By Samuel Green


How did Islam first spread from Mecca to the whole of Arabia? In our world today there three common answers that people give:

  1. It spread through the beauty of Muhammad's teaching and example.
  2. Muhammad spread Islam by the sword.
  3. I don't know how Islam spread.

This article provides a brief survey of the different methods Muhammad used to spread Islam.


Teaching Islam and Reciting the Qur'an

When Muhammad first began to teach about Islam he did so privately and publicly in Mecca.

People began to accept Islam, both men and women, in large numbers until the fame of it was spread throughout Mecca, and it began to be talked about. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 117)

When the Apostle openly displayed Islam as God ordered him his people did not withdraw or turn against him, so far as I have heard, until he spoke disparagingly of their gods. When he did that they took great offence and resolved unanimously to treat him as an enemy, except those whom God had protected by Islam from such evil, but they were a despised minority. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 118)

Narrated Ibn Abbas: When the news of the advent of the Prophet reached Abu Dhar, he said to his brother, "Ride to this valley and bring me the news of this man (i.e. the Prophet) who claims to be a Prophet receiving information from the Heaven. Listen to him and then come to me." His brother set out till he met the Prophet and listened to his speech and returned to Abu Dhar and said to him, "I have seen him exhorting people to virtues and his speech was not like poetry." Abu Dhar said, "You have not satisfied me as to what I wanted." So, he took his journey-food and a water-skin full of water and set out till he reached Mecca, where he went to the Mosque looking for the Prophet, ... He then listened to the speech of the Prophet and embraced Islam on that very spot. (Sahih al-Bukhari 3861; vol 5, bk 58, no 201)

Muhammad also taught publicly at Arabian markets.

(A)t one of the fairs (markets); and while he (Muhammad) was offering himself to the Arab tribes as was his wont he met at al-'Aqaba a number of the Khazraj whom God intended to benefit. ... (W)hen the apostle met them he learned by inquiry that they were of the Khazraj and allies of the Jews. He invited them to sit with him and expounded to them Islam and recited the Quran to them. Now God had prepared the way for Islam in that they lived side by side with the Jews who were people of the scriptures and knowledge, while they themselves were polytheists and idolaters. They had raided them in their district and whenever bad feeling arose the Jews used to say to them, "A prophet will be sent soon. His day is at hand. We shall follow him and kill you by his aid as 'Ad and Iram perished." So when they heard the apostle's message they said one to another: "This is the very prophet of whom the Jews warned us. Don't let them get to him before us!" Thereupon they accepted his teaching and became Muslims. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, pp. 197-198)

Muhammad taught at the resting places for pilgrims on their way to Mecca.

The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, remained concealed at Makkah in the first three years of his commission to prophethood. In the fourth year he declared it and invited the people to embrace Islam, continuing it for ten years. In every season (of pilgrimage) he used to approach the pilgrims at their halting places,`Ukaz, Majannah and Dhu al-Majaz, and asked them to protect him so that he might convey to the people the message of his Lord, and in return they would get a place in paradise. But he did not find anyone to support him or respond to his appeal. ... None of the Arabian tribes responded to him. (Ibn Sa'd, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, vol. 1, pp. 249-251)

Through the method of private and public teaching Muhammad spread Islam. A minority of people accepted him this way. They were not compelled but were impressed by his teaching and accepted him freely. In Mecca, his followers were a "despised minority". The vast majority of the Arabian tribes did not accept him.


Warfare on Non-Muslims

Some of the tribes in the city of Medinah (Yathrib) did accept Muhammad and he moved there for protection. There he began to rule and formed an army. Muhammad began to raid those around him.

