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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Anfal 8:39

Overview (Verses 39 - 40)

A Positive Approach to Reality

The sūrah now addresses the believers: “Fight them until there is no more oppression, and all submission is made to God alone. If they desist, God is certainly aware of all they do. But if they turn away, know that God is your Lord Supreme. How splendid is this Lord Supreme, and how splendid is this giver of support.” (Verses 39-40)
This is the purpose and the limit of jihād, or struggle for God’s cause, not only at a particular period in time, but at all times. The statements related to jihād and the laws of war and peace in this sūrah are not the final ones. The final version is that included in Sūrah 9, Repentance, or al-Tawbah. On the other hand, Islam is a positive movement which deals with human situations employing means that are suitable for different situations. Moreover, it is a well structured movement that uses fitting means and methods for every stage. Nevertheless, we have here a statement that lays down a permanent principle that defines the objectives of the confrontation between Islam and un-Islamic social set-ups. This is embodied in the verse which says: “Fight them until there is no more oppression, and all submission is made to God alone.” (Verse 39)
In our Prologue to this sūrah we mentioned that Islam is a general declaration of the liberation of man on earth from subjugation to other creatures, including his own desires, through the acknowledgement of God’s Lordship over the universe and all creation. We also pointed out that this declaration signifies a total revolution against assigning sovereignty to human beings, whatever forms, systems and situations such sovereignty may take. There are two essential prerequisites for the achievement of this great goal. The first is to put an end to all oppression and persecution which targets the followers of this religion who declare their own liberation from human sovereignty and submit themselves to God alone. This cannot take place unless a community of believers establish their own movement and their own leadership that tries to put this general declaration into practice. This movement will be ready to continue its struggle against every tyrant who persecutes the followers of this religion or uses force, pressure and oppression to turn people away from it.
The second prerequisite is the destruction of every force that is established on the basis of submission to human beings, in any shape or form. This will guarantee the achievement of the first goal and put into effect the declaration that all Godhead and Lordship on earth belong to God alone. Thus, there will be no submission to anyone other than God and no authority except His. We are talking here about submission to God’s authority, not merely believing in Him.
We need to add here a point of clarification, because some people may feel uneasy about what we say, particularly in the light of the Qur’ānic verse: “There shall be no compulsion in [matters of] religion. The right way is henceforth distinct from error.” (2: 256) What we have mentioned about the nature of jihād in Islam, particularly what we have quoted from Mawdūdī’s book Jihād for God’s Cause is clear enough. Nevertheless, some further clarification is in order, because of the great fuss that has been made about it by the enemies of Islam.
The statement, ‘all submission is made to God alone,’ means the removal of physical impediments to people’s submission to God. These impediments take the form of tyrannical authorities that impose their will on individuals. When these physical impediments are removed, all authority on earth will belong to God and human beings will not be subjugated by any tyrannical authority. Human beings will then be able to make their individual choices of what faith to adopt, in total freedom, without any pressure. Any faith other than Islam that people may choose must not establish a grouping that acquires physical force to exercise pressure on others and prevent them from following divine guidance. It must never resort to oppression against those who dissociate themselves from any power other than that of God. As individuals, human beings are free to choose the faith they want. But they are not free to establish a tyrannical authority to subjugate other human beings. Every human being must be free to submit himself, or herself, to the Lord of mankind, the Lord of the universe.
Human beings will not achieve the position of honour God has guaranteed them, nor will mankind all over the earth be liberated unless submission is made to God alone, to the exclusion of anyone and anything else. It is for this noble objective that the Muslim community fights: “Fight them until there is no more oppression, and all submission is made to God alone.” (Verse 39) Whoever accepts this principle and abides by it will be at peace with the Muslims who will accept such a position, making no attempt to search into motives and intentions. They will leave all that to God. “If they desist, God is certainly aware of all they do.” (Verse 39) But whoever persists in opposing God’s authority will be fought by the Muslims who rely on God’s help: “But if they turn away, know that God is your Lord Supreme. How splendid is this Lord Supreme, and how splendid is this giver of support.” (Verse 40)
Such is the positive, practical and serious attitude of this religion of Islam as it moves to establish itself in practical life and ensure that Lordship is acknowledged to God alone by all mankind. This religion is not a theory that people learn from a book to enjoy its intellectual subtleties and to boast about their knowledge. Nor is it a negative faith that is confined to a relationship between human beings and their Lord. On the other hand, it is not merely a set of worship practices which people offer to their Lord. This religion is a general declaration for the liberation of mankind. It takes a realistic and practical approach that employs suitable means to confront any human situation. When it is impeded by obstacles of understanding, it speaks out, making its message absolutely clear. But when it faces the impediments of social systems and tyrannical authorities, it confronts them with a physical struggle, launching a campaign of jihād to destroy all tyranny and establish God’s authority in its place.
This religion of Islam moves within a human practical situation. Its struggle against ignorance is not one between theories. As jāhiliyyah is represented in a social order and an authority, then this religion must have its own social order and authority in order to confront jāhiliyyah with equal and suitable means. Moreover, it must begin its struggle to ensure that religion belongs entirely to God, which means that no submission may be offered to anyone else.
Such is the positive and practical approach of this religion of Islam. It is nothing like the defeatists say, even though they may be sincere and well intentioned. They may even wish to be Muslims but the true image of this religion may be obscure in their minds.
For our part, we praise God for having guided us to this understanding. We would not have been able to have such clarity of understanding without God’s guidance.