Surah at-Taubah (Repentance ) 9 : 123

يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ قَٰتِلُوا۟ ٱلَّذِينَ يَلُونَكُم مِّنَ ٱلْكُفَّارِ وَلْيَجِدُوا۟ فِيكُمْ غِلْظَةً ۚ وَٱعْلَمُوٓا۟ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ مَعَ ٱلْمُتَّقِينَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allāh is with the righteous.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

We then have a verse outlining the plan and extent of jihād, which was implemented by the Prophet Muĥammad (peace be upon him) and his successors generally. The only exceptions were limited cases dictated by special circumstances.

The jihād movement marched on, confronting those who were near to the land of Islam, one stage after another. When practically the whole of Arabia had adopted Islam, after Makkah itself fell to Islam, leaving only scattered individuals and groups who did not form any threat to the land of Islam, the Tabūk Expedition took place, threatening the outer areas of the Byzantine Empire which were closest to the Muslim state. This was followed by open warfare, with the Muslim armies moving far into the lands of both the Byzantine and Persian Empires, leaving no pockets behind them. The areas that were now under Islam were united, having continuous borders. It was a vast land area with solid loyalty to one authority.

Weakness only crept in after its division into different units, with artificial borders to allow the governments of certain ruling families or certain races and nationalities. This was the outcome of plans that the enemies of Islam tried hard to bring to fruition, as they still do today. The different ethnic communities which Islam united in a single nation or community in the land of Islam, superseding the divisions of race, language and colour, will continue to suffer from inherent weaknesses until they return to their faith. Only when they once again follow the guidance of God’s Messenger, the Prophet Muĥammad (peace be upon him), and allow only a single banner to unite them shall they recognize the implications of divine leadership which will once again bring them power and victory. When that happens, it will ensure that they are held in awe by other nations and powers.

What we find here is an order to fight those unbelievers who are near to the Muslim state, without specifying whether these have launched any aggression on the Muslims or their land. We understand that this is the final situation which makes the need to carry Islam forward the basis of the principle of jihād. This will ensure that Islam is available to mankind. It does not have a defensive outlook, as was the case with the provisional orders in the early days after the establishment of the Muslim state in Madinah.

Some of those who speak about the Islamic view of international relations or about the rulings that govern jihād, as well as those who write essays interpreting the Qur’ānic verses speaking about jihād, try to show this verse, which is the final one, limited by the earlier provisional rules. Hence they impose on it a restriction, limiting its application to cases of aggression being launched or expected against the Muslim community. But this statement is general and has no restriction attached to it. Besides, it is the final one. What we have learnt is that when the Qur’ān lays down legal provisions, it states them in a clear and precise way, without referring one situation to another. It resorts to precise expression, adding at the same point any exceptions, limitations or restrictions it wants the Muslim community to observe.

We have already commented in detail, in the Prologue and Chapters 1 and 2, on the meanings of the verses and the final rulings they provide, shedding light on the nature of the Islamic method of action.

However, those speakers and writers find it incomprehensible that Islam lays down such an order commanding the believers to fight those unbelievers who are near to them, and to continue to do so as long as there remain unbelievers in their vicinity. Hence they try to find limits restricting this general statement, but they can only find these in the earlier statements which were, by nature, provisional.

We understand why they find it so incomprehensible.They simply forget that jihād is meant to serve God’s cause. It aims to establish God’s authority and to remove tyranny. It liberates mankind from submission to any authority other than that of God. “Fight them until there is no more oppression, and all submission is made to God alone.” (8: 39) jihād does not aim to achieve the hegemony of one philosophy or system or nation over another. It wants the system laid down by God to replace the systems established by His creatures. It does not wish to establish a kingdom for any one of God’s servants, but to establish God’s own kingdom. Hence it has to move forward throughout the earth in order to liberate the whole of mankind, without discrimination between those who are within the land of Islam and those who are outside it. The whole earth is populated by human beings who are being subjected to different types of tyrannical authority wielded by fellow human beings.

When they lose sight of this fact they find it odd that one system and one nation should move forward to remove all systems and dominate all communities. If things were such, that would be odd indeed. But the systems that exist today are all man- made. None of them has any right to say that it alone should dominate the others. The same does not apply to the divine system which sets out to overthrow all man-made systems in order to liberate all mankind from the humiliation of submission to other human beings, so that they can submit to God alone and worship Him only without any partners. Moreover, they find it odd because they face a concentrated and wicked crusade which tells them that the Islamic faith managed to spread only because it used the sword. Jihād, it claims, wanted to force other people to accept Islam, depriving them of the freedom of belief.

Had things been so, they would have been odd indeed. But the truth is totally different. Islam lays down a rule stating that “There shall be no compulsion in religion. The right way is henceforth distinct from error.” (2: 256) Why does Islam, then, move forward to fight, and why has God bought the believers’ souls and property, so that “they fight for the cause of God, kill and be killed”? (Verse 111) The answer is that jihād has a reason which is totally different from compelling other people to accept Islam. Indeed jihād seeks to guarantee the freedom of belief.

