Verses from Surah Al-Anfal (68-75)

[68] If not for a writing of Allah preceding, surely, a mighty chastisement would have touched you for what you took.127


127.  Ibn ‘Abbas, Abu Hurayrah, Hasan al-Busri and A’mash have said that the reference is to taking of prisoners and their release on ransom at Badr.  And by the words, “If not for a writing of Allah preceding,” the allusion is to the spoils of war, which would have been in any case made lawful to the Muslims, after they had remained unlawful in earlier times – because that was how it was decreed.  But they invited the reproach by taking the spoils of war and the ransom before the release of a specific commandment from Allah.  However, a few others, such as Sa’id, Mujahid, Qatadah and Hasan have said that by the words, “If not for a writing of Allah preceding,” the allusion is to the fact that Allah had written it that He will not punish those who participated in the battle of Badr.  A third opinion is that of Mujahid and Muhammad who said that the allusion is to the rule set by Allah that He not punish before He has sent the prohibiting commandment.  Further, there are reports that the Prophet (saws) had warned his Companions that if they released their prisoners on ransom, they will pay a similar price in consequence, when they will lose seventy of their own men (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi).

Such reports as referred to by Ibn Jarir in his last lines above are in Tirmidhi, Nasa’i and Ibn Hibban.  However, it is an extremely gharib report (Ibn Kathir).

Gharib is a hadith which is difficult to explain and to reconcile with other reports on the same topic.  Nonetheless, a hadith close in meaning is in Ahmad also.  And Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut has said in his notes on Ibn Hibban (vol. 11, p. 119) that the hadith, although difficult to explain, is classified Sahih by Hakim with Dhahabi agreeing with him that it meets with the criterion of Bukhari and Muslim (Au).

Mufti Shafi’ further explains the situation: Tirmidhi, Nasa’i and Ibn Hibban have preserved a report by ‘Ali which says that Jibril came down to tell that the Prophet (saws) and his Companions have a choice between killing the captives and destroying the enemy strength forever, or accept ransom from them.  But, in the latter case they would lose equal number of their men next year.  Now, although the Companions had a choice, the inclusion of the condition gave indication that Allah preferred them to opt for the first option.  Some of the Companions however thought that if they released the captives on ransom, there was a chance they would embrace Islam.  The idea that the money coming in would also release them from worrisome economic woes and, in fact, help prepare for future battles, was also at the back of their mind and which evoked Allah’s displeasure.  (The disapproval of the love of this world, was known, anyway, through earlier revelations: Thanwi).  As for equal numbers to be martyred in return they did not think much of that.  Wasn’t it, after all, a great thing to be martyred?  So, the censure was both for going for booty, as well as for acceptance of ransom, since, in the true sense, money got out of ransom was also a kind of booty.

A fiqh principle, continues Shafi’, might also be borne in mind.  If, today someone makes a deal which accrues profit, but learns later that the deal was disallowed, then, the profits thus accrued are illegal, although the deal itself is forgivable.  One should not be misled by the above verse to believe that the profits are also as forgivable as the collection of booty or taking of ransom was to the Companions – although a promulgation about it came later.

To some it might sound strange that a people should be given a choice and then reprimanded as it happened with the Companions.  They were given a choice between killing and accepting ransom.  But when they chose they were censured! The answer given by Shabbir is as follows: The choice was by way of test and was of the same nature as presented to the wives of the Prophet (saws) when they were told to choose between the riches of the world and the Prophet as their husband, or, when the Prophet (saws) was presented with milk and wine during the Me’raj journey and then, upon choosing milk being told by Jibril that if he had chosen wine his ummah would have gone astray.  Further, it is likely that the Companions, although given a choice, did not exert their best efforts on making the choice.  Being in the high-ranking position as they were, it amounted to a serious failure.  Another example can be cited.  During a campaign, a man wounded in the head experienced a wet dream.  He asked the other Companions if he was necessarily required to take a full bath.  They told him yes.  He washed himself head to foot and died.  When the Prophet (saws) came to know, he remarked: “They killed him, may Allah kill them.” That is, they had not exerted their best efforts before ruling that the man should take a full bath in that condition.  Finally, by bringing the punishment as close as the tree yonder, was by way of vision of the punishment (and not to threaten him); as, for example, once when in Prayers, the Prophet (saws) was shown Heaven and Hell as close as the wall in front of him.

