A Brief History of War in the Earliest Caliphates

During his lifetime, Muhammad set the genetic code, and the first four caliphs followed his example.

What did the early Muslim community say about jihad?

After Muhammad died in A.D. 632, four caliphs, one after another, took over leadership of Islam: [1]

Abu Bakr (ruled 632-634)

Umar (r. 634-644)

Uthman (r. 644-656)

Ali (r. 656-661).

They lived during Muhammad’s life, and he trained them.

These four rightly guided caliphs[2] never wrote Scriptures, but their words and deeds appear in various Islamic sources. The four are important because they eagerly searched the Quran and their memories of their deceased leader for guidelines on how to conduct Islamic war. Muhammad waged jihad and guided them (Quran 33:21). So they followed his example.

Further, the caliphs found commands in the Quran that showed them how to divide up the spoils of war, so the material aspect of early Islam is important as well. Succinctly said, religion and wealth (e.g. gold and silver in direct payment or taxes), weapons (e.g. swords and shields), commodities (e.g. grains and dates), and real property (e.g. farms and even cities), dominate the rule of the caliphs as Islam expanded by military conquest.

This article is therefore concerned with the Quran as the inspiration for their conquests by the sword and with the resources that flowed back to Medina, the capital of early Islam.

Thus, what is a major theme here in this article is the caliphs’ referencing the Quran to justify their policies.

Abu Bakr

Abu Bakr (r. 632-34) is credited with being Muhammad’s closest companion. As the first caliph, he consolidated Islamic rule over the Arab peninsula, and he conquered large territories in Iraq, in the two years he ruled. We can get a sense of how he sought to implement the Quran’s call to jihad by the campaigns of Khalid al-Walid (d. 642), his competent and talented Meccan commander of the Muslim armies during the time of Muhammad and the first two caliphates. He was nicknamed the “Sword of Allah” or the “Drawn Sword of Allah” because of his brutality.[3] Only a sample of Abu Bakr’s and Khalid’s campaigns and policies can be mentioned.

Wars of Apostasy

In A.D. 632-633 Abu Bakr waged the Wars of Apostasy. Some tribes in Arabia had promised to adhere to Islam during the life of Muhammad, but after he died, they went back to their old ways, sensing Islam was weak. Abu Bakr vowed to show them they were wrong. One hadith says as follows:

When Allah’s Apostle [Muhammad] died and Abu Bakr became the caliph some Arabs renegade [reverted to disbelief] [Abu Bakr decided to declare war against them], Umar, said to Abu Bakr, “How can you fight with these people although Allah’s Apostle said, ‘I have been ordered [by Allah] to fight the people till they say: “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and whoever said it then he will save his life and property from me except on trespassing the law . . .  and his accounts will be with Allah.”’ Abu Bakr said, “By Allah! I will fight those who differentiate between the prayer and the zakat, as zakat is the compulsory right to be taken from the property [according to Allah’s orders], by Allah! If they refuse to pay me even a she-kid which they used to pay at the time of Allah’s Apostle, I would fight with them for withholding it.”

Umar, soon to be the second caliph, responds that this policy came from Allah.

Then Umar said . . . “Allah opened Abu Bakr’s chest towards the decision [to fight] and I came to know that his decision was right.”[4]

This entire hadith echoes Quran 9:33, 61:9, 48:28 (three identical verses), 2:193, 8:39-41, 9:29, and especially 9:5. All of them speak of fighting until Islam prevails, but 9:5 discusses battling specific pagans until they pay the zakat or charity tax. In the command to fight the pagans (9:5) the fighting can only cease when the pagans (1) repent, (2) establish the Islamic prayer, and (3) pay the zakat. Now that these tribes refused the third of the three conditions they are considered basically like pagans again (as they refuse to obey an important obligation of Allah in Islam); then the command to fight them becomes applicable again.

Abu Bakr sent open letters[5] to the apostates or rebels of every Arab tribe, so that they may be warned before battle erupts. After he explains Islam’s theology, which all religions have a right to do – preach – he then informs the tribes what will happen in practical terms. If they return to Islam, they will not be killed. If they refuse, Khalid will not spare them, but may burn them with fire, slaughter them by any means, and take the women and children captive.

I [Abu Bakr] ordered [Khalid] not to fight anyone or to kill anyone until he has called him to the cause of God [Islam]; so that those who renounce [unbelief] and do good works [my envoy] shall accept him and help him to [do right], but I have ordered him to fight those who deny [Him, i.e. God] for that reason. So he will not spare any one of them he can gain mastery over, [but may] burn them with fire, slaughter them by any means, and take women and children captive; nor shall he accept from anyone anything except Islam.[6]

Sometimes this policy required fierce battles for Khalid to wage. For example, the conquest of a so-called false prophet Musaylimah and his tribe in al-Yamamah, an oasis district in central eastern Arabia, many miles east of Medina where Abu Bakr was headquartered, takes up to over thirty pages to recount  in an early Islamic history, with bloody battles.[7]

The narrative about the Muslims conquering Uman (Oman) takes only four pages. The conclusion of the fighting is offered here because it represents the slaughter that occurs elsewhere in the history of Islam’s reconquest of Arabia, or sometimes the conquest of an area for the first time.

God strengthened the people of Islam through [reinforcements], and weakened through them the polytheists; so the polytheists turned their backs in flight, so that 10,000 of them were killed in the battle. (The Muslims) pursued them so that they        made great slaughter among them and took the offspring prisoner and divided flocks among the Muslims. They sent a fifth of the booty to Abu Bakr[8] . . . .

As Abu Bakr promised in his open letters, “slaughter” subdues the enemies of Islam, the children are led away into captivity, and the spoils are divided up among the jihadists or qitalists, one-fifth of which is sent back to Medina so that Abu Bakr can run the burgeoning state of Islam, in accordance with the Quran, modeled on the Battle of Badr in 624, when his prophet was alive and Quran 8:41 was revealed. As we shall see over and over again, this verse tells how the spoils of war were to be divided: one-fifth goes to the state and four-fifths go to the warriors or jihadists.

However, some tribes saw the wisdom of returning to Islam without struggle, such as the Amir, located in northern and west-central Arabia. Observing the subjugation of their neighbors, “they gave [Abu Bakr] their hands to Islam,” referring to the traditional hand clasp symbolizing the oath of allegiance.[9] So they accepted the first option in the open letter, accepting Islam and paying the zakat tax.

Next, Khalid wrote up a truce for the Hanifah tribe in Arabia, outlining what the tribe owes Islam so that it does not attack them. One leader is hesitant, but the other one says the tribe should give in to Islam, so that Muslims do not demand the tribe’s womenfolk in marriage:

[Khalid] bound them to [payment of] gold, silver, half the captives, suits of mail, horses, a garden in every village, and a farm on condition that they embrace Islam. Then you will be secure in God’s safety, you will have the protection of Khalid b. Al-Walid and the protection of Abu Bakr, successor of the Apostle of God [Muhammad] and the protections of the Muslims in good faith.” A leader of the tribe was hesitant, but another one stepped forward and advised them to accept the truce “before the women are carried off against their will on the backs of horses and are taken to wife without being demanded in marriage. So they obeyed him [the second leader] . . . and accepted his decision.[10]

This tribe accepted their status as living under the “protection” of Islam. But they must pay up in gold and silver and other material things.

Similarly, Abu Bakr writes to the people of Najran in southwest Arabia:

. . . To the people of Najran . . . he [Muhammad] affords them protection from his army and himself and decrees for them the protection of Muhammad, except that which Muhammad the Apostle of God had revoked on God’s command regarding their lands and the lands of the Arabs, that two religions should not dwell in them.[11]

Abu Bakr goes on to outline what is protected, like the flocks and herds and church buildings and monks, but the people must be loyal to Islam, even to recruit soldiers to subdue the other tribes. The last clause about no two religions dwelling in Arabia shows that this dhimmi citizenship will not last, for Umar (the second caliph) will drive Jews and Christians out of the county in 635.

