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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Anfal 8:72

Overview (Verses 72 - 73)

Definition of Relations

The sūrah’s final passage outlines the internal and external relations of the Muslim community. Rulings concerning these relations are also outlined. This gives us a clear idea of the nature of the Muslim community itself and the basis on which it is founded. The essential ties which bring that community together are not those of blood, land, race, history, language or economy. Ties of family, country, nation or financial interests are of no importance. The only ties which are given weight and importance are those of faith, organized movement and its leadership. Hence, those who believe, migrate to the land of Islam, abandon all their earlier links with their own land, homes and nation, sacrifice their lives and possessions and strive for God’s cause, as well as those who give them shelter and support and join them in their faith under the same leadership and in the same movement — all those are friends and protectors of one another. On the other hand, those who believe but have not yet migrated may not aspire to such status that provides for mutual protection. This is because they have not yet pledged their full loyalty to the Islamic leadership and have not yet abandoned all ties with the unbelievers, except the bond of faith. Within the Muslim community itself, blood relations have priority in inheritance and other matters. The unbelievers, on the other hand, are also patrons and allies of one another.

These are the main lines delineating loyalties and relationships as shown in these very clear verses: “Those who believe and have migrated and striven hard, with their possessions and their lives, for God’s cause, as well as those who give them shelter and support — these are friends and protectors of one another. As for those who believe but have not migrated [to join you], you owe no duty of protection to them until they have migrated. Yet, should they appeal to you for support, on grounds of faith, it is your duty to support them, except against a people with whom you have a treaty. God sees all that you do. The unbelievers are allies of one another. Unless you do likewise, there will be oppression on earth and much corruption. Those who believe and have migrated and striven hard for God’s cause, as well as those who give them shelter and support are indeed the true believers. Forgiveness of sins, and most generous provisions await them. And those who subsequently come to believe, and migrate and strive hard with you [for God’s cause] shall also belong to you. Those who are bound by ties of blood have the first claim on one another in accordance with God’s decree. God has full knowledge of everything.” (Verses 72-75)

Loyalty in a Muslim Community

In the early days of Islam, until the major Battle of Badr, the social bond that tied Muslims together involved inheritance and obligatory mutual support, sharing in the payment of any blood money for accidental killing. These ties replaced those of blood and family. When the state was established and acquired additional strength after God enabled it to score its most remarkable victory at Badr, the obligation of giving loyalty and support was maintained. As for inheritance and help in the payment of blood money, these were now confined, by God’s order, to blood relatives within the Muslim community itself.

The migration mentioned here as a condition of such mutual commitment, in its special and general aspects, refers to the physical departure, by those who can, from the land of the unbelievers to the land of Islam. Those who were able to migrate but chose not to do so, because they did not want to abandon their ties, whether financial or family, with the unbelievers had no claim for protection by the Muslim community. This provision applied to some Bedouins and some individuals in Makkah who were not prevented from migrating. The Muslim community had an obligation to come to the support of those believers, particularly when they appealed for help on account of being harassed or persecuted on grounds of faith. The only exception was if they wanted such help against a people with whom the Muslim community had a treaty, as such treaties had a stronger claim to be honoured by the Muslims.

These statements and the rulings and provisions they outline give us a clear idea of the nature of the Muslim community, its essential factors and basic values. Nevertheless, a word about the emergence of this community and its foundation, method of action and commitments will clarify that better.

The message of Islam conveyed by God’s Messenger, the Prophet Muĥammad (peace be upon him), is the last link in the long history of the call advocating submission to God alone undertaken by the noble prophets. Throughout history, this message has remained the same: that human beings should recognize their true Lord and Sustainer, God the only deity, and that they should submit to Him alone. All claims to lordship by human beings are null and void. Except for a few individuals here and there in history, mankind as a whole has never denied the existence of God or His sovereignty over the universe. It has rather erred in its understanding of His real attributes, or associated partners with Him, either in belief and worship or in assigning sovereignty. Both of these are forms of polytheism which take people out of the faith altogether. Each one of God’s Messengers taught humanity the religion God wants people to follow. After a long while, people would start to deviate and steer away from it, back into jāhiliyyah, ignorance and polytheism, i.e. associating partners with God, either in belief and worship or in attributing sovereignty to them or both.

