Saturday 30 September 2023

From the archive of Abdelrahim Ali

Freedom of opinion and expression in Islam (Part 5)

Abdelrehim Aly


Legislation of fighting came in response to aggression and was disliked by the Muslims 

The debate between Al-Azhar Grand Imam Dr. Ahmed El-Tayeb and Cairo University President Dr. Mohamed Othman El-Khosht sparked widespread controversy after it was understood from the Imam’s response that the issue of tajdid (renewal) does not concern anyone except Al-Azhar, and it seemed to the public that he closed the door of ijtihad (independent juristic reasoning) to thinkers and intellectuals who are not Al-Azhar graduates, at a time when the country needs every intellectual and everyone who believes in the necessity of employing reason.

This debate opened the door for a sincere, honest and trustworthy dialogue that seeks the good of this nation and monitors everything that raises the status of reason and grants freedom of thought and human dignity. Here, we continue this series entitled “Freedom of opinion and expression”, and God is behind the intention and He guides the way.

After the Prophet's migration (peace be upon him) from Mecca to Medina, he faced several types of enemies.

The first type: Those who fought the Messenger and showed enmity to him, and this type was embodied in the Quraish.

The second type: Those whom the Prophet called upon on the condition that they do not fight him and do not turn his enemy against him, and that they support him when he is raid. This type was represented in the Jews of Medina.

The third type: Those who waited to see how matters would turn out. If the Messenger won, they would follow him, and if the Quraish won, they would be with them. This type included the rest of the Arabs.

The last type: This type was not one consistent trend. Some of them were inclined to the Prophet and sympathized with him, such as the Banu Khuza’ah tribe, and for this reason they entered into his covenant with the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, while others sided with and supported the Quraish, such as the Banu Bakr tribe, and they entered into a covenant with Quraish at the time of the aforementioned peace treaty.

The majority of the Arabs were inclined to the Quraish, but the Prophet (God’s prayers and peace be upon him) did not fight them, because Islam believes in the peaceful call, does not initiate aggression, does not investigate the hearts of people and does not hold anyone accountable for their intentions.

This chapter reviews three manners of the Prophet's dealings with his enemies, and the aim is to clarify his practical position on the issue of freedom of opinion and expression.

The first manner regards the Quraish, the second the Jews, and the third the hypocrites inside the city, who were the closest to the concept of political opposition in the language of the modern era.


First: How did the Prophet (God bless him and grant him peace) deal with those of the Quraish who fought him and showed him enmity?

The Prophet (God bless him and grant him peace) stayed in Mecca thirteen years before the Hijrah, responding to the hostility of the Quraish with forgiveness, and their mockery of him and his Companions with patience.

When he migrated to Medina, the Quraish and their men pursued him with hostility, so they sent to the people of Medina threatening them with war if they did not expel him from their homes, and they sent to their leader at that time, Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salul, a message that said, “You have sheltered our companion, and we swear by God that you will fight him or expel him, or all of us will march to you until we kill your fighters and take your women captive.” (1)

When Abdullah bin Ubayy was unable to carry out what the Quraish had asked of him due to the Ansar from the Aws and Khazraj tribes gathering around the Prophet and his Companions, Quraish began to intensify the harm on those Muslims who were held back from migrating due to weakness and declared hostility on the people of Medina, attempting to attack those of them who came to Mecca on pilgrimage.

The Prophet (God’s prayers and peace be upon him) met the hostility of Quraish in the same manner, and God authorized him to fight them. God Almighty says: {Indeed, God defends those who believe. Surely Allah does not like whoever is deceitful, ungrateful. Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged, and indeed God is competent to give them victory. Those who have been driven unjustly from their homes only for saying “Our Lord is God.” If God did not repel some people by means of others, many monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where God’s name is much invoked, would have been destroyed. God is sure to help those who help His cause. God is All-Powerful and Almighty} [Surah Al-Hajj: 38-40].

