Spoils of War
IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE[8:1]
THEY WILL ASK thee about the spoils of war. Say: "All spoils of war belong to God and the Apostle." Remain, then, conscious of God, and keep alive the bonds of brotherhood among yourselves, and pay heed unto God and His Apostle, if you are [truly] believers!
Believers are only they whose hearts tremble with awe whenever God is mentioned, and whose faith is strengthened whenever His messages are conveyed unto them, and who in their Sustainer place their trust –
those who are constant in prayer and spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance:
it is they, they who are truly believers! Theirs shall be great dignity in their Sustainer’s sight, and forgiveness of sins, and a most excellent sustenance.
EVEN AS thy Sustainer brought thee forth from thy home [to fight] in the cause of the truth, although some of the believers were averse to it,
[so, too,] they would argue with thee about the truth [itself] after it had become manifest – just as if they were being driven towards death and beheld it with their very eyes.
And, lo, God gave you the promise that one of the two [enemy] hosts would fall to you: and you would have liked to seize the less powerful one, whereas it was God’s will to prove the truth to be true in accordance with His words, and to wipe out the last remnant of those who denied the truth –
so that He might prove the truth to be true and the false to be false, however hateful this might be to those who were lost in sin.
Lo! You were praying unto your Sustainer for aid, whereupon He thus responded to you: "I shall, verily, aid you with a thousand angels following one upon another!"
And God ordained this only as a glad tiding, and that your hearts should thereby be set at rest – since no succour can come from any save God: verily, God is almighty, wise!
[Remember how it was] when He caused inner calm to enfold you, as an assurance from Him, and sent down upon you water from the skies, so that He might purify you thereby and free you from Satan’s unclean whisperings and strengthen your hearts and thus make firm your steps.
Lo! Thy Sustainer inspired the angels [to convey this His message to the believers]: "I am with you!"
[And He commanded the angels:] "And give firmness unto those who have attained to faith [with these words from Me]: ‘I shall cast terror into the hearts of those who are bent on denying the truth; strike, then, their necks, [O believers,] and strike off every one of their finger-tips!’"
This, because they have cut themselves off from God and His Apostle: and as for him who cuts himself off from God and His Apostle – verily, God is severe in retribution.
This [for you, O enemies of God]! Taste it, then, [and know] that suffering through fire awaits those who deny the truth!
O YOU who have attained to faith! When you meet in battle those who are bent on denying the truth, advancing in great force, do not turn your backs on them:
for whoever on that day turns his back on them – unless it be in a battle manoeuvre or in an endeavour to join another troop [of the believers] – shall indeed have earned the burden of God’s condemnation, and his goal shall be hell: and how vile a journey’s end!
And yet, [O believers,] it was not you who slew the enemy, but it was God who slew them; and it was not thou who cast [terror into them, O Prophet], when thou didst cast it, but it was God who cast it: and [He did all this] in order that He might test the believers by a goodly test of His Own ordaining. Verily, God is all-hearing, all-knowing!
This [was God’s purpose] – and also [to show] that God renders vain the artful schemes of those who deny the truth.
If you have been praying for victory, [O believers] – victory has now indeed come unto you. And if you abstain [from sinning], it will be for your own good; but if you revert to it, We shall revoke [Our promise of aid] – and never will your community be of any avail to you, however great its numbers: for, behold, God is [only] with those who believe!
[Hence,] O you who have attained to faith, pay heed unto God and His Apostle, and do not turn away from Him now that you hear [His message];
and be not like those who say, "We have heard," the while they do not hearken.
Verily, the vilest of all creatures in the sight of God are those deaf, those dumb ones who do not use their reason.
For, if God had seen any good in them, He would certainly have made them hear: but [as it is,] even if He had made them hear, they would surely have turned away in their obstinacy.
O you who have attained to faith! Respond to the call of God and the Apostle whenever he calls you unto that which will give you life; and know that God intervenes between man and [the desires of] his heart, and that unto Him you shall be gathered.
And beware of that temptation to evil which does not befall only those among you who are bent on denying the truth, to the exclusion of others; and know that God is severe in retribution.
And remember the time when you were few [and] helpless on earth, fearful lest people do away with you – whereupon He sheltered you, and strengthened you with His succour, and provided for you sustenance out of the good things of life, so that you might have cause to be grateful.
[Hence,] O you who have attained to faith, do not be false to God and the Apostle, and do not knowingly be false to the trust that has been reposed in you;
and know that your worldly goods and your children are but a trial and a temptation, and that with God there is a tremendous reward.
O you who have attained to faith! If you remain conscious of God, He will endow you with a standard by which to discern the true from the false, and will efface your bad deeds, and will forgive you your sins: for God is limitless in His great bounty.
AND [remember, O Prophet,] how those who were bent on denying the truth were scheming against thee, in order to restrain thee [from preaching], or to slay thee, or to drive thee away: thus have they [always] schemed: but God brought their scheming to nought – for God is above all schemers.
And whenever Our messages were conveyed to them, they would say, "We have heard [all this] before; if we wanted, we could certainly compose sayings like these [ourselves]: they are nothing but fables of ancient times!"
And, lo, they would say, "O God! If this be indeed the truth from Thee, then rain down upon us stones from the skies, or inflict [some other] grievous suffering on us!"
But God did not choose thus to chastise them while thou [O Prophet] wert still among them, nor would God chastise them when they [might yet] ask for forgiveness.
But what have they [now] in their favour that God should not chastise them – seeing that they bar [the believers] from the Inviolable House of Worship, although they are not its [rightful] guardians?
None but the God-conscious can be its guardians: but of this most of these [evildoers] are unaware;
and their prayers before the Temple are nothing but whistling and clapping of hands.
Taste then, [O unbelievers,] this chastisement as an outcome of your persistent denial of the truth!
Behold, those who are bent on denying the truth are spending their riches in order to turn others away from the path of God; and they will go on spending them until they become [a source of] intense regret for them; and then they will be overcome!
And those who [until their death] have denied the truth shall be gathered unto hell,
so that God might separate the bad from the good, and join the bad with one another, and link them all together [within His condemnation], and then place them in hell. They, they are the lost!
