Today’s concluding installment for Hatred and Violence in the Qur’an Awareness Month brings us the one place in the Qur’an where Muslims are directed explicitly to make war against and subjugate Jews and Christians — the “People of the Book”:
Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, 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. (Qur’an 9:29)
According to Ibn Kathir, “Allah commanded His Messenger to fight the People of the Scriptures, Jews and Christians, on the ninth year of Hijrah, and he prepared his army to fight the Romans and called the people to Jihad announcing his intent and destination.” This was a raid that Muhammad supposedly attempted against the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) garrison at Tabuk in northern Arabia in 631, but the Byzantine force moved away before Muhammad got there, and did not engage the Muslims in battle. Still, it is presented in Islamic history as the first Muslim attempt to take on the great Christian empire that the believers would chip away at for centuries and ultimately destroy.
Ibn Juzayy says that this verse is “a command to fight the People of the Book” and, in a reference to the subsequent verse, “denying their belief in Allah because of the words of the Jews, “˜Uzayr [Ezra] is the son of Allah” and the words of the Christians, “˜The Messiah is the son of Allah.– Muslims must also fight them “because they consider as lawful carrion, blood, pork, etc.” and because “they do not enter Islam.” He says that “scholars agree about accepting jizya [a religious-based poll tax] from the Jews and Christians.” He specifies that it signifies “submission and obedience.”
The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that this when this verse specifies that Muslims must fight against those who “follow not the Religion of Truth,” it means those who do not follow Islam, “which is firm and abrogates other deens [religions].” Ibn Kathir gives a hint as to why this is so when he explains that the People of the Book were in bad faith when they rejected Muhammad, and that they are not true believers even in their own religions:
Therefore, when People of the Scriptures disbelieved in Muhammad, they had no beneficial faith in any Messenger or what the Messengers brought. Rather, they followed their religions because this conformed with their ideas, lusts and the ways of their forefathers, not because they are Allah’s Law and religion. Had they been true believers in their religions, that faith would have directed them to believe in Muhammad, because all Prophets gave the good news of Muhammad’s advent and commanded them to obey and follow him. Yet when he was sent, they disbelieved in him, even though he is the mightiest of all Messengers. Therefore, they do not follow the religion of earlier Prophets because these religions came from Allah, but because these suit their desires and lusts. Therefore, their claimed faith in an earlier Prophet will not benefit them because they disbelieved in the master, the mightiest, the last and most perfect of all Prophets.
As-Sawi noted that the payment of the jizya signified that the non-Muslims are “humble and obedient to the judgements of Islam.” It ensured the “willing submission” or “state of abasement” specified by this verse and spelled out by the Bedouin commander al-Mughira bin Sa”d when he met the Persian Rustam. Said al-Mughira: “I call you to Islam or else you must pay the jizya while you are in a state of abasement.”
Rustam replied, “I know what jizya means, but what does “˜a state of abasement” mean?”
Al-Mughira explained: “You pay it while you are standing and I am sitting and the whip hanging is over your head.”
Similarly, Ibn Kathir says that the subject people, the dhimmis, must be “disgraced, humiliated and belittled. Therefore, Muslims are not allowed to honor the people of Dhimmah or elevate them above Muslims, for they are miserable, disgraced and humiliated.” The seventh-century jurist Sa”id ibn al-Musayyab stated: “I prefer that the people of the dhimma become tired by paying the jizya since He says, “˜until they pay the jizya with their own hands in a state of complete abasement.– As-Suyuti elaborates that this verse “is used as a proof by those who say that it is taken in a humiliating way, and so the taker sits and the dhimmi stands with his head bowed and his back bent. The jizya is placed in the balance and the taker seizes his beard and hits his chin.” He adds, however, that “this is rejected according to an-Nawawi who said, “˜This manner is invalid.– Zamakhshari, however, agreed that the jizya should be collected “with belittlement and humiliation.”
Thus this verse is the epitome of both Qur’anic hatred and Qur’anic violence, and — despite the fact that there is much more hatred and violence in the rest of the Qur’an — a fitting end to our series.