Islam is a declaration which liberates mankind throughout the earth from submission to human beings. As such, Islam always faces tyrannical forces and systems which seek to subjugate people and dominate their lives. These systems are backed by regimes and powers of different sorts, which deprive people of the chance to listen to the Islamic message and to adopt it if they are convinced of its truth. Or they may force people, in one way or another, to turn away from the Islamic message. That is an ugly violation of the freedom of belief. For these reasons, Islam moves forward, equipped with suitable power, to overthrow these systems and destroy their forces.

What happens then? It leaves people entirely free to adopt the faith they like. If they wish to be Muslims, they will have all the rights and duties that apply to all Muslims. They will have a bond of real brotherhood with those who have been Muslims long before them. On the other hand, if they wish to maintain their religions, they may do so. They only have to pay a tribute, i.e. jizyah, which has a clear purpose: to acknowledge the freedom of movement for Islam among them, to contribute to the treasury of the Muslim state which is required to protect them against any outside aggression, and to look after those of them who are ill, disabled and elderly in the same way as Muslims are looked after.

Never in its history did Islam compel a single human being to change his faith. That is alien to Islamic beliefs and practice. On the other hand, crusades were launched to kill, slaughter and eliminate entire communities, such as the people of Andalusia in the past and the people of Zanzibar in recent history, in order to compel them to convert to Christianity. Sometimes, even conversion was not accepted. They were killed only because they were Muslims, or because they followed a brand of Christianity which was different from that of the dominating Church. For example, 12,000 Egyptian Christians were burnt alive only because they differed with the Byzantine Church over matters of detail, such as whether the soul originated with the Father alone, or with the Father and the Son together, or whether Jesus had a single divine nature or a united one in which both the divine and the human combine. These are basically the causes which make some writers about Islam find the general statement in this verse rather odd, and they try to explain it away by limiting the jihād movement to a defensive strategy only.

Moreover, the thought of moving forward to confront the unbelievers who are near to the Muslim state sounds too awesome to those defeatists who look at the world around them today and find this requirement totally impractical. Are those who have Muslim names in communities that are weak, or subject to foreign domination, to move forth in the land, challenging all nations in open warfare, until there is no more oppression and all submission is declared to God alone? That is totally unrealistic. It cannot be imagined that God would give such an order.

All such people forget the timing and the circumstances leading to this order. It was given after Islam had established its state, and the whole of Arabia adopted the Islamic faith and started to organize its life on its basis. Prior to that a community was established which dedicated itself totally to its cause, with everyone in that community ready to sacrifice his life and property in order for Islam to triumph. This community was given victory in one battle after another, stage after stage. Today we are in a situation which is highly similar to that which prevailed at the time when Prophet Muĥammad was sent to call on mankind to believe in God’s oneness and to declare that “There is no deity other than God, and Muĥammad is His Messenger.” Together with the small band who believed in him, the Prophet strove hard until he managed to establish the first Muslim state in Madinah. The orders to fight the unbelievers were modified stage after stage, facing the prevailing situation at each stage, until it reached its final version.

The gulf that separates people today from that final version is wide indeed. Hence, they have to start again at the beginning, with the declaration that “There is no deity other than God, and Muĥammad is His Messenger.” They will have to move forward on the basis of this declaration until they reach, in their own good time and with God’s help, the final stage. At that time they will not be the sort of powerless multitude divided by a variety of creeds and desires, and declaring their affiliation to different races and nationalities, as they are today. They will be a united Muslim community that accepts no banner, or manmade creed or system. They will only move with God’s blessings to serve His cause.

Encumbered with their pathetic weakness, people will not understand the rules of this religion. It is only those who strive in a movement dedicated to the establishment of God’s sovereignty on earth, and the removal of false deities, that fully understand its rules. Understanding this religion in its true nature cannot be taken from those who deal only with books and papers. Academic study is insufficient on its own to formulate any real understanding of Islam, unless it is coupled with striving in a movement.

Nevertheless, everyone should know that this toughness is directed against only those who fight, and it remains controlled by Islamic ethics. Before Muslims fight, they give a warning and offer the other party a choice between three alternatives: to adopt Islam, or to pay the tribute, i.e. jizyah, or to fight. If there is a treaty between the Muslim state and another community and the Muslim state fears that there may be treachery on the latter’s part, then a notice terminating the treaty should be served on them. It is useful to mention here that treaties may be given only to communities that are ready to be bound by a peace agreement and to pay the jizyah. The only other situation where a treaty may be signed is that when the Muslim community is lacking in power. In this situation, some provisional rules are applicable to it.

The Prophet himself set out the ethics of war which must be observed by the Muslim community in any battle it may fight.