Abu Bakr’s Islamic Armies March Northward

Islam does not stay in the Arabian peninsula, but marches northward into Iraq, Jordan, and Syria. In Ullays, on the Euphrates River, Iraq, Khalid vows that he will make a nearby canal flow with the blood of polytheists.

The Muslims raged against them. Khalid said: “O God, if You deliver their shoulders to us, I will obligate myself to You not to leave any one of them whom we can overcome until I make their canal run with blood.” Then God defeated them for the Muslims and gave them their shoulders to them. . . . As a result, the cavalry brought prisoners in droves, driving them along. Khalid has detailed certain men to cut off their heads in the canal. He did that to them for a day and a night . . . And Khalid cut off their heads. . . . Khalid had blocked up the canal, but he released the waters, and the blood flowed. Owing to this, it has been called Blood Canal to this day.[12]

Early Muslims looked to the Quran and Abu Bakr for inspiration and the will to fight. In 634 at Yarmuk River, on the Syrian and Jordanian border, a reciter of the Quran followed Muhammad’s custom after the Battle of Badr and quoted from memory Quran 8, which, as noted, deals with the aftermath of Badr, in order to inspire the jihadists before the clash of arms. “The people did not cease doing this [listening to or reciting Quran 8] after that.” Interestingly the ordinary soldiers titled this chapter of the Quran “Jihad.” Its name is actually “Spoils” of war.[13]

In addition to Quran 8 as a source of inspiration, in a short sermon Abu Bakr says rewards in the afterlife are a motive to wage jihad:

Indeed, the reward in God’s book for jihad in God’s path is something for which a Muslim should love to be singled out. It is a commerce that God has pointed out, by which God has saved [people] from humiliation, and through which He has bestowed nobility in this world and the next.[14]

He offers the Quran’s trade of this life for the next, in an economic bargain or “commerce” and in the context of jihad. Quran 61:1-12, 4:74, and 9:111 also speak of a deadly economic bargain with Allah, and the soldier’s life is the currency.

However, this offer of martyrdom may or may not be enough to get young Muslims to sign up for and launch their military campaigns. The poll (submission) tax, called the jizyah, was also a motive. This money flowed back to Medina. In the next passage, Khalid lays down the terms of surrender to the governor of al-Hirah, a city along the Euphrates River in Iraq. Khalid is sent to call people to Islam or pay a tax while living under Islamic rule as protected citizens. If not, they must face an army that loves death as much as other people love life. Khalid says:

“I call you to God and to Islam. If you respond to the call, you are Muslims: You obtain the benefits they enjoy and take up the responsibilities they bear. If you refuse, then [you must pay] the jizyah. If you refuse the jizyah, I will bring against you tribes of people who are more eager for death than you are for life. We will fight you until God decides between us and you.”[15]

The option to pay the jizyah or tribute tax recalls Quran 9:29, which offers this payment plan. Further, this love of death reflects Quran 3:143, the context of which is the Battle of Uhud in 625, led by Muhammad. The verse says, “Before you [Muslims] encountered death you were hoping for it.”

When Khalid perceived that his Muslim soldiers desired to return to Arabia, he pointed out how luscious the land of the Persians was:

“Do you not regard [your] food like a dusty gulch? By God, if struggle for God’s sake and calling [people] to God were not required of us, and there were no consideration except our livelihood, the wise opinion would [still] have been to strike this countryside until we possess it”[16] . . . .

It was up to the Muslims to take possession of it. Accordingly, money and resources must not go back only to Medina. The soldiers could get as high as eighty percent of the immediate spoils of war after a conquest.

In Ayn al-Tamr, Iraq, Khalid won another battle and “beheaded all the men of the fortress and took possession of all that their fortress contained, seizing as spoils what was in it.” The account continues:

Khalid found in their church forty boys who were studying the Gospels behind a locked door, which he broke down in getting to them. He asked, “Who are you?” They replied, “Hostages.” He divided them among the Muslims who had performed outstandingly in battle.[17]

Apparently one of the conditions of Quran 9:29 had been carried out. If People of the Book (in this case Christians) fight, then they will be killed. Other Quranic passages say that the women could be taken as slaves (see Quran 4:3, 24). These boys were divided up as the human spoils of war. Recall that Quran 33:25-27 refers to the Battle of the Trench in 627. Muhammad sold Jewish women and children into slavery after that battle.

Not too long after this victory in Ayn al-Tamr, Khalid found another human spoil. “The Muslims rushed upon the enemy, killing the troops and making captives of the children  . . . Khalid purchased the daughter of al-Judi who[se beauty] was extolled” in the Dumah tribe, also in Iraq.[18] Her father had been killed.

To conclude this section on Abu Bakr, he ruled only two years after Muhammad’s death, but he subdued the tribes in Arabia and sent military excursions into Iraq and as far away as Syria. He depended heavily on the Quran and Muhammad’s example to guide him.[19]

He died in 634. One account says the cause of death was poison put in a grain of rice by the Jews, while another version omits them.[20] Either way, the Islamic sources agree that he died of a sickness and a fever.[21] He left behind four wives and many children.[22]


On the death of Abu Bakr, Umar (r. 634-644) became the second caliph. Considered uncompromising and even violent, instituting the policy of carrying a whip,[23] he and his armies conquered vast territories, such as Jerusalem, Syria, Iraq, parts of Egypt, and Libya, with surprising rapidity.

In the lengthy hadith quoted above about Abu Bakr’s reason for fighting the Arab tribes, Umar said: . . .  “Allah opened Abu Bakr’s chest towards the decision [to fight] and I came to know that his decision was right.”

Thus Umar determined to carry on where Abu Bakr left off, until Islam prevails over all religions (and Medina got even richer).[24]

Umar’s Military Successes in Iraq

First he had to take over Iraq from the Persians. Then, he went east to invade Persia itself. The motive, in addition to religion, is clear. On the eve of Islamic conquests of Persia (Iran today), Umar “gave the army permission to penetrate into Persia to wrest from Yazdagird his imperial possessions.”[25] Yazdagird was the Persian king.

The first thing Umar did was to rally the troops to fight the Persians who had controlled large territories in Iraq. He also insisted that the people swear an oath of allegiance to him. Umar then stood up and gave this speech:

The Hijaz is not a home for you except for foraging; its inhabitants do not survive in it except by that. Where are the impulsive migrants for the sake of God’s promise? Travel in the land that God has promised you in the Book to make you heirs to, for He has said, “That he may make it [Islam] triumph over all religion.” God is the one who grants victory to His religion, strengthens His helper, and commits to His people of inheritances of the nations. Where are the righteous worshippers of God?[26]

The Hijaz is the region where Medina is located and the early Muslims were headquartered. It was not sufficient for all of them – Muslims, Christians, and Jews. So Umar needed to get them out of the area to the land that he says Allah promised to Islam. He intended to get them to go north and fight; then they could have the newly conquered territory. The clause that says Islam “must triumph over all religion” is a quotation of Quran 9:33, 61:9, and 48:28, all of which also promise Islam’s ultimate triumph over all other religions.

On the same theme, a Muslim commander stood up before an assault by the light cavalry and told them that Allah has given them “the upper hand.” This is a quotation of Quran 3:139 and 47:35, which also says true believers have the upper hand. The historical context of the verse in Chapter 3 refers to the Battle of Uhud, in 625, when Muhammad was alive. And Quran 47 can be titled “Muhammad” or “War” (Qital), and it deals with various issues of warfare.

However, God’s will may not be enough to inspire the Muslim soldiers to fight. Material possessions have to be brought into the reward system. The commander goes on to say that Allah has given them permission to fight the Persians. He says, “You have the upper hand and God is with you. If you stand firm and fight them with courage, their property, their women, their sons, and their country will be yours.”[27] The upper hand refers to Quran 3:139 and 47:5, both chapters appearing the context of war and promising Islam the upper hand.

