Bribery in Islam

(to convert or stop criticism)

Introductory summary

According to Muslims the Quran teaches that bribery is forbidden in Surah 2:188. But when we delve into the Islamic scriptures and the opinions of Islamic jurists, we come across acts which, at the very least, come close to it with regards to persuading people to convert to Islam through money and gifts. Technically speaking it sometimes doesn’t go beyond a dubious form of lobbying with a hint of bribery. But in certain, theologically legitimate, cases there are clear signs of a bribe, whereby its receiver is aware that money is given in exchange for either his conversion to Islam or him ceasing his attacks on Islam or Muslims.

Many Muslims don’t know that the compulsory Zakat tax they pay, which constitutes 2.5 percent of their capital, can be spent on non-Muslims, according to many respected scholars of Islam. Other Muslims know about this from an historic point of view, but claim it has become nullified in our time, since this only applied to the time of their prophet Muhammad. Although there are certainly scholars who share this view, we will show that heavyweights among them have noted that Zakat can be spent on non-Muslims, especially in this day and age. And yet again, other scholars have supported the idea of spending on non-believers for these purposes, but only from sources other than the Zakat.

Concerning the concrete prohibition of bribery in Islam, we will show that this is limited to the judicial system (bribing a judge or a witness) while the persuasion towards Islam is not considered bribery at all. However, when we delve into the Islamic stories about high standing members of the Quraish tribe in Mecca and their attempt to persuade Muhammad to stop insulting their gods and way of life in exchange for riches, then the Islamic scholars and websites do not beat around the bush: it was an attempt to bribe Muhammad.

We intend to deal with this subject in a few steps:

  • Islamic sources: gifts to “certain men of eminence”
  • The National Zakat Foundation (NZF)
  • Some Tafsirs (exegeses) on this phenomenon
  • Are there fuqaha (Islamic jurists) who have confirmed this?
  • Is it really bribery?
  • Contemporary examples
  • Conclusions

 ֎ Islamic sources: gifts to “certain men of eminence”

Quran

The Quran prescribes eight categories of people who are eligible for receiving Zakat:

“The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captives and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarer; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is Knower, Wise.” (Surah 9 verse 60, M.M. Pickthall translation)

In the original Arabic the word for alms is Sadaqat which, during the time the Quran was written, was synonymous for Zakat. Today it mostly refers to the non-obligatory donations to the aid of beggars and the poor. There is no dispute on the doctrine that the above verse speaks of what today is called Zakat.[1]

The term under consideration is mu’allafat qulubuhum, above translated as those whose hearts are to be reconciled. Some translators try to expand more on its meaning. Dr. Mustafa Khattab, for instance, wrote ‘those whose hearts are attracted to the faith’. According to this interpretation we can already see the first signs of a doctrine which says that non-Muslims could receive Zakat for the purpose of their conversion to Islam.

Hadith

The Quran is consistent with the narrations on the life of Muhammad (hadith). In Sahih Bukhari we read how Muhammad divided a piece of gold among four non-Muslim men who had supported his army. The Quraish and Ansar tribes were furious about this, after which Muhammad explained why he gave these people so much wealth:

“I give (them) so as to attract their hearts (to Islam)”[2]

Tarikh (historiography)

The Tarikh of Al Tabari reveals the same:

“The Messenger of God gave [gifts] to those “whose hearts were to be reconciled (al-mu’allafa qulubuhum).”[3]

Immediately after this quote follows a list containing dozens of names which belonged to ‘certain men of eminence’ who Muhammad gave a number of camels varying from 100 to 50 to a few. The translator of Al Tabari’s work uses a footnote for the term ‘al mu’alaffa qulubuhum’ to refer to surah Taubah (9) verse 60 of the Quran for the theological foundation of these acts.

Sirat (biography of Muhammad)

The same story is also found in the earliest biography of Muhammad: Sirat Rasul Allah by Ibn Ishaq:

“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.”[4]

The goal here seems to be to spend money or goods on men of a high status, despite their level of wealth, so that they become Muslims and with them their entire tribes. Later on we will read that Islamic jurists have confirmed this.

In the renowned work on Zakat, by Muslim scholar Al-Qaradawi we also find references to narrations from Nayl al Awtar and Tafsir al Tabari which not only make bribery probable but prove it beyond a reasonable doubt:

“Never was the Messenger of God (p) asked to give anything for accepting Islam but he gave it. A man once came and asked to be given something for accepting Islam. The Messenger ordered him to be given enough sheep to fill the distance [between two hills] from the sheep collected as sadaqah. The man went back to his clan saying, ‘O my folks, accept Islam, for Muhammad gives like one who fears not poverty.”

