Both Jesus and Muhammad said that we should give to the poor (and so do most world religions). But beyond this basic generosity, they had very different attitudes and policies on money. Let’s not pretend those differences don’t exist. They do.
As I say in every post in this series:
“He who is not with me is against me. He who does not gather with me scatters.” (Luke 11:23)
In following Islam, people who call themselves Muslims have scattered from Jesus. They must come to him and follow him exclusively. They must pray: “Jesus, I follow you and you alone. I leave behind my previous religion. I am now yours, forever.”
Now let’s begin the study to see the huge differences between the Jesus and Muhammad.
In Islam, the Third of Five Pillars, the zakat or alms tax, commands Muslims to give to the poor. This tax can be collected by a duly appointed representative and is generally calculated on the wealth of the Muslim in the classical period. Sadaqah (cf. Hebrew tsedek) is also found in the Quran and involves giving to the poor, but voluntarily. Sometimes the two seem to be used interchangeably in the Quran, so says the Oxford Dictionary of Islam. (But my analysis of zakat and sadaqah is brief and keeps them separate.) Are these two policies problem-free? Are they the whole story about material possessions in Islam? What does the Quran say about money and wealth, more fully? What did Muhammad do to get it?
On the other side, Jesus and his Apostles, demonstrating concern for the poor, had at the same time a practical and spiritual attitude towards wealth. It is a little known fact that Jesus was not opposed to people generally having wealth per se, but he did not want wealth to have them. He even had a bag of money that Judas (the future traitor) administered (John 13:29). Jesus accepted freely given financial support, for example, from women of means (Luke 8:3). Since space prohibits us from discussing many verses in the Four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, we instead focus on three big themes that flow out of this one fact: Jesus never told his followers to attack and battle people for their wealth, because that would follow the path of Satan (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).
In Medina (AD 622-632) Muhammad chooses a path of conquests and warfare, beginning with raiding Meccan caravans. From there, he and his successors subdue the entire Arab Peninsula and beyond. How did this militancy influence their outlook on wealth and what went into the Quran?
Riches and power by conquest
Sura 48 was revealed in AD 628, after a treaty with the Meccans and during his conquest of the Jews of Khaybar. This verse predicts future spoils of war for Allah’s beloved prophet.
48:20 Allah has promised you abundant spoils that you will capture, and He has hastened for you this, and He has restrained the hands of men from you, that it may be a sign for the believers, and that He may guide you to a Straight Path. (Hilali and Khan)
Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi (d. 1979), a respected traditional and conservative commentator, says that the clause “Allah has promised you abundant spoils that you will capture” refers to the conquests after Muhammad’s takeover of the city of Khaybar. It communicates a general promise of the spoils of any war that he embarks on. (The Meaning of the Qur’an, vol. 5, p. 62, note 35; see below, “Taking wealth of Jews”).
This hadith (traditions about Muhammad) leaves no doubt about Muhammad’s goal of conquest and obligatory charity.
Allah’s Apostle said: “I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah.” (Bukhari)
Thus, Muhammad is called to fight everyone until they testify that there is no deity but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger, and until people say their prayers in the Muslim way and pay the zakat tax. Under those conditions, the attacked peoples will save their lives and property from him.
Next, after Muhammad dies of a fever in AD 632, Abu Bakr becomes successor or Caliph (ruled 632-634). He carries on Muhammad’s policy of conquest and the obligatory charity tax on the tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, who were revolting against Islam. Umar, the second Caliph (r. 634-644), was not quite sure whether this policy should be done, but Abu Bakr convinces him.