Tell those who are bent on denying the truth that if they desist, all that is past shall be forgiven them; but if they revert [to their wrongdoing], let them remember what happened to the like of them in times gone by.
And fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone.
And if they desist – behold, God sees all that they do;
and if they turn away [from righteousness], know that God is your Lord Supreme: [and] how excellent is this Lord Supreme, and how excellent this Giver of Succour!
AND KNOW that whatever booty you acquire [in war], one-fifth thereof belongs to God and the Apostle, and the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer.
[This you must observe] if you believe in God and in what We bestowed from on high upon Our servant on the day when the true was distinguished from the false – the day when the two hosts met in battle. And God has the power to will anything.
[Remember that day] when you were at the near end of the valley [of Badr], and they were at its farthest end, while the caravan was below you. And if you had known that a battle was to take place, you would indeed have refused to accept the challenge: but [the battle was brought about none the less,] so that God might accomplish a thing [which He willed] to be done, [and] that he who would perish might perish in clear evidence of the truth, and that he who would remain alive might live in clear evidence of the truth. And, behold, God is indeed all-hearing, all-knowing.
Lo! God showed them to thee in a dream as few: for, had He shown them to you as many, you would surely have lost heart, and would surely have disagreed with one another about what to do. But God saved [you from this]: verily, He has full knowledge of what is the hearts [of men].
And so, when you met in battle, He made them appear as few in your eyes – just as He made you appear as of little account in their eyes – so that God might accomplish a thing [which He willed] to be done: for all things go back to God [as their source].
[Hence,] O you who have attained to faith, when you meet a host in battle, be firm, and remember God often, so that you might attain to a happy state!
And pay heed unto God and His Apostle, and do not [allow yourselves to] be at variance with one another, lest you lose heart and your moral strength desert you. And be patient in adversity: for, verily, God is with those who are patient in adversity.
And be not like those [unbelievers] who went forth from their homelands full of self-conceit and a desire to be seen and praised by men: for they were trying to turn others away from the path of God – the while God encompassed all their doings [with His might].
And, lo, Satan made all their doings seem goodly to them, and said, "No one can overcome you this day, for, behold, I shall be your protector!" – but as soon as the two hosts came within sight of one another, he turned on his heels and said, "Behold, I am not responsible for you: behold, I see something that you do not see: behold, I fear God – for God is severe in retribution!"
At the same time, the hypocrites and those in whose hearts was disease were saying, "Their faith has deluded these [believers]!"
But he who places his trust in God [knows that], verily, God is almighty, wise.
AND IF thou couldst but see [how it will be] when He causes those who are bent on denying the truth to die: the angels will strike their faces and their backs, and [will say]: "Taste suffering through fire
in return for what your own hands have wrought – for never does God do the least wrong to His creatures!"
[To them shall happen] the like of what happened to Pharaoh’s people and those who lived before them: they denied the truth of God’s messages – and so God took them to task for their sins. Verily, God is powerful, severe in retribution!
This, because God would never change the blessings with which He has graced a people unless they change their inner selves: and [know] that God is all-hearing, all-knowing.
[To those sinners shall happen] the like of what happened to Pharaoh’s people and those who lived before them: they gave the lie to their Sustainer’s messages – and so We destroyed them in return for their sins, and caused Pharaoh’s people to drown: for they were evildoers all.
Verily, the vilest creatures in the sight of God are those who are bent on denying the truth and therefore do not believe.
AS FOR THOSE with whom thou hast made a covenant, and who thereupon break their covenant on every occasion, not being conscious of God –
if thou find them at war [with you], make of them a fearsome example for those who follow them, so that they might take it to heart;
or, if thou hast reason to fear treachery from people [with whom thou hast made a covenant], cast it back at them in an equitable manner: for, verily, God does not love the treacherous!
And let them not think – those who are bent on denying the truth – that they shall escape [God]: behold, they can never frustrate [His purpose].
Hence, make ready against them whatever force and war mounts you are able to muster, so that you might deter thereby the enemies of God, who are your enemies as well, and others besides them of whom you may be unaware, [but] of whom God is aware; and whatever you may expend in God’s cause shall be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged.
But if they incline to peace, incline thou to it as well, and place thy trust in God: verily, He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing!
And should they seek but to deceive thee [by their show of peace] – behold, God is enough for thee!
He it is who has strengthened thee with His succour, and by giving thee believing followers
whose hearts He has brought together: [for,] if thou hadst expended all that is on earth, thou couldst not have brought their hearts together [by thyself]: but God did bring them together. Verily, He is almighty, wise.
O Prophet! God is enough for thee and those of the believers who follow thee!
O Prophet! Inspire the believers to conquer all fear of death when fighting, [so that,] if there be twenty of you who are patient in adversity, they might overcome two hundred; and [that,] if there be one hundred of you, they might overcome one thousand of those who are bent on denying the truth, because they are people who cannot grasp it.
For the time being, [however,] God has lightened your burden, for He knows that you are weak: and so, if there be one hundred of you who are patient in adversity, they should [be able to] overcome two hundred; and if there be one thousand of you, they should [be able to] overcome two thousand by God’s leave: for God is with those who are patient in adversity.
IT DOES NOT behove a prophet to keep captives unless he has battled strenuously on earth. You may desire the fleeting gains of this world – but God desires [for you the good of] the life to come: and God is almighty, wise.
Had it not been for a decree from God that had already gone forth, there would indeed have befallen you a tremendous chastisement on account of all [the captives] that you took.
Enjoy, then, all that is lawful and good among the things which you have gained in war, and remain conscious of God: verily, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
[Hence,] O Prophet, say unto the captives who are in your hands: "If God finds any good in your hearts, He will give you something better than all that has been taken from you, and will forgive you your sins: for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace."
And should they but seek to play false with thee – well, they were false to God [Himself] ere this: but He gave [the believers] mastery over them. And God is all-knowing, wise.
BEHOLD, as for those who have attained to faith, and who have forsaken the domain of evil and are striving hard, with their possessions and their lives, in God’s cause, as well as those who shelter and succour [them] – these are [truly] the friends and protectors of one another.
