Question: What does the hadith mean that states that war booty is permissible were not halal for previous nations?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
In Sahih Bukhari, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is narrated to have said, ‘I have been given five things which were not given to anyone else before me.’ This hadith mentions that war booty was halal for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and that was not halal for previous prophets/nations.
War booty means taking property from the losing side. We know the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did on several occasions. (Tarikh al Tabari)
Another possible interpretation of the hadith is that the meaning of war booty being permissible meant that he had the absolute right to do what he saw fit with it. (Fath al Bari, Ibn Hajar al Asqalani) That is to say that previous prophets were allowed to take war booty but did not have the unique right to do what they saw fit with it.
While I am no Bible scholar, this latter position does seem a little likely because there are at least fourteen cases in the Bible that mention that the Children of Israel took war booty. (Genesis 34:28; Exodus 12:36; Numbers 31:9; Deuteronomy 2:35, 13:16, and 20:14; Judges 5:30; 1 Samuel 14:32, 17:53, and 3:22; 2 Kings 7:16; 2 Chronicles 14:13, 15:11, and 20:25)
While the Bible is not a reliable religious book for Muslims, just as a historical source, ignoring all of this evidence seems reasonable in my humble view.
That said, it is also possible that all of these Biblical accounts are false, inaccurate, or down out of disobedience to Allah. In which case, the hadith should be taken at face value, as mentioned.
And Allah knows best.
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years, he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.