Verses from Surah al-Anfal1 (1-2)

In the Name of Allah, the Kind, the Merciful


1. Ibn ‘Abbas has said that the whole of the chapter is Madinan except for verses 30 to 36, which are Makkan (Qurtubi). A few other verses are also reported to be Madinan (Manar). Sayyid Qutb remarks that to say with absolute certainty that this or that part of the Qur’an is Makkan or Madinan is extremely difficult. At best, what can be said is that a certain chapter belongs to this or that period, without being very specific about its entire content. It is only a few verses that can be said to belong to a certain period because of confirmed reports.

Therefore, (going by approximate dates of revelation) and attempting to work out, on their basis, the sequences and stages of the Islamic revolution, is to be treading on uncertain grounds.

He also adds that the best that can be said about the exact period of revelation of the chapter at hand is that it was revealed after Surah al-Baqarah. However, the fact must not be lost sight of that al-Baqarah itself was not revealed as one whole. Quite a few verses were revealed almost at the end of the Madinan period, while some verses might have been revealed in between. In fact, when the reports speak about a particular chapter having been revealed after another chapter, what was meant is that the opening verses were revealed after that chapter, and not necessarily the whole of that chapter.

Rashid Rida reproduces parts of a lengthy discussion taken up by Suyuti and Alusi concerning why this surah was placed here in the Qur’an, after al-A‘raf and before al-Bara’ah and offers his own opinion that whatever ‘Uthman (ra) had to say about their placement, the Prophet (saws) himself used to recite the whole of the Qur’an in Ramadan. Had not ‘Uthman’s arrangement agreed with the Prophet’s recitation, the Companions would not have agreed to the order that has come down to us from them.

[1] They ask you (O Prophet) concerning the spoils of war (as to how they should be distributed).2 Say, ‘The spoils of war (primarily) belong to Allah and the Messenger.’3 Therefore, fear Allah,  set things right between yourselves,4 and obey Allah and His Messenger, if you are (true) believers.5  


2. Although various interpretations have been offered to the word “anfal” as occurring here, there is no difference of opinion that this verse came down on the occasion of the battle of Badr, in reference to a dispute that arose over the spoils. Ibn `Abbas, `Ikrimah, Mujahid, Dahhak and others are of the opinion that the term “anfal” is a generic term applicable to all kinds of spoils of war. (Here, in this verse, the term has been employed in this sense). However, Ibn `Abbas, along with `Ata has also said that it applies to those of the enemy materials or manpower that are left over, or secured, after the division of the spoils of war. A third opinion is that the reference is to the fifth (khumus) of the spoils of war after four-fifths of it has been distributed among the mujahedin. The Prophet (saws) was entitled to dispose it off the way he thought appropriate (Ibn Jarir). Razi, Ibn Kathir and Shawkani quote authorities that since, in the words of Asad “nafl” (of which anfal 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,” (hence “nawafil” for supererogatory Prayers, and “We bestowed him Is-haq, and Ya`qub in addition [nafilah]”, 21: 72), and since the spoils of war that had remained unlawful to previous nations were declared lawful to this Ummah, they have been designated as “anfal” – being an addition over the original commandments contained in previous Scriptures. (Another term used in the Qur’an for spoils of war is “faiy.” Alusi lists various opinions about the difference between this term and “ghanimah.” One of the opinions is that ghanimah is that spoils of war which is secured by a fight [before or after the battle] whereas “faiy” is that spoils of war which is obtained without a fight).

The term “nafl” has a special meaning too. It is that spoil of war which the Amir bestows on someone as a gift over an above his own share (Shafi`). Another explanation is that it means “one-fifth of the one-fifth” (Shanqiti).

As regards what occasioned the revelation of this verse, Imam Razi states the following as one of the several reasons: There were three men from the Muhajirun and five from the Ansar whom the Prophet (saws) gave a share in the booty although they had not participated in the battle of Badr: (1) Uthman b. ‘Affan: because the Prophet’s daughter (‘Uthman’s wife) was sick, so he was left back to look after her; (2) Talha and (3) Sa‘id b. Zayd: the Prophet (saws) had sent these two toward the Syrian regions to gather news. [These were the three Muhajirun]; (4) Abu Lubabah b. Marwan: he was left in charge of Madinah; (5) ‘Asim: the Prophet (saws) had left him in charge of the uplands of Madinah; (6) Harth b. Hatib: when the Prophet (saws) had reached Rawha’ he asked him to return to attend to some affair involving ‘Amr b. ‘Awf; (7) Harth b. al-Summah: he fell sick by Rawha’ and so the Prophet ordered him to return; and (8) Khuwat b. Jubayr. When the Prophet gave each of these a share in the spoils of war, others objected and this verse was revealed.

