Surah at-Taubah (Repentance ) 9 : 117

لَّقَد تَّابَ ٱللَّهُ عَلَى ٱلنَّبِىِّ وَٱلْمُهَٰجِرِينَ وَٱلْأَنصَارِ ٱلَّذِينَ ٱتَّبَعُوهُ فِى سَاعَةِ ٱلْعُسْرَةِ مِنۢ بَعْدِ مَا كَادَ يَزِيغُ قُلُوبُ فَرِيقٍ مِّنْهُمْ ثُمَّ تَابَ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ بِهِمْ رَءُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Allāh has already forgiven the Prophet and the Muhājireen and the Ansār who followed him in the hour of difficulty after the hearts of a party of them had almost inclined [to doubt], and then He forgave them. Indeed, He was to them Kind and Merciful.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

With the nature of the deal between God and the believers being such, to refrain from joining a jihād campaign by people who are able to do so is a very serious matter indeed. Hence it was necessary to examine why some people were reluctant to join such an expedition. The passage we are looking at explains how much grace God bestows on the believers, overlooking their hesitation and their slips, serious as these may be. It also speaks of the three people whose cases were deferred for judgement.

That God turned in His mercy to the Prophet should be understood with reference to the events of this expedition as a whole. It seems to be in line with what God said earlier to the Prophet: “May God forgive you [Prophet]! Why did you grant them permission [to stay behind] before you had come to know who were speaking the truth and who were the liars?” (Verse 43) That was when some of them who were really able to join the expedition came to him with fabricated excuses and he allowed them to stay behind. God pardoned him for his attitude which was based on his own discretion. He is told that it would have been better to wait until he had learnt who really had valid reasons for staying behind.

As for turning in mercy to the Muhājirīn and the Anşār, the verse outlines its causes. They are the ones “who followed him in the hour of hardship, when the hearts of a group of them had almost faltered.” Some of them were slow to join the Muslim army, but they joined as it marched, as will be given in detail. These were among the most sincere of believers. Others listened to the hypocrites as they tried to dissuade the believers from going out to confront the Byzantines whom they described as fearsome fighters. Those, however, joined the army after their initial reluctance.

This call to arms occurred at the height of the summer, when resources were scarce, the weather was extremely hot, and when fruits had ripened. At such a time people would prefer to stay at home and do very little work; travelling in the desert was almost unbearable. It was the Prophet’s habit, whenever he intended to attack any people that he would not specify the particular place he was going to, or the particular people he wanted to attack, hoping to take his enemies by surprise. This time, the difficulties presented by the journey made him inform the Muslims exactly where they were going, so that they could prepare themselves as best as they could for the difficult task ahead.

The Prophet was informed that a group of hypocrites were meeting in the house of a Jew called Suwaylim to discourage people and dissuade them from joining the expedition. He sent Ţalĥah ibn `Ubaydullāh with a group of his Companions giving them instructions to burn the house down. Ţalĥah carried out the Prophet’s instructions. One of the people inside called al-Daĥĥāk tried to run away from the back of the house and he fell and broke his leg, but later repented. The others also jumped to safety.

The Prophet then gave orders to his Companions to speed up their preparations and urged those with money and property to spend generously, and to provide camels and horses for those who had none. Many of those who were rich came forward with generous donations. The one who gave the greatest donation was `Uthmān ibn `Affān. One report suggests that `Uthmān’s donation was 1,000 dinars (which was the gold currency). The Prophet said: “My Lord, be pleased with `Uthmān, for I am pleased with him.”

Another report transmitted by Aĥmad ibn Ĥanbal says: “When the Prophet made his speech encouraging his Companions to donate generously, `Uthmān said: `My commitment is to provide 100 camels with all their equipment.’ As the Prophet descended one step from the pulpit, `Uthmān made a further equal commitment. The Prophet came one step further down and `Uthmān increased his commitment to 300 camels, fully equipped. The Prophet was so deeply touched by the donation made by `Uthmān that he waved with his hand to express his admiration. He also said: “`Uthmān will not suffer in consequence of anything he does in future.’

Other reports mention the donations given by various people, each according to his means. `Abd al-Raĥmān ibn `Awf brought a donation of 4,000 dirhams (the silver currency at the time). He said to the Prophet: “All I own is 8,000 dirhams. I brought one half and kept the other half.” The Prophet said to him: “May God bless you for what you have kept and what you have donated.” Abū `Aqīl brought a quantity of dates and said: “Messenger of God, I have only some dates and I brought half of what I have, retaining the other for my family.” The hypocrites spoke ill of him, saying he only did this to remind the Prophet of his poverty. They further asked: would God and His Messenger be in need of this amount of dates?

Some Muslims were so poor that they could not find transport for themselves to join the army. There were seven people, mostly from the Anşār, who could obtain neither a camel nor a horse. They, therefore, went to the Prophet to explain their situation and requested him to provide them with some transport. The Prophet explained that he had nothing available. All the horses and camels were allotted to other people and he had none left. The seven men went back to their homes with tears in their eyes. They were made entirely helpless by their poverty.

Two of the seven men, `Abd al-Raĥmān ibn Ka`b and `Abdullāh ibn Mughaffil, were still in tears when they met a man called Yāmīn ibn `Umayr. He asked them why they were crying and they told them that they were prevented from joining the army by their poverty and the fact that the Prophet did not have any spare camels to give them. He offered them a camel of his own to share between them and also gave them some dates to eat on their journey. Thus they were able to join.

