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Surat Al-'Anfāl (The Spoils of War)

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    Period of Revelation: This Surah was revealed in 2 A. H. after the battle of Badr, the first battle between Islam and Kufr. Since it contains a detailed and comprehensive review of the battle, it appears that the whole Surah was revealed at the same time. Major Issues, Divine Laws and Guidance:

    • Battle of truth and falsehood.
    • Truth should not fear to be cowed down by odds against it.
    • Fighting should not be for spoils or gains but for a just cause.
    • Laws relating to peace and war.
    • Relation of an Islamic state with Muslims living in non-Muslim countries.
      The battle of Badr took place in the 2nd year of Hijrah, therefore, rules and regulations relating to peace and a critical review of war have been made in this Surah. But this review is quite different from the reviews that are usually made by worldly commanders after a great victory. Instead of gloating over the victory, the moral weaknesses that had come to the surface in that expedition have been pointed out as follows:
    1. That the victory was due to the help of Allah rather than to their own valor and bravery has been stressed so that the Muslims should learn to rely on Him and obey Allah and His Rasool.
    2. The moral lesson to be learned from the conflict between the truth and falsehood have been explained.
    3. The mushrikeen, the hypocrites, the Jews, and the prisoners of war are addressed in a very impressive manner advising them to learn a lesson.
    4. Instructions are given in regard to the spoils of war. The Muslims have been told not to regard these as their right but as a bounty from Allah. Therefore, they should accept with gratitude the share that is granted to them out of it and willingly accede to the share which Allah sets aside for His cause, for His Rasool, and for the help of the needy.
    5. It gives instructions concerning the laws of peace and war, for these were urgently needed at the stage, in which the Islamic movement had entered. It enjoined the Muslims to refrain from the ways of ignorance whether they are in peace or at war, and thus establish their moral superiority in the world.
    6. This Surah also states some articles of the Islamic Constitution which differentiate the status of Muslims living within the limits of Dar-al-Islam (the Abode of Islam) from that of the Muslims living beyond its limits.
      In order to understand the circumstances and conditions which were being faced by the Muslim community and the Islamic State, in relation to which Divine guidance and laws were enacted, it is important to know how the battle of Badr took place.   Battle of Badr The message of Islam had proved its firmness and stability. However, the Muslims had not yet had an opportunity to demonstrate practically the blessings of the system of life based on Islam. There was neither Islamic culture, nor any social, economic or political system; nor were there any established principles of war and peace. Therefore, the Muslims had no opportunity for demonstrating those moral principles on which they intended to build their entire system of life; nor had it been proved on the touchstone of trial that the Muslims as a community were sincere in their proclamation of the message. Allah created opportunities for making up these deficiencies at Madinah. The people of Makkah had realized that Muhammad (peace be upon him), who had a great personality and possessed extraordinary talents, was going to gain a strong footing in Madinah. This would help integrate his followers – whose constancy, determination, and unwavering fidelity to Al-Islam had been tried – into a disciplined community under his wise leadership and guidance. They knew that this would spell death for their old ways of life. They also realized the strategic importance of Madinah to their trade, which was their main source of livelihood. The Muslims could strike at the caravans travelling on the trade route between Yemen and Syria, and thus strike at the root of their economy. The value of the trade done by the people of Makkah on this route amounted to about two hundred thousand dinars annually. In Sh’aban, 2 A. H. (February or March, 623 A. D.) a large trade caravan of the Quraish, on its way back from Syria carrying goods worth over 50,000 dinars with a guard of thirty to forty men, reached the territory from where it could be easily attacked from Madinah. As soon as the caravan entered the dangerous territory, Abu Sufyan, the caravan’s leader, despatched a camel rider to Makkah with a frantic appeal for help. This caused great excitement and anger at Makkah. An army of approximately 1000 warriors with great pomp and show marched towards Madinah. They intended not only to rescue the caravan but also to put an end to the rising power of the Muslims and overawe the clans surrounding the route so as to make it absolutely secure for future trade. The Prophet, who always kept himself well informed, felt that the hour had come to take a bold step; otherwise the Islamic Movement would become lifeless with no chance to rise again. The condition of the Muslim community was still very shaky because the Muslim immigrants from Makkah (Muhajireen) had not been able to stabilize their economy; their helpers (the Ansar) from the natives of Madinah, who became Muslims after the Prophet and his followers migrated there from Makkah, had not yet been tested; and the neighboring Jewish clans could not be trusted. Above all, the surrounding