Throughout history the call to believe in God has had the same nature. Its purpose is self-surrender to God, which means to bring human beings into submission to the Supreme Lord alone, to free them from servitude to human beings so that they may devote themselves to the one true God. Thus, they would be freed from the clutches of human lordship and man-made laws, value systems and traditions. They would be able to acknowledge the sovereignty and authority of the one true God and follow His law in all spheres of life. This is the central issue of the message of Islam as preached by the Prophet Muĥammad and all the noble prophets and messengers sent before him (peace be upon them all). It wants people to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, which is readily acknowledged by all the universe. Human life must be regulated by the same authority that regulates the entire universe. Thus, human beings will not have their own code of living and will not submit to an authority other than those governing the whole universe, including those aspects of human life over which human beings have no say.

As is well known, human beings are subject to the laws of nature God has set into operation in matters that affect their birth, growing up, health, illness, death and also those that determine the consequences of their own choices in the areas where they can exercise their free-will. They cannot change God’s laws governing the universe or these aspects of their own life. It is only wise then for them to submit to God in those aspects of their life in which they have a free choice. When they do so they make God’s law govern both aspects of their life, the one which follows God’s natural laws and the one subject to their own will. They thus bring harmony into their life.

Jāhiliyyah, which may be defined as a state of ignorance based on giving sovereignty to human beings, is bound to bring about a clash between the natural and the free-will aspects of human life. To counter jāhiliyyah in human life all prophets, including Muĥammad, God’s final Messenger, advocated submission to God alone. It must be said that ignorance is not represented by an abstract theory. In certain periods of history, ignorance had no theoretical representation whatsoever. However, it always takes the form of a living movement in a society which has its own leadership, its own concepts and values, and its own traditions, habits and feelings. It is an organized society and there is close co-operation and loyalty between its individuals. It is always ready to defend its existence consciously or unconsciously. It crushes all elements which seem to be dangerous to its personality.

Since jāhiliyyah takes the form of an active movement in this fashion, rather than of a theory, then any attempt to abolish jāhiliyyah and bring people back to God through representing Islam merely as a theory is both useless and ineffective. jāhiliyyah controls the practical world, and for its support there is a living and active organization. In this situation, mere theoretical efforts cannot be a match for it. When the purpose is to abolish the existing system and to replace it with a new one that is different in character, principles, as well as in all general and particular aspects, it stands to reason that this new system should come into the battlefield as an organized movement and a viable community. It must also have the advantage of a more powerful strategy, social organization and firmer ties between its individuals. Only then can it hope to replace the existing system.

The Practical Manifestation of Islamic Theory

The theoretical foundation of Islam, in every period of history, has been the declaration by which a human being bears witness that `there is no deity other than God.’ This means that God is the sustainer, the ruler and the real sovereign. This must take the form of a firm belief that is deeply rooted in one’s heart and manifested in both addressing all worship to God alone and putting His laws into practice. This declaration cannot be deemed to have been truly made with such complete acceptance of its meaning. It is only when a person accepts its significance fully that he is deemed to be a true Muslim.

From the theoretical point of view, the establishment of this rule means that people must refer to God in conducting any aspect of their lives. They cannot decide on any affair without first referring to God’s injunctions that may be relevant to it and implement them. There is only one source to know God’s guidance; that is, His Messenger. Thus, in the second part of the declaration by which a person becomes a Muslim we declare that we `bear witness that Muĥammad is God’s Messenger.’

This theoretical basis of the Islamic doctrine provides a complete code of living for the entirety of human life. A Muslim approaches every aspect of his individual or social life, whether within or outside the Islamic community, from the perspective of this code of living which also regulates the internal and external relations of the Muslim community.

As has already been explained, Islam cannot confine itself to a mere theory which people accept as a belief practised merely as worship rituals while remaining within the structure of the existing jāhiliyyah society. If true believers, numerous as they may be, do that, their presence within the jāhiliyyah society cannot lead to a real and practical existence of Islam. Those ‘theoretical’ Muslims who are part of the structure of the jāhiliyyah society will inevitably have to respond to its requirements. Whether they like it or not, they will try, consciously or subconsciously, to fulfil its basic needs and defend its existence, and they will try to counter whatever forces or factors are threatening that existence. Any living entity will always complete these tasks using all its organs without even consulting them. In practical terms, those individuals, who are theoretically Muslims, will continue to practically support and strengthen the jāhiliyyah society which they should, in theory, be trying to dismantle. They will remain living cells within its structure, supporting its continuing existence with all their talent, experience and capability. Their efforts should in fact be directed to using all their power, talent and experience for the establishment of an Islamic society.