Thanwi cautions: If a Prophet, who is saved from (grave) errors, can make an erroneous judgement, then, what about ordinary mortals.  How wrong are those then who, when they are handed down a wrong opinion by a Sheikh, insist that since it has come from the Sheikh, surely there must be a secret hidden in it.


[69] Eat now (freely),128 of what you have secured of the spoils: lawful, goodly,129 and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is All-forgiving, All-Kind.


128.  It is said that when the previous verse was revealed the Companions held themselves from expending out of the booty and the ransom until Allah (swt) revealed this verse (Razi, Alusi).

129.  With reference to the textual words “halalan tayyiban” Sabuni points out that they are explained by the hadith (in Bukhari: Au.) which says: “My sustenance has been placed under the shade of my lance.”

[70] 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.130 And He will forgive you.131 Allah is All-forgiving, All-merciful.132


130.  Asad comments: `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 in the believers’ hands in the course of war.’

131.  Ibn Is-haq has reported that on the day of Badr the Prophet (saws) said: “A few of the Banu Hashim have been forced into this conflict against their will. Therefore, whoever came across Abu al-Bakhtari, let him not kill him. Whoever came across `Abbas ibn `Abdul Muttalib, let him not kill him.” Upon that Hudhayfah b. `Utbah remarked, “Are we to slaughter our fathers, sons, brothers and kinsfolk but spare `Abbas? By Allah, if I overpower him, I shall put him to the sword.’ His words reached the Prophet (saws). He said to `Umar, “O Abu Hafs – and this was the only time in his life that he addressed `Umar as Abu Hafs – will the face of the Prophet’s uncle be struck?” `Umar retaliated, “Shall I kill him, O Messenger of Allah? I think the man is a hypocrite.” Ibn `Utbah says, “I was never in peace from what I said that day and was always afraid Allah (will chastise me) unless Allah were to cleanse me of it through martyrdom.” And, to be sure, he was martyred in the battle of Yamamah (Ibn Kathir).

`Abbas (ra), who was taken a prisoner at Badr, used to say about himself: “I am one of those who had the promise fulfilled on himself. I paid 40 Awqiyah of gold on that day for my release, but later, Allah (swt) gave me 40 slaves. And I hope to be forgiven my sins (as promised in the verse)” – Ibn Jarir.

Abu Bakr al-Bayhaqi has a report that much later, once the governor of Bahrayn region sent so much goods as the Prophet never received before or after. The Prophet ordered that it be laid out in the yard of the mosque. He emerged for the Prayers but didn’t even look at the heap. After the Prayers he began to distribute. No one passed by but he called him in and gave him some. Then `Abbas showed up and said, “Give me now, O Messenger of Allah, in return of what I spent on ransom.” The Prophet told him, “Help yourself.” `Abbas gathered so much in his shirt that he couldn’t lift it. He asked someone standing there if he could help him lift it. The man declined. Then he asked `Ali to help him lift it. But he too declined. The Prophet suggested that he lessen the load and lift it himself. `Abbas did that, but could only do it with difficulty. The reporter says the Prophet (saws) fixed his gaze on `Abbas until he disappeared – wondering at his avarice. After him the Prophet (saws) rose up from the place only when he was left with not a single Dirham. Bukhari has parts of this report spread over places. And `Abbas used to say, “What I have been given in Islam is surely better than what was taken away from me when I was taken prisoner. Allah kept His word. And I hope to be forgiven as He has promised” (Razi in parts and Ibn Kathir).

132.  Yusuf Ali writes: “Note how comprehensive is Allah’s care. He encourages and strengthens the Muslims, at the same time condemning any base motives that may have entered their minds. He consoles the prisoners of war and promises them better things if there is any good in them at all. And He offers comfort to those who have left their homes in His Cause, and knits them into closer fellowship with those who have helped them and sympathized with them.”

With reference to the words, `If Allah knows of goodness in your hearts, He will grant you better than what has been taken from you; and He will forgive you,’ Thanwi points out that this verse leads to the conclusion that obedience evokes blessings of both this world as well as the next, although the rewards of the next world are worthier.


