Surah al-Anfal (The Spoils Of War ) 8 : 15

يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِذَا لَقِيتُمُ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟ زَحْفًا فَلَا تُوَلُّوهُمُ ٱلْأَدْبَارَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
O you who have believed, when you meet those who disbelieve advancing [for battle], do not turn to them your backs [in flight].

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

These verses begin with a strong warning, a fearsome threat. Should the believers face their enemies who may in essence present themselves in a great show of power, they must not, under any circumstances, turn away, except for tactical reasons. 

2. Linguistic Analysis

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Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *

3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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It was revealed in 2 A.H. after the Battle of Badr which took place in Ramadhan in the 2nd year after Hijrah.

8. Reasons for Revelation

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Before reviewing the Surah it is worthwhile to consider the events that led to the Battle of Badr. During the first decade or so of the Prophethood at Makkah, the Message had proved its firmness and stability. This was the result of two things; firstly the Messenger who possessed the highest qualities of character was performing his Mission with wisdom foresight and magnanimity. He had shown by his conduct that he had made up his mind to carry the movement to a successful end and therefore was ready to face all sorts of dangers and obstacles along the way. Secondly, the Message was so appealing that it attracted the hearts and minds of the people irresistibly towards itself. So much so that all obstacles of ignorance, superstition and petty prejudices failed to check its advance. That is why the opponents of the Message, who had looked down upon it in its initial phases, had now begun to reckon it as a serious menace and were bent on crushing it with all their force. However despite their strength, the movement still lacked certain abilities to lead it to victory.

Firstly, it had not yet fully been proven that it had gathered a sufficient number of followers, who not only believed in its truth, but were so intensely devoted to its principles that they were ready to expend all their energies, and all that they possessed in the struggle for its success and establishment. So much so that they were ready to sacrifice their lives in the fight against the whole world itself, even though they should be their own nearest relative. It is true that the followers of Islam had endured the severest persecutions at the hands of the Quraysh of Makkah and had given a good proof of the firmness of their faith and their strong relation with Islam yet further trials were required to show that Islam had succeeded in acquiring such a band of followers which considered nothing dearer than its ideal and was ready to sacrifice life for it.

Secondly, though the voice of Islam had reached every part of the country its effects were yet scattered and its acquired strength was spread here and there: it had not yet gathered sufficient force essential for a decisive conflict with the old established order of ‘ignorance’.

Thirdly, Islam had yet no home of its own and had not established itself firmly anywhere in the land where it could consolidate its power and make it a base for further action. For the Muslims were scattered all over the country and were living among the unbelievers as aliens whom their bloodthirsty enemies wanted to uproot from their own homes.

Fourthly, the Muslims had not yet had an opportunity to demonstrate practically the blessings of the system of life based on Islam. There was neither any Islamic culture, nor any social, economic or political system; nor were there any established principles of war and peace for their guidance. Therefore the Muslims had no opportunity for demonstrating those moral principles on which they intended to build their entire system of life; nor had it been proved on the touchstone of trial that the Muslims as a community were sincere in the proclamation of the Message. God created opportunities for making up these deficiencies. During the last four years of the Prophet's stay at Makkah, the voice of Islam had been proving effective at Yathrib (Madinah) and the people for various reasons had been accepting the message more readily than other clans of Arabia. So much so that in the twelfth year of Prophethood on the occasion of Hajj a deputation of 75 people met the Prophet in the darkness of night. These people not only accepted Islam, but also offered to give him and his followers a home. As this was a most epoch making opportunity provided by God, the Prophet took advantage of it. The significance of this offer was quite clear to the people of Yathrib, and they fully realised that this was not an invitation to a mere fugitive, but to the Messenger of God so that he should become their leader and ruler. Likewise they knew that they were not inviting the Muslim refugees to give them shelter from persecution but to assemble them from all over the country for their integration with themselves to form an organised community. Thus the offer of the people of Yathrib was to make Yathrib the “City of Islam.” Accordingly the Prophet accepted their invitation and made it the first “City of Islam” in Arabia. And the people of Yathrib were fully aware of the implications of this offer. It was indeed a declaration of war against the whole of Arabia, and an invitation to their own social and economic boycott as well. And when the Ansar from Yathrib declared their allegiance to the Prophet at Aqabah, they knew fully well its consequences. During the course of the formal declaration of allegiance, Asad bin Zurarah, the youngest of all the delegates from Yathrib, stood up and said, “O people of Yathrib! Just listen to me and consider the matter carefully in all its aspects. Though we have come to him, regarding him only as a Messenger of God, we should know that we shall be inviting the enmity of the whole of Arabia. For when we take him away to Yathrib, we shall be attacked and our children may be put to the sword. Therefore if you have the courage in your hearts to face it, then and then only, you should declare your allegiance to him and God will give you its reward. But if you love your lives more than him and his Message, then leave this matter and frankly excuse yourselves, for at this time God may accept your excuses.”

