May 13, 2006
Jesus and Muhammad on WealthBy James Arlandson
Both Jesus and Muhammad said that we should give to the poor (and so do most world religions). But beyond this basic generosity, they had very different attitudes and policies on money.
In Islam, the Third of Five Pillars, the zakat or alms tax, commands Muslims to give to the poor. In the classical period this tax can be collected by a duly appointed representative and is generally calculated on the wealth of the Muslim. Sadaqah (cf. Hebrew tsedek) is also found in the Quran and involves giving to the poor, but voluntarily. Sometimes the two seem to be used interchangeably in the Quran, so says the Oxford Dictionary of Islam. I find it helpful to keep them analytically separate.
Are these two policies problem—free? Are they the whole story about material possessions in Islam? What does the Quran say about money and wealth, more fully? What did Muhammad do to get it?
On the other side, Jesus and his Apostles, demonstrating concern for the poor, had at the same time a practical and spiritual attitude towards wealth. It is a little known fact that Jesus was not opposed to people generally having wealth per se, but he did not want wealth to have them. He even had a bag of money that Judas (the future traitor) administered (John 13:29). Jesus accepted freely—given financial support, for example, from women of means (Luke 8:3). Since space prohibits us from discussing many verses in the Four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, we instead focus on two big picture themes.
In Medina (AD 622—632) Muhammad chooses a path of conquests and warfare, beginning with raiding Meccan caravans. From there, he and his successors subdue the entire Arab Peninsula and beyond. How did this militancy influence their outlook on wealth and what went into the Quran?
This analysis quotes extensively from the Quran. If the readers would like to see the verses in multiple translations, they should click on this website.
Riches and power by conquest
Sura 48 was revealed in AD 628, after a treaty with the Meccans and during his conquest of the Jews of Khaybar. This verse predicts future spoils of war for Allah's beloved Prophet.
Sayyid Abul A'La Maududi (d. 1979), a respected traditional and conservative commentator, says that the clause "Allah has promised you abundant spoils that you will capture" refers to the conquests after Muhammad's takeover of the city of Khaybar. It communicates a general promise of the spoils of any war that he embarks on. (The Meaning of the Qur'an, vol. 5, p. 62, note 35; see below, "Taking wealth of Jews").
This hadith (traditions about Muhammad) leaves no doubt about Muhammad's goal of conquest and obligatory charity.
Thus, Muhammad is called to fight everyone until they testify that there is no deity but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger, and until people say their prayers in the Muslim way and pay the zakat tax.
Under those conditions, the attacked peoples will save their lives and property from him.
Next, after Muhammad dies of a fever in AD 632, Abu Bakr becomes successor or Caliph (ruled 632—634). He carries on Muhammad's policy of conquest and the obligatory charity tax on the tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, who were revolting against Islam. Umar, the second Caliph (r. 634—644), was not quite sure whether this policy should be done, but Abu Bakr convinces him.
When Allah's Messenger died and Abu Bakr was elected as a Caliph after him, some of the Arabs reverted to disbelief,
'Umar said to Abu Bakr, "How dare you fight the people while Allah's Messenger said, 'I have been ordered to fight the people till they say, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.' And whoever says: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah' saves his wealth and his life from me unless he deserves a legal punishment justly, and his account will be with Allah!''" Abu Bakr said, "By Allah, I will fight him who discriminates between Zakat and Salat (prayers), for Zakat is the compulsory right to be taken from the wealth. By Allah, if they refuse to give me even a tying rope which they use to give to Allah's Messenger, I would fight them for withholding it." 'Umar said, "By Allah, It was nothing, except I saw that Allah had opened the chest of Abu Bakr to the fight, and I came to know for certain that that (i.e. the decision to fight) was the truth." (Bukhari)
In this passage, zakat is "the compulsory right to be taken from the wealth" of the Arab tribes. It is odd that "charity" is compulsory. Also, Abu Bakr zealously fights for every last scrap of wealth from them. Even if they withhold a "tying rope," he will battle them for it.
