Did Prophet Muhammad ﷺ bribe people to embrace Islam?
Critics of Islam argue that Prophet Muhammad –may the peace and mercy of Allah be upon him- gave money to people so that they convert to Islam or remain Muslim. They then argue that this is the reason why he had so many followers i.e. He used materialistic pleasures to lure people into Islam. Critics of Islam also argue that Islam teaches that Zakah (obligatory charity) can be given to soften the hearts of disbelievers. For their claims, they cite these narrations from Saheeh Bukhari.
قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي عَمْرُو بْنُ تَغْلِبَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ أَعْطَى رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَوْمًا وَمَنَعَ آخَرِينَ، فَكَأَنَّهُمْ عَتَبُوا عَلَيْهِ فَقَالَ “ إِنِّي أُعْطِي قَوْمًا أَخَافُ ظَلَعَهُمْ وَجَزَعَهُمْ، وَأَكِلُ أَقْوَامًا إِلَى مَا جَعَلَ اللَّهُ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ مِنَ الْخَيْرِ وَالْغِنَى، مِنْهُمْ عَمْرُو بْنُ تَغْلِبَ ”. فَقَالَ عَمْرُو بْنُ تَغْلِبَ مَا أُحِبُّ أَنَّ لِي بِكَلِمَةِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم حُمْرَ النَّعَمِ. وَزَادَ أَبُو عَاصِمٍ عَنْ جَرِيرٍ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ الْحَسَنَ يَقُولُ حَدَّثَنَا عَمْرُو بْنُ تَغْلِبَ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أُتِيَ بِمَالٍ أَوْ بِسَبْىٍ فَقَسَمَهُ. بِهَذَا
Narrated ‘Amr bin Taghlib:
Allah’s Apostle gave (gifts) to some people to the exclusion of some others. The latter seemed to be displeased by that. The Prophet said, “I give to some people, lest they should deviate from True Faith or lose patience, while I refer other people to the goodness and contentment which Allah has put in their hearts, and ‘Amr bin Taghlib is amongst them.” ‘Amr bin Taghlib said, “The statement of Allah’s Apostle is dearer to me than red camels.”
عَنْ أَنَسٍ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم “ إِنِّي أُعْطِي قُرَيْشًا أَتَأَلَّفُهُمْ، لأَنَّهُمْ حَدِيثُ عَهْدٍ بِجَاهِلِيَّةٍ ”
The Prophet said, “I give to Quraish people in order to let them adhere to Islam, for they are near to their life of Ignorance (i.e. they have newly embraced Islam and it is still not strong in their hearts.”
There are a number of narrations along the same line.
First of all, it must be stated that the Zakah (obligatory charity) had never been paid to non-Muslims to embrace Islam. Whatever from the Zakah had been given was always to those who were believers. Anyone who claims to the contrary must bring proof.
Before discussing the reasons, details and logic behind giving gifts to Muslims, it must be understood that this was not a bribe and using such words is only trying to be insulting. If it was a bribe, why would Prophet Muhammad –may the peace and mercy of Allah be upon him- openly state the reasons for giving to some people?
As to the reasons for giving monetary assistance to the people, Prophet Muhammad –may the peace and mercy of Allah be upon him- himself mentioned the reasons for paying money or granting gifts and that is that they should not deviate from True Faith or lose patience. This is important because many a times, governments announce development plans in certain communities so as to suppress or eliminate any potential agitation. Sometimes they do so after agitation starts so they can end it resulting in benefits for everyone. Crushing such agitations forcefully could also bring temporary benefits but that would be bad for the people and hence considered a cruel dictatorship. Prophet Muhammad –may the peace and mercy of Allah be upon him- was not a dictator and governed well with the concern of the people in mind. He was the leader who had feelings for the people as he said:
فَمَنْ تُوُفِّيَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فَتَرَكَ دَيْنًا فَعَلَىَّ قَضَاؤُهُ
…if a Muslim dies while in debt, I am responsible for the repayment of his debt…
Prophet Muhammad –may the peace and mercy of Allah be upon him- was the leader who was not unconcerned for the people. He was man of foresight and if he had not helped the people with money, eventually there would have been rebellion which did happen after his death. After his death, many tribes had turned away from Islam. Giving worldly requirements and benefits to the people would leave them no excuse for rejecting the truth. His style of government was not dictatorial and did not crush forcefully potential rebellions before they started. He provided to the people so they may stay safe from the evil and the big sin of rebellion; then the disobedient people would not be left with any excuse. When the rightly guided caliphs and companions encountered rebellion, they knew that the rebels had been provided opportunities by the Prophet –peace be upon him- and hence countering and disciplining them with force was the only valid and acceptable method. Peace had been given a chance but disobedient ones did not take it. People of Madinah who were not given gifts had eventually agreed to the decision because they understood the wisdom when explained to them. Madinah never rebelled or agitated and history is a witness to it thereby testifying to the wisdom of the Prophet –peace be upon him.
Islam promotes change and betterment through peaceful ways. Revolution in Islam begins with oneself and loved ones i.e. at grassroots level. It is not a violent overthrow of systems because eventually the overthrown system would return and throw out the replaced system. Therefore, creating a bond of brotherhood at the grassroots level creates a culture of helping and sharing.
Helping new Muslims with difficulties they encounter is nothing but natural. A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim and helping one’s brother in their need is an obligation on those with the ability to do so. Help is not just in money but in every department. Prophet Muhammad –may the peace and mercy of Allah be upon him- not only helped people in their worldly needs but also helped them in any way he could. Even if he couldn’t himself offer what the person required, he would ask the companions to assist. He considered himself responsible for the payments of debts of Muslims if they died without paying them. He also helped Muslims in any and every way possible. This can be confirmed by the following statement of the companion of the Prophet –may the peace and mercy of Allah be upon him:
قَالَ سَمِعْتُ جَابِرًا ـ رضى الله عنه ـ يَقُولُ مَا سُئِلَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَنْ شَىْءٍ قَطُّ فَقَالَ لاَ.
Narrated by Jabir: Never was the Prophet –peace be upon him- asked for a thing to be given for which his answer was ‘no’.
A person in need is to be helped which is what the Prophet –may the peace and mercy of Allah be upon him- did. He helped those people who had recently embraced Islam and had suffered through war previously. Their standing in society was also impacted and hence help was provided to them in monetary assistance.
A Muslim giving in charity for the same reason is also a sound and acceptable idea. The bond of brotherhood extends beyond just praying together and helping one another in each other’s needs is an example of brotherhood. Poverty is one of the biggest tests and can make a person do a lot of things he would have not done otherwise. People even go to graves and start worshiping the people inside them due to hunger when they are offered food there. Leaving the religion due to poverty and need is not surprising and is something has been happening from before. There is so much relevance in the Qur’an on feeding the poor, that it has been mentioned numerous times in the Qur’an. Therefore, if a Muslim provides assistance to a needy person so that his stomach does not make decisions but his intellect makes decisions, then one finds nothing wrong with that.
Overall, we can conclude that the decision of the Prophet –may the peace and mercy of Allah be upon him- was based on wisdom and in complete harmony with logic, common sense and ethics.
Indeed, Allah knows the best.
 Saheeh al-Bukhari, vol. 4, book 53, hadith no. 373
 Saheeh al-Bukhari, vol. 4, book 53, hadith no. 374
 Saheeh al-Bukhari, vol. 3, book 37, hadith no. 495
 Qur’an 20:132, 26:214 and more.