Buraydah, a Companion of the Prophet, reports: When the Prophet appointed someone to command an army or an expedition, he would recommend him to be God-fearing in his public and private affairs, and to take good care of those who were under his command. Then he would tell them: ‘March by God’s name and to serve His cause. Fight those who deny God. March on; but do not be unfair, and do not commit any treachery. Do not disfigure the bodies of any enemy soldiers killed in battle.

Never kill any children. When you meet your enemies, call upon them to choose one of three alternatives. If they choose one of them, accept it from them and do not fight them. Call on them first to accept Islam. If they agree, accept their pledges and do not fight them. Then ask them to move over to the land of the Muhājirīn, and tell them that they would then have the same duties and privileges of the Muhājirīn. If they do not wish to move from their quarters, tell them that they would then be in the same position as the bedouin Muslims. They will be subject to God’s orders that are applicable to all believers, but they will have no share of any booty that is gained through war or peaceful campaigns, unless they fight with the Muslims. If they refuse to accept Islam, then offer them the alternative of paying jizyah [or tribute]. If they agree, accept it from them and do not fight them. If they refuse, then seek God’s help and fight them.

`Abdullāh ibn `Umar, a Companion of the Prophet reports: “A woman was found killed in one of the Prophet’s expeditions. He immediately issued an order that no women or children may be killed.” [Related by al-Bukhārī and Muslim.]

The Prophet sent his Companion Mu`ādh ibn Jabal to the Yemen to teach the people there. As he departed the Prophet said to him: “You will be among people who follow earlier revelations. Call on them to believe that there is no deity other than God and that I am God’s Messenger. Should they accept that from you, then tell them that God has commanded them to pray five times every day. If they accept that from you, then tell them that God has imposed on them the payment of zakāt, i.e. a charity which is to be levied from the rich and given to the poor among them. If they accept that, then do not touch their good earnings. Guard against an appeal to God by a person who suffers injustice, for such an appeal goes straight to God, without any hindrances.”

Abū Dāwūd relates that the Prophet said: “You may fight some people and overcome them. They may then try to protect themselves and their children from you by their money, and they may make an agreement with you. Do not take anything from them over that, for it is not lawful to you.”

Al-Irbād ibn Şāriyyah reports: “We arrived at Khaybar Castle with the Prophet when he had a large number of Muslims with him. The chief of Khaybar, an arrogant gigantic man, came to the Prophet and said, ‘Muĥammad! Do you permit yourselves to slaughter our cattle, devour our produce, and force our women?’ The Prophet was very angry. He said, `Ibn `Awf! Mount your horse and announce: Only believers are admitted into heaven. Then, gather around for prayers.’ They were all gathered and the Prophet led the prayers. When he finished, he stood up and said, ‘Does any of you think as he reclines over his couch that God has not forbidden anything other than what is stated in the Qur’ān? I have certainly admonished you, given certain orders and forbidden certain things. These are as much prohibited as those in the Qur’ān or even more so. God has not permitted you to go into the homes of the people of the earlier revelations without first having permission, nor has He allowed you to force their women or devour their produce when they have paid what is due from them.”

After a certain battle, it was reported to the Prophet that a few boys were killed during the fighting. He was very sad. Some of his Companions said, “Why are you so sad when they are only the sons of unbelievers?” The Prophet was angry and said words to this effect: “These were better than you, because they still had uncorrupted natures. Are you not the children of unbelievers. Never kill boys. Never kill boys.”

These instructions by the Prophet were strictly followed by his successors. Abū Bakr is reported to have said: “You will find people who claim that they have dedicated themselves to God. Leave them to their dedication. Never kill a woman, a child or an elderly man.” Zayd ibn Wahb reports that the army he had joined received written instructions from the Caliph, `Umar, in which he said: “Do not be unjust; or commit treachery; or kill a young person. Fear God in your treatment of peasants.” His instructions to his commanders always included the following: “Do not kill an elderly person, a woman or a child. Guard against accidentally killing them when you engage your enemy in battle and when you launch any attack.”

Reports are numerous which make clear the general method Islam adopts in fighting its enemies, as well as its commitment to a high standard of ethics in war, giving high respect to human dignity. Fighting is targetted only against real forces which prevent people’s liberation from subjugation by other creatures, so that they submit to God alone. Kind treatment is extended even to enemies. As for toughness, this applies only to fighting when Muslims are expected to fight hard. It has nothing of the barbarism against children, women and elderly people who do not fight in the first place, or the disfigurement of dead bodies. These practices are often committed by the barbaric armies of countries which these days claim to be highly civilized. Islam has given more than adequate orders to ensure the safety of those who do not fight, and to respect the humanity of the fighters. The toughness required is that sort of attitude which ensures that the confrontation does not fizzle away. As Muslims have been ordered time and again to show mercy and kindness, an exception needs to be made in the state of war, in as much as that state requires, without allowing any extreme practices of torture or disfigurement of bodies.

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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10. Wiki Forum

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11. Tafsir Zone


12. External Links

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