Surah al-Anfal

Merits of the Chapter

According to reports in Tabrani’s Al‑Kabir (declared trustworthy by Haythamiyy: S.Ibrahim), the Prophet (saws) recited this chapter quite regularly in his Maghrib Prayers (Shawkani).

Foreword to the Surah

The following is Yusuf Ali’s abridged foreword to the Surah:

“In (a) previous Introduction… we have shown how each Surah is a step or gradation in the teaching of the Qur’an. The first seven Surahs, comprising a little less than one‑third of the Qur’an, form a gradation, sketching the early religious history of man and leading up to the formation of the new Ummat or community of the Holy Messenger. Now we begin another gradation, consolidating that Ummat and directing us as to various phases in our new collective life. The date of this Surah is shortly after the battle of Badr, which was fought on Friday, the 17th of Ramadan, in the second year of the Hijrah. The battle of Badr was a testing time, and showed how virtue and valour can conquer against odds. Steadfastness and obedience; faith, courage, and fearlessness; due preparation and free expenditure of resources and energy: – these are expected from you by Allah, and His help is all‑sufficient (viii. 38‑64). Even tenfold odds against you do not count if you are fighting for truth and faith against enemies of truth and faith; but remember clemency and consideration in the hour of victory (viii. 65‑75).”

Sayyid Qutb prefaces this chapter with a long note speaking at length about the nature of the Islamic State and the Jihad that it is required to conduct. A full translation will run into 40‑50 pages. Herewith a shortened account:

Often we come across the statement that this chapter was revealed after surah al‑Baqarah following the battle of Badr, somewhere 19 months after Hijrah. But we need to understand this statement. For, although al‑Baqarah began to be revealed at the beginning of the Madinan phase, its various parts continued to be revealed right up to the end of that period. In other words, al‑Baqarah remained open, while this chapter was being revealed. Therefore, it is more apt to say that this chapter was revealed after the first few passages of al‑Baqarah.

Of course, its major theme is the battle of Badr. The Qur’an named it, “the Day of Criterion.” Its repercussions were not only this worldly, but also next worldly. Allah (swt) said (22: 19‑24),

“These are two groups who disputed over their Lord. In consequence, those who disbelieved will have garments cut out of fire. Boiling water will be poured over their heads. It will melt the contents of their bellies and their skins. And for them are hooked iron rods (to be shoved about with). Every time they try to get out of it ‑ because of the anguish ‑ they will be pushed back to it and (it will be said), ‘Taste the punishment of the Fire.’ (As for the other group) verily, Allah will admit those who believed and acted righteously to Gardens beneath which rivers flow. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold and pearls. And their dresses therein will be of silk. They had been guided to a Good Word and they had been guided to the path praiseworthy.”

The allusion is to the two groups that fought at Badr. And the statement should give us some idea of the importance of that event.

But the true nature of the event will not be obvious to us if we do not first understand the nature of Jihad in Islam. And, the nature of Jihad in Islam will not be understood without first understanding the nature of the religion of Islam itself. That will lead us to an understanding of how Jihad forms a link among the several links that go into making the body of Islam.