“Ibn ‘Abbas narrates that certain people came to the Prophet who, if they are given sadaqat, praise Islam and declare it a good religion, but if not, malign Islam.”[5]

֎ The National Zakat Foundation (NZF)

Now that the theological paramaters from the time of Muhammad have been set, it seems fair to look at any practical adaptation we might find. Later one we’ll look at some tafsirs (works of exegeses) and jurists from different centuries, but we’ll start with a contemporary video from the National Zakat Foundation (NZF). This organization collects Zakat from Muslims and makes sure it is spent according to Islamic guidelines. The speaker in this video is the popular imam Zaid Shakir, who received his B.A. in Islamic studies at the Syrian Abu Noor university and also has a master’s degree in political sciences. But perhaps he is best known as the imam who led the funeral service of the famous Muslim convert and boxer, Muhammad Ali.[6]

At 4:30 minutes Shakir explains who are eligible for receiving from the Zakat. He spends most time on the category discussed in this article: the mu’allafati qulubuhum (those whose hearts are to be reconciled). Shakir divides it into three subcategories:

  1. People of whom it can be expected that they become Muslim after receiving the money
  2. People who are antagonistic towards Islam, of whom it can be expected that they will stop.
  3. People who have recently converted to Islam, in order to strengthen their faith.

Notice how three of the two subcategories given by imam Shakir concern non-Muslims. He describes the first subcategory by giving his viewers a hypothetical example:

“Maybe these people are contemplating Islam, they’re wavering, and then here comes the National Zakat Foundation or some similar organization and said: ‘You know, the Muslim community … one of the institutions we have is zakat and that is money that’s spent on people who are thinking about Islam…’, and bam: ‘Wow, Islam is alright. I don’t care what I was reading in the tabloids yesterday, these are good people. I’m going to become Muslim’” (5:48)

Because Zaid Shakir describes how this hypothetical receiver of Zakat is made aware of the intention (to give to people who are thinking about Islam) it seems to be a form of bribery. Later on we will see that some eminent scholars describe a transaction which also points to bribery, even if they themselves will never label it as such. Likewise imam Shakir explains this act as a form of charity. Which it is, to a certain extent. But the intention is clearly something else, as is shown by his statement moments earlier:

“If they are spent on it is expected that this will push them into Islam.” (4:42)

He continues by explaining why it is incorrect to presume that this category has become nullified in our time:

“Imam Shafi’i and Malik were of the opinion [that], once Islam was established, this particular subcategory was nullified. But in our days and times, when now Islam is very shaky even in Muslim countries … many of our scholars say now that these are times where this is reopened again.” (6:25)

֎ Some Tafsirs (works of exegeses) on this phenomenon

We’ve established that the scriptures of Islam and the National Zakat Foundation agree that money can be spent on pushing people into Islam, so that a financial incentive (and not a thorough study) is what persuades them to convert and become a Muslim. Now let’s take a look at some tafsir literature (exegeses) within Sunni Islam.

Ibn Kathir

Ibn Kathir is considered one of the most renowned scholars among the mufasirun (writers of tafsir). Concerning surah 9 verse 60 he wrote in his tafsir:

“There are several types of Al-Mu’allafatu Qulubuhum. There are those who are given alms to embrace Islam.”

Ibn Kathir also quotes a well-known narration, which can be found in Sahih Muslim:

“… and Messenger of Allah ﷺ gave one hundred camels to Safwan b. Umayya. He again gave him one hundred camels, and then again gave him one hundred camels. Sa’id b. Musayyib said that Safwan told him: (By Allah) Messenger of Allah ﷺ gave me what he gave me (and my state of mind at that time was) that he was the most detested person amongst people in my eyes. But he continued giving to me until now he is the dearest of people to me.”[7]

Again it is evident that this category of receivers can include non-Muslims, besides other groups such as newly converted people for the purpose of keeping their faith strong or so that their peers may also be inclined to accept Islam.

Maududi

Sayid Abul Ala Maududi is a twentieth century Islamic jurist from India. In his tafsir, Tafheem al Quran, he wrote the following about this subject:

“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 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.”