Narrated Jabir: The Prophet sent us as an army unit of three hundred warriors under the command of Abu 'Ubaida to ambush a caravan of the Quraish. ... (Sahih al-Bukhari 5494; vol 7, bk 67, no 402)

Muhammad was also involved in defensive and offensive battles. The Arabian tribes who had previously rejected Muhammad were now asked again to submit to him. For most of the tribes this was done by sending a military delegation. Before Muhammad's armies would attack a tribe they would invite them to accept Islam first:

The Apostle of Allah, sent Khalid Ibn al-Walid with four hundred Muslims to Banu al-Harith ... He ordered him to invite them to Islam three times before fighting. ... They accepted what he had called them to. He stayed among them to teach them Islam, its regulations, the Book of Allah and the sunnah of His Prophet. (Ibn Sa'd, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, vol. 1, p. 399)

... Ali and Ibn al-Musaffa said: The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) sent us on an expedition. When we reached the place of attack, I galloped my horse and outstripped my companions, and the people of that locality received me with a great noise. I said to them: Say "There is no god but Allah," and you will be protected. They said this. My companions blamed me, saying: You deprived us of the booty. When we came to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him), they told him what I had done. So he called me, appreciating what I had done, and said: Allah has recorded for you so and so (a reward) for every man of them. (Sunan Abi Dawud 5080; bk 41/42, no 5062)

Anas b. Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah used to attack the enemy when it was dawn. He would listen to the Adhan (Islamic call to prayer); so if he heard an Adhan, he stopped, otherwise made an attack. (Sahih Muslim 382; bk 4, no 745)

Muhammad said that he was commanded by Allah to spread Islam this way:

Narrated Ibn 'Umar: 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 all that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah." (Sahih al-Bukhari 25; vol 1, bk 2, no 24/25)

Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden -- such men as practise not the religion of truth ... It is He who has sent His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may uplift it above every religion, though the unbelievers be averse. (Qur'an 9:29-33, Arberry)

It was easy to become Muhammad's enemy. If you did not acknowledge him as your ruler and prophet then you were his enemy. Those who joined Muhammad joined the fight against those who did not accept Muhammad's religion:

Surad Ibn `Abd Allah al-Azdi arrived with about thirteen to nineteen members of his people in a deputation to the Apostle of Allah ... The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, appointed him (Surad) amir of those of his people who had embraced Islam, and enjoined him to wage war against the polytheists of the tribe of Yaman, who were living in the adjoining territories. He set out and alighted at Jurash which was a strongly fortified city and where the tribes of Yaman had taken shelter. He (Surad) invited them to embrace Islam but they declined. He besieged them for a month and used to raid their animals and seize them. Then he retreated to a mountain, called Shakar. They thought that he had fled, and came out to pursue him. He arrayed his forces, and attacked them. Muslims put them to the sword as they liked. They seized twenty of their horses and fought them all day long. The people of Jurash had sent two men to the Apostle of Allah, who were waiting for an opportunity to meet him. The Apostle of Allah, Allah bless him, informed them of this combat and the victory of Surad. The two men came to their people and informed them of the circumstances, along with other incidents. So a deputation of them set out, and they waited on the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, and embraced Islam. (Ibn Sa'd, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, vol. 1, pp. 397-398)

This time of conquest was a great source of pride to Muhammad and his Companions. Many poems were composed to celebrate their victories. Here is a section of a poem that Ka'b b. Malik composed before the Islamic conquest of Al-Ta'if.

If you offer peace we will accept it
And make you partners (with us) in peace and war.
If you refuse we will fight you doggedly. ...
We shall fight as long as we live
Till you turn to Islam, humbly seeking refuge.
We will fight not caring whom we meet
Whether we destroy ancient holdings or newly gotten gains. ...
And we cut off their noses and ears
With our fine polished Indian swords,
Driving them violently before us to the command of God and Islam,
Until religion is established, just and straight. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, pp. 587-588)

These battles were not self-defence; they were offensive battles whose aim was to spread the Islamic empire and the rule of Muhammad. They were violent jihad.

