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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Anfal 8:31

Overview (Verse 31)

Feeble Manoeuvres
In his scholarly commentary on the Qur’ān, Ibn Kathīr mentions that the person who said this was al-Nađr ibn al-Ĥārith:
Al-Nađr had been to the Persian Empire where he learnt Persian history and read accounts of past Persian kings, such as Rustam and Isfandayar. When he returned home, he saw God’s Messenger (peace be upon him) after he had been entrusted with God’s message, and he listened to him reciting the Qur’ān to people. When the Prophet finished talking to any group of people, al-Nađr would sit with them and tell them stories of those ancient kings. He would then ask them: ‘Tell me, by God, who tells better stories: I or Muĥammad?’ Hence, when he fell captive on the day of the Battle of Badr, the Prophet ordered that he should be executed. His order was carried out, thank God.
The Prophet’s Companion who had taken him prisoner was al- Miqdād ibn al- Aswad, as Ibn Jarīr al-Ţabarī reports:
The Prophet ordered the execution of `Uqbah ibn Abī Mu`ayţ, Tu`aymah ibn `Adiy and al-Nađr ibn al-Ĥārith. When he ordered the killing of al-Nadr, al- Miqdād, the Prophet’s Companion who had taken him prisoner, said: ‘Messenger of God, he is my prisoner!’ The Prophet said: ‘He used to say things against God’s book.’ The Prophet again ordered al-Nadr’s execution. Al-Miqdād again said: `Messenger of God, he is my prisoner!’ The Prophet said: `My Lord, enrich al-Miqdād with Your bounty.’ Al-Miqdād commented that all he had hoped for was to have such a prayer by the Prophet.
It was in reference to al-Nađr and what he used to say about the Qur’ān that this verse was revealed: “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)
The unbelievers’ claims that the Qur’ān was nothing but the tales of ancient people is mentioned several times in the Qur’ān. In another sūrah we read: “And they say: ‘Fables of ancient times which he has caused to be written down, so that they might be read out to him in the morning and the evening.’“ (25: 5)
This was only one episode in a chain of manoeuvres which they attempted in order to resist the Qur’ān and stop its profound effect. They realized that the Qur’ān put its address to human nature, based on the truth implanted in its very constitution. Hence, its response was bound to be positive. It confronted minds with its overpowering authority and they yielded to its irrefutable logic. Therefore, the elders of the Quraysh concocted some manoeuvres which they knew to be without foundation. Nevertheless, they tried to find in the Qur’ān something similar to the fables and legends of ancient communities in order to spread confusion among the masses. Their aim was simply to maintain their sway over those masses.
Those elders of the Quraysh recognized the nature of the Islamic message, because they were fully aware of the meaning of its terms and expressions in their language. They recognized that the declaration, ‘there is no deity other than God, and Muĥammad is God’s Messenger,’ signified a rebellion against all human authority, a complete rejection of the sovereignty of human beings and an acknowledgement that all sovereignty belonged to God alone. It also signified that putting such submission into practice meant following the teachings of Prophet Muĥammad, God’s Messenger, to the exclusion of all those who claimed to speak for God. They were aware that those of them who made that declaration rebelled immediately against the Quraysh’s authority, leadership and sovereignty. Without hesitation, they joined the community led by the Prophet, acknowledging his authority. They no longer entertained any feeling of loyalty to family, clan, tribe, leadership or human authority. All their loyalty was given to this new leadership and the community under its care.
This is certainly the true significance of the declaration that there is no deity other than God and that Muĥammad is God’s Messenger. This was a reality witnessed by the elders of the Quraysh who recognized the threat it constituted to their social, political, economic and religious set-up. The new Muslims’ declaration did not have the hollow and feeble significance demonstrated by those who nowadays claim to be Muslims. They make such a claim only because they repeat this declaration verbally and offer some worship rituals. However, they pay little heed to the fact that God’s Lordship no longer has any practical significance in human life, since human beings allow man-made laws and ignorant leadership to conduct and manage all society affairs.
It is true that in Makkah, Islam had neither a legal code to put forward nor a state to implement such a code, had it been there. However, those who made the declaration that brought them into the fold of Islam immediately acknowledged the leadership of the Prophet Muĥammad and gave all their loyalty to the Muslim community. They rebelled against the leadership of the Arabian jāhiliyyah society, and disclaimed any loyalty to family, clan, tribe, etc. Hence, their declaration had its true political significance.
This was indeed what worried the Quraysh’s elders as they recognized the threat posed by Islam and the Qur’ān. In earlier days, they were not at all worried when some individuals of foresight disowned the beliefs and rituals of the unbelievers, declaring that they believed in God’s oneness and worshipped Him alone. Those individuals disowned all idolatry, offering no worship ritual to any of the Arabian idols. If the whole matter is confined to this, those who wield authority in any jāhiliyyah society would not care, because they do not see any threat to their authority in mere beliefs and worship rituals. Unlike what some kind and sincere people who wish to be Muslims may think, Islam is not confined to this. Islam is a positive movement that accompanies this declaration. It requires its followers to dissociate themselves from jāhiliyyah society, its conceptual beliefs, values, leadership, laws and authority. It also requires its followers to acknowledge loyalty only to the Muslim leadership which wants to bring Islam into practice. This was extremely worrying to the elders of the Quraysh, so they tried to resist it by various means, including their false claim that the Qur’ān was nothing but fables of the ancients, and that they could produce something similar to it. They certainly had no power to do so. The Qur’ān has challenged them time and again to produce even one sūrah similar to it. Every time they tried, their attempts ended in miserable failure.
A Sophisticated Version of an Old Ploy