Abbas bin Ubadah bin Naalah, another member of the delegation, reiterated the same thing, saying, Do you understand the implication of the declaration of your allegiance to this person?” (Voices, “Yes, we know it.”) “You are challenging the whole world to war by your declaration of allegiance to him. There is every likelihood of a serious menace to your lives and properties. Therefore consider it well. If you have any idea lurking in your minds that you will then hand him over to his enemies, it is much better to leave him alone now, because that conduct shall bring shame and disgrace to you in this world and the next. On the other hand, if you have sincerely resolved that you will endure all kinds of consequences that will follow as a result of this invitation, then it would be the best thing to take the oath of allegiance to him because, by God, this will surely bring good to you in this world as well as in the next world.” At this all the members of the delegation cried with one voice, “We are ready and prepared to risk all our wealth and our noble kith and kin for his sake.” It was then that the famous oath of allegiance, which is known as the “Second Oath of Allegiance at Aqabah” was taken.

On the other side, the people of Makkah also understood fully well the implications of this matter from their own point of view. They realised that Muhammad, who they knew well, had a great personality and possessed extraordinary abilities, was going to gain a strong footing, by this allegiance. For this would help integrate his followers, whose constancy, determination, and unwavering faithfulness to the Messenger had been tried, into a disciplined community under his wise leadership and guidance. And they knew that this would spell death for their old ways of life. They also realised the strategic importance of Madinah to their trade, which was their chief means of livelihood. Its geographical position was such that the Muslims could strike with advantage at the caravans travelling on the trade route between Yemen and Syria, and thus strike at the root of their economy and that of other pagan clans very effectively. The value of the trade done by the people of Makkah alone on this route, not to count that of ta’if and other places, amounted to about two hundred thousand dinars annually. As the Quraysh were fully aware of the implications of the oath of allegiance at Aqabah, they were greatly agitated when they got wind of it the same night. At first they tried to win over the people of Madinah to their side. But when they saw that the Muslims were migrating to Madinah in small groups, they realised that the Prophet was also going to emigrate soon from there. Then they decided to adopt an extreme measure to prevent this danger. A few days before his migration, the Quraysh held a council to consider the matter. After a good deal of argument; they decided that one person should be taken from each of the families of Quraysh other than that of Banu Hashim to put an end to the life of the Prophet. This was to make it difficult for the family of the Prophet to fight alone with all the other families of the Quraysh and thus to force them to accept blood-money for his murder instead of taking revenge from them, but by the grace of God their plot against the life of the Prophet failed because of his admirable foresight and full trust in God, and he reached Madinah safe and sound. When they could not prevent his emigration, it occurred to them to exploit Abdullah bin Ubay who had begun to cherish a grievance against the Prophet since his arrival at Madinah. He was an influential chief of Madinah and the people had agreed to make him their king. But when the majority of Aws and Khazraj clan became Muslims and acknowledged the Prophet as their leader, guide and ruler, all his hopes of becoming a king came to an end. Therefore the Quraysh wrote to him, “As you have given shelter to our enemy, we tell you plainly that you should either fight with him yourself or exile him from your city otherwise we swear by God that we will invade your city, kill your males and make your females our slave girls.” This letter added fuel to the flames of his jealousy and he was inclined to do some mischief, but the Prophet took timely precautions and defeated his evil designs. The Quraysh got another opportunity to hold out a threat. When Sa'ad bin Mu'adh, another chief of Madinah, went to Makkah to perform Umrah, Abu Jahl (one of the leaders of the Quraysh, known for his hatred and persecution of the Muslims) interrupted him at the very door of the Ka’bah, saying, “Do you think we will let you perform Umrah in peace when you give shelter and help to renegades from us? Had you not been a guest of Ummayyah bin Khalf, you would not have gone alive from here.” Sa’ad replied, “By God, if you prevent me from this, I will retaliate in a worse manner and block your route near Madinah.” This incident virtually led to a declaration from the people of Makkah that they would prevent the Muslims from a pilgrimage to the Ka’bah, and from the people of Madinah that as a retaliation they would block their trade route to Syria against the opponents of Islam. As a matter of fact there was no other alternative for the Muslims than to keep a strong hold on this route so as to force the Quraysh, and the other clans, whose interests were vitally bound with this route, to reconsider their hostile and antagonistic attitude towards them. That is why the Prophet attached the greatest importance to this problem. As soon as he was free from making the preliminary arrangements for organizing the newly formed Muslim Community and settling peace terms with the neighbouring Jewish tribes, he adopted two measures in this connection.