When Allah’s Messenger died and Abu Bakr was elected as a Caliph after him, some of the Arabs reverted to disbelief, ‘Umar said to Abu Bakr, “How dare you fight the people while Allah’s Messenger said, ‘I have been ordered to fight the people till they say, “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.” And whoever says: “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah” saves his wealth and his life from me unless he deserves a legal punishment justly, and his account will be with Allah!”’” Abu Bakr said, “By Allah, I will fight him who discriminates between Zakat and Salat (prayers), for Zakat is the compulsory right to be taken from the wealth. By Allah, if they refuse to give me even a tying rope which they use to give to Allah’s Messenger, I would fight them for withholding it.” ‘Umar said, “By Allah, It was nothing, except I saw that Allah had opened the chest of Abu Bakr to the fight, and I came to know for certain that that (i.e. the decision to fight) was the truth.” (Bukhari)
In this passage, zakat “is the compulsory right to be taken from the wealth” of the Arab tribes. It is odd that “charity” is compulsory. Also, Abu Bakr zealously fights for every last scrap of wealth from them. Even if they withhold a “tying rope,” he will battle them for it.
This next short hadith is unambiguous, unsurprising, and self-serving:
Allah’s Apostle said, “Booty has been made legal for me.” (Bukhari)
Finally, two translators update this Quranic verse to modern times, inserting military equipment as the equivalent to seventh-century steeds of war:
8:60 And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery, etc.) to threaten the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides whom, you may not know but whom Allah does know. And whatever you shall spend in the Cause of Allah shall be repaid unto you, and you shall not be treated unjustly. (Hilali and Khan; insertion theirs)
This verse is found in Sura 8, which deals with the Battle of Badr, in which Muhammad and his 320 jihadists (thereabouts) won a surprising victory over a large Meccan army of around 1,000 (AD 624). The “Cause of Allah” means war. The clause “others besides whom you may not know” lifts this battle readiness out of its immediate historical context and into all future battles.
For more information on the spoils of war being made legal for Muhammad, see this long section of the hadith, which deals specifically with war booty.
Taxing the conquered
How was the wealth from conquests collected, and what was done with it? Allah lays out this policy in Sura 9:29, which will be developed as Islam goes on.
Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute [jizya] readily, being brought low. (Pickthall, my insertion)
This verse that commands battle against Christians and Jews (“Scripture” is the Bible) is all about theology and belief. It says nothing explicit about a real and physical harm done to Islam. Muhammad launched his Tabuk Crusade in late AD 630 against the Byzantine Christians. He had heard a rumor that a huge army was mobilizing to invade Arabia, but the rumor was false, so his 30,000 jihadists returned home, but not before imposing a jizya tax on northern tribes of Christians and Jews. They had three options: (1) fight and die; (2) convert; (3) or submit and pay the second-class-citizen jizya tax for the “privilege” of living under Islam.
In the following hadith, Abu Bakr receives the jizya tax from Bahrain, over which Muhammad had appointed a Muslim governor. Abu Bakr announces all debts will be paid off with this recently collected money. The narrator, who was owed payment on a debt, scoops up some coins from the money, and eventually receives 1,500 gold pieces, a huge amount for seventh-century Arabia.
Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah:
Allah’s Apostle once said to me, “If the revenue of Bahrain came, I would give you this much and this much.” When Allah’s Apostle had died, the revenue of Bahrain came, and Abu Bakr announced, “Let whoever was promised something by Allah’s Apostle come to me.” So, I went to Abu Bakr and said, “Allah’s Apostle said to me, ‘If the revenue of Bahrain came, I would give you this much and this much.” On that Abu Bakr said to me, “Scoop (money) with both your hands.” I scooped money with both my hands and Abu Bakr asked me to count it. I counted it and it was five-hundred (gold pieces). The total amount he gave me was one thousand and five hundred (gold pieces.)
But the most revealing part of this long hadith shows Muhammad spreading the money out in the mosque in Medina. The hadith continues:
Narrated Anas: Money from Bahrain was brought to the Prophet. He said, “Spread it in the Mosque.” It was the biggest amount that had ever been brought to Allah’s Apostle. In the meantime Al-‘Abbas came to him and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Give me, for I gave the ransom of myself and Aqil.” The Prophet said (to him), “Take.” He scooped money with both hands and poured it in his garment and tried to lift it, but he could not and appealed to the Prophet, “Will you order someone to help me in lifting it?” The Prophet said, “No.” Then Al-‘Abbas said, “Then will you yourself help me carry it?” The Prophet said, “No.” Then Al ‘Abbas threw away some of the money, but even then he was not able to lift it [this is repeated in some form] . . . . So al-‘Abbas . . . lifted it on his shoulder and went away. The Prophet kept on looking at him with astonishment at his greediness till he went out of our sight. Allah’s Apostle did not get up from there till not a single Dirham remained from that money. (Bukhari)
The last line says that “Muhammad did not get up from there,” implying that he was near the money, counting it. This does not make the prophet for humanity look good. Why was he conquering and taxing tribes and regions in the first place, when they did him no harm?
