourage them to convert.

Muslim 2306: Anas b. Malik reported that 'the Messenger of Allah gathered the Ansar and said: ... “The Quraish have recently abandoned Jahillyya and have just been delivered from distress; I, therefore, intend to help them and conciliate them. ...” Comment: again Muhammad uses war-booty as a bribe to shore up the allegiance of new (and possibly rather resentful) converts. See also Bukhari Vol.5 No.623

ibid 2307: Anas b. Malik reported: 'When Mecca was conquered, he (Muhammad) distributed the spoils among the Quraish. Upon this the Ansar said: “It is strange that our swords are dripping with their blood, whereas our spoils have been given to them (the Quraish).” …  Comment: as above. 2308-9 are similar tales. See also Bukhari Vol.5. No.621

ibid 2310: Rafi' b. Khadij reported that the Messenger of Allah; gave to Abu Sufyan b.Harb and Safwan. b. Umayya and 'Uyaina b. Hisn and Aqra' b. Habis, (i.e. to each of these persons) one hundred of camels, and gave to 'Abbas b.Mirdas less than this number. Upon this 'Abbas b.Mirdis [complained this wasn't fair to him so Muhammad] then completed one hundred camels for him. Comment: Here Muhammad had to be reminded to be fair in his allotment of bribes! Hadith 2311-2 are the same story. See also Bukhari Vol.5 No.625

ibid 2313: Abdullah b. Zaid reported that when the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) conquered Hunain he distributed the booty, and he bestowed [some of it] upon those whose hearts it was intended to win. It was conveyed to him (Muhammad) that the Ansar [“helpers”, Medinan converts] cherished a desire that they should be given (that) which the people (of Quraish) had got.... Comment: this is part of a long Hadith, but we see here that Muhammad gave some of the booty (spoils of war) to the pagan Quraish as a bribe to “win” them for Islam (or at least make them think well of it!) and that this upset the Ansar. This hadith is also collected by al-Tirmidhi (666) and Ahmed (15304)..

ibid 2314: Abdullah reported: 'On the day of Hunain, the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) showed preference (to some) People in the distribution of the spoils. He bestowed on Aqra' b. Habis one hundred camels, and bestowed an equal (number) upon 'Uyaina, and bestowed on people among the elites of Arabia, and preferred them (to others) on that day, in the distribution (of spoils). Upon this a person said: “By Allah, neither justice has been done In this distribution (of spoils), nor has the pleasure of Allah been sought in it.” I (the Narrator) said: “By Allah, I will certainly inform the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) about it.” so I came to him and informed him about what he had said. − The colour of his (the Prophet's) face changed [to] red like blood and he then said: Who would do justice, if Allah and His Messenger do not do justice?...'  Comment: although this is a re-telling of 2303-5, note that here Muhammad is greatly angered at being challenged over his bribery. 2315 is a simplified re-telling of this hadith. See also Bukhari Vol.4 No.378; vol.5 No.620, 624, 625

Bukhari 5.122: Narrated Anas: On the day of the Conquest of Mecca, when the Prophet had given (from the booty) to the Quraish, the Ansar said, "By Allah, this is indeed very strange: While our swords are still dribbling with the blood of Quraish, our war booty is distributed amongst them." When this news reached the Prophet he called the Ansar and said, ..." Doesn't it please you that the people [Quraish] take the booty to their homes and you take Allah's Apostle to your homes?...” Comment: Here we see Muhammad giving war booty as a bribe to the (still pagan) Quraish rather than his own soldiers. See also 6:621.

ibid 5.619: Narrated `Abdullah bin Zaid bin `Asim: “When Allah gave to His Apostle the war booty on the day of Hunain, he distributed that booty amongst those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Islam),but did not give anything to the Ansar....” Comment: again bribery to guarantee allegiance to Muhammad. See also No. 625, 626.

ibid 5.620: Narrated Anas Bin Malik: When Allah gave Allah's Apostle what he gave of the properties of the Hawazin tribe as a war booty, the Prophet started giving some (Quraish) men 100 camels each. The Ansar (then) said, "May Allah forgive Allah's Apostle as he gives to Quraish and leaves us although our swords are still dribbling with the blood of Quraish... The Prophet said, "I give to these men who have newly deserted heathenism (and embraced Islam) so as to attract their hearts.” Comment: and again bribery to guarantee allegiance to Muhammad.

ibid 5.623: Narrated Anas: The Prophet gathered some people of Ansar and said, "The People of Quraish are still close to their Pre−lslamic period of ignorance and have suffered a lot, and I want to help them and attract their hearts (by giving them the war booty).” Comment: Muhammad announces his intention to bribe the Quraish to be “good Muslims”.