Throughout this period of warfare, Muhammad's teaching was still very important. He inspired his soldiers to fight with the promise of paradise. For those who fought there was the promise of forgiveness, status, virgins, expensive clothes, watered gardens with abundant fruit, rivers of wine, milk and honey, slave boys and beautiful houses. Consider these verses from the Qur'an:

O You who believe! Shall I guide you to a commerce that will save you from a painful torment. That you believe in Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad SAW), and that you strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives, that will be better for you, if you but know! (If you do so) He will forgive you your sins, and admit you into Gardens under which rivers flow, and pleasant dwelling in Gardens of 'Adn Eternity ['Adn (Edn) Paradise], that is indeed the great success. (Qur'an 61:10-12, Al-Hilali & Khan)

This is the similitude of Paradise which the godfearing have been promised: therein are rivers of water unstaling, rivers of milk unchanging in flavour, and rivers of wine -- a delight to the drinkers, rivers, too, of honey purified; and therein for them is every fruit, and forgiveness from their Lord (Qur'an 47:15, Arberry)

Lo! those who kept their duty will be in a place secure amid gardens and water-springs, attired in silk and silk embroidery, facing one another. Even so (it will be). And we shall wed them unto fair ones with wide, lovely eyes. (Qur'an 44:51-54, Pickthall)

Surely for the godfearing awaits a place of security, gardens and vineyards and maidens with swelling breasts, like of age, and a cup overflowing. (Qur'an 78:31-33, Arberry)

Perfectly We formed them, perfect, and We made them spotless virgins, chastely amorous, like of age for the Companions of the Right. (Qur'an 56:34-35, Arberry)

And there go round, waiting on them menservants of their own, as they were hidden pearls. (Qur'an 52:24, Pickthall)

There wait on them immortal youths. (Qur'an 56:17, 76:19, Pickthall)

Those Muslims who did not fight for Muhammad were not equal in status to those who did:

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; (Qur'an 4:95, Al-Hilali & Khan)

These promises of Muhammad inspired the Muslims to give their lives towards the spread of the Islamic empire. Consider the example of `Umayr b. al-Humam:

Then the apostle went forth to the people and incited them saying, "By God in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, no man will be slain this day fighting against them with steadfast courage advancing not retreating but God will cause him to enter Paradise." `Umayr b. al-Humam brother of B. Salima was eating some dates which he had in his hand. "Fine, Fine!" said he, "is there nothing between me and my entering Paradise save to be killed by these men?" He flung the dates from his hand, seized his sword, and fought against them till he was slain. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 300)

Thus warfare and the preaching of paradise were important methods that Muhammad used to spread Islam. Muhammad did not send out preachers and evangelists instead he sent out armies.

Warfare on Muslims

Muhammad's use of warfare was not just aimed at non-Muslims. On some occasions he called for war on Muslims. This was part of the way he strengthened the hold of Islam on the early Muslims community.

O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah, and give up what remains (due to you) from usury (interest), if you are (in truth) believers. And if you do not, then be warned of war (against you) from Allah and His messenger. And if you repent, then you have your principal (without interest). Wrong not, and you shall not be wronged. (Qur'an 2:278-279, Pickthall)

The context of the above verses is that some Muslims wanted to get the interest that was still owed to them before they became Muslims. They are warned that if they seek this interest then Allah and Muhammad will make war on them. We see a similar command in 9:73.

O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey's end. (Qur'an 9:73, Pitckthall)

The context here is that Muhammad is calling the Muslims to Jihad. Some of the Muslim tribes do not want to fight, therefore, they are called hypocrites and Muhammad is to fight against them until they join the Jihad. Muhammad had their mosque burnt down.

The owners of the mosque of opposition had come to the apostle as he was preparing for (to attack) Tabuk, saying, "We have built a mosque for the sick and needy and for nights of bad weather, and we should like you to come to us and pray for us there." He said that he was on the point of travelling, and was preoccupied ... and that when he came back if God willed he would come to them and pray for them in it. When he stopped in Dhu Awan news of the mosque came to him, and he summoned Malik b. al-Dukhshum ... and Ma'n b. `Adiy ... and told them to go to the mosque of those evil men and destroy and burn it. ... and then the two of them ran into the mosque where its people were and burned and destroyed it and the people ran away from it. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 609)

In sura 33 Muslims are again called hypocrites and threatened with war if they continue to question Muhammad's moral and military judgement.