Next, dhimmis, usually Christians and Jews, are second-class citizens of lands conquered by Muslim armies. They are required to pay the jizya tax, as this hadith shows.
Narrated Juwairiya bin Qudama At-Tamimi:
We said to ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab . . . Chief of the believers! Advise us.” He said, “I advise you to fulfill Allah’s Convention (made with the Dhimmis) as it is the convention of your Prophet and the source of the livelihood of your dependents (i.e. the taxes from the Dhimmis.)” (Bukhari)
The purpose of this jizya tax on dhimmis is now clear: it is “the source of the livelihood of your dependents” back in Arabia. We should not take this hadith too literally. The money may go to Arab dependents indirectly. But the hadith reveals that the tax revenues benefit Islam and Muslims—and that can be taken literally.
To sum up the last two sections, dhimmis (usually Christian and Jews) could keep their religion and pay the jizya tax. Those who converted to Islam paid the zakat or forced “charity” tax. (Polytheists were killed if they did not convert to Islam.) Either way, money flowed back to Arabia or to the local Muslim governor. Not surprisingly, Muhammad never got a revelation that dried up this money flow.
Taking the wealth of the Jews
After Muhammad’s Hijrah from Mecca to Medina in AD 622, he encounters thriving tribes of Jews. The enmity between him and them grows in four stages for our purposes. Muhammad expels two tribes of Jews, first the Qaynuqa (AD 624) and, second, the Nadir (AD 625). Third, he slaughters and enslaves the Qurayza tribe (AD 627). Fourth, he conquers the city of Khaybar (AD 628), north of Medina. Its citizens, predominantly Jews, are allowed to work Muhammad’s “newly acquired” lands and pay him fifty percent. Eventually, Caliph Umar (ruled AD 634-644) will eject them from Arabia, but this stage is combined with the fourth, since the hadith quoted below does this.
First, the Qaynuqa Jews controlled the market of crafts and trade in Medina, and the new Muslim immigrants to this city were craftsmen. After the Jews were besieged in their fortress for fifteen days, they were expelled, and the Muslims took over the crafts. “The Banu [tribe] Qaynuqa did not have any land, as they were goldsmiths [and armor-makers]. The Messenger of God took many weapons belonging to them and the tools of their trade.” (Tabari, The Foundation of the Community, trans. M. V. McDonald and annotated by W. M. Watt (SUNYP, 1987), vol. 7, p. 87).
Second, an early Muslim source says that Muhammad suspected an assassination attempt, while he was collecting some blood-wit money (compensation for bloodshed) from the Nadir tribe. Muhammad called on his followers to wage war on them, besieging them in their strongholds for fifteen days in August. Muhammad set about destroying their palm trees. Their livelihood undergoing destruction, they surrendered and departed for the north. Muhammad also confiscates their wealth.
Sura 59 explains why Muhammad expelled the Nadir and took their wealth.
59:4 That is because they [the Jews] opposed Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad). And whosoever opposes Allah, then verily Allah is Severe in punishment. (Hilali and Khan, insertion in brackets is mine)
This next verse gives the Muslims special permission to cut down Nadir’s palm trees, though previously an illegal act.
59:5 What you (O Muslims) cut down of a palm tree, or you left is standing on its stem, it was by Leave [permission] of Allah . . . . (Hilali and Khan, my insertion in brackets)
Finally, this verse promises Muhammad the spoils of the Jews, even though he did not have to go out on an expedition with horses or camels:
59:6 And what Allah gave as booty . . . to His Messenger . . . from them [the Jews]—for this you made no expedition with either cavalry or camelry. But Allah gives power to His Messenger over whomsoever He will . . . . (Hilali and Khan, my insertion)
Allah sends down a revelation, and this benefits Muhammad. He is given these spoils of conquest over the Nadir tribe in Medina, not in a faraway land.
