Surah al-Anfal (The Spoils Of War ) 8 : 55

إِنَّ شَرَّ ٱلدَّوَآبِّ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟ فَهُمْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allāh are those who have disbelieved, and they will not [ever] believe -

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

The Arabic term used in this verse for “creatures” signifies walking, which makes the description sound like, “the worst of those that walk on earth.” This term applies to all walking creatures, particularly animals, but includes human beings. However, it has clear additional connotations when it refers to humans. It makes those to whom it refers appear like animals. Thus those humans become the worst of all animals that walk on earth. These are the hardened unbelievers who will not accept the faith. They are the ones who break their treaties all the time and do not entertain any sense of fearing God.

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 55 - 57)

This final passage of the sūrah includes a number of rules for dealing with other camps and communities in times of peace and war. It also speaks of the internal organization of the Muslim community and the regulation of its relations with other communities. It speaks of the Islamic view of pledges and covenants in all situations, as well as the ties of blood, race, homeland and faith. This gives us a host of rules and regulations in all these matters. Some of these are final and apply in all situations, while others are provisional, dealing with the situation that prevailed at the time. These were to be amended later, when Sūrah 9, Repentance, was revealed towards the end of the Madinan period. These rules and regulations include:

Those who enter into a treaty with the Muslims and then break their treaty are the worst creatures. The Muslims should, therefore, teach them a lesson that strikes fear in their hearts and in the hearts of those who follow them, contemplating a similar breach of their own treaty or thinking of launching a treacherous attack on the Muslim community.

Those groups who have concluded a treaty with the Muslims, but the Muslim leadership has reason to believe that they may be involved in treacherous action, may be put on notice of termination of their treaty. When this is done, the Islamic leadership is free to fight them, teach them a lesson and make of them an example for those who take a similar attitude.

The Muslim community, which represents the camp following God’s guidance, must always be prepared, maintain a position of strength, be as well equipped as possible, so that it is always held in awe by other communities. This will ensure better security for the land of Islam, as hostile forces will think twice before launching an attack on it. It will also make such forces submit to the requirement of allowing the advocates of the faith to fulfil their task of making God’s message known to people and calling on them to accept it. They will also refrain from trying to prevent anyone in their land from accepting the faith if he wishes to do so. Sovereignty will thus be acknowledged to belong to God alone, and no one other than Him may lay claim to it.

If any party of unbelievers is inclined to have an agreement of peaceful co- existence with the Muslim community, the Muslim leadership will accept this and conclude such an agreement. If they entertain thoughts of treachery, and there is no visible evidence of such thoughts, the Muslims will entrust the whole matter to God who will take care of any would-be traitors.

Jihād is a duty of Muslims, even when they are heavily outnumbered. With God’s help, they can achieve victory. Each one of them is equal to ten of the enemy. In the worst situations when the Muslims are at their weakest, everyone of them is equal to two of the enemy force. The duty of jihād does not wait until parity with the enemy is achieved. All that the Muslims should do is to mobilize their best forces, place their full trust in God, remain patient in adversity and steadfast in battle. Moreover, they must leave the rest to God. After all, they have a power that other camps do not have.

The first goal of the Muslim community is to destroy the power of tyranny by all available means. If the taking of captives in battle and releasing them for ransom does not help achieve that, then such measures are to be discounted. It is a permanent rule that God’s Messengers and their followers should not take captives until they have demonstrated their power, destroyed the might of their enemy and established their own authority. When that has been accomplished, there may be no harm in taking captives and receiving ransom for their release.

Spoils of war are permissible for the Muslims to take. The same is the case with ransom in return for the release of any captives they might have taken after they have strenuously battled and demonstrated their power.

When captives are taken by the Muslims, these captives should be given a good idea of Islam. They should also be encouraged to accept it. They should be told that God promises them what is superior to what is taken from them, whether in spoils of war or in ransom. They should also be warned against any attempt of treachery.

The central bond that brings people together in Muslim society is that of faith.

Loyalty and allegiance in that society are based on faith and organization at the same time. Those who have accepted the faith and migrated to its land and those who welcomed them into their land, giving them full support, are one single group with mutual ties of faith and duties of protection. By contrast, those who accepted the faith without moving to the land of Islam have no commitment of mutual protection with the Muslim camp. This means that there is no duty binding the Muslim state to give them support. The Muslim community will give them active support only when they are attacked because of their faith by a group who have no covenant with the Muslims.