We might conveniently begin the discussion by first presenting a selection from Imam ibn Qayyim who has very neatly summed up the nature of the religion of Islam, and the importance of jihad in it in his Zad al‑Ma‘ad. He wrote: “The first revelation sent to the Prophet (saws) by his Lord was, ‘Read in the name of thy Lord.’ That was the beginning of his mission. Allah ordered him to recite it to himself, not requiring him to take the message to others. Then He revealed, ‘O you cloaked in a blanket, rise up and warn.’ Thus, Allah made him a Prophet by ordering, ‘Read,’ and declared him a Messenger by revealing ‘O you cloaked…rise up and warn.’ Next, He ordered him to warn his close kinsfolk. After that the Prophet warned his tribe. Next he warned those around Makkah. Then he warned all the Arabs. Finally, he warned the entire mankind. Thus he remained ten years or more after his Prophethood, warning the people but neither fighting them nor demanding Jizyah. Indeed, in that state he was ordered to pursue his mission with patience and forgiveness. Finally, he was asked to immigrate. That accomplished, he was asked to fight those who fought him, and spare those who spared him. Next he was ordered to fight the pagans until the Religion became Allah’s. With that, insofar as Jihad was concerned, the unbelievers became three kinds: Those that had entered into a treaty with him, those that were at war with him, and those that had submitted themselves to him and were paying Jizyah. In that stage he was ordered to be true to the treaties with such of those as remained true to their treaties, until the period expired. However, if he perceived dishonesty on their part, he was to pull out of the treaty but was not to fight until he was sure that they had actually breached the trust. But, if he did find a breach of trust, he was to fight them. When Surah Bara‘ah (another name of Surah al‑Tawbah) came, it gave him fresh orders concerning the three kinds of unbelievers mentioned above. He was ordered to fight his enemies from the People of the Book until they either paid Jizyah or entered into Islam. He was also ordered therein to fight the common unbelievers and the hypocrites and to be tough with them. Accordingly, he fought the unbelievers with the sword, and the hypocrites with the pen. That chapter also commanded him to announce that he was quit of the unbelievers, ordering him to pull out of all treaties that he had made with the unbelievers. In other words the chapter declared those who had entered into treaties with him as of three kinds: the first kind which had broken its treaty. He was ordered to fight them. Accordingly, he fought them and overcame them. A second kind was of those that had entered into a time‑bound treaty and had not broken the word of promise. He was ordered to keep the treaty with them until the expiry of the period. A third kind was of those that had not entered into any treaty with him and had not fought him; or they had entered into a treaty, but the period was not specified. He was ordered to give them four months time. At the end of this period he was to fight them. Accordingly, he fought those that had breached the treaties and gave four months to those who had not entered into a treaty with him, or had done so but without specifying a period. As for those that had entered into a time‑bound treaty and had not breached it, he left them to themselves. It is another thing that all these categories of the people entered into Islam without waiting for the period to expire. As for those that had submitted, he levied Jizyah on them. Eventually, with the revelation of Surah Bara’ah, the unbelievers once again became three kinds: the belligerent ones, those who had entered into a treaty, and those who had submitted and were paying the Jizyah. As regards the belligerent ones, the true situation was that they feared him. Thus, so far as he was concerned, mankind split into three kinds: (i) believers, (ii) those who had surrendered, and, (iii) the belligerent, but fearful of him. As for his treatment of the hypocrites, he was ordered to accept them on their face value, leaving their secrets to Allah. Nevertheless, he was to wage a struggle against them with knowledge and evidence as his weapon. Otherwise, he was to avoid them, press hard against them, but say honourable words. He was forbidden from Praying on one of them dying, and that he should stand by his grave seeking Allah’s forgiveness for him. He was informed that Allah would not forgive them, even if he sought their forgiveness seventy times. These were his ways with the unbelievers and the hypocrites.”

After the above from Ibn Qayyim, Sayyid continues: From this short but succinct discourse on the pattern of Jihad conducted in early Islam, a few characteristics of the nature of the Islamic movement are brought to fore. In sum and substance they could be stated as under:

(i) Realism:

The strain of realism that runs through and through should be apparent. It is a realistic religion, which encounters its adversaries with realism, employing means that are in reality available to it.  It encounters a pagandom that is built on certain beliefs and practices, commanding a certain way of life, supported by men of material power. It encounters it ‑ step by step, act by act ‑ with what is at its disposal. It is not a movement that depends on expressions and protestations alone in the face of those in possession of material power, neither does it try to win its adversaries with the help of material power alone. Rather, it faces them off with the power of Jihad to destroy the system and its custodians.