Third, in AD 627 Muhammad massacred and enslaved the last remaining major tribe of Jews in Medina: the Qurayza. He beheaded the men and the pubescent boys and enslaved the women and children. This hadith gives a hint on how the wealth of the Nadir and Qurayza tribes was distributed.
People used to give some of their date palms to the Prophet (as a gift), till he conquered Bani [tribe] Quraiza and Bani An-Nadir, whereupon he started returning their favors. (Bukhari, my insertion in brackets; see a parallel hadith here)
More specifically, the spoils of the Qurayza Jews—movable, immovable, or human—says biographer Ibn Ishaq (d. 767), were divided among the Muslims thus:
Then the apostle divided the property, wives, and children . . . among the Muslims, and he made known on that day the shares of horse and men, and took out the fifth. A horseman got three shares, two for the horse and one for the rider. A man without a horse got one share (Life of Muhammad, trans. A. Guillaume, Oxford UP, 1955, p. 466).
This passage in Sura 33 celebrates the confiscation.
33:26 And those of the people of the Scripture who backed them (the disbelievers) Allah brought them down from their forts and cast terror into their hearts, (so that) a group (of them) you killed, and a group (of them) you made captives. 27 And He caused you to inherit their lands, and their houses, and their riches, and a land which you had not trodden (before). And Allah is Able to do all things. (Hilali and Khan)
Verse 27 says that Allah gave Muhammad the wealth of the Jews, after the deity cast terror into their hearts and allowed Muhammad to kill and enslave them.
Fourth, in AD 628 Muhammad conquers the city of Khaybar (or Khaibar), which was predominantly Jewish. This hadith says that the Jews may remain in their city, provided that they do the work and pay half of their resources to Muhammad. The land belonged to him.
Umar expelled the Jews and the Christians from Hijaz. When Allah’s Apostle had conquered Khaibar, he wanted to expel the Jews from it as its land became the property of Allah, His Apostle, and the Muslims. Allah’s Apostle intended to expel the Jews but they requested him to let them stay there on the condition that they would do the labor and get half of the fruits. Allah’s Apostle told them, “We will let you stay on this condition, as long as we wish.” So, they (i.e. Jews) kept on living there until ‘Umar forced them to go towards Taima’ and Ariha’. (Bukhari)
The prophet of humanity also permitted Khaybar’s city treasurer to be tortured, in order to extract information on where the money was hidden. Ibn Ishaq writes:
Kinana b. al-Rabi, who had custody of the treasure of B. al-Nadir, was brought to the apostle [Muhammad] who asked him about it. He denied that he knew where it was. (my insertion)
Then Muhammad receives more information about the treasure:
A Jew came to the apostle and said that he had seen Kinana going around a certain ruin every morning, early. When the apostle said to Kinana, “Do you know that if we find you have it, I shall kill you?” he said Yes. The apostle gave orders that the ruin was to be excavated and some of the treasure was found.
Then Muhammad permitted this torture:
When he [Muhammad] asked him about the rest, he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders . . . “Torture him until you extract what he has,” so [the torturer] kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. (my insertions)
See these articles:
Buying status through jihad
The next passages teach that anyone who spends his wealth on jihad or gives his life as a soldier receives from Allah high status on earth and in heaven.
Sura 4 was revealed over a three year period in the middle of Muhammad’s career (AD 625-627). He is not quite as secure as he will be when he conquers Mecca in AD 630. For now, he needs to recruit jihadists for his raids, conflicts, and wars. One way to get them to join up is to promise earthly or heavenly rewards.
