The Claim That Muhammad (peace be upon him) Merely Invented Islam by Himself and Commanded Whatever He Found Convenient at the Time

by

Bayaan al-Islam Team

(Original article in Arabic located here)

Gist Translation by:

Abu Nadm al-Zahiri

The Gist of this Doubt:

Some of those who lack objectivity have claimed that Muhammad (peace be upon him), the final prophet and messenger to mankind, merely invented Islamic law without any divine revelation and molded it to suit whatever the society called for at the time. Typically, those who make this claim target the “zakat” or obligatory charity Muslims pay as part of the five pillars of faith. Basically, these critics assert that the obligation of this charity was only an attempt to fight against the prevailing economic inequality in Mecca at the time, and that the obligation of a “charity tax” upon the rich was a means of coercing them to hear and obey, and a means of forcing them to help the poor. These critics will also assert that this principle was merely borrowed from Judaism and Christianity. The true desire behind these claims is to cause doubts about the divine nature of Islamic law and to paint it as either a mere reaction to the surrounding environment, a convenient concept borrowed from other religions or some combination of the two.

The Angle from which this Doubt is Refuted:{

1.   Societal inequity prevailed even while the Messenger was living in Mecca – the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Still, there was no command for obligatory charity yet, so where was this supposed reaction to the surrounding environment?

 

2.   The command for the zakat charity did not come until the second year of the Hijri calendar, when the Muslims along with the Messenger had already moved to Medina. Chronologically, it’s simply incorrect to claim that the command was given merely to help the poor of Mecca since the Muslims had already left Mecca two years prior.

 

3.   The Messenger never legislated upon the people that which God did not allow him to do, nor did he have a need for using the stick  rather than the carrot to lead the society to correct behavior.

 

4.   For one who actually understands the general goals of God’s commandments and who is well read in regard to the relevant divine texts on the one hand, and who draws an accurate comparison between Islamic law and other systems of law will be sure – without a shadow of a doubt – that the zakat was divine legislation rather than something invented by the mind of a human being.

 

5.  All of the revealed Abrahamic religions came from one original source, even if the two previous ones (Judaism and Christianity) have been distorted. Thus there’s nothing wrong with finding some similarities in certain aspects because they were all revealed by one God. These similarities affirm the previous religions and support the final religion, especially when the legislation of the final religion is more inclusive and detailed in its explanation than the legislation of the previous ones.

A Detailed Response:

First of all, we should look at the economic inequality in Mecca before the mission of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

We agree with the propagators of this doubt that Mecca – which was a microcosm of the wider Arab culture at the time – was dominated by clear divisions drawn along class lines. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and all tribes of the Arabian Peninsula:

“lived in an oppressive world full of corruption in every aspect of life. The members of the tribe lived and died in poverty. A small social elite owned almost everything, while the overwhelming majority had next to nothing. The heads of the tribes were quite well off, leaving the rest of the members in their misery.”[1]

When we focus on Mecca – due to its status as the beginning of the final divine message on the one hand, and the nature of this doubt on the other – we find that it doesn’t differ from other cities of its era in terms of economic stratification. The Meccans accrued wealth, investing it in both commonly accepted ventures and the black market, turning to land speculation when their fortunes in agriculture or industry failed. We also discover the emergence of a class of moneylenders among the Jewish community of Mecca. This social class turned its efforts toward loan sharking and usury, both enriching themselves and increasing their political power while at the same time incurring the wrath of the remainder of the locals. The number of moneylenders in Mecca increased exponentially along with the damage the activity caused to the rest of society; many of the more desperate among the lower class turned to these types for temporary help, only to find that “mercy” was not in the vocabulary of their debtors, who saw no difference between legitimate business and living off of interest.

