Rules and Rewards

Killing During the Sacred Months

Jihad in the KoranIn pre-Islamic times there was a four months long festival centered on Mecca, a festival referred to as the Sacred Months (not to be confused with the Sacred Months of the Islamic Calendar: 11 - Dhu’l-Qa’dah, the Month of Rest; 12 - Dhu’l-Hijjah, the Month of Pilgrimage; 1 Muharram, the Sacred Month and the beginning of the Islamic New Year; 7 - Rajab the Month of Respect).

The Sacred Months allowed pilgrims to make their way to Mecca unmolested. During this period, all faiths came together; all wars and all petty quarrels had to stop.

Mecca, before Muhammad made Islam the only acceptable religion on the Peninsula, was not only special to Allah, but also to all the other gods and goddesses in the Arabian pantheon. In fact, anyone from anywhere who made the journey to Mecca could place a figure of his god or goddess on the altar of the Ka’ba, the structure that still shelters the stone that Adam is said to have grabbed onto when he and Eve were cast out of Paradise.

After the Prophet fled to Medina, the Meccans, having decided that Muhammad was too big a threat to the way of life on the Peninsula to leave alone, marched on the city and demanded that its citizens surrender him. They refused. Rather than risk the lives of the innocent, the Meccans, as was their custom, imposed what authors refer to as "the blockade of Medina" but was more like a trade embargo.

Many of God’s revelations to His Messenger during his stay in Medina, unlike the revelations Muhammad received while in Mecca, have a blood-thirsty, pitiless war-like quality about them. It was during his stay in Medina that Muhammad decided that, if his fellow Arabs would not accept him as Allah’s mouthpiece and the Koran as the Word of God on his say-so, he would make them see the light by force.

Even with the so-called blockade in place, Muhammad’s raiding parties, his response to the embargo, left and entered Medina at will. The Muslim raiders, however, were too few to effectively challenge the large Meccan caravans passing between Medina and the Red Sea on their way to and from Syria.

Minor setbacks, like the initial inability to plunder at will the Meccan caravans passing by Medina, did not deter the Prophet. Unlike his adversaries, Muhammad had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish, and more importantly, the wherewithal to outwit his opponents at almost every turn combined with a single-minded ruthlessness that knew no bounds, including ordering a raid that would lead to the killing of a farmer during the Sacred Months.

Virgil Gheorghiu, in his admiring biography Le Prophet Mahomet, condones the attack, repeating the same canard as author, former nun and unabashed admirer of Muhammad Karen Armstrong: that it was out of necessity that he ordered a raid during a sacred month because the believers in Medina were starving to death. Starving in an oasis city famous for its orchards of dates and other fruit bearing trees, where the inhabitants more than lived up to the Arab reputation for hospitality, stretches credibly.

It is possible that the cunning, farsighted Muhammad planned for the attack to occur when it did so as to do away, once and for all, with the interdiction against warfare during the Sacred Months. He could foresee this interdiction playing havoc with his plans to Islamisize (sic) the Peninsula by force.

In November 623, having failed to plunder a single Meccan caravan passing between the Red Sea and Medina, Muhammad changed tactics and decided to attack non-Meccan caravans plying another route. It was all very hush-hush. Even the men who would carry out the raid didn’t know their ultimate target.

The attack on a farmer’s caravan occurred more than 250 miles south east of Medina. The attackers’ instructions were contained in a letter from Muhammad which they were told not to read until they had reached a well some distance west of Medina. What follows is a summary of how it went down based on Virgil Gheorghiu’s account.

Abdallah-ibn-Djach, the leader of an eight-man raiding party, was given a letter by God’s Messenger which he was told not to read until he arrived at a famous well west of Medina, two days ride by camel. Muhammad’s instructions for the group were to head in the opposite direction.

Two weeks later, they arrived at their destination on the trade route between Mecca and Ta’if where they waited for a caravan making its way from Ta’if to Mecca. Ta’if is a small city about 46 miles or (74 km) south east of Mecca. At an elevation of 6,165 ft. (1,879 m) on the slopes of the Sarawat Mountains, the area is conducive to the production of agricultural products such as grapes, roses and honey.