Other commentators however, such as Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir, Shawkani and others do not mention the above report of Razi. They write the following as the reason of revelation: Before the start of the battle of Badr, the Prophet (saws) had said that those who accomplished such and such feats would be rewarded in such and such a manner. Accordingly, the younger men advanced far afield but the older and matured ones stayed around the Prophet in fear of a rear attack. When the spoils were collected, those who had advanced said that they deserved it all to the exclusion of others, because it was they in truth who had defeated the enemy.

The older ones maintained that if they had stayed behind, it was for the safety of the Prophet. A third group, the standard bearers, also claimed their stake. Claims turned into arguments, in which, according to a version preserved in Musnad Ahmed, in the words of ‘Ubadah b. Samit, “we showed the evil side of our character” and Allah (swt) revealed this verse. (This report is in Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i, Ibn Hibban and Hakim, who declared it Sahih, as well as in other hadith collections: Shawkani).

Some contemporary commentators have thought that it was a serious failing on the part of the Companions to have quarrelled over the booty. Someone has remarked, “matters went to such a head that ill-feelings entered their hearts.” They could have been misled by the reported words: “Our conduct was blameworthy.” But the apparent words do not reflect the true situation. The fact should not be lost sight of that with the slightest of deviation from the norm, the Companions used strong words for themselves. Also, it should not be forgotten that those were a people who had either migrated leaving all their wealth and property behind them in Makkah, or those who had given them refuge in Madinah, giving them precedence over their own wives and children. They couldn’t be fighting for booty in a cheap manner. However, that said, they were Arabs: keen of their rights. When they felt something was theirs, they vehemently claimed it. But once told it was not theirs, they wouldn’t look at it twice. Had they set an eye on another’s property, or harboured ill-feelings for the companions, surely, a single command concerning whom the spoils of war belonged to in truth, wouldn’t have cured them of their moral failing. Their character was such that had some of them been given the loot while others denied, they’d have promptly gifted the others from their share no sooner had they got hold of it.

They hadn’t fought for loot. If they did, Hudhayfah wouldn’t have stood quiet while his father’s corpse, killed in the same battle, was dragged by and thrown into a pit. The Companions were a people of several-sided character. Their whole has to be considered before a remark is made about a part (Au.). To take on the thread of main discussion again, these verses were revealed to declare that “anfal” were primarily the right of Allah and His Messenger. The Prophet (saws) then distributed it equally among the participants. However, he gave away certain items to certain participants as special gifts. For instance, Sa`d b. Abi Waqqas says, “My brother `Umayr was killed during the battle of Badr. I slew (his killer) Sa`id b. al-`As and took possession of his sword. Then I went up to the Prophet (saws). He told me to deposit it along with other booty items. I obeyed, but Allah knows the thoughts that were passing through my mind. However, as I was returning Allah (swt) revealed these verses and the Prophet (saws) told me: “You may keep the sword.” (This report is in Tirmidhi, who rated it Sahih, as well as in Nasa’i, Ibn Marduwayh and Hakim who has also declared it trustworthy: Alusi, Shawkani). Similarly, he gave away prized swords of the fallen enemy heroes to Sa`d b. Malik and Arqam b. al-Arqam. Some have said that this verse is abrogated by another verse which reduced the amount under the Prophet’s discretion to one-fifth (khumus). It said (8: 41): “Know that of what you gain of the spoils of war, one-fifth belongs to Allah and the Messenger.”

Accordingly, in the following battles the Prophet (saws) divided four-fifths among the mujahedin and one-fifth among the poor and destitute class of the general population. But the abrogation idea is incorrect. Rather, all that this first verse is saying is that in principle the spoils belong to the state authorities, who will dispense of it the way they deem fit.