clans lived in awe of the Quraish and had all their religious sympathies with them. Therefore, the consequences of the coming attack could not be favorable to the Muslims. A careful study of the situation indicated to the Prophet that he should take a decisive step and go into the battle with whatever strength he could muster and demonstrate whether the Muslim community had the ability to survive or was doomed to perish. The Prophet’s analysis of the situation was supported by Divine inspiration, therefore, he called the Muhajireen and the Ansar to a meeting and placed the whole situation before them, without any reservation, “Allah has promised that you will confront one of the two, the trade caravan coming from the north or the army of the Quraish marching from the south. Now, tell me which of the two you would like to confront!” The majority of the people replied that they should go for the caravan. When the Prophet repeated the same question, Miqdad bin ‘Amr, a Muhajir, stood up and said: “O Rasool of Allah!  Please march in the direction which Allah commands you; we will accompany you wherever you go. We will not say like the Israelites: ‘You and your Rabb go and fight, we will wait.’ In contrast to them we say: ‘Let you and your Rabb decide; we will fight by your side to our last breath.’ ” Even then, he did not announce any decision, but waited for a reply from the Ansar who had not yet taken part in any confrontation for Islam. As this was the first opportunity for them to prove that they were ready to fulfill their promise of fighting for the cause of Islam, he repeated the question without directly addressing them. At this, Sa’ad bin Mu’az, an Ansar, stood up and said: “O Rasool of Allah, it appears that you are addressing this question to us.” When the Prophet said, “Yes,” he replied, “We have believed in you and confirmed that what you have brought is the truth, and have made a solemn pledge with you that we will listen to you and obey you. Therefore, O Rasool of Allah, do whatever you intend to do. We swear by Allah Who has sent you with the truth that we are ready to accompany you to the seashore and if you enter it, we will plunge into it. We assure you that not a single one of us will remain behind or forsake you, for we will not hesitate at all to go to fight, even if you should lead us to the battlefield tomorrow. We will, Insha Allah (Allah willing), remain steadfast in the battle and sacrifice our lives for Islam. We do hope that by the grace of Allah our behavior will gladden your heart. So, trusting in Allah’s blessing, take us to the battlefield.” After this it was decided that they would march towards the army of the Quraish and not towards the trade caravan. The number of people who came forward to go to the battlefield was only a little more than three hundred (86 Muhajireen, 62 from Aus, and 170 from Khazraj). Over and above that, this little army was ill-armed and hardly equipped for battle. Only a couple of them had horses to ride and the others had to take their turn in threes or fours on a camel back. They had a total of 70 camels. They did not even have enough weapons for the battle; only 60 of them had armor. They marched straight to the southwest, wherefrom the army of the Quraish was coming. This is also an indication that, from the very beginning, they had gone out to fight with the army and not to plunder the caravan. If they had aimed at plundering the caravan they would have taken the north-westernly direction rather than the southwest. The two parties met in combat at Badr on the seventeenth day of Ramadan. When the two armies confronted each other and the Prophet noticed that the Quraish army outnumbered the Muslims by three to one and was much better equipped, he raised his hands up in supplication and made this earnest prayer with great humility: “O Allah! Here are the Quraish, proud of their war material. They have come to prove that Your Rasool is false. O Allah! Now send the help that You have promised me. O Allah! If this little army of Your devotees is destroyed, then there will be no one left in the land to worship You.” In this combat the emigrants from Makkah were put to the hardest test because they had to fight against their own relatives, putting to the sword their fathers, sons, brothers, and uncles. It is obvious that only such people could do this who had accepted the truth sincerely and cut off all relations with falsehood. Similarly, the test to which the Ansar were put was not less hard. So far the Ansar had only alienated the powerful Quraish and their allies by giving shelter to the Muslims against their wishes, but now, for the first time, they were going to give them a fight and sow the seeds of a long and bitter war with them. This meant that a small town of a few thousand inhabitants was going to wage a war with the whole of Arabia. It is obvious that only such people could take a stand who believed in the Truth of Islam so firmly that they were ready to sacrifice every personal interest for its sake. Allah accepted these sacrifices of the Muhajireen and the Ansar because of their true faith, and rewarded them with His help through angels. The proud, well-armed Quraish were defeated by these ill-equipped devotees of Islam. Seventy men of the Quraish army were killed and seventy captured as prisoners of war. Their arms and equipment came into the hands of the Muslims as spoils of war. All their big chiefs, who were their best soldiers and who had led the opposition to Islam, were killed in this battle. This decisive victory made Islam a power to be reckoned with.