But as for those who have come to believe without having migrated [to your country] – you are in no wise responsible for their protection until such a time as they migrate [to you]. Yet, if they ask you for succour against religious persecution, it is your duty to give [them] this succour – except against a people between whom and yourselves there is a covenant: for God sees all that you do.
With all this, [remember that] those who are bent on denying the truth are allies of one another; and unless you act likewise [among yourselves], oppression will reign on earth, and great corruption.
And they who have attained to faith, and who have forsaken the domain of evil and are striving hard in God’s cause, as well as those who shelter and succour [them] – it is they, they who are truly believers! Forgiveness of sins awaits them, and a most excellent sustenance.
And as for those who henceforth come to believe, and who forsake the domain of evil and strive hard [in God’s cause] together with you – these [too] shall belong to you; and they who are [thus] closely related have the highest claim on one another in [accordance with] God’s decree. Verily, God has full knowledge of everything.
* v.1 : The term nafl (of which anfāl is the plural) denotes, in its purely linguistic sense, “an accretion or addition received beyond one’s due” or “something given in excess of one’s obligation” (from which latter meaning the term salāt an-nafl – i.e., a “supererogatory prayer” – is derived). In its plural form anfāl, which occurs in the Qur’ān only in the above verse, this word signifies “spoils of war,” inasmuch as such spoils are an incidental accession above and beyond anything that a mujāhid (“a fighter in God’s cause”) is entitled to expect. The statement that “all spoils of war belong to God and the Apostle” implies that no individual warrior has a claim to any war booty: it is public property, to be utilized or distributed by the government of an Islamic state in accordance with the principles laid down in the Qur’ān and the teachings of the Prophet. For further details relating to the division of spoils of war, see verse 41 of this sūrah. – The immediate occasion of this revelation was the question of the booty acquired by the Muslims in the battle of Badr (an account of which is given in the introductory note to this sūrah); but the principle enunciated above is valid for all times and circumstances.
* Lit., “set to rights the relationship between yourselves” – i e., “remain conscious of your brotherhood in faith and banish all discord among yourselves.”
* v.2 : Lit., “and whenever His messages are conveyed to them, they increase them in faith.”
* v.3 : See sūrah 2, note 4.
* v.4 : I.e., in paradise. According to Rāzī, however, the “most excellent sustenance” is a metonym for “the spiritual raptures arising from the knowledge of God, the love of Him, and the self-immersion (istighrāq) in worshipping Him.” In Rāzī’s interpretation, this expression refers to the spiritual reward of faith in this world. Some commentators (cf. Manār IX, 597) regard the above definition of true believers as the most important passage of this sūrah. – The phrase rendered by me as “theirs shall be great dignity” reads, literally, “they shall have degrees,” namely, of excellence and dignity.
* v.6 : I.e., after it had become clear that it was indeed God’s will that the Muslims should give open battle to the Quraysh army. This reference to the antecedents of the battle of Badr (see the introductory note to this sūrah) connects with the admonition given in verse 1, “pay heed unto God and His Apostle,” as well as with the reminder, in verse 2, that true believers place all their trust in God. A few of the followers of the Prophet disliked the idea of giving battle to the main army of the Quraysh, instead of attacking the Meccan caravan returning from Syria and thus of acquiring easy booty; but the majority of them immediately declared that they would follow God’s Apostle wherever he might lead them. – Some of the commentators are inclined to relate the adverbial particle kamā (“just as” or “even as”), introducing this sentence, to the preceding passage and, thus, to their duty to follow God’s commands. Others, however, regard this interpretation as somewhat laboured, and relate the comparison implied in kamā to the first clause of verse 6, explaining the passage thus: “Just as some of the believers were averse to going forth from Medina to give battle to the Quraysh, so, too, they would argue with thee as to whether it was really willed by God.” This, in particular, was the view of Mujāhid, whom Tabarī quotes with approval in his commentary on this verse.
* v.7 : Lit., “while you would have liked the one which was not powerful to be yours” – i.e., the caravan coming from Syria, which was accompanied by only forty armed men and could, therefore, be attacked without great danger.
* The destruction of the Meccan army at Badr was the prelude to the elimination, in the course of the next few years, of all opposition to Islam in its homeland: and it is to this future fulfilment of God’s promise that the above words refer. See also sūrah 11, note 103.
* v.8 : The implication is that the truth of the Prophet’s cause could not have been vindicated by the Muslims’ overcoming and plundering the rich caravan which was approaching from the north. Although such an action would have benefited the Muslims materially, it would not have lessened the strength of the pagan Quraysh: while, on the other hand, the encounter at Badr with the main, heavily-armed Quraysh force, resulting as it did in a decisive victory of the Muslims, was destined to shatter the self-confidence of the enemy and thus to pave the way for the ultimate triumph of Islam in Arabia.
* v.10 : “On the day of the battle of Badr, the Prophet looked at his followers, who were three hundred and odd men, and he looked at those who were ascribing divinity to beings other than God: and lo, they were more than one thousand. Thereupon God’s Prophet turned towards the qiblah, raised his hands and thus implored his Sustainer: ‘O God! Fulfil what Thou hast promised me! O God! If this little band of those who have surrendered themselves unto Thee is destroyed, Thou wilt not be worshipped on earth...’.” This authentic Tradition, quoted by Muslim, Abū Dā’ūd, Tirmidhī, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, etc., appears also in a very similar version in Bukhārī’s Cahīh. It is said that the above Qur’ān-verse was revealed in response to the Prophet’s prayer – whereupon he recited another, much earlier verse (54:45): “The hosts shall be routed, and shall turn their backs [in flight]” (Bukhārī). – As regards the promise of aid through thousands of angels, see 3:124-125, where a similar promise – made on the occasion of the battle of Uhud – is said to have been uttered by the Prophet and thus, by implication, confirmed by God. The spiritual nature of this angelic aid is clearly expressed by the words, “and God ordained this only as a glad tiding...”, etc. (See also sūrah 3, notes 93 and 94.)