4:74 Let those fight in the cause of God Who sell the life of this world for the hereafter. To him who fighteth in the cause of God, – whether he is slain or gets victory – Soon shall We give him a reward of great (value) . . . . (Yusuf Ali)
This verse uses win-win-win logic from Muhammad’s point of view. If a jihadist dies fighting, then he gets Islamic paradise. If he wins and lives, then he gets material spoils. If he is defeated but escapes with his life, then he gets to fight another day.
Next, these two verses in Sura 4 teach that Allah has created at least a two-tier system in his Muslim ummah or community: (1) Those who “strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives”; (2) those who sit at home. The disabled are in a separate category.
4:95-96 Not equal are those of the believers who sit (at home), except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame, etc.), and those who strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has preferred in grades those who strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives above those who sit (at home). Unto each, Allah has promised good (Paradise), but Allah has preferred those who strive hard and fight, above those who sit (at home) by a huge reward; 96 Degrees of (higher) grades from Him, and Forgiveness and Mercy. . . . (Hilali and Khan)
At the end of Muhammad’s life, Muhammad reinforces this two-caste system: see Sura 9:38-39, 41, 44, 86, 87.
Finally, as seen in 4:74, an economic bargain is offered to jihadists in this next verse. Allah purchases their lives in exchange for Islamic paradise. Sura 9 is the last sura to be revealed in its entirety.
9:111 Verily, Allah has purchased of the believers their lives and their properties; for the price that theirs shall be the Paradise. They fight in Allah’s Cause, so they kill (others) and are killed. It is a promise in truth which is binding on Him in the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel) and the Qur’an. . . Then rejoice in the bargain which you have concluded . . . . (Hilali and Khan)
Allah and Muhammad are completely wrong about the Bible’s command to fight in bloody wars in order to bring heavenly rewards. First, Moses ordered wars that were time-specific (3,400 years ago), location-specific (holy land), and purpose-specific (divine judgment). But Moses or Joshua or the judges did not promise heaven, automatically, for the express act of dying in wars. Second, it is particularly true that Jesus never commanded his church to wage wars, except a spiritual war against dark powers. His “martyrdom” on the cross assures his followers of heaven, not their own martyrdom in a holy war.
This hadith promises eternal delight for dying in a holy war, provided a jihadist has the right motive. Which motive?
Allah’s Apostle said, “Allah guarantees him who strives in His Cause and whose motivation for going out is nothing but Jihad in His Cause and belief in His Word, that He will admit him into Paradise (if martyred) or bring him back to his dwelling place, whence he has come out, with what he gains of reward and booty.” (Bukhari; see a parallel here; also scroll down to no. 555)
The motive is nothing but jihad and belief in Allah’s word. To repeat, if the jihadist dies, he wins heaven. If he lives, he wins spoils. If he is defeated but escapes with his life, then he gets to fight another day. Is it any wonder why so many young men signed up for the wars of conquest during Muhammad’s lifetime and afterwards?
Buying Allah’s forgiveness
Islam does not have a full-fledged doctrine of the atonement. This doctrine means being “at one” (hence “at-one-ment”) with God who forgives our sins. Due to this unclarity, sometimes a Muslim may pay money or give material to the poor to earn forgiveness from Allah.
Sura 2 is considered the first to be revealed after Muhammad’s Hijrah or Flight from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. If a Muslim gives his charity to the poor, it will atone for his sins.
2:271 If you disclose your Sadaqat (almsgiving), it is well; but if you conceal them and give to the poor, that is better for you. (Allah) will expiate you some of your sins . . . . (Hilali and Khan)
Thus, a Muslim of means can give alms—sadaqah—to pay for his sins, if he does this privately.
Parts of Sura 5 get the Muslims ready for pilgrimage. Muhammad was on his way to Mecca when the Meccans stopped him outside of their city. He signs a Peace Treaty with them (AD 628), which is soon broken. This verse says that Muslims may not hunt for game in the sacred precincts, or while they wear pilgrim garb.