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    the muslims’ defeat at the battle of U^ud in 625 ac, like their victory a year earlier at Badr in 624 ac, was not expected. Neverthe- less, unexpected events are often the best means to test the caliber and tenacity of people. This surah was revealed in the wake of the Muslims’ triumph at Badr to explain and identify the influence of God and the role of people in the victory achieved in that battle. It makes it clear that the victory awarded to the Muslims on that occa- sion was God-sent, in return for their steadfastness and perseverance all through the previous years. It further affirms that those valiant men who fought so hard were an instrument of God in fulfillment of the Qur’anic prophecy: “God has decreed, ‘I and My messengers will surely triumph.’ God is Powerful and Mighty” (al-Muj¥dilah: 21). The surah confirms that in this battle God sought, “to establish, through His words, the truth, and to rout the infidels” (7).

    The surah therefore opens with a statement affirming that the spoils of the war are not the property of individual fighters, and that their distribution is up to God and His Messenger. This immediately overrules the need for any dispute or disagreement over how they are to be used or distributed. The battle’s foremost objective was to establish that there were brave and selfless men among the Muslims willing to stand up for the truth.

    The true believers are those whose hearts fill with awe at the men- tion of God, and whose faith grows stronger as His revelations are

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    recited to them, and those who put their trust in their Lord. They observe prayer and give of what We have bestowed upon them. Such are the true believers. (2–4)

    These, then, are some of the features of true faith: remembering God, fearing Him, reciting His words, trusting Him, giving of one’s wealth. But, towards the end of the surah, we are informed of yet more of these features. The faithful are also

    those who have believed, emigrated [from Makkah to Madinah] and fought for the cause of God, and those who have sheltered and supported them—they are all true believers. (74)

    True faith, therefore, also entails protecting one’s religion by escap- ing to safety if and when necessary, fighting for the cause of God, and giving shelter and support to fellow believers. Elsewhere in the Qur’an, God says:

    True believers are those who believed in God and His Messenger and never wavered, and those who fought with their wealth and their lives for the cause of God. Such are the truthful. (al-¤ujur¥t: 15)

    It is deep-seated sincerity, firm unshakable trust, and boundless generosity and sacrifice, giving up the dearest things any person can possess and cherish: wealth and life. In yet another surah, God says:

    The true believers are those who believed in God and His Messenger, and who, when gathered with him [Muhammad] over an important matter, would not leave without his permission. (al- N‰r: 62)

    These verses collectively indicate clearly that true faith has many manifestations. It has no rigidly fixed definition, but is displayed in

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    various actions and traits that are determined or dictated by circum- stance. To prove their true faith, believers are accordingly required to rise to each occasion as it occurs. Thus, when the Muslims were told to leave aside the spoils they gained in the battle and await God’s decision, they accepted and obeyed. They knew for certain that whatever God was to decide would be in their best interest.

    When the Muslim expedition arrived at Badr, the Prophet issued his orders to the Muslims to prepare for battle against the unbelie- vers. The original purpose of the expedition was to intercept the Arab trade caravan, but now they found themselves preparing for a confrontation that was not of their own making. The reaction he received was mixed. Some thought that armed conflict would not be advisable since the Muslims had not been adequately prepared for it. They recommended waiting until other Muslims in Madinah had been mobilized and were able to join them at Badr, several kilome- ters south of Madinah. But the Prophet’s opinion was that to decline the challenge of the Makkan Arabs at that particular moment would undermine the Muslim standing and demoralize their young com- munity. He felt that God would not let him down at such a critical moment in the history of Islam, and so he consulted his Compa- nions and his final decision was to go ahead and fight. We read in the surah:

    As when your Lord rightly brought you out of your home to fight, but some of the believers were reluctant [to join you], arguing with you about the truth after it had become manifest, as though they were being led to death with their eyes wide open. (5–6)

    The Prophet’s hope for victory was justified by the words:

    God promised you victory over one of the two groups [the Makkan trade caravan or the non-Muslim fighters], but your wish was to take possession of the one that was unarmed [the trade caravan]. (7)

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    The Muslims obviously wished for the easy prey, the soft target. But God had other plans for them, which became clear only after the battle was over and victory was secured. God’s aim was to “establish the truth and demolish falsehood, in spite of the evil-doers” (8). The normal human reaction of believers in such critical circumstances would be to resort to calling on God for help and support. As the Muslims came to realize the strength and superiority of their enemy they turned to God: “When you [the Muslims] pleaded with your Lord to help you and He responded to your call, saying, ‘I am send- ing you a thousand angels, one after the other’” (9). Although one angel would have been enough to rout the unbelievers, God wanted to reassure the Muslims by mentioning the number: “God made it so to give you good tidings, and so that your hearts are assured by it, for victory comes only from God. God is Mighty and Wise” (10).

