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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Anfal 8:74

Overview (Verses 74 - 75)

True Believers

Once more, the sūrah states the true nature of faith: “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.” (Verse 74) This is the true picture reflecting true faith. This verse tells us exactly how Islam gains its real existence. Islam does not become a reality with a declaration of its theoretical basis, or its adoption as a conceptual belief, or even with offering its worship rituals. The religion of Islam is a code of living which needs an active organization to implement it and put it into practice. When it remains in the form of beliefs only, its existence remains abstract. It does not become a true and practical existence without such an active organization dedicated to its implementation.

Those who belong to such an active organization are the true believers who are promised forgiveness and generous provisions. The provisions are mentioned here in relation to their striving, sacrificing their wealth, supporting their brethren and giving them shelter, with all the costs they bear in meeting these responsibilities. But in addition to such generous provisions, they are given forgiveness of sins, which counts as the best type of God’s bounty.

Grouped with the first Muslim community of the Muhājirīn and the Anşār are all those who later migrate and strive for God’s cause, but the first community had its degree of excellence, as stated in other Qur’ānic verses. The addition is stated here to make it clear that these also belong to the Muslim community, and give it their allegiance. “And those who subsequently come to believe, and migrate and strive hard with you [for God’s cause] shall also belong to you.” (Verse 75)

The requirement of migration continued to apply until Makkah had fallen to Islam. At that time, the whole of Arabia acknowledged the Islamic leadership and its entire population formed the Islamic community. The Prophet made it clear then that the requirement of migration was no longer operative, but people were required to work for Islam and strive hard in serving its cause. That was in the first round of Islamic triumph which ushered in a period of Islamic rule that continued for nearly twelve centuries. Throughout that period, Islamic law was implemented and the Muslim leadership acknowledged God’s sovereignty and fulfilled its obligations under Islamic law. Today, when the whole world has reverted to jāhiliyyah, God’s law is no longer implemented, sovereignty is usurped by tyrants everywhere and one group of people submit themselves to another, a new round begins. In this round, all provisional laws that applied in the first round may be applicable. Thus, a land may be established where Islam is implemented and to where Muslims should migrate. At a later stage, the rule of Islam will, by God’s will, stretch over a wide area when migration will no longer be required. The duty of individual Muslims at this stage is again to work and strive hard for the Islamic cause, just as was the case in the first round.

The first period of building the Islamic existence had its own provisional laws and special duties. Loyalty on the basis of faith replaced blood and family relations in all shapes and forms, as well as rights and duties, including inheritance and mutual support in the payment of penalties and compensation for accidental killing. When the structure of Islamic society became well established after the resounding victory at Badr, the provisional laws applicable to that special period of construction were amended. The amendments re-established inheritance and mutual support in financial liabilities on the basis of family relationships, but only within the Muslim community in the land of Islam: “Those who are bound by ties of blood have the first claim on one another in accordance with God’s decree.” (Verse 75)

To give priority in such matters to family and relatives, within the general framework of the Muslim community, after the practical existence of Islam has been firmly established meets a certain need of human nature. There is no harm in satisfying people’s natural feelings as long as there is no conflict between such satisfaction and the fulfilment of Islamic duties. Islam does not negate or obliterate natural feelings, but it controls them so that they work in line with the more important requirements of its own existence as a faith. Thus, the satisfaction of people’s natural needs and feelings is provided within the general framework of Islam and its requirements. This means that some special periods may have special provisions which are not included among the final provisions of Islamic law which are applicable in a well-established and secure Islamic community. This is how we must understand the requirements of the initial building stage as well as the general nature of Islam and its laws.

“God has full knowledge of everything.” (Verse 75) This is the appropriate comment on all these laws and regulations and how they interact and are coordinated. They have their basis in God’s knowledge which is flawless, perfect and absolute.

The Nature of Islamic Society

As it builds the Muslim community on the basis of its unique approach, establishing its active organization which is bound together by the bond of faith, Islam aims to highlight and enhance the human qualities of man, giving them prominence in all aspects of life. We cannot fail to notice the clear consistency of the Islamic approach, with all its rules, regulations and laws.

There are certain aspects which man has in common with other animate objects, and some which he shares even with inanimate objects. These have caused those who advocate what may be termed as ‘scientific ignorance’ to claim on occasions that man is just another animal and on others that he belongs to the world of matter, like inanimate objects. Yet besides these features which man has in common with animals and matter, he has his own qualities and characteristics that distinguish him from both and make him absolutely unique. Ultimately, and under the pressure of undeniable facts, those who belong to `scientific ignorance’ have acknowledged man’s uniqueness.

With its special approach defined by God Almighty, Islam highlights, enhances and strengthens the qualities that contribute to man’s unique status. This is indeed the reason for making the bond of faith the basis of unity in the Muslim community and the mainstay of its organization.

Faith appeals to the highest human qualities and characteristics. Islam does not establish the Muslim community on any bond of descent, language, land, race, colour, interests or common destiny. These are ties which men have in common with animals.

These ties bring together flocks of animals and they can be seen in operation in stables, grazing land and in animal language. Faith, on the other hand, provides man with a full and complete explanation of his origin, existence and destiny, as well as those of the universe in which he lives. It makes him a creature far superior to matter. Faith is something which relates to man’s spirit and understanding, the two qualities that make him unique and raise his humanity to its highest level to which no other creature can aspire.

The bond of faith and ideology is a free one which human beings choose by their own free-will, after proper consideration and study. The other ties are not only more fitting for animals, but are also imposed on man and he has no say in them. No human being can change his family descent or the race to which he belongs. Nor does he have any choice of the colour of his skin. All these matters are settled before he is even born. The same applies to the land or the country of his birth, and the language he speaks as a result of being raised within his particular community. Man has certain material interests and a common destiny with others, but these are also very difficult to change, because they apply to him as well as to his community. There is little room for man’s free-will in all these matters. For this reason, Islam does not adopt any of these as the basic bond uniting its community. Faith, ideology and its practical approach of implementation are all matters of free choice. At any moment, a human being can declare his choice of these and determine the community to which he wishes to belong. No restriction is imposed on this choice as a result of man’s colour, language, race, descent, the land of his birth or his material interests which may change from one community to another. This sums up the great honour assigned to man in Islamic philosophy.

A Community of Mankind

This Islamic approach making faith the basic social tie in Islamic society has produced remarkable results. Instead of stressing those traits which are common to both man and animal, the Islamic approach promotes and nurtures man’s human qualities so that they become the dominant factors. The concrete remarkable result of this attitude was that the Islamic society became an open and all-inclusive community in which people of various races, nations, languages and colours were members. No obstacle prevented them from forming a coherent and open society. The rivers of higher talents and various abilities of all races of mankind flowed together into this vast ocean and worked in perfect harmony. Such a coherent mix gave rise to a high level of civilization in a very short period of time. It harnessed the capabilities, ideas and wisdom of all those peoples to produce a great civilization, in spite of the fact that in those times, travel was difficult and the means of communication were slow. In this unique Islamic society Arabs, Persians, Syrians, Egyptians, Moroccans, Turks, Chinese, Indians, Romans, Greeks, Indonesians, Africans and people of other nations and races were gathered together. Their various characteristics were united, and with mutual cooperation, harmony and unity they took part in the construction of the Islamic community and the Islamic culture. This marvellous civilization was not an `Arab’ civilization but an Islamic one. At no time did it acquire a nationalistic guise, but was instead always based on faith.

All these peoples came together on an equal footing in a relationship of love, with their minds set on a single goal. They used their best abilities, developed the qualities of their races to the fullest, and brought the essence of their personal, national and historical experiences for the development of this united community, to which they all belonged as equal members and in which their common bond was through their relationship with their Lord. In this community their `humanity’ developed without any hindrance. Such characteristics were never witnessed in any other community in the entire history of mankind.

The best known society in ancient history was that of the Roman Empire. Peoples of various races, languages and characteristics lived in that society. But nothing of this was based on `human relationship’, nor did it aspire to any sublime ideal such as faith. Their society was ordered on a class system which provided for a class of `nobles’ and one of `slaves’. Moreover, the Roman race, in general, had the leadership, and the other races were considered its subjects. Hence, this society could not rise to that high level of Islamic society, nor could it produce results and blessings of the type produced by Islamic society.

In recent history there have appeared other societies grouping together different peoples. We may cite the example of the British Empire. It bore a strong resemblance to the Roman society to which it was an heir. It was based on national greed, in which the British nation had the leadership because it was able to exploit the territories which it colonized. The same is true of other European empires. The Spanish and Portuguese Empires in their time, and the French Empire were equally oppressive. They all shared the same contemptible and ugly outlook.

Communism, on the other hand, wanted to establish a new type of society, demolishing the walls of race, colour, nation and land. But its society was not established on the basis of a universal human relationship, but on a class system. Thus, Communist society only reverses the emphasis of the old Roman society: nobles had the distinction in Rome, while in Communist society the proletariat dominate. The underlying emotions in this society are envy and hatred. Such a selfish and vengeful society cannot generate in its individuals anything except base emotions. Its very basis aims to excite, develop and strengthen animalistic characteristics. In its view, the most fundamental needs of human beings are those which they share with animals. These are food, shelter and sex. To Communism, the whole of human history is nothing but a struggle for food.

Islam, then, is the only divine way of life which brings out the noblest human characteristics, developing and using them for the construction of human society. In this respect, Islam has always remained unique. Those who opt for any other system, whether based on nationalism, colour and race, or on class struggle, or similar corrupt theories, are truly enemies of mankind. They are the ones who do not want man to develop those noble characteristics which have been given to him by his Creator. Nor do they wish to see a human society benefit from the harmonious blending of all those capabilities, experiences and characteristics which have been developed among the various races of mankind. Such people swim against the current and try to reverse the tide of human development. They wish human society to be based on the same factors which group animals together: a stable and a grazing land. They are not happy with that sublime level to which God has raised man and which provides a fitting basis for uniting human society.

It is most odd that a society based on the harnessing of the best human qualities is labelled as fanatic and reactionary, while the one that promotes animal characteristics is hailed as progressive and civilized. All values and considerations are turned upside down only to avoid making faith the basis of human society, when belief is the highest human characteristic.

But God will most certainly accomplish His purpose. This type of reversal into jāhiliyyah, or ignorance, and its animal values will not survive for ever in human life. God’s will is certain to prevail. Humanity will try one day to establish its society on the basis by which God has honoured man and which provided the foundation of the first Islamic society that attained a highly distinctive position in human history. The image of that society will continue to loom large on the horizon and mankind will aspire to attain the same high level which it had experienced at a particular stage in history.