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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Anfal 8:3

Overview (Verses 3 - 4)

Practising What We Preach

The Prophet’s Companions were indeed models of true believers. The Qur’ān had a special effect on them, enhanced by the general atmosphere in their community in which people tried their best to practically live by the Qur’ān and not confine themselves to an intellectual appreciation of its meaning. We have mentioned certain reports that relate the incident leading to the revelation of the opening verse of the sūrah. These reports speak of Sa`d ibn Mālik who requested the Prophet to give him a particular sword before the revelation that gave the Prophet complete control over the spoils of war and how they were to be distributed. The Prophet said to him: “This sword belongs neither to you nor to me. Put it down.” When Sa`d complied with this instruction and went away, and was then called back, he feared that his request might have been answered by revelation. Quoting Sa`d, the report goes on: “I said: Has God revealed something concerning me?” The Prophet told him: “You asked me to give you this sword when it was not mine. Now it has been given to me, and I gift it to you.” Thus did they live with their Lord and with the Qur’ān which was being revealed. That was great indeed, taking place in a remarkable period of human history. Those Companions of the Prophet were thus able to appreciate the Qur’ān in their own exemplary way. The fact that they conducted their own practical affairs, guided by the Qur’ānic directives made their own appreciation of the Qur’ān both practical and highly effective. While no repeat of the first aspect is possible in the sense that no human community could receive the Qur’ān directly anymore, yet the type of interaction with the Qur’ān that characterized the community of the Prophet’s Companions can certainly be repeated. It only requires a community of believers to try to establish this religion of Islam in practical life just like the first Muslim community did. Such a community of believers will certainly have the same type of appreciation of the Qur’ān and will have their faith increased whenever it is recited, because, to start with, it is a believing community. For them, true faith requires that they take action to establish this religion in practice after jāhiliyyah had regained control over the whole world. To them, faith is not confined to wishful thinking, but it means something that is deeply rooted in one’s heart and to which credence is given through action.
“In their Lord do they place their trust.” (Verse 2) The way this statement is phrased signifies that they rely on God alone, associating no one with Him from whom to request help. Ibn Kathīr explains the significance of this statement fully as he says: “They place their hopes in none other than Him, turn to no one other than Him, seek no one else’s protection, address their appeals only to Him and turn for help to no one other than Him. They know that whatever He wishes will be accomplished and what He does not will never take place. They also know that He alone has complete control over the whole universe, with no one needed to endorse, ratify, or confirm His judgement. He is also fast in reckoning. For this reason, Sa`īd ibn Jubayr says: “True reliance on God is the net sum of faith.”