Another report speaks of another man among the seven, `Ilbah ibn Zayd. That night, knowing he could not join the army, he prayed for a long while. He reflected on the situation and tears sprang to his eyes. Then he addressed God with this emotional prayer: “My Lord, You have commanded us to go on jihād and You have encouraged us not to abandon this duty. Yet You have not given me what I need in order to be able to go on this campaign. Your Messenger cannot give me any means of transport. I, therefore, give in charity to every Muslim any right which I hold against him for a wrong he has done to me, whether in matters of money or self or honour.”

The following morning, the man joined the dawn prayers as he always did. The Prophet asked, “Where is the man who was charitable last night?” Nobody replied. The Prophet repeated the question and said, “Let this man stand up.” `Ilbah stood up and explained to the Prophet what he had done. The Prophet said, “By Him Who holds my soul in His hand, this has been credited to you as zakāt accepted by God.”

The Prophet then ordered the Muslims who joined him to march. There were about 30,000 in the army, made up of the people of Madinah and the bedouin tribes in the surrounding area. A few individuals among the Muslims did not join the army, although they did not entertain any doubt about the truth of Islam, or their duty to be in the army. Among these were Ka`b ibn Mālik, Murārah ibn al- Rabī` and Hilāl ibn Umayyah, also Abū Khaythamah and `Umayr ibn Wahb al-Jumaĥī. The Prophet ordered his forces to encamp at a place called Thaniyyat al-Wadā`, just outside Madinah, while Abdullāh ibn Ubayy, known as the chief of the hypocrites, encamped with his followers separately a short distance apart. One report by Ibn Isĥāq suggests that his group was claimed to be of similar strength, but this was highly unlikely. Other reports confirm that those who actually stayed behind were less than one hundred. When the Prophet moved on, `Abdullāh ibn Ubayy stayed behind along with other hypocrites.

The Prophet and his army then started their march. The going was very tough indeed. It was only natural that among the 30,000 who were in the army, there would be some who might not be able to keep pace with the rest. Every time a man fell behind, his case was reported to the Prophet. Every time the Prophet gave the same answer: “Leave him alone. If he is good, God will see to it that he will catch up with you. If he is otherwise, good riddance.”

At one stage of the journey, a man of no lesser standing in the Muslim community than Abū Dharr, one of the Muhājirīn and also among the earliest of them to accept Islam, was falling behind. His camel was no longer able to keep pace with the army. Some people went to the Prophet to report the fact, but he gave them the same answer: “Leave him alone. If he is good, God will see to it that he will catch up with you. If he is otherwise, good riddance.”

Abū Dharr gave his camel every chance to pick up strength. He then realized that it was useless: the camel was absolutely exhausted. Feeling that there was no alternative, Abū Dharr dismounted, took his belongings off his camel and walked at a fast pace, hoping to catch up with the Prophet.

Soon, the Prophet stopped for a short while to allow the army a little rest. This stop gave Abū Dharr the chance to catch up. Someone standing near the Prophet pointed to the direction from which Abū Dharr was coming and said, “Messenger of God, there is a man walking alone in our trail.” The Prophet said, “Let it be Abū Dharr.” When the man drew nearer, they said: “Messenger of God, it is indeed Abū Dharr.” The Prophet said, “May God have mercy on Abū Dharr: he walks alone, dies alone and will be resurrected alone.”

One of the few believers who stayed behind in Madinah was Abū Khaythamah. A few days after the army had moved out, he went back home to rest on a day when it was extremely hot. He had two wives.

At home, there were all the comforts one needed on such a hot day. Each of his two wives had prepared her sitting place in a well-shaded area of the yard. Each had prepared food and cold water for her husband. When he came in, he looked at his two wives and what they had prepared for him. He reflected a little, then he said to his wives: “God’s Messenger (peace be upon him) is suffering the burning sun and the stormy wind, while I, Abū Khaythamah, enjoy the cool shade and delicious food in the company of two pretty women in my own home? This is unfair. By God, I will not enter either of your two places until I have caught up with God’s Messenger. Prepare some food for me to keep me going on my journey.” When the food was prepared, he mounted his camel and went as fast as he could. He did not manage to catch up with the army until it arrived at Tabūk.

On his way, Abū Khaythamah met `Umayr ibn Wahb al-Jumaĥī, who was also travelling fast to catch up with the army. Apparently, `Umayr had some good reason for his delay. The two travelled together until they were close to Tabūk. Abū Khaythamah then said to `Umayr: “I have perpetrated something bad. It may be advisable for you to slow down a little until I catch up with the Prophet (peace be upon him).”

`Umayr slowed down and Abū Khaythamah continued to travel at speed. When his figure was visible to the army encamping at Tabūk, some of the Prophet’s Companions drew his attention to the person travelling alone. The Prophet said: “Let it be Abū Khaythamah.” When the man drew nearer, they said: “Messenger of God, it is indeed Abū Khaythamah.”

When he reached the place where the Prophet was, he dismounted and greeted the Prophet. The Prophet spoke to him a phrase which implied warning. Interpreters suggest that it meant that he, Abū Khaythamah, had brought himself very close to destruction. Abū Khaythamah related his story, and the Prophet prayed to God to forgive him.


One factor that contributed to the difficulty facing the Muslims was the attitude of the hypocrites who not only tried to seek excuses for themselves to stay behind, but also tried to show the decision to fight the Byzantines as lacking careful planning and consideration.

A report mentions that a group of hypocrites, including Wadī`ah ibn Thābit, as well as a man called Makhshī ibn Ĥimyar, an ally of the tribe of Salamah, were with the Muslim army when the Prophet headed for Tabūk. Some of them tried to frighten the believers and spread doubt in their ranks. They said: “Do you think fighting the Byzantines the same as internal warfare between Arabian tribes? We can even now see how you will all be taken captive tomorrow and will be put in chains.” Makhshī said: “I wish we could escape with only 100 lashes each, without having verses of the Qur’ān revealed to expose us as a result of what you have said.”