Though Islam at this time in its history won many more battles than it lost, it did not always win. In the Battle of al-Qarqus, on the west bank of the Euphrates, in Iraq, the Muslims had to retreat. Umar quotes Quran 8:16, which says that if a Muslim turns back, except for a battle maneuver or to rejoin a company, he will have Allah’s wrath on him. Umar told the retreating Muslims that he was their company, so Allah was not angry with them.[28]

During the long campaign against Qadisiyyah, a Persian city a little to the west of the Euphrates, in central Iraq, Umar, following his prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr who sent letters to various leaders forewarning them of impending doom if they do not accept Islam or pay a tax, told his Muslim commanders to meet with the Persian king and invite him to accept Islam. They first told the king that Islam is wonderful. Then they spelled out the practical choices.

Then he [Muhammad] ordered us to start with the nations adjacent to us and invite them to justice. We are therefore inviting you to embrace our religion . . .  If you refuse our invitation, you must pay the poll tax. This is a bad thing, but not as bad as the alternative if you refuse [to pay,] it will be war. If you respond and embrace our religion, we shall leave you with the Book of God [the Quran]  . . . we shall leave your country and let you deal with its affairs as you please. If you protect yourself against us by paying the poll tax, we shall accept it from you and ensure your safety. Otherwise we shall fight you![29]

Justice in this case means Islam. If a country refuses Islam, it refuses justice, and an unjust country deserves to be attacked, to rescue its citizens. The poll (submission) tax protects the Persians from Islam.

Later in the lengthy Qadisiyyah campaign, Sad, Umar’s lead commander, sent impressive looking men to a Persian general representing the king and also invited the Persians to Islam.[30] A Muslim spokesman told the general:

One of the ideas he [Muhammad] brought from our Lord was to wage war against those who were closer to us first. We acted upon it among ourselves and saw that there was no turning away from what he had promised us . . .  Now we came to you by order of our Lord, fighting for his sake . . .  We call upon you to embrace Islam and to accept its authority. If you agree, we will let your alone  . . . If you refuse, the only permissible thing for us to do is to engage you in battle unless you ransom yourselves by paying the poll tax. If you pay this, well and good; if not, then God has already bequeathed to us your country, your sons, and your property.[31]

Both passages of forewarning and options reflect Quran 9:29, and apparently it could apply in certain cases to people who were not of the Book, the Bible (Jews and Christians).[32] In the context of the second passage, the Persian spokesman asked the Muslim why the Arabs have come here and attacked; what justifies Islam’s aggression? The Muslim spokesman explained that Allah sent a messenger (Muhammad) to the Arabs, and he called them to fight.[33] The Muslims were sent by Allah.

Further, both passages say that Muhammad told his followers to wage war against those who were nearest them. Surely this parallels Quran 9:123, which says, “You who believe, fight [q-t-l] the disbelievers near you and let them find you standing firm” . . . .

In the Qadisiyyah campaign Sad sent the Muslims out in raiding parties before the final victory. After a victory by a raiding party, they yelled, “God is most great!” Or “Allahu Akbar!” This turned into a battle cry before or after the fight, inspiring the jihadist. Sad also distributed one-fifth share of the booty to the people and four-fifths to the soldiers. Ordinarily the one-fifth went to the leader or back to Medina (Quran 8:41), but he was generous.[34] One or two times Umar permitted this policy of dividing the spoils of war among the soldiers without regard to the resources for Medina,[35] but he will institute a more Quranic plan during and after his conquest of Jerusalem, which was one-fifth to Medina, four-fifths to the soldiers.[36]

The Quran inspired the soldiers before fighting skirmishes. Sad ordered the noon prayers and a Quran reader to recite Chapter 8 for the soldiers, a long passage glorifying Muhammad’s surprise victory at Badr in 624. The soldiers, as they did in the caliphate of Abu Bakr, also called this chapter “Jihad,” but its name is formally “the Spoils” (of War). “The hearts and eyes of the people became cheerful, and in reading this surah [chapter] they experienced repose.”[37] Sad yelled, “God is most great!” while the Muslims prepared for battle.[38] After the victory at Qadisiyyah, Sad wrote Umar a letter announcing the good news. On the night before the battle, Sad says, the Muslims “were whispering the Quran, humming like bees.”[39]

Islam was at last victorious in Qadisiyyah. The victory opened up other doors to the east, namely to India. Umar told Utbah b. Ghawan that he would be appointed the governor of “the land of India.”[40] Again, Umar told him to invite the people to Islam. He follows the same pattern as Quran 9:29: invite people to Islam – acceptance of it means acceptance from Islam – refusal leads to humiliation and poll tax – refusal to pay – leads to sword.

Umar writes his appointed ruler: “Summon the people to God; those who respond to your call, accept it from them, but those who refuse must pay the poll tax out of humiliation and lowliness. If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency.”[41]

Umar Conquers Jerusalem

However, the real prize, theologically speaking, was the conquest of Jerusalem. It cannot really be called a conquest in the sense of fierce fighting. The Muslims had piled victory after victory, so the Byzantine empire, which had controlled the city, was too weak to resist, not to mention the city itself.

Yet, Umar himself made the trip up to Jerusalem because one of his commanders had besieged it, and it surrendered on the condition that Umar write the treaty personally.[42] The people of the city “made peace with Umar on the condition that they would pay the poll tax and opened up Jerusalem for him.”[43]

The conditions of peace were that the inhabitants got to keep their churches and rituals and crosses and religion without forcible conversion. “They will have to pay the poll tax.”[44] If some wish to depart to the Byzantine territory, they may do so safely. Umar led the Muslims in prayer the next morning. He recited Quran 38, which talks about the prophets in the Old Testament, sometimes in a garbled form, for Muhammad picked up these stories from traveling poets and storytellers who wandered from city to city along the trade routes. But one thing was clear for Muhammad: Islam is the better religion (38:29).[45]

Umar’s Division of Spoils

Umar and Ali (the future fourth caliph, below) gathered the Muslim leaders and divided up the spoils of the conquests of Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Jerusalem. Those who accepted Islam the earliest, like the old Meccan tribes or the veterans of the Battle of Badr (624) got the most money. Those who embraced Islam later, in chronological order, got a slightly reduced amount.

For example, the converts before Badr each got 5,000 dirhams, and those between that battle and the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah (A.D. 628) got 4,000 each. If anyone fought in the battles in Iraq and Syria before Qadisiyyah, he was given 3,000. Those who fought at Qadisiyyah and in Syria got four-fifths of the spoils, divided up among them, based on Quran 8:41, Umar and Ali referencing it in their discussion. Those after that got 2,500.

Back in Medina, the wives of Muhammad were paid more than the soldiers, 10,000 each, though Aishah, his favorite, got 2,000 extra. The victors who moved to or remained in the newly conquered territories received a stipend of land. Umar was to get a modest amount, befitting his station as caliph. The poll tax was to go to those who administered the new Muslim areas.

Capture of the Emperor of Persia and Umar’s End

Finally, after only a short time of conquests, in 643-644, Yazdagird, the king of Persia, was killed, caught hiding in a mill. The Muslim commander sent a letter back to Umar, along with the one-fifth of the booty, telling him of the good news. Umar gathered the people of Medina together and announced that Allah had sent Muhammad “with guidance and the true religion, and that He might make it prevail over any [other] religion, even though the polytheists were adverse.” This verse is a quotation of Quran 9:33, 61:9, and 48:28.

Umar clearly links military conquests with Islam prevailing over all other religions, the ultimate goal of the new religion.[46]

Umar’s end came when a disgruntled slave protested Umar’s tax policies. Umar denied his request for relief. A few days later the slave stabbed him. See Part Ten for more details of his death.


When Uthman (r. 644-656) took the reins of power as the third caliph, elected by a council, Islamic armies had taken over vast territories. Administering them would pose a challenge for him with their cross-currents and stresses and strains of different peoples and cultures and power grabs. The overwhelming impression of his caliphate is that he did not concern himself with vast conquests, though his troops waged jihad in the name of Islam and enlarged its territories. Nor did he keep quoting the Quran, though he did that.