* v.11 : I.e., before the battle of Badr. Regarding the interpretation of nu‘ās as “inner calm,” see sūrah 3, note 112. Here it refers to the spiritual quiet and self-confidence of the believers in the face of overwhelming odds.
* Lit., “take away from you the pollution of Satan.” Immediately before the beginning of the battle, the Meccan army invested the wells of Badr, thus depriving the Muslims of water; and, under the influence of thirst, some of the latter fell prey to utter despair (here symbolized by “Satan’s unclean whisperings”) – when, suddenly, abundant rain fell and enabled them to satisfy their thirst (Tabarī, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbās).
* v.12 : The phrase “I am with you” is addressed (through the angels) to the believers – “for the purport of these words was the removal of fear, since it was the Muslims, and not the angels, who feared the deniers of the truth” (Rāzī).
* The following is, again, addressed to the believers (Rāzī). Verse 10 of this sūrah makes it clear that the aid of the angels was purely spiritual in nature; and there is no evidence anywhere in the Qur’ān that they did, or were meant to, participate in the battle in a physical sense. In his commentary on the above verse, Rāzī stresses this point repeatedly; among modern commentators, Rashīd Ridā’ emphatically rejects the legendary notion that angels actually fought in this or any other of the Prophet’s battles (see Manār IX, 612 ff.). It is mainly on the basis of Rāzī’s interpretation of this passage that I have interpolated, in several places, explanatory clauses between brackets.
* I.e., “destroy them utterly.”
* v.13 : Or: “contended against” (Baghawī). However, since the primary meaning of shāqqahu (“he separated himself from him” or “cut himself off from him”) comprises the concepts of both estrangement and opposition (Tabarī, Zamakhsharī, Rāzī), the rendering adopted by me seems to be the most suitable in this context.
* v.15 : I.e., in flight: the implication being that in view of God’s promise of victory no retreat is permissible. Since this verse (like the whole of this sūrah) relates predominantly to the battle of Badr, it may well be presumed that the above admonition forms part of the message of encouragement beginning with the words, “I am with you” (verse 12), which God commanded the angels to convey to the believers before the battle. In accordance with the didactic method of the Qur’ān, however, the moral lesson contained in this verse is not confined to the historical occasion to which it refers, but has the validity of a permanent law.
* v.17 : Lit., “you did not slay them” – i.e., in the battle of Badr, which ended with a complete victory of the Muslims.
* According to several Traditions, the Prophet cast, at the beginning of the battle, a handful of pebbles or dust in the direction of the enemy, thus symbolically indicating their approaching defeat. However, none of these accounts attains to the standard of authenticity described as sahīh (i.e., “reliable”) by the great exponents of the science of Tradition (‘ilm al-hadīth), and cannot, therefore, satisfactorily explain the above Qur’anic passage (see Ibn Kathīr’s commentary on this verse, as well as Manār IX, 620 f.). Since the verb ramā (lit., “he cast” or “flung”) applies also to the act of “shooting an arrow” or “flinging a spear,” it might be explained here as a reference to the Prophet’s active participation in the battle. Alternatively, it may denote his “casting terror,” i.e., into the hearts of his enemies, by his and his followers’ extreme valour. Whichever explanation is adopted, the above verse implies that the victory of the Muslims over the much more numerous and much better equipped army of the Quraysh was due to God’s grace alone: and, thus, it is a reminder to the faithful, of all times, not to indulge in undue pride in any of their achievements (which is the meaning of the “test” mentioned in the next sentence).
* Lit., “from Himself.”
* v.19 : There is no unanimity among the commentators as to whether this verse is addressed to the believers or to their opponents at Badr, that is, the pagan Quraysh. While some of the commentators (e.g., Rāzī) are of the opinion that it is an admonition to the believers and understand it in the sense rendered by me above, others maintain that it is a warning addressed to the Quraysh. In order to justify this view, they give to the word fath (lit., “opening”) occurring in the first sentence the meaning of “judgment” or “decision” (which is undoubtedly permissible from the linguistic point of view), and arrive at the following rendering: “If you have been seeking a decision [O unbelievers] – a decision has now indeed come unto you. And if you abstain [from making war on God and His Apostle], it will be for your own good; but if you revert to it, We shall revert [to defeating you] – and never will your army be of any avail to you, however great its numbers: for, behold, God is with the believers!”
As can be seen from this alternative rendering, the difference in interpretation pivots on the tropical meaning which one gives to the words fath (“decision” or “victory”) and fi’ah (“army” or “community”). As regards the latter, it is to be borne in mind that its primary significance is “a group” or “a congregated body of men” – more or less synonymous with tā’ifah or jamā‘ah; it can, therefore, be used to denote “an army” as well as “a community.” Similarly, the expression na‘ūd can be understood in either of two ways: namely, as meaning “We shall revert [to defeating you]” – or, as in my rendering, “We shall revoke [Our promise of aid]” – addressed, in the one instance to the unbelievers, and in the other, to the believers. (For the use of the verb ‘āda in the sense of “he revoked,” see Tāj al-‘Arūs; also Lane V, 2189.) But while both interpretations of the above verse are linguistically justified, the one adopted by me (and supported, according to Ibn Kathīr, by Ubayy ibn Ka‘b) is in greater harmony with the context, inasmuch as both the preceding and subsequent passages are unmistakably addressed to the believers. Thus, the verse must be understood as a reminder to the Muslims that God will be with them only so long as they remain firm in faith and righteous in action, and that, however large their community may be in the future, they will be powerless unless they are true believers.
* v.21 : See 2:93 and 4:46, and the corresponding notes. While in the above-mentioned two instances the Jews are alluded to, the present allusion is more general, and relates to all people who have come to know and understand the message of the Qur’ān, but pay no heed to it.
* v.22 : Lit., “animals that walk or crawl” (dawāb, sing. dābbah), including man as well.
* v.24 : I.e., between a man’s desires and the outward action that may result from those desires: indicating that God can turn man away from what his heart urges him to do (Rāghib). In other words, it is God-consciousness alone that can prevent man from being misled by wrong desires and, thus, from becoming like “those deaf, those dumb ones who do not use their reason” (verse 22 above); and it is God-consciousness alone that can enable man to follow the call “unto that which gives life” – that is, spiritual awareness of right and wrong and the will to act accordingly.