The Prophet was informed of this and he said to `Ammār ibn Yāsir: “Rush to those people for they are burnt. Ask them about what they have said and if they deny it, tell them that they have said these very words.” `Ammār went to them and told them exactly what the Prophet said. They came to the Prophet to apologize. Wadī`ah ibn Thābit said to the Prophet as he mounted his camel, and Wadī`ah holding its reins: “Messenger of God, we were only talking idly and jesting.” Makhshī said: “Messenger of God, my name and my father’s name prevented me from leaving these people.” (This is a reference to the fact that he was only an ally occupying a weak position.) He was the one among those to whom this verse refers who was pardoned. He changed his name to `Abd al-Raĥmān and appealed to God to grant him martyrdom where his body would not be found. He was killed when he was fighting with the Muslim army at Yamāmah against the apostates. His body was lost without trace.

Another report suggests that when the Prophet and the Muslim army were on the way back from Tabūk, a group of hypocrites tried to assassinate him by throwing him from the top of a high peak along the road. He was informed of their design. He ordered the bulk of the army to travel through the valley, while he went up the mountain trail, instructing two of his trusted Companions, `Ammār ibn Yāsir and Ĥudhayfah ibn al-Yamān, to go with him. `Ammār held the rein of his she-camel while Ĥudhayfah drove it. They were followed by that group of hypocrites trying to catch up with them, having drawn their headcovers over their faces to hide their identities. When the Prophet heard the sound of their camels travelling close behind, he was angry. Ĥudhayfah recognized how angry he was, and he went back towards them. He held out his shield to stop their camels. When they saw him, they thought that their scheming was discovered. So they made haste to join the bulk of the army and mix among them. Ĥudhayfah went back to the Prophet who instructed him and `Ammār to make haste until they passed the peak of the trail, and rejoined the road. They stopped for the army to catch up with them.

The Prophet asked Ĥudhayfah whether he recognized those people? He said: “I could only see their camels as it was dark when I met them.” The Prophet asked both his Companions: “Do you know what those people were after?” When they answered in the negative, he told them of their conspiracy, and named them asking his two Companions to keep that information to themselves. They wondered: “Messenger of God, should you not order their execution?” He said: “I hate that people should say that Muĥammad is killing his Companions.” Another report suggests that the Prophet told only Ĥudhayfah of their names.

As for the hardship encountered by the Muslims in this expedition, a number of reports give us a clear picture of it. Some of these emphasize that the expedition took place at a time of scarcity, in the height of a very hot summer, when provisions and water were in extremely short supply. Qatādah, an early scholar, says: “They set out to Tabūk when it was burning hot, and they encountered great difficulty. It is reported that two men would share a single date. Indeed a few men would all share one date, with one of them sucking it a little and drinking some water, then he would give it to another to do the same, and so on. God then turned to them in mercy and brought them back safely.”

Al-Ţabarī, a leading historian and scholar, mentions a report that `Umar was asked about the difficulty. He answered: “We marched with the Prophet to Tabūk. We encamped at a place where we were so thirsty that we felt our throats were cracking with thirst. Any one of us might go out looking for water, and by the time he came back he would have felt his throat cut. Any of us might slaughter his camel and take out its inside, extracting all the fluid to drink. He would place the rest over his belly.”

In his commentary on the Qur’ān, al-Tabarī mentions the following comments on this verse: “God has assuredly turned in His mercy to the Prophet, the Muhājirīn and the Anşār, who followed him in the hour of hardship.” This refers to the scarcity of funds, transport, equipment, provisions and water. “When the hearts of a group of them had almost faltered.” They almost deviated from the truth. With all the difficulties they encountered, doubts might have crept in about the Prophet’s message. “Then again He turned to them in mercy.” He guided them to revert to the truth and to show real steadfastness. “He is compassionate towards them, Merciful.”

These reports depict for us a picture of the reality of the Muslim community at the time. We see a whole spectrum of different standards of faith. We see those who had unshakeable faith, and those who were seriously shaken as a result of the hardship, as well as those who stayed behind, although they had no doubt about the truth of Islam or their duty to join the expedition. We also see a whole range of hypocrisy, with some hypocrites adopting a soft attitude and others speaking out bluntly, and still others conspiring to kill the Prophet. This gives us an impression of the overall structure of society at the time. It also shows us how hard this expedition was, not only in respect of a fearsome enemy but also in terms of the hardship faced by the Muslim community. It was a test to the core so that people could prove their metal. Perhaps it was intended by God to serve as such.


Such was the hardship which some people tried to evade. The majority of these were hypocrites, and their case has already been discussed. Some, however, were believers who entertained no doubt about Islam or the Prophet’s message. They were simply people who preferred the comforts of home when the going got tough. These include two groups, one of whom received their judgement earlier. They had added some bad deeds to their good ones and acknowledged their mistake. The case of the second group was deferred for judgement: “God would either punish them or turn to them in His mercy.” (Verse 106) This group included three people.

Those three people stayed behind at a time of hardship. Human weakness got the better of them when they preferred the shade and comfort of their own homes. That seemed much more preferable than enduring the summer heat and a long traverse. Yet when the Prophet and his Companions had left Madinah, Ka`b felt that he was committing a terrible error. Everything around him pointed to it: “Every time I went out after the Prophet and the army had left, I was troubled by the fact that I saw only people who were known to be hypocrites or people who were physically unable to join the army.” Those in the latter group were people who were either sick or weakened by old age, or those who could not find any means of transport. This means that the hardship did not cause the Muslims to give a cold shoulder to the Prophet’s command to get ready for a very tough expedition. The only ones who stayed behind were those suspected of hypocrisy, or those who had genuine excuses. The solid base of the Muslim community was strong enough to overcome the hardship and to give the right response.