5:95 O ye who believe! Kill not game while in the sacred precincts or in pilgrim garb. If any of you doth so intentionally, the compensation is . . . by way of atonement, the feeding of the indigent [poor persons]. . . . (Yusuf Ali, my insertion)
Giving to the poor is positive. But it is always risky for any believer to pay for his sins—literally with material goods. How much is enough? It makes Allah appears as if he can be bought off or bribed. In Biblical Christianity, Jesus himself purchases the salvation of his followers with his death on the cross. Their atonement does not depend on themselves, and certainly not on their material wealth or lack of it. For Bible-educated Christians, buying God’s forgiveness with money is erroneous and feels unclean. It insults Christ’s crucifixion—which actually happened—and soils his shed blood.
Buying off converts
Sura 8:1, 41 deals with Muhammad’s victory at the Battle of Badr (AD 624), after which he captured a huge amount of spoils from a large Meccan caravan. Some complain about his distribution of money. He informs them who the boss is. He gets to keep twenty percent, and to distribute the eighty percent to his jihadists, as he sees fit:
8:1 They ask you [Prophet] about [distributing] the battle gains. Say, “That is a matter for God and his Messenger, so be conscious of God and make things right between you. Obey God and His Messenger if you are true believers” . . . 41 Know that one-fifth of your battle gains belong to God and His Messenger, to close relatives and orphans, to the needy and travelers, if you believe in God and the revelation We sent down to Our servant . . . . (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, Oxford UP, 2004)
It is true that Muhammad distributes some of his twenty percent to the poor and needy—he is trying to maintain a community of Muslims, after all. But sometimes he gives the conquered spoils—probably the eighty percent—to the not-so-poor-and-needy, in order to “win over a people that they may become Muslims” . . . (Ibn Ishaq, p. 596).
A reliable hadith absolutely supports Ibn Ihsaq’s narrative or tradition:
. . . [W]hen the Messenger of Allah . . . conquered Hunain he distributed the booty, and he bestowed upon those whose hearts it was intended to win. (Muslim no. 2313)
That is, after the Battle of Hunain, which took place shortly after he conquered Mecca (early AD 630), he uses “the good things of this life” (Ibn Ishaq) to soften hearts for Islam, in order to convert not the poor and needy, but the elite, or to keep them in Islam.
The Prophet said, “I give to Quraish [large tribe in and around Mecca] 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.” (Bukhari and read the ones above and below this link)
This hadith agrees on the policy of winning the hearts of chiefs and notables with money:
When ‘Ali was in Yemen, he sent some gold in its ore to the Prophet. The Prophet distributed it among [chiefs of certain tribes] . . . So the Quraish and the Ansar [native Medinans who helped Muhammad after his Hijrah] became angry and said, “He gives to the chiefs of Najd and leaves us!” The Prophet said, “I just wanted to attract and unite their hearts (make them firm in Islam).” (Bukhari, my insertions)
The Quran in Sura 9:60 provides the strongest evidence of this dubious use of money:
Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of God; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by God, and God is full of knowledge and wisdom. (Yusuf Ali, his insertions)
The topic of money runs throughout the New Testament. But since we cannot analyze even a small number of these passages, we instead examine three big-picture themes that set the stage and guide our interpretations of the New Testament’s view on money.
The New International Version is used in this main section, but multiple translations may be read here.
Satan’s big offer
Satan offers Jesus the whole world at the very beginning of his ministry. But he turned down this diabolical gift.
4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil . . . 5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instance all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 So if you worship me, it will be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:1-2, 5-7; cf. Deuteronomy 6:13)
In divine cooperation between Jesus and the Spirit, God allowed Satan to lead him up to a high place and show him all the kingdoms of this world—their glory and political authority (exousia in Greek means political authority; cf. Luke 4:6 and 12:11, 20:20, 23:7). In addition to political authority, kingdom, by definition at the time of Christ, includes material resources, backed by a strong military. However, Jesus raises his and our vision to a spiritual transformation of the world, one soul at a time, without killing people and robbing their money by bloodshed. Then, following his example, his disciples went north, south, east, and west, transforming the world only by preaching a simple message, backed by their powerful and risen Lord, the Son of God.