It must be noted that war-booty is not the same as Zakat, but what we are seeing is the same pattern: Muhammad bribing people to convert, convert others or promote or protect Islam in some way by, for example, “attract[ing] their hearts” to Islam, though one might suspect that a bribe would more likely attract their wallets.

Abu Dawud Book 9, Number 1626: Narrated Ziyad ibn al−Harith as−Suda'i: I came to the Apostle of Allah and swore allegiance to him, and after telling a long story he said: Then a man came to him and said: Give me some of the sadaqah (alms). The Apostle of Allah said: Allah is not pleased with a Prophet's or anyone else's decision about sadaqat till He has given a decision about them Himself. He has divided those entitled to them into eight categories, so if you come within those categories, I shall give you what you desire. Comment: in this Hadith Muhammad alludes to the “eight categories” of which one category is for bribing non-Muslims and/or bribing new converts to cement their allegiance.

Sunan an-Nasi'i #2579: It was narrated that Abu Sa'eed Al-KJudri said “When he was in Yemen,'Ali sent a piece of gold that was still mixed with sediment to the Messenger of Allah and the Messenger of Allah distributed it among four people: Al-Aqra' bin Habis Al-Hanzali, 'Uyaynah bin Badr Al-Faziari, 'Alqamah bin Al-Amiri (who was from Banu Kilib) and Zaid Atai (who was from Banu Nabhi). The Quraish (he said one time "the chiefs of the Quraish) became angry and said: 'You give to the chiefs of Najd and not to us?' He [Muhammad] said: 'I only did that, so as to soften their hearts toward Islam.' ...” (Sahih) (part of hadith). Comment: again we see non-Muslims being bribed to become Muslim or to stop/reduce their opposition to it.

Ibn Majah. In the introduction to the “book of Zakat” he writes: “The following are the recipients of Zakat: the poor, the needy, the collectors of it, those whose hearts are to be reconciled, to free the captives, in the debtors, the cause of Allah and the wayfarer.” and in the comments to Hadith #1784 he writes: Zakat is distributed only among the Muslim beneficiaries. From among the non-Muslims, only that non-Muslim may be given some from Zakat if there is a hope that he/she comes close to the Muslims, will have interests in Islam, and eventually will embrace Islam, such people are called "those whose hearts are to be reconciled." Comment: it is perhaps curious is that ibn Majah collects no hadith that specifically identify “those whose hearts are to be reconciled.” Given the extensive and careful nature of his collection, I assume this is because to Majah this phrase is so well understood as to need no further amplification or verification beyond what he writes above.


The Sirat

The Sirat or Biography of Muhammad provides a third strand for investigation. One of the earliest, more well known and widely available is that of Ibn Ishaq (Died ~ 765 A.D). Ibn Ishaq's “Sirat Rasul Allah” (Biography Prophet of Allah) is the earliest biography and was written just over 100 years after Muhammad's death. Although this work no longer exists in its original form, it survives in the later redaction of Ibn Hisham (died 833 A.D.). The names of ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham are often used interchangeably for this work. It is most commonly known in the West as “The Life of Muhammed” in the translation of Guillaume.

Ibn Ishaq, p. 594: “The apostle gave gifts to those whose hearts were to be won over, notably the chiefs of the army to win them and through them their people. [A list of non-Muslim recipients then follows] … a companion said to the Apostle 'you have given Uyayna and al-Aqra a hundred camels each and left out Juayl bin Suraya al-Damri!” He answered 'By him whose hand holds the soul of Muhammed, Juayl is better than the whole world full of men like those two, but I have treated them generously so that they may become Muslims and I have entrusted Juayl to his Islam.” Comment: this passage again shows Muhammad bribing non-Muslims to convert, in this case by fooling them as to how much war-booty they might expect – Muslim Juayl gets nothing don't forget.

ibid, p. 595: “Dhul Khuwaysira … said 'Muhammed, I've seen what you've done today.' 'Well, and what do you think?' he [Muhammad] answered. He [Dhul] said 'I don't think you have been just.' Comment: Here we see that at least one man was prepared to challenge Muhammad over his use of war-booty for bribery, or at least his manner of distribution.

It is not surprising to find that even some of Muhammad's “Sahaba” (companions) found these practices disconcerting and Muhammad was forced to defend his position:

ibid, p. 596 "Are you disturbed in mind because of the good things of this life [i.e. bribes] by which I win over [i.e. bribe] a people that they may become Muslims while I entrust you to your Islam?"