God Almighty also says: {Let those who would sacrifice this life for the Hereafter fight in the cause of God. And whoever fights in God’s cause—whether they achieve martyrdom or victory—We will honor them with a great reward. And what is [the matter] with you? You do not fight in the cause of God and for the oppressed men, women, and children who cry out, “Our Lord! Deliver us from this land of oppressors! Appoint for us from Yourself a protector, and appoint for us from Yourself a helper!”} [Surah Al-Nisa: 74-75].

These verses include the reasons for which God has permitted Muslims to fight, and they are:

1- The Muslims were being fought by the Quraish, and it is the right of the one who is fought to defend himself in the same way.

2- The Quraish oppressed the Muslims during their stay in Makkah, and it is the right of the oppressed to take revenge on the oppressor when he is able to do so.

3- The Quraish expelled them from their homes unjustly, as they had no sin except that they believed in God and called to believe in Him, and it is a right that God wanted to establish for every human being (to profess what he wills, and to call to what he sees as the truth), and that right has been confirmed by all the just laws.

4- Self-defense by fighting is an established right that cannot be disputed, and if God had not empowered the believers over the disbelievers through jihad, the disbelievers would have seized them and demolished their places of worship, such that they did not leave the Christians to sell, nor monasteries for their monks, nor prayers for the Jews, nor mosques for the Muslims. There was nothing left after this except that faith’s fortunes would have ended and the worship of graven images and idols would have been established.

5- The Quraish did not quit their oppression after they expelled the Muslims from their homes, but rather continued to oppress those who were weak in Mecca, including men, women and children. They prevented them from migrating to their brothers in Medina, and tormented them with imprisonment and other forms of torture. It is therefore the right of free Muslims to fight for the sake of the salvation of those who are oppressed in order to ward off from them oppression and wrong, and to enable them to migrate to them.

6- The Quraish seized the wealth of the Muslims in Mecca after they expelled them from it, and none of them could take any of their wealth with them, so the Muslims began fighting Quraish by attacking their trade caravans that were passing through Medina on the way to the Levant in order to seize their wealth as the Quraish had seized theirs.

War in Islam under these conditions is legitimate as long as it is not intended to attack life or wealth, but rather is intended to defend them, because Islam only authorizes fighting those who fight us, and it prohibits aggression against those who do not fight us, as God Almighty says: {Fight in God’s cause against those who fight you, but do not overstep the limits. Indeed, God does not love those who transgress} [Surah Al-Baqarah: 190].


The position of the Prophet and the Muslims on three major military campaigns

The military campaigns during the era of the Prophet (God bless him and grant him peace) were the biggest evidence of the Muslims’ firm bias towards these rules set by the Holy Quran to fight. We will present here the position of the Prophet and the Muslims regarding three major campaigns: Badr, Ahzab, and Usra.

The Battle of Badr was the first and the most famous, and in order to understand its real causes, we must know the meaning of “accustomed security” that Surah Quraish referred to: {For the accustomed security of the Quraish. Their accustomed security [in] the caravan of winter and summer} [Surah Quraish: 1-2].

The Quraish built their economy on two commercial trips, the first in the summer to Yemen and the other in the winter to the Levant. “Accustomed security” has two meanings for the Quraish. The first is external, referring to securing the route of the Quraish caravans between Mecca and Yemen and between Mecca and the Levant, and the second internal, which refers to the participation of all Qurashis in financing the winter and summer caravans by dividing the capital into shares. At the end of each year, the dividends were calculated and each shareholder would take his share in proportion to his amount of invested shares.

By harming the Muslims and expelling them from Mecca to Medina, the polytheists seized their homes in Mecca and their capital in the winter and summer caravans, and the Muslims would not have dared to recover their wealth as long as they had to endure the blows of their enemy. When the legislation permitting to fight was revealed, it was natural for them to obtain their right from the Quraishi “accustomed security” by raiding the caravan that traded in their lost wealth in order to obtain from it some their rights that had been lost. When the caravan escaped through the slyness and maneuvering of Abu Sufyan, the armies of Quraish came to take revenge on the Muslims who tried to raid their trade caravans in an attempt to discipline them so that they would not do the same thing again. Here it became obligatory for the Muslims to fight “though it is disliked to them” as stated in the numerous verses of the Quran. Then the Battle of Badr occurred, and the Muslims won, but they committed a grave mistake, so God Almighty disciplined them for it in great verses that came in Surah Al-Anfal. God Almighty says, warning those who fight for money: {It is not fit for a prophet that he should take captives until he has thoroughly subdued the land. You [believers] settled with the fleeting gains of this world, while God’s desire [for you] is the Hereafter. God is Almighty, All-Wise. Had it not been preordained by God, a severe punishment would have come upon you for what you have taken} [Surah Al-Anfal: 67-68].