* v.25 : The term fitnah – here rendered as “temptation to evil” – comprises a wide range of concepts, e.g., “seduction” or “trial” or “test” or “an affliction whereby one is tried”; hence also “confusion” (as in 3:7 and 6:23), “discord” or “dissension” (because it constitutes a “trial” of human groups), as well as “persecution” and “oppression” (because it is an affliction which may cause man to go astray and to lose his faith in spiritual values – a meaning in which the word fitnah is used in 2:191 and 193); and, finally, “sedition” and “civil war” (because it leads whole communities astray). Since the expression “temptation to evil” is applicable to all these meanings, it appears to be the most suitable in the above context: the idea being that it is not merely the deliberate deniers of spiritual truths who are exposed to such a temptation, but that also people who are otherwise righteous may fall prey to it unless they remain always, and consciously, on their guard against anything that might lead them astray from the right course.
* v.26 : A reference to the weakness of the believers in the early days of Islam, before their exodus from Mecca to Medina. In its wider meaning, it is a reminder to every community of true believers, at all times, of their initial weakness and numerical insignificance and their subsequent growth in numbers and influence.
* v.27 : Lit., “do not be false to your trusts, the while you know.” Regarding the deeper meaning of amānah (“trust”), see note 87 on 33:72.
* v.28 : Inasmuch as love of worldly goods and a desire to protect one’s family may lead a person to transgression (and, thus, to a betrayal of the moral values postulated in God’s message), they are described as fitnah – which, in this context, is best rendered by the two words “trial and temptation.” This reminder connects with verse 25 above, “beware of that temptation to evil which does not befall only those who are bent on denying the truth,” since it is acquisitiveness and a desire to confer benefits on one’s own family which often tempt an otherwise good person to offend against the rights of his fellow-men. It is to be borne in mind that, contrary to the New Testament, the Qur’ān does not postulate a contempt for worldly attachments as a pre-requisite of righteousness: it only demands of man that he should not allow these attachments to deflect him from the pursuit of moral verities.
* v.29 : I.e., the faculty of moral valuation (Manār IX, 648). See also sūrah 2, note 38.
* v.30 : While the first sentence of this verse is a reference to the persecution to which the Prophet and his followers had been exposed in Mecca before their exodus to Medina, this concluding passage points to the ever-recurring fact of man’s religious history that those who deny the truth of divine revelation are always intent on rendering its preachers powerless or destroying them, either physically or, figuratively, through ridicule.
* v.31 : Cf. 6:25. As regards the expression la-qulnā – here rendered as “we could certainly [ourselves] compose” – it is to be remembered that the verb qāla does not always signify only “he said,” but also “he asserted” or “expressed an opinion,” as well as – in connection with a literary production – “he composed”: thus, qāla shi‘r means “he composed a poem.” In the above context, this expression alludes to the oft-repeated (but never fulfilled) boast of the pagan Quraysh that they could produce a poetic message comparable in merit to that of the Qur’ān; in its wider sense, it is an allusion to the attitude of many unbelievers towards revealed scriptures in general.
* v.32 : This sarcastic appeal of the unbelievers – referred to several times in the Qur’ān – is meant to stress their conviction that the Qur’ān is not a divine revelation. According to Anas ibn Mālik, these words were first uttered by Abū Jahl, the Prophet’s chief opponent at Mecca, who was killed in the battle of Badr (Bukhārī).
* v.33 : I.e., in Mecca, before the exodus to Medina.
* v.34 : At the time of the revelation of this sūrah (the year 2 H.) Mecca was still in the possession of the hostile Quraysh, and no Muslim was allowed to enter it. Owing to their descent from Abraham, the Quraysh considered themselves entitled to the guardianship of the Ka‘bah (“the Inviolable House of Worship”), which had been built by Abraham as the first temple ever dedicated to the One God (see sūrah 2, note 102). The Qur’ān refutes this contention, just as it refutes the claim of the children of Israel to being “the chosen people” by virtue of their descent from Abraham. (Cf. in this connection 2:124, and especially the last sentence, “My covenant does not embrace the wrongdoers.”) Although they still retained a modicum of belief in God, the Quraysh had entirely forsaken the unitarian faith of Abraham, thus forfeiting any moral claim to the guardianship of the Temple (al-bayt) built by him.
* v.35 : The chastisement or suffering referred to here was their crushing defeat at Badr.
* v.38 : I.e., from their endeavour to turn others away from the path of God and from waging war against the believers.
* Lit., “the example (sunnah) of the people of old times has already come to pass”: an allusion to the disasters that have overtaken, and are bound to overtake, those who persistently deny moral truths.
* v.39 : I.e., until man is free to worship God. Cf. the identical phrase in 2:193, and the corresponding note. Both these passages stress self-defence – in the widest sense of this word – as the only justification of war.
* I.e., He knows their motives, and will requite them according to their merits.
* v.41 : According to verse 1 of this sūrah, “all spoils of war belong to God and the Apostle,” i.e., are to be administered by the authorities of an Islamic state in the interests of the common weal. Most of the great Islamic jurists are of the opinion that whereas four-fifths of all spoils may either be distributed among those who actively took part in the war effort or may be otherwise utilized for the welfare of the community, one-fifth must be reserved for the specific purposes enumerated in the above verse, including a share “for God and the Apostle” (which is obviously a metonym for a government that rules in accordance with the laws of the Qur’ān and the teachings of God’s Apostle); this latter share is to be used for the exigencies of state administration. Since a full discussion of this complex juridical problem would go far beyond the scope of these explanatory notes, the reader is referred, in particular, to Manār X, 4ff., where the views of the classical exponents of Islamic jurisprudence are summarized. – For the term ibn as-sabīl occurring in this verse, see sūrah 2, note 145. By “the near of kin and the orphans” apparently the relatives of fallen combatants are meant in this context.