Shariah Law.

The fourth strand is that of Shariah law which is the “rule book” by which Muslims live – or at least are supposed to live. Shariah defines what is legal and illegal (Halal and Haram) within Islam. What does Shariah Law say about bribery?

In “A Summary of Islamic Jurisprudence”by Dr. Salih al-Fawzan, p.379-380 notes:

“The fourth category is those given Zakah to bring their hearts together for Islam. Those people fall under two subcategories: disbelievers and Muslims. The disbelieve is to be given from Zakah if he is expected to embrace Islam, in order to make him more willing to embrace Islam. A disbeliever may also be given from Zakah in order to withhold his evil from Muslims. The Muslim can be given from Zakah to strengthen his faith or to make his peer of the non-Muslims embrace Islam...” Comment: the good Doctor makes quite explicit the use of bribery to induce conversion in non-Muslims, the use of a bribe to “withhold evil” from Muslims or even just to bribe a non-Muslim to become more favourable to Islam, as well as it's use as a bribe for a Muslim “to strengthen his faith”.

In “The Reliance of the Traveller” by al-Misri (AD 1302–1367), we find in section H8.14:

Those Whose Hearts are to be Reconciled. The fourth category is those whose hearts are to be reconciled. If they are non-Muslims, they are not given zakat, but if Muslims, then they may be given it (so that their certainly may increase, or if they are recent converts to Islam and are alienated from their kin). Those to be reconciled include: -1- the chief personages of a people (with weak Islamic intentions) whose Islam may be expected to improve, or whose peers may be expected to enter Islam...” Comment: interestingly (and contrary to the example of Muhammad himself) al-Misri states that non-Muslims cannot be bribed with Zakat, but we still see that bribery of “weak” Muslims is allowed.

In “Taudhihul Masae'l” by Ayatullah al Uzama Syed Ali al Husaini Sistani, the author writes of the disposal of Zakat (p.252-253): “It can be given to those non-Muslims who may, as a result, be inclined to Islam, or may assist the Muslims with the Zakat for fighting against the enemies, or for other justified purpose. It can be given to those Muslims also whose faith in the Prophet or in the Wilayat of Amirul Momineen is unstable and weak, provided that, as a result of giving, their faith is entrenched.” Comment: This is a Shia manual of Shariah Law (the others referred to are Sunni), but again we see that non-Muslims can be bribed to become Muslim, bribed to fight alongside Muslims as well as bribed for other “justified purposes”.

Thus seems that what matters most is getting people to ostensibly convert or cement their outward allegiance to Islam – sincerity or even integrity come a poor second. As a result, perhaps it should not be too surprising if some Muslims seem a little “half-hearted” shall we say in their allegiance to the new religion and indeed the Koran speaks about this problem within the Islamic community (or Umma). Both the Koran and Muhammad end up severely distressed by the behaviour and actions of “hypocrites”, to which I shall now briefly turn my attention.

The Hypocrites

The Koran speaks in many verses (see footnotes) of “hypocrites”. This word has a very wide ranging meaning in Islam (see this Author's article “The Hypocrites”), but for our present purposes all we need to know is that some verses refer to those people who were bribed to convert.

There is no mention in these verses of bribery per se and indeed the Koran itself does not speak openly of bribing people to convert (the Koran instead uses rather elliptical language), but the Koran is often devoid of context as to the meaning of words such as “hypocrite” and so we need to turn to the Tafseers for greater understanding.

K.33:60-61. If the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease and those who spread false news among the people in Madina, cease not, We shall certainly let you overpower them, then they will not be able to stay in it as your neighbours but a little while. Accursed, wherever found, they shall be seized and killed with a (terrible) slaughter.

Ibn Abbas writes in his commentary on these verses: “...these [hypocrites] are the people won over to Islam through gifts and money”. That is people bribed to become Muslim. As we can see from the Koran text, these bribed converts were not exactly the most faithful of people.

K.9:58-59. And of them [hypocrites] are some who accuse you (Muhammad) in the matter of (the distribution of) the alms. If they are given part thereof, they are pleased, but if they are not given thereof, behold! They are enraged! Would that they were contented with what Allah and His Messenger gave them and had said: "Allah is Sufficient for us. Allah will give us of His Bounty, and (also) His Messenger (from alms, etc.). We implore Allah (to enrich us)."