The second point is that of fearing God. When a sinner is truly God-fearing, he will certainly acknowledge his error, and leave judgement in his case to God. In his account Ka`b states why he did not try to give the Prophet a false excuse: “Had I been speaking to anyone on the face of the earth other than you, I would have been able to avoid his anger by giving some sort of an excuse. I can make a case for myself. But I know for certain that if I were to tell you lies in order to win your pleasure, God would soon make the truth known to you and I would incur your displeasure. If, on the other hand, I tell you the truth and you are not happy with me because of it, I would hope for a better result from God. By God, I have no excuse whatsoever. I have never been more physically able or in better circumstance than I was when I stayed behind.”

This shows how an errant believer was keen to watch God and seek not to incur His anger. He was certainly keen to win the Prophet’s pleasure, which in those days could lift a person to the highest standard or allow him to fall into an abyss, and make a Muslim enjoy high esteem or leave him in total oblivion. Nevertheless, fearing God was a stronger motivation, and the hope to win His forgiveness was more deeply entertained.

Another aspect of the story: “The Prophet ordered all his Companions not to speak to us three. He made no similar instruction concerning anybody else of those who stayed behind. All people were now evading us. Their attitude was changed. It was very hard for me that I did not even know myself or the place I was in. This was no longer the town I lived in. My world had changed. We continued in this condition for 50 days.

“My two Companions, Murārah ibn al-Rabī` and Hilāl ibn Umayyah, stayed at home. I was the youngest of the three. I continued to go out and attend the congregational prayers with other Muslims. I frequented all the markets, but nobody would speak to me. I would also go to the Prophet and greet him as he sat down after prayers. I would always think to myself: ‘Have I detected any movement on his lips suggesting that he has answered my greeting?’ I would pray close to him and look at him stealthily. When I was preoccupied with my prayers he would look at me, but when I looked towards him he would turn his face away.

“When this boycott by all the Muslim community seemed to have lasted too long, I climbed the wall of an orchard which belonged to a cousin of mine named Abū Qatādah, who was very close to me. I greeted him, but he did not answer. I said to him: Abū Qatādah, I beseech you by God to answer me: do you know that I love God and His Messenger?’ He did not answer. I repeated my question three times, but he still did not answer. I then beseeched him once again, and his answer came: ‘God and His Messenger know better.’ Tears sprang to my eyes and I came down.”

These details give us a clear impression of the level of discipline and obedience in the Muslim community, despite all the looseness that crept in after the fall of Makkah to the Muslims, and the confusion that accompanied the preparations for the expedition to Tabūk. The Prophet gave his instructions that nobody should speak to those three, and hence no one uttered a word to them. None would even meet Ka`b with a smiling face, and none would give or take anything from him. Even his closest cousin and friend would not return his greeting or answer his question, after Ka`b had climbed the fence to enter his garden. When he answered after much beseeching, his answer was far from reassuring. He only said: “God and His Messenger know better.”

In his eagerness to know his position, after his whole world had changed, Ka`b would try to detect a faint movement on the lips of the Prophet to know whether he had answered his greetings. He would look sideways to find out whether the Prophet had looked at him in a way which would renew his hopes, and tell him that his situation was not totally desperate.

Left all alone, with no one saying a word to him even as a gesture of charity, he receives a letter from the King of Ghassān offering him a position of honour and influence. He turns his back on all this in a single movement. His only reaction is to throw the letter into the fire, considering this tempting offer as part of his trial.

Yet the boycott is extended and he is ordered not to go near to his wife, so that he is totally alone, isolated, hanging in the air. He feels too shy to request the Prophet to let his wife look after him, because he was unsure what the answer would be like.

2. Linguistic Analysis

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Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *

3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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This Surah comprises three discourses. The first discourse (v. 1-37) was revealed in Dhul-Qa’adah 9 A.H. or thereabout. As the importance of the subject of the discourse required its declaration on the occasion of Hajj the Prophet dispatched Ali to follow Abu Bakr who had already left for Makkah as leader of the Pilgrims to the Ka’bah. He instructed Ali to deliver the discourse before the representatives of the different clans of Arabia so as to inform them of the new policy towards the polytheists.

The second discourse (v. 38-72) was sent down in Rajab 9 A.H. or a little before this when the Prophet was engaged in making preparations for the Campaign of Tabuk. In this discourse the Believers were urged to take active part in Jihad.

The third discourse (v. 73-129) was revealed on his return from the Campaign of Tabuk. There are some pieces in this discourse that were sent down on different occasions during the same period and were afterwards consolidated by the Prophet into the Surah in accordance with inspiration from God. But this caused no interruption in its continuity because they dealt with the same subject and formed part of the same series of events. This discourse warns the hypocrites of their evil deeds and rebukes those Believers who had stayed behind in the Campaign of Tabuk. Then after taking them to task, God pardons those true Believers who had not taken part in the Jihad in the Way of God for one reason or the other.

