The Profit of the Prophet

Should Muhammad Get Paid Or Shouldn’t He?

The Quran records the words of a believer who advised his people to follow the messengers who asked for no money:

And there came running from the farthest part of the town, a man, saying: "O my people! Obey the Messengers; "Obey those who ask no wages of you (for themselves), and who are rightly guided. And why should I not worship Him (Allah Alone) Who has created me and to Whom you shall be returned. Shall I take besides Him aliha (gods), if the Most Beneficent (Allah) intends me any harm, their intercession will be of no use for me whatsoever, nor can they save me? Then verily, I should be in plain error." It was said (to him when the disbelievers killed him): "Enter Paradise." He said: "Would that my people knew! That my Lord (Allah) has forgiven me, and made me of the honoured ones!" S. 36:20-27 Hilali-Khan

The foregoing presupposes that true messengers do not ask for money or receive a fee for their services, a point repeated in the following texts:

And recite to them the story of Noah when he said to his people, 'My people, if my standing here is grievous to you and my reminding you of the signs of God, in God have I put my trust; so resolve on your affair, with your associates, then let not your affair be a worry to you, but make decision unto me, and respite me not. Then if you turn your backs, I have not asked you for any wage; my wage falls only on God, and I have been commanded to be of those that surrender.' S. 10:71-72 Arberry

(The tribe of) A'ad denied the messengers (of Allah). When their brother Hud said unto them: Will ye not ward off (evil)? Lo! I am a faithful messenger unto you, So keep your duty to Allah and obey me. And I ask of you no wage therefor; my wage is the concern only of the Lord of the Worlds. S. 26:123-127 Pickthall – cf. 26:109, 145, 164, 180

Muhammad was commanded to follow this precedent:

Those are they whom God has guided; so follow their guidance. Say: 'I ask of you no wage for it; it is but a reminder unto all beings.' S. 6:90 Arberry

And We have sent thee (O Muhammad) only as a bearer of good tidings and a warner. Say: I ask of you no reward for this, save that whoso will may choose a way unto his Lord. S. 25:56-57 Pickthall

Thou askest them no fee for it. It is naught else than a reminder unto the peoples. S. 12:104 Pickthall

The late Abdullah Yusuf Ali wrote regarding the above text:

The divine Message was priceless; it was not for the Messenger’s personal profit, nor did he ask of men any reward for bringing it for their benefit. It was for all creatures, – literally, for all the worlds, as explained in i. 2, n. 20.

These above statements found in the Quran merely reflect common sense. If somebody claims to bring a message from God, but then demands to be paid by the recipients instead of trusting that the one who commanded him to bring the message will also cover the expenses and take care of meeting his needs, this raises some suspicion whether he is truly a man sent by God or if he is only after the money. Although this issue cannot be the only criterion of evaluation in determining whether or not an alleged messenger is truly from God, it is certainly one of several questions that should be considered.

However, the traditions and a number of quranic verses that will be quoted next fly in the face of this and starkly contradict the spirit of the above principle. For instance, the Islamic narrations and Muslim commentators state that Allah commanded the Muslims to give to Muhammad the plunder they gathered through Islamic conquests:

And did He not find you needy, poor, and enrich you?, [and] made you content with the spoils and other things which He gave you - in a hadith [it is stated], 'Wealth comes not from the proliferation of transient [worldly] goods, but wealth comes from the contentedness of the soul'. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Whenever a dead man in debt was brought to Allah's Apostle he would ask, "Has he left anything to repay his debt?" If he was informed that he had left something to repay his debts, he would offer his funeral prayer, otherwise he would tell the Muslims to offer their friend's funeral prayer. When Allah made the Prophet wealthy through conquests, he said, "I am more rightful than other believers to be the guardian of the believers, so if a Muslim dies while in debt, I am responsible for the repayment of his debt, and whoever leaves wealth (after his death) it will belong to his heirs." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 37, Number 495)

The Quran itself declared that the spoils from war belonged entirely to Allah and Muhammad:

They ask you (O Muhammad SAW) about the spoils of war. Say: "The spoils are for Allah and the Messenger." So fear Allah and adjust all matters of difference among you, and obey Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad SAW), if you are believers. S. 8:1 Hilali-Khan

Here is how one Islamic source interpreted this passage:

And from his narration on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas who said concerning the saying of Allah, exalted is He, ((They ask thee (O Muhammad) of the spoils of war): 'He says: your Companions ask you about the spoils of war on the Day of Badr and also about the officers for weapons and horses. (Say) O Muhammad: (The spoils of war belong to Allah and the messenger) the spoils of war at Badr belong to Allah and His Messenger, and none of it is yours; it is also said: they all belong to Allah and the command of the Messenger regarding what is allowed, (so keep your duty to Allah) fear Allah concerning taking the spoils of war, (and adjust the matter of your difference) solve the differences among you: let the rich give to the poor and the strong to the weak and the young to the elderly, (and obey Allah and His messenger) in the matter of reconciliation, (if ye are (true) believers) in Allah and His Messenger. (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source)