If the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and the alarmists in the city do not cease, We verily shall urge you on against them, then they will be your neighbours in it but a little while. Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter. (Qur'an 33:60-61, Pitckthall)

In sura 49 Muhammad is commanded to fight Muslims until they "return unto the ordinance of Allah".

And if two parties of believers fall to fighting, then make peace between them. And if one party of them doeth wrong to the other, fight ye that which doeth wrong till it return unto the ordinance of Allah; then, if it return, make peace between them justly, and act equitably. Lo! Allah loveth the equitable. (Qur'an 49:9, Pickthall)

In sura 66 those Muslims who questioned what Muhammad was doing are called hypocrites and were to be treated harshly.

O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be stern with them. Hell will be their home, a hapless journey's end. (Qur'an 66:9, Pickthall)

Muhammad commanded the true Muslims to make war on those Muslims who did not stop using alcohol.

Narrated Daylam al-Himyari: I asked the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and said: Apostle of Allah! we live in a cold land in which we do heavy work and we make a liquor from wheat to get strength from it for our work and to stand the cold of our country. He asked: Is it intoxicating? I replied: Yes. He said: You must avoid it. I said: The people will not abandon it. He said: If they do not abandon it, fight with them. (Sunan Abi Dawood 3683; bk 26, no 3675)

To conclude, Muhammad used warfare on Muslims who questioned him or did not follow the laws he gave. They were called hypocrites. In this way Muhammad strengthened and spread the influence on Islam on the newly converted tribes.

Money and Gifts

Warfare was not always the best option for Muhammad. As he gained wealth he also used money and gifts to spread Islam.

Narrated Anas: The Prophet gathered some people of Ansar and said, "The People of Quraish are still close to their Pre-lslamic period of ignorance and have suffered a lot, and I want to help them and attract their hearts (by giving them the war booty). ... (Sahih al-Bukhari 4334; vol 5, bk 59, no 623)

Narrated Abu Said: Ali sent a piece of gold to the Prophet who distributed it among four persons: Al-Aqra' bin Habis Al-Hanzali from the tribe of Mujashi, 'Uyaina bin Badr Al-Fazari, Zaid At-Ta'i who belonged to (the tribe of) Bani Nahban, and 'Alqama bin Ulatha Al-'Amir who belonged to (the tribe of) Bani Kilab. So the Quraish and the Ansar became angry and said, "He (i.e. the Prophet) gives the chief of Najd and does not give us." The Prophet said, "I give them so as to attract their hearts (to Islam)." (Sahih al-Bukhari 3344; vol 4, bk 55, no 558)

The apostle told them to tell Malik that if he came to him as a Muslim he would return his family and property to him and give him a hundred camels. On hearing this Malik came out ... and rode off to join the apostle ... He (Muhammad) gave him back his family and property and gave him a hundred camels. He became an excellent Muslim. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 593)

After Muhammad had conquered Mecca he ordered the alms money (zakat) be used for certain purposes. One of these purposes was to encourage people to embrace Islam:

The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled (to Islam). (Qur'an 9:60, Pickthall)

Commenting on "those whose hearts are to be reconciled", Ibn Kathir writes:

There are those who are given alms to embrace Islam. For instance, the Prophet of Allah gave something to Safwan bin Umayyah ... (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. 4, p. 455)

... Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) gave one hundred camels to Safwan b. Umayya. He again gave him one hundred camels, and then again gave him one hundred camels. Sa'id b. Musayyib said that Safwan told him: (By Allah) Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) gave me what he gave me (and my state of mind at that time was) that he was the most detested person amongst people in my eyes. But he continued giving to me until now he is the dearest of people to me. (Sahih Muslim 2313; bk 30, no 5730)

Thus sometimes Muhammad used money and gifts to spread Islam.