    Just before the fighting commenced, the Prophet is reported to have prayed long and hard, entreating God to grant him and the Muslims the victory he had been promised. He is said to have gone as far as saying: “If this group of Muslims [at Badr] are defeated You shall never be worshiped again on this earth.”17 With arms stretched high in the air and eyes fixed at the infinite skies, the Prophet was engrossed in earnest prayer. He saw Badr as a decisive battle, a last

    chance for Islam to triumph and spread. Ab‰ Bakr, Muhammad’s close confidant and a senior Companion, was stan-ding behind him, allaying his fears and assuring him of God’s certain victory. How- ever, the Prophet persisted with his pleadings until God’s words were revealed informing him of the outcome of the battle before it had even begun. In passing one may note that scholars have been intrigued by the contrast in Ab‰ Bakr’s confident attitude at Badr, reassuring the Prophet and calming him, and his anxiety when they were together inside a cave just outside Makkah, being pursued by Arabs who were trying to prevent them escaping to Madinah. The

    1. Narrated by al-Bukh¥rÏ and Muslim.

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    explanation lies in the fact that the Prophet’s love of and devotion to God are supremely profound and deep—more than anybody else’s. During the escape to Madinah, the Prophet was totally helpless and could, therefore, rely solely on God’s aid and protection. But at Badr, he was in charge of an army possessing worldly means of material force. The Prophet’s feeling was that despite the men and the force he had under his command, he was still in need of divine aid and sup- port. No matter how strong or well-equipped a fighting force may be, victory would come only by the will of God.

    And so it was. Divine intervention was evident. The rain fell to keep the ground firm under the Muslim fighters’ feet. The Mus- lims were at one point overcome by sleep, as a token of God’s protection, and all their apprehensions had evaporated. They expe- rienced total inner peace and an overwhelming power to fight and fight well, while the enemy’s camp fell into disarray, sustaining a most devastating defeat. “It is because they defied God and His Messenger. Those who defy God and His Messenger shall receive stern punishment” (13). Even so, God’s aid can come only to those fighters who have already made all the possible preparations and taken all the necessary measures to ensure victory. The first of these were the brave fighters themselves who were ready to give up their lives for the cause of God and the magnificent rewards in the hereafter.

    Human nature tends to favor life over death, and prefer the safety of comfort to hardship and deprivation. Nevertheless, the surah urges the believers by saying: “When you advance to engage the infidels in battle, do not give them your backs” (15). The fear within must be defeated first, and the value of one’s life should be placed in a proper perspective. At Badr, a handful of brave and dedicated Muslims were able to demonstrate that numbers and size are not the most decisive factor when it comes to war between infidels and true believers in God. God explains how this is possible:

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    It was not you [Muslims] who slew them [non-Muslims] but it was God who slew them. It was not the dust you [Muhammad] threw at them but it was God who threw fear in their hearts, in order to richly reward the believers. God is All-Hearing, All- Knowing. (17)

    God’s plan led the Makkans to be lured into their downfall at Badr, regardless of their larger numbers and superior force. The few who had trusted in God and sought His aid and support were the ones to deserve and reap the fruits of victory.

    The surah addresses “the believers” directly six times in a very severe manner over six crucial matters. Rather than allow the Muslims to gloat over their victory or congratulate them for it, the surah tends to opt for reprimand and suppression of any potential feelings of euphoria or arrogance. On the first two occasions, verses 15 and 20, God directs the Muslims to hold their ground and not to run away from the battlefield. None of Prophet Muhammad’s men did in fact run away or has been reported to have even contemplated with- drawal from battle. However, it seems that in the wake of such a clear victory, more emphasis had to be placed on God’s role in that victory and on dissuading the Muslims from ever looking to make material gain out of it. Furthermore, there was a need to preempt any inclination to quarrel over the spoils of the battle. Indeed, there is constant prompting in the surah to the Muslims not to behave in a way similar to their enemies, who were described as animal-like, living for their desires and their self-satisfaction, and incapable of comprehension or understanding. Indeed, the surah points out that even if they were to comprehend, their arrogance and conceit would prevent them from seeing the truth and submitting to God, who tells them:

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    Believers, obey God and His Messenger, and do not turn away from Him, now that you have heard His revelation. Do not be like those who say, “We hear,” but in fact they do not. (20–21)

    Such a strong reprimand for a victorious army! And having likened the infidels to deaf and dumb animals, the surah turns to exhort the Muslims to: “Respond to God and the Messenger when he calls you to what gives you righteous life” (24), and continues to caution and forewarn:

    And know full well that God can stand between a man and his heart, and before Him you shall all be assembled. Guard yourselves against a cataclysm of temptation that shall affect not only the wrong-doers among you, and know well that God is severe in punishment. (24–25)

    This ominously stern statement is most astonishing, coming as it did after fifteen years of persecution, trepidation, and hard struggle. What could be the meaning behind it? Undoubtedly, God wanted to teach the Muslims a lesson in humility and warn them against becoming euphoric or overbearing as a result of their great victory over the non-Muslim Arabs of Makkah. He urges them to recall what things had been like for them before:

    And remember how, when you were few and vulnerable in the land [of Makkah] and frightened that others would cut you off, He provided you with sanctuary [at Madinah], bolstered you with vic- tory [at Badr] and gave you the good things of life, so that you might be thankful. (26)

    In reminding the Muslims of their humble beginnings and the state they had been in before their glory, God would ensure that they would not be unduly disposed to amass material gains or turn to tyranny. Then comes another dire warning:

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    Believers, do not betray God or the Messenger, nor knowingly vio- late your trust. Know well that your wealth and your children are given to you as a means to put you to the test, and that God’s reward is great. (27–28)

    Victorious warriors everywhere return home jubilant and proud, and are met with garlands, drums, and celebrations before they receive their medals and decorations. But the Qur’an greets the triumphant Muslims of Badr, the first major battle between Muslims and non-Muslims, with criticism, advice, and instructions for mod- eration and humility. Western scholars and students of Islam, the so-called orientalists, should perhaps take note and review their assessment of the battle of Badr, which they have portrayed as the first tangible evidence for the militancy and the violent and aggres- sive nature of Islam.

    The surah then recalls the early history of Islam and the Muslims before the Prophet had emigrated to Madinah:

    Remember [Muhammad] how the unbelievers plotted either to take you captive or kill you or drive you out [of Makkah]. They scheme but God also schemes, and God is the more successful schemer. (30)

    The non-Muslim Arabs were so blindly misguided that they chal- lenged God: “…if this [the Qur’an] is Your revealed truth, rain down upon us stones from the sky or inflict upon us grievous pun- ishment” (32). Disbelief can certainly be manifested and expressed in many ways. Without a doubt, the most vile type of disbelief is atheism or total denial of God, followed by polytheism where other gods are recognized and worshiped besides God or when God is claimed to have offspring that share His divinity. There are those, of course, who claim divine attributes for themselves. However, the vast majority of unbelievers are ordinary people who follow blindly

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    and think that what they are doing is right and pleasing to God. Among the pagan Arabs of Makkah there were some who genuinely believed that idols could harm and benefit them and that they were the key and the way to the “Greater God.”

    The task of the prophets and messengers was to reinstate and reestablish the creed of pure monotheism, a task which required a great deal of time and effort. God says to the Prophet: “God would not punish them while you are still among them, nor would God punish them as long as they seek forgiveness” (33). Yet would this absolve them of punishment altogether? No, as they were still guilty of transgression and oppression:

    Why should God not punish them, since they debar others from the Sacred Mosque [the Ka¢bah], although they are not its custodians. Its true custodians are those who fear God, but most of them [the unbelievers] do not know this. (34)

    Their claim to the Sacred Ka¢bah and their worship around it were to prove false and of no merit whatsoever. The true guardians who can claim the right of worship at the Ka¢bah are believers in the one God who submit to Him alone. Not only did the unbelievers deny Islam but they also spent their wealth on the persecution and oppression of its followers. God says: “The unbelievers spend their wealth on debarring others from the path of God. They will spend it, but they shall regret that, and still be routed” (36). That was what happened to them at Badr. Even so, would that be the end of the road for them?

    God directs the Prophet to offer them a chance to abandon their false ways and join the Muslims: “Tell the unbelievers that if they desist, their past deeds shall be forgiven, but if they renege, let them reflect upon the fate of earlier generations” (38). They should know then that those who persist in sin and oppression shall end in sorrow and grief. Far better for them to have learnt from the history of other

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    nations and mended their ways, or else force shall continue to be used against them to subdue them and eradicate their false beliefs: “fight them until idolatry is eradicated and the religion of God shall reign supreme” (39).