Whatever Allah has restored to His Apostle from the people of the towns, it is for Allah and for the Apostle, and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, so that it may not be a thing taken by turns among the rich of you, and whatever the Apostle gives you, accept it, and from whatever he forbids you, keep back, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is severe in retributing (evil): S. 59:7 Shakir

The exegetes state that:

Whatever spoils God has given to His Messenger from the people of the towns, such as al-Safra', Wadi al-Qura and Yanbu', belong to God, dispensing with it as He wishes, and to the Messenger and to the near of kin, the Prophet's kin, from among the Banu Hashim and the Banu al-Muttalib, and the orphans, the [orphaned] children of Muslims, those whose parents have died and who are impoverished, and the needy, those Muslims in need, and the traveller, the Muslim who may be cut off [from all resources] on a remote journey: in other words, they [these spoils] are the due of the Prophet (s) and [those of] the four categories, divided up in the way that he used to, where each category received a fifth of the fifth, with the rest being his [the Prophet's], so that these, the spoils - this being the justification for the division of these [spoils] in this way, do not (kay-la: kay functions like la with a following implied an [sc. an-la]) become a thing circulating, handed round, between the rich among you. And whatever the Messenger gives you, of spoils or otherwise, take it; and whatever he forbids you, abstain [from it]. And fear God. Surely God is severe in retribution. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

(That which Allah giveth as spoil unto His messenger from the people of the townships) of 'Uraynah, Qurayzah, Banu'l-Nadir, Fadak and Khaybar, (it is for Allah) specifically and there is nothing in it for you (and His messenger) the command of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) regarding this is permissible, and this is why he made the spoils of Fadak and Khaybar an endowment for the needy people; it remained under his control during his lifetime, and after his death it came under the control of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, and after him under 'Umar, 'Uthman and 'Ali respectively exactly as it was under the control of the Prophet (pbuh) and it remains so to this day. The Prophet (pbuh) also divided the spoils of Banu Qurayzah and Banu'l-Nadir on the poor from among the Emigrants (al-Muhajirun), he gave them according to their need and the need of their dependents (and for the near of kin) and he gave some of it to the needy among the Banu 'Abd al-Muttalib (and the orphans) and he gave some of it to the orphans, other than the orphans of Banu 'Abd al-Muttalib (and the needy) and gave some of it to the needy, other than the needy of the Banu 'Abd al-Muttalib (and the wayfarer) the guest and the passer-by, (that it become not a commodity) a division (between the rich among you) between the strong among you. (And whatsoever the messenger giveth you) of spoils, (take it) accept it; it is also said that this means: whatever the messenger commands you, act upon it. (And whatsoever he forbiddeth, abstain (from it). And keep your duty to Allah) fear Allah in that which He commanded you. (Lo! Allah is stern in reprisal) when He punishes; this is because they said to the Prophet (pbuh): "Take your share of the spoils and leave us to deal with the rest of it". (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

In fact, Muhammad’s companions were commanded to give him a fifth of their plunder:

And know that whatever of war-booty that you may gain, verily one-fifth (1/5th) of it is assigned to Allah, and to the Messenger, and to the near relatives [of the Messenger (Muhammad SAW)], (and also) the orphans, Al-Masakin (the poor) and the wayfarer, if you have believed in Allah and in that which We sent down to Our slave (Muhammad SAW) on the Day of criterion (between right and wrong), the Day when the two forces met (the battle of Badr) - And Allah is Able to do all things. S. 8:41 Hilali-Khan

According to the same commentary attributed to Ibn Abbas Muhammad’s share of one fifth of the booty was canceled after he died:

(And know) O believers (that whatever) of wealth (you take as spoils of war, lo! a fifth thereof is for Allah) a fifth of the spoils of war is given in the way of Allah, (and for the messenger) and for the use of the Messenger (and for the kinsmen) and for the kinsmen of the Prophet (pbuh) (and orphans) who are other than the orphans of the Banu 'Abd al-Muttalib (and the needy) other than those of the Banu 'Abd al-Muttalib (and the wayfarer) and for the weak who is in need of help, whoever he may be. This fifth used to be divided at the time of the Prophet (pbuh) into five shares: one share for the Prophet (pbuh) which was the share given for the sake of Allah (Allah's share); a share for the Prophet's kinsmen, because the Prophet (pbuh) used to give to his kinsmen on behalf of Allah; a share for the orphans; a share for the needy; and a share for the wayfarer. When the Prophet (pbuh) died, the share of the Prophet (pbuh) and that of his kinsmen were cancelled due to the saying of Abu Bakr: "I heard Allah's Messenger (pbuh) say: each prophet has, while still alive, an assigned means of subsistence, and when he dies, it is cancelled and belongs to no one". Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthman and 'Ali in their respective reigns divided the fifth into three shares: a share for the orphans, other than the orphans of Banu 'Abd al-Muttalib, a share for the needy, other than the needy of 'Abd al-Muttalib, and a share for the wayfarers who are weak and in need of help; (if ye believe in Allah and that which We revealed unto Our slave) Muhammad (pbuh) (on the Day of Discrimination) and the day of the alternation of power and victory of Muhammad (pbuh); it is also said that the Day of Discrimination means the day when Allah discriminated between truth and falsehood, i.e. the Day of Badr, when Allah decreed victory and the spoils of war for the Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions, while inflicting death and defeat upon Abu Jahl and his host, (the day when the two armies) the army of Muhammad (pbuh) and that of Abu Sufyan met. (And Allah is Able to do all things): victory and the possession of the spoils of war for the Prophet (pbuh) and death and defeat for Abu Jahl and his host. (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source)

This clearly shows that the one fifth was to be given to Muhammad personally, not to someone else.

Moreover, the so-called sound traditions provide an example of how Muhammad exercised his authority over the plunder and spoils of war:

Narrated Abdul Aziz:
Anas said, 'When Allah's Apostle invaded Khaibar, we offered the Fajr prayer there (early in the morning) when it was still dark. The Prophet rode and Abu Talha rode too and I was riding behind Abu Talha. The Prophet passed through the lane of Khaibar quickly and my knee was touching the thigh of the Prophet. He uncovered his thigh and I saw the whiteness of the thigh of the Prophet. When he entered the town, he said, 'Allahu Akbar! Khaibar is ruined. Whenever we approach near a (hostile) nation (to fight) then evil will be the morning of those who have been warned.' He repeated this thrice. The people came out for their jobs and some of them said, 'Muhammad (has come).' (Some of our companions added, "With his army.") We conquered Khaibar, took the captives, and the booty was collected. Dihya came and said, 'O Allah's Prophet! Give me a slave girl from the captives.' The Prophet said, 'Go and take any slave girl.' He took Safiya bint Huyai. A man came to the Prophet and said, 'O Allah's Apostle! You gave Safiya bint Huyai to Dihya and she is the chief mistress of the tribes of Quraiza and An-Nadir and she befits none but you.' So the Prophet said, 'Bring him along with her.' So Dihya came with her and when the Prophet saw her, he said to Dihya, 'Take any slave girl other than her from the captives.' Anas added: The Prophet then manumitted her and married her."

Thabit asked Anas, "O Abu Hamza! What did the Prophet pay her (as Mahr)?" He said, "Her self was her Mahr for he manumitted her and then married her." Anas added, "While on the way, Um Sulaim dressed her for marriage (ceremony) and at night she sent her as a bride to the Prophet. So the Prophet was a bridegroom and he said, 'Whoever has anything (food) should bring it.' He spread out a leather sheet (for the food) and some brought dates and others cooking butter. (I think he (Anas) mentioned As-Sawaq). So they prepared a dish of Hais (a kind of meal). And that was Walima (the marriage banquet) of Allah's Apostle." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 8, Number 367)

Muhammad was so captivated by this woman's beauty that he gave up seven slaves for her!

Anas said:
A beautiful slave girl fell to Dihyah. The apostle purchased her for seven slaves. He then gave her to Umm Sulaim for decoration her and preparing her for marriage. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 19, Number 2991)

Thus, Muhammad not only received a fifth of the plunder but also any of the captive women his heart desired.

Interestingly, Safiyya was named after that very portion which Muhammad received in addition to the fifth of the plunder:

(2987) Qatadah said: When the Apostle of Allah participated in a battle, there was for him a special portion which he took from where he desired. Safiyyah was from that portion. But when he did not participate himself in his battle, a portion was taken out for him, but he had no choice.

(2988) 'A'isha said: Safiyyah was called after the word safi (a special portion of the Prophet). (Sunan Abu Dawud, English translation with Explanatory Notes by Prof. Ahmad Hasan [Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, Booksellers & Exporters; Lahore, Pakistan, 1984], Volume II, Book XIII. Kitab al-Kharaj (Book of Tribute, Spoils & Rulership), Chapter 1109: On the Special Portion of the Prophet Taken Exclusively By Him From The Booty, p. 848)

The translator has the note:

2409. Al-Nawawi is of the view that her name was Safiyyah before she was captivated [sic]. Some scholars hold that her name was Zainab, and she was called Safiyyah as the Prophet took her as his special portion ('Awn al-Ma'bud, III, 112).