8. Reasons for Revelation

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The series of events that have been discussed in this Surah took place after the Peace Treaty of Hudaibiyah. By that time one-third of Arabia had come under the sway of Islam which had established itself as a powerful well organised and civilized Islamic State. There were two important events that followed - the first was the Conquest of Arabia. The Prophet was able to send missions among different clans for the propagation of Islam. The result was that during the short period of two years it became such a great power that it made the old order of ignorance feel helpless before it. So much so that the zealous elements from among the Quraysh were so exasperated that they broke the Treaty in order to encounter Islam in a decisive combat. But the Prophet took prompt action after the breach so as not to allow them any opportunity to gather enough force for this. He made a sudden invasion on Makkah in the month of Ramadan in 8 A.H. and conquered it. Though this conquest broke the backbone of the order of ignorance it made still another attack on Islam in the battlefield of Hunain which proved to be its death-knell. The clans of Hawazin, Thaqif, Naur Jushm and others gathered their entire forces in the battlefield in order to crush the reformative Revolution but they utterly failed in their evil designs. The defeat of ‘ignorance’ at Hunain paved the way for making the whole of Arabia ‘The Abode of Islam’ (Dar-ul-Islam). The result was that hardly a year had passed after the Battle of Hunain when the major portion of Arabia came within the fold of Islam and only a few upholders of the old order remained scattered over some corners of the country.

The second event that contributed towards making Islam a formidable power was the Campaign of Tabuk which was necessitated by the provocative activities of the Christians living within or near the boundaries of the Roman Empire to the north of Arabia. Accordingly the Prophet with an army of thirty thousand marched boldly towards the Roman Empire but the Romans evaded the encounter. The result was that the power of the Prophet and Islam increased manifold and deputations from all corners of Arabia began to wait upon him on his return from Tabuk in order to offer their allegiance to Islam and obedience to him. The Qur’an has described this triumph in Surah 110: an-Nasr (Victory) “When the victory of God has come and the conquest, And you see the people entering into the religion of God in multitudes…”

Campaign to Tabuk

The Campaign to Tabuk was the result of conflict with the Roman Empire that had started even before the conquest of Makkah. One of the missions sent after the Treaty of Hudaibiyah to different parts of Arabia visited the clans which lived in the northern areas adjacent to Syria. The majority of these people were Christians who were under the influence of the Roman Empire. Contrary to all the principles of the commonly accepted international law they killed fifteen members of the delegation near a place known as Zat-u-Talah. Only Ka’ab bin Umair Ghifari, the head of the delegation, succeeded in escaping and reporting the sad incident. Besides this Shurahbil bin Amr, the Christian governor of Busra who was directly under the Roman Caesar had also put to death Haritli bin Umair the ambassador of the Prophet who had been sent to him on a similar mission.

These events convinced the Prophet that a strong action should be taken in order to make the territory adjacent to the Roman Empire safe and secure for the Muslims. Accordingly in the month of Jamadi-ul-Ula 8 A.H. he sent an army of three thousand towards the Syrian border. When this army reached near Ma’an the Muslims learnt that Shurahbil was marching with an army of one hundred thousand to fight-with them and that the Caesar who himself was at Hims had sent another army consisting of one hundred thousand soldiers under his brother Theodore. But in spite of such fearful news the brave small band of the Muslims marched on fearlessly and encountered the big army of Shurahbil at M’utah. The result of the encounter, in which the Muslims were fighting against fearful odds (the ratio of the two armies was 1:33) as very favourable for the enemy utterly failed to defeat them. This proved very helpful for the propagation of Islam. As a result those Arabs who were living in a state of semi-independence in Syria and near Syria and the clans of Najd near Iraq who were under the influence of the Persian Empire turned towards Islam and embraced it in thousands. For example the people of Bani Sulaim (whose chief was Abbas bin Mirdas Sulaimi) Ashja’a Ghatafan Zubyan Fazarah etc. came into the fold of Islam at the same time. Above all Farvah bin ‘Amral Juzami who was the commander of the Arab armies of the Roman Empire embraced Islam during that time and underwent the trial of his Faith in a way that filled the whole territory with wonder. When the Caesar came to know that Farvah had embraced Islam he ordered that he should be arrested and brought to his court. Then the Caesar said to him, ‘You will have to choose between one of two options; either give up your Islam and win your liberty and your former rank, or remain a Muslim and face death.’ He calmly chose Islam and sacrificed his life in the way of the Truth.

No wonder that such events as these made the Caesar realise the nature of the danger that was threatening his Empire from Arabia. Accordingly in 9 A.H. he began to make military preparations to avenge the insult he had suffered at M’utah. The Ghassanid and other Arab chiefs also began to muster armies under him. When the Prophet who always kept himself well-informed even of the minutest things that could affect the Islamic Movement favourably or adversely came to know of these preparations he at once understood their meaning. Therefore without the least hesitation he decided to fight against the great power of the Caesar. He knew that the show of the slightest weakness would result in the utter failure of the Movement which was facing three great dangers at that time. First the dying power of ‘ignorance’ that had almost been crushed in the battlefield of Hunain might revive again. Secondly the Hypocrites of Madinah who were always on the look-out for such an opportunity might make full use of this to do the greatest possible harm to it. For they had already made preparations for this and had through a monk called Abu Amir, sent secret messages of their evil designs to the Christian king of Ghassan and the Caesar himself. Besides this, they had also built a mosque near Madinah for holding secret meetings for this purpose. The third danger was of an attack by the Caesar himself, who had already defeated Persia, the other great power of that period, and filled with awe the adjacent territories. It is obvious that if all these three elements had been given an opportunity of taking a concerted action against the Muslims, Islam would have lost the fight it had almost won. That is why in this case the Prophet made an open declaration for making preparations for the Campaign against the Roman Empire, which was one of the two greatest empires of the world of that period. The declaration was made though all the apparent circumstances were against such a decision: for there was famine in the country and the long awaited crops were about to ripen: the burning heat of the scorching summer season of Arabia was at its height and there was not enough money for preparations in general, and for equipment and conveyance in particular. But in spite of these handicaps, when the Messenger of God realised the urgency of the occasion, he took this step which was to decide whether the Mission of the Truth was going to survive or perish. The very fact that he made an open declaration for making preparations for such a campaign to Syria against the Roman Empire showed how important it was, for this was contrary to his previous practice. Usually he took every precaution not to reveal beforehand the direction to which he was going nor the name of the enemy whom he was going to attack; nay, he did not move out of Madinah even in the direction of the campaign.