As usual Maududi is very clear. People who are busy with anti-Islam activities can receive money for the purpose of them refraining from these activities. However, the interpretation of this subcategory may depend on whoever is reading it. Muslims may very well think of someone who lies about Islam in an attempt to degrade the religion. In practice, however, we have often observed how those receiving such a label are often sincere critics of Islam whose opinion is simply unpleasant from a Muslim’s perspective. Therefore, it seems plausible that we should interpret Maududi’s words to mean that money can go to people who the average person would regard as critics of Islam. Later on we will show a practical example of this, which is rare since such cases don’t come to the surface very often, for obvious reasons.

Concerning the justifiable question whether this example is truly bribery and not just a dubious form of lobbying: it is unlikely that the receiver is not made aware of the fact that he is expected to provide a certain compensation for these gifts. However, honesty demands that we give this example the benefit of the doubt, also because of the narration in Sahih Muslim earlier mentioned by Ibn Kathir.[8]

In this case the possibility remains that someone can receive money without understanding what the intention of the giver is. Theoretically it could be true that Muslims merely hope that the receiver is somehow touched by their charity and loses the desire to “batter” Islam with critique. However, the intention of the giving party is set and its purpose is to bribe someone into doing what they want him to do. If the receiving party is unaware of this, they would be the only innocent party.

Besides, this benefit of the doubt can only apply to situations in which the gift is given without any intention being mentioned. But, again, other narrations still prove that Muhammad gave gifts to people who made it clear that they wanted something for their conversion[9] as well as for speaking friendly about Islam.[10] This narration will be cited again later on, when we reach the section on the work called ‘Fiqh al Zakah’ by Al-Qaradawi.

֎ Are there fuqaha (Islamic jurists) who have confirmed this?

We have reached perhaps the most important part of this article: the jurists. After all, the interpretation of passages in the Quran and ahadith remains an issue of controversy, because Muslim apologists often continue to claim that critics utilize an unlearned and incorrect interpretation. However, when we jump to the final conclusions of their prominent jurists, who have written the fiqh (law) literature, the discussion can be laid to rest. Having said that: for us it is of minor interest what the fuqaha have said on this issue, since their works on several topics are filled with unsubstantiated innovation. But there are many Muslims who think highly of these scholars and for a large part follow their interpretations.

Ibn Rushd

The Maliki faqih (Islamic jurist) Ibn Rushd lived in the twelfth century after Christ. In his leading work ‘Bidayat Al-Mujtahid’ he wrote the following:

“Does the right of the mu’allafat qulubuhum still subsist up to this day? Malik said that there are no such persons today. Al-Shafi’i and Abu Hanifa maintained that the right of the mu’allafat qulubuhum does subsist till today if the imam considers it to be so, and they are the people who are to be induced and encouraged to abide by Islam.

The reason for their disagreement is whether this was a right specific to the Prophet (God’s peace and blessings be upon him) or it was available generally and to the rest of the umma. The apparent meaning is that it is a general right, but it is permitted to the imam to exercise it under all circumstances or only under certain circumstances and not in others, that is, in a state of weakness and not in that of strength. It is for this reason that Malik said that there is no need for them today due to the strength of Islam.”[11]

In Ibn Rushd’s work we find the crux of the problem in the interpretation that non-Muslims can no longer receive money in order to draw them to Islam. Some great jurists from the past concluded that this category of Zakah receivers was no longer applicable to the times in which they lived. Ibn Rushd, who himself lived in a period of Islamic power, explained that such jurists wrote from the perspective of their time in which Islam was dominant. But when Islam becomes weak this category is reopened, as imam Shakir also explained in his earlier mentioned video for the National Zakat Foundation.

Here we see the same two faces towards unbelievers that have crossed our path before while studying scholars of Islam: friendliness in times of weakness, but a retracting hand once Islam has reached its goal of dominance.[12] Later on we will see that more prominent jurists have confirmed the existence of this mechanism. Al-Qaradawi, who believes that the “reconciliation of hearts” can be lawful in all times, does so by referring to a narration he found with Al Kasani, in which Umar, one of the companions of Muhammad, shreds a document which said that certain people would continue to receive money for the reconciliation of their hearts. Umar is said to have stated:

“Indeed, the Messenger of God (p) used to give you in order to reconcile you to Islam, but today God has strengthened this religion. If you remain steadfast in Islam, [it is well and good] but if you do not, there is nothing between us but the sword.”[13]

Apart from the umpteenth confirmation that apostates are dealt with by the sword in Islam, this narration also shows that Muslims should stop giving “charity” to disbelievers and recent converts the minute their state obtains enough power to no longer have to rely on such contracts.

