Embrace Islam or Else: Prophet Muhammad’s Ultimatums to Foreign Kings


[Note:- This article is written by M.A. Khan, and was published on FFI]

Muhammad used to send threatening letters to foreign kings to embrace Islam, warning that should they reject his invitation — they would be attacked and their kingdoms snatched away. He matched his words with actions.

Recently, reader Muslim and Proud commented on verse 9:29:

(9:29) “Fight with those from among the people of the Book, who do not believe in Allah nor in the Last Day; who do not make unlawful that which Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful, and do not adopt the Right way as their way. Fight with them until they pay Jizyah with their own hands and are humbled.

Pay attention to the last sentence. Fight them UNTIL they pay Jizyah. Islamic law is clear on Jizyah. If it is not paid ONLY THEN does a Muslim have the right to fight the people of the book.

He suggests that this verse talks about fighting the People of the Book – namely Jews and Christians – of an Islamic state or under Muslim control, if they refuse to pay jizya. When non-Muslims are already under Islamic rule, Muslims don’t have to fight them if they refuse to pay jizya. They will be punished by the state.

So, I responded that this verse means: “In the case, people of the book refuse to accept invitation to Islam, fighting should be initiated to occupy their lands and force them to pay jizya.

When he rejected my interpretation, I added: “We have lots of reference of Muhammad sending letters to Christian kings around Arabia, including emperor Heraclius of Byzantium – demanding that those kings embrace Islam. If they didn’t, Muhammad waged Jihad expeditions against them.

Suggesting that I was lying about Muhammad, Muslim and Proud wrote: “Please provide just 3 references, where it is categorically ‘demanded’ that they “embrace Islam or face the consequences of war.

And when I couldn’t reply quickly enough, he wrote: “Did you manage to find the 3 references Mr Khan? Considering you have “lots” of them, it should not take so long to share them? Maybe you were just being a complete a******e (asshole) and you don’t actually have any reference? I’m waiting in any case.

Here, I’m presenting Muhammad’s threatening letters to foreign kings and emperors.

Let me first cite what Allah says about inviting Kuffars to Islam. I repeat that Quran 9:29 clearly says that, after receiving invitation to Islam, if the people of the book do not embrace Islam and follow the Islamic way, they must be fought and humbled, and willingly pay jizya. Similarly, elsewhere Allah says (Quran 59.3-4):

And had it not been that Allah had decreed banishment for them, He would certainly have punished them in this world: And in the Hereafter they shall (certainly) have the Punishment of the Fire.

That is because they resisted Allah and His Messenger: and if any one resists Allah, verily Allah is severe in Punishment.

This verse was revealed in reference to Muhammad’s attack and expulsion of the Banu Qainuqa/Nadir Jewish tribes from Medina. They clearly say that Muhammad had attacked and exiled those Jewish communities, “because they resisted Allah and His Messenger” – that is, they had rejected Muhammad’s invitation to Islam. So, verses 9:29 and 59:3-4 in combination make the “modus operandi” of spreading Islam crystal-clear:Accept Islam or face the Islamic sword!

Prophet Muhammad’s letter of submission to Islam to foreign kings

In 628, Prophet Muhammad led an expedition at the head of 1,500 armed Muslims to Mecca for capturing it. But when the Meccans showed resolute determination to fight to the last man, Muhammad negotiated and signed what Muslims call the unfair Hudaybiyah Treaty. Muhammad companion felt so humiliated by that treaty that “they felt depressed to the point of death,” write Ibn Ishaq.[1] Of course, Muhammad signed such a treaty, because he was not yet powerful enough to capture Mecca without serious loss of life on his side. Two years later, when he could assemble an army of 10,000 fighters, he threw away the treaty and captured Mecca.

After returning from that expedition, Muhammad sent emissaries to foreign rulers, namely the kings of Yamama, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Syria, Byzantium, and Persia etc. In order to authenticate the credentials of his envoys, a “silver seal” was made with engraved words: “Muhammad the Messenger of Allâh[2]. A few of those letters are discussed below:

Prophet’s letters to Haudha bin ‘Ali of Yamama:[3]

“In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. From Muhammad, Messenger of Allâh to Haudha bin ‘Ali. Peace be upon him who follows true guidance. Be informed that my religion shall prevail everywhere. You should accept Islam, and whatever under your command shall remain yours.

The message of this letter is crystal-clear: embrace Islam or your kingdom will be snatched away, which of course will be achieved by fighting/war.

Hauda replied to Muhammad: “The Faith, to which you invite me, is very good. I am a famous orator and poet, the Arabs highly respect me and I am of account among them. If you include me in your government, I am prepared to follow you.

Hauda also bestowed a reward on Muhammad’s emissary, Sulait, and presented him with clothes made of Hajr fabric, which was passed on to Muhammad.

Even in today’s standard, this is very civilized reply to Muhammad’s threatening letter.

We must consider the fact that Yamama was a powerful kingdom. At this time, Muhammad was not powerful enough to conquer even Mecca. But under Caliph Abu Bakr, when the Muslim army became many folds more powerful, the Muslim army got defeated twice with terrible losses in its attempt to conquer Yamama. Only in the third attempt, led by Khalid bin Walid, Muslims were able to conquer Yamama.

So, such a polite reply and friendly gesture to Muhammad’s rude and threatening letter from a powerful monarch should be deemed highly civilized.