All the parties in Arabia fully realised the grave consequences of this critical decision. The remnants of the lovers of the old order of ‘ignorance’ were anxiously waiting for the result of the Campaign, for they had pinned all their hopes on the defeat of Islam by the Romans. The ‘hypocrites’ also considered it to be their last chance of crushing the power of Islam by internal rebellion, if the Muslims suffered a defeat in Syria. They had, therefore, made full use of the Mosque built by them for hatching plots and had employed all their devices to render the Campaign a failure. On the other side, the true Believers also realised fully that the fate of the Movement for which they had been exerting their utmost for the last 22 years was now hanging in the balance. If they showed courage on that critical occasion, the doors of the whole outer world would be thrown open for the Movement to spread. But if they showed weakness or cowardice, then all the work they had done in Arabia would end in smoke. That is why these lovers of Islam began to make enthusiastic preparations for the Campaign. Everyone of them tried to surpass the other in making contributions for the provision of equipment for it. Uthman and Abdur Rahman bin awf presented large sums of money for this purpose. Umar contributed half of the earnings of his life and Abu Bakr the entire earnings of his life. The indigent Companions did not lag behind and presented whatever they could earn by the sweat of their labour and the women parted with their ornaments. Thousands of volunteers, who were filled with the desire of sacrificing their lives for Islam, came to the Prophet and requested that arrangements for weapons and conveyance be made for them so that they should join the expedition. Those who could not be provided with these shed tears of sorrow; the scene was so pathetic that it made the Prophet sad because of his inability to arm them. In short, the occasion became the touchstone for discriminating a true believer from a hypocrite. For, to lag behind in the Campaign meant that the very relationship of a person to Islam was doubtful. Accordingly, whenever a person lagged behind during the journey to Tabuk, the Prophet, on being informed, would spontaneously say, “Leave him alone. If there be any good in him, God will again join him with you, and if there be no good in him, then thank God that He relieved you of his evil company.”

In short, the Prophet marched out towards Syria in Rajab A.H. 9, with thirty thousand fighters for the cause of Islam. The conditions in which the expedition was undertaken may be judged from the fact that the number of camels with them was so small that many of them were obliged to walk on foot and to wait for their turns for several had to ride at a time on each camel. To add to this, there was the burning heat of the desert and the acute shortage of water. But they were richly rewarded for their firm resolve and sincere adherence to the cause and for their perseverance in the face of those great difficulties and obstacles.

When they arrived at Tabuk, they learnt that the Caesar and his allies had withdrawn their troops from the frontier and there was no enemy to fight with. Thus they won a moral victory that increased their prestige manifold and, that too, without shedding a drop of blood. As a result of this, the boundaries of the Islamic State were extended right up to the Roman Empire, and the majority of the Arab clans, who were being used by the Caesar against Arabia, became the allies of the Muslims against the Romans. Above all, this moral victory of Tabuk afforded a golden opportunity to the Muslims to strengthen their hold on Arabia before entering into a long conflict with the Romans. For it broke the back of those who had still been expecting that the old order of ‘ignorance’ might revive in the near future, whether they were the open upholders of polytheism (Shirk) or the hypocrites who were hiding their shirk under the clothing of Islam. The majority of such people were compelled by the force of circumstances to enter into the fold of Islam and, at least, make it possible for their descendants to become true Muslims. After this a mere impotent minority of the upholders of the old order was left in the field, but it could not stand in the way of the Islamic Revolution for the perfection of which God had sent His Messenger.

Problems of the Period

If we keep in view the preceding background we can easily find out the problems that were confronting the Community at that time. They were:

  1. to make the whole of Arabia a perfect ‘Abode of Islam’ (Dar-ul-Islam).
  2. to extend the influence of Islam to the adjoining countries.
  3. to crush the mischiefs of the hypocrites.
  4. to prepare the Muslims for Jihad against the non-Muslim world.

A clear declaration was made that all the treaties with the polytheists were abolished and that the Muslims would be released from the treaty obligations with them after a respite of four months (v. 1-3). This declaration was necessary for uprooting completely the system of life based on Shirk and to make Arabia exclusively the centre of Islam so that it should not in any way interfere with the spirit of Islam nor become an internal danger for it.

A decree was issued that the guardianship of the Ka’bah, which held central position in all the affairs of Arabia should be wrested from the polytheists and placed permanently in the hands of the Believers (v. 12-18) and that all the customs and practices of the shirk of the era of ‘ignorance’ should be forcibly abolished: that the polytheists should not be allowed even to come near the “House” (v. 28). This was to eradicate every trace of Shirk from the “House” that was dedicated exclusively to the worship of God. In order to enable the Muslims to extend the influence of Islam outside Arabia they were enjoined to crush with sword the non-Muslim powers and to force them to accept the sovereignty of the Islamic State. As the great Roman and Persian Empires were the biggest hindrances in the way a conflict with them was inevitable. The object of Jihad was not to coerce them to accept Islam; they were free to accept or not to accept it, but to prevent them from thrusting forcibly their deviations upon others and the coming generations. The Muslims were enjoined to tolerate their misguidance - only to the extent that they might have the freedom to remain misguided if they chose to be so, provided that they paid the tax (Jizyah) (v. 29) as a sign of their subjugation to the Islamic State. The third important problem was to crush the mischiefs of the hypocrites who had hitherto been tolerated in spite of their flagrant crimes. Now that there was practically no pressure upon them from outside the Muslims were enjoined to treat them openly as disbelievers (v. 73). Accordingly the Prophet set on fire the house of Swailim where the hypocrites used to gather for consultations in order to dissuade the people from joining the expedition to Tabuk. Likewise on his return from Tabuk he ordered to pull down and burn the ‘Mosque’ that had been built to serve as a cover for the hypocrites for hatching plots against the true Believers.