[71] But if they intend to be dishonest then (that is not surprising since) they have been dishonest with Allah before. But He protected you from them. Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.133


133.  The allusion is to some of those prisoners at Badr who showed signs of inclination toward Islam. However, they seemed to be merely wishing to be friendly with the Muslims without damaging their relationships with the unbelievers (Qurtubi). But Qatadah has said that the allusion is to Ibn Abi Sarh who was one of the Prophet’s revelation writers. Subsequently, he became an apostate and joined up with the pagans at Makkah. When Makkah fell, the Prophet (saws) announced that three people were not to be given shelter. One of them was `Abdullah ibn Abi Sarh. But `Uthman brought him to the Prophet seeking his pardon. While they stood there an Ansari came up with an unsheathed sword, circling the man. Initially the Prophet didn’t say anything. Finally he pardoned him. Later he remarked that if he had delayed the pardon, it was because he was expecting the Ansari to behead him. The Ansari remarked that he could have signaled him with his eye. The Prophet (saws) replied, “A Prophet does not signal with his eye” (Ibn Jarir).

[72] Surely, those who believed, emigrated,134 and struggled with their wealth and their selves in Allah’s cause, and those who sheltered and helped (them), they are the friends of one another.135 As for those who believed but did not emigrate, you have no duty of friendship toward them until they emigrate.136 However, if they seek your help on religious grounds, then it is your duty to help them, except against a people between whom and you there be a pact.137 And Allah is aware of what you do.138


134.  “Hijrah is not `emigration’ or `flight’ pure and simple, but emigration with a religious motive” (Majid).

135.  Another verse of the Qur’an describes the nature of the “wilayah” between the Muhajirun and Ansar. It says (59: 8-9): “(The spoils are) for the poor emigrants who were expelled from their homes and their properties, seeking bounty from Allah, (His) approval, and supporting Allah and His Messenger. Those are the truthful. And (also for) those who were settled in the home (i.e., at Madinah) and (adopted) the faith before them. They love those who emigrated to them and find not any want in their breasts for what they (the emigrants) were given, instead, give (them) preference over their own selves, although they are (themselves) in want.” Ibn Kathir explains the last phrase as meaning that they do not envy them over the superiority that Allah gave the Emigrants over the Helpers because of their emigration.

136.  The first generation scholars have said that the “wilayah” (rendered here as friendship) as spoken of in these set of verses, (of which “ukhuwwah” is one manifestation: Au.), included inheritance between them. So that, those Muhajir and the Ansar Muslims between whom the Prophet (saws) had declared ukhuwwah (brotherhood pact) received their share of inheritance from each other (even before the kinsfolk could get their share: Ibn Kathir from Bukhari). In contrast, a Muslim who did not migrate to Madinah was not inherited by his Muslim relatives who had migrated, and vice versa (just as a Muslim and pagan did not inherit each other: Au.). This remained so until the fall of Makkah (when mu’akha [brotherhood pact] ended: Au.). This is what verse 75 of this chapter is speaking of, announcing (that the mu’akha rule was for the special circumstances of the early days and) that those related by blood are nearer, implying that henceforth they – the kin – will inherit each other (Ibn Jarir). Ibn Jarir’s own opinion is that by “wilayah” of these verses, it is only material and moral help that is meant.

The Prophet (saws) has however plainly said in a report preserved by Hakim and declared trustworthy: “Members of two religious communities will not inherit each other. Neither a Muslim can inherit an unbeliever, nor an unbeliever a Muslim.” Similar reports are found in piece-meal in the Sahihayn and Tirmidhi (Ibn Kathir).

A report in Muslim makes things clearer. It says that when the Prophet (saws) sent his Companions out in a campaign, he instructed them in words: “Go out: in the name of Allah, in the path of Allah. Fight him who rejects Allah. When you meet your enemies, invite them to one of the three and accept from them whichsoever of the three they choose. Invite them to Islam. If they accept, restrain yourselves. Then urge them to migrate from their homes to the land of the emigrants (Madinah). If they do that, they shall get what the emigrants get. If they refuse, and choose to remain in their places, then tell them that they will be counted among the Bedouin-Muslims, and to be ruled by Allah’s commandments – just as other Muslims. But they shall have no share in the spoils of war: of any kind, unless they fight alongside the Muslims. If they decline to accept the offer, then let them choose to pay tribute. If they accept that, then restrain yourselves against them. But if they decline, then seek Allah’s help and fight against them” (Ibn Kathir).