Some tribes did not respond to warfare or money. Ibn Ishaq records how Muhammad used the fear and intimidation generated from assassinations to convert a tribe:

Abu `Afak ... showed his disaffection when the apostle (Muhammad) killed al-Harith b. Samit ... The apostle said, "Who will deal with this rascal for me?" Whereupon Salim b. `Umayr, ... went forth and killed him. ... (`Asma d. Marwan) was of B. Umayya b. Zayd. When Abu `Afak had been killed she displayed disaffection. ... When the apostle heard what she had said, he said, "Who will rid me of Marwan's daughter?" `Umayr b. `Adiy al-Khatmi who was with him heard him, and that very night he went to her house and killed her. In the morning he came to the apostle and told him what he had done and he (Muhammad) said, "You have helped God and His apostle, O `Umayr!" When he asked if he would have to bear any evil consequences the apostle said, "Two goats won't butt their heads about her," ... The day after Bint Marwan was killed the men of (tribe of) Khatma became Muslims because they saw the power of Islam. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, pp. 675-676)

Thus, sometimes Muhammad used the method of assassination to convert a tribe to Islam.


Sometimes Muhammad did not use compulsion to spread Islam.

Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error. (Qur'an 2:256, Yusuf Ali)

The apostle sent out troops in the district around Mecca inviting men to God: he did not order them to fight. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 561)

But on other occasions he did use and approve of compulsion.

He (Muhammad) said: "Woe to you, Abu Sufyan, isn't it time that you recognize that I am God's apostle?" He answered, "As to that I still have some doubt." I (Abbas) said to him, "Submit and testify that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the apostle of God before you lose your head," so he did so. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 547)

Abu Bakr said: "You asked me for the best advice that I could give you, and I will tell you. God sent Muhammad with this religion and he strove for it until men accepted it voluntary or by force." (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, pp. 668-669)

... When Jarir reached Yemen, there was a man who used to foretell and give good omens by casting arrows of divination. Someone said to him. "The messenger of Allah's Apostle is present here and if he should get hold of you, he would chop off your neck." One day while he was using them (i.e. arrows of divination), Jarir stopped there and said to him, "Break them (i.e. the arrows) and testify that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah, or else I will chop off your neck." So the man broke those arrows and testified that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah. (Sahih al-Bukhari 4357; vol 5, bk 59, no 643)

Narrated 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims." (Sahih al-Bukhari 6878; vol 9, bk 83, no 17)

Thus on some occasions Muhammad used and approved of compulsion to spread and keep people in Islam.


Muhammad needed money to finance the expansion of his religion and empire. One of the richest cities in the region was the Jewish city of Khaybar. The Jews there did not accept Muhammad as a prophet or his claim to rule over them. After Muhammad had conquered Khaybar we read what he did to get their riches to finance his jihad.

Kinana b. al-Rabi`, who had the custody of the treasure (of Kaybar), ... was brought to the apostle who asked him about it. He denied that he knew where it was. A Jew came ... to the apostle and said that he had seen Kinana going round 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. When he asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr b. al-`Awwam, "Torture him until you extract what he has," so he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 515)

Thus Muhammad sometimes used torture to finance the spread of his religion and empire.


Destroying the Ka'bas and Shrines

The Ka'ba in Mecca was not the only ka'ba in Arabia. There were other ka'bas and shrines that the Arabs would make pilgrimage to during the year. Muhammad spread Islam by destroying these other ka'bas and making the Islamic worship at Mecca the only option for the Arabs.

Jarir bin 'Abdullah narrated: There was a house called Dhul-Khalasa in the Pre-lslamic Period and it was also called Al-Ka'ba Al-Yamaniya or Al-Ka'ba Ash-Shamiya. Allah's Apostle said to me, "Will you relieve me from Dhul-Khalasa?" So I left for it with 150 cavalrymen from the tribe of Ahmas and then we destroyed it and killed whoever we found there. Then we came to the Prophet and informed him about it. He invoked good upon us and upon the tribe of Ahmas. (Sahih al-Bukhari 3823; vol 5, bk 58, no 160)

Then the apostle sent Khalid to al-`Uzza which was in Nakhla. It was a temple which this tribe of Quraysh and Kinana and all Mudar used to venerate. ... When Khalid arrived he destroyed her and returned to the apostle. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 565)

Destroying Independent Mosques

Muhammad commissioned the construction of many mosques. However, on one occasion an independent group built a mosque and invited Muhammad to it. These Muslims did not want to fight in Muhammad's Jihad. Muhammad had their mosque destroyed.