In order to prepare the Muslims for Jihad against the whole non-Muslim world it was necessary to cure them even of that slight weakness of faith from which they were still suffering. For there could be no greater internal danger to the Islamic Community than the weakness of faith especially where it was going to engage itself single-handed in a conflict with the whole non-Muslim world. That is why those people who had lagged behind in the Campaign to Tabuk or had shown the least negligence were severely taken to task and were considered as hypocrites if they had no plausible excuse for not fulfilling that obligation. Moreover, a clear declaration was made that in future the sole criterion of a Muslim’s faith shall be the exertions he makes for the uplift of the Word of God and the role he plays in the conflict between Islam and disbelief (Kufr). Therefore, if anyone will show any hesitation in sacrificing his life, money, time and energies, his faith shall not be regarded as genuine (v. 81-96). If the above-mentioned important points are kept in view during the study of this Surah, it will facilitate the understanding of its contents. [Ref: Mawdudi]

9. Relevant Hadith

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Ka`b ibn Mālik: I have never stayed behind when the Prophet went on any expedition, except that of Badr. Neither God nor the Prophet blamed anyone for staying behind at the time of Badr, because the Prophet set out from Madinah to intercept a trade caravan which belonged to the Quraysh. The battle took place without any preparation or prior planning. On the other hand, I had attended the pledge of the Anşār to the Prophet at `Aqabah when we made our commitment to Islam absolutely clear. I would not exchange my attendance there with taking part in the Battle of Badr, although Badr is the more famous occasion. Nevertheless, I failed to join the army of the expedition of Tabūk. I was never in better circumstances or more physically able than I was then. At no time did I have two means of transport except on that occasion. It was the habit of the Prophet to keep his destination secret. This time, however, setting his destination so far away, and moving in an exceptionally hot climate, he made it clear to the people that he intended to attack the Byzantines. Those who joined the Prophet were in such large numbers that no register of them could have been kept.

In the circumstances, anyone who wished to stay behind might have thought that he would not be noticed, unless God chose to inform the Prophet about him by revelation. The Prophet decided to launch that attack at a time when fruits were abundant and people preferred to stay in the shade. The Prophet and the Muslims, however, were busy getting ready for their impending task. I went out day after day to the marketplace in order to get my equipment, but I always came back having done nothing. I always thought that I was able to get whatever I needed in no time. Nevertheless, I continued in that condition until it was time to move. The Prophet and the army with him started their march and I had not got my preparations under way. I thought to myself: ‘I can still get myself ready in a day or two and should be able to catch up with them.’ When they had covered quite a distance, I went out to the market and came back having done nothing. This continued day after day. By this time, the army must have covered quite a long distance. I thought I must make a move now and catch up with them. I wish I had done that, but I did not. Every time I went out after the Prophet and the army had left, I was troubled by the fact that I saw only people who were known to be hypocrites or people who were physically unable to join the army. My place was not with either group. I was told that the Prophet did not mention me until he had arrived at Tabūk. He remarked once to those who were present at Tabūk: ‘What has happened to Ka`b ibn Mālik?’ A man from the tribe of Salamah said to him: `Messenger of God, his wealth and arrogance made him stay behind.’

Mu`ādh ibn Jabal said to him: ‘What a foul remark! Messenger of God, we have known nothing bad of the man.’ The Prophet made no comment.

I soon heard that the Prophet and his Companions had started on their journey back from Tabūk. I felt very sad. To tell a lie was paramount in my mind. I started thinking about what to say to the Prophet tomorrow, after his arrival, in order to spare myself his anger. I sought the help of everyone in my household. When it was mentioned that the Prophet was soon to arrive, all thoughts of seeking a false excuse disappeared from my mind. I realized that the only way to spare myself the Prophet’s anger was to tell the truth. I was determined, therefore, to say exactly what happened.

The Prophet then arrived in Madinah. It was his habit when he came back from travelling to go first to the mosque and pray two rak`ahs before sitting to meet the people. When he did that, those who had stayed behind went to him and stated their excuses, swearing to their truth. They were over 80 people. The Prophet accepted their statements and oaths and prayed to God to forgive them, leaving it to God to judge them by His knowledge. I then followed and greeted the Prophet. He met my greeting with an angry smile. He then told me to come forward. I went to him and sat down facing him. He said, ‘What caused you to stay behind? Have you not bought your transport?’

I said to him, ‘Messenger of God, had I been speaking to anyone on the face of the earth other than you, I would have been able to avoid his anger by giving some sort of an excuse. I can make a case for myself. But I know for certain that if I were to tell you lies in order to win your pleasure, God would soon make the truth known to you and I would incur your displeasure. If, on the other hand, I tell you the truth and you are not happy with me because of it, I would hope for a better result from God. By God, I have no excuse whatsoever. I have never been more physically able or in better circumstances than I was when I stayed behind.’ The Prophet said to me: ‘You have certainly said the truth. You await God’s judgement.’

After I left, some men from the clan of Salamah followed me and said: `We have never known you to commit a sin before this. You could certainly have given the Prophet an excuse like all those who stayed behind. You would have been spared this trouble had the Prophet prayed to God to forgive you, as he would surely have done.’ They continued pressing me on this to the extent that I wished to go back to the Prophet and tell him that I was lying. Before I did that, however, I asked whether anyone else said the same thing as I did. They replied that two more people said the same and were given the same answer. When I asked their names, they mentioned Murārah ibn al- Rabī` and Hilāl ibn Umayyah. I knew these two to be men of faith and sincere devotion. I realized that the proper attitude for me was to be in their company. I therefore made no further move.