This is the practical meaning of pure faith in God’s oneness, addressing all worship completely and purely to Him alone. It is not possible for any person to have true faith in God as the only Lord in the universe and yet rely on someone other than Him. Those who find themselves relying on someone other than God must first of all search in their own hearts to discover whether they truly believe in God.
To rely on God alone does not prevent anyone from taking action or precaution. A believer takes precautions against any eventuality as a sign of believing in God and obeying Him, as He has ordered us to do so. But a true believer does not consider his actions and precautions as the only causes to give the effects they produce, to the extent that he relies only on such actions and precautions. What produces these effects, and indeed brings their causes into being, is God’s will. In a believer’s heart, the cause and effect relationship is not self-enforcing. A believer takes action in order to obey God. But the results and effects come about by God’s own will which is totally independent from the causes leading to it. Such will is determined by God alone. In this way, a believer does not feel controlled by such actions and causes. Nevertheless, he tries his best to take every precaution hoping that he will be rewarded for doing so in obedience to God.
Modern jāhiliyyah which describes itself as `scientific’ has tried hard to emphasize the “inevitability of natural laws”, in order to deny God’s will and whatever God has chosen not to make known to us. All its attempts and the manipulation of all means at its disposal have shown it to be powerless in the face of God’s will. It was eventually forced to admit its inability to make future predictions with any degree of certainty or inevitability. It then resorted to what it terms `the theory of probabilities’ in the material world. Whatever used to be `inevitable’ in its lexicon has come to be considered only `probable’. Ghayb, which is the Qur’ānic term for what lies beyond the reach of human perception, remains a sealed secret. Furthermore, God’s will remains the only true certainty. The only inevitable law is that expressed in the Qur’ānic statement: “You never know but God may well cause something new to come about.” (65: 1) This statement refers to the fact that God’s will is free, unrestrained. It lies behind the natural laws which God has set into operation to control the universe according to His will.
Sir James Jeans, a renowned British physicist says: The old science had confidently proclaimed that nature could follow only one road, the road which was mapped out from the beginning of time to its end by the continuous chain of cause and effect; state A was inevitably succeeded by state B. So far the new science has only been able to say that state A may be followed by state B or C or D or by innumerable other states. It can, it is true, say that B is more likely than C, C than D, and so on; it can even specify the relative probabilities of states B, C and D. But, just because it has to speak in terms of probabilities, it cannot predict with certainty which state will follow which; this is a matter which lies on the knees of the gods — whatever gods there be.
When a person has rid his mind of the pressure of apparent causes, it is left with the only alternative of relying completely on God. It realizes that God’s will is the only cause for all that happens, and that this is the only true certainty. Apparent causes produce only probabilities. With this truth, Islamic faith enables the human mind to bridge a great gulf. Modern jāhiliyyah has spent three centuries in order to arrive at the first intellectual stage in bridging that gulf. But it has not made any progress towards bridging it in as far as beliefs are concerned, or with regard to the far-reaching practical effects that result from it, in accepting God’s will and dealing with it as apparent causes and forces. Bridging that gulf means the total liberation of mankind, intellectually, politically, socially and morally and, above all, in matters of faith. It is not possible for man to achieve this freedom if he were to remain under the yoke of `inevitabilities’ that would undoubtedly lead him to submission to the will of human beings or the will of nature. Any inevitability other than that of God’s will serves as a basis for submission to something else. Hence, the Qur’ān emphasizes the need to rely on God alone, making it an essential condition of faith. In Islam, the basic concept of belief is a complete whole. It must interact as such in the practical model which this religion of Islam provides for human life.
“They attend regularly to their prayers.” (Verse 3) In this quality we find a visible aspect of faith, after we had seen some of its invisible ones. Faith is defined as that which is deeply rooted in one’s heart and to which credence is given through action. Action is, therefore, the practical aspect of faith which appears to all people signifying that the person who takes such action is a person of faith. Regular attendance to prayer does not signify its mere performance. It is the performance which befits a servant standing in the presence of his Master (limitless is He in His glory). It is not the mere recitation, movement, bowing and prostration when one’s mind is totally oblivious to what one is actually doing. In its proper performance, prayer is a true evidence of faith.
“And (they) spend on others some of what We have provided them with.” (Verse 3) This applies to zakāt and other forms of charity. These people spend on others `some of what We have provided them with.’ It is God who is the provider, and whatever they donate is part of His provision. Qur’ānic statements are always rich in their connotations and the impressions they leave. Those people have not created their wealth. It is only part of the countless abundance which God has provided for them. Whatever they may spend is only part of it. They retain the rest; for whatever they have has been provided for them by God alone.
These are the qualities God mentions here as signifying faith. They include believing in God’s oneness, responding to the mentioning of His name, being influenced by His revelations, placing one’s trust only in Him, offering prayer to Him alone and donating to others some of what He has provided for them. These qualities do not represent the details of faith as they have been explained elsewhere in the Qur’ān; but they deal with a certain situation when the Prophet’s companions disputed with one another over the spoils of war, allowing ill feelings to develop between themselves. Hence, only those qualities of the believers which are particularly relevant to dealing with such a situation are mentioned here. At the same time, they outline certain essential qualities of proper faith. If all these qualities are lacking, a person cannot be a true believer. It is not necessary to enlist all the qualities of faith here. The Qur’ānic method of cultivating the finer human qualities with the Qur’ān tackles only those aspects and provides only those directives that are useful in dealing with certain practical situations. Besides, the Qur’ān provides a practical method for human life, not a mere theory that it wishes to present. Hence, the final comment on these qualities is as follows: “It is those who are truly believers. They shall be given high ranks with their Lord, and forgiveness of sins and generous provisions.” (Verse 4)
Here we find highlighted those qualities of true believers which are particularly relevant to the situation prevailing at the time of their revelation. Those companions of the Prophet were keen to attain martyrdom through fighting hard for God’s cause. A clear reference to this is given in the fact that those whose qualities are such “shall be given high ranks with their Lord.” (Verse 4) We also have a reference to what `Ubādah ibn al-Şāmit describes as bad manners and unbrotherly relations being clearly apparent. The passage tells us that those believers who have all these qualities shall be given forgiveness by their Lord. The sūrah also refers to the dispute over the spoils of war that took place after the battle, stating that people with such qualities of true believers shall have `generous provisions’ given to them by their Lord. Thus, all aspects of the situation are covered, whether they appeared in practical attitudes or were confined to feelings only. At the same time, this passage makes it very clear that a person who does not have any of these qualities is certainly not a true believer.
“It is those who are truly believers.” (Verse 4) The first Muslim community was being taught that faith has an essence which must be felt by every believer. Faith is not merely a claim or a verbal statement, or wishful thinking. In an authentic ĥadīth, a man from the Anşār named al-Ĥārith ibn Mālik is reported to have met the Prophet who asked him: “How do you feel this morning, Ĥārith?” The man said: “I feel myself to be a true believer.” The Prophet said: “Reflect on what you say, for everything has an essence. What is the essence of your faith?” He answered: “This world is no longer of much appeal to me. Therefore, I am staying up at night and enduring thirst by day. (This means that he spent much of his nights in worship and he frequently fasted voluntarily.) I feel as though I am looking at my Lord’s throne in full view. I almost see the dwellers of heaven visiting one another there, and the people of hell uttering cries of anguish. “The Prophet said: “Ĥārith, you have come to know the facts, so maintain your attitude.” He repeated his advice three times.
This Companion of the Prophet deserved the Prophet’s testimony that he was in full knowledge of the facts. Yet, when he answered the Prophet’s question he not only mentioned his feelings, but the type of action he did in response to his knowledge. A person who can almost see his Lord’s throne in full view, and the dwellers of heaven visiting one another, and the people of hell making their cries of anguish will not merely look at these scenes. They leave very strong impressions on him that generate powerful feelings characterizing every move and action he makes. It is because of what he has experienced that he spends so much of his time in night worship and he fasts frequently, trying to refine his nature.
True faith must be taken very seriously. It is not a mere word that people say while practice remains in conflict with what is said. Taking true faith seriously and approaching it with determination are highly important, particularly for any community of believers who try to re-establish the faith of Islam in practice after jāhiliyyah has imparted its ugly colour to human life everywhere.