For our purposes, the one main record of his regime does not show his soldiers offering the newly conquered cities and tribes death or taxes or conversion, though his generals did that too.

Rather, the main theme of his caliphate is that he unsuccessfully administered his domains.

Uthman’s Moral and Spiritual Life

On a spiritual and moral plane, Uthman lived piously, as much as a political leader can. In a sermon he said life is transitory and the world harbors deceit, so life should not deceive us and the deceitful one should delude about Allah, and wealth and sons may adorn life, but righteousness is better before Allah. He referenced Quran 31:33 and 33:5: “People, be mindful of your Lord and fear a day when no parent will take the place of their child, nor a child take the place of their [sic] parents, in any way. God’s promise is true, so do not let the present life delude you, nor the Deceiver delude you about God” (31:33); “Name your adopted sons after their real fathers: this is more equitable in God’s eyes – if you do not know what their fathers are [they are your] ‘brothers-in-religion and protégés .  .  . (33:5).

Other Muslim leaders told their peoples to watch out for the deceitfulness and transitoriness of life, but Uthman emphasized it a little more than usual.[47]

Uthman regulated his married life. He married a Christian from the Kalb tribe (Iraqi), but they did not consummate the marriage until she converted to Islam.[48]

Finally, in a telling episode, he was careless about a very important signet ring. Muhammad himself had worn it. Uthman was twisting it on his finger while he was sitting by the edge of a well, but it fell in the water. Uthman’s servants and others searched for it and drained the well, but they could not find the ring. He ordered a new ring made and inscribed it with “Muhammad, Messenger of God.” After Uthman was assassinated, “the ring disappeared from his hand, and no one knows who had taken it.”[49]

This anecdote maybe has some truth in it, but even if it is a fiction, it surely was symbolic of his rule.

The caliph’s piety was important to him, but would it be enough to rule over the Islamic world?

Uthman’s Military and Spoils of War

Militarily, Islam advanced. Muslim attacked the Byzantines in the latter’s own territory.[50] Alexandria, Egypt denounced its treaty it made in the time of Umar, but it was reconquered.[51] Islam attacked the island of Cyprus until it was conquered and had to pay tribute.[52]

More conquests ensued. Islam consolidated Syria.[53] Islam won a sea battle over the Byzantines.[54] Islamic armies advanced in Iran and central Asia, and the new Muslim governors imposed a tribute that went to them and Medina.[55] Islam advanced in North Africa. The Muslims were planning to invade Spain[56] (but that would have to wait, when civil war loomed around the corner under Ali).

In various battles and victories, the spoils of war were divided according to the Quran’s injunction (8:41): one-fifth went to the state, and four-fifths to the soldiers.[57] But one commander gave the four-fifths to his favorite troops and excluded others from the rewards of war.[58] Yet Uthman imposed a relatively more unified policy: the Quranic injunction that one-fifth of the spoils went to the governors and back to Medina, and four-fifths to the soldiers.[59]

The treasury in Medina ran a surplus.

Revolt against Uthman

Uthman’s life came to an end when hundreds in a coalition of Iraqis (two factions, one of the Basrans, the other of the Kufans) and of Egyptians, led by Abu Bakr’s (the second caliph’s) son Muhammad,[60] camped out in Medina. They demanded justice, favorable treatment, and even his replacement with their favorites. They also wanted new governors to rule in their city or region.

Further, the rebels accused Uthman, as noted, of favoring a chosen few, so jealousy motivated them to oppose him. For the new caliph the Basrans wanted a man named Talhah, but his representatives shouted at them and drove them away, perhaps because Talhah could be rounded up and accused of treason, or perhaps he genuinely disliked the idea. The Kufans desired a leader named al-Zubayr, but his representatives shouted at them and drove them away, perhaps for the same reasons, as the one for Talhah. The Egyptians demanded Ali, but his son Hasan, his representative, also shouted at them and drove them away, also for the same reasons.[61]

Rebuffed by their favorite would-be caliph, the rebels departed from Medina, but thought better of it and went back. Some of them surrounded and blocked the entrance to the mosque. They even threw rocks at Uthman while he was in the pulpit. He fell unconscious and was carried off to his house.[62]

In another instance Uthman again ascended the pulpit, and a rebel took the staff that Muhammad had carried, followed by Abu Bakr and Umar, and broke it over his knee.[63] They even accused Uthman of falling into error. He reassured them that he was an orthodox Muslim, by quoting Quran 9:33, 61:9, and 48:28: “It is He who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, to show that it is above all [other] religions, however much the idolaters hate it”[64] Uthman wrote letters to his allies asking for help. He likened his enemies to the Meccans who had surrounded Medina during the Battle of the Trench in 627 (cf. Quran 33:20-27).[65] But Muhammad was able to fend them off until they left after a month-long siege. Could Uthman do the same? A series of charges and counter charges ensued from all sides, but went nowhere. Various accounts say they besieged him for a number of days.

Then the Egyptian faction, led by Abu Bakr’s son, stabbed him. One account says Uthman was reading Quran 3:167, the context of which is the battle of Uhud, in 625. Another account says he was reading 20:1, which says: . . . “It was not to distress you that We [Allah] sent down the Quran to you.”[66] Whichever passage he was reading, the Quran was stained with his blood.[67] See Part Ten for more details.

Uthman’s reign was punctuated with success from Islam’s point of view, for money kept flowing into the treasury in Medina from the conquests and tribute payments. He led his religion to a surplus. However, his administration was weaker than Umar’s, so Uthman had some failures in his administration of the vast Islamic territories. His deficiencies – which boiled down to a lack of strong control over the realm and its governors and rebels – led to his downfall. He left behind many wives and children.[68]


Ali (r. 656-661) was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law; he had married Muhammad’s daughter Fatima. He was elected to the caliphate when Uthman was assassinated, but two major revolts broke out shortly after that. So his caliphate is not concerned so much with the expansion of Islam as it is with his survival by the sword.

Battle of the Camel

The first revolt was led by Aishah, the favorite wife and now widow of Muhammad. She was joined by Talhah and al-Zubayr, as they left the Hijaz (region around Medina) and arrived in Basrah, where they set up their base. They blamed Ali for Uthman’s death, though indirectly by Ali’s passivity, and opposed his ascendancy to the caliphate after Uthman.

Even though she heard that the council voted for Ali, she nonetheless said, “The fact that Uthman has been killed unjustly and that as long as the mob rules order will not be established. Seek revenge for the blood of Uthman, and you will strengthen Islam!”[69] Then she added: “March therefore . . .  we hope Almighty and Glorious Allah will help Uthman get their blood revenge speedily.”[70]

Ali went to Kufah and raised an army to confront them, which took place in 656 and is called the Battle of the Camel because Aishah was on an armored camel and rallied her troops from her position on the animal. The revolt was crushed. Ali killed his two rivals Talhah and al-Zubayr,[71] but he lamented the war that pitted Muslim against Muslim.[72]

As an earthly reward, however, Ali investigated the treasury in Basrah and found 600,000 dirhams. He divided it up among those who fought on his side, giving each 500. He appointed governors over Egypt, Barsrah, and Kufah and told each of them to collect the land tax.[73]

Ali’s use of the Quran around the time of the Battle of the Camel is mainly (but not entirely) benign. Nearly every verse is found in the Meccan chapters of the Quran, when his prophet Muhammad was militarily weak and had to promote peace in Mecca. Yet, sometimes these chapters also promise calamity and hell, but this is done by Allah’s sovereignty, not by a human army – certainly not by a Muslim army in the original context of the verses.

However, Ali is about to wage war, so he has to appeal to the jihad verses too, located in the Medinan chapters, when his leader Muhammad was building up his military from raiders to an army based in Medina. From both of these chapters, Ali, first, cites verses that speak of Allah’s support in the context of the Battle of Badr in 624. “Remember when you were few . . .  but God sheltered you and strengthened you with His help”[74]  (Quran 8:26). This verse is more peaceful than one would expect, while the revolt against Ali was just getting underway thirty-two years later in 656. However, Quran 47 can be titled either “Muhammad” or “War.” Ali quotes a verse from this chapter just before going to Basrah to fight: “You who believe! If you help God, He will help you and make you stand firm” [75] (Quran 47:7). Ali’s allies and enemies could not fail to connect Quran 47 with war.