This denial of the path of Satan implies that God’s new way does not oppress or enslave or rob people.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry he preached that the kingdom of God was at hand. This does not mean an earthly kingdom. As seen in Satan’s big offer, the kingdoms of the world in one way or another and to one degree or another come under Satan’s authority, so we must not love or get attached to world systems, which are doomed to perish. This two-kingdom reality is made clear during Jesus’ last week on earth.
Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:18-44). He had predicted his own death—he was sent to die, after all (Luke 9:22, 43-45; 12:50; 13:32-33; 18:31-34). Now the hostility of the Jewish leadership heats up against him. It is in this context that the teachers of the law and the chief priests keep a close watch on him to catch him in committing treason against Rome or in breaking the law, so they could arrest him and turn him over to “the power and authority of the governor” (Luke 20:20).
Some leaders ask him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Apparently, they saw him as a political revolutionary who opposed Roman occupation. Would he endorse the taxation of his fellow Jews for the benefit of unclean Gentiles? However, they did not know that he was a king, and that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36-37). So he replied with these famous words that are often quoted, though people may not know the exact reference and context.
Jesus speaks first in this passage.
24 “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” 25 “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 26 They were unable to trap him in what he said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:20-26; cf. Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17).
With these words—and with many other words and deeds—Jesus separates off secular governments from the kingdom of God. There is the kingdom of Caesar on the one hand, and the kingdom of God on the other. When Jesus comes back a second time, he will settle all material and political accounts, being a “political and military” Messiah and Judge. One word will eliminate the enemies of God and subdue all kings and authorities. In the meantime, Jesus in these verses offers his church freedom from political entanglements. The church is free to become salt and light in order to influence society and to preach righteousness to governments.
However, history demonstrates that when the church itself becomes a government, controlling all aspects of society and people’s lives, it fails because it cannot successfully impose external holiness on citizens. True, laws are designed to maintain order and to forewarn against and prevent illegal activity, but harsh punishments, such as death for adultery and apostasy (to cite only two examples), are misguided today, long after Jesus ushered in a new era of salvation and ealing with sinners—forgiveness and restoration. Religious leaders in their zeal too often become excessively controlling. Thus, a large measure of freedom must be extended to all citizens, even if on occasion they abuse it. If we cannot strike a perfect balance between control and freedom, then it is better to err on the side of freedom—that is the lesson of history.
It is my personal belief that Jesus, living in a religious commonwealth or theocracy of sorts (but also under Roman occupation), foresaw this need for freedom of conscience and from excessive religious rules that controlled, for example, how far one may travel on the Sabbath (one mile? two?). He trail blazed freedom in his simple gospel. He said, “If anyone follows me . . . .” That little word “if” gives people a choice. If they choose not to follow him, then they are free to go on their way. They should not be harassed or harmed. They are in God’s hands.
This freedom goes in the exactly opposite direction as Muhammad’s policies and harassment of people. He lays down harsh laws and strict practices. No one may challenge him or Islam or leave it. They shall be killed. He offers them no freedom of conscience or religion. This is religious enslavement.
Helping the poor
Throughout church history, especially in the first generations of Christians, following Jesus’ example, his disciples have helped the poor (but sometimes, sadly, they failed to do this). However, the church should never impose by conquest or by any other physical force a “required charity” tax on people.
Jesus led the way in helping the poor. In this passage, he miraculously feeds five thousand.
14 . . . But he said to his disciples, “have them sit down in groups of about fifty each. 15 The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. 16 Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (Luke 10:10-17; cf. Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; John 6:5-13, 9:13-17).
The early church carries out Christ’s example. First, in Acts 6:1-7, a controversy erupts in the Jerusalem church. The Greek Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because the Grecian widows were being overlooked in the distribution of food. The Apostles asked the people to choose seven deacons to oversee this responsibility. The problem was solved. The needs of the poor were met. Next, in 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul reminds the Christians in that city to take up their promised collection for the distressed believers in Jerusalem. The Corinthians stirred up Macedonian Christians to give as well. For our last example, Galatians 2:1-10 says that the Apostles in Jerusalem, specifically Peter, James, and John, welcome Paul and endorse his ministry to the gentiles. They ask of him one important thing: “All they asked of me was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (verse 10).