Mufti Shafi` adds: In the light of the above verse, some scholars have ruled that just as the difference in religion is a bar to inheritance, difference in lands (ikhtelaf al-darayn) is also a bar to inheritance. Details might be seen in fiqh books.

137.  Although (those who remain in Dar al-Harb) are Muslims, and Allah (swt) has commanded the general body of Muslims to help them when they ask for help, an exception has been made: a situation in which the Muslims have entered into a no-war pact (with the Dar al-Harb in question) – Shafi`. However, if the Dar al-Harb Muslims sought help while the main body of Muslims is bound by a treaty, then, they might revoke the treaty if they think that the situation demands it (Thanwi). Further, if the Dar al-Harb Muslims have entered into a pact with the non-Muslims, those of Dar al-Islam are not bound by such a treaty (Shabbir).

138.  The rule remains for the future also. If, in any land, it is not possible for Muslims to follow the commandments of their Shari`ah, then it is obligatory on them to emigrate. If they don’t, without a good reason, then, even if they do not become unbelievers altogether, the law of the muhajir and non-muhajir (in Dar al-Harb) of no inheritance between them will come into force (Shafi`).


[73] As regards the unbelievers, some of them are friends (and supporters) of the others.139 If you do not do that, there will be sedition and great corruption in the land.140


139.  Hence the Hanafiyyah say that all kinds of unbelievers can inherit each other; so that a Christian may inherit a Hindu, etc. (Razi).

In fact, Mufti Shafi` adds, even the division of inheritance will follow the rules that the non-Muslims normally apply to themselves. In other words, as minorities, they have the freedom to live by their Personal Law. If that is not done, it will, as the verse warns, lead to corruption in the land. 

140.  What the verse means to say is that `if you do not treat the believers, wherever they might be, as your friends and natural allies, and do not go to their help, then, there will be great sedition and corruption in the lands (Au).

Incidentally, it might be mentioned that the Prophet (saws) did not treat those as Muslims who had not emigrated to Madinah (Ibn Jarir). He has said in a tradition of Abu Da’ud and Ibn Majah: “I am quit of every Muslim who choses to live in the lands of the pagans. The two should not see each other’s fires” (Ibn Kathir). Meaning, by the last phrase, perhaps, that when the two, Muslim and non-Muslim encamp, the Muslims should keep enough distance between themselves and the pagans (Au.). Another hadith of Abu Da’ud says, “Whoever intermingled with a pagan and lived with him is of him.” If the Muslims don’t do that then “there will be sedition and great corruption in the land” (Ibn Kathir).

Yusuf Ali speaks of another aspect of the meaning: “Evil consorts with evil. The good have all the more reason for drawing together and not only living in mutual harmony, but being ready at all times to protect each other. Otherwise the world will be given over to aggressions by unscrupulous people, and the good will fail in their duty to establish Allah’s Peace and to strengthen all the forces of truth and righteousness.”


[74] Those who believed, emigrated and struggled in Allah’s cause, and those who sheltered and helped, they are the true believers. For them is forgiveness and a noble provision. 

[75] As for those who believed thereafter, emigrated and struggled along with you, they are of you,141 although of the kinsfolk some have precedence over others in the decree of Allah.142 Surely, Allah has knowledge of everything.


141.  Yusuf Ali also explains: “Those who come into the fold last are none the less brethren in the fullest acceptance of the term. But any special provisions made in the special circumstances of the first martyrs for the Cause will not of course apply to them as the special circumstances which made them necessary have ceased to exist.”

We have a hadith of the Prophet (saws) in this context. He said, “Surely, the Muhajirun and Ansar are each others’ supporters (awliya’). So also, the freed ones of the Quraysh and the freed ones of the Thaqif tribe are supporters of each other – until the Day of Judgement” (Ibn Kathir).