* I.e., “He can grant you victory or can withhold it from you.” The battle of Badr is described here as “the day when the true was distinguished from the false” (yawm al-furqān) because on that occasion a small and poorly armed group of believers utterly destroyed an infinitely better equipped army more than three times its number. The revelation referred to in this connection was God’s promise of victory, given in verses 12-14 of this sūrah. (See also note 38 on 2:53.)
* v.42 : Before the beginning of the battle, the Prophet and his followers were encamped in the northern part of the valley of Badr, nearest to Medina, while their enemies, having come from Mecca, occupied its southern part. The Meccan trade caravan, coming from Syria under the leadership of Abū Sufyān, was in the meantime proceeding southwards through the coastal lowlands (see introductory note to this sūrah).
* This is a very free rendering of the elliptic phrase which runs, literally, thus: “And if you had mutually made an appointment, you would indeed have failed to keep the appointment” – i.e., for battle. As already mentioned in the introductory note to this sūrah, most of the Prophet’s followers had been under the impression that their objective was the relatively weak trade caravan, and some of them were dismayed at finding themselves face to face with the powerful Quraysh army advancing from the south.
* According to all the commentators, the words interpolated by me between brackets are implied in this highly elliptical sentence. Literally translated, its last words might be rendered as “a thing that was [already] done”: meaning that if God decrees a thing, it must inevitably come about, and may therefore be described as already done.
* Some of the great commentators understand this sentence in a metaphorical sense, with “destruction” signifying persistence in denying the truth (kufr), and “life” being synonymous with faith. According to this interpretation, the above sentence would have the following meaning: “…so that the denial of the truth on the part of him who has denied it, and the faith of him who has attained to it, might become clearly evident” Zamakhsharī); or “let him who is bent on denying the truth go on denying it after this clear evidence of God’s will, and let him who has attained to belief go on believing” (Ibn Ishāq, as quoted by Ibn Kathīr). In my opinion, however, it is preferable to interpret the references to death and life in their prima-facie (that is, not metaphorical) sense – namely, as applying to the death or survival of all who took part in the battle of Badr, believers and unbelievers alike: the believers who fell in that battle died conscious of being martyrs in God’s cause, and those who survived could now clearly discern God’s hand in their victory; while the dead among the deniers of the truth had clearly given their lives for nothing, and those of them who survived must now realize that their crushing defeat was due, in the last resort, to something infinitely greater than the valour of the Muslims (cf. verse 17, and the corresponding notes).
* v.43 : Lit., “in thy dream” – obviously relating to a dream which the Prophet had had just before the encounter at Badr. We have no authentic Tradition to this effect, but the tābi‘ī Mujāhid is quoted as having said, “God had shown the enemies to the Prophet, in a dream, as few; he informed his Companions accordingly, and this encouraged them greatly” (Rāzī and Ibn Kathīr, with minor variants).
* Lit., “about the matter” – i.e., about the advisability of giving battle or retreating.
* v.44 : See note 45 above. Since at the time of the actual encounter the Muslims could no longer be in doubt as to the great number of the enemy force, the phrase “He made them appear as few in your eyes” has obviously a metaphorical meaning: it implies that, by that time, the Prophet’s followers were so full of courage that the enemy appeared insignificant to them. The Quraysh, on the other hand, were so conscious of their own power and numerical superiority that the Muslims appeared but of little account to them – a mistake which ultimately cost them the battle and a great number of lives.
* v.46 : The relevant word is rīh, which literally signifies “wind”; it is used metaphorically to denote “spirit” or “moral strength.”
* v.47 : A reference to the Quraysh army which set forth from Mecca under the leadership of Abū Jahl in the conviction that they would destroy the Prophet and his followers. These words imply a warning to the believers, of all times, never to go to war boastfully and for the sake of empty glory.
* v.48 : Lit., “your neighbour” – an expression derived from the ancient Arabian principle that a man is honour-bound to aid and protect his neighbours.
* This allegory of Satan’s blandishments and of his subsequent abandonment of the sinner occurs, in a more general form, in 59:16.
* v.49 : I.e., into thinking that in spite of their numerical weakness and lack of arms, they could withstand the powerful Meccan army. The term dīn, often denoting “religion,” obviously stands here for the attitude one has towards his religion: in another word, one’s faith. “Those in whose hearts was disease” is a reference to the vacillating and faint-hearted among the Prophet’s followers, who were afraid of meeting the Quraysh in battle. – The particle idh which introduces this sentence has often the meaning of “when”; in this case, however, it signifies “at the same time.”
* v.50 : Or: “…when the angels gather in death those who were bent on denying the truth, they strike...”, etc. – depending on whether one attributes the pronoun in yatawaffā to the angels, which gives the reading “they gather [them] in death,” or to God, in which case it means “He causes [them] to die” (Zamakhsharī and Rāzī). – The beating of the sinners’ faces and backs is, according to Rāzī, an allegory of their suffering in the life to come in consequence of their having denied the truth while alive in this world: “They have utter darkness behind them and utter darkness before them – and this is the meaning of the words, ‘[the angels] strike their faces and their backs’.” Most of the commentators assume that this passage refers specifically to the pagan Quraysh who fell in the battle of Badr; but while it undoubtedly does apply to them, there is no reason, in my opinion, to restrict its import to this particular historical event – especially in view of the subsequent passages (up to and including verse 55), which obviously refer to all who are “bent on denying the truth.”
* v.53 : I.e., withdraw.
* For an explanation of the wide implications of this statement in the context of the law of cause and effect which God has decreed on His creation (and which is described elsewhere in the Qur’ān as sunnat Allāh, “the way of God”), see my note on the phrase “God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves” occurring in 13:11.
* v.55 : Cf. verse 22 of this sūrah, where the same epithet is applied to human beings “who do not use their reason.” In the present instance, it should be noted, the particle fa at the beginning of the phrase fa-hum lā yu’minūn has the meaning of “and therefore: (“and therefore they do not believe”): thus showing that lack of belief in spiritual verities is a consequence of one’s being “bent on denying the truth.” Expressed in positive terms, this amounts to the statement that belief in any ethical proposition depends on one’s readiness to consider it on its merits and to admit the truth of whatever one’s mind judges to be in conformity with other – empirically or intuitively established – truths. As regards the expression alladhīna kafarū, the use of the past tense is meant here, as so often in the Qur’ān, to stress the element of intention, and is, therefore, consistently rendered by me – wherever the context warrants it – as “those who are bent on denying the truth” (see also sūrah 2, note 6).