Next, still heading toward Basrah to fight, Ali expressed regret that Muslim had to fight Muslim, but Allah would decide. “No misfortune can happen, either in the earth or in yourselves, that was not set down in writing before We [Allah] brought it into being”[76] . . . (Quran 57:22). When allies wanted to join him, he was happy and said, “Those believers who stay at home, apart from incapacity, are not equal to those who commit themselves and their possessions to striving [jihad] in God’s way – although He has promised all believers a good reward, those who strive [jihad] are favored with a tremendous reward above those who stay at home”[77] (Quran 4:95).

Further, when the people of Basrah were afraid that their defeat would be followed by Ali killing their men and taking their women as slaves, he reassures them that this is allowed only for disbelievers or pagans. “22 You [Prophet] are not there to control them. 23 As for those who turn away and disbelieve [infidels], God will inflict the greatest torment upon them”[78] (Quran 88:22-23).

Another example of Ali’s use of the Quran is in the context of Abu Musa’s governorship over Kufah. Ali needed him to muster some troops for battle, but Abu Musa delayed. Ali quotes Quran 17:18, which promises hell. If anyone desires [only] the fleeting life, We [Allah] speed up whatever We will in it, for whoever We wish; in the end We have prepared Hell for him in which to burn, disgraced and rejected”[79] (Quran 17:18). Ali intends to talk his enemies into swearing allegiance to him and not break their oaths. So he quotes Quran 16:92, which says that people should not deceive each other with their oaths, like a woman who undoes her thread, though it was tightly woven.[80]

After the battle, Ali says that those who suffer calamity will be rewarded by Allah. “Whatever misfortune befalls you [people], it is because of what your own hands have done – God forgives much”[81] (Quran 42:30).

Finally, in Ali’s long letter to the people of Egypt, in which he recounts the recent events and tells the people of Egypt that he is in charge, and which the new governor reads to them, Ali quotes Quran 12:18, 52-53, 21:112, and 3:173. Each verse says Allah is their helper, an excellent guardian and sufficiency. Verses 52-53 are about Joseph, the second in command of Egypt, according to Genesis 37-50, so the meaning is that the new governor is to rule in an appropriate manner.[82]

All of these examples of Ali quoting the Quran show that he was mostly (but not completely) patient with his Muslims opponents, probably because Aishah was leading them. He too wanted to exact revenge on Uthman’s murderers, whom he regarded as Talhah and al-Zubayr, though it was the Egyptian faction who killed him. Also, he lamented Muslim killing Muslim. Nonetheless, Ali maintained his caliphate through the sword.

A question emerged among his soldiers who wanted more spoils. Why would not the Muslims who fought for Ali get the money and human slaves from the enemy? He replied that their enemies, now defeated friends, are like the victors; they are all Muslims, implying they are not pagans: “Those who fought you are like you  . . . Those who make peace with us are one with us, and we are one with them, but, for those who persist until they get struck by us, I fight them to the death. You are in no need of their fifth.”[83]

Recall that one-fifth of the spoils of war went to the leadership and the government. It was at this moment that the secessionists – those who were about to separate from Ali a year later – “began talking among themselves.”[84] They began to be disgruntled with him.

Revolt at Siffin

The second revolt happened in 657, in Siffin, northern Iraq. Muawiyah, based in Syria, ostensibly intended to avenge Uthman’s death, and he had to go through Ali to do it. Muawiyah really wanted the caliphate.

After several months of fighting Ali seemed to be on the verge of winning, until Muawiyah’s men pierced pages of the Quran on their spears[85] and summoned both sides to a council. Some extra-devout Muslims in Ali’s camp, called the Kharijites, agreed and said the Quran alone has authority. Ali and Muawiyah talked via their representatives, but one of Ali’s arbitrators was unwise, while Muawiyah’s was wise, so Ali’s representative declared Muawiyah the caliph. Muawiyah was to rule Syria and Ali over Iraq.[86]

Ali refused to recognize the decision, but did not fight and went back to Kufah. On the way back from northern Iraq, the Kharijites changed their mind and encouraged Ali to fight. He said he could not. They separated from him. Then he fought and crushed them at the Battle of the Canal in 657, promising extra monetary reward for anyone who would fight them.[87] Only a small number of them survived.

The frequency of Ali’s use of the Quran increased greatly throughout this second revolt. We cannot discuss each one here, but only a sample of the Medinan chapters. In one of Ali’s motivational speeches before a skirmish with Muawiyah, he told his men to fight “with swords and staves, wrestling, biting, and grappling.” Then he quotes the Quran “Stand firm and frequently mention the name of God so that you might prosper. And do not contend one with another and so lose courage and your strength expire; be steadfast for God is with the steadfast” (Quran 8:45-46).[88]

In another motivational speech, Ali quotes from Quran 61:4: “God truly loves those who fight in solid lines for His cause, like a well-compacted wall.”[89] Next, in the middle of fighting the Syrians, Ali needed to rally a flagging section of his troops, so he quotes Quran 2:250, which speaks of David and Goliath, and 3:147, which is in the context of Muhammad’s fight at the Battle of Uhud in 625 and speaks of Allah making the soldiers’ feet firm in battle.[90]

Some of the enemy troops in the heat of battle insulted Ali to his face. He tells his men that the dignity of Islam is under assault, so his men should “attack them!” Quoting Quran 9:32 and 61:8, two verses appearing in the context of war, he further says they have raised war against his side and are putting out the light of Allah. The next verses talk about Islam gaining the upper hand over all other religions.[91]

Further, Christians should be maintained as dhimmis (second-class citizens) and pay the jizyah or poll (submission) tax, a clear reference to Quran 9:29.[92] Finally, at every turn Ali says jihad is part of life and so is performing good deeds and earning rewards by waging it, ideas that are found in Quran 61:10-12.[93]

10 You who believe, shall I show you a bargain that will save you from painful punishment? 11 Have faith in God and His Messenger and struggle [j-h-d] for His cause with your possessions and your persons – that is better for you, if only you knew – 12 and He will forgive your sins, admit you into Gardens graced with flowing streams, into pleasant dwellings in the Gardens of Eternity. That is the supreme triumph.[94] (Quran 61:10-12)

During Ali’s complicated conflict with Muawiyah, the Najiyah tribe also revolted against Ali. He called them to dialogue, but to no avail. He compared them to Thamud, an ancient tribe that was swept away in divine punishment (Quran 11:95). The Najiyah were also about to be swept away. He then compared them to the Meccans at the Battle of Badr in 624, who follow Satan (Quran 8:48).[95]

Ali’s commander met the tribe and discovered three kinds of Christians among them. One group concluded their religion was the best, so they held to it; a second group converted to Islam and remained in their new religion. The third group converted to Islam, did not like it because it practiced violence, especially during the bloody civil war that Ali waged, so they went back to their original religion. The commander asked them to return to Islam, but they refused. So he laid out a plan to kill them and take their dependents captive. Apostates – those who leave a religion, Islam in this case – must die and their families punished.[96]

With all the battles and the first Civil War in Islam it should not be surprising that Ali was assassinated.[97] For more details on his death, see Part Eight.

Brief Timeline

How did the early Muslim community carry out the Quran’s vision and guidance? When they waged war, how far did they get? We limit the chronology up to the time Ali was assassinated in 661 and a little beyond. From Islam’s point of view the armies were successful.

In 632-633 under the caliphate of Abu Bakr (r. 632-634), the armies reconquer and sometimes conquer for the first time the polytheists of Arabia. This is known as the Wars of Apostasy.

In 633-634 Kuwait and parts of Iraq are conquered, the armies going as far north as Jordan and Syria.

In 635 under the caliphate of Umar (r. 634-644), Muslims besiege and conquer of Damascus. In the same year Jews and Christians are expelled from Arabia.