First, he entered into negotiations with those clans who lived between the Red Sea and this route so as to make alliances with them or at least to persuade them to make treaties of neutrality with the Muslims. He was successful in this, and he entered into a treaty of non-alignment with Juhainah, which was a very important clan of the hilly tract near the sea coast. Then, at the end of the first year of Hijrah, he made a treaty of defensive alliance with Bani Damrah. In 2 A.H. Bani Mudlij also joined the alliance, as they were the neighbours and allies of Bani Damrah. Then it so happened that quite a large number of these people were reverting to Islam as a result of the missionary work done by the Muslims.

Secondly, he successively sent small bands of his men on this route to serve as a warning to the Quraysh, and himself accompanied some of them. In the first year of Hijrah, four expeditions were sent there, that is, the expedition under Hamza, the expedition under Ubaidah bin Harith, the expedition under Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqas and the Al-Abwa expedition under the Prophet himself. In the first month of the second year two more incursions were made on the same route. These are known as Buwat Expedition and Zawal Ushairah Expedition. Two things about all these expeditions are noteworthy. First, no blood was shed and no caravans were plundered in any of these expeditions. This proves that the real object of these expeditions was to show to the Quraysh which way the wind was blowing. Secondly, not a single man from the people of Madinah was sent by the Prophet on any of these incursions. All the bands consisted purely of the immigrants from Makkah so that the conflict should remain between the people of the Quraysh themselves and should not further spread by the involvement of other clans. On the other side, the Quraysh of Makkah tried to involve others also in the conflict. When they sent bands towards Madinah, they did not hesitate to plunder the people. For instance, an expedition under the leadership of Kurz bin Jabir al-Fihrl plundered the cattle of the people of Madinah from the very vicinity of the city to show what their real intentions were.

This was the state of affairs when, in Sha’aban, 2 A.H. (February or March, 623 C.E.) a large trade caravan of the Quraysh, carrying goods worth about £50,000, with only a guard of thirty to forty men, on its way back from Syria to Makkah, reached the territory from where it could be easily attacked from Madinah. As the caravan was carrying trade goods worth thousands of pounds, and was scantily guarded, naturally Abu Sufyan, who was in charge of it, from his past experience feared an attack from the Muslims. Accordingly, as soon as he entered the dangerous territory, he despatched a camel rider to Makkah with a frantic appeal for help. When the rider reached Makkah, he, following an old custom of Arabia, tore open the ears of his camel, cut open his nose and overturned the saddle. He began to cry aloud at the top of his voice, “O people of Quraysh despatch help to protect your caravan from Syria under the charge of Abu Sufyan, for Muhammad with his followers is in pursuit of it; otherwise I don’t think you will ever get your goods. Run, run for help.” This caused great excitement and anger in the whole of Makkah and all the big chiefs of the Quraysh got ready for war. An army, consisting of 600 armoured soldiers and cavalry of 100 riders with great pomp and show marched out for a fight. They intended not only to rescue the caravan but also to put to an end, once for all, the new menace from the Muslims who had consolidated themselves at Madinah. They wanted to crush that rising power and overawe the clans surrounding the route so as to make it absolutely secure for future trade. Now the Prophet, who always kept himself well informed of the state of affairs, felt that the decisive hour has come and that was the right time when he must take a bold step; otherwise the Islamic Movement would become lifeless forever and no chance would be left for it to rise again. For if the Quraysh invaded Madinah, the odds would be against the Muslims. The condition of the Muslim Community was still very shaky because the immigrants (Muhajirin) had not been able to stabilize their economy during the short period (less than two years) of their stay at Madinah; their helpers, the Ansar had not yet been tried; and the neighbouring Jewish clans were antagonistic. Then there was a strong group of hypocrites and polytheists in Madinah itself; above all, the surrounding clans lived in awe of the Quraysh and had all their religious sympathies with them. The Prophet, therefore, felt that the consequences of this possible invasion would not be favourable to the Muslims. The second possibility was that they would not invade Madinah but try only to escort their caravan safely and securely by a mere show of force. In that case, too, if the Muslims remained inactive, it would affect their reputation adversely. Obviously, this weak stand in the conflict would embolden the other Arabs also and make the position of the Muslims very insecure in the country and the surrounding clans would, at the instance of the Quraysh, start hostilities against them. And the Jews, the hypocrites and the polytheists of Madinah would openly rise against them and not only endanger their security of life, property and honour but make it difficult for them even to live there. The Muslims would not be able to inspire the enemy with awe so as to keep safe from them their life, property and honour. A careful study of the situation led the Prophet to make up his mind to take a decisive step and go into the battle with whatever little strength he could muster, for thus and thus only could he show whether the Muslim Community had the right to survive or was doomed to perish.