* v.56 : Lit., “every time.” The covenants referred to are agreements between the Muslim community and non-Muslim political groups. Although this passage is addressed, in the first instance, to the Prophet, the “thou” relates here to every follower of the Qur’ān and, thus, to the Muslim community of all times. With the above verse, the discourse returns to the subject of war with unbelievers to which most of this sūrah is devoted. The reference to the unbelievers’ “breaking their covenants” has two implications: firstly, that the establishment of covenants (i.e., of peaceful relations) with non-Muslims is not only permissible but, in fact, desirable (cf. verse 61); and, secondly, that the Muslims may resort to war only if and when the other party is openly hostile to them.
* v.57 : Lit., “put to flight, by means of them, those who come after them”; or “terrify through them those who follow them”: i.e., “fight against them and inflict an exemplary punishment on them.”
* v.58 : The “reason to fear treachery” must not, of course, be based on mere surmise but on clear, objective evidence (Tabarī, Baghawī, Rāzī; also Manār X, 58).
* I.e., “renounce the covenant in an equitable manner (‘alā sawā’).” Tabarī explains this sentence thus: “Before making war on them, inform them that because of the clear evidence of their treachery thou hast renounced the treaty which existed between thee and them, so that both thou and they should know that thou art at war with them.” Baghawī, in his commentary on this verse, gives an almost identical interpretation and adds, “so that they should not be under the false impression that thou hast renounced the treaty after having started the war.” Thus, the concluding sentence of this verse – “God does not love the treacherous” – is a warning to the believers as well as to their enemies (Manār X, 58 f.).
* v.59 : Lit., “that they have outstripped.”
* v.60 : Lit., “tethering of horses” (ribāt al-khayl): an expression which signifies “holding in readiness mounted troops at all points open to enemy invasion (thughūr)”; hence, tropically, the over-all maintenance of military preparedness.
* Lit., “God’s enemy and your enemy” – implying that every “enemy of God” (i.e., everyone who deliberately opposes and seeks to undermine the moral laws laid down by God) is, eo ipso, an enemy of those who believe in Him.
* I.e., of resources, efforts, and sacrifice of life.
* v.62 : The implication is that “even if they offer peace only with a view to deceiving thee, this [offer of] peace must be accepted, since all judgment [of their intentions] must be based on outward evidence alone” (Rāzī): in other words, mere suspicion cannot be made an excuse for rejecting an offer of peace.
* Lit., “and by the believers”: thus signifying the visible means (wāsitah) by which God succoured the Prophet.
* v.65 : For an explanation of the phrase harrid al-mu’minīn, see sūrah 4, note 102. Consistently with my interpretation, the words ‘alā ’l-qitāl can be rendered here in either of two ways: “[with a view] to fighting” or “when fighting.” On the basis of the conventional interpretation of the verb harrid as “urge” or “rouse,” the phrase could be translated as “urge the believers to fight”: but this, as I have pointed out in the earlier note referred to above, does not convey the true sense of this injunction.
* Some of the commentators see in this verse a divine prediction, thus: “If there be twenty of you..., they shall overcome two hundred...,” etc. Since, however, history shows that the believers, even at the time of the Prophet, were not always victorious against such odds, the above view is not tenable. In order to understand this passage correctly, we must read it in close conjunction with the opening sentence, “Inspire the believers to conquer all fear of death,” whereupon we arrive at the meaning given in my rendering: namely, an exhortation to the believers to conquer all fear of death and to be so patient in adversity that they might be able to overcome an enemy many times their number (Rāzī; see also Manār X, 87). The concluding words of this verse – “because they are people who cannot grasp it [i.e., the truth]” – can be understood in either of two ways: (a) as giving an additional reason of the true believers’ superiority over “those who are bent on denying the truth” (alladhīna kafarū), inasmuch as the latter, not believing in the eternal verities and in life after death, cannot rise to that enthusiasm and readiness for self-sacrifice which distinguishes the true believers; or (b) as explaining that “those who are bent on denying the truth” deny it simply because their spiritual deafness and blindness prevents them from grasping it. To my mind, the second of these two interpretations is preferable, and particularly so in view of the fact that the Qur’ān often explains in these terms the attitude of “those who deny the truth” (e.g., in 6:25, 7:179, 9:87, etc.).
* v.66 : This relates to the time at which the above verse was revealed, namely, immediately after the battle of Badr (2 H.), when the Muslims were extremely weak both in numbers and in equipment, and their community had not yet attained to any significant degree of political organization. Under those circumstances, the Qur’ān says, they could not – nor could any Muslim community of later times, in similar circumstances – be expected to bring forth the effort and the efficiency required of a fully developed community of believers; but even so they should be able to stand up to an enemy twice their number. (The proportions one to two, or – as in the preceding verse, one to ten – are not, of course, to be taken literally; as a matter of fact, the Muslims defeated at Badr a much better armed army more than thrice their own number.) The reference to God’s having “lightened the burden” imposed on the believers in this respect makes it clear that both this and the preceding verse imply a divine command couched in terms of exhortation, and not a prediction of events to come (Rāzī).
* v.67 : I.e., as an aftermath of a war in a just cause. As almost always in the Qur’ān, an injunction addressed to the Prophet is, by implication, binding on his followers as well. Consequently, the above verse lays down that no person may be taken, or for any time retained, in captivity unless he was taken prisoner in a jihād – that is, a holy war in defence of the Faith or of freedom (regarding which see sūrah 2, note 167) – and that, therefore, the acquisition of a slave by “peaceful” means, and the keeping of a slave thus acquired, is entirely prohibited: which, to all practical purposes, amounts to a prohibition of slavery as a “social institution.” But even with regard to captives taken in war, the Qur’ān ordains (in 47:4) that they should be freed after the war is over.