The owners of the mosque of opposition had come to the apostle as he was preparing for (to attack) Tabuk, saying, "We have built a mosque for the sick and needy and for nights of bad weather, and we should like you to come to us and pray for us there." He said that he was on the point of travelling, and was preoccupied ... and that when he came back if God willed he would come to them and pray for them in it. When he stopped in Dhu Awan news of the mosque came to him, and he summoned Malik b. al-Dukhshum ... and Ma'n b. `Adiy ... and told them to go to the mosque of those evil men and destroy and burn it. ... and then the two of them ran into the mosque where its people were and burned and destroyed it and the people ran away from it. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 609; al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, vol. 9, pp. 60-61)

Thus Muhammad spread his Islam by making his mosques the only option.

Rejecting Other Prophets

At the same time that Muhammad was claiming to be a prophet there were men from other tribes who claimed to be prophets too. These men and their tribes accepted Muhammad as a prophet but Muhammad did not accept these men as prophets. During this time these tribes had two prophets: Muhammad plus their own.

During his life Muhammad as not able to kill these other prophets but when he died his followers killed them. This will be shown in section 5. Thus Islam spread by making Muhammad the only option for a prophet.


Muhammad spread Islam by making the transition from the pre-Islamic religion to Islam easy. He did this by making very few changes to it. The idols were removed and people now had to submit to him, but nearly all of the other practices remained the same. In practice Islam is very similar to the pre-Islamic religion. Here are a few examples.


Muhammad initially continued the pre-Islamic time for fasting:

Narrated 'Aisha: 'Ashura' (i.e. the tenth of Muharram) was a day on which the tribe of Quraish used to fast in the pre-Islamic period of ignorance. The Prophet also used to fast on this day. So when he migrated to Medina, he fasted on it and ordered (the Muslims) to fast on it. When the fasting of Ramadan was enjoined, it became optional for the people to fast or not to fast on the day of Ashura. (Sahih al-Bukhari 3831; vol 5, bk 58, no 172)

As-Safa and Al-Marwa

The pre-Islamic religion also had a special walk that was done between the mountains of Safa and Marwa in Mecca. Muhammad continued this practice too. Again, some of the early Muslims were uncomfortable with this and thought that this pagan practice should be stopped. Later Muhammad transformed the meaning of these mountains to be "symbols of Allah":

Narrated 'Asim: I asked Anas bin Malik: "Did you use to dislike to perform Tawaf between Safa and Marwa?" He said, "Yes, as it was of the ceremonies of the days of the Pre-Islamic period of ignorance, till Allah revealed: 'Verily! (The two mountains) As-Safa and Al-Marwa are among the symbols of Allah. It is therefore no sin for him who performs the pilgrimage to the Ka'ba, or performs 'Umra, to perform Tawaf between them.'" (2.158) (Sahih al-Bukhari 1648; vol 2, bk 26, no 710)

The Black Stone

The pre-Islamic religion was animistic with special attention to sacred stones.

Narrated Abu Raja Al-Utaridi: We used to worship stones, and when we found a better stone than the first one, we would throw the first one and take the latter, but if we could not get a stone then we would collect some earth (i.e. soil) and then bring a sheep and milk that sheep over it, and perform the Tawaf around it. ... (Sahih al-Bukhari 4376/4377; vol 5, bk 59, no 661)

The most sacred stone in the pre-Islamic religion was the Black Stone. It was part of the Ka'ba in Mecca. Even though the worship of stones is animistic Muhammad continued this practice. Some of the early reformer Muslims found this very uncomfortable.

