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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Anfal 8:19

Overview (Verse 19)

Much Power, