Verses from Surah Al-Anfal (65-67)

[65] O Prophet! Urge on the believers to fight.119 If there be twenty of you – (determined and) steadfast – they will overcome two hundred. And if there be a hundred of you, they will overcome a thousand of those who have disbelieved120 – because they are a people who do not understand.121


119.  Accordingly, we find that whenever the forces lined up, the Prophet – peace be upon him – urged the believers to fight. For instance, at Badr he addressed them in words, “March on unto a Paradise whose expanse is the heavens and the earth.” At that `Umayr b. al-Humam asked, “The expanse of the heavens and the earth?!” The Prophet replied, “Yes.” He said, “Bravo. Bravo.” The Prophet asked, “What made you say that?” He replied, “Hoping to be one of its inhabitants.” The Prophet said, “You are one of its inhabitants.” The man advanced, broke the sheathe of his sword and bringing out some dates began to eat them. Then he threw them away, muttering, “If I am to stay alive until I have finished them, that would be a long life.” Then he advanced into the enemy lines until he was martyred (Ibn Kathir).

120.  It has been reported that when it was said by the Qur’an that Muslims were not to retreat against a force ten times their size, they felt it hard to do that and so Allah – Glorified by He – granted them concession. Now they are not to be disheartened confronting a force twice their size (Ibn Jarir). A report to this effect is in Bukhari (Ibn Kathir). Thus, the second alternative does not abrogate the first (Qurtubi).

121.  To combine and summarize what Ibn Jarir has to report of the opinions of the first generation scholars is as follows: The implication of “that is because they are a people who do not understand” is that the unbelievers have no understanding of the truth or falsehood, and therefore, cannot justify, in their hearts, what they are fighting for. This lack of conviction about the causes leads them to an inner weakness and consequently to defeat.

Sayyid Qutb elaborates: “What’s the connection between victory and understanding? Apparently, there seems to be none. But there is an underlying powerful connection. The Muslim-group stands out because it knows its path and understands its direction. It knows the purpose of its own existence and is cognizant of its ultimate goal. It knows the truth of Divinity and the truth of submission. It has the understanding that the Divinity has to have an over-arching position and that submission has to be for Him alone and none else. The Muslim ummah knows that it has to be guided by Allah’s guidance, that it has to move forward by the leave of Allah for the release of the people from the slavery of their own kind, and to bind them to the slavery of Allah. It realizes that it is Allah’s vicegerent on the earth: enjoying its existence not for its own sake, rather to hold aloft Allah’s Word by way of its own utmost struggle, in order that the earth may be inhabited by right and the judgement among the people be by right, and, in order that Allah’s kingdom be established on the earth. Realizations of this sort fill the heart of the Muslim-group with Light, trust, power and faith. These inner forces urge the group onward to jihad with confidence in the future adding to its power. On the other hand, its adversaries are a people who “do not understand.” Their hearts are locked up, eyes are blind, and strength weak – whatever the apparent material strength – for the power they possess has been severed off its source.”

[66] (However) Allah has now lightened it for you122 knowing that there is weakness in you. So, if there be a hundred of you – (determined and) steadfast – they will overcome two hundred. And if there be a thousand of you, they will overcome two thousand by the leave of Allah.123 And Allah is with the (determined and the) steadfast. 


122.  This part of the verse makes it clear that the earlier part was a commandment and not the statement of a fact. That is, twenty Muslims were required to fight out 200 of the unbelievers (Razi).

123.  When a few face a difficult task, everybody puts in his best efforts knowing that his slackness can lead to failure of the group. But when they are in a large number, then the individual takes the efforts of the others for granted, and assumes that his own slackness will not have a serious effect. This could be the reason why Allah lightened and ordered that if the Muslims are a thousand they should not flee against two thousand (Thanwi).

[67] And it is not for any Prophet that he should have captives124 before he has inflicted a massacre in the land.125 You desire the chance goods of the world, but Allah desires the Hereafter.126 And Allah is All-mighty, All-wise.


124.  Asad points out what some Qur’anic readers miss to note: `As almost always in the Qur’an, 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 jihad – that is, a holy war in defence of the Faith or of freedom  – and, 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”.’

125.  Yusuf Ali comments: `Destruction and slaughter, however repugnant to a gentle soul like that of Muhammad, were inevitable where evil tried to suppress the good. Even Jesus, whose mission was more limited, had to say: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword.” (Matt, x. 34).’

Majid explains Jihad and quotes from older Scriptures. He writes: “The object of the Islamic jihad being the extirpation of the forces of paganism and the restoration of the kingdom of God, there was no sense in the warrior-prophet sheathing his sword until the culprits had got their desert and their capacity for mischief utterly smashed. Cf. the far more rigid military law of the OT:- `And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword’ (Dt. 20: 13). `And this is the thing that ye shall do. Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man’ (Ju. 21: 11). Among the Jews, `if a city resisted their summons, the males without distinction, were put to the sword; the seven nations of Canaan were dashed to destruction; and neither repentance nor conversion could shield them from the inevitable doom, that no creature within their precincts should be left alive’ (GRE. V. p. 359).”

126.  The following has come down as the context of revelation. It is reported by `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud that when seventy of the Quraysh were taken captive, the Prophet sought counsel of the Companions as to what should they do with them. Abu Bakr suggested, “Messenger of Allah. They are your kinsfolk and tribesmen. So, hold on for a while. Maybe Allah will turn to them in Mercy.” `Umar said, “They are a people who cried lies to you and banished you. So, behead them all.” Another companion `Abdullah ibn Rawaha suggested, “Look for a wooded valley. Shut them up therein and set the whole place on fire.” At that `Abbas said to him, “Man. You have severed blood-ties.” The Prophet himself said nothing. So the opinion of the people got divided between the opinions of Abu Bakr, `Umar and `Abdullah ibn Rawaha. Finally, he came out to them and said, “There are people whose hearts are as soft as milk. There are others whose heart is as hard as stones. Your example, O Abu Bakr is similar to that of Ibrahim who said, `Whoever followed me, is of me. As for him who disobeyed me, then, You are, (our Lord,) All-forgiving, All-Kind.’ And, your example, O Abu Bakr, is similar to that of Jesus who said, `If you forgive them (today), then, (after all) they are Your slaves.’ And your example, O `Umar, is similar to that of Nuh who said, `My Lord. Don’t leave of the unbelievers any dwelling in the land.’ And your example, O Abu Rawaha is that of Musa who said, `O Allah, destroy their wealth and harden their hearts so that they don’t believe until they have experienced a severe chastisement.’ Then the Prophet – peace be upon him – added, “Today you are in poor economic circumstances. Therefore, don’t release any of them without a ransom, or behead him.” At that `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud interjected, “Save for Suhayl ibn Bayda’ for he used to indulge in misinformation against Islam.” The Prophet – peace be upon him – stayed quiet for a while and `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud says he was so fearful during those moments as never before in his life. He feared that a stone from the heaven would crash on his head, until the Prophet – peace be upon him – said, “Except for Suhayl b. Bayda’.” Then came down the verse, “And it is not for any Prophet that he should have captives (of war) before he has inflicted a massacre in the land.” (The hadith is also in Hakim’s Mustadrak and, in his opinion, of trustworthy narrators: Ibn Kathir). According to other reports, when `Umar was consulted on that occasion, he said: “I don’t agree with Abu Bakr’s opinion. I believe you should hand-over to each of us his relative-captive, so that he can behead him. So, let `Ali kill (his brother) `Aqil, Hamza kill (his brother) `Abbas and let me kill so and so (who was related to `Umar from his wife’s side).” Later, `Umar happened to chance upon the two – the Prophet and Abu Bakr – and found them weeping. He asked, “Tell me, what is it about that you weep so that I could also weep, or at least make an effort.” The Prophet replied, “I weep because of what my Companions were exposed to because of their acceptance of ransom (from the captives).” Then, pointing to a tree nearby he added, “Your chastisement was shown to me nearer than this tree.” Some other reports, as e.g., one in Ibn Is-haq, say that had the chastisement come down none would have escaped (of the Companions) but `Umar and Sa`d b. Mu`adh. That is because, while the Companions were collecting booty, Sa`d’s face betrayed displeasure. He was then guarding the Prophet. He remarked: “It looks like you don’t approve of what the people are doing.” Sa`d replied: “Yes. This is the first occasion and I believe a thorough massacre was the right thing to attempt” (Zamakhshari, Razi, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir and others).

Sayyid adds: “There was another meaning that was meant to be impressed on the minds. It was best paraphrased by `Umar when he said: `(The massacre should have been carried on) in order that Allah knows that there is no soft corner for the pagans in our hearts.’”

Ibn `Abbas, Dahhak and others have said however, that this rule (of a good measure of massacre before prisoners are taken) applied only to Badr since the Muslims were weak then, and few in numbers. (They ought to have aimed at eliminating their enemy, especially the chiefs of the Quraysh: Au.). Subsequently, Allah – Glorified by He – revealed (47: 4): “Then, after that, either confer favor (upon them) or (impose) ransom.” With the revelation of this verse the Muslims were free to either slaughter their enemies in the battle-field or take them prisoners. Thereafter, they were free to release them without ransom, or, alternatively, demand ransom (Ibn Jarir).

There is another report in Hakim’s Mustadrak which says that `Abbas was taken prisoner by an Ansari. The Ansar threatened him that they would kill him. The report reached the Prophet. He said, “I didn’t sleep last night, worried over my uncle `Abbas who has been threatened with death by the Ansar.” `Umar asked, “Shall I go to them?” He replied, “Yes.” So `Umar went up to the Ansar and demanded that `Abbas be released. They refused. `Umar asked, “Even if we have the Prophet’s approval?” They said, “If you have the Prophet’s approval, then you can take him with you.” Having secured his release `Umar told `Abbas, “`Abbas, I wish you’d accept Islam. By Allah, your conversion to Islam is dearer to me than that of (my father) Khattab. And that is because I believe the Prophet would be pleased if you embraced Islam” (Ibn Kathir).

Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir also report under the following verses that the Prophet could not sleep the night after Badr-battle. When somebody inquired, he said that he could hear the sound of `Abbas’ chains. So they unbound him and the Prophet slept thereafter. Bukhari also reports that the Ansar wished to free him without ransom. But the Prophet – peace be upon him – opposed the idea saying, “Don’t forgive a penny.” Other reports say that when ransom was demanded of `Abbas, he appealed to the Prophet – peace be upon him – saying, “Messenger of Allah, you know that I was a Muslim (all along).” The Prophet told him, “Allah knows best about your Islam. If you are true, Allah will recompense you. As for us, apparently, you were with the unbelievers. Therefore, you ought to not only release yourself on ransom but pay up for your nephews Nawfal b. Harith and `Aqil b. Abi Talib too, as also for your ally `Utbah b. `Amr.” `Abbas protested, “Where am I going to get all the money from?” The Prophet asked, “What about the treasure you and your wife Umm al-Fadl secretly buried? You told her, `If I am struck, then this money is for you, for Fadl’s children `Abdullah and Quthum.’” `Abbas said, “By Allah, O Allah’s Apostle, you are surely a Messenger of Allah. (According to another narration: “I was in some doubt about it, but today I feel very sure”). No one knew about this except me and Umm al-Fadl. In any case, if you have to take ransom from me then treat the 20 Awqiyah that I had on me when I was captured as part of the sum (It had been confiscated of him).” The Prophet told him, “That will not do. That was Allah’s bounty that He bestowed on us.” So, `Abbas released himself and the others and Allah – Glorified be He – revealed: “O Prophet! Say to the prisoners in your hand, `If Allah knows of goodness in your hearts, He will grant you better than what has been taken from you.’

Qurtubi adds: Some reports suggest that it was on that day that `Abbas embraced Islam. It is also said that `Abbas was a huge man, while his captor was a puny Ansari. The Prophet told the Ansari: “An angel helped you in capturing him.” Another incident of note is that one of those taken prisoners was Abu al-`As al-Harbi. He was Zaynab’s husband, the Prophet’s daughter – still in Makkah. Zaynab sent a necklace to release him. When the Prophet – peace be upon him – saw the necklace he recalled that originally it belonged to Khadijah. He couldn’t suppress his feelings. He pleaded to the Ansar: “If you could release this man without a ransom?!” They agreed and let Abu al-`As go free. Once in Makkah, Abu al-`As allowed Zaynab to go away to her father. But, as she was leaving with her brother-in-law, they were caught up by a few Makkans who had got wind of her departure. They came out in hot pursuit. A man called Habbar b. al-Aswad threatened her with a spear. Zaynab suffered a miscarriage. Her brother-in-law vowed to fight on. But Abu Sufyan happened to pop up. He told her not to hurt the Quraysh’s feelings more by traveling to her father so openly. She could delay the journey for a few days and then go away secretly. Accordingly, a few days later she left secretly at night. From the other side, the Prophet learnt of her departure and sent two men to escort her from a point off Makkah. She arrived safely and Abu al-As joined her later as a Muslim.

Ibn Jarir notes that the ransom on that occasion was 100 Awqiyah. Each Awqiyah was 40 Dirham or about 6 Dinar. That was for those that could pay. Alternatively, those who were literate, they were required to teach the art of reading and writing to ten Muslims to earn freedom (Au.).

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