When he arrived at this momentous decision, he called the Muhajirin and the Ansar together and placed the whole position before them, without any reservation. He said, “God has promised that you will confront one of the two, the trade caravan coming from the north or the army of the Quraysh marching from the south. Now tell me which of the two you want to attack!” A large majority of the people replied that they wanted to attack the caravan. But the Prophet who had something else before him, repeated the same question. At this Miqdad bin ‘Amr, a Muhajir, stood up and said, “O Messenger of God! Please march to the side to which your Lord commands you; we will accompany you wherever you go. We will not say like the Israelites, ‘Go and let you and your Lord fight we will wait’. In contrast to them we say, ‘Let you and your Lord fight; we will fight by your side to our last breath’.” Even then he did not announce any decision but waited for a reply from the Ansar who had not yet taken any part in any battle of Islam. As this was the first opportunity for them to prove that they were ready to fulfil their promise of fighting for the cause of Islam, he repeated the question without directly addressing them. At this, Sa’ad bin Mu’adh, an Ansar, stood up and said, “…it appears that you are putting the question to us.” When the Prophet said, “Yes,” the Ansar replied, “We have believed in you and confirmed that what you have brought is the Truth, and have made a solemn pledge with you that we will listen to you and obey you. Therefore, O Messenger of God, do whatever you intend to do. We swear by God Who has sent you with the Truth that we are ready to accompany you to the sea shore and if you enter it, we will plunge into it. We assure you that not a single one of us will remain behind or forsake you, for we will not hesitate at all to go to fight, even if you should lead us to the battlefield tomorrow. We will remain steadfast in the battle and sacrifice our lives in the fight. We do hope that by the grace of God our behaviour will gladden your heart. So, trusting in God’s blessing, take us to the battlefield.” After these speeches it was decided that they should march towards the army of the Quraysh and not towards the trade caravan. But it should be noted that the decision was of an ordinary nature. For the number of people, who came forward to go to the battlefield, was only a little more than three hundred (86 Muhajirs, 62 from Aws and 170 from Khazraj). Then the little army was ill-armed and hardly equipped for battle. Only a couple of them had horses to ride and the others had to take their turn in threes and fours on the back of a camel, out of the 70 they had in all. Above all, they had not got enough weapons for the battle; only 60 of them had armour. It is, therefore, no wonder that with the exception of those who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the cause of Islam, the majority of those who had joined the expedition, were so filled with fear that they felt as if they were knowingly going into the jaws of death. Then there were people who always looked at things from a selfish point of view. Though they had embraced Islam, they did not realise that their faith would demand the sacrifice of their lives and properties from them; they were of the opinion that it was a mad expedition prompted by irrational enthusiasm for religion. But the Prophet and the true Believers had realised the urgency of that critical hour which required the risk of life: therefore they marched straight to the south-west, wherefrom the army of the Quraysh was coming. This is a clear proof of the fact that from the very beginning they had gone out to fight with the army and not to plunder the caravan. For if they had aimed at plundering the caravan they would have taken the north-westerly direction and not the south-westerly one.