After quoting the above from Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir shows that these reports are well preserved in Muslim, Abu Da’ud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and others. Accordingly, Sa‘id ibn al-Mussayyib used to say that after the Prophet (saws) there is no “nafl.” The state authorities, Ibn Jarir notes, should decide, with the Prophet’s practice as the guiding principle about how the booty should be expended. Qurtubi states that if there are many differences in opinions over the distribution of the spoils of war, it is because the Prophet’s practice varied on various occasions. However, there is no difference of opinion that in view of verse 41, one-fifth was for the Prophet to dispense of the way he deemed fit. That was the khumus referred to by the Qur’an. He said in a hadith, “I have no share whatsoever in what Allah (swt) bestows on you save for the one-fifth, and even this one-fifth is returned to you.” (A hadith close to this meaning is in Muslim: Au.). But, Rashid Rida adds, Ibn Zayd’s opinion was that the Imam can give away anything from the spoils to anyone before the division of the spoils and before the one-fifth is separated out. This is the nafl spoken of in this first verse. In any case, the anfal that were obtained at Badr consisted of, according to Miur, “115 camels, 14 horses, an endless store of vestments and carpets, articles of fine leather, with much equipage and armour” (Majid).

3. Mawdudi comments: “Before the advent of Islam, a soldier used to appropriate all that he could lay his hands on, claiming to be its rightful owner, or else the spoils were seized either by the king or the commander of the army. In the former case, mutual conflicts ensued among soldiers of the victorious army, with the frequent result that their victory turned into defeat. On the other hand, if the spoils were seized by the commander of the army or the ruler, soldiers often concealed and stole the spoils. By declaring that the spoils belong to Allah and His Messenger, the Qur’an made it obligatory on all soldiers to commit all spoils of war to the custody of the commander, concealing not even something as trivial as a sewing needle. Subsequently, the Qur’an laid down an elaborate set of laws to distribute the spoils of war. According to it, one-fifth of the spoils is to be deposited in the public treasure for public welfare and to provide support for the poor, while four-fifths is to be distributed among the soldiers.”

4. Ibn Kathir writes: Abu Ya‘lah has preserved a report worth reproducing. Anas b. Malik said, “Once we were in the Prophet’s company when he suddenly smiled widely. ‘Umar asked, ‘May my parents be sacrificed for you, what made you smile, O Messenger of Allah?’ The Prophet (saws) replied, ‘Two of my Ummah were presented to Allah (swt). One of them said, “My Lord! Get him to compensate for the wrong he did to me.” Allah said (to the other man), “Compensate him for the wrong you did to him.” The man said, “My Lord! Nothing of my good deeds is left with me.” At that, the other man said, “My Lord! In that case let him bear some of my burden of sins.”’ At that the Prophet’s eyes became wet. He said, “That would be a terrible day. People would be in need of someone to off-load their sins.” ‘At that Allah (swt) said to the man, “Look up at the gardens.” The man will look up and say, “My Lord! I see fields filled with silver, and palaces of gold embellished with pearls. To which Prophet are they assigned? For which Siddiq are they? For which martyr are they?”

Allah will say, “They are for anyone who will pay the price.” He will say, “But who possesses its price?” Allah will say, “You do.” He will ask, “What is it, O my Lord?” Allah will say, “Forgive your brother.” The man will say, “O my Lord! I have forgiven him.” Allah will say, “Hold thy brother’s hand and enter you two into Paradise.” Then the Prophet recited this verse, “Therefore, fear Allah, set things right between yourselves,” for (if they don’t, then) Allah (swt) will set things right between them on the Day of Judgement.”

5. A clear inference is that he who did not fear Allah, and is not obedient to His and His Messenger’s commands, is not a believer in any degree (Shawkani).

[2] Surely, believers are those whose hearts tremble when Allah is mentioned (before them),6 and when His revelations are read to them, they cause increase in their faith;7 and they place their trust in their Lord.8


6. What is Wajl? Shahar b. Hawshab reports in explanation that Umm Darda’ said: “Trembling (wajl) of the heart is its burning: in the manner of the burning of a palm-leaf. Do you any time feel a trembling of that kind, O Shahar b. Hawshab?” I said, “Yes, I do.” She said: “Supplicate then, at that moment, because that is the state in which supplications are likely to be accepted.” It is reported of Thabit al-Bunani that he said: “So and so said, `I know when my Prayers would be answered.’ It was asked, `How do you know?’ He answered, `When my skin shivers, my heart trembles and the eyes are filled, then I know that it is one of those moments when my Prayers will be answered.’” `A’isha (ra) has said: “Wajl can be likened to the spark of a burning palm-leaf.

When one of you feels that, let him resort to supplications (Ibn Jarir, Alusi, Shawkani, Manar and others). Discussing the term “wajl” Imam Razi writes: Of “fear” there are two kinds: fear of punishment and fear of Allah’s Greatness and Majesty. The first is that of the sinner. As for the second kind, there is no escape from it for anyone, be he a Prophet or an angel close to Allah. It is the first kind that is alluded to here. Suddi has said that that person is a believer who, when he intends a sin or a wrong, is reminded of Allah and told, “Fear Allah.” At that his heart is shaken by fear and he desists (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

Qurtubi adds: This then is the quality of true believers. The Qur’an said about them elsewhere (5: 83): “And when they hear what has been revealed to the Prophet, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears for what they have known of the Truth. They say, ‘Our Lord. We have believed and, therefore, write us down among the witnesses.’” 