This says quite a bit about the motivations which lead to such “charity”. Because there is always a need for real charity, but according to this text ’those whose hearts are to be reconciled’ are only given charity when Islam benefits. Therefore the question rises whether Islam truly is a proselytizing religion, as it is often claimed to be. The debated opinion says that certain friendly approaches towards unbelievers can suddenly become obsolete and disappear. Another popular claim is that people tend to convert to Islam after a serious study of its scriptures, which is also debunked by the above. After all, the final push into Islam can be given by offering a fist full of cash.

Al-Mawardi

Al-Mawardi was an eleventh-century Shafi’i jurist who is still counted as one of the heavyweights today. He too wrote about this category of Zakat receivers. According to him they fall into four subcategories:

  • Those who are brought closer so that they help Muslims
  • Those who are brought closer so that they refrain from damaging Muslims
  • Those who are brought closer because of their desire for Islam
  • Those who are brought closer so that the desire for Islam is stimulated among their people and family

In his work ‘Al-Akham As-Sultaniyyah, The Laws of Islamic Governance, Al-Mawardi confirms that money can be given to non-Muslims with these intentions. But not from the Zakat treasures, only from the fay (nonviolently obtained booty) or the ghaneemah (violently obtained booty).[14]

Al-Nawawi

Al-Nawawi was a thirteenth-centry Shafi’i jurist who confirms a few things as well:

“Persons inclined to Islam who need some assistance in order to declare themselves openly to be converts; or whose high social position gives hope of the conversion of other infidels.”[15]

Salih al Fawzan

Salih al Fawzan is a contemporary Hanbali jurist and also a Salafi. He is generally considered as the most wise Islamic scholar of Saudi Arabia. In his work on Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) it reads the following:

“The fourth category is those given Zakah to bring their hearts together for Islam. Those people fall under two subcategories: disbelievers and Muslims. The disbeliever is to be given from Zakah if he is expected to embrace Islam, in order to make him more willing to embraced 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, or for any other sound and lawful reasons that benefit the Muslims. Such people are to be given only when necessary, for ‘Umar Ibnul-Khattab, ‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affan, and ‘Ali Ibn Abu Talib (may Allah be pleased with them all) stopped giving those people Zakah, when there was no necessity to given them.”[16]

Al-Qaradawi

Al-Qaradawi is an Egyptian contemporary Sunni scholar who is regarded by many as one of the leading authorities today on Islamic jurisprudence. His book ‘Fiqh al Zakah’ is widely considered to be the most complete work on the third compulsory pillar of Islam. At the beginning of this chapter we mentioned that we refer to the fuqaha in order to convince people who hold these people in high regard, even though the Islamic scriptures are clear enough as far as we’re concerned. We feel that Al-Qaradawi goes back to the scriptures in a careful way and in the process debunks some innovations, such as the alleged annulment of this category of Zakat receivers.

His book contains an elaborate chapter on the reconciliation of hearts via the proceeds from the Zakah. In that chapter Al-Qaradawi refutes the opinions of scholars who said that either Muhammad’s death or the decisions of his earliest successors have put an end to this category forever.[17]

According to Al-Qaradawi it is impossible for any companion of Muhammad to abolish one of Allah’s commandments.[18] Early in his chapter he does leave some room for the opinion that this category temporarily expires during times of Islamic strength.[19] But he does seem to have his issues with his vision as well,[20] since he states that reasons to spend funds on the reconciliation of hearts can be found under any circumstances. He does add that the Islamic state primarily decides this. If an Islamic state is not fulfilling this task, or is non-existent, Islamic organizations can take on this responsibility. He considers it undesirable for individual Muslims to give to such people on their own accord, even if the Islamic state and Islamic organizations are not.[21]

According to Al-Qaradawi there are seven subcategories[22] within this category of Zakah receivers:

  • People who are close to becoming Muslims
  • Those who may do harm to Muslims, to whom giving zakah stops them from hurting Muslims
  • People who have just embraced Islam, to whom giving helps them be steadfast
  • Muslims whose social status is respected by disbelievers who have status in their own communities, such that giving these Muslims encourages their non-Muslim counterparts to consider embracing Islam.
  • Muslim leaders whose faith is shaky, to whom giving generously could strengthen their faith and commitment.
  • Muslims living on the borders of a Muslim country who are expected to defend Muslim land against any attack from enemies
  • Muslims whose influence is needed in the zakah collecting process to persuade would be rebels to pay their zakah, to avoid having to fight those who reject paying zakah