The financial wellbeing of Mecca’s poor, however miniscule it was, ended up being destroyed by loan sharking with those most in need living lives of debt while the most privileged lived without working. The working poor and the destitute all held a collective grudge against the moneylending class, whom the poor equated with slavers.[2] As history has shown, the system in both Arabia and the rest of the world during that period of time has become hostile toward the working poor, conducive to corruption and supportive of unequal income distribution. All the wealth was concentrated among a class of society which felt it deserved to hold the reigns of the Earth due to both its financial strength and a sense of entitlement, regardless of that class’s general lack of education, work skills and enlightenment.[3]

The end result of this system is that by the time of the prophecy of Muhammad (peace be upon him), uneven income distribution was already institutionalized; the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. Despite all this, the zakat was not obligated during the Meccan period. So where exactly do those with such a lack of objectivity come off claiming that Muhammad simply invented the zakat himself, rather than having been divinely inspired?

Second of all, there’s the aforementioned fact that the zakat was not obligated during the Meccan period. The question simply cannot be avoided. If the motivation for zakat was indeed a worldly idea which Muhammad (peace be upon him) invented due to the economic context at that time, why did he wait until he was in Medina to promote such an idea? Think about it…for thirteen years, he lived in Mecca around glaringly obvious social inequality. If the goal behind the zakat was a worldly solution to a worldly problem of that environment rather than divine legislation for all time, then why did he wait until two years after the migration to Medina?

It is well known in Muslim jurisprudence that the order for zakat was revealed in the year 2 AH. An-Nawawi opined in Ar-Rawdah that the zakat was obligated even before the fast of Ramadan, though this conflicts with the established reports of Ahmad, Ibn Khuzaimah, an-Nasa`i, Ibn Majah and al-Hakim from the narration of Qais bin Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah: Qais bin Sa'ad said:

“The Messenger of Allah enjoined Sadaqatul-Fitr upon us before (the command of) Zakat was revealed. He neither ordered us (to pay) nor forbade us (from paying it), so we did it.”[4]

Ibn Hajar found the chain of narration for this to be authentic. This indicates that the obligation for zakat occurred after the obligation for the charity of the end of Ramadan; this itself indicates that zakat was obligated after the fast of Ramadan was. There is absolute agreement that the Ramadan fast was obligated after the emigration, because the verse of the Qur`an obligating it is undisputedly a Medinan verse. Ibn al-Athir went even further and claimed that the zakat was obligated during the year 9 AH, with several other scholars joining him, though this was based on a narration which Ibn Hajar declared as inauthentic.[5]

Thus we find consensus among the jurists that the zakat – one of the five pillars of Islam – was not obligated until after the emigration to Medina, and thus the minor differences of opinion about it are only in regard to which specific year in which the zakat was obligated after that migration.

The only zakat in the Meccan period was a general, unrestricted zakat. This should be remembered, as some of those possessing doubts might ask:

“How can you say that the zakat wasn’t obligated until after the emigration when there are Meccan verses of the Qur`an mentioning it?”

They may bring as an example:

“Those who do not give zakah, and in the Hereafter they are disbelievers.”[6]

The answer is that the zakat mentioned in Meccan verses is a different category of zakat from that mentioned in the Medinan verses; the latter was specified in its amount, the time in which it should be paid and the method by which it should be distributed, along with other rules as to how it should be organized. The Meccan zakat was without rules or regulations, merely being left up to the preference of the individual; thus, they could give as little or as much as they felt like giving, whenever they happened to feel like giving anything.

This differs greatly from the zakat as it was known during the Medinan period:

“As for the situation in Medina, then they were a group with land and authority over that land; because of this, the Islamic obligations took on a new form appropriate for the new phase. This form was realized in compulsory laws taking the place of mere general directives. The implementation of these laws now relied on the power of the state in addition to their already existing power of moral conscience. Thus the Medinan phase of zakat emerged, along with the exact delineation of amounts to paid; the increments of time by which said amounts should be paid; the methods in which said payment should be delivered; and the way in which this whole system should be managed.”[7]

The end result of this is that zakat, in its description as one of the five pillars of Islam, was not obligated in Mecca but rather in Medina with most historians pinpointing the second year after the emigration as the exact time. Anyone who pretends otherwise needs to be asked: how could the Prophet (peace be upon him) legislate something on his own without divine inspiration?

