This world has been made as a place of a trial for mankind. Its essential consequence is reward and punishment for which the Day of Judgement has been fixed. In order to prove this to mankind in the same manner as scientific facts are proven in a laboratory, the Almighty, on several occasions, brought about lesser days of judgement in this very world. The way which was adopted for this was that the Almighty would send His messenger to any nation He intended. That messenger would conclusively convey the truth to it, after which its fate would be decided with full justice in this world. The way this would happen is that those who accepted the truth would be salvaged and those who rejected it would face the wrath and torment of God and would be eternally wiped out from the face of the earth or would face the eternal punishment of subjugation and live in eternal humiliation. The accounts of the nations of Noah (sws), the 'Ad, the Thamud, the people of Lot (sws) and other similar nations related in the Qur'an are the accounts of such punishments.
The Qur'an states that no nation faces this punishment unless a messenger of God conclusively delivers the truth to them. Thus it is said: (15:17) وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّى نَبْعَثَ رَسُولاً (We never punish unless We send a messenger, (17:15)). A question arises on this: How exactly is the truth conclusively communicated? It is evident from the Qur'an that three things are required for this:
Firstly, the presence of a messenger of God who invites a nation to profess faith in him.
Secondly, the nation is given enough time so that if its people want they can come to see the messenger and directly hear the message of God from his tongue because the person of a messenger itself is a sign of God.
Thirdly, God's help and close relationship with the messenger and his companions manifests itself in such a grand way before the eyes of their addressees that no one can form another opinion about it.
God says that after this no one is left with an excuse to present before God: لِئَلاَّ يَكُوْنَ لِلنَّاسِ عَلَى اللّهِ حُجَّةٌ بَعْدَ الرُّسُلِ (4: 165) (so that after the messengers people are left with no excuse which they can present before God, (4:165)).
Thus if it is possible for the believers to punish the rejecters, they are directed to do so. Otherwise the angels carry out this task.
Muhammad (sws) was also a messenger of God and was sent to his people to bring about this lesser day of judgement for the last time on the face of the earth. Thus after he had done itmam al-hujjah, his companions were also directed to implement divine punishment on the rejecters.
Thus about the Idolaters of Arabia, it is stated:
فَإِذَا انسَلَخَ الْأَشْهُرُ الْحُرُمُ فَاقْتُلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدْتُمُوهُمْ وَخُذُوهُمْ وَاحْصُرُوهُمْ وَاقْعُدُوا لَهُمْ كُلَّ مَرْصَدٍ فَإِنْ تَابُوا وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ فَخَلُّوا سَبِيلَهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ (9: 5)
Then when the sacred months [after the hajj] have passed, kill these Idolaters wherever you find them, and [for this purpose] capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush. But if they repent and are diligent in the prayer, and give zakah, then leave them alone. Indeed, God is Forgiving, Most Merciful. (9:5)
Similarly, about the People of the Book of Arabia, the words are:
قَاتِلُوا الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَلَا بِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَلَا يُحَرِّمُونَ مَا حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَلَا يَدِينُونَ دِينَ الْحَقِّ مِنْ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حَتَّى يُعْطُوا الْجِزْيَةَ عَنْ يَدٍ وَهُمْ صَاغِرُونَ (9:29)
Fight with those from among the People of the Book who believe not in God or the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by God and His Messenger, nor adopt the Religion of Truth as their own religion until they pay the jizyah after being subdued and live a life of submission. (9:29)
It is evident from the context of these verses that their directive was specific to the Idolaters and People of the Book of Arabia. However, we see that those of the companions who succeeded the Prophet (sws)dealt with certain nations outside Arabia in the very manner mentioned in these verses for the People of the Book of Arabia. This obviously is a decision that is based on their opinion and can be regarded as correct or otherwise. In our opinion, this decision taken by them was absolutely correct. The reason is that the essential components needed for the itmam al-hujjah of a messenger existed for all these nations as well. Its details follow.