Al-Qaradawi’s treatment of the different opinions

According to Al-Qaradawi it was the opinion of Al-Shafi’i (eponym of the Shafi’i school of thought) that newcomers to Islam do fall under this category of Zakat receivers, but that unbelievers cannot receive from the same fund, considering that Muhammad gave the unbelievers from the fay (booty) and not from the Zakat. Likewise, the famous mufasir and Shafi’i jurist Al Razi, who in turn quotes Al Wahidi, was of the opinion that unbelievers can definitely be spent on for the sake of bringing them into Islam, but that this cannot come from the Zakat treasure. In response to this Al-Qaradawi considers the fact that mufasir Qatadah ibn Di’ama al-Sadusi said that those whose hearts are to be reconciled were often pagan Bedouins, to whom Muhammad gave directly from the Zakat in order to bring them to the Islamic faith.[23] Later on we’ll see other examples in which Muhammad gave unbelievers from the Zakat. Al-Qaradawi continued by stating that the Maliki jurist Al Qurtubi wrote that ‘spending Zakat on unbelievers in order to bring them to Islam is a form of Jihad.’[24]

On the same page Al-Qaradawi also writes that Ahmad ibn Hanbal (eponym of the Hanbali school of thought) and his disciples believed that the rules concerning the reconciliation of hearts are permanent. This was also the position taken by Maliki jurist Abu Bakr ibn Al-Arabi, who according to Al-Qaradawi added the following:

“The way I see it, if Islam becomes strong, this group of recipients becomes null, but if they are needed, they may be given their share, the same way the Messenger of God (p) used to give them.”

The previously mentioned Al-Nawawi is also mentioned by Al-Qaradawi. The former is said to have quoted from the scholar Al Hasan as follows: ‘Today there should be no reconciliation of hearts from the Zakah’. Al Sha’bi went further, by writing that those people were a group whose hearts had to be reconciled during the life of Muhammad and which was canceled when Abu Bakr became the leader of the Muslims.[25]

Al Nawawi is said to have quoted Al Shafi’i als follows: ‘If unbelievers are reconciled, they must only be paid fay’ and not zakah, since the latter must not be given to non-Muslims’. The latter is also reported to have said that this group does not receive from any funds as soon as the Islamic state is strong.[26]

Concerning the Malikites, Al-Qaradawi writes, there are two opinions among them, of which one allows this group to receive from the Zakat and the other group does not allow it. Hanifi’s believe that there is no more spending on this category since Muhammad’s death. For this Al-Qaradawi points to Kasani, who called it the correct position because the companions were supposedly unanimous on this issue. However, Al-Qaradawi claims to refute this, in part by referring to the earlier mentioned fact that the companions cannot abolish any Quranic creed.

He explains that the scholars of usul confirm that the dependency a rule has on a defined element, is an indication that the element is the cause of the rule:

“The spending of zakah in the case on hand depends on the need for reconciliation of hearts. This indicated that reconciliation is the reason for payment.”[27]

The Egyptian scholar continues to build his case, by suggesting that when there is no need for the reconciliation of hearts Umar’s step can be made again. After all, the same would happen when for instance Zakat employers (those who collect and distribute it) are not paid because at any time there are no Zakat workers. This does not mean that the category is annulled by any means, but that it is temporarily lifted.

Moreover, Al-Qaradawi is of the opinion that there was never an ijma (consensus) on the annulment of this creed from Allah:

“’Umar did not annul payment to ‘individuals whose hearts are being reconciled’ nor was there an ijma’ on such annulment.”[28]

He elaborates by pointing his readers to the fact that Allah’s laws can only be annulled through a revelation to his messenger, which would have to take place during the life of Muhammad. After that, abolishment is only possible when two authentic texts in the Quran or Sunnah completely contradict each other and when it is known which was revealed later than the other one, says Al-Qaradawi.[29]

Can this category be temporarily annulled?

Now that Al-Qaradawi explained why this category is not abolished, he focusses on some scholars who have said that the necessity of reconciling hearts can be temporarily suspended. It should be noted that earlier quotes seem to show an Al-Qaradawi who accepted this position for the sake of his refutation of the view that it was eternally abolished by Muhammad’s successors.