Narrated Zaid bin Aslam from his father who said: "Umar bin Al-Khattab addressed the Corner (Black Stone) saying, 'By Allah! I know that you are a stone and can neither benefit nor harm. Had I not seen the Prophet touching (and kissing) you, I would never have touched (and kissed) you.' Then he kissed it and said, 'There is no reason for us to do Ramal (a special style of walking) (in Tawaf) except that we wanted to show off before the pagans, and now Allah has destroyed them.' 'Umar added, '(Nevertheless), the Prophet did that and we do not want to leave it (i.e. Ramal).'" (Sahih al-Bukhari 1605; vol 2, bk 26, no 675)

But for the majority of the early Muslims being able to continue their previous practice of venerating the Black Stone made it easy for them to accept Islam and so Islam spread.


Incantations were part of the animistic pre-Islamic religion. Muhammad allowed this practice to continue as long as the incantations were transformed to be Islamic:

'Auf b. Malik Ashja'i reported We practised incantation in the pre-Islamic days and we said: Allah's Messenger, what is your opinion about it? He said: Let me know your incantation and said: There is no harm in the incantation which does not smack of polytheism. (Sahih Muslim 2200; bk 26, no 5457)

Venerated in Prayer

Venerating saints/marabouts was a pre-Islamic practice that Muhammad continued now based around himself. He is venerated and addressed in the Islamic prayer (salaat) along with Allah.

As Salaamu 'alaika ayyuhan nabiyyu wa rahmatul laahi wa barakaatuh
Greetings to you, O Prophet, and the mercy and blessings of Allah. (Salaat)

Thus Muhammad spread Islam by making an easy transition from the pre-Islamic religion to Islam. He did this by retaining most of the animistic pre-Islamic practices but now given them an Islamic expression.

Narrated 'Aisha: Whenever Allah's Apostle ordered the Muslims to do something, he used to order them deeds which were easy for them to do. (Sahih al-Bukhari 20; vol 1, bk 2, no 19/20)


After Muhammad's death, many of the new converts to Islam wanted to leave the religion. We see this with the city and people of Mecca who tried to leave Islam but were forced to remain in it. In the following reference `Attab Ibn Asid was the governor appointed by Muhammad over Mecca, and Suhayl Ibn Amr was the military leader who governed most of the soldiers who had conquered Mecca.

Ibn Hisham says: It is narrated on the authority of Abu `Ubaydah and others that when the Messenger of Allah [peace be upon him] died the majority of the people of Makkah intended to renegade from Islam so much that `Attab Ibn Asid feared them and concealed himself (from them). On that Suhayl Ibn Amr stood up and praised Allah and lauded Him, and made a mention of the death of The Messenger of Allah [peace be upon him] and then said: "No doubt, this (death of the Prophet) but increased the Islam in power. Whoever rouses doubt, we will chop off his head." Thus the people retracted and desisted from what they intended to do and `Attab Ibn Asd appeared. (`Abd Al Malik Ibn Hisham, The Prophetic Biography - Sirah of Ibnu Hisham (trans: Dr. Muhammad Mahdi Al-Sharif) Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah: Beirut, 2013, bk. 4, p. 670)

The Islamic scholar, Prof. Masud ul-Hasan, writes about the situation after Muhammad's death.

[Immediately after the death of Muhammad] The situation that Abu Bakr faced on assuming the caliphate was very grim. Many tribes apostatised from Islam and refused to pay Zakat. Many false prophets rose throughout the length and breadth of Arabia, and many people offered allegiance to them. The argument that weighed with them was that a living prophet was to be preferred to one who was dead. (Prof. Masud ul-Hasan, The History of Islam, vol. 1, p. 97)

The following is a summary of Prof. Hasan's account of the wars against these apostate Arab tribes.

The Arab tribes around Medina were prepared to stay Muslim but they did not want to pay the Zakat (tax) to the Islamic authorities. These tribes tried to attack Medina but were repelled. Abu Bakr chased and conquered them and took their land.

Abu Bakr then turned his attention to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, much of which had now chosen to leave Islam.

To the north of Medina was the tribe of Asad. They followed their prophet Taleaha. The Muslim forces marched against them and defeated them at Buzakha. They then returned to Islam.

Next the Muslim forces marched to the tribe of Fazara and fought at Zafar. The Muslims won and the defeated tribe offered submission and was readmitted to Islam.