It is reported that once they asked the Prophet (saws) so many questions that he became angry. He went up the pulpit and said, “Ask. You will not ask me a question but I’ll answer it so long as I am on this mimber.” When they heard those words, they thought the world’s end was at hand. Anas, the reporter, says I turned to look around and did not find anyone but he had hid his face in his cloak and was crying. ‘Irbad b. Saiyyar has reported a Sahih hadith which he begins with words, “Once the Prophet (saws) admonished us in words that brought tears in our eyes and drove fear into our hearts.” ‘Irbad didn’t say, (Qurtubi remarks), “We jumped up with the Prophet’s words,” or, “We began to dance,” or, “We began to sway,” not even, “We rose up (in commotion).” Rather, he said, “We cried.” Such were the reactions of those who are an example for us and not those, who, touched by some kind of madness, shout and dance and are thought of by the masses as pious ones.

7. Going by this verse and several others of similar meaning, the great majority of the scholars have ruled that faith is liable to increase and decrease (Ibn Kathir). A few examples of such verses are as follows. With reference to the battle of Uhud it was said (3: 173): “Those, to whom the people said, `Surely, the (enemy) forces have gathered against you, therefore fear them.’ But that increased them in their faith and they said, ‘Allah is sufficient for us, an excellent Trustee (He is)’.” It was said in Surah al-Ahzab (33: 22): “When the believers saw the enemy troops they said, ‘This is what Allah and His Messenger had promised us. And Allah and His Messenger spoke the truth. It did not cause them increase in anything but in faith and obedience’.” Or, (48: 4): “It is He who sent down Sakinah in the hearts of the believers so that they may add faith upon faith.” (Manar)

‘Umar b. ‘Abdul ‘Aziz wrote to someone: “Faith is (the other name of) superogatories, obligatories and (observation of) the Law. Whoever observed them faithfully, completed his faith. Whoever didn’t, didn’t complete his faith (Zamakhshari). This statement is also in Bukhari (Au.).

Razi adds: The strength and quantity of faith depends upon the evidences that one obtains, of which of course, there is no end. It is a shore-less ocean. Every time one discovers the wisdom behind a creation, he moves on to the wisdom behind the creation of another, and so on, each step causing increase in his faith. Qurtubi remarks: That’s because there are states, which depend upon one’s application and knowledge. Someone asked Hasan al-Busri, “O Abu Sa`id, are you a believer?” He replied, “There are two kinds of faiths. If you are asking me about belief in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers and in Paradise, Fire, resurrection and reckoning, then, yes, I am a believer. But if you are asking me about the verse, ‘Surely, believers are those whose hearts tremble when Allah is mentioned (before them). Until…these are in truth the believers,’ then I am not too sure if I belong to that category” (Zamakhshari). Therefore, adds Qurtubi, the Ahl al-Sunnah say that true believer is one who will be judged (in the Hereafter) as one deserving Paradise. Until then his state is a secret unto all but Allah, and, therefore, to refer to anyone as a true believer is incorrect.

Imam Abu Hanifah however disagreed that there could be any increase in faith. (He defined “iman” as “testification” of which of course no divisions can be made. It is the strength of belief that can go up and down by a scale, but testification is indivisible. Hence Abu Hanifa’s opinion that faith, which to him was equivalent of testification, does not increase or decrease: Au.) It is said that he asked Qatadah why he should say “I am a believer, if Allah willed?” (Instead of saying with certainty that he was in truth a believer: Au.). Qatadah replied, “Following Ibrahim (asws) who said (26: 82), ‘Of whom (i.e., Allah) I hope He will forgive me my sins’.” Abu Hanifah replied, “Why didn’t you follow him in those of his words which report to us that when Allah asked him, (2: 260), `Aren’t you a believer? He replied, `Yes. (I am)’” (That is, he did not add, “Insha Allah”) – Zamakhshari.