Third of all, the Prophet only passed on legislation from God Almighty. The “Sunnah,” when attributed to the Prophet, refers to what we know of him via his speech, actions or that which has been reported about him. The Sunnah is the second primary source of Islamic law, the Qur`an being the first and main primary source. Parts of the Sunnah, in relation to the Qur`an, fall into three categories:

1.   That which coincides with what is already found in the Qur`an, so it emphasizes what is already found.

 

2.   That which clarifies what is already found in the Qur`an, such that it adds details to broad topics or restricts general statements.

 

3.   That which contains an entirely new ruling not in the Qur`an, thus the Sunnah in this case neither emphasizes nor details or restricts what is already found.

There are two things which should be noted here. The first is that all of the narrations from the Prophet (peace be upon him) regarding zakat fall under the second category mentioned above. The second is that the Prophet did not leave us any part of the Sunnah from the above except that it originated from divine revelation. As God said in the Qur`an:

“It is none other than a revelation revealed.”[8]

Not only is this a proof that the Prophet did not simply make things up as he went along, but it also serves as proof that the Sunnah itself counts as a form of divine revelation.[9]

Thus when the Prophet obligated zakat upon the people, he was merely clarifying what was already found in the Qur`an to begin with and adding details to the broader subject of charity. His statements on the matter, therefore, were themselves divinely inspired. This obviously clarifies the error of those who say that the zakat was something invented by Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself for the simple purpose of helping the poor people of Mecca.

The same goes for those who erroneously claim that the Prophet merely used the details of Judgment Day as a tactic to scare rich people into donating money to the poor. These details, like others which the Prophet passed on to mankind, were all divinely inspired and a part of the revelation mandated by the divine will and wisdom of Almighty God and believed in by those who possess uncorrupted souls. The only person who would deny this is someone who believes that God created mankind without prior knowledge and without the ability to directly control mankind’s actions, perish the thought.

Fourth of all, the zakat, in that case, is undeniably of a divine origin with no participation of any human being in its legislation. From the fundamental principles of logical criticism is that an applied theory is judged by the success of its application, as it has already taken place and thus its results can already be observed. Thus if we wish to take a critical view of the zakat, we must observe its results within the society throughout which it was implemented and applied.

Previously, we discussed the societal conditions prevalent in Mecca during the pre-Islamic and Islamic pre-emigration eras, noting that the system at that time supported the economic inequality both before and immediately after the beginning of the prophecy of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Once the zakat was implemented, however, these conditions were overturned almost entirely. The reason is that the zakat functions as an assurance for “the members of society against both legal and actual poverty, against disasters and pandemics. It ensures human solidarity, motivating the strong to join together with the weak and for the “haves” to extend a helping hand to the “have-nots”. Ultimately, it bridges the gap between rich and poor and reduces ills such as envy and resentment between the upper and lower classes, allowing them to work as one body to solve their collective society’s problems and achieve its goals.”[10]

The zakat also functions as

“an equalizer for the poor and a source of aid for those in need. It derails the people from the path of enmity, prevents them from class warfare and pushes people from all walks of life to work together. It brings a source of hope for a better tomorrow; when hope ceases to exist and poverty is left in its wake, the void will be filled with envy and enmity. A rift would once again split open between the rich and the poor, leading to class warfare – a conflict over money and the eventual corruption of the souls of all classes of society. It is through this ignition of inter-societal enmity that material wealth ultimately replaces hope and security in the minds of the people, spreading uncertainty and obscuring the Muslim nation’s fate.”[11]

For one who ponders the long-term wisdom and goals behind the legislation of the zakat and who reads up on the effects of this legislation on Muslim society in comparison to the economic situation in the same society before said legislation will realize – without a shadow of a doubt – that the zakat is divine legislation with no human input, not from a prophet or any other person.