The tribe of Sulaim were attacked by the Muslim forces and defeated. Their leader Abu Shajra was captured and taken to Medina were he accepted Islam.

The Muslims force marched against the tribe of Tamim. This tribe offered no resistance nor did they offer submission. Their leader was killed and his wife married by the Islamic general, Khalid. The tribe then accepted Islam.

The tribe of Hanifa was led by the prophet Musaylima. The Muslims fought hard against this tribe and finally won though they suffered a great number of casualties. Once Musaylima was killed and the tribe subdued they accepted Islam.

After this battle Abu Bakr sent an army to Bahrain. In Bahrain a new king had come to power and he rejected Islam. There was much internal fighting. The Muslims tried to conquer them but were not successful until reinforcements arrived. Having been defeated, the people of Bahrain repented and were admitted to the fold of Islam.

In Oman, Laquit ibn Malik was the prophet. A Muslim force was sent against him. Laquit and ten thousand of his followers were killed. Then the people of Oman reconverted to Islam.

In Mahrah there was civil war with the death of Muhammad. The Muslims sided with the weaker party and fought with them. When this region was conquered the people of Mahrah repented, and were reconverted to Islam.

In Yemen there was a prophet called Aswad Ansi. He had a large following. The Muslim forces marched against them, defeated them and killed Aswad. Once defeated, this region returned to Islam.

At Hadramaut the people resisted Islamic rule. The Muslim forces conquered them and they were readmitted to the fold of Islam.

The apostasy campaigns began in August 632 C.E. and these operations were over by February 633 C.E. Within the short space of six months, Abu Bakr succeeded in exterminating apostasy and winning back all the tribes in Arabia to the fold of Islam. (Prof. Masud ul-Hasan, The History of Islam, vol. 1, p. 102)

Thus when Muhammad died the Islamic empire fragmented and many of the Arab tribes left Islam. They did this for various reasons. Some didn't want to pay tax to Mecca/Medinah, others wanted to follow their own prophet for they did not see Muhammad as the final prophet. Muhammad's companions compelled these tribes to return to Islam. This is how Islam spread and established itself in Arabia.

After the apostasy wars, the Islamic armies then began their conquest of the surrounding nations.

Narrated Jubair bin Haiya: 'Umar sent the Muslims to the great countries to fight the pagans. When Al-Hurmuzan embraced Islam, 'Umar said to him. "I would like to consult you regarding these countries which I intend to invade." ... [we say to these countries] Our Prophet, the Messenger of our Lord, has ordered us to fight you till you worship Allah Alone or give Jizya (i.e. tribute). (Sahih al-Bukhari 3159, 3160; vol 4, bk 53, no 386)

There was also a certain degree of ethnic and religious cleansing.

It has been narrated by 'Umar b. al-Khattib that he heard the Messenger of Allah say: I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim. (Sahih Muslim 1767; bk 19, no 4366)


How did Muhammad spread Islam? As this survey demonstrates he used many methods. These included teaching Islam, reciting the Qur'an, warfare, money and gifts, assassinations, compulsion, torture, removing other religious options and incorporating much of the pre-Islamic religion into Islam. After Muhammad's death his companions continued some of these methods. It is wrong to exaggerate any one of these methods; Muhammad used all of them to spread Islam.


Hadith references: Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, and Sunan Abi Dawud

Qur'an references

`Abd Al Malik Ibn Hisham, The Prophetic Biography – Sirah of Ibnu Hisham (trans: Dr. Muhammad Mahdi Al-Sharif) Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah: Beirut, 2013.

al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, State University of New York: USA, 1990, vol. 9.

Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, translated as, The Life of Muhammad, (translator: A. Guillaume), Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir (abridged), Riyadh: Darussalam, 2000, 10 volumes.

Ibn Sa'd, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, (translator: S. Moinul Haq) New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 2 volumes, no date.

Prof. Masud-ul-Hasan, The History of Islam, Delhi: Adam Publishers and Distributors, 2002, 2 volumes.

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