    Now the surah lashes out at those Muslims who had their eyes on the spoils at Badr, urging them not to fight over them and to preserve their faith and dignity, as dictated by the occasion and the noble task they had come out to undertake in the first place. We read that the spoils were to be divided into five portions, one of which would be spent on general public causes and the rest would go to the fighters. “Know that one fifth of the spoils you acquired goes to God, the Messenger, his kinsfolk, the orphans, the needy and the traveler” (41). We learn from the Prophet’s own practise, and that of his suc- cessors that this arrangement was temporary and that other schemes were adopted in the allotment and distribution of the spoils of war under Islamic law, as happened during the reign of the second Caliph, ¢Umar ibn al-Kha~~¥b. However, this subject requires some explanation. Muslims during the early days of Islam used to volun- teer for fighting and received no wages in return for their efforts. Each fighter had to acquire his own weapons and make provision for his wife and children during his absence at war. They received no financial support or compensation from the state whatsoever. This made it quite fair and sensible that volunteer fighters should receive some compensation from the spoils they took in battle. When the state was able to organize its own regular army, pay the soldiers, pro- vide weapons and equipment, treat the wounded, and look after the families of those who died, the spoils would then go directly to the state which would allocate them as it saw fit.

    Note that the spoils issue is sandwiched in the surah between two

    other topics. One is the belligerence of the unbelievers who divert

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    their wealth to oppose Islam, persecute the Muslims, and thwart their efforts to spread the faith; and the other is the divinely aided victory the Muslims had achieved at Badr. On the second subject, the surah says:

    When you [the Muslims] were on the near side of the valley and they [the unbelievers] were on the far side, with the caravan below you, had you agreed an appointment [to meet and fight] beforehand, you would have both failed to arrive in time; but God was to accomplish a purpose He had ordained, so that those who perished would perish for an evident reason, and those who survived would survive for an evident reason. God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (42)

    It is clear that their defeat at Badr was a devastating blow for the non-Muslim Arabs of Makkah and their allies, while at the same time it boosted the status and morale of the Muslims and compensa- ted them for fifteen years of hardship and suffering. Without a doubt, Badr represents a decisive and critical moment in the history of Islam.

    And here comes the final proclamation that the surah conveys to the Muslims. It comprises six pieces of advice that would help them achieve victory. To rise to the top undoubtedly requires hard work, but to stay at the top would most certainly need an even greater effort. God says to the Muslims:

    Believers, when you meet an enemy, be firm and remember God in abundance, so that you may succeed. Obey God and His Messenger, and do not dispute with one another, lest you weaken and lose your strength, and remain steadfast because God is with those who persevere. Do not be like those who departed from their homes vainglorious in pursuit of vanity, and debar others from the path of God. (45–47)

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    To achieve victory, Muslims must therefore constantly remem- ber God, seek His help, and know well that it is all for His sake. God will always look after and care for those that the fighters leave behind. Obedience and submission to God and His Messenger are vital elements in gaining victory. The unbelievers deny God because they have no true perception of or respect for Him, whereas Muslims are more likely to show God the reverence and esteem He deserves. Addressing his army before going into battle against the Persians, the second Caliph, ¢Umar ibn al-Kha~~¥b pleaded with them to shun sin and wrongdoing. He told them that he was more worried about them for the consequences of their misdemeanors than because of the strength of their enemy. Once the two warring camps were equally sinful, Muslims would be no match for their enemy and would stand no chance of victory because they were smaller in numbers and had inferior equipment.

    It pains me when I look at the Muslim nation today and see how weak its moral and social fabric has become, and how disunited its peoples are. Our credentials for victory and success seem to diminish every time we take on an aggressor; we have become the world champions of lost causes. Although Muslims today comprise one fifth of the world population, their countries are divided, with some of them constantly at loggerheads with one another. Their enemies, however, have united their forces and consolidated their efforts, and have been giving the Muslims one beating after another. They are now in control of Muslim lands and capital while we are squabbling among ourselves and pursuing our petty wars against each other. We need the steadfastness and the perseverance referred to in the surah to maintain our devotion and loyalty to God and to face up to all temp- tation and hardship. Decadent, pleasure-seeking, and corrupt socie- ties are not capable of mastering these qualities.