The two parties met in combat at Badr on the 17th of Ramadan. When the two armies confronted each other and the Prophet noticed that the Quraysh army outnumbered the Muslims by three to one and was much better equipped, he raised his hands up in supplication and made this earnest prayer with great humility: “O God! Here are the Quraysh proud of their war material: they have come to prove that Thy Messenger is false. O God! now send that assistance that Thou hast promised to give me. O God! If this little army of Thy servants is destroyed, then there will be left none in the land to worship Thee.” In this combat the emigrants from Makkah were put to the hardest test for they had to fight against their own near and dear relatives and put to the sword their fathers, their sons, their paternal and maternal uncles and their brothers. It is obvious that only such people could have come out successful in this hardest of tests as had accepted the Truth sincerely and cut off all relations with falsehood. And in another way the test to which the Ansar were put was not less hard. So far they had only alienated the powerful Quraysh and their allies by giving shelter to the Muslims against their wishes but now, for the first time, they were going to give fight to them and to sow the seeds of a long and bitter war with them. This was indeed a very hard test for it meant that a small town with a population of a few thousand inhabitants was going to wage a war with the whole of Arabia. It is obvious that only such people could take this bold step who believed in the Truth of Islam so firmly that they were ready to sacrifice every personal interest for its sake. So God accepted the self-sacrifices of the Muhajirin and the Ansar because of their true faith, and rewarded them with His assistance. The proud, well-armed Quraysh were routed by these ill-equipped devotees of Islam. Seventy men of their army were killed and seventy captured as prisoners and their arms and equipment came into the hands of the Muslims as spoils of war. All their big chiefs, who were their best soldiers and who had led the opposition to Islam, were killed in this Battle. No wonder that this decisive victory made Islam a power to be reckoned with.

9. Relevant Hadith

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10. Wiki Forum

Comments in this section are statements made by general users – these are not necessarily explanations of the Ayah – rather a place to share personal thoughts and stories…

11. Tafsir Zone


Overview (Verses 15 - 16)