* v.68 : This is apparently a reference to the captives taken by the Muslims at Badr, and the discussions among the Prophet’s followers as to what should be done with them. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb was of the opinion that they should be killed in revenge for their past misdeeds, and in particular for their persecution of the Muslims before the latters’ exodus to Medina; Abū Bakr, on the other hand, pleaded for forgiveness and a release of the prisoners against ransom, supporting his plea with the argument that such an act of mercy might induce some of them to realize the truth of Islam. The Prophet adopted the course of action advocated by Abū Bakr, and released the captives. (The relevant Traditions are quoted by most of the commentators, and especially – with full indication of the sources – by Tabarī and Ibn Kathīr.) The reference in the above verse to the “tremendous chastisement” that might have befallen the Muslims “but for a decree (kitāb) from God that had already gone forth” – i.e., a course of action fore-ordained in God’s knowledge – makes it clear that the killing of the captives would have been an awesome sin.
* v.70 : I.e., “If God finds in your hearts a disposition to realize the truth of His message, He will bestow on you faith and, thus, the good of the life to come: and this will outweigh by far your defeat in war and the loss of so many of your friends and companions.” Although these words relate primarily to the pagan Quraysh taken prisoner in the battle of Badr, they circumscribe the Islamic attitude towards all unbelieving enemies who might fall into the believers’ hands in the course of war. For a further discussion of the problem of prisoners of war, see 47:4.
* v.71 : I.e., by falsely pretending to a change of heart and an acceptance of Islam in order to be freed from the obligation of paying ransom.
* Sc., “and He can, if He so wills, do it again.” Thus, the Muslims are enjoined, by implication, to accept the declarations of the captives at their face value, and not to be swayed by mere suspicion of their motives. The possibility of treachery on the part of those captives, and even a later discovery that some of them had indeed played false, should not induce the Muslims to deviate from the course ordained by God.
* v.72 : See sūrah 2, note 203. Historically, this expression relates to the Meccan Muslims who migrated with the Prophet to Medina; but the sequence makes it clear that the definitions and injunctions provided by this verse are in the nature of a general law, valid for all times. With all this, it should be noted that the hijrah referred to here has a preponderantly physical connotation, implying an emigration from a non-Muslim country to a country ruled by the Law of Islam.
* This refers, in the first instance, to the ansār at Medina – that is, to the newly-converted Muslims of that town, who gave shelter and whole-hearted aid to the muhājirīn (“emigrants”) from Mecca before and after the Prophet’s own migration thither: but, similar to the spiritual meaning attaching to the terms hijrah and muhājir, the expression ansār transcends its purely historical connotation and applies to all believers who aid and give comfort to “those who flee from evil unto God.”
* I.e., those Muslims who, for some reason or other, remain outside the political jurisdiction of the Islamic state. Since not every non-Muslim country is necessarily a “domain of evil,” I am rendering the phrase wa-lam yuhājirū as “without having migrated [to your country].”
* Lit., “to succour them in religion”: implying that they are exposed to persecution on account of their religious beliefs.
* I.e., a treaty of alliance or of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. Since in such cases an armed intervention of the Islamic state in behalf of the Muslim citizens of a non-Muslim state would constitute a breach of treaty obligations, the Islamic state is not allowed to seek redress by force. A solution of the problem could conceivably be brought about by negotiations between the two states or, alternatively, by an emigration of the persecuted Muslims.
* v.73 : The fact of their being bent on denying the truth of the divine message constitutes, as it were, a common denominator between them, and precludes the possibility of their ever being real friends to the believers. This refers, of course, to relations between communities, and not necessarily between individuals: hence my rendering of the term awliyā’, in this context, as “allies.”
* v.74 : See note 5 on verse 4 of this sūrah.
* v.75 : Although the expression alladhīna āmanū (lit., “those who have come to believe”) is in the past tense, the words min ba‘d (“afterwards” or “henceforth”) indicate a future time in relation to the time at which this verse was revealed: hence, the whole sentence beginning with alladhīna āmanū must be understood as referring to the future (Manār X, 134 f.; see also Rāzī’s commentary on this verse).
* I.e., they, too, shall belong to the brotherhood of Islam, in which the faith held in common supplies the decisive bond between believer and believer.
* The classical commentators are of the opinion that this last clause refers to actual family relations, as distinct from the spiritual brotherhood based on a community of faith. According to these commentators, the above sentence abolished the custom which was prevalent among the early Muslims, whereby the ansār (“the helpers” – i.e., the newly-converted Muslims of Medina) concluded, individually, symbolic ties of brotherhood with the muhājirīn (“the emigrants” from Mecca), who, almost without exception, arrived at Medina in a state of complete destitution: ties of brotherhood, that is, which entitled every muhājir to a share in the property of his “brother” from among the ansār, and, in the event of the latter’s death, to a share in the inheritance left by him. The above verse is said to have prohibited such arrangements by stipulating that only actual close relations should henceforth have a claim to inheritance. To my mind, however, this interpretation is not convincing. Although the expression ūlu ’l-arhām is derived from the noun rahm (also spelt rihm and rahīm), which literally signifies “womb,” one should not forget that it is tropically used in the sense of “kinship,” “relationship,” or “close relationship” in general (i.e., not merely blood-relationship). Thus, “in the classical language, ūlu ’l-arhām means any relations: and in law, any relations that have no portion [of the inheritances termed farā’id]” (Lane III, 1056, citing, among other authorities, the Tāj al-‘Arūs). In the present instance, the reference to “close relations” comes at the end of a passage which centres on the injunction that the believers must be “the friends and protectors (awliyā’) of one another,” and that all later believers shall, similarly, be regarded as members of the Islamic brotherhood. If the reference to “close relations” were meant to be taken in its literal sense and conceived as alluding to laws of inheritance, it would be quite out of tune with the rest of the passage, which stresses the bonds of faith among true believers, as well as the moral obligations arising from these bonds.
* In my opinion, therefore, the above verse has no bearing on laws of inheritance, but is meant to summarize, as it were, the lesson of the preceding verses: All true believers, of all times, form one single community in the deepest sense of this word; and all who are thus closely related in spirit have the highest claim on one another in accordance with God’s decree that “all believers are brethren” (49:10).