The fact that the central bond in Muslim society is faith does not preclude that relatives have an added bond of loyalty when the two main requirements of faith and organization are fulfilled. Blood relationship does not initiate any tie of loyalty when the bond of faith is not in existence.

This is a brief outline of the rules and regulations included in this final passage of the sūrah, outlining the most important elements of the Islamic system dealing with internal and external affairs.

When Treaties Are Breached

Verses 55-63 at the beginning of this passage deal primarily with a real situation that the Muslim community had to come to grips with at the time when the first Muslim state was established in Madinah. These verses provided the Islamic leadership with guidance and rules to apply in dealing with that situation. They represent a basic element in the international relations between the Muslim community and other groups. They remained in force, with minor amendments that were subsequently incorporated. These verses make it clear that it is perfectly appropriate to conclude agreements of peaceful co-existence with other communities and groups, as long as such agreements are certain to be taken seriously, respected and honoured. If the other camp manipulates these agreements and uses them as a shield to cover up its treacherous designs, taking steps to launch an assault against the Muslims, then the Muslim leadership is fully entitled to terminate these agreements, making the other side fully aware of that termination. Once this is done, the Muslim leadership is free to choose the time when to attack, making sure that any such attack is powerful enough to strike fear in the heart of all who contemplate a hostile attitude towards the Muslim society, whether openly or in secret. On the other hand, those who are interested in a genuine peace with the Muslim camp, have no intention of opposing the Islamic message or stopping its advocacy, and demonstrate their inclination to peace, may enjoy such a relationship of real peace.

All this was clearly meant to deal with real situations that affected relations between the Muslim state and neighbouring camps. When the Muslim state enjoys security, having no physical impediments to its task of conveying God’s message to people everywhere, it has no reason to refuse peaceful co-existence. At the same time, it does not allow for peace agreements to be used as a cover-up for intended treachery.

The practical situation in Madinah that these verses addressed resulted from the circumstances of the early period of the Prophet’s settlement in that city. These are outlined by Imām Ibn al-Qayyim in his priceless rook Zād al-Ma`ād. Although this summary is quoted in the Prologue to this volume, it is useful to repeat it here.

This is a chapter setting an outline of the Prophet’s attitude to the unbelievers and the hypocrites, right from the time when he first received his message until he departed from this life:

The first revelation bestowed on him was “Read in the name of your Lord who created.” (96: 1) This was the point at which he became a Prophet. It was an order to him to read, alone. No order was given at this point that he should deliver any message. Later on, God revealed to him: “You that are wrapped up in your cloak! Arise and warn.” (74: 1-2) Thus He made him a Prophet when He said to him, `Read’, and then made him a Messenger when He told him, `Arise and warn.’ He then ordered him to warn his immediate clan. He followed this by warning his own people, then the other Arab tribes close to Makkah, then all the Arabs, and finally all mankind.

The Prophet thus spent more than a dozen years after his initial prophethood advocating his message, without fighting. He was ordered throughout this period not to take up arms; rather, he should remain patient and forbearing. Then he received permission to migrate, and another permission to fight. God then ordered him to fight those who wage war against him, and not to fight those who stand aside, refraining from such a fight. Later, the Prophet was ordered to fight the unbelievers until all submission is made only to God. At this point, the unbelievers were divided into three categories with regard to their relationship with the Prophet (peace be upon him). In the first category were those with whom he concluded a peace treaty. The second category included those who were at war with the Prophet, while the third were those who had submitted to his authority and were under his protection.

The Prophet was ordered to fulfil his obligations under any peace treaty as long as the other party fulfilled their obligations. Should he fear that they may resort to treachery, he should give them notice of the termination of their treaty. He must not fight them until he had informed them of such termination. He was also ordered to fight any parry which violated their peace treaty with him.