The Muslims had deliberately (during the course of the battle) imprisoned the polytheists out of a desire for redemption (as was the custom in all wars that preceded Islam). This behavior distracts the armies and makes each knight seek a personal goal, namely money, which leads to the loss of the army as a whole for the battle. It has been transmitted in the Sunan of Abu Dawud: “He who fought for spoils has no reward, but the Muslims used to take the spoils after the war to make up for what was lost from them in it, and most of them were spent in their public interests, and individuals did not take from the spoils except with limited rules and provisions that apply to them all.” (2)

In the Battle of Ahzab, the polytheists besieged the city, so the fear of the believers reached its maximum extent. It suffices to reflect on what God Almighty says, describing the believers at that time: {They massed against you from above and below; your eyes rolled [with fear], your hearts rose into your throats, and you thought [ill] thoughts of God. Then and there the believers were put to the test, and were violently shaken} [Surah Al-Ahzab: 10-11].

Fear led some of them to flee, hindered the fighters and spread rumors. {God knows exactly who among you hinder others, who [secretly] say to their brothers, “Come and join us,” but who hardly ever come out to fight. [They are] totally unwilling to assist you. When danger comes, you see them staring at you with their eyes rolling like someone in the throes of death. But once the danger is over, they slash you with razor-sharp tongues, ravenous for [worldly] gains. Such people have not [truly] believed, so God has rendered their deeds void, and that is easy for God} [Surah Al-Ahzab: 18-19].

On the other hand, the authentic help of some believers appeared, and they increased in faith and submission. {When the believers saw the enemy alliance, they said, “This is what God and His Messenger had promised us. The promise of God and His Messenger has come true.” And this only increased them in faith and submission. There are men among the believers who honored their pledge to God: some of them have fulfilled it by death, and some are still waiting. They have not changed in the least} [Surah Al-Ahzab: 22-23].

The Muslims remained unenthusiastic about fighting and repelling the polytheists’ aggression against them until the last battle of the Messenger (the Battle of Usra), which made God reveal the following verses of the Quran to reprimand them: {Will you not fight those who have broken their oaths, conspired to expel the Messenger [from Mecca], and attacked you first? Do you fear them? God is more deserving of your fear, if you are [true] believers. Fight them, and God will punish them at your hands, put them to shame, help you overcome them, and soothe the hearts of the believers, removing rage from their hearts. And God pardons whoever He wills, for God is All-Knowing, All-Wise. Do you think that you will be left [as you are] without God making evident who among you strive [for His cause] and do not take other than God, His Messenger and the believers as intimates? God is All-Aware of what you do} [Surah Al-Tawbah: 13-16].

God Almighty also says to them: {O you who believe, what is [the matter] with you that, when you are told to go forth in the cause of God, you adhere heavily to the earth? Are you satisfied with the life of this world rather than the Hereafter? But what is the enjoyment of worldly life compared to the Hereafter except [very] little} [Surah Al-Tawbah: 38].

This is what the first Muslims of the Prophet’s state (God bless him and grant him peace) were upon against the polytheists of Quraish, so what was their habit with the Jews who shared the state with them and the hypocrites who remained with them in it until the Messenger’s departure from it and the world?!

This is what we will discuss in the next part.



1- Dr. Abdul Mutaal Al-Saidi, “Islamic Politics in the Age of Prophecy”, p. 71.

2- Dr. Ahmed Subhy Mansour, “Regarding the relationship with the other” (Journal of Man and Evolution, No. 60, p. 18).