On this verse al-Wahidi (see footnotes) writes: “This was revealed about those whose hearts are to be reconciled, i.e. the hypocrites. One of them, whose name is al-Jawaz, said to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace: ‘You did not divide [the alms] fairly!’ and Ibn Kathir writes: “We were told that a Bedouin man, who had recently embraced Islam...”. It has to be said that there is a certain ambiguity here: “hearts are to be reconciled [to Islam]” implies something that has not yet happened, whereas “who had recently embraced Islam” means (in the previous language) “hearts were recently reconciled”. A further problem is that it is impossible to be certain as to whether ibn Kathir is simply being more precise than al-Wahidi, or whether the two stories are genuinely separate traditions applied to the same event. In any case we see “the alms” being used as bribes: either to those who could be thus bribed to embrace Islam, or to those who were newly converted and for whom a bribe was intended to cement their allegiance.

Thus in these two sets of verse, according to the Tafseers, we see evidence of the actions and effects of bribery being referred to in the Koran, thus confirming that such things occurred.

Many more verses in the Koran speak of “hypocrites” who were either “weak” believers – having doubts or being half-hearted about Islam, “lax” Muslims – being unwilling to perform the various obligatory duties, “fake” Muslims – those with outward show of Islam, but no real belief or faith, “avaricious” Muslims – those who were Muslim only for personal gain, and also “cowardly” Muslims – those unwilling to undertake sword-Jihad and kill for Muhammad and Allah. (See footnotes for a sample of relevant Koran verses.)

“Sword-Jihad” (jihad bis Saif) is but one of four types of jihad; “Jihad of the heart” aka “Jihad of the soul” (jihad bil qalb/nafs), “tongue-Jihad” aka “pen-Jihad” (Jihad bil lisan /qallam) and “hand-Jihad” (jihad bil yad) are the others. Of these, only “heart-Jihad” is aimed at the Muslim, the others are aimed at overcoming the non-Muslim in various ways and sword-Jihad is so aimed in the most brutally direct manner, since this is “fighting in the way of Allah” and includes all forms of warfare (including in some understandings terror tactics).

Sura 2 of the Koran is recognised as being the first to be revealed after Muhammad moved his base of operations from Mecca to Medina. In Medina Muhammad was in a position to start to amass wealth from raiding Meccan caravans and the surrounding tribes. Ibn Kathir and Maududi both have interesting comments at the start of their Tafseers on this Sura:

Ibn Kathir: “The revelations about the characteristics of the hypocrites were revealed in Al-Madina, this is because there were no hypocrites in Makkah. Rather the opposite was the situation in Makkah, since some people were forced to pretend that they were disbelievers, while their hearts concealed their faith [in Islam].”

Although I am certain the irony is completely lost on ibn Kathir, note that he is saying that there is no hypocrisy in pretending to be a non-Muslim if you're actually Muslim, but it is hypocrisy – according to the Koran – to pretend to be Muslim if you're really a non-Muslim.

Maududi: “During this period [i.e. the Medinan period], a new type of "Muslim" [the]  munafiqin (hypocrites), had begun to appear. Though signs of duplicity had been noticed during the last days at Makkah, they took a different shape at Al-Madinah. At Makkah there were some people who professed Islam to be true but were not prepared to abide by the consequences of this profession and to sacrifice their worldly interests and relations and bear the afflictions which inevitably follow the acceptance of this creed [i.e. “half-hearted” Muslims]. But at Al-Madinah different kinds of munafiqin (hypocrites) began to appear. There were some who had entered the Islamic fold merely to harm it from within. There were others who were surrounded by Muslims and, therefore, had become "Muslims" to safeguard their worldly interests [i.e. pretend Muslims]. They, therefore, continued to have relations with the enemies so that if the latter became successful, their interests should remain secure. There were still others who had no strong conviction of the truth of Islam [i.e. half-hearted or even pretend Muslims again] but had embraced it along with their clans. Lastly, there were those who were intellectually convinced of the truth of Islam but did not have enough moral courage to give up their former traditions, superstitions and personal ambitions and live up to the Islamic moral standards and make sacrifice in its way [i.e. reluctant Muslims].”

Both ibn Kathir and Maududi may be incorrect in their assertion that “hypocrites” only appeared in the Medinan period. Sura 107, is classed as an early Meccan Sura (though some authorities think the later verses 4 et seq are Medinian) says:

Koran 107:4-5. “So woe unto those performers of prayers (hypocrites), who are heedless (of their prayers).”