Al-Qaradawi calls it an incorrect assumption that reconciliation can only have a place when the Muslim state is weak: ‘This is an unnecessary restriction and an unrealistic assumption’.[30] For this statement he quotes Al Tabari’s tafsir,[31] who is said to have written the following:

“God makes zakah fulfill two objectives, namely satisfying the needs of Muslims and strengthening the cause of Islam. The cause of Islam covers rich and poor alike, since what is given for this purpose is not aimed at erasing destitution, but at strengthening commitment to Islam. Fighters for the sake of God are given zakah regardless of whether they are rich or poor. Payments to those whose hearts are being reconciled are made regardless of their wealth, because giving them is supporting the call of Islam. The Prophet (p) gave zakah for reconciliation of hearts after God had opened for him most of Arabia and after the Islamic state was well-established. There is no support in Sunnah for those who claim that after the strengthening of Islam and its state there is no need for reconciling hearts.”[32]

Apart from Al-Qaradawi’s case for the application of this rule to all times, he confirms something we’ve already seen in other sources and quotes: the “charity” has very little to do with the well-being of the receiving individuals, but rather concerns the needs of the Muslims and Islam.

֎ Bribery?

We’ve already seen that some Islamic scholars have expressed the opinion that the charity towards ’those whose hearts are to be reconciled’ is mostly, if not entirely, based on the needs of Islam or the Muslim community. This shows that the act of giving, in these cases, is not sincere in nature, but simply a way to expand Islamic influence.

It seems evident that the act of giving money to people with the premeditated intent of drawing them towards Islam is questionable at best. Whether we are dealing with actual bribery, however, depends on the specifics of the situation. We’ve already heard the hypothetical scenario Zaid Shakir used, in which the receiving party is plainly told that this money is being given because the Muslims know this person is already thinking about becoming a Muslim, although it should be noted that the rest of Shakir’s sketch certainly suggested that these people had a radical change of heart. By receiving this money, the receiver will allow himself to be influenced in such a way that he will enter a (new) religion thanks to a financial stimulant, which often comes from the compulsory Zakat funds for which other Muslims have to pay if they want to continue to be considered a Muslim.

In cases where the receiver is a critic of Islam, people could likewise assume that the purpose for the gift should be known to its receiver. At the very least this should be considered a one-sided attempt to commit bribery (in the moral sense), seeing that the giver knows very well that the purpose of his gift is to make someone do something (convert to Islam) or stop doing something (so called anti-Islam activities).

Let’s examine whether more clear examples of bribery can be found. At this point it can be useful to determine what the Islamic definition of full-blown bribery looks like. Perhaps it is most interesting to see how Islamic writers judge similar acts when they are not thinking about defending the reputation of Islam.

We know that Islamic scholars and organizations speak of bribery openly[33] when it concerns the infamous attempt by the Quraish tribe to make Muhammad stop insulting and ridiculing their religion and way of life.[34] This makes all the sense in the world, seeing that the Islamic source describes an undisguised attempt to make Muhammad a rich man so long as he would stop his acts against them.

In ‘Fiqh al Zakah’ by Al-Qaradawi, two narrations from the life of Muhammad are quoted in which the same mechanism appears. The only difference is that these times the initiative comes from the receiving parties. However, such a construction does not change the fact that it is bribery:

“The second group includes those who may do harm to Muslims, to whom giving zakah stops them from hurting Muslims. Ibn ‘Abbas narrates that certain people came to the Prophet who, if they are given sadaqat, praise Islam and declare it a good religion, but if not, malign Islam.”[35]

It is remarkable that Al-Qaradawi applies a narration about the potential damaging of Islam to the potential damaging of Muslims. From this we could perhaps conclude that both forms of damage are synonymous according to the scholar. The fact that he refers to the above mentioned narration to support his views on Zakat spending suggests that Muhammad must have really spent the money. Here the observant reader could remark that this transaction falls more into the category of blackmail, since the receiver threatens to speak evil about Islam if he doesn’t receive anything. However, the general application by Al-Qaradawi shows that money can go to people who can damage Muslims, and it is not specified that it must concern people who take the initiative to ask for something. After all, Al-Qaradawi’s focus there is the proactive spending on those who can damage Muslims. Nowhere does he point towards a rule that says it must be the non-Muslim who attempts to blackmail the Muslim community. This makes sense, because otherwise people could abuse such a rule at will.

Moreover, it is unlikely that Muhammad would have given out of fear of anyone speaking ill of Islam. More plausible is the assumption that Muhammad gave to such people for pragmatic reasons, namely to enlarge the (political) influence of (political) Islam.

