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The Islaamic Verdict on Spies and those who Perform Espionage against the Muslims

In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

Abu Mu'aath al-Makki

Brotherhood in Islam

All Praise is to Allah عز وجل and His Salat on Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم and his companions. Before we get to the Islamic verdict on those who spy against the Muslims, we would like to mention some important principles that may serve as a guideline for understanding the serious nature of this issue. We must understand that Muslims are brothers unto each other. This principle is reflected in various verses of the Qur’an and authentic Hadith of Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. Allah عز وجل says:

إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ

The believers are naught else than brothers. Therefore make peace between your brethren and observe your duty to Allah that haply you may obtain mercy. (The Quran 49:10)

 مُّحَمَّدٌ رَّسُولُ اللَّهِ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ أَشِدَّاء عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاء بَيْنَهُمْ

Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves. (The Quran 48:29)

 وَالَّذِينَ جَاؤُوا مِن بَعْدِهِمْ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْ لَنَا وَلِإِخْوَانِنَا الَّذِينَ سَبَقُونَا بِالْإِيمَانِ وَلَا تَجْعَلْ فِي قُلُوبِنَا غِلًّا لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ رَؤُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ

And those who came (into the faith) after them say: Our Lord Forgive us and our brothers who were before us in the faith, and place not in our hearts any rancor toward those who believe. Our Lord! Thou art Full of Pity, Merciful. (The Quran 59:10)

The Jasūs (Spy)

Allah عز وجل says:

"And spy not, neither backbite one another (The Quran 49:12)"

Al-Nawawi (May Allah have mercy on him) said:

Some of the scholars said that tahassus with letter HA, ‘snooping’ means listening to other people’s conversations, and tajassus with letter JEEM, ‘spying’ means seeking out other people’s faults. it was also suggested that tajassus means looking for secrets. The word is mostly used in the sense of evil. The Jasūs ‘spy’ is the one who seeks out secrets for evil purposes and the nāmūs is the one who seeks out secrets for good purposes. And it was suggested that tajassus refers to looking for information for someone else, and tahassus means looking for information for oneself. This was the view of Tha’lab. And it was said that they mean one and the same, which is seeking out information about people’s state of affairs.

Kinds of Spying

Despised spying may be divided into two categories:

1.       Spying that makes one sinful

2.       Spying that expels one from the fold of Islam

Spying that Makes One Sinful

Spying can be a sin if a person seeks the faults of his Muslim brother for the sake of exposing him in front of other people. It may even be unveiling the secrets of a Muslim brother in front of others. Spying leads to backbiting and backbiting is Haram. Therefore, Allah has closed every door that leads to the evil of backbiting and has made spying Haram. This form of spying is condemned in various Hadith of Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.

Abu Huraira (May Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, "Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the others' faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; and O Allah's worshipers! Be brothers (as Allah has ordered you!"). (Bukhari)

Ibn Abbas narrated that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, "Whoever claims to have seen a dream which he did not see, will be ordered to make a knot between two barley grains which he will not be able to do; and if somebody listens to the talk of some people who do not like him (to listen) or they run away from him, then molten lead will be poured into his ears on the Day of Resurrection …(Bukhari)

Abu Barza Al-Aslami (May Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: O community of people, who believed by their tongue, and belief did not enter their hearts, do not back-bite Muslims, and do not search for their faults, for if anyone searches for their faults, Allah will search for his fault, and if Allah searches for the fault of anyone, He disgraces him in his house. (Ahmad and Abu Dawood).

Spying that Expels One From the Fold of Islam

Spying can be Kufr (disbelief), if it is done for the sake of helping the disbelievers against the believers. Such an action takes the person out of the fold of Islam and makes him an apostate because it entails supporting the disbelievers against the believers. The disbelief of those who help disbelievers against the believers has already been discussed earlier. One additional proof is as follows:

In the two Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim, an incident is narrated on the authority of Ali (May Allah be pleased with him). This incident took place during conquest of Makkah. Ali (May Allah be pleased with him)  said:

Allah's Apostle صلى الله عليه وسلم sent me, Az-Zubair (May Allah be pleased with him) and Al-Miqdad (May Allah be pleased with him) saying, "Proceed till you reach Rawdat Khakh where there is a lady carrying a letter, and take that (letter) from her." So we proceeded on our way with our horses galloping till we reached the Rawda, and there we found the lady and said to her, "Take out the letter." She said, "I have no letter." We said, "Take out the letter, or else we will take off your clothes." So she took it out of her braid, and we brought the letter to Allah's Apostle. The letter was addressed from Hatib, bin Abi Balta’a to some pagans of Mecca, telling them about what Allah's Apostle intended to do. Allah's Apostle said, "O Hatib! What is this?" Hatib replied, "O Allah's Apostle صلى الله عليه وسلم! Do not make a hasty decision about me. I was a person not belonging to Quraish but I was an ally to them from outside and had no blood relation with them, and all the emigrants who were with you, have got their kinsmen (in Mecca) who can protect their families and properties. So I liked to do them a favor so that they might protect my relatives as I have no blood relation with them. I did not do this (with the intention) of Kufr or apostasy nor did I do it to choose disbelief after Islam." Allah's Apostle said to his companions, -As regards him; he (i.e. Hatib) has told you the truth." 'Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) said, "O Allah's Apostle صلى الله عليه وسلم! Allow me to chop off the head of this hypocrite!" The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, "He (i.e. Hatib) has witnessed the Badr battle (i.e. fought in it) and what could tell you, perhaps Allah looked at those who witnessed Badr and said, "O the people of Badr (i.e. Badr Muslim warriors), do what you like, for I have forgiven you.

This incident shows that supporting the disbelievers and giving them victory (over the Muslims) is apostasy and it takes one out of the religion of Islam. Such is evident for three reasons.

The Punishment for those Who Spy Against the Believers in Support of Disbelievers and Engage in other forms of Espionage

Scholars have differed concerning the punishment reserved for the one who engages in spying and espionage spy depending on his status. [5] The correct opinion however is that he is to be killed and his repentance is not accepted as is stated by numerous scholars. Imām Sahnūn (May Allah have mercy on him) said:

“If a Muslim corresponds with ahl al-Harb (People that the Muslims are at war with), he is to be killed and is not asked to repent…”

Ibn al-Qāsim (May Allah have mercy on him) said:

"He (spy) is to be killed and it is not known that he is to be asked for repentance. He is like a Zandiq."

Ibn Taymiyyah (May Allah have mercy on him) said:

"Mālik and a group of Ahmad’s companions (Hanbali scholars) hold the opinion that the spy is to be killed."

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