    As for Islam’s view on engaging in war and taking up arms, these are legitimate causes provided they are undertaken for reasons that satisfy God and serve the interests of Islam. Wars fought by Muslim

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    governments these days can hardly be considered legitimate “Islamic” wars, because they are fought for nationalistic or partisan reasons. In most instances, they lead to further entrenchment of dic- tatorship and oppression. The fate of those who fight in wars not undertaken for the cause of God and Islam is described in the fol- lowing verse:

    If only you could see the angels [at Badr] when they were taking the souls of the unbelievers! They were striking them on their faces and their backs, saying to them, “Taste the torment of the fire! This is the punishment for what your hands committed. God is not unjust to His servants.” (50–51)

    Tyranny and tyrants all through history have displayed similar traits and shared a similar fate. The unbelievers of Arabia who fought the Muslims had followed in the footsteps of

    Pharaoh’s people and those who had gone before them. They dis- believed the revelations of God, and so God smote them for their sins. God is Mighty and stern in His retribution. (52)

    Times may change, but the norms and laws set out by God remain valid for all time.

    A non-Muslim Arab who had lost his sons in the battle of Badr was quoted to have said: “Were it not for Badr, these people [the Muslims] would have never prevailed.” He was right. Badr marked a turning point in the history of Islam and the Muslims. Their power and influence received a strong boost, whereas it was the beginning of the end for their enemies, whose power and influence retracted as they began to lose control over Arabia. The writing was on the wall

    surah 8 • Al-Anf¥l

    for the non-Muslim Arabs, whereas all the signs pointed to a great future for Islam in Arabia and beyond. God says:

    God relates to you the story of the city which was once safe and tranquil; its provisions came to it in abundance from every quarter, but its people denied God’s favors. Therefore God afflicted it with famine and fear as punishment for what they did. (al-Na^l: 112)

    God would indeed deal with societies and nations according to the same criteria: “Because God does not change a favor He has bestowed on a people until they change their own situation” (53). Gratitude for and appreciation of God’s favors are therefore essential and vital elements in ensuring the continuation and growth of divine favors. This was made very clear with respect to the Arabs taken prisoner by the Muslims at Badr. God says:

    Prophet, say to those who have been taken prisoner, “If God finds goodness in your hearts, He will compensate you with better than what you have lost, and He will forgive you. God is Forgiving and Merciful.” But if they seek to betray you [Muhammad], remember that they had betrayed God earlier, and so He made you triumph over them. God is All-Knowing and Wise. (70–71)

    The same goes for all who deny God’s favors and spurn His com- mands and teachings. They will continue to be faithful as long as it serves their interests, otherwise they will just as easily and quickly renege and deny any obligation or responsibility. They are descri- bed thus: “The most evil creatures in the sight of God are the faithless who will not believe; those who break their agreements every time and have no fear of God” (55–56). Only the readiness to use force against force can make such people see sense. The Prophet was therefore instructed to hit back hard at his bellige- rent enemies to deter those following them. God commanded the

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    Prophet: “Therefore, whenever you overwhelm them in battle hit hard at them, as an example to those who are waiting behind them so that they may take warning” (57). If injustice and aggression can be stopped or deterred only by the use of force, then Muslims have no alternative but to resort to force. Muslims normally prefer peace and strive to preserve it, because it enables them to build and pro- mote their Islamic way of life freely and openly. However, when they are prevented from pursuing their normal everyday Islamic obligations and duties, or subjected to suppression and persecution for their beliefs and opinions, then they have no alternative but to resist and fight back by all necessary and available means.

    The interesting point here is that in the struggle between right and wrong, between the Muslims and their enemies, numbers, size, and material force do not matter because Muslims have God on their side. This is endorsed by the following verses:

    Prophet, urge the believers to fight. Twenty steadfast people of you will defeat two hundred

    [of the enemy]

    , and a hundred will defeat a thousand unbelievers because these are devoid of under- standing. (65)

    The next verse, however, reduces the odds from one to ten to one to two, as follows:

    God has now lightened your burden, for He knows that you have some weakness. Therefore, a hundred steadfast people of you will defeat two hundred [of the enemy], and a thousand will defeat two thousand, all by God’s permission. God is with those who are stead- fast. (66)

    This has, understandably, given rise to some debate among Muslim scholars and disagreement over which of the two ratios is the rule and which is the exception. My personal view is that the higher

    surah 8 • Al-Anf¥l

    one is the rule, because the lower ratio applies at times of tempo- rary weakness or in exceptional circumstances in which a Muslim fighting force is disadvantaged for reasons beyond its control. In modern warfare, it is perfectly possible for one foot soldier to hold up a whole battalion, or a few highly motivated, well-trained and well-equipped fighters to play havoc with an armored division. Examples of this have been witnessed in all recent wars. As God says elsewhere in the Qur’an: “Many a small band has, by the grace of God, defeated a mighty one; and God is with those who are stead- fast” (al-Baqarah: 249).