Thus, the New Testament offers freedom for the heart. It was Jesus, after all, who originally said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). His teaching offers freedom. He also said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). If people generally give to the poor and other charities, then they are blessed. If they do not, then they are free to be tightfisted. But in their stinginess they should not be conquered by an army and forced to pay an alms tax, or they should not be spied on and harassed by religious police.
To sum up this three-part main section, from this deep gospel freedom comes the principle that can be applied to governments. People are free to debate policies on helping the poor; they are free to vote and pass legislation on whether they want to tax themselves, and how much. They do not have to depend on revelations from a theocrat that would force free peoples everywhere to go in specific directions that somehow materially benefit the theocrat and his successors.
Whereas it is true that sadaqah in Islam implies a free gift, the major thrust of Muhammad’s life, the Quran, and sound hadith shows him going well beyond voluntary alms and into compulsion and bloody wars. In contrast, the overarching policy of Jesus and theme in the New Testament is to give freely without oppression, injustice, and bloodshed.
Allah in this verse warns Muslims and Muhammad not to get attached to material things or to get ensnared by the “love of desires.”
3:14 The love of desires, of women and sons and hoarded treasures of gold and silver and well bred horses and cattle and tilth, is made to seem fair [beautiful] to men; this is the provision of the life of this world; and Allah is He with Whom is the good goal (of life). (Shakir, my insertion in brackets)
This verse teaches wisdom, but Muhammad did not follow it. He is the one who desired women and married many of them—a privilege of numbers reserved only for him (Sura 33:50); he is the one who says that jihadists may rape women prisoners of war, or Muslim men may have sex with slave-girls; he is the one who traded in slaves, a lucrative business; he is the one who owned vast herds of livestock; he is the one who said that money will expiate or atone for sins; he is the one who bought off converts; he and his successors are the ones who conquered peaceful people who did not harm Islam in the slightest; he is the one who stole the wealth of seventh-century Jews; he is the one who spread out recently collected tax money in his mosque, counting the most he had ever received. The god of the Arabian Peninsula was with him (but not the same God who was with Jesus and his church). Muhammad is the one who promised his jihadists heaven if they died, and plunder if they lived. If anyone had the “love of desires,” it was the prophet of Islam. This slippery path sets the genetic code of Islam.
Jesus, on the other hand, did not get entangled in the affairs of this world. He says that God’s kingdom and earthly kingdoms are two different realms. He did not raise an army to conquer people, even though he said that twelve legions of angels were at his disposal, implying that he could destroy the Roman empire (Matthew 27:53). He said that his kingdom is not of this world; otherwise, his followers would fight to prevent his arrest (John 18:36). He resisted Satan’s offer to control the whole world. He did not lay out any conquered money in a synagogue, count it, and then give some to his Apostles who greedily desired it. In fact, he let Judas (the future traitor) be the treasurer (John 13:29), and Judas “helped himself” to the money (John 12:6)—so far was Jesus above such trivialities and anxieties. He knew Judas’ end (John 6:60, 70-71). He never bought off converts. Further, Jesus never chased women and then claimed revelations about having them. He was never a slave trader, even though it was a lucrative business. He never spent his whole life searching for and accumulating as many material things as he could grab by bloody wars. Finally, his death pays for our sins; we do not pay for them with money. This good path set the genetic code for Christianity.
The two paths of Jesus and Muhammad on wealth are as different as bright daylight and dark night.
The path of Jesus Christ, established at the very beginning of his ministry, follows freedom from worldly entanglements. He turned down Satan’s big offer to conquer the world. Christians are in the world, but not of it (John 17:14-18). Jesus and his Apostles offer freedom.
Muhammad and his successors, on the other hand, conquer the known world, plunder its wealth, and impose its politics of an authoritarian Caliphate, modeled after the prophet’s own authoritarianism.
ARTICLES IN THE SERIES
1-B. Table of Muhammad’s Titles (To be paired with Part One)
6. Either Jesus or Muhammad: Their Views on Wealth