Another narration says:

Narrated Yazid ibn Abdullah:

We were at Mirbad. A man with dishevelled hair and holding a piece of red skin in his hand came.

We said: You appear to be a bedouin. He said: Yes. We said: Give us this piece of skin in your hand. He then gave it to us and we read it. It contained the text: "From Muhammad, Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him), to Banu Zuhayr ibn Uqaysh. If you bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, offer prayer, pay zakat, pay the fifth from the booty, and the portion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his special portion (safi), you will be under by the protection of Allah and His Apostle."

We then asked: Who wrote this document for you? He replied: The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him). (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 19, Number 2993)

Here is what the translator has to say about the foregoing narration:

2417. This shows that the special portion (safi) of the Prophet was an additional share given to him by his choice in the beginning. He then took the fifth of the booty. This was a separate share. After taking out these two shares, the booty was divided among the warriors. (Ibid., p. 849)

In other words, not only did Muhammad get a fifth of the booty but also received an additional portion of plunder called safi!

Muhammad also received some sizeable real estate out of this deal:

Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab:
Malik ibn Aws al-Hadthan said: One of the arguments put forward by Umar was that he said that the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) received three things exclusively to himself: Banu an-Nadir, Khaybar and Fadak. The Banu an-Nadir property was kept wholly for his emergent needs, Fadak for travellers, and Khaybar was divided by the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) into three sections: two for Muslims, and one as a contribution for his family. If anything remained after making the contribution of his family, he divided it among the poor Emigrants. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 19, Number 2961)

Is it any wonder that the Quran says that Allah made Muhammad rich?(1)

Did He not find you as an orphan and give you shelter? Did He not find you wandering about and give you guidance? And did He not find you in need AND MAKE YOU RICH? S. 93:6-8 Muhammad Sarwar

A Muslim may argue that Muhammad used his wealth to help those in need and that he himself didn’t live lavishly. This is beside the point, since the issue at hand is that Muhammad became quite wealthy as a result of Allah commanding Muslims to give his prophet a sizeable part of their spoils, even though the Quran says that prophets are to receive no wages or reward from the people!

Someone may then say that Muhammad was only forbidden from taking a wage from the unbelievers, a rather forced interpretation. After all, the texts do not say that Muhammad was only prohibited from receiving a reward from the disbelievers but speak in quite general terms. Besides, this interpretation would imply that Muhammad naively thought that the unbelievers were going to actually give him a monetary reward for assaulting their religion and idols and had to therefore dissuade them!

Yet, ironically, in a way Muhammad did extract wages from the unbelievers by commanding his followers to plunder them. Thus, the unbelievers didn’t give Muhammad a reward voluntarily, but had their wages taken away from them by the Muslims through military force!

This raises at least two uncomfortable questions:

Isn’t it strange that Allah saw no other way to sustain and prosper his community of believers than turning them into a band of thugs who raid the caravans and attack the settlements of so-called unbelievers, and then divide the plunder – first throughout Arabia and later conquering the neighboring countries? Would it not have been more impressive if Allah had prospered the Muslim community by blessing the believers in doing honorable work? For example by making their flocks fruitful and sending well-paying customers who want to buy the high-quality products they were manufacturing?

If it is questionable when an alleged messenger of God demands wages from the people for bringing them the message, is it then not all the more questionable if such an alleged messenger commands the believers to raid caravans and attack the settlements of others simply because they don’t accept this message? If it is an argument against an alleged prophet that he takes fees or rewards from those who believe in his message – money that they would take from their earnings based on honorable work – is it then not all the more questionable for him to decree that they have to make war against other people and plunder "the unbelievers", take away their belongings, and then give him twenty percent of all the spoils which they "earned" with this violence?

Isn’t something seriously wrong here? Is this not severely at odds with the principle given in the verses quoted at the beginning of this article?

Sam Shamoun & Jochen Katz

Further Reading


(1) According to Muslims such as the late Abdullah Yusuf Ali Q. 93 is one of the earliest suras given to Muhammad, long before he had sent out his Muslim raiders to plunder caravans and attack settlements. On this basis, some exegetes have understood this passage to refer to Allah making Muhammad rich through his marriage to his first wife Khadijah, who was a successful merchant and businesswoman:

And he also said: (Did He not find thee) O Muhammad (destitute) poor (and enrich (thee)) with the wealth of Khadijah; and it is also said this means: and made you content with that which He gave you? The Prophet (pbuh) said: " Yes, O Gabriel! " (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

This, perhaps, accounts for Muhammad remaining monogamous until the death of Khadijah, since he may have been afraid that by seeking another wife she would have been quite angry thereby jeopardizing both the marriage and his access to her wealth.

Moreover, once she died Muhammad needed to find other ways to enrich himself, such as sending out military expeditions to loot and steal from caravans and plunder settlements.

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