Except for Tactical Reasons

Now that the decisive victory has been attributed to its true factors: God’s planning, support, the believers’ reliance on Him alone and acceptance of whatever eventuality He determines — now with all minds visualizing the whole event, and all hearts ready for the best response, the believers are given an order to remain steady whenever they meet unbelievers in battle. They must never run away, since victory or defeat are determined by God’s will and the factors contributing to either of them are different from the factors people may see. The whole battle and all its events are of God’s own making and planning: “Believers, when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, do not turn your backs to them in flight. Anyone who turns his back to them on that day, except when manoeuvring for battle or in an endeavour to join another troop, shall incur God’s wrath, and hell shall be his abode: how vile a journey’s end.” (Verses 15-16)
These verses begin with a strong warning, a fearsome threat. Should the believers face their enemies who may in essence present themselves in a great show of power, they must not, under any circumstances, turn away, except for tactical reasons. These may include choosing a better position, carrying out a more effective plan, joining another group of believers, or moving to another Muslim stronghold in order to resume the fight. Deserters and people who turn away in flight deserve the most terrible double punishment of incurring God’s wrath and being thrown into hell.
Some scholars have expressed the view that this ruling applies only to the people of Badr, or to a battle in which the Prophet himself took part. But the overwhelming majority of scholars have emphasized its general application. They consider fleeing from battle as one of the gravest sins. In the two Şahīh, the most authentic collections of the Prophet’s ĥadīth, al-Bukhārī and Muslim relate, on the authority of Abū Hurayrah, that God’s Messenger says: “Steer away from the seven ruining sins.” When he was asked which these were, the Prophet answered: “Associating partners with God, black magic, killing a human being except for a legitimate cause, devouring usury, pilfering an orphan’s property, running away from battle and falsely accusing chaste believing women of adultery.”
In his scholarly work, Aĥkām al-Qur’ān or Qur’ānic Rulings, al-Jaşşāş, a leading Ĥanafī scholar, explains in detail the different views on this point. It is useful to quote here what he says:
God says: “Anyone who turns his back to them on that day, except when manoeuvring for battle or in an endeavour to join another troop...” (Verse 16) Abū Nađrah mentions that this statement applies only to the Battle of Badr. Abū Nađrah argues that had they turned away on that day, they could only have joined the unbelievers, because there were no other Muslims on that day. But this statement is not particularly accurate, because there were numerous Muslims in Madinah who were not ordered by the Prophet to join the army. They had not gone out with the Prophet because they believed that no battle was imminent and the whole affair would merely be a case of intercepting a trade caravan. The Prophet was joined by those who were ready and quick to move out with him in the circumstances. Hence, Abū Nađrah’s view that there were no other Muslims at that time and that they would have only joined the unbelievers is wrong.
It has also been said that they were not permitted to join any other group on that day because the Prophet was with them and they were not allowed to leave him, as God says in the Qur’ān: “It is not open for the people of Madinah and those Bedouins living nearby to hold back from following God’s Messenger or to care for their own selves more than for him.” (9: 120) This shows that they could not let God’s Messenger down or abandon him, even though God had taken it upon Himself to protect him as He clearly states in the Qur’ān: “God will protect you from all men.” (5: 67) That was imperative on them, whether their enemies were small or large in number. Moreover, the Prophet himself was the rallying force for the Muslims on that day. Anyone turning away could only do so for tactical reasons, in an endeavour to join a company of believers. On the day of Badr, they could only join the Prophet. Ibn `Umar reports: “I was with an army when we had a quick round before returning to Madinah. People accused us of fleeing, but the Prophet said: `I am your group.’ This means that a person who is in a position away from the Prophet and wants to turn away from the unbelievers could only do so in order to join the Prophet. If the Prophet was in the army, then there was no group other than his. In such a case, no turning away was possible. Al-Ĥasan says that this verse, beginning with “Anyone who turns his back to them”, defined the situation for the people of Badr. God says in the Qur’ān: “Those of you who turned away on the day when the two hosts met in battle, Satan caused them to slip only in consequence of something that they themselves had done.” (3: 155) This is due to the fact that they turned away leaving the Prophet in battle. Similarly, on the day of Ĥunayn, they deserved God’s punishment for leaving the Prophet and turning away: “On the Day of Ĥunayn, when you took pride in your great numbers and they proved of no avail whatever to you. The earth, despite its vastness, became too narrow for you and you turned back, retreating.” (9: 25) This was then the ruling applicable when they were with the Prophet fighting any enemy that mustered small or large forces. In another verse, God says: “Prophet, urge the believers to fight. If there are twenty steadfast men among you, they will overcome two hundred, and if there are a hundred of you, they will defeat a thousand of those who disbelieve, for those are devoid of understanding.” (Verse 65) This applied perhaps — and God knows best — to a situation when the Prophet was with them. A company of twenty had to fight two hundred, remaining steadfast. If the hostile force was greater than that, then they were allowed to try to join another group in order to resume the fight. But this was later abrogated by the Qur’ānic statement: “Now God has lightened your burden, for He knows that you are weak. So, if there are a hundred steadfast men among you, they will overcome two hundred, and if there are a thousand of you they will, by God’s will, defeat two thousand.” (Verse 66)
According to Ibn `Abbās: It was a commandment that one man must not turn away in flight if he was facing ten enemy soldiers. This was then reduced by the Qur’ānic verse, “God has lightened your burden, for He knows that you are weak.” You are now commanded that one hundred may not flee from two hundred unbelievers. Ibn `Abbās states: “If one man runs away from two enemy soldiers, then he is a deserter. If he flees when he faces three, he is not.” Desertion refers to turning away in flight as mentioned in the Qur’ānic verse.
The verse makes it compulsory for a Muslim soldier to fight when he faces two unbelievers. If they are more than two, then it is permissible for a single soldier to try to join a company of Muslims that may give him support. If he wants to join a group of Muslims who will not support him in the fight, he is under the threat mentioned in the Qur’ānic verse: “Anyone who turns his back to them on that day, except when manoeuvering for battle or in an endeavour to join another troop, shall incur God’s wrath.” (Verse 16) For this reason the Prophet says: “I am company to every Muslim.” When `Umar ibn al-Khaţţāb heard that Abū `Ubayd ibn Mas‘ūd fought hard without thinking of retreat until he was killed, `Umar said: “May God have mercy on Abū `Ubayd. Had he joined me, I would have been company for him.” When Abū `Ubayd’s fellow soldiers arrived, `Umar said to them: “I am your company.” He did not take issue with them over their retreat. This ruling is confirmed in our school of law, [i.e. the Ĥanafī school], and it remains in force unless the Muslim army is 12,000 in number, in which case they may not flee from a force which is more than double their size, except for tactical reasons. They may move to a position where they can engage their enemy better, or may take a different step that does not constitute fleeing from battle, or join a group of Muslims who will fight with them. Muĥammad ibn al-Ĥasan (a leading Ĥanafī scholar) mentions that if a Muslim army is 12,000 in number, they may not turn away in flight, although their enemy may be much greater. There is no difference among our scholars (i.e. Ĥanafī scholars) on this point. In support of this view, a ĥadīth reported by Ibn `Abbās is cited in which the Prophet is quoted as saying: “The best group of friends is four, and the best expedition is 400, and the best host is 4,000. An army of 12,000 shall not suffer on account of inferior numbers, and shall not be defeated.” In another version: “An army of 12,000 shall not be defeated if they are truly united.” Mālik was asked: “Is it open for us not to join a battle against those abandoning God’s law in favour of a different law?” Mālik answered: “If you have 12,000 with you, you may not stay behind. Otherwise, staying behind is permissible.” The person who put the question to him was `Abdullāh ibn `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Azīz ibn Abdullāh ibn `Umar. This confirms what is stated by Muĥammad ibn al-Ĥasan. The authentic reports attributed to the Prophet with regard to an army of 12,000 constitute a basic principle in this respect. An army of such numbers may not turn away in flight from any enemy, even though that enemy may be several times their number, because the Prophet says: “If they are truly united.” God has commanded believers to be always truly united.