The Prophet ordered all his Companions not to speak to us three. He made no similar instruction concerning anybody else of those who stayed behind. All people were now evading us. Their attitude was changed. It was very hard for me that I did not even know myself or the place I was in. This was no longer the town I lived in. My world had changed. We continued in this condition for 50 days.

My two Companions, Murārah ibn al-Rabī` and Hilāl ibn Umayyah, stayed at home. I was the youngest of the three. I continued to go out and attend the congregational prayers with other Muslims. I frequented all the markets, but nobody would speak to me. I would also go to the Prophet and greet him as he sat down after prayers. I would always think to myself: ‘Have I detected any movement on his lips suggesting that he has answered my greeting?’ I would pray close to him and look at him stealthily. When I was preoccupied with my prayers, he would look at me, but when I looked towards him, he would turn his face the other way.

When this boycott by all the Muslim community seemed to have lasted too long, I climbed the wall of an orchard which belonged to a cousin of mine named Abū Qatādah, who was very close to me. I greeted him, but he did not answer. I said to him: Abū Qatādah, I beseech you by God to answer me: do you know that I love God and His Messenger?’ He did not answer. I repeated my question three times, but he still did not answer.

I then beseeched him once again, and his answer came: ‘God and His Messenger know better.’ Tears sprang to my eyes and I came down. I went to the market and as I was walking I saw a man, apparently a stranger from Syria, enquiring about me. People pointed me out to him. He came to me and handed me a letter from the King of Ghassān, the Arab tribe in Syria. The letter was written on a piece of silk and read: ‘We have learnt that your friend has imposed a boycott on you. God has not placed you in a position of humiliation. If you join us, we will endeavour to alleviate all your troubles.’ When I read it, I thought it to be yet another test of my sincerity. I have reached so low that an unbeliever hopes that I would willingly join him. I put the letter in an oven and burnt it.

When we had spent 40 nights in that situation, a messenger from the Prophet came to me and said: ‘God’s Messenger (peace be upon him) commands you to stay away from your wife.’ I asked whether that meant that I should divorce her and he answered in the negative. He told me only to stay away from her. My two Companions also received the same instruction. I told my wife to go to her people’s home and stay there until God had given His judgement in this matter.

Hilāl ibn Umayyah was an old man. His wife went to the Prophet and said, `Messenger of God, Hilāl ibn Umayyah is very old and has no servant. Do you mind if I continue to look after him?’ He said, ‘That is all right, but do not let him come near you.’ She said, ‘By God, these things are far from his mind. He has not stopped crying ever since this has happened to him. I indeed fear for his eyesight.’ Some people in my family suggested that I should seek the Prophet’s permission to let my wife look after me. I said, ‘I am not going to ask him that. I do not know what his answer would be, considering that I am a young man.’

Another ten nights passed, to complete 50 nights since the Prophet instructed the Muslims not to talk to us. At dawn after the 50th night I prayed at the top of one of our houses. I was still in that condition which I have described: the world seemed to me suffocatingly small and I did not recognize myself any more. As I sat down after the dawn prayers, however, I heard a voice from the direction of Mount Sal saying: ‘Ka ‘b ibn Mālik! Rejoice!’ I realized that my hardship was over, and I prostrated myself in gratitude to God.

What happened was that the Prophet informed the congregation after finishing the dawn prayer that God has pardoned us. People moved fast to give us that happy news. A man came at speed on horseback to bring me the news, while another from the tribe of Aslam went on top of the mountain to shout it to me. His voice was quicker than the horse. When I heard that man’s voice giving me the happiest piece of news I ever received, I gave him my two garments as a gesture of gratitude. By God, they were the only clothes I had at the time. I borrowed two garments and went quickly to the Prophet. People were meeting me in groups, saying, ‘Congratulations on being forgiven by God.’ I entered the mosque and saw the Prophet sitting with a group of people around him. Ţalĥah ibn `Ubaydullāh came quickly towards me, shook my hand and congratulated me. He was the only one from the Muhājirīn to do that. I will never forget Ţalĥah’s kindness.

When I greeted the Prophet, he said to me, with his face beaming with pleasure, ‘Rejoice, for this is your happiest day since you were born!’ I asked him: ‘Is my pardon from you, Messenger of God, or is it from God?’ He said, `It is from God.’ When the Prophet was pleased at something, his face would light up and look like the moon. We always recognized that.”

When I sat down facing him, I said to him, ‘Messenger of God, I will make my repentance complete by giving away all my property in charity.’ The Prophet said, ‘Keep some of your property, for that is better for you.’ I answered that I would keep my share in Khaybar. I then added that I was forgiven only because I told the truth, and I would make my repentance complete by never telling a lie at any time in my life.

I feel that the greatest grace God has bestowed on me ever since He guided me to accept Islam is my telling the truth to the Prophet on that day. Had I invented some false excuse, I would have perished like all those who told him lies. God has described those people in the worst description ever. He says in the Qur’ān: ‘When you return to them they will swear to you by God so that you may let them be. Let them be, then: they are unclean. Hell shall be their abode in recompense for what they used to do. They swear to you trying to make you pleased with them. Should you be pleased with them, God shall never be pleased with such transgressing folk.’ (Verses 95-96) I have never knowingly or deliberately told a lie ever since I said that to the Prophet. I pray to God to help me keep my word for the rest of my life.Sahih al-Bukhari 4418

10. Wiki Forum

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11. Tafsir Zone


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