There was still a day left in the Sacred Month of Rajab when they spotted four men on their way to Mecca with a cargo of raisins, wine and animal skins. If they waited until the end of Rajab to attack, the small caravan would have reached the precinct of Mecca and be inviolate. What to do? Follow Muhammad’s instructions, which they believed to be from God, or respect God’s Sacred Months? They decided to attack, and one of the four people with the caravan was killed. Amr-ben-al Hadra’mi became the first person murdered in the cause of Islam.

When they returned to Medina, the story of the murder of Hadra’mi during a sacred month had spread far and wide. A scandal had erupted. Believers and unbelievers alike were aghast that this sacrilege could be tolerated. Muhammad's reputation and his quest were at stake.

God’s Messenger was surprised by the uproar but remained unperturbed. He ordered that the puny plunder for which a man was killed (raisins, wine and animal skins) be set aside and not distributed until he had heard from God. A few days later, the Angel Gabriel delivered to Muhammad revelations from Allah intended to clarify the rules regarding this killing business during a sacred month.

First, God established, as a general principal, that killing in retaliation for a killing is allowed during a sacred month, and that killing those who would violate things that are sacred to the believers is justified year round.

2:194 A sacred month for a sacred month; and retaliation [is allowed] when sacred things [are violated]. Thus, whoever commits aggression against you, retaliate against him in the same way. Fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.

Furthermore, don't let this stop you from spending money and fighting in Allah's Cause, lest you cause your own destruction.

2:195 Spend [money] for the Cause of Allah and do not cast yourselves with your own hands into destruction (do not stop fighting for the Cause of Allah), and be charitable. Surely Allah loves the charitable.

What about killing during the Sacred Months where there is no apparent provocation or reason, as in the murder of Amr-ben-al Hadra’mi? In a fine piece of hair splitting, God both condemns and condones the murder of Hadra’mi. In doing so He implicitly, if not explicitly, gives the believers a licence to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time if they honestly believe it will advance His Cause, such as killing those who would “debar people from Allah’s Way,” which could be anyone, even other Muslims.

He does not stop there! He reminds the believers who would rather live in peace that fighting “is good for you” and that they should kill anyone at any time, even entire communities, if they fear they will leave Islam; this is the meaning of “Sedition is worse than murder” in Revelation 2:217.[20]

2:216 You are enjoined to fight, though it is something you dislike. For it may well be that you dislike a thing, although it is good for you; or like something although it is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not.

2:217 They ask you about the sacred month: “Is there fighting in it?” Say: “Fighting in it is a great sin; but to debar people from Allah’s Way and to deny Him and the Sacred Mosque, and to drive its people out of it is a greater sin in Allah’s Sight. Sedition is worse than murder.” Nor will they cease to fight you until they make you, if they can, renounce your religion. Those of you who renounce their religion and die, while they are unbelievers, are those whose works come to grief, [both] in this world and in the Hereafter. And they are the people of the Fire, abiding in it forever.

The murder of Hadra’mi, and God's failure to categorically condemn the killing during a sacred month, meant that jihad could be conducted throughout the year. This could have been the farsighted Muhammad's objective all along.


Ta'if would prove a difficult conquest, even for experienced holy warriors, during the campaign to convert the people of the Arabian Peninsula by force.

Narrated Abdullah bin Umar:

When Allah Apostle was in Ta'if (trying to conquer it), he said to his companions, "Tomorrow we will return (to Medina), if Allah wills."

Some of the companions of Allah's Apostle said, "We will not leave till we conquer it."

The Prophet said, "Therefore, be ready to fight tomorrow."

On the following day, they (Muslims) fought fiercely (with the people of Ta'if) and suffered many wounds.

Then Allah's Apostle said, "Tomorrow we will return (to Medina), if Allah wills."

His companions kept quiet this time. Allah's Apostle then smiled.

Bukhari 73.109


[20] The Koran is somewhat unique in the way it elevates murder—or mass murder—into a virtue, as in revealed truths 2:217 "sedition is worse than murder" and 2:191 "Sedition is worse than slaughter."