This next short hadith is unambiguous and unsurprising:
Finally, two translators update this Quranic verse to modern times, inserting military equipment as the equivalent to seventh—century steeds of war:
This verse is found in Sura 8, which deals with the Battle of Badr, in which Muhammad and his 320 jihadists (thereabouts) won a surprising victory over a large Meccan army of around 1,000 (AD 624). The "Cause of Allah" means war. The clause "others besides whom you may not know" lifts this battle readiness out of its immediate historical context and into all future battles.
For more information on the spoils of war being made legal for Muhammad, see this long section of the hadith, which deals specifically with war booty.
Taxing the conquered
How was the wealth from conquests collected, and what was done with it? Allah lays out this policy in Sura 9:29, which will be developed as Islam goes on.
This verse that commands battle against Christians and Jews ("Scripture" is the Bible) is all about theology and belief. It says nothing explicit about a real and physical harm done to Islam. Muhammad launched his Tabuk Crusade in late AD 630 against the Byzantine Christians. He had heard a rumor that a huge army was mobilizing to invade Arabia, but the rumor was false, so his 30,000 jihadists returned home. But not before imposing a jizya tax on northern tribes of Christians and Jews. The People of the Book had three options:
In the following hadith, Abu Bakr receives the jizya tax from Bahrain, over which Muhammad had appointed a Muslim governor. Abu Bakr announces all debts will be paid off with this recently collected money. The narrator, who was owed payment on a debt, scoops up some coins from the money, and eventually receives 1,500 gold pieces, a huge amount for seventh—century Arabia.
Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah:
But the most revealing part of this long hadith shows Muhammad spreading the money out in the mosque in Medina. The hadith continues:
The last line says that "Muhammad did not get up from there," implying that he was near the money, counting it. Why was he conquering and taxing tribes and regions in the first place, especially when they did him no harm?
Next, dhimmis, usually Christians and Jews, are second—class citizens of lands conquered by Muslim armies. They are required to pay the jizya tax, as this hadith shows.
The purpose of this jizya tax on dhimmis is now clear: it is "the source of the livelihood of your dependents" back in Arabia. We should not take this hadith too literally. The money may go to Arab dependents indirectly. But the hadith reveals that the tax revenues benefit Islam and Muslims—and that can be taken literally.
Dhimmis (usually Christian and Jews) could keep their religion and pay the jizya tax. Those who converted to Islam paid the zakat or forced "charity" tax. (Polytheists were killed if they did not convert to Islam.) Either way, money flowed back to Arabia or to the local Muslim governor. Not surprisingly, Muhammad never got a revelation that dried up this money flow.
Buying status through jihad
The next passages teach that anyone who spends his wealth on jihad or gives his life as a soldier receives from Allah high status on earth and in heaven.
This verse uses win—win—win logic from Muhammad's point of view. If a jihadist dies fighting, then he gets Islamic paradise. If he wins and lives, then he gets material spoils. If he is defeated but escapes with his life, then he gets to fight another day.
Next, these two verses in Sura 4 teach that Allah has created at least a two—tier system in his Muslim ummah or community: (1) Those who "strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives"; (2) those who sit at home. The disabled are in a separate category.
At the end of Muhammad's life, Muhammad reinforces this two—caste system: see Sura 9:38—39, 41, 44, 86, 87.
Finally, as seen in 4:74, an economic bargain is offered to jihadists in this next verse. Allah purchases their lives in exchange for Islamic paradise. Sura 9 is the last sura to be revealed in its entirety.
Allah and Muhammad are completely wrong about the Bible's command to fight in bloody wars in order to bring heavenly rewards. First, Moses ordered wars that were time—specific (more than 3,000 years ago), location—specific (holy land), and purpose—specific. But Moses or Joshua or the judges did not promise heaven, automatically, for the express act of dying in wars. Second, it is particularly true that Jesus never commanded his church to wage wars, except a spiritual war against dark powers. His "martyrdom" on the cross assures his followers of heaven, not their own martyrdom in a holy war.
This hadith promises eternal delight for dying in a holy war, provided a jihadist has the right motive. Which motive?
Is it any wonder why so many young men signed up for the wars of conquest during Muhammad's lifetime and afterwards?