For this reason, it is necessary that the theoretical foundation of Islam, i.e. the belief, should take in practice the form of an organized and active group right at the outset. It is also necessary that this group should separate itself from jāhiliyyah society and remain independent of, and distinct from it. After all, Islam aims to dismantle jāhiliyyah society altogether. At the centre of this new group there should be a new leadership. Such leadership first came in the person of the Prophet himself. In later generations, it has been delegated to those who strive for bringing people back to believing in God as the only deity in the universe and who accept His sovereignty, authority and laws. Every person who bears witness that there is no deity other than God and that Muĥammad is God’s Messenger should cut off relations of loyalty to jāhiliyyah society, which he has forsaken, and its ignorant leadership, whether it takes the guise of priests, magicians or astrologers, or in the form of political, social or economic leadership, as was the case with the Quraysh at the time of the Prophet. Full and complete loyalty must be given to the new Islamic movement and the new Muslim leadership. This decisive step must be taken at the very moment when a person makes this verbal declaration bearing witness that `there is no deity other than God and Muĥammad is God’s Messenger.’ A Muslim society cannot come into existence without this. It does not become a reality when it is no more than a belief held by individual Muslims, numerous as they may be. They must form themselves into an active, harmonious and cooperative group with a separate and distinct existence. Like the limbs of a human body, all individuals in this group work together to strengthen its foundation, and to enable it to expand and defend itself against any external attack which threatens its existence. In all this, they must work under a leadership that is independent of that of jāhiliyyah society. The role of this leadership is to regulate, harmonize and direct their efforts to the strengthening of their Islamic character and to resist and abolish the hostile, jāhiliyyah set-up. It was in this way that Islam was established the first time. It was founded on a creed which, though concise, encompassed all life. This creed immediately brought into action a viable and dynamic group of people who became independent and separate from the jāhiliyyah society that rose to challenge it. It never came as an abstract theory devoid of practical existence. Similarly, it can be brought about in the future only in the same manner. There is no other way for the survival of Islam, in any area or period of time, unless it wants to remain under the yoke of jāhiliyyah. Efforts to bring about a revival of Islam must always be equipped with a thorough understanding of its character which tries to be represented in a movement and in an organic system.

When we understand these basic elements in the nature of Islam and its method of action we can fully understand the import of the provisions that we read in the final passage of this sūrah. These organize relations within the Muslim community between those who migrated from Makkah and those who provided them with shelter and support in Madinah, and the relations of these together with those who did not migrate. All these relations are based on the understanding of the active and organized emergence of Islamic society.

Equipped with this understanding, we can now look at the relevant passage and the provisions it outlines.

Demarcation of Loyalties in Islamic Society

Those who believe and have migrated and striven hard, with their possessions and their lives, for God’s cause, as well as those who give them shelter and support — these are friends and protectors of one another. As for those who believe but have not migrated [to join you], you owe no duty of protection to them until they have migrated. Yet, should they appeal to you for support, on grounds of faith, it is your duty to support them, except against a people with whom you have a treaty. God sees all that you do. The unbelievers are allies of one another. Unless you do likewise, there will be oppression on earth and much corruption. (Verses 72-73)

Everyone in Makkah who declared his or her belief that `there is no deity other than God and that Muĥammad is God’s Messenger’ also disclaimed all loyalty to their family, clan, tribe or to the leadership of the jāhiliyyah society represented by the Quraysh. At the same time, they pledged every loyalty to Muĥammad, God’s Messenger, and to the nucleus of the new society emerging under his leadership. On the other hand, the jāhiliyyah society tried to defend itself against the danger represented by the new group which broke away from it even before they clashed in the battlefield. It certainly tried to crush the new group in its early days.

At the same time, the Prophet established a bond of brotherhood between the members of the new group. In other words, he transformed those individuals who broke away from the jāhiliyyah society into a new community where a new bond of mutual loyalty was established. In the new community, the bond of faith replaced that of blood and family in other societies. Everyone in that community pledged their total loyalty to the new leadership and the new entity, thus replacing all past bonds and loyalties.