(ii) Plan of Action:

A second characteristic stems from the first: it has a plan of action that runs through phases. Each phase employs its own means to meet the demands of the situation. Each phase leads to a well defined next. Thus, it does not face off the situations with mere ideologies nor with frozen means and methods. Those who try to work out an understanding of the concept of Jihad as embodied in the Qur’an, but neglect this fact, end up with confused notions. They regard every text that they come across, as containing a textual command in itself, free of all other texts and independent by itself. They are unable to co‑relate the various texts and reach an overall understanding. They say ‑ those with defeated mentality, to such of their descendants who are left with nothing of Islam but an identity – that Islam knows of no other war but a defensive one.

(iii) Consistency:

A third point is that this religion is a persisting, continuous movement, with renewed means, never bending over its principles and never relenting on its objectives. So that, from the first day of its call, whether it addressed the close kinsfolk, the whole of the Arabs, or the whole of the world, whenever it called, it was the same consistent message: surrender unto one Lord alone and free yourselves from the slavery of human beings.

(iv) Relationships:

A fourth point of note is the set of rules and principles governing the relationship of the world of Islam with the rest of the world, on a pattern delineated by Ibn Qayyim. Its theme is that Islam is the central principle to which all peoples of the world should relate themselves. To achieve its objectives, Islam will not allow any political power to come in between its message and the individuals at large: who should be allowed to choose Islam of their own free will or reject it. But, it will not allow anyone to adopt a belligerent attitude towards it, without waging a war against him until Islam finishes him off, or he surrenders to its will.

These in short are the characteristics of the Islamic movement in reference to Jihad. But the defeated ones among the Muslims who write on Jihad, twist the meanings and the concepts, in order to present Islam as one that will fight only a defensive war. They get mixed up between two operational principles: there is no coercion in Islam, and, the use of force to remove the obstacles in the way of Islamic message reaching the masses.”

Let’s get it clearly then: This religion is a proclamation of man’s freedom from slavery to man as well as his slavery to his own base self. In the first step it proclaims the lordship of Allah over the entire created world. This proclamation is a declaration of war on the “lordship” of man: whatever form it takes. To accept some of the humankind as the lawgivers would imply their lordship. Others are automatically reduced to their slavery. This kind of lordship has to be destroyed in the first step for the reasons of establishing Allah’s complete sovereignty over the earth. In the words of the Qur’an (43: 84):

And, it is He who is the deity in the heaven and the deity in the earth.”

And (12: 40):

The command is Allah’s. He has ordered that you worship none but Him. That is the well‑established religion.”

And (3: 64):

Tell them, ‘O people of the Book! Come to an equitable term between us and you: that we worship none but Allah and associate not aught with Him, and some of us do not declare others as Lords besides Allah.’ But if they turn their backs (to this call), say, ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims’.”

That understood, it must also be borne in mind that the establishment of Allah’s rule on the earth, the stripping away of the powers (of legislation) from the people, acceptance of His Law as the only law in existence, and declaration of man‑made laws as null and void, all these cannot be achieved through persuasion alone. Those who hold the reigns of power, and draw advantages therewith, are not going to relinquish it without a struggle. On the other hand, the proclamation of the rule for Allah alone and none else, was never meant to be a philosophical idea with no plan of action and no intention to enforce it. It always was, during the long history of the Messengers of Allah, a positive – and practical – proposition. This last piece of fact, accorded the struggle started by the Messengers, the form of a movement; a movement that faced the ground realities, on all fronts, with every kind of means that could be employed. Islam too was obliged to continue with the task.

However, the caution might be repeated that it was not Islam’s objective to force the people into belief. For, Islam is not a set of beliefs. Islam is the other name of freeing people from the slavery of the people and binding them to the slavery of Allah. This required that the power bases be destroyed, the power brokers be broken and the power holders be stripped off their power. It is only after these are accomplished that the people can be said to be truly free of their yoke. It is after this that the people will in truth have the unrestrained choice to either accept the Islamic faiths and beliefs or reject them. They might live under the Islamic system of life. But they are free to reject its faiths and practices and follow their own religions. It is only the hindering forces that are rendered powerless. This is done through what is known as Jihad. Jihad is not conducted to force people into believing in its dogmas. It is conducted to neutralise the antagonistic forces that prevent them from making a free choice. Islam then, cannot be called a “defensive religion” or, “a religion on the defence.”

Therefore, what was finally achieved through the success of the Jihad policy, has to be kept by the Muslim community as the goal, and not the contingencies of the situation in the beginning or during the middle period of the struggle. The final situation for the Islamic state should be what Ibn Qayyim stated as: “Eventually, with the revelation of Surah Bara’ah, the unbelievers became three kinds: (a) the belligerent ones, (b) those who had entered into a treaty and (c) those who had submitted and were paying the tribute. As regards the belligerent ones, the true situation was that they feared him (the Prophet). Consequently, mankind split into three kinds: believers, those who had surrendered, and, the belligerent ones, but fearful of him.”

Jihad has been instituted for the Muslim Ummah to arrive at this end and not at the ends adopted by the defeatists under the pressure of the ‘present‑day situation’ nor at the ends that have been defined by the cunning Orientalists.

What other meaning of Jihad is affordable in view of the numerous Qur’anic injunctions, hadith clarifications and the events of the early Islamic history? How else one is to understand the meaning and objectives of Jihad when one has the very first revealed in this connection before him (22: 40):

“If not for Allah checking the people ‑ some at the hands of others ‑ surely, many of the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which Allah is remembered much, would have been demolished.”

(In other words, this religion also defends other religions while it fights off the usurpers of people’s rights to choose between right and wrong: Au.).

In fact, in Makkah too ‑ a training phase ‑ Islam was not without the sword, except that the sword was not in its own hands. It was Banu Hashim who held the sword and defended the Prophet there. Further, an armed struggle in Makkah would have meant plunging the area into a blood bath that wouldn’t have had a short run. Every home would have turned into a battlefield, leaving in its wake a very negative effect. Already it was being said: ‘Muhammad creates discord between father and son.’ Moreover, there were many amongst the Makkans who were later to turn into the champions of Islam. With armed struggle ensuing at an early stage, their services would have been lost. These then were the reasons why jihad was not instituted there, at Makkah, and not because Islam is a defensive religion.

That said, what other justification is required after the plain Qur’anic injunctions in this regard? How else can one explain the following? (4: 74‑76):

“Let them then fight ‑ in the way of Allah ‑ those who (readily) sell the life of this world for the next. Who so fights in the way of Allah and is slain, or overcomes (the enemy), We shall surely shower on him a mighty reward. How is it with you that you do not fight in the way of Allah, while the (weak and the) oppressed men, women and children are pleading: ‘Our Lord, rescue us from the people of this tyrannous town, and appoint to us a protector from You, and appoint to us a helper from You?’ The believers fight in the way of Allah, while the unbelievers fight in the way of the Devil. Fight then, against the friends of Shaytan. Shaytan’s guile is weak indeed.”

And (8: 38‑40):

“Say to the unbelievers, if they desist, they will be forgiven what was in the past. But, if they return (to their old ways), then, surely, the way (of punishment) of the earlier ones has already passed. (As for you, O Muslims), fight them until idolatry is no more, and the Religion ‑ all of it ‑ is Allah’s. But if they desist, then, surely Allah is Seeing of what they do. However, if they turn away (in rejection), then (fear them not, rather) know that Allah is your Protector ‑ an excellent Protector and an excellent Helper.”

And (9: 29‑32):

“Fight those of the People of the Book who do not believe in Allah nor in the Hereafter, nor do they forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, nor do they accept the true religion ‑ until they pay Jizyah by hand in humiliation. The Jews said, ‘Uzayr is a son of God.’ And the Christians claimed, ‘Jesus is the son of God.’ That is a statement from their mouths. They (blindly) repeat the claims of the unbelievers of the past. Allah destroys them, where are they being driven? They took their scholars, monks, and Jesus the son of Mary, as lords besides Allah; although, they were not ordered but to worship one God. There is no Lord but He. He is exalted above what they ascribe. They wish to extinguish Allah’s light by (the blow of their) mouths. But Allah spurns (the idea) except that He should complete His light even if the unbelievers be averse to it.”

