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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Anfal 8:30

Overview (Verse 30)

The sūrah continues its address showing glimpses from the past and compares them with the present. It paints a scene showing a great gulf between the two situations for the benefit of the Muslim community which fought the battle and achieved a great victory. Thus Muslims are able to appreciate God’s grace as manifested in what He had planned for them. Compared to that, all the spoils of war appear trivial and all sacrifices of little consequence.
The first passage described the general situation of the Muslims in Makkah, and also in Madinah before the battle. They were small in number, poor in equipment to the extent that they always feared their enemies could launch an onslaught against them. However, by God’s grace all that was changed to a situation of strength, security and good provision. In the present passage, the sūrah describes the attitude of the unbelievers as they scheme against God’s Messenger shortly before his departure to Madinah. They turn away from God’s revelations, claiming that they could produce something similar if they so wished. Their attitude is so stubborn that they appeal for God’s punishment to come sooner if Muĥammad’s message from God is true. They prefer this to accepting it and following its guidance. The passage also includes a reference to the fact that they allocate their resources so as to turn people away from God’s guidance and pool their money in order to launch an onslaught on God’s Messenger. They are warned that all their efforts will end in total failure in this life, and then they will be driven to hell in the life to come. Loss in both worlds will be the result of their scheming and plotting. Ultimately God directs the Prophet to confront the unbelievers with a choice between two alternatives. The first is that they stop their stubborn denial of the truth and their hostility to God and His Messenger, in which case God will forgive them all the sins and evil deeds they committed in the past. Alternatively, they continue with their attitude, in which case the fate that engulfed earlier communities will befall them too. They will then suffer the punishment God will determine for them.
God then commands the Muslims to fight them until all their power is destroyed. Thus, they will no longer be able to scheme against the Muslims and turn them away from their faith. The fight should continue until all Godhead is recognized throughout the earth as belonging to God alone, and all submission is made to Him. If they, then, give up and surrender, the Prophet (peace be upon him) will accept that from them. As for their thoughts and intentions, these are known to God. He will hold them accountable for these. However, if they turn away and continue with their campaign against the Muslim community, denying God’s Lordship over the whole universe and refusing to submit to Him, the Muslims will then continue to fight them, trusting to God, their Master, who will provide them with His support.
A Scheme to Put an End to Islam
“Remember how the unbelievers were scheming against you, seeking to keep you in chains or have you slain or banished. Thus they plot and plan, but God also plans. God is above all schemers.” (Verse 30) This is a reminder of the situation in Makkah before things underwent a total transformation. This reminder serves also as a reassurance concerning the future, and draws attention to the wisdom behind the operation of God’s will. Those Muslims who were the first to be addressed by the Qur’ān were fully aware of both situations, having experienced both. A reminder of their immediate past, as well as the fear and worry they experienced in those days, was sufficient to make them appreciate the safety and security of the present. They were aware of the unbelievers’ scheming and what they planned to do with the Prophet. But not only their schemes were totally foiled; the unbelievers also suffered a humiliating defeat.
The unbelievers were considering alternatives: they thought of arresting God’s Messenger and putting him in chains until he died, and they also considered killing him so that they could get rid of him once and for all. They also thought of driving him away, sending him into exile. Having considered the pros and cons of each of these alternatives, they chose to kill him, entrusting the task to a number of young men, each belonging to a different tribe, so that all tribes would share in his assassination. His own clan, Hāshim, would thus be unable to fight all the Arabs at once. They would then accept an offer of blood money and the whole matter would finish at that.
Commenting on this verse, Imām Ahmad relates on the authority of `Abdullāh ibn `Abbās: “The Quraysh were in consultation one night in Makkah. Some of them suggested that the following morning they should put the Prophet in chains; but others suggested that they should kill him, while still others suggested that it was sufficient to have him banished. God revealed to the Prophet what they were scheming. That night, `Alī slept in the Prophet’s bed, while the Prophet (peace be upon him) moved out of the city until he reached the cave. The unbelievers spent the night watching `Alī, but thinking him to be the Prophet. In the morning, they rushed to him, but instead they discovered `Alī sleeping in his bed. They realized that their scheming had been foiled. They asked him: ‘Where is your companion?’ He answered: `I do not know.’ They traced his footsteps, but when they reached the mountain, they could no longer distinguish his trace. They climbed up the mountain and passed by the cave and saw that spiders had weaved their webs over its entrance. They thought that if he had gone into the cave, there would be no spider’s web at the entrance. All in all he stayed in that cave three nights.”

“They plot and plan, but God also plans. God is above all schemers.” (Verse 30) These words paint a picture that leaves a profound effect, particularly when we stretch our minds to imagine that meeting of Quraysh idolaters and how they held their consultations discussing alternatives, looking at the advantages and disadvantages of every suggestion that was put forward. Yet, God Almighty was fully aware of all they said and decided. He rendered their schemes futile, but they were totally unaware of His planning. The whole scene is full of acute irony. But it is at the same time an awe-inspiring scene. How could those human beings, weak and clumsy as they were, be compared to God? Could anything they devised be compared to His design, able as He is to accomplish every purpose of His? The Qur’ānic style paints this image in the same inimitable method of the Qur’ān, bringing it alive so that it shakes hearts and set minds thinking.
After this brief but highly suggestive reference to the scheming of the Quraysh and what they plotted against the Prophet, the sūrah moves on to describe the attitude of the unbelievers, their deeds, fabrications and claims. They went as far as claiming they were able to produce something similar to the Qur’ān, if only they chose to do so. At the same time, they described the Qur’ān as fables of the ancients. “Whenever Our revelations are recited to them, they would say: ‘We have heard them. If we wanted, we could certainly compose the like of this. This is nothing but fables of the ancients.’“ (Verse 31)