In 636 Muslims defeat Byzantines decisively at Battle of Yarmuk.

In 637 they conquer Iraq at the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah against the Persian Sassanids (some date it in 635 or 636).

In 638 they conquer and annex Jerusalem, taking it from the Byzantines. Umar orders the clearing of the temple, such as it was, perhaps a reference to Jesus’s clearing the temple.

In 640 they begin the conquest of Egypt. In 641 they control Syria and Palestine. In 642, the Persians are defeated.

In 649 Cyprus is conquered.

Under the caliphate of Umar and Uthman (r. 644-656) in 638 to 650 they conquer Iran, except along Caspian Sea.

In 657, while Ali (r. 656-661) was caliph, at the Battle of Siffin, fought between Muslim factions, there is a stalemate.

From 643 to 707 Muslims conquer North Africa.[98]


To wrap up this long article, Muhammad set the institutional genetic code. He waged wars to get the black stone[99] encased in the Kabah shrine in Mecca, and at the same time he got the spoils of war, to boot. Passages in the Quran, specifically the Medinan chapters, reflect this rise to military might and political power.

After his death, early Muslims were very eager to follow his Quran and example. Carrying forward his policies, the four so-called rightly guided caliphs sent Islamic armies on the march, conquering vast territories.

The campaigns, jihad verses, and the other topics in this chapter match up closely with the topics in the chapters on Muhammad’s mission and the Quran.

The mosque and state were embodied in the caliphs. They led prayers at the mosque and religious pilgrimages to Mecca one moment and then in the next flogged a governor for disobeying their words. Umar was the one who instituted carrying the whip. The caliphs flogged ordinary people often enough, one time even his own son for drinking.[100] However, it must also be noted that Islam could use persuasion and preaching to get people to convert. But the problem is that its armies were so active and had advanced so far that it is difficult to figure out when people exercised complete freedom of conscience to convert. Islam wielded the sword to spread its message.[101]

In nearly all of these battles and conquests the four caliphs, their governors, and generals sent letters to the non-Islamic tribal chiefs, governors, kings and potentates, laying down the terms: fight and die; surrender and pay a jizyah tax; or convert to Islam, and being a part of the Islamic state, pay taxes. These options resemble the ones in Quran 9:29. The caliphs worked hard at applying them, directed at the People of the Book. But sometimes the caliphs applied them to polytheists as well. It was a lucrative policy not to annihilate polytheists who refused to convert to Islam outside of the Arab peninsula, because they could work the land and pay various taxes. Dead people could not do that.

In the vast majority of cases, none of these peoples attacked Islam first. The territories in Iran, North Africa, and Cyprus, for example, never initiated war. The four caliphs looked around for a reason to start a fight and could usually conjure one up, but there is a religious motive at the core of their calculations. The motive to attack is found in Quran 9:33, 61:9, and 48:28, all three identical verses, which say that Islam would emerge victorious over all other religions. The caliphs used the three passages to justify their aggression. The people of Armenia, for instance, were said to be “unbelievers.”[102] Truthfully, however, Armenia was the first nation to embrace Christianity. No matter.

Islam must prevail or get the upper hand over them and their religion. Islam represents justice. Any society that does not embrace Islam is unjust. And an unjust society must be attacked, in order to bring justice to it and rescue the people who live in darkness, even if they are People of the Book – not to mention polytheists (Quran 5:15-16).[103]

Companion Articles:

A Brief History of War in Earliest Islam

The Truth about Islamic Jihad and Imperialism: A Timeline


Islamic Martyrdom: The Economy of Death in the Quran

Are Islam and Christianity Equally Violent?

The West’s Civilizational Struggle with Islam

Jihad and Qital in the Quran, Traditions and Classical Law

Qital (Warfare) Verses in the Quran

All the Jihad Verses in the Quran


[1] “Caliph” means “successor,”  “deputy,” or “representative.” For the relevant use of the word “caliph” (kh-l-f) in the Quran, see, e.g., 2:30; 6:156; 7:69, 74, 142, 169; 10:14, 73; 19:59; 27:62; 35:39; and 38:26.The basic material on the four caliphs can be found in various encyclopedia or dictionaries on Islam. These will do: Cyril Glassé, The New Encyclopedia of Islam, rev. ed. (New York: Alta Mira P, 2001); Jonathan Esposito, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, (New York: Oxford UP, 2003). H.A.R. Gibbs and J.H. Kramers, ed. Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, 4th impression (Boston: Brill Academic, 2002). Thomas Patrick Hughes, Dictionary of Islam (Chicago: Kazi, 1994, 1886).

[2] The first three caliphs are not acknowledged by Shia Muslims, who regard only Ali as the rightful caliph.

[3] Tabari, the Conquest of Saudi Arabia, vol. 10, trans. Fred Donner, (Albany: SUNYP, 1993), 102; idem,  the Challenge to the Empires, vol. 11, trans. Khalid Yahya Blankinship, (Albany: SUNYP, 1993), 95-96.  And we may as well list the other volumes used in the excellent series of Tabari’s histories: idem, The Battle of al-Qadisiyyah and the Conquest of Syria and Palestine, vol. 12, trans. Yohannan Friedmann, (Albany: SUNYP, 1992); idem, The Conquest of Iraq, Southwestern Persia, and Egypt, vol. 13, trans. H.A. Juynboll (Albany: SUNYP, 1989); idem, The Conquest of Iran, vol. 14, trans. G. Rex Smith, (Albany: SUNYP, 1994); idem, The Crisis of the Early Caliphate, vol. 15, trans. R. Stephen Humphreys, (Albany, SUNYP, 1990); idem, The Community Divided, vol. 16, trans. Adrian Brockett (Albany: SUNYP, 1997); idem, The First Civil War, vol. 17, trans. G. R. Hawting (Albany: SUNYP, 1996). Tabari should be used with caution. However, this article paints in broad brush strokes, dealing with big-picture topics like the expansion of Islam, how the spoils of war were divided up, the caliphs’ use of the Quran, their conquests, and the ends of their reigns. The dictionaries and encyclopedias referenced above cover these basic topics too.

[4] Bukhari, Dealing with Apostates, 9.6924 (cf. 9.6925).  An apostate is someone who leaves a religion. The text in brackets is the translator’s; the excerpt has been edited a little, like the modifying punctuation and changing parentheses to brackets. My only comment in brackets is after the “Apostle of God”: “Muhammad.”

[5] In sending letters Abu Bakr follows Muhammad, who also did the same before he waged war (Bukhari, Jihad, 4.2939-41; Muslim, Jihad and Expeditions, 3.4380-83).

[6] 10.57. These words in brackets are mine: “Abu Bakr,” “Khalid,” “Islam,” and “i.e. God.” The other words in brackets are the translator’s.

[7] Ibid. 10.41-42, 53-54, and 105-34, and so on.

[8] Ibid. 10.154. The word in brackets is added; the words in parentheses are the translator’s. Other passages show Abu Bakr dividing up the spoils according the Quran 8:41: e.g. 10.188.

[9] Ibid. 10.76.

[10] Ibid 10.131.

[11] Ibid. 10.163-64.

[12] Ibid. 11.24.

[13] Ibid. 11.94.

[14] Ibid. 11.80.

[15] Tabari 11.4. Khalid offers the same Quranic conditions for the towns in al-Sawad (in alluvial plains, especially central of Iraq) called Baniqa, Barusma, and Ullays (11.3) and the Christians of Yarmuk (11.96).

[16] Ibid. 11.20.

[17] Ibid. 11.55.

[18] Ibid. 11.59-60.

