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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Anfal 8:70

Overview (Verses 70 - 71)

Seeking to Deceive God

Now the sūrah addresses those captives, giving them hope and promising a future which is far better than the life they used to lead. They are also promised what is superior to the property they lost, in addition to forgiveness and mercy: “Prophet, say to the captives who are in your hands: ‘If God finds goodness in your hearts, He will give you something better than all that has been taken from you, and He will forgive you your sins. God is much-Forgiving, Merciful.’” (Verse 70) But all this depends on them opening their hearts to the light of faith. God will then find goodness in them. That goodness is the very fact of believing in God. It is goodness at its purest. Indeed all goodness stems from it.

From the Islamic point of view, keeping prisoners of war in the hands of believers is only a means of opening up the essence of goodness that may be deep in their hearts. Thus their nature becomes recipient to the call to accept the divine faith and follow guidance. No vengeance is to be exacted on those prisoners of war. Such was the practice of the Byzantines and other conquerors. But Islam follows a totally different approach.

Al-Zuhrī relates that the Quraysh sent people to pay the ransom of their prisoners. Each clan paid whatever was accepted from them in ransom. Al-`Abbās (the Prophet’s uncle who was among the captives) said: “Messenger of God, I have been a Muslim.” The Prophet said: “God knows better whether you were truly a Muslim. If it is true, He will certainly reward you. To all appearances, you were against us. Therefore, you have to pay ransom for yourself, your two nephews, Nawfal and `Aqīl, and also for your ally `Utbah ibn `Amr.” He said: “I do not have enough for all this, Messenger of God.” The Prophet said: “What about the money you and your wife, Umm al-Fađl, have hidden underground. You said to her: If I am killed on this trip of mine, this money is to be shared between my three sons, al-Fađl, `Abdullāh and Qutham.” He said: “I do know for certain that you are God’s Messenger. This is something of which no one has any knowledge except myself and my wife. Will you please, then, count as advance payment the 20 ounces of gold your companions have taken from me?” The Prophet said: “No. That is something God has given to us.” Al-`Abbās then paid the ransom money for himself, his two nephews and his ally. God then revealed the verse which says: “Prophet, say to the captives who are in your hands: If God finds goodness in your hearts, He will give you something better than all that has been taken from you, and He will forgive you your sins. God is much-Forgiving, Merciful.” (Verse 70) Al-`Abbās later said: “God has replaced my loss, giving me for those 20 ounces twenty slaves who carry on with my business. I am still hoping for God’s forgiveness as well.”

At the same time that the captives are given this prospect of hope, they are warned against any attempt to play false with God’s Messenger (peace be upon him). They have already experienced the outcome of playing false to God: “Should they seek to play false with you, they were previously false to God Himself but He gave [you] mastery over them. God is All-knowing, Wise.” (Verse 71) Their treachery to God took the form of associating partners with Him after He had formed their nature to always recognize Him as the only Lord, but they were never true to their pledges. If they seek to play false with God’s Messenger when they are captives in his hands, they should remember the result of their first treachery which led them to be taken prisoner and gave mastery over them to God’s Messenger and his followers. God is certainly aware of the thoughts they harbour and He is wise as He inflicts punishment on them: “God is All-knowing, Wise.” (Verse 71)

In his commentary on the Qur’ān, al-Qurţubī quotes Ibn al-`Arabī’s comments: When those unbelievers were taken prisoners, some of them started talking about adopting Islam, without showing any real intention to do so, nor did they make any unequivocal acknowledgement of its being the true faith. It looked as if they might have wanted to win favour with the Muslims without moving themselves away from the unbelievers. Our scholars have made it clear that when an unbeliever does that and only pays lip service to Islam without taking steps to be a true believer, he remains an unbeliever. If the same is done by a believer, he is not a believer at all, unless it all be only thoughts that occur to him and he is unable to get rid of them. God has pardoned people such fleeting thoughts. God tells His Messenger the truth as He says to him: “Should they seek to play false with you,” which means that if they are only trying to deceive you with what they say about Islam and their willingness to accept it, then this is only their habit. “They were previously false to God Himself,” when they disbelieved and tried to kill you and then waged war against you. However, should what they are saying be honest and there is true goodness in their hearts, God will certainly be aware of that and will accept it from them. He will then reward them with something which is far superior to what was taken from them and with His forgiveness of their past treachery.