A fable is an old tale that includes some superstitious beliefs about deities and the supernatural courage of legendary heroes. It speaks of imaginary events that involve so much superstition.
Those Quraysh elders referred to the accounts given in the Qur’ān of earlier nations and communities, the miracles shown to them and to the Qur’ānic descriptions of how God destroyed the unbelievers and saved the believers and said to the masses that such accounts were only fables of ancient people. They alleged that Muĥammad had it all written down in order to relate the same to the Arabs in Makkah, claiming that they had been revealed to him by God. Al-Nađr ibn al-Ĥārith would take the Prophet’s place after he had finished speaking to people, and would relate to them fables and legends which he had learnt on his travels in Persia. At times, al-Nađr would even have a group of people in a circle sitting next to the group addressed by the Prophet. He would then say to his audience: “These legends are similar to the fables related by Muĥammad, but I do not claim to be a Prophet or to receive any revelations. His are all fables and legends of the same type.”
Such claims must, no doubt, have created some confusion among people, particularly at the beginning, before those legends were clearly seen as totally different from the Qur’ān. Hence, we appreciate why the Prophet issued an announcement before the Battle of Badr that al-Nađr ibn al-Ĥārith should be killed. Then, when he was taken prisoner, the Prophet ordered his execution along with a couple of other prisoners for whom the Prophet was not prepared to accept ransom.
However, such matters did not last long in Makkah. These ploys were seen for what they really were. With its overpowering logic and profound truth that directly appealed to human nature, the Qur’ān could easily overcome all such ploys and manoeuvres. Nothing of them was able to resist the Qur’ān in any way. Hence, the elders of the Quraysh were in terrible fear and called on all their followers: “Do not listen to this Qur’ān. Cut short its recitation with booing and laughter, so that you may gain the upper hand.” (41: 26) But their leaders, such as Abū Sufyān, Abū Jahl and al- Akhnas ibn Sharīq went secretly at night, each on his own, to listen to the Qur’ān being recited. None of them could bring himself to refrain from being there night after night, to listen to the Prophet as he recited God’s revelations. Each one of them thought he was totally alone. When they discovered each other, they made a firm pledge of honour not to do it again. They feared that they would be seen by young people who would then listen to the Qur’ān and accept the Islamic faith.
Al-Nađr’s attempt to attract people’s attention to his stories in order to turn them away from the Qur’ān was not the last of its kind. It was repeated in different shapes and forms, and it will continue to be repeated. In our present times, the enemies of this faith have also tried to turn people’s attentions away from the Qur’ān. But when they realize that all their attempts end in failure, they try to reduce the Qur’ān to a collection of hymns that reciters sing to enchant their audience. They also make of it charms and talismans which people wear or put in their pockets or under their pillows. When people do so, they imagine that they are Muslims and they think that they have paid the Qur’ān all its due respect.
The Qur’ān is no longer the guideline for human life. The enemies of this religion have managed to provide flimsy substitutes for it to which people refer for directives concerning all matters of life. Indeed, it is from such flimsy alternatives that people derive their concepts, laws, values and standards. These enemies then tell the masses that religion is held in a position of respect and that the Qur’ān is intact. It is being recited for you morning and evening, and at all times. You may listen to such recitations and be enchanted with them. What else do you want the Qur’ān to do for you? As for your concepts, systems, laws, constitutions, values and standards, you may refer to other things which are the authority for all that.
It is the same ploy as employed by al-Nađr ibn al-Ĥārith, but with more sophistication to suit modern life with all its complexities. Indeed, it is just one of numerous forms. Throughout its history, this religion of Islam has never been short of enemies scheming against it.
What is remarkable about the Qur’ān is that it remains overpowering, despite the ever more sophisticated schemes that seek to undermine it. This divine book has such remarkable characteristics and such great appeal to human nature that it is able to overcome all the scheming of the forces of evil on earth, as well as the scheming of the Zionist Jews and imperialists, with all the international centres of power they erect everywhere and at all times. This book continues to crush its enemies the world over, forcing them to allocate a slot for it on all radio stations addressing the Muslim world. We listen to it being broadcast from Jewish and Christian radio stations as well as those controlled by their agents who falsely claim to be Muslims.
It is true that they broadcast it only after they have succeeded in reducing it in the minds of the Muslim masses to little more than hymns and recitals, or charms and talismans. They have also succeeded in dislocating it in the minds of the Muslim masses, so that it is no longer their guideline for life. They have replaced it with other sources of guidance. Nevertheless, this book continues to do so and there will continue to be a Muslim community that assigns to the Qur’ān its proper position, making it its only source of guidance. This community awaits the fulfilment of God’s promise of victory so that they can re-establish Islam on earth. This had happened once and will certainly happen again, despite all persecution and extermination attempts to which the Muslim community is being subjected in many areas of the world.