1. The Prophet (sws) was still living in this world when he sent his envoys to those nations and invited them to profess faith in him. Everyone aware of the history of his time knows that he had written letters to heads of state of these nations and warned them that since he was the messenger of God and since he had invited them to accept Islam, the only way left for them to succeed in this world and in the next was to respond positively to this invitation. These letters were written tothe following heads of state: Negus of Abyssinia, Maqawqas of Egypt, Khusro Parvez of Persia, Heraclius of Rome, Mundhir ibn Sawīof Bahrain, Hudhah ibn 'Alī of Yamamah, Harith ibn Abī Shamr of Damascus and Jayfarof Amman.There is not much difference between the content of these letters. Following is the letter written to Heraclius, the Caesar of Rome. The style, majesty and authority with which these letters are written will become evident from it:
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرحمن الرَّحِيمِ من مُحَمَّدٍ عبد اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ إلى هِرَقْلَ عَظِيمِ الرُّومِ سَلَامٌ على من اتَّبَعَ الْهُدَى أَمَّا بَعْدُ فَإِنِّي أَدْعُوكَ بِدِعَايَةِ الْإِسْلَامِ أَسْلِمْ تَسْلَمْ يُؤْتِكَ الله أَجْرَكَ مَرَّتَيْنِ فَإِنْ تَوَلَّيْتَ فإن عَلَيْكَ إِثْمَ الْأَرِيسِيِّينَ قل يا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْا إلى كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ ألا نَعْبُدَ إلا اللَّهَ ولا نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شيئا ولا يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنَا بَعْضًا أَرْبَابًا من دُونِ اللَّهِ فَإِنْ تَوَلَّوْا فَقُولُوا اشْهَدُوا بِأَنَّا مُسْلِمُونَ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful. From Muhammad, the servant and messenger of God, to Heraclius, the ruler of Rome. Peace to him who follows the guidance. After this I invite you to accept Islam. If you become Muslim you will live in peace. God will give you a double reward for this. If you turn away, then you will also be responsible for the sin of your subjects. People of the Book! Come to what is common between us: we shall not worship anyone except God and nor associate anyone with him and none of us will make anyone except God his Lord. Then if they turn away, tell them: "Bear witness that we are Muslims."
2. These letters were written in Muharram 7th hijrah after the Prophet (sws) had returned from Hudaybiyyah. He lived for about four years after this. During this time, he even journeyed to Tabuk in anticipation of any attack from the Romans. If the people of these nations as well as their ruling nobles had come to meet him if they wanted, they could have seen the last messenger of God with their very eyes.
3. God's help and close relationship that manifested itself in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Ahzab and Khaybar before the Idolaters and the People of the Book of Arabia, and as a consequence of which they were declared worthy of punishment, also manifested itself before all those nations when, in accordance with the explicit predictions of the Qur'an, the Quraysh of Makkah were subdued in spite of all their might and majesty, all their leadership was killed, Makkah was conquered, the Quraysh were stripped of the custodianship of the foremost House of God, people in multitudes entered the folds of Islam, the sharī'ah was imposed and no other religion could politically and religiously dominate Arabia. Not only this, the empires of all these nations crumbled to dust when onslaughts were launched against them – nations whose rulers had been told that they will necessarily be subdued after itmam al-hujjah by the messenger of God. Without accepting faith their kingdoms could not flourish on the earth.
All these are established facts which manifested themselves before people of those times. Whatever the companions of the Prophet (sws) did was on these very grounds. They would have necessarily directed the attention of people to these facts when they delivered their message. There is no reason to make the evil estimation about them that without communicating these facts to people they would have punished an individual or a nation in this manner.
(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)
. The term itmam al-hujjah refers to the conclusive communication of the truth.
. Abu 'Abdullah Muhammad ibn Isma'il al-Bukhari, Al-Jami' al-sahih, 3rd ed., vol 1 (Beirut: Dar Ibn Kathir, 1987), 8-9, (no. 7).