Fifth of all, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not quote from the legislation of Judaism or Christianity.

From the most basic logical propositions is that anything which has a beginning has an end. Almighty God sent His prophets to mankind in order to spread His guidance upon the Earth. So if the purpose of prophecy is indeed for the guidance and benefit of mankind, then the final prophecy is mandated to be entirely full and complete, leaving no general religious topic except that it was given detail, no complication except that it was simplified, and no secret except that it was revealed. This is what happened in the case of Muhammad (peace be upon him) to whom the final prophecy was revealed. It was whole and complete, with all the details and explanations required. It spelled out the rules of mankind’s final divine law and abrogated that which came before it.

From this guidance is the order for the zakat charity which came in the majority of the previous revealed scriptures as well. According to Dr. Yusuf al-Qardawi:

“I do not know of any prophecy revealed to any of the previous prophets and messengers except that it contained the order for the human activity known in the Qur`an as zakat.”

If we return to the holy Qur`an, the sole authentic divine scripture left on Earth, we find mention of the issue along with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:

“And We made them leaders guiding by Our command. And We inspired to them the doing of good deeds, establishment of prayer, and giving of zakah; and they were worshippers of Us.[12]

We also find mention of this issue along with mention of Ishmael:

And mention in the Book, Ishmael. Indeed, he was true to his promise, and he was a messenger and a prophet. And he used to enjoin on his people prayer and zakah and was to his Lord pleasing.”[13]

We also find it said by the Messiah Jesus Christ while he was still in the cradle:

“And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive.”[14]

It is also mentioned in regard to the Jews and Christians in general:

“And they were not commanded except to worship Allah , [being] sincere to Him in religion, inclining to truth, and to establish prayer and to give zakah. And that is the correct religion.”[15]

If we even look to the Old and New Testaments as they remain today – keeping in mind that they have been altered and distorted by the hands of man – we still find the same exhortation and emphasis on sympathy for the poor, the weak, the widowed and the orphaned.[16] We find in the Old Testament:

“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard. A gift in secret pacifies anger, and a bribe behind the back, strong wrath.”[17]

Similarly, we find this in the New Testament:

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”[18]

Those who promote this doubt attempt to draw a relation between the zakat as it is legislated in the Qur`an and the exhortation for aid to the poor as it was found in the previously revealed religions of Judaism and Christianity. Their main goal with this is to imply that the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) simply lifted the zakat from what was already found in the Bible, rather than receiving divine command from God.

This claim of theirs is rendered false from two angles:

1.   There is not the least bit of fault with the legislation of Islam happening to confirm the legislation of Judaism and Christianity, because in the beginning – before the latter two were changed and distorted by man – all three of them had the same divine source.

 

2.   The modes which are quoted from the Bible above are merely exhortation and encouragement for individuals who have extra money to donate it to poor people on their own accord, without the rules and regulations found in Islam.

There are a number of foundational differences between the zakat in Islam and the charity called for in Judaism and Christianity, noted by Dr. al-Qardawi as revolving around ten points which are summarized below:

·   The zakat in Islam is not merely a commendable act of charity, but rather one of the five pillars of the religion and one of the major rites by which our religion is known in the world. Whoever refuses to pay it is wicked, and whoever denies its obligation is being blasphemous. It isn’t voluntary, but rather from the highest levels of moral and legal obligation.

 

·   The zakat is the right of the poor upon the wealth in possession of the rich, ordered by the true owner of that wealth – the one who created it, hallowed be His Name. The Almighty mandated the zakat upon the wealth which He willed to be left in possession of those who have it – those whom He merely made as temporary vehicles for it. Thus the zakat is not simply a favor or gift which the rich give to the poor; in the same sense, a cashier has no say when the shop owner tells him what to do with the cash in the register.

 

·    Islamic sharia law specified the amount of zakat due on different types of wealth, the time periods at which it should be paid, to whom it should be paid and ultimately provided all the exact demarcations which one needs.

 

·   This right of the poor is not merely left to the whims and inclinations of the rich, but rather is the responsibility of a Muslim state via employees who handle the collection and distribution of such things. This is why the Qur`an uses the phrase: “Take, [O, Muhammad], from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them increase, and invoke [Allah's blessings] upon them. Indeed, your invocations are reassurance for them. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.”[19]

            Similarly, we find in the Sunnah:

                          “…and it is to be taken from the wealthy among them...”[20]

·    From the rights of the state is to remove – if it sees this as necessary to ensure the payment of this obligation – any sort of obstacle to the payment of the zakat, even if it comes to the point of confiscating half of a citizen’s wealth:

              “If anyone evades zakat, we shall take half the property from him as a due from the dues of our Lord.”[21]

·    Any person or group of people who reject this obligation and refuse to surrender payment to the authorities of a Muslim government are enemies of the state, and it is from the right and the duty of that government to apprehend such criminals and bring them to justice. This is just as the first Caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr, did with the support of the rest of the direct companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

 

·   The individual Muslim is obliged to undertake this incredibly important pillar of Islam, even if the government neglects this issue or the society fails to emphasize it. Zakat is, first and foremost, a means by which the servant becomes nearer to his or her Lord, purifying both wealth and self. Even if the state doesn’t demand payment of the zakat, one’s own faith demands that. It is also a religious obligation upon individual Muslims to know the basics of zakat to the extent that they can handle it themselves if need be.

 

·   The implementation and result of zakat is not left to the whims and ambitions of politicians, clergy or anyone else who might steal these funds as was the case with Judaism, for example. Islam has delineated how much is to be paid and who receives the zakat:

“Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded]    traveler - an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.”[22]

Thus mankind understands from verses like these as well as from the Prophetic Sunnah that the point is not simply the raising of money, but rather on how it is spent. To this end, the Prophet (peace be upon him) prohibited himself and any of his relatives and descendants from accepting zakat money ever. Zakat is only paid from the rich to the non-Hashemite poor, period.

 

·    Zakat is not a temporary, one-time payment to any poor person to help them get by from one day to the next. Rather, its goal is a war on poverty and the constant, unending collective effort of society to help people in the lower economic brackets bear their burdens. This war on poverty never ends because the zakat is an obligation which never ends.

 

·   The zakat – taking into account its rules and regulations – works toward multiple political, social, legal and ethical goals. It unites hearts and minds for the love of God, and thus it is more extensive, expansive and ambitious than the forms of charity found in the previously revealed religions.

Upon review of these points, we come to realize that the zakat in Islam is an entirely different system changing what had been laid down by the previously revealed religions, especially in terms of warning from stinginess and encouraging sympathy for the poor. It is most certainly different from the tolls and taxes exacted by rulers up to that point, most of which was ultimately returned to the wealthy and used for the luxury spending of royalty and their supporters.[23]

Thus it isn’t logically possible for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to have simply borrowed the idea of zakat as it is found in the Qur`an and the Sunnah, with its full explanation, details and regulation, from Judaism and Christianity when charity in those religions possessed none of the zakat’s details, organization or even obligation.

The Bottom Line:

·       The socioeconomic inequality in Mecca continued even during the message of the Messenger (peace be upon him), with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. This inequality led to the emergence of a class of moneylenders, yet despite such an environment the command for zakat did not descend until the second year in the Hijri calendar, when the Muslims had already emigrated to Medina. Were the zakat charity merely a political and economic answer to society’s ills, it still would have been a noble goal anyway.

 

·   This also brings up the chronological issue. Zakat as it was understood in Mecca was merely whatever people wanted to give without any sort of obligation or specified amount involved. Zakat as a third pillar of Islam which those with wealth are obligated to pay was not legislated until the Muslims had been in Medina for two years.

 

·   In obligating charity in Medina, the Messenger was not without precedent as the relevant hadith came after the relevant verses in the Qur`an were revealed. Thus his (peace be upon him) statements and actions affirming and detailing the issue of zakat were merely a follow up to divine revelation, rather than something he simply made up.

 

·    The Messenger (peace be upon him) wasn’t using the belief in Judgment Day as a means of forcing the rich to pay the zakat, because his statement regarding that was a form of revelation as well;

“And he does not speak of his own desires.”[24]

Thus his statement as the hadith has reached us is truth, and none reject it except those who have rejected the wisdom of God.

 

·    The one who actually understands the general goals of God’s commandments and who is well read in regard to the relevant divine texts, and who draws an accurate comparison between Islamic law and other systems of law will be certain that the zakat was divine legislation rather than something invented by the mind of a human being.

 

·    Obligating the rich to pay charity to the poor was a part of the previous Abrahamic religions as well, and the generality of the prophets and messengers called to it. The difference is that in the Torah and the Bible, it was mainly a praised act individuals could perform without the clear rules of obligation and structure. As for the rules as laid down in the Qur`an and the Sunnah, then those have been explained above and we can see that there are numerous differences between zakat in Islam and zakat in the Judeo-Christian tradition. These differences confirm the wholeness of the final message, as well as its universal nature. Thus the zakat in Islam has been revealed along with all its relevant conditions, exemptions, and measurements, as well as the time at which it should be paid and the valid methods of payment. How can this complete, detailed and exact system be compared to the simple encouragement of individuals to give money if and when they can without any real description or specification…and without obligation?


[1] Dr. Nabil Luka Bibawi, ‘Abqariyyat Muhammad sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, pg. 175. Cairo: Dar al-Bibawi li an-Nashr, 2007.

[2] Ahmad Jadd al-Maula, Muhammad sallallahi ‘alaihi wa sallam, al-Mathal al-Kamil, pgs. 63-66. Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Mahabbah, 1412AH/1991AD. 1st ed.

[3] Al-Maula, Al-Mathal al-Kamil, pg. 67.

[4] Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Remainder of the Musnad of the Ansar, the narration of Qais bin Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah (may God be pleased with him), no. 23894. Sahih Ibn Khuzaimah, Chapter on Zakat, Section on the proof that the command for the charity of the end of Ramadan occurred before the command for Zakat, no. 2394. Al-Arna`ut authenticated its chain of narration in his commentary on Ahmad’s Musnad, no. 23894.

[5] Dr. Yusuf al-Qardawi, Fiqh az-Zakat, vol. 1, pgs. 70-71. Beirut: Mu`assasah ar-Risalah, 1406AH/1986AD. 16th ed.

[6] Fussilat, verse 7.

[7] Al-Qardawi, vol. 1, pgs. 60-62.

[8] An-Najm, verse 4.

[9] Al-Qurtubi, Al-Jami’ li-Ahkam al-Qur`an, vol. 17, pg. 85. Beirut: Dar Ihya at-Turath al-Arabi, 1405AH/1985AD.

[10] Al-Qardawi, vol. 2, pgs. 1120-1121.

[11] Al-Maula, pgs. 241-242.

[12] Al-Anbiya`, verse 73.

[13] Maryam, verses 54-55.

[14] Maryam, verse 31.

[15] Al-Bayyinah, verse 5.

[16] Al-Qardawi, vol. 1, pgs. 48-50.

[17] Proverbs, 21: 13-14.

[18] Luke, 12:33.

[19] At-Tawbah, verse 103.

[20] Sahih al-Bukhari, Chapter on Zakat, Section on the Obligation of Zakat, no. 1331. This quote is found at other points in the collection as well.

[21] Musnad Ahmad, Chapter of the People of Kufa, Section of Mu’awiyah bin Haydah, no. 20,053. Sunan of Abu Dawud, Chapter on Zakat, Section on Grazing Animals, no. 1577. Albani authenticated this in his checking of Abu Dawud’s Sunan, no. 1393.

[22] At-Tawbah, verse 60.

[23] Al-Qardawi, vol. 1, pgs. 86-88.

[24] An-Najm, verse 3.

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