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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Anfal 8:58

Overview (Verses 58 - 60)

Striking Terror into the Enemy

Those who believe in Islam should have a clear understanding of the nature of its method of operation. It is essential that Islam should have real power as well as a reputation of power. Thus, as it starts its mission to liberate mankind all over the world from tyranny, it strikes fear into the hearts of all tyrants who do their utmost to check its tide. Those who think that this religion will confine itself to preaching and to the explanation of its message when the forces of evil try to put every type of impediment in its way have little understanding of its true nature.

This is the first ruling which deals with the case of actual violation of treaties that have been concluded with the Muslim community. The violators are to be dealt a heavy blow so that they, as well as those who sympathize with them, are intimidated and are actually overawed by the Muslims.

The second ruling deals with a different situation: that of fearing and expecting treachery. There should be clear signs that a particular group or community are actually contemplating such violation of a treaty. In this case the Prophet is directed to take the following approach: “And if you fear treachery from any folk, cast [your treaty with them] back to them in a fair manner. God does not love the treacherous.” (Verse 58)

Islam here sets out a code of practice. When a treaty is concluded, the Muslim community will undoubtedly honour it. If they fear that the other party is about to violate it, then the Muslims declare the termination of the treaty, without any attempt to cheat or deceive the other party. What is meant here is an open and clear termination of a treaty so that each party realizes that peaceful relations are over. Islam attaches a very high value to honesty and integrity in order to ensure peace and security. Launching a treacherous attack on people who rely on covenants that remain in force is alien to the nature of Islam. Islam does not terrorize those who have not taken precautions even when it fears treachery from them. However, when a treaty has been publicly terminated, then trying to outwit the enemy is perfectly acceptable because each side should be on its guard. If an enemy falls for a trick, they pay the price of naivety. No method of outwitting the enemy can then be described as treachery.

Islam wants humanity to rise above worldly temptations and to be sublime. Hence, it does not allow treachery for the sake of achieving a cheap victory at a time when it strives for the noblest of causes and aims. People who have honourable aims cannot utilize dishonourable means. Islam finds treachery repugnant and looks at traitors who violate their treaties with contempt. Therefore, it does not accept that Muslims violate their covenants for the achievement of any objective, noble as it may be. The human soul is a complete whole. When it allows itself to resort to disgraceful means it cannot maintain its noble aims. He is not a Muslim who claims that the ends justify the means. Such a principle is alien to Islamic thinking and cannot fit with Islamic sensitivities. Within the human self there can be no gulf to separate the ends from the means. Reaching a clean shore does not tempt a Muslim to walk through a muddy pool, because the shore will not remain clean after dirty feet have walked there. Hence, “God does not love the treacherous.” (Verse 58)

We should remember that these regulations were revealed at a time when the whole of the humanity could not have aspired to such a high level. The law of the jungle, which meant that the powerful could use their power without restraint, was the one that prevailed. The same law of the jungle continued to dominate in all jāhiliyyah communities until the eighteenth century. Europe had no concept of international codes and laws except for what it learnt through its dealings with the Muslim world. Yet in practical reality Europe has not attained any level approaching this high peak, not even after it adopted, only in theory, something it calls `international law’. Those who admire so- called ‘advanced law making’ should try to understand the realities as they compare Islamic law to all contemporary legal codes.

In return for such clear honesty God promises victory to the Muslims and He tells them that the unbelievers have no real power: “Let not those who disbelieve reckon that they shall escape. They can never be beyond [God’s] grasp.” (Verse 59) Their treachery will not enable them to take the lead and outstrip the Muslims, because God will not abandon the Muslims or allow the traitors to triumph. The unbelievers are too weak to escape from God when He moves against them. Nor can they escape from the Muslims when God is supporting them. Hence those who resort only to clean and lawful means, seeking God’s pleasure, need not worry when they see others who employ foul means surging ahead. They achieve victory through God’s help, because they strive to implement His law and make His word supreme. Their efforts aim to liberate humanity from the worship of creatures, so that it may worship only the Creator.