142.  In the opinion of Ibn Zubayr, this verse abrogated the practice in pagan times of two friends entering into a compact to the effect that one would inherit the other (Ibn Jarir).

Alusi adds: The verse is the basis of the recommendation that the nearest of kin should lead in the funeral Prayers.

Mufti Shafi` explains the inheritance rules: Verses 11 and 12 of surah al-Nisa’ had already spoken of those who receive the first preference in the division of inheritance. The inheritors named there are technically known as “Dhu al-fara’id.” They are the first recipients. However, if anything is left after distribution among them, then it goes to the “Ulu al-arham” as stated in the present verse. But the textual word “Ulu al-arham”, meaning “the kinsfolk” is of a general nature, applicable to everyone of the family, however distantly related. In fact, it can be extended to the last man on earth since all are sons of Adam. It is ahadith which tell us that in matters of inheritance, the nearest of kin are considered for eligibility before the distant ones. It says: “As for the obligatory, distribute it among those who deserve it. What remains thereafter is for the nearest male of the kinsfolk.” In simpler words, whatever is left after the division according to the Qur’anic injunction in verses 11 and 12 of surah al-Nisa’ is to go to the nearest of male kin on the father’s side, and then to the one more distant, and so on. These are technically known as `Asabat. Finally, if anything is still left, it is to be divided among the “Ulu al-arham” which, when used with reference to the Laws of Inheritance, becomes a technical term comprising of maternal uncles, maternal aunts, etc. Details might be seen in fiqh books.

Sayyid comments: With the surah drawing to a close, it offers us the final lessons. On the one hand, it speaks of the nature of relationship that exists between the members of a Muslim society, while, on the other, it delineates the society’s relationship with other societies. It states the rules that bind one individual with the others. These rules also shed light on the “nature” of the Muslim society and the foundations on which it rests. Lo, they are not the relationships of blood, region, race, past history, language or economy. These are not the basis of the relationships. It is Faith which is the basis of all relationship. The basis is leadership…and the Movement. Those who believed and emigrated to the Land of Islam, cutting asunder all kinds of bindings that could hold them back: the land, the homes, the people and other considerations…and then fought in the way of Allah with their own souls and their own wealth.., and those who sheltered them, helped them and took them close to themselves for the sake of Faith under a single leadership, being transformed into a single current…such, they are the friends and supporters of each other…to the extent that they were to inherit each other. As for those who disbelieved, they are friends and supporters of their likes.”

Further down the lines he writes: “The effects of the phenomenon that was laid out above was something incredibly wonderful on the Islamic polity and the society it gave birth to: a society bonded by none other measures than Faith. Race, color, geographical location, language or other considerations played no role whatsoever. Consequently, the Islamic society became open for all kinds and classes of people, of variety of colors, speaking different dialects, facing no stumbling blocks of any kind. Varieties of people poured into the melting pot and then the elements were made to fuse into each other to give rise to an admixture, within a very short period. In its sequel, this small band of men brought into being a great civilization stretching over a vast area of the globe at a lightning pace despite the fact that it was an age in which movements were slow and means of communication crude.

“The new civilization had fused into itself Arabs, Persians, Syrians, Egyptians, Moroccans, Turks, Chinese, Indians, Romans, Greeks, Indonesians, Africans and the rest of the varieties of people. Together, its parts created a massive whole that came to be known as the Islamic civilization. Yet, not for a single day it was `Arabic’ or `nationalistic.’ It was always `Islamic’ founded on Faith.

“The new elements fused together to create a civilization in which they were all equal, bound to others by love. Everyone poured in his efforts, and everyone contributed his specialty and pooled in individual as well as collective experiences to build a civilization to which they all related themselves as equals. Their unity within it was by the bond of love for their Lord and it was their humanity alone that was brought to fore, without any obstacles…a coming together of humankind that was never experienced before in history.

“Earlier and later, other efforts to unite the people under one banner met with failure: the Roman empire, the British empire, the European hegemony, and finally, the Communist regimes. All of them miserably failed in their efforts to unite the people.

“It was Islam and Islam alone that succeeded. Yet, how ironic today that its adherents should look for alternatives and bank on failed formulas to unite the Muslims?”


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