When a number of people in Madinah accepted Islam and pledged their total loyalty to the Islamic leadership, they made it clear that they would obey that leadership in all situations. They also pledged to strive to protect God’s Messenger against his enemies, in the same way as they protected their own women, children and property. When all this was set in place, God allowed the Muslims of Makkah to migrate to Madinah. Thus, the new Muslim state was established in Madinah under the leadership of God’s Messenger. The Prophet again established a bond of brotherhood between the Muhaījirīn, i.e. the migrants, and the Anşār, i.e. the supporters. Again this brotherhood replaced the bonds of blood and family with all that they entailed, including inheritance, payment of blood-money and other compensations for which the family and the clan were liable. “Those who believe and have migrated and striven hard, with their possessions and their lives, for God’s cause, as well as those who give them shelter and support — these are friends and protectors of one another.” (Verse 72) They are mutual protectors in as much as they provide one another with support, and they are friends in as much as they inherit one another and provide help in the payment of blood-money for accidental death, and other compensations, as well as fulfilling the commitments and honouring the pledges that result from blood relations.

Other individuals then accepted Islam as a faith without practically joining the Muslim community, because they did not migrate to the land of Islam where God’s law was implemented and the Muslim leadership was in full control. Those individuals were not part of the Muslim community which was able to fulfil its whole existence in its own land.

These individuals were in Makkah or were Bedouins living in the areas surrounding Madinah. This means that they adopted the faith but did not join the Islamic society, nor did they pledge their full loyalty to its leadership. These were not regarded as part of the Muslim community. With these, God did not require that the Muslim community have full loyalty, in all its aspects, because they were not, in practical terms, part of Islamic society. Hence, the rule regarding these individuals stated: “As for those who believe but have not migrated [to join you], you owe no duty of protection to them until they have migrated. Yet, should they appeal to you for support, on grounds of faith, it is your duty to support them, except against a people with whom you have a treaty.” (Verse 72)

This rule is perfectly understandable because it fits with the nature of Islam and its practical method of action. Those individuals were not part of the Muslim society and, therefore, they could not have a relationship of allegiance with it. Nevertheless, there is the bond of faith which, alone, does not provide for duties towards such individuals which the Islamic society is bound to fulfil. However, in the case where these individuals suffer aggression or an attempt to turn them away from their faith a provision in their favour is clearly stated. Should they in such a situation appeal to Muslims in the land of Islam for support, the Islamic society must support them. The only proviso is that giving such support should not violate any provision of a treaty the Muslim society might have with another party, even though that party might be the aggressor. What we have to understand here is that the first priority is given to what serves the interests of the Muslim community and its method of action with whatever contracts or transactions that this might produce. These have to be honoured even in the case where aggression is made against believers who have not joined the Islamic society which represents the practical existence of the Islamic faith.

This shows the great importance Islam attaches to its own active organization. The comment on this rule added at the end of the verse says: “God sees all that you do.” (Verse 72) Whatever human beings may do, God is aware of all their actions. He knows the preliminaries, incentives, motivations, the deeds as well as their effects and consequences.

Thus, Islamic society is an active and organic grouping where individuals are united by their loyalty, allegiance and mutual support of one another. The same characteristics apply to ignorant or jāhiliyyah societies: “The unbelievers are allies of one another.” (Verse 73) By nature, a jāhiliyyah society does not act as mere individuals. It behaves like a living entity whose organs move by nature to defend its existence and independence. Hence, the people in that society are, to all intents and purposes, friends and protectors of one another. Therefore, Islam must confront them as a society which demonstrates the same characteristics to a stronger and firmer degree.

Should the Muslims refrain from confronting them as a community whose individuals are united by mutual ties of loyalty and friendship, these Muslims would be subject to persecution by the jāhiliyyah society. They would not be able to resist that society since it moves against them as an integrated whole. Thus, jāhiliyyah would gain the upper hand against Islam, sovereignty would be given to human beings and people would be forced to submit themselves to other people. All this leads to much persecution and the worst type of corruption. “Unless you do likewise, there will be oppression on earth and much corruption.” (Verse 73)

This is a very serious warning. Muslims who do not establish their existence on the solid foundation of an active organization bound by a single loyalty and working under a single leadership shall have to answer to God for all the oppression and the corruption that results from their actions, in addition to what they suffer in their own lives as a result.