Such are the revelations. What other justification is needed after them? How else is the Allah’s sovereignty to be understood in the light of above? This is how the earliest ones understood the verses. Those of the first generation Muslims who came out in jihad didn’t say, “We came out to defend our motherland.” Nor did they say, “We have come out to get rid of the Persian (or Roman) yoke on our necks.” They would say what Ruba`i b. `Amir, Hudhayfah b. Muhsin and Mughira b. Sho`bah said to Rustam the commander‑in‑chief of the Persian armies when he gave the three of the Muslim representatives separate audiences on three different occasions. He would ask, “What has brought you here?” They’d reply, “We have come to relieve the people from the slavery of men of their own sort and bind them to the slavery of one God; and to bring them out from the constrictions of this world to the expanses of the Hereafter; and from the oppression of other religions to the justice of Islam. Allah sent His Messenger with His religion. Whoever accepted it from us, we will accept him (as a brother‑Muslim), shall leave him (to himself) and go back to our lands. As for him who refused, we shall fight him until we end up in Paradise, or are granted victory.”

The justification then, spelled out above, is a part and parcel of this religion. It will spring to action, depending on the situation and the means available. Such action will not depend on whether the Muslims have been oppressed in the lands or not. In contrast, those who claim that jihad is justified on the grounds of defence of one’s nation, place the religion of Allah one level below their nation. This concept is foreign to Islam. Indeed, the lands are, by themselves, worthless in the sight of Islam.

Obviously, the world of the unbelievers around the world of Islam cannot accept any threat to its survival. Those who control the reign of power will not give up their power without a struggle. Having known the nature of Islam, they will surely take the first step and strike before they are struck. That will lead to a struggle between the two worlds. There is no escape from such a struggle. There isn’t any choice. If Islam doesn’t take the first action, others will. However, if that were to happen, then, although at the beginning there would seem to be no difference between the two situations ‑ whether it was Islam that took the first step, or others ‑ but, at the end of the road a serious difference would show up. It would mean a serious corruption in the understanding of the Islamic concepts.

Therefore, it is an Islamic duty that the first steps be taken. For Islam is not a national religion. It is not the system for running a government. It is Allah’s very religion and a system for the whole of the world. It is its right that it should take the first step towards the destruction of all other systems in order to remove the obstacles ‑ not the individuals, with whom Islam has no quarrel ‑ rather the systems that take away the people’s freedom of choice. This religion’s main objective is the freedom of man. Its target is Man: not the Arabs. Its field of action is the earth ‑ the whole of the earth (and not a patch of it).

It is in the light of the above discussion that we are now in a better position to appreciate the battle of Badr and the reasons that led to the clash ‑ as a sequel to which the chapter at hand was revealed.

Nevertheless, it might also be pointed out, despite the fear of repetition, but because of the need to stress, that the battle at Badr was not the first ever jihad event that took place in Islam. A few skirmishes had taken place earlier, although only one of them resulted in bloodshed: the one led by ‘Abdallah ibn Jahash. The Prophet hadn’t participated in it. All other clashes that had taken place earlier, followed the principles laid out above. Of course, all of those skirmishes preceding the battle of Badr had targeted the Quraysh. Those people had not respected the sacredness of the Grand Mosque, neither after the advent of Islam nor before it. But that was not the only reason why they were targeted. Rather, the main reason was that Islam proclaimed man’s freedom from the slavery of others. It insisted on complete sovereignty for Allah over the whole of the earth and the destruction of the devilish powers that the people worshipped. Quraysh happened to be at the head of the devilish powers and in direct control of the power base. Hence they had to be attended to first. There might have been other reasons that led to the clash at Badr, or, for that matter, to other battles. But those reasons were incidental and secondary. (While studying jihad), we will do well not to ignore the central theme, the main principles, and the general strategy of the Islamic struggle.

(To be continued)


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