    Before coming to a close, the surah has one more topic to deal with concerning the force of brotherhood and fraternity that cement a Muslim community together, allowing it to act and grow as one whole. Such a bond is instigated by and devoted to the love of God and the advancement of His cause. Religious fraternity and ties bind people more strongly than any other, and Islam has made the Muslims, with all the numerous features and factors that discriminate and distinguish among them, into one unique entity, the like of which has not been seen throughout human history.

    God says in the closing verses:

    Those who have believed, emigrated [from Makkah to Madinah] and fought, with their wealth and their lives, for the cause of God and those who have sheltered and supported them [at Madinah], are allies one to another. But those who have believed but have not emigrated [to Madinah], you shall have no obligations towards them until they emigrate. (72)

    It is because those Muslims had stayed behind in Makkah, at such a crucial time in the history of Islam, that they forfeited any help or support that would otherwise have been due to them from their fel- low Muslims. As for the unbelievers, they were also allies one to another, and were to be accorded the same treatment:

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    Those who disbelieved are allies one to another. If you fail to distin- guish in your alliances between the believers and the unbelievers, there will be disorder on earth and great corruption. (73)

    The tragedy we face today is that the nation of Islam, which ought to be one and united, is in reality divided and fragmented into nations, nationalities, and states. At a body such as the United Nations, Muslims have no unified voice. In fact, some so-called lead- ers of Muslim countries have said openly that they did not consider Islam as a significant factor with any influence on their relations and alliances with other countries. In the constitutions and policies of Muslim countries, nationalist and ethnic prejudices take precedence over the brotherhood and fraternity of Islam. Worst of all, “nation- alisms” such as Arab nationalism are championed and advocated by secularist groups such as the Arab Ba¢th Socialist party and others. However, the Arabs are not viable as a nation without Islam, to which they owe their glory and place in the history of human civi- lization. The only way for us to emerge safely out of our contem- porary predicament is to open the way for Islam to resume its proper role in our thinking and behavior, shape our internal and external relations, and control all aspects of our life.

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    يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْأَنفَالِ ۖ قُلِ الْأَنفَالُ لِلَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ ۖ فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَأَصْلِحُوا ذَاتَ بَيْنِكُمْ ۖ وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

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    إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِرَ اللَّهُ وَجِلَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَإِذَا تُلِيَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُهُ زَادَتْهُمْ إِيمَانًا وَعَلَىٰ رَبِّهِمْ يَتَوَكَّلُونَ

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    الَّذِينَ يُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ

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    أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ حَقًّا ۚ لَّهُمْ دَرَجَاتٌ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَمَغْفِرَةٌ وَرِزْقٌ كَرِيمٌ

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    كَمَا أَخْرَجَكَ رَبُّكَ مِن بَيْتِكَ بِالْحَقِّ وَإِنَّ فَرِيقًا مِّنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ لَكَارِهُونَ

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    يُجَادِلُونَكَ فِي الْحَقِّ بَعْدَمَا تَبَيَّنَ كَأَنَّمَا يُسَاقُونَ إِلَى الْمَوْتِ وَهُمْ يَنظُرُونَ

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    وَإِذْ يَعِدُكُمُ اللَّهُ إِحْدَى الطَّائِفَتَيْنِ أَنَّهَا لَكُمْ وَتَوَدُّونَ أَنَّ غَيْرَ ذَاتِ الشَّوْكَةِ تَكُونُ لَكُمْ وَيُرِيدُ اللَّهُ أَن يُحِقَّ الْحَقَّ بِكَلِمَاتِهِ وَيَقْطَعَ دَابِرَ الْكَافِرِينَ

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    لِيُحِقَّ الْحَقَّ وَيُبْطِلَ الْبَاطِلَ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُجْرِمُونَ

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    إِذْ تَسْتَغِيثُونَ رَبَّكُمْ فَاسْتَجَابَ لَكُمْ أَنِّي مُمِدُّكُم بِأَلْفٍ مِّنَ الْمَلَائِكَةِ مُرْدِفِينَ

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