When Sūrah 9, Repentance, was revealed, it outlined the rulings applicable to each of the three categories. Thus, the Prophet was ordered to fight those of the people of earlier revelations who waged war against him until they had been subdued and agreed to pay submission tax, or jizyah, or accept Islam. He was further ordered to strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites. Thus, he struggled against the unbelievers with sword and spear, and against the hypocrites with logic and argument. He was also ordered in Sūrah 9 to declare a general disavowal, terminating all treaties with unbelievers.

However, the people who held peace treaties with the Prophet were divided into three groups. The first were those who had been unfaithful to their treaties and were in clear violation of them: these he was ordered to fight. He actually fought them and was victorious. The second group included those with a treaty lasting for a specific time. If these had honoured their obligations under the treaty and did not aid others against the Prophet and the Muslim community, the Prophet was ordered to honour their treaty for as long as it lasted. The third group included those who had no treaty with the Prophet but had not fought with him and also those who had an open treaty specifying no time. He was ordered to give all these groups four months’ notice, after which he could fight them.

Thus, the Prophet fought and killed those who were treacherous, violating their treaty, and put on four-months’ notice those without a treaty or with an open-ended one. He was also to honour his obligations to those who honoured theirs under their treaties. All those in this category adopted Islam before the end of their respective terms. He imposed jizyah or submission tax on those under his authority. When we closely examine this scholarly summary in the light of the events of the period and the dates of the revelation of the different Qur’ānic verses and sūrahs outlining these rules and regulations we definitely conclude that the verses we are looking at in this sūrah represent a middle stage between the situation in the early days of the Islamic reign in Madinah and that which prevailed after the revelation of Sūrah 9, Repentance. All relevant statements must be studied in this light. Although the verses we have here include some very basic rules, they do not put these in their final form. These are finally stated in Sūrah 9. The events which took place later in the Prophet’s lifetime represent a practical example of how these rules are to be implemented.

The Worst of All Creatures

Indeed, the worst of all creatures in God’s sight are the ones who have denied the truth, and therefore will not believe; those with whom you have concluded a treaty, and then they break their treaty at every occasion, entertaining no sense of fearing God. (Verses 55-56)

The Arabic term used in this verse for “creatures” signifies walking, which makes the description sound like, “the worst of those that walk on earth.” This term applies to all walking creatures, particularly animals, but includes human beings. However, it has clear additional connotations when it refers to humans. It makes those to whom it refers appear like animals. Thus those humans become the worst of all animals that walk on earth. These are the hardened unbelievers who will not accept the faith. They are the ones who break their treaties all the time and do not entertain any sense of fearing God.

Several reports speak of which groups were meant in this statement. Different reports mention the three Jewish tribes of Qaynuqā`, al- Nađīr and Qurayżah, while other reports suggest that they were the Bedouin Arabs in the areas around Madinah. Historical events and the statement itself admit all these possibilities, as all of these groups did break their treaties with the Prophet, one after the other. The pagan Arabs were guilty of this on several occasions. What is important is that we should know that these verses speak of actual events that took place before the Battle of Badr and after it, till the time when these verses were revealed. However, the rule that they outline, which also explains the nature of those who break their treaties, applies to all such situations. Those who have become hardened in disbelief “will not believe.” Their very nature has gone awry and they have become the worst of creatures. They break every agreement they make. Thus they shed yet another human characteristic, namely, faithfulness. They run loose, like animals, except that animals are restricted by their nature while these know no restriction. In God’s sight, they are the worst of all creatures.

Those people who cannot be trusted to honour an agreement they make must not be allowed to feel secure, just like they deprived others of enjoying a sense of security. Their punishment is that they should live in fear and that they should become an example to those who follow their suit. God’s Messenger and his followers in succeeding generations are commanded to mete out punishment to them on every occasion: “Should you meet them in battle, make of them a fearsome example for those who follow them, so that they may reflect and take it to heart.” (Verse 57)

This verse paints an image of a ferocious attack that is bound to strike fear into the hearts of the enemies. The image is so powerful that hearing it is enough to make people flee. We need not ask about those who are at the receiving end of such punishment. God commands His Messenger to level such a powerful strike against those who are in the habit of violating their treaties and who have broken all human restraints. Such a strike has the dual purpose of protecting the Muslim community and destroying the power of those who try to undermine its position. This should deter all people from trying to stop the Islamic march.

12. External Links

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