But, should the above be reason enough for an escape route, there is still the more clear example of this narration Al-Qaradawi also mentioned:

“Never was the Messenger of God (p) asked to give anything for accepting Islam but he gave it. A man once came and asked to be given something for accepting Islam. The Messenger ordered him to be given enough sheep to fill the distance [between two hills] from the sheep collected as sadaqah. The man went back to his clan saying, ‘O my folks, accept Islam, for Muhammad gives like one who fears not poverty.”[36]

In the two aforementioned narrations it becomes more than clear that both parties were aware of the purpose for the transactions: the receiver asks the giver (Muhammad) to get something in exchange for his conversion to Islam. In both cases someone is given “a bag of money” for either doing something or not doing something. That is the very definition of bribery:

“The crime of giving someone money or something else of value, often illegally, to persuade that person to do something you want.”[37]

֎ Contemporary examples

Perhaps you have personally witnessed examples of these practices in your environment. Perhaps someone who had recently become a Muslim was suddenly able to make expensive trips to Muslim countries in order to promote Islam before Western media. Or perhaps someone who has always criticized Islam at some point stopped doing so and possibly even began to speak positively about the religion. One could also think of journalists who show an attitude towards Islam which contains not a single critical look. When you have proof of financial transactions in such cases, you can contact us.

Ceasing criticism of Islam

One instance, in which a relatively poor Christian was offered to stop criticizing Islam in exchange for a descent steady salary, has been documented. In 20212 an employee of the Quran’ic Da’wah Center International (QDCI) was seen offering a Christian 50.000 rupees (almost 300 dollars) a month if he were to accept Islam and work for them (see picture).

The Christian was further pressured by the remark that the Muslim knew he came from a poor Christian family. The Christian openly turned down the offer. We note that the offer is in line with what Imam Zaid Shakir already told us in his video for the National Zakat Foundation: these are often poor people who can be brought closer to Islam with gifts. Although strictly speaking this practical example constitutes a job offer, it remains a financial incentive of which it was hoped and expected that it would move the Christian towards using his debate skills for Islam rather than against it.

We decided to reach out to QDCI in Pakistan. A representative and teacher admitted to knowing the person and that he is a former student of his. He also said that he had not seen him in years. He added that the offer made on Facebook is unacceptable according to Islam. Of course we did not expect to hear any recognition of this phenomenon, but the conversation certainly had its value for determining the authenticity of the online comments, since it was confirmed that this person did work for the organization at that time.

Others cases have come to the surface in which Muslim organizations were suspected of bribing people for the sake of converting them to Islam. In 2014 there was a case in Malaysia in which an Islamic charity came under investigation by journalists. It is unknown if the accusations were correct. The organization denied the allegations. There was also a case in India in which journalists suspected that poor Hindus were given money to help their conversion to Islam. It is clear that such cases are not going to make it to the public eye very often. We have established, however, that the theological grounds for such acts must be considered strong.

Mass media

For years we have noticed that certain members of mainstream media spoke strikingly positive about Islam. In itself this is not suspicious, since this could be their sincere opinion. But when you structurally hear the most intellectually insincere standpoints[38] which seem to come straight from a Dawah (Islamic “evangelization”) booklet, one could suspect foul play. Could it be that what many have deemed to be a case of political correctness is sometimes really a case of bribery? Perhaps it is no coincidence that such a form of bribery can be justified in Islam.

At least, this seems to be the opinion of Al-Qaradawi:

“It could also be extended to support research, and utilize mass media that teaches the religion of Islam and defends its cause against attackers.”[39]

֎ Conclusions

The first question was whether people can be paid to become Muslim. The answer is “yes”, seeing that Muhammad gave abundantly to non-Muslims. By his own admission he did so in order to reconcile their hearts with Islam. This terminology is found in Sura Taubah (9) of the Quran, where the lawful receivers of Zakat are listed.

A second question was whether non-Muslims can also receive money in order to stop them from speaking ill of Islam. Again, the answer is given by Muhammad’s actions, seeing that he sometimes gave men goods to prevent them from speaking about Islam with a negative tongue. He did so in a way that it must have been clear to both parties that this was a case of bribery. When caught off guard Islamic scholars have no issue with the assumption that bribery was the name of the game when the Quraish tried to persuade Muhammad to stop his anti-Quraish activities.