Although one should not fail to miss the point in Allah’s words above, viz., “when His revelations are read to them, they cause increase in faith,” that is, an increase is effected by revelations alone, before any action, and, even though not all revelations contain commandments, Mawdudi goes one step aside to explain how faith could be increased through deeds. He writes: “A man’s faith grows as he is able to confirm and submit to the command of God which he comes across. This is especially so where he submits to commands which go against his own personal predilections. A man’s faith attains great heights if instead of trying to twist and distort the commands of God and the Prophet (peace be on him), he develops the habit of accepting and submitting to all the commands of God and the Prophet (peace be on him); if he strives to shape his conduct to the teaching which go against his personal opinions and conceptions, which are contrary to his habits, interests and conveniences, which are not in consonance with his loyalties and friendships. For, if he hesitates to respond positively to God’s commands, his faith is diminished. One thus learns that faith is not a static, immobile object. Nor is every act of belief or unbelief, of the same quality. An act of belief may be better or worse than another act of belief. Likewise, an act of unbelief may differ in quality from another. “All this concerns the essence of belief or unbelief. However, when belief and unbelief are mentioned as a basis for membership of the Muslim community or in connection with legal rights and responsibilities as necessary corollaries of that membership, a clear line of demarcation has to be drawn between those who believe and those who do not. In this respect the determination of who is a believer and who is not will depend on the basic minimum of belief regardless of the quality of belief.”

8. Hence, (whenever something-unpleasant strikes), a believer’s words should be: “Allah and His Messenger spoke the truth.” His reaction should not be like that of the hypocrites who said: “Allah and His Messenger did not make but false promises to us.” Further, the three states in order may be noted: (i) Fear of Allah (ii) His obedience (iii) Trust in Him alone (Razi). Ibn Kathir writes: That is, true believers pin their hopes on none but Allah, aim at pleasing none but Him, seek refuge with none but Him, seek help of none but Him, incline toward none but Him, and know that what He willed, happened and what He did not will, did not happen, and that He alone is the Decision-maker in His Kingdom, the One God besides whom there is no other god, Whose command cannot be repelled, and Who is quick of reckoning. Hence Sa`id b. Jubayr has said that trust in Allah is the sum and substance of faith in Him. Ibn `Abbas has said in explanation of the whole verse: Nothing by way of Allah’s remembrance enters the heart of a hypocrite at the time of Prayers. They do not believe in any of Allah’s revelation. They have no trust in Him. They don’t Pray when out of sight of the people and do not expend in charity. Allah (swt) informed us that they are not believers. Rather, “believers are those whose hearts tremble when Allah is mentioned (before them), and, when His revelations are read out to them, they cause increase in faith, and they place their trust in their Lord” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

Sayyid adds: Resorting to means is not – as the common belief goes – against having trust in Allah (tawakkul). Resorting to the means, within the limits imposed by the Shari‘ah, is a part of the deeds of obedience. It is, indeed, obedience in itself. Notwithstanding that the believer does not depend on the means as affecting the outcome. The resort to means is for rewards. Outcome rests with Allah alone, coming down by His Decree, who does not depend on the means that were adopted, to execute His will, nor is affected by the quantity or quality of the measures taken. His will is independent. This is a religious truth that modern thought is also prepared to accept – after all those centuries of confidence in the rigid law of cause and effect. Today, no one claims that cause “A” will definitely lead to effect “B”. Rather, they are saying that cause “A” will most probably lead to effect “B” but the possibilities of effects “C”, “D”, and so forth cannot be ruled out. We live in a world not of certainties but of possibilities.

Sayyid’s could have been referring to the famous “uncertainty principle” of the Quantum mechanics. Although little understood, because of its complication, but often quoted, the concept, first proposed by Heisenberg in 1927, involves “the principle that it is meaningless to speak of a particle’s position, momentum or other parameters except result of measurements. Measuring, however, involves an interaction (such as a photon of light bouncing off the particle under study), that must disturb the particle, though the disturbance is noticeable only at an atomic scale. The principle implies that one cannot, even in theory, predict the moment-to-moment behaviour of such a system.” (The New American Desk Encyclopaedia).

It should be obvious from the above that the principle essentially holds good at the micro level, because of the minute scale of interaction. However, and generally speaking, although the principle remains true at the macro level also, the results are predictable in view of previous observations. Hence, the insistence by the Shari‘ah of Islam, on the adoption of the means, since, after all, from a steady state, one will only get a steady state, if no action was initiated. Nevertheless, since, the reactions are only predictable, and impossible of precise determination, the balancing act of dependence not on the means, rather on Allah, i.e., the state of tawakkul has been suggested, both of which the Muslim scholars always emphasize, as does Sayyid here (Au.).

(To be continued)

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