[19] The Quranic verses appearing in Tabari 10.55-57 are quoted in Abu Bakr’s letter to the apostates before he attacked them. Abu Bakr also cites verses in the Meccan chapters of the Quran too. Recall that Muhammad lived in Mecca and got revelations there. He did not have any kind of military, large or small, so the verses were peaceful. In the following verses, Allah alone shows his wrath or promises hell. Certainly a Muslim army did not exist at that time to implement divine wrath. On the other hand, the verses in Medina reveal that he had a militia that grew into an army, so the verses can be violent. Some verses, however, are peaceful. In the following list of verses, the numbers in parentheses refer to Tabari’s history, volume and page numbers. The other digits are Quranic references. Throughout Tabari’s volumes on the first caliph, Abu Bakr quotes or refers to these Meccan verses: 19:18 (10.4); 39:3 (10.4); 20:29 (10.5); 25:35 (10.5); 27:52 (10.13); 19:98 (10.13); 37:53 (10.13); 39:30 (10.56); 36:70 (10.55); 23:34 (10.56); 89:14 (10.56); 18:17 (10.56); 18:50 (10.57); 35:6 (10.57); 65:2-3, 5 (11.79). He quotes or refers to these Medinan verses without violence: 24:26 (10.12); 2:119 (10.55); 33:46 (10.55); 3:144 (10.56). However, in the Medinan chapters peaceful verses and the violent ones are not far away. Abu Bakr reigned as caliph for only two years, so Tabari does not show Abu Bakr quoting or referencing very many verses, relative to the next three caliphs.

[20] Ibid. 11.129-38. The tradition that says Abu Bakr was poisoned by the Jews may have come about because reliable traditions say that Muhammad was poisoned by the Khaybar Jews.

[21] Bukhari, Virtue of Medina, 3.1889, and Patients, 7.5677 mention Abu Bakr’s fever, but nothing about the Jews.

[22] Tabari 11.140-41.

[23] Ibid. 14.115 says Umar carried a whip, implying it was a matter of regular practice or policy. But G. Rex Smith, the translator of vol. 14 of the Tabari history says that Umar sometimes regretted hitting people and might compensate them in some way, though Smith cites no source (xviii).

[24] It should be pointed out that Umar dismissed Khalid al-Walid from top leadership (11.158-59), due to Khalid’s violence (10.102), but kept him around in other leadership capacities because of his military talent. In 638 Khalid complains that Umar treated him like dirt. Umar assessed his wealth to 20,000 dirhams. He said he finally dismissed him because Khalid had acquired too much trust from the people, and they were captivated by illusions of him (13.108). Khalid died in bed of a sickness, in Syria, complaining he was not a martyr in war.

[25] Tabari 14.2.

[26] Ibid. 11.174.

[27] Ibid. 12.85. Cf. 12.129.

[28] Ibid. 11.195.

[29] Ibid. 12.35-36. The words in first and third brackets are added; the second one is the translator’s.

[30] Ibid. 12.74-81.

[31] Ibid. 12.79-80. The word in brackets is added. In another passage Umar addressed one of his commanders who was about to lead a campaign against the enemies of Islam, some of whom were polytheists: “Go forth in God’s name and fight in God’s cause against all those who do not believe in God. If you meet your polytheist enemy, call upon them to take [one of] three courses of action. Summon them to Islam and if they accept, and choose [to remain] in their lands, they will have alms obligations [to be paid] from their own wealth and have no share in the immovable booty [accruing to] the Muslims. If, [having accepted Islam], they choose to join you, they will have similar privileges and obligations to your own. But if they refuse [to accept Islam], then summon them to [pay] the land tax. If they declare that they will pay the land tax, fight their enemy beyond them and leave them free to pay – but do not impose on them more than they have the capacity [to pay]. If they refuse [to pay the land tax], then fight them, for God will be your helper against them” (Ibid. 14.83-84; the words in brackets were added by the translator). Apparently Umar was willing to permit certain polytheists to live, but they had to pay a tax. Further, if the new converts from polytheism to Islam joined the army, they were exempt from taxes, in some way. Immovable booty consists of things like land and houses, and the polytheists do not have control over them, after Islam arrived in their territories. While conquering Iran, Umar’s commanders, under his orders, followed the same pattern: 14.8, 9, 18, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 33, 35, 36, 37-38, 46, and 75.

[32] For an analysis of Quran 9:29, see M. J. Kister, “’An Yadin’ (Quran IX, 29): An Attempt at Interpretation,” Arabica 9 (1964) 272-78.

[33] Tabari 12.34-40. Cf. 12.68, 72-74, 113, 127, 137-38, 152-57, 13.46-47; 13.164, 169-72 (the city of Alexandria surrendered and paid a poll tax) for more examples of inviting the Persians to accept Islam or be defeated. If they accept Islam, they have to pay taxes.

[34] Tabari 12.25-27; on p. 26 they yelled Allahu akbar after the booty was distributed. For more examples of the cry Allahu akbar serving as inspiration for battle or a battle signal, see 11.125; 12.89-91, 94, 99, 105, 108-09, 116-20, 124, 171, 176-77, 195-96; 13.55, 188, 202, 208; 14.25; 17.134.

[35] Ibid. 12.129, 143-44. In this latter passage Umar establishes conquered land for veteran Muslims, which will serve as their stipend or a retirement system.

[36] Ibid. 12.206-07. Cf. 13.32-33; 13.46. Uthman varied the division of spoils once in a while in favor of the commanders, to the neglect of Medina (15.19). Umar was more consistent, one-fifth to Medina, four-fifths to the soldiers: 14.22, 33, 67, and 77.

[37] Ibid. 12.89-90.

[38] Ibid. 12.90.

[39] Ibid. 12.149.

[40] Utbah died on his way to other “jumping off points” in Iraq that would lead to India. Al-Mughirah b. Shubah was placed in his stead (12.170). But first the Muslim armies had to go through Iran.

[41] Tabari 12.167.

[42] Ibid. 12.190.

[43] Ibid. 12.189.

[44] Ibid. 12.191

[45] In Tabari’s volumes on Umar Tabari has him quoting or referring to these Meccan verses: 42:38 (12.5); 38:1-88 (12.194); 17:1-111 (12.194); 10:14 (14.62); 30:27 (14.62); 69:16 (14.125); 31:20 (14.126); 17:70 (14.126); 34:46 (14.128); 14:3 (14.128). Umar quotes or refers to these violent Medinan verses: 9:6 (12.154); 9:29 (12.153-54, 167; 13.37, 62, 90-91, 165-66); 9:33 (14.62); 69:9 (14.62); 3:185 (14.125). He quotes or refers to these Medinan verses without violence: 33:41 (12.153, 162); 2:102 (14.49); 65:3 (14.62); 59:9 (14.92); 8:26 (14.126, 128).  As noted, however, in the Medinan chapters the violent verses are near the peaceful ones. One anecdote says “Umar used to wander around the markets, reciting the Quran” . . . (14.121).

[46] Ibid. 14.60-63. The translation of the Quranic verse in Umar’s speech is that of the Tabari translator, and the word in bracket is his too.

[47] Ibid. 15.3-4.

[48] Ibid. 15.31.

[49] Ibid. 15.63-64.

[50] Ibid. 15.10-11.

[51] Ibid. 15.12-13.

[52] Ibid. 15.26.

[53] Ibid. 15.72-74.

[54] Ibid. 15.74-78.

[55] Ibid. 15.90-93, 102-10.

[56] Ibid. 15.22-23.

[57] Ibid. 15.9.

[58] Ibid. 15.20-22.

[59] Ibid. 15.157.

[60] Ibid. 15.218-23.

[61] Ibid. 15.161.

[62] Ibid. 15.165-66.

[63] Ibid. 15.183.

[64] Ibid. 15.196 (cf. Quran 61:9, 48:28). The word in brackets in Quran 9:33 are the translators’.

[65] Ibid. 15.164.

[66] Ibid. 15.213.