We have seen that both the Quran and the Sunnah have led many prominent scholars to conclude that Zakat can be given to non-Muslim (and even rich) people. This can be given in hopes of: 1. Their conversion to Islam, 2. The conversion of their peers, 3. The ending of their anti-Islam activities or attacks on Muslims. Whichever of these variants is at play, we have seen that certain prominent scholars always see a reason for this money to be given in such a way that the receiving party understands that a compensation is expected of them. We have also seen that there was never an ijma (consensus) with regards to the giving for the reconciliation of hearts.

Although some Muslims say the Quran forbids all forms of bribery in Surah al Baqara (2) verse 188, we have shown from Tafsir literature that this is limited to specific judicial circumstances in which someone unjustly denies to have loaned money while nothing was written down.[40] The Quran here condemns the act of trying to get “justice” in court because the loan cannot be proven. When it comes to the spreading of Islam, however, the willing student of Islam can easily find guidelines which tell them how money can be given to people for the purpose of their conversion to Islam or to stop criticizing it.

God bless.

References

[1] Al-Qaradawi, Yusuf; ‘Fiqh al Zakah’; Volume I, translated by Monzer Kafh; ‘Scientific Publishing Centre King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia (2000), p. xl

[2] Sahih al Bukhari, book 55 hadith 558; see also dr. Muhammad Mushin Khan; The Translation of the Meaning of Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, p. 339

[3] Tabari, History of al-Tabari, volume 9, translated by Ismail K. Poonawala, p. 31

[4] Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah – The Life of Muhammad, vertaling van A. Guillaume, p. 594

[5] Al-Qaradawi, Volume II, p. 33-34

[6] https://themuslim500.com/profiles/imam-zaid-shakir/

[7] Sahih Muslim, volume 6 boek 43, hadith 2313, translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab; Darussalam 2007 (online reference)

[8] Ibid.

[9] Al-Qaradawi, Volume II, p. 33

[10] Ibid, p. 34

[11] Ibn Rushd, Bidayat Al-Mujtahid, Volume 1, translated by professor Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, p. 320

[12] Deo Volente NL; ‘Force them to the side of the Road” Islamic Humiliation of Jews and Christians or Pragmatism in Times of War?’ (‘In a country where Muslims are living as a minority, they are allowed to give such leeway to non-Muslim rulers for the greater interest of the Muslim community.’); link

[13] Al-Qaradawi, Volume II, p. 36

[14] Al-Mawardi, Al-Ahkam As-Sultaniyyah, The Laws of Islamic Governance, translated by Asadullah Yate PhD, p. 181

[15] Al-Nawawi, Minhaj et Talibin; a manual of Muhammadan law according to the school of Shafi, translated by L.W.C. van den Berg and E.C. Howard, p. 277

[16] Al-Fawzan, Salih, Dr.; ‘A Summary of Islamic Jurisprudence, Volume I, special Edition for Al-Daawah Foundation’; Al-Maiman Publishing House, Saudi Arabia; p. 363

[17] Al-Qaradawi, Volume II, p. 36

[18] Ibid, p. 37 (“Needless to say, the sayings and doings of a Companion cannot annul Qur’anic-texts…”)

[19] Ibid, p. 39 (“If weakness is a reason for distribution towards reconciling hearts, it exists today.”)

[20] Ibid, p. 39 (“There is no support in Sunnah for those who claim that after the strengthening of Islam and its state there is no need for reconciling hearts.”)

[21] Ibid, p. 39

[22] Ibid, p. 33

[23] Ibid, p. 35

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid. p. 36

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid. p. 37

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid. p. 38

[31] Tafsir al Tabari, ed. Shakir, Vol. 14, p. 316

[32] Al-Qaradawi, Volume II, p. 39

[33] Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarkpuri, scholar: https://aboutislam.net/shariah/prophet-muhammad/quraish-negotiates-prophet-story/; also see: https://www.infinitelight.org/detailed-biography/905-an-attempt-to-bribe.html, https://www.rafed.net/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13804:the-quraysh-try-to-bribe-the-holy-prophet&catid=79:history&Itemid=1033 en https://islamicpedia.in/quresh-tried-to-bribe-prophet-muhammad-pbuh/.

[34] Sira Ibn Hisham, biography of the Prophet, translated by Inas A. Farid, Al-Falah Foundation, p. 48, 50

[35] Al-Qaradawi, Volume II, p. 34

[36] Al-Qaradawi, Volume II, p. 33

[37] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/bribery

[38] Deo Volente NL; ‘Zegt de Koran: “Wie één mens doodt, doodt een hele mensheid?”; link

[39] Al-Qaradawi, Volume II, p. 39

[40] https://quranx.com/tafsirs/2.188