On the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and until they establish the Salah and pay the Zakah. And if they do so then they will have gained protection from me for their lives and property, unless [they commit acts that are punishable] in accordance to Islam, and their reckoning will be with Allah the Almighty.
[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
Written commentary compiled by volunteers utilizing Sh. Jamaal Diwan's audio commentary above and English translation of Ibn Daqiq Al-Id's commentary on The Forty Hadith of Imam al-Nawawi.
This hadith has many different narrations. Some of them actually say that “I was commanded to fight the people” and then the narrators would add in right there “meaning the polytheist” or some would say “I was commanded to fight the people until they bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is His messenger.” There is no mention of prayer and fasting, and there are various different narrations within these lines.
One important thing to take into account is that whenever the Prophet Muhammad says, “I was commanded” in this passive form, then that means that the demand is coming directly from Allah.
Who Are “The People”?
So, what does it mean when he says,“to fight the people”? This is the most controversial and misunderstood part of the hadith. Does “people” refer to everyone, a certain group, or is there further context to this hadith? Based on the context of the life of the Prophet (sas), and the actions of the generations after him, it’s understood that this hadith does not refer to all people, by any means. There were many people that he didn’t fight and people with whom we had peace contracts. There were also people that paid jizya. They were not Muslims, but they paid this tax to the Muslim state in order to be protected and to receive services.
Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani (ra), in his explanation of Sahih Al Bukhari, mentions five or six different possibilities for what “the people” could mean. The main point in that discussion is that the hadith refers to a particular type of people.
One specific incident that occurred, related to the context of this hadith, is that a group of people decided that they would no longer pay zakah when Abu Bakr became the leader of the Muslim nation. Abu Bakr took the stance that he would fight them unless they paid zakah. Many of the other companions disagreed with him, and Abu Bakr would refer to this narration, and others would refer to the narrations that don’t have the mention of establishing prayer and paying zakah.
Umar (ra) disagreed with him and argued with him for a while. Umar later said, “When I saw that Allah had made Abu Bakr so convinced with his opinion, then I, myself, also become convinced with his opinion.” Abu Bakr said that you couldn’t distinguish between these things. They are all fundamentals of the faith and cannot be denied, in particular establishing prayer and paying zakah because of this narration.
The Right of Islam
Another point to mention is that when the believers start to establish prayer and pay zakah, they gain protection from Allah (swt) for their lives and property, unless they commit acts that are punishable in Islam, such as murder or adultery. It is important to remember that this whole discussion revolved around the responsibilities of a Muslim state, and does not really apply to us. However, what does apply to us, directly, is the issue of whether this statement means that Muslims are commanded to fight all mankind. The answer is no, based on what was said before and specifically looking at the life of the Prophet (sas).
There is an ongoing discussion about the meaning of jihad in Islam. Jihad is not holy war. It means struggle, and it is a very important concept in Islam. It can refer to the struggle of an individual against oneself, speaking the word of truth in front of a tyrant, actual physical defense, or a battle that occurs on the battlefield. It’s a central concept in Islam, but it needs to be understood correctly and in a balanced and truthful way.