Thus there may have been one type of “hypocrite” present during the Meccan period, but this is only a Muslim who is somewhat lackadaisical in ritual prayer.

However, what is clear from the ibn Kathir and Maududi is that the amount and types of hypocrisy increased dramatically after Muhammad's move to Medina.

Whilst I am sure that there were many reasons for this and it is impossible to say precisely what the underlying reasons for their “weakness in faith”, “laxity in practice”, “fakery”, “avarice” and “cowardly” behaviour might have been; it is certainly not unreasonable (and even somewhat tempting) to infer that at least some of the “hypocrites” were the recipients of bribes to convert – especially when some of the “hypocrites” are also damned for avarice. Further it should not be surprising that such “bought and paid for” people might be less than enthusiastic for Islam's more onerous and dangerous practices which in turn would lead them to manifest the “sins” for which various “hypocrites” are castigated.



It is clear from a study of the Islamic sources (Koran, Tafseer, Hadith, Sirat and Shariah Law) that Islam permits the use of both Zakat and war-booty as a source of funds to:

  • ·Bribe non-Muslims to convert.
  • ·Bribe non-Muslims if this will increase even the likelihood of conversion.
  • ·Bribe non Muslims to encourage others to convert.
  • ·Bribe non-Muslims to give favourable treatment to Muslims in some way.
  • ·Bribe non-Muslims to persuade them to defend Muslims in some way.
  • ·Bribe non-Muslims to get them to fight alongside Muslims in sword-Jihad.
  • ·Bribe those non-Muslims engaged in “anti-Islamic activities” – either to get them to convert or at least cease their activities (such as writing articles, making videos etc. that expose Islam?).
  • ·Bribe non-Muslims to hold (and state) favourable views of Islam (Muslim sponsored Islamic chairs at Western University?)
  • ·Bribe new converts to remain loyal to Islam and to “entrench” their 'faith'(!).

In the interests of fairness I should add that some Shariah Law books disallow bribing non-Muslims to convert on the basis that Islam is now strong enough that this is no longer needed. I should also note that this is, as far as I am aware, a minority opinion and explicitly repudiated by others – e.g. Qutb.

From this we can see that bribery is embedded within Islam – if it furthers the goals of Islam in some way.

This isn't “ancient history”: 20th century writers (e.g. those mentioned above) uphold the use of Islamic funds for bribery today. But neither is this a “modern phenomenon”. The practice of bribery goes back quite literally to the hands of Muhammad himself who used monies from the Zakat (the Islamic “charity tax”), Khums (the one fifth share of war-booty) and Fai (the war-spoils) to bribe people in pursuit of a variety of goals.

It is this latter that is the most concerning. Were bribery in Islam a modern phenomenon, it could be dismissed (as is so much) as a “misunderstanding” or “misinterpretation” of Islam perpetrated by Muslims “ignorant of the true honest teachings of Islam” or, of course, by “Islamophobes”. But this is not the case.

We are faced with the fact that a self-proclaimed prophet resorts to bribery in order to facilitate and further his aims.

Let me note that all prophets are self-proclaimed. There is no tangible evidence of a voice from Heaven stating that “X” is from any god. Thus, and assuming that you even accept the idea that a person can be a prophet from god, a person's “prophet-hood” can only be validated by his (or her) life, speech and acts. In short: is the person “good” in an absolute sense, or not.

There is also the fact that Allah, in the Koran, supports the use of bribery (K.9:60) rather than denouncing it as immoral (which is the view that most of humanity takes of bribery and, let us not forget rightly so, since bribery inevitably leads to corruption within a society).

Most of humanity would regard a person who uses bribery to get his (or her) way as both a corrupt person  and a corrupting influence on society (let me note that the Koran speaks against “the corrupters”, “Al-Mufsidoon” in Arabic, but this means people who try to lead others away from Islam).

What then of a “prophet” who uses bribery as a means to his ends?

And, a vastly more serious question, what of a “god” who supports these actions?

- - - - -

Footnotes and references.

Tafseer Al-Jalalayn: “Tafsir of the two Jalals” is a classical Sunni tafsir of the Quran, composed first by Jalal ad-Din al-Mahalli who died in 1459 A.D. and then completed by his student Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti who died in 1505 A.D.

