Tafsir Zone - Surah 8: al-Anfal (The Spoils Of War )

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Anfal 8:11

Overview (Verses 11 - 14)

God’s Support in All Forms
This slumber and reassurance were part of the reinforcement God granted to the Muslim host at Badr. “He made slumber fall upon you, as an assurance from Him.” (Verse 11) The wording here is very significant; “fall upon you”, “slumber”, “assurance” are all words that impart a feeling of confidence and friendliness. The sūrah paints the complete picture and highlights the great value of that moment which separated two opposite situations experienced by the Muslim host.
The water or the rain was, then, another form of support given to the Muslim fighters. A report by `Abdullāh ibn `Abbās tells the story as follows: “When the Prophet marched towards Badr, he and his Companions stopped at a barren area with the unbelievers closer to the wells. The Muslims were apparently exhausted. Satan began to whisper into their ears trying to create doubts and suspicions. He said: ‘How can you claim that God is your patron and His Messenger is among you, when the idolaters have beaten you to the water to the extent that you now offer your prayers when you are in the state of ceremonial impurity?’ God sent rain pouring down which enabled the Muslims to drink and cleanse themselves. God thus removed Satan’s filth from them. The sandy area where they were became much firmer to enable people and animals to walk easily. They marched towards their enemies. God then supported His Messenger with one thousand angels, with the angel Gabriel leading five hundred of them on one side, and the angel Michael leading another five hundred on the other side.”
This was before the Prophet carried out the advice given him by his Companion, al-Ĥubāb ibn al-Mundhir, who suggested that they should encamp right at the main well of Badr and that they should dump the other wells. Ibn Kathīr reports: “It is well known that when the Prophet arrived at Badr, he encamped at the nearest well he found. Al-Ĥubāb ibn al-Mundhir came forward and asked him: `Messenger of God, has God ordered you to encamp here so that we are not allowed to move further, or have you chosen this place as part of your strategy for the battle?’ The Prophet told him that it was his own choice and strategy. Al-Ĥubāb then said: `Messenger of God, this is not the proper place to encamp. Take us forward until we reach the source of water closest to them, and then we dump all the other wells. We can also fill the reservoirs so that we have water while they do not.’ The Prophet acted on his advice.”

On that night, then, and before al-Ĥubāb ibn al-Mundhir gave his advice, the Muslims were in this situation of which they are here reminded. The support they received was of a material and spiritual nature. In the desert, water is the source of life and a means to achieve victory. An army without water in the desert is bound to be demoralized even before the battle starts. Besides, there was this psychological uncertainty that came as a result of Satan’s whispering, with the believers feeling uneasy about praying when they were in a state of ceremonial impurity and had no water to wash themselves. At that time, they had not been granted the concession of dry ablution, or tayammum. That concession was given in a later battle they fought in the fifth year of the Islamic calendar. In such a situation, worries and uncertainties abound. Satan may try to go through the door of faith in order to increase such worries. When people go into a battle experiencing worry and doubt of this type, they can easily be defeated. At this moment, support is very timely: “He sent down water from the sky to cleanse you and to remove from you Satan’s filth, to strengthen your hearts and steady your footsteps.” (Verse 11) Thus, the spiritual support comes together with the material one. The worry is removed as water becomes abundant, and uncertainty is replaced by assurance after they had cleansed themselves. Their march is steadier as the land becomes firmer.
In addition to this, God inspired the angels to encourage the believers and promised to strike fear in the hearts of the unbelievers. He also commanded the angels to take an active part in the battle: “Your Lord inspired the angels, saying:’ lam with you. So, give courage to the believers. I shall cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. Strike, then, their necks and strike off their every fingertip.’” (Verse 12)
This is indeed the greatest aspect of this whole battle. It is the fact that God Almighty was with the angels in this battle, and the angels took part in it alongside the Muslim army. We must not lose sight of the importance of this fact by trying to find out how the angels took part. How many enemy soldiers did they kill? Or how they killed them? The great fact is that when the Muslim community takes action to establish God’s faith in the land, their action is valued so highly as to deserve God’s presence with the angels in battle and the angels’ participation in it.
We believe that among God’s creation there is a type called the angels. We know of their nature only what God, their Creator, has told us. We cannot fathom how they participated in the Muslim victory at Badr except in as far as the fact is stated in the Qur’ān. Their Lord inspired them saying that He was with them and commanded them to encourage the believers. They complied, because they always do what they are commanded. We, however, do not know how they fulfilled this task. God also ordered them to strike the unbelievers over their necks and strike off their fingertips. So they did all this, but in a fashion unknown to us. Knowledge of all this is merely a detail of knowing the nature of the angels, but we know of this nature only what God has chosen to tell us. Furthermore, God promised to strike terror in the hearts of the unbelievers, and this was certainly the case because God always fulfils His promises. However, we do not know how this was done. It is God who is the Creator, and He knows His creation. Indeed, God may cause a split between a person and his heart, and He is closer to any person than his own jugular vein.
To try to go into the details of all these matters is contrary to the serious nature of this faith and its practical approach. But these questions have featured prominently among the concerns of different Muslim schools and scholastic theology generally in later generations when people were no longer seriously interested in this faith. Instead, they pursued intellectual luxury. Reflection on the great significance of God’s presence with the angels in the battle and the active participation of the angels in the battle itself is much more beneficial.
At the end we have a statement clarifying the reality beyond the battle and the rule that shapes events to bring about victory or defeat: “This is because they have defied God and His Messenger. Whoever defies God and His Messenger [will find out that] God is severe in retribution.” (Verse 13) It is not by mere coincidence that God has granted support to the Muslim army and has stricken terror into the hearts of its enemies and commanded the angels to fight them in support of the Muslims. All this took place because they had defied God and His Messenger, adopting a line of action and an attitude that was in opposition to those of God and His Messenger, trying to prevent the code of living God had revealed from being established.
“Whoever defies God and His Messenger [will find out that] God is severe in retribution.” (Verse 13) He is certainly able to punish severely those who defy Him and His Messenger. They are too weak to show any resistance.
This is an established rule, not merely a coincidence. Whenever a Muslim community takes active steps to establish the principle of God’s oneness and to implement His message, it will be granted victory against any enemy that opposes it in defiance of God and His Messenger. Terror will be stricken in the hearts of those engaged in such defiance, and they will end up in defeat as long as the Muslim community holds on to its principles, relying totally on God, certain of His support.
At the end of the scene, the unbelievers who defied God and His Messenger are told directly that the terror they felt and the defeat they experienced were not all. The whole question of this faith, its implementation, and the opposition to it are not of the concerns of this world alone. It goes further, extending to the life to come. Its dimensions go far beyond our immediate world: “This is for you, [enemies of God]! Taste it, then. The unbelievers shall be made to suffer the torment of fire.” (Verse 14) This is the real end. That torment is incomparable to what they had already experienced of terror, defeat and the striking off of their necks and their fingertips.
Thus far, the sūrah has reminded the Muslims of the conditions in which the Battle of Badr took place, showing them different scenes of the battle itself and what preceded it. It makes clear to them that at every step, it was God who dictated events and moved them in the direction He wanted, in order to accomplish His purpose.