Islam, however, sets out to make real preparations that are within the capability of the Muslims so that victory becomes achievable. It does not raise the sights of the Muslim community towards that sublime horizon without making sure that it has firm ground on which it can stand. Islam also takes every practical step which has been proven through experience to be of immense value in the achievement of victory. Islam also makes sure that the Muslim community is well prepared for its practical tasks that serve its sublime objectives: “Make ready against them whatever force and war mounts you can muster, so that you may strike terror into the enemies of God who are also your own enemies, and others besides them of whom you may be unaware, but of whom God is well aware. Whatever you may spend in God’s cause shall be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged.” (Verse 60)

To make all practical preparations is a duty that goes hand in hand with the duty of jihād. The verse gives a clear order to prepare all forces and power within the means of the Muslim community. It makes special mention of cavalry because that was then the main equipment in war. Had the Qur’ān ordered them to prepare equipment that was unknown to them, they would have found these a complete mystery. Far be it from God to address anyone with mysteries. What is most important to remember here is that the directive is of a very broad nature. Hence, in our translation of the verse we use the expression `war mount’ to denote every necessary type of feasible equipment: “Make ready against them whatever force and war mounts you can muster.” (Verse 60)

Getting All Forces Ready

Islam certainly needs physical might which is kept ready to use for the fulfilment of its mission of liberating mankind throughout the world. The first purpose that this power serves is to establish peace and security for those who choose to accept the Islamic faith so that they do not suffer any persecution as a result of their choice. Secondly, it deters the enemies of Islam from contemplating aggression against it the land of Islam. Thirdly, such enemies should be so intimidated that they do not ever entertain any thought of trying to check the tide of Islam as it goes about the fulfilment of its mission of liberation. Lastly, this power is to be used to break any force that claims the attributes of God and enforces its laws and legislation on human beings and refuses to accept that all sovereignty belongs to God alone.

Islam is not merely a system of divinity that is established once it has been consciously accepted as a faith and practised as a set of worship rituals. Islam is a practical code of living which stands face to face against other codes and systems that are supported by physical force. Hence, Islam has no option but to break those forces and remove the authorities that implement those codes which stand in opposition to its code of living devised and revealed by God Himself.

No Muslim should ever mince words when he declares this basic truth. There is nothing to be ashamed of in the nature of the Islamic approach. Islam does not have a man-made system, and does not seek to establish the authority of a leader, a state, a class, or a race. It does not try to enslave serfs so that they cultivate the plantations of the aristocracy, like the Romans used to do. Nor does it try to exploit markets and raw materials, as Western capitalism has been doing. It is not the aim of Islam to impose a human system devised by a shortsighted, narrow-minded and ignorant human being, as Communism was keen to do. Islam has a system devised by God whose knowledge and wisdom are absolute. It aims to establish God’s absolute sovereignty in order that all mankind be free from subjugation to any worldly authority.

This is the fundamental truth which needs to be driven home to those defeatists who put Islam on the defensive, trying to seek excuses for jihād in Islamic history.

It is pertinent to know the limits of the Muslim community’s duty to prepare its forces. The Qur’ānic verse states: “Make ready against them whatever force and war mounts you can muster.” This goes as far as the maximum ability of the Muslims, so that they do not overlook any element of power which they are able to get ready. The verse also makes clear the prime purpose for which such forces are mobilized: “So that you may strike terror into the enemies of God who are also your own enemies, and others besides them of whom you may be unaware, but of whom God is well aware.”

The objective, then, is to strike terror into the hearts of God’s enemies who are also the enemies of the advocates of Islam throughout the world, be they open with their hostility and known to the Muslim community, or others who may be discreet with their real feelings, not openly stating their hostile attitude to Islam. God is certainly aware of their true feelings and sympathies. Such people are intimidated by the might of Islam even though they may not suffer its consequences directly. The Muslims are required to gather all the strength they can have so that they remain feared by other people. This is essential so that God’s word remains supreme and all submission is to God alone. Acquiring such forces and having them ready can only be done if the resources are there. Since the Islamic system lays much stress on collective responsibility and mutual support, the duty of jihād goes hand in hand with the duty of spending money for God’s cause: “Whatever you may spend in God’s cause shall be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged.” (Verse 60) Both jihād and spending money for God’s cause are thus purged of all worldly and personal aims and purposes as well as all national and community feelings and aspirations. They must always be pure, undertaken `for God’s cause,’ to establish His authority and to earn His pleasure.

Thus, right at the outset, Islam rules out any war undertaken for the glory of individuals and states. It rejects all campaigns that seek to exploit resources and open markets, or to subjugate and humiliate other communities. Islam has nothing to do with any war that tries to establish the superiority of one class, race, nation, or state over another. The only type of campaign which Islam approves of is one undertaken for God’s cause. Needless to say, God does not wish to grant supremacy to any one race, nation, class, or individual. He only wants His own sovereignty and authority to be recognized by all people. God is in no need of anyone or any community. The recognition of His sovereignty and submission to Him alone bring honour, freedom, goodness and blessings to all mankind.