Ibn al-‘Arabī also comments on this difference of views. He writes in his book bearing the same title, Aĥkām al-Qur’ān or Qur’ānic Rulings: People have disputed whether the turning away in flight applies only to the Battle of Badr or to all battles Muslims may fight at any time until the Day of Judgement. Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrī reports that this order applies only to the Battle of Badr, when the Muslims had no other company or troop other than God’s Messenger. This view is supported by Nāfi`, al-Ĥasan, Qatādah, Yazīd ibn Ĥabīb and al-Đaĥĥāk. Ibn Abbās and all other scholars are of the view that this Qur’ānic verse applies at all times until the Day of Judgement. Those who have taken a different view, saying that it applies to Badr only have misinterpreted the statement, “Anyone who turns his back to them on that day,” making the phrase ‘on that day’ a reference to the Day of Badr only. But this is not so. It refers to the day of battle whenever a battle takes place. In evidence we take the fact that this Qur’ānic verse was revealed after the Battle of Badr was over with all that it involved. The Prophet is authentically quoted to list fleeing from battle as one of the worst cardinal sins. In itself, this ĥadīth should settle all disputes and make the ruling absolutely clear. We have clarified how the confusion arose that led some scholars to think that it applied to Badr only.
For our part, we support Ibn `Abbās’s view and all other scholars as reported by Ibn al-`Arabī. To flee from battle deserves such condemnation because of the magnitude of its serious consequences on the one hand, and because it has a bearing on the very question of having faith. A believer should be firm and resolute, able to resist any force on earth, since he believes that God’s power can overcome all powers. If a believer’s heart experiences a tremor at a moment of danger, such a tremor should not go as far as making him flee from battle. The moment of anyone’s death is determined by God alone. Hence, no believer may flee from battle fearing for his life. This should not constitute too much of a burden for anyone. A believer is a human being who encounters an enemy, who, in turn, is a human being. Hence, they are of the same nature. The believer, however, has the advantage of relying on the overpowering might of God Himself. Moreover, he is under God’s care while he is alive, and he entrusts himself to God’s care if he attains martyrdom. This means that in all situations he is stronger than his enemy who defies God and His Messenger. Hence this absolute ruling: “Anyone who turns his back to them on that day, except when manoeuvering for battle or in an endeavour to join another troop, shall incur God’s wrath, and hell shall be his abode: how vile a journey’s end.” (Verse 16)
We should reflect a little here on the mode of expression and its remarkable connotations. The statements, “Do not turn your backs to them in flight”, and, “Anyone who turns his back to them on that day”, portray a sense of defeat as it manifests itself physically. They also add a strong condemnation as the whole action is shown to be repugnant, particularly the image of turning one’s back to one’s enemies. Then we have the expression, “shall incur God’s wrath.” In the Arabic text, there is a connotation that a defeated person is carrying with him God’s wrath right to his abode in hell, which is an awful end to his journey. Thus these connotations add to the sense and effectiveness of the statement. Together they spread a feeling of abhorrence of the very act of fleeing from battle.

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