But barbarian par excellence as Muhammad was, this is what he said in reaction to Hauda’s proposal: “Yamama is bound to give rise to a liar who will arrogate Prophethood to himself but he will subsequently be killed.” To a question of who would kill him, Muhammad said: “It is one of you, followers of Islam.

So, Muhammad not only rejected Hauda’s highly civilized reply, but also directed that Muslims must kill him. How barbaric!

Muhammad’s letter to Harith bin Abi Shamir Al-Ghassani, King of Damascus:[4]

“In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

From Muhammad, Messenger of Allâh to Al-Harith bin Abi Shamir.

Peace be upon him who follows true guidance, believes in it and regards it as true. I invite you to believe in Allâh Alone with no associate, thenceafter your kingdom will remain yours.”

Reading the letter, Harith, who was under protection of the world’s most powerful Byzantine emperor Heraclius, became angry and said:

“Who dares to disposs me of my country; I’ll fight him (the Prophet).”

Muhammad’s Letter to the King of ‘Oman, Jaifer, and his Brother ‘Abd Al-Jalandi:[5]

“In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

From Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah to Jaifer and ‘Abd Al-Jalandi.

Peace be upon him who follows true guidance; thereafter I invite both of you to the Call of Islam. Embrace Islam. Allâh has sent me as a Prophet to all His creatures in order that I may instil fear of Allâh in the hearts of His disobedient creatures so that there may be left no excuse for those who deny Allâh. If you two accept Islam, you will remain in command of your country; but if you refuse my Call, you’ve got to remember that all your possessions are perishable. My horsemen will appropriate your land, and my Prophethood will assume preponderance over your kingship.”

Similar threatening letters were sent to the kings of Bahrain and Yemen, and to the chiefs Ayla and Duma etc.

These letters make it crystal-clear that Prophet Muhammad invited foreign rulers to embrace Islam with threatening letters. Should they reject his invitation to Islam, he promised to attack them and occupy their kingdoms.

Indeed, Muhammad and later caliphs waged wars against all those rulers, who had rejected Muhammad letter of invitation to Islam. Two-three years later, when Muhammad had become more powerful, Muhammad launched expedition against Syria (battle of Muta) and Byzantium (expedition to Tabuk), because governor Harith of Syria and emperor Heraclius of Byzantium had rejected Muhammad’s invitation to embrace Islam.

Similarly, on Muhammad’s expedition to Tabuk, Okaydir, the chief of Duma (Syria), had rejected his invitation of submit to Islam. So, Muhammad sent Khalid bin Walid to attack Okaydir, whose brother was killed and Okaydir was captured and brought to Muhammad in Medina. Muhammad forced him to embrace Islam and made him agree to collect jizya for Muhammad from his Christian subjects. When Okaydir later reverted to Christianity, he was attacked again and killed.

These letters of Muhammad to foreign rulers and his actions when they were rejected clearly validate my two claims, which Muslim and Proud disagrees with:

  1. Verse 9:29 means: “In the case people of the book refuse to accept invitation to Islam, fighting should be initiated to occupy their lands and force them to jizya. That’s what this verse means.”
  2. “We have lots of reference of Muhammad sending letters to Christian kings around Arabia, including emperor Heraclius of Byzantium – demanding that they kings embrace Islam. If they didn’t, Muhammad waged Jihad expeditions against them.

It is worth noting that the language of Muhammad’s letter to foreign kings varied a little in accordance with the level of power of that ruler. When the ruler was very powerful, Muhammad did not threaten to attack them in order to capture their kingdom, lest they would pre-emptively attack and destroy him. The texts of Muhammad’s letters to the kings of the world’s two most power empires – namely of Persian and Byzantium – were as follows:

Muhammad’s letter to Emperor Heraclius of Byzantium:[6]

“In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

From Muhammad, the slave of Allâh and His Messenger to Hercules, king of the Byzantines.

Blessed are those who follow true guidance. I invite you to embrace Islam so that you may live in security. If you come within the fold of Islam, Allâh will give you double reward, but in case you turn your back upon it, then the burden of the sins of all your people shall fall on your shoulders.

Muhammad’s letter to Chosroes, Emperor of Persia:[7]

“In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allâh to Chosroes, king of Persia.

Peace be upon him who follows true guidance, believes in Allâh and His Messenger and testifies that there is no god but Allâh Alone with no associate, and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger. I invite you to accept the religion of Allâh. I am the Messenger of Allâh sent to all people in order that I may infuse fear of Allâh in every living person, and that the charge may be proved against those who reject the Truth. Accept Islam as your religion so that you may live in security, otherwise, you will be responsible for all the sins of the Magians.

So, in these letters to more powerful kings, Muhammad asked them to embrace Islam, if they want to live in security, but doesn’t directly threaten to attack to dispossess them from their rule. When the ruler was relatively weak, the message of his letters was: Embrace Islam or else.


[1] Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press, Karachi, p. 505

[2] Sahih Al-Bukhari 2:872-873

[3] Zad al-Ma’ad, by Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr (aka Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah), 3:63

[4] Za’d Al-Ma’ad, 3:62

[5] Saifur Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, Maktaba Dar-us-Salam Publishers, p. 227-28

[6] Sahih Al-Bukhari 1:4-5; Ibn Ishaq, p. 655

[7] Fath ul-Bari fi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, by Ibn Hajr Asqalani, 8:127-128

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