Tafseer Ibn Abbas, died 687 A.D. – was a companion of Muhammad. Although no extant reference to his original Tafsir dating to his lifetime exists, the “Tafseer of Ibn Abbas” was compiled in ~617 A.H. / 1215 A.D. This Tafseer may be pseudo-epigraphical in that it is also attributed to Muhammad al-Firuzabadi 1328 A.D. –1414 A.D. And it is quite likely that in fact neither of the above mentioned are the true Authors. All of that said, the Tafseer ibn Abbas or “Tanwīr al-Miqbās min Tafsīr Ibn 'Abbās” to give it its full title is still an accurate reflection of orthodox Sunni Koran interpretation.

Tafseer Ibn Kathir, b.1301, d. 1373 A.D. Lived in Syria. His “Tafsir ibn Kathir” is, perhaps, the pre-eminent classical Sunni commentary on the Koran.

Maudidi (1903-1979). 20th century Islamist thinker, instrumental in the formations of Janmaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood. His Tafsir is widely read throughout Asia.

Shafi. (1896–1976) was a Hanafi Islamic scholar and Sunni mufti from India. During his life he served as the Grand Mufti of India, and later Pakistan. He authored “The Ma'ariful Quran” (“the wisdom of the Koran”) a Tafseer originally in Urdu now widely translated. This work is also attributed to Usmani, due to its revision by Muhammad Taqi Usmani.

Sayyid Qutb, (1922-1966). His work “In the shade of the Koran” is a leading modern commentary. Qutb is considered as one of the 20th centuries most influential Islamic thinkers. He was a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Wahidi: 'Alī ibn Ahmad al-Wāhidī (d. 1075), the earliest extant scholar of the branch of the Quranic sciences known as “Asbāb al-Nuzūl”- “the occasions, reasons, and contexts” for the recitation. Whilst not strictly a Tafseer, since al-Wahidi's work explains the when, why and context of recitation it explains the meaning of the verses. It is for this reason that it is used here.

Hypocrites are spoken of many times in the Koran and the Koran has many “classes” or “types” of hypocrite, both Muslim and non-Muslim. It should be noted that the Koran classes apostates as “hypocrites”. The classes of hypocrite mentioned in this article are:

  • ·Weak-in-faith Muslims: See commentaries on K.29:10-11; 2:10-12,20; 8:49; 3:154, 156; 33:12-19,72-73; 4:88,140-142; 57:14; 47:16; Sura 63; 24:47-50; 48:6; 9:45-49, 124-127; 5:52.
  • ·Lax Muslims: See commentaries on K.107:4-5; 2:27; Sura 63.
  • ·Fake Muslims: See commentaries on K.107:4-5; 2:8-9,10-12; 4:142; 13-14,19, 21; 59:11-12; 33:72-73; 24:47-50; 4:72; 48:11-16; 9:61-63,64-68, 97-98; 5:41
  • ·Avaricious Muslims: see commentaries on K.2:204-206; 9:75-78, 97-98.
  • ·Cowardly Muslims: see commentaries on K.2:204-6; 8:49; 3:121; 47:20-21, 29-31; 3:156,167-168,188; 4:72; 24:53; 61:2-4; 48:11-16; 9:42, 45-49,  53-54, 56-57, 64-68, 81-83, 86-87, 94-96, 97-98.



  • ·“Tafsir al-Jalalayn.” Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli &  Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (Trans. Feras Hamza), 2007 Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan.
  • ·“Tafseer al-Tustari.” Sahl b. Abdullah al-Tustari (Trans. Annabel Keeler and Ali Keeler), 2011 Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought Amman, Jordan
  • ·“Asbab al-Nuzul.” Ali ibn Ahmad al-Wahidi (Trans. Mokrane Guezzou), 2008 Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan.
  • ·“Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn 'Abbas”, attributed  to: Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas or Muhammad al-Firuzabadi. (Trans. Mokrane Guezzou), 2007. Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan
  • ·“Tafsir ibn Kathir”, Alama Imad ud Din Ibn Kathir (concise version).
  • · “Tafhim al-QurHYPERLINK "http://www.englishtafsir.com/"'HYPERLINK "http://www.englishtafsir.com/"an.” Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi.
  • ·“Maariful Quran.” Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi. (Revised and also attributed to: Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani), 1995-2004. Darul Uloom Karachi, Pakistan.
  • ·“The Life of Muhammed”. A translation of Ishaq's “Sirat Rasul Allah”. Translated A.Guillame, Oxford University Press, 1955.
  • ·“A Summary of Islamic Jurisprudence”, Dr. Salih al-Fawzan, Al-Maiman Publishing House, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2005.
  • ·“Taudhihul Masae'l” by Ayatullah al Uzama Syed Ali al Husaini Seestani, pdf version.
  • ·“The reliance of the Traveller”. Pdf version.

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