[67] Tabari in his volumes on Uthman has him quote or refer to these Meccan verses:  18:42-44 (15.4); 89:5-13 (15.136); 35:22 (15.163); 13:12 (15.187); 11:91 (15.210); 34:52 (15.210); 20:1 (15.213); 32:19 (15.239); 14:37 (15.239); 16:93-98 (15.241); 6:160 (15.242); 11:91-92 (15.242); 17:36 (15.245); 12:53 (15.245). Uthman quotes or refers to these Medinan verses with violence: 9:4-6 (15.156); 3:167 (15.213); 3:97-101 (15.239). He quotes or refers to these Medinan verses without violence: 3:30 (15.127); 2:113 (15.163); 3:98 (15.206); 5:10 (15.240); 49:6-8 (15.240); 3:71 (15.240); 64:16 (15.240); 4:31 (15.241); 24:54 (15.241); 48:10 (15.240). However, as noted, in the Medinan chapters the violent verses are not far from the peaceful ones.

[68] Ibid. 15.254-55.

[69] Ibid. 16.39, 52, 57.

[70] Ibid. 16.40.

[71] Ibid. 16.111-12, 158-59.

[72] Ibid. 16.150, 163-64.

[73] Ibid. 16.112-13, 169-70, 187-91. The land tax (cf. Quran 18:94 and 23:72) is not explicitly mentioned in the commissioning of the Kufan governor, but surely some kind of tax was collected, since Ali made Kufah his capital. Other caliphs implemented the Kharaj or land tax. See, for example, Tabari 13.9, 47, 51, 60, 90, 100, 121, 126, 158-59, 180, 215, all under Umar’s rule.

[74] Ibid. 16.16. This is a Medinan chapter.

[75] Ibid. 16.35. This is a Medinan chapter and translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, The Quran, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford, 2010).  If readers would like to see various translation of the Quran, they may go to the website quranbrowser.com and type in the references.

[76] Ibid. 16.86. This is a Medinan chapter. The comment in brackets is added.

[77] Ibid. 16.81. This is a Medinan chapter. The comments in brackets are added by me.

[78] Ibid. 16.108-09. This is a Meccan chapter and translated by Abdel Haleem. The comments in brackets are added by me.

[79] Ibid. 16.113. This is a Meccan chapter. The first comment in brackets is Abdel Haleem’s ; the second is added.

[80] Ibid. 16.116.

[81] Ibid. 16.162. The comment in brackets is Abdel Haleem’s. This is a Meccan chapter.

[82] Ibid. 16.177-79. Quran 3:173 is a Medinan verse; the others are Meccan.

[83] Ibid. 16.166-67.

[84] Ibid. 16.167.

[85] Ibid 17.78. G. R. Hawting, the translator of Tabari’s vol. 17, says: “Al-mushaf (of which al-masahif is the plural) may refer simply to a volume or a book but, used without further specification, usually refers to the Qur’an or a copy of it. Many scholars, traditional and modern, have been happy to accept that Amr b. al-As’s [an arbiter in the negotiations] famous plan was for the raising of copies of the Qur’an on the ends of the Syrian lances. Some, however, have seen problems in that interpretation: Most obviously, according to the tradition, this would have been relatively soon after the promulgation of the text by ‘Uthman (who is said to have had all variant copies destroyed), and it is hard to see that many manuscript copies could have been made as yet. Various theories have been proposed to get around this difficulty (see, e.g., Hinds, “Siffin Arbitration Agreement”). To allow for the possibility that, at the time of the Fitnah, al-mushaj (or expressions such as the Book of God or the Book) did not yet designate the Qur’an as we understand it and to avoid imposing an interpretation, the terminology of the text has been maintained in the following” (note 319).

[86] Ibid. 17.21-109.

[87] Ibid. 17.137.

[88] Ibid. 17.30 (the translation is that of the Tabari translator). Cf. 17.39.

[89] Ibid. 17.38.

[90] Ibid. 17.61.

[91] Ibid. 17.73-74; cf. 17.120 (the latter verse speaks of trying to win back the Kharajites).

[92] Ibid. 17.191-92. Cf. 17.221.

[93] Ibid. 17.37, 76, 79, 96, 120, 121, 128, 136-37, 150-51, 154, 164.

[94] Abdel Haleem’s translation, my insertion.

[95] Ibid. 17.174-75. Inspiration drawn from violent verses not discussed in this section on Ali: 9:32 (17.120); 61:8 (17.120-21). The Meccan verses Ali quotes or refers to: 40:40 (17.34); 53:31 (17.34); 52:5 (17.35); 41:37 (17.35); 40:64 (17.35); 55:10 (17.35); 52:5 (17.36); 78:7 (17.35); 79:32-33 (17.36); 68:49 (17.120); 16:108 (17.182); 27:24 (17.182); 29:38 (17.38); 27:4 (17.182); 18:104 (17.182); 16.96 (17.182); 6:110, 112, 137 (17.182); 6:162-63 (17.220); 7:186 (17.182). Medinan verses without violence Ali quotes: 4:1 (14.150); 59:16 (15.217) 2:164 (17.35); 47:16 (17.182); 3:102-03 (17.220); 2:83 (17.221); 5:2 (17.222); 5:54 (17.221). As noted, however, in the Medinan chapters the violent verses are not far from the peaceful ones.

[96] Ibid. 17.186-88.

[97] Ibid. 17.213-27.

[98] Glassé, Encyclopedia, 514-29, gives the timeline, as do these sources: Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine: 634-1099 (Cambridge UP, 1983, 1997). David Nicolle. The Armies of Islam, (Men-at-Arms. Osprey, 1982). Idem, Saladin and the Saracens, (Men-at Arms. Osprey, 1986). Idem, Armies of the Muslim Conquests, (Men-at-Arms. Osprey, 1993). Idem, The Moors, the Islamic West, (Men-at-Arms. Osprey, 2001).

[99] It should be noted that in this article we did not cover the caliphs’ attachment to the black stone because it had already been conquered, so it no longer had enough geopolitical importance to wage war for it. The four caliphs led pilgrimages there peacefully and often enough. Rather, they were concerned with expanding Islam beyond the Arabian peninsula.

[100] See, e.g., Tabari 12.172.

[101] Malise Ruthven and Azim Nanji, in their Historical Atlas of Islam (Harvard, 2004), 30, write:

Islam expanded by conquest and conversion. Although it was sometimes said that the faith of Islam was spread by the sword, the two are not the same. The Koran states unequivocally, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256).

However, it is difficult to figure out what the difference is between “by conquest” and “by the sword.” They are the same. Plus, Quran 2:256 was spoken early on in Medina, when Muhammad was weak. He was about to get stronger, and the verse will no longer apply, in the eyes of many Muslims. It certainly did not apply to the four caliphs’ conquests by the sword.

Sayyid Qutb, (d. 1966), a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, also citing Quran 2:256, is even more categorical: “Never in its history did Islam compel a single human being to change his faith” (In the Shade of the Qur’an, vol. 8, [London: The Islamic Foundation, 2007] 307). This claim, however, is absurd on its face. And this article contradicts it with evidence.

David Dakake, a graduate student in Religious Studies at Temple University at the time he wrote his article, says about Islam’s conquests:

These agreements [terms of surrender after Muslims attack two cities] . . . demonstrate that historically jihad was directed against those who stood in opposition to the political authority of the Islamic state. It was not directed against a people simply because they professed a faith other than Islam. The point of jihad was not to establish a world populated by Muslims; it was to create a social order in which the freedom to practice the worship of God was guaranteed for Muslims as well as for People of the Book (“The Myth of Militant Islam,” in Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition, ed. J.E.B. Lumbard [Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2004], 23).

However, the campaigns in this article contradict Dakake’s claims. Most of the Islamic conquests were against peaceful tribes and territories which never bothered Islam. Yes, they stood in opposition to Islamic justice (i.e. Islam itself), but then the Islamic state should not have been waging war on peaceful people in the first place, whether they lived within the Arabian peninsula or outside it.

[102] Tabari 14.45.

[103] Quran 5:15-16 says: “15 People of the Book, Our Messenger has come to make clear to you much of what you have kept hidden of the Scripture, and to overlook much [you have done]. A light has now come to you from God, and a Scripture making things clear, 16 with which God guides to the ways of peace those who follow what pleases Him, bringing them from darkness out into the light, by His will, and guiding them to a straight path.” The words in brackets are those of the translator.

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