For more information on the Quran's economic bargain of death and how it differs from the Old and New Testaments, see this article.
Buying off converts
Sura 8:1, 41 deals with Muhammad's victory at the Battle of Badr (AD 624), after which he captured a huge amount of spoils from a large Meccan caravan. Some complain about his distribution of money. He informs them who the boss is. He gets to keep twenty percent, and to distribute the eighty percent to his jihadists, as he sees fit:
It is true that Muhammad distributes some of his twenty percent to the poor and needy—he is trying to maintain a community of Muslims, after all. But sometimes he gives the conquered spoils—probably the eighty percent—to the not—so—poor—and—needy, in order to "win over a people that they may become Muslims" . . . (Ibn Ishaq, p. 596).
A reliable hadith absolutely supports Ibn Ihsaq's narrative or tradition:
That is, after the Battle of Hunain, which took place shortly after he conquered Mecca (early AD 630), he uses "the good things of this life" (Ibn Ishaq) to soften hearts for Islam, in order to convert not the poor and needy, but the elite, or to keep them in Islam.
This hadith agrees on the policy of winning the hearts of chiefs and notables with money:
The Quran in Sura 9:60 provides the strongest evidence of this dubious use of money:
The topic of money runs throughout the New Testament. But since we cannot analyze even a small number of these passages even in the Four Gospels alone, we instead examine two big—picture themes that set the stage and guide our interpretations of the New Testament's view on money.
The New International Version is used in this main section, but multiple translations may be read here.
The offer that was refused
According to the Gospel of Luke (and Matthew) Satan offers Jesus the whole world at the very beginning of his ministry. But he turned down this diabolical gift.
In divine cooperation between Jesus and the Spirit, God allowed Satan to lead Jesus up to a high place and show him all the kingdoms of this world—their glory and political authority (exousia in Greek means political authority; cf. Luke 4:6 and 12:11, 20:20, 23:7). In addition to political authority, kingdom, by definition at the time of Christ, includes material resources, backed by a strong military.
However, Jesus raises his and our vision to a spiritual transformation of the world, one soul at a time, without killing people and robbing their money by bloodshed. Then, following his example, his disciples went north, south, east, and west, transforming the world only by preaching a simple message, backed by their powerful and risen Lord, the Son of God.
This denial of the path of Satan implies that God's new way does not oppress or enslave or rob people.
Throughout Jesus' ministry he preached that the kingdom of God was at hand. This does not mean an earthly kingdom. As seen in Satan's big offer, the kingdoms of the world in one way or another and to one degree or another come under Satan's authority, so we must not love or get attached to world systems, which are doomed to perish. This two—kingdom reality is made clear during Jesus' last week on earth.
Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:18—44). He had predicted his own death—he was sent to die, after all (Luke 9:22, 43—45; 12:50; 13:32—33; 18:31—34). Now the hostility of the Jewish leadership heats up against him. It is in this context that the teachers of the law and the chief priests keep a close watch on him to catch him in committing treason against Rome or in breaking the law, so they could arrest him and turn him over to "the power and authority of the governor" (Luke 20:20).
Some leaders ask him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Apparently, they saw him as a political revolutionary who opposed Roman occupation. Would he endorse the taxation of his fellow Jews for the benefit of unclean Gentiles? However, they did not know that he was a king, and that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36—37). So he replied with these famous words that are often quoted, though people may not know the exact reference and context.
Jesus speaks first in this passage; his enemies reply.
With these words—and with many other words and deeds—Jesus separates off secular governments from the kingdom of God. There is the kingdom of Caesar on the one hand, and the kingdom of God on the other. When Jesus comes back a second time, he will settle all material and political accounts, being a "political and military" Messiah and Judge. One word will eliminate the enemies of God and subdue all kings and authorities. In the meantime, Jesus in these verses offers his church freedom from political entanglements. The church is free to become salt and light in order to influence society and to preach righteousness to governments.
However, history demonstrates that when the church itself becomes a government, controlling all aspects of society and people's lives, it fails because it cannot successfully impose external holiness on citizens. True, laws are designed to maintain order and to forewarn against and prevent illegal activity, but harsh punishments, such as death for adultery and apostasy (to cite only two examples), are misguided today, long after Jesus ushered in a new era of salvation and dealing with sinners—forgiveness and restoration. Religious leaders in their zeal too often become excessively controlling. Thus, a large measure of freedom must be extended to all citizens, even if on occasion they abuse it. If we cannot strike a perfect balance between control and freedom, then it is better to err on the side of freedom—that is the lesson of history.
It is my personal belief that Jesus, living in a religious commonwealth or theocracy of sorts (but also under Roman occupation), foresaw this need for freedom of conscience and from excessive religious rules that controlled. He trail blazed freedom in his simple gospel. He said, "If anyone follows me . . . ." That little word "if" gives people a choice. It was Jesus, after all, who originally said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31—32). His teaching offers freedom. He also said, "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). However, if people choose not to follow him, then they are free to go on their way. They should not be harassed or harmed. They are in God's hands.
This freedom goes in the exactly opposite direction as Muhammad's policies and harassment of people. He lays down harsh laws and strict practices. No one may challenge him or Islam or leave it. They shall be killed. He offers them no freedom of conscience or religion. This is religious enslavement.
This article explains the Biblical basis of this God—given freedom (scroll down to the "New Testament")
Whereas it is true that sadaqah in Islam implies a free gift, the major thrust of Muhammad's life, the Quran, and sound hadith shows him going well beyond voluntary alms and into compulsion and bloody wars. In contrast, the overarching policy of Jesus and theme in the New Testament is to give freely without oppression, injustice, and bloodshed.
Allah in this verse warns Muslims and Muhammad not to get attached to material things or to get ensnared by the "love of desires."
This verse teaches wisdom, but Muhammad did not follow it. He is the one who desired women and married many of them—a privilege of numbers reserved only for him (Sura 33:50); he is the one who says that jihadists may rape women prisoners of war, or Muslim men may have sex with slave girls; he is the one who traded in slaves, a lucrative business; he is the one who owned vast herds of livestock; he is the one who bought off converts; he and his successors are the ones who conquered peaceful people who did not harm Islam in the slightest; he is the one who spread out recently collected tax money in his mosque, counting the most he had ever received. Muhammad is the one who promised his jihadists heaven if they died, and plunder if they lived. If anyone had the "love of desires," it was the Prophet of Islam.
This slippery path sets the genetic code of Islam. Muhammad and his successors conquer the known world, plunder its wealth, and impose its politics of an authoritarian Caliphate, modeled after the Prophet's own authoritarianism.
In contrast, Jesus did not get entangled in the affairs of this world. He says that God's kingdom and earthly kingdoms are two different realms. He did not raise an army to conquer people, even though he said that twelve legions of angels were at his disposal, implying that he could destroy the Roman empire (Matthew 27:53). He said that his kingdom is not of this world; otherwise, his followers would fight to prevent his arrest (John 18:36). He resisted Satan's offer to control the whole world. He did not lay out any conquered money in a synagogue, count it, and then give some to his Apostles who greedily desired it. In fact, he let Judas (the future traitor) be the treasurer (John 13:29), and Judas "helped himself" to the money (John 12:6)—so far was Jesus above such trivialities and anxieties. He knew Judas' end (John 6:60, 70—71). He never bought off converts. Further, Jesus never chased women and then claimed revelations about having them. He was never a slave trader, even though it was a lucrative business. Finally, He never spent his whole life searching for and accumulating as many material things as he could grab by bloody wars.
This good path set the genetic code for Christianity, established at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, and follows freedom from worldly entanglements. He turned down Satan's big offer to conquer the world. Christians are in the world, but not of it (John 17:14—18). Jesus and his Apostles offer freedom.
From this deep gospel freedom comes the principle that can be applied to governments. People are free to debate policies on helping the poor; they are free to vote and pass legislation on whether they want to tax themselves, and how much. They do not have to depend on revelations from a theocrat that would force free peoples everywhere to go in specific directions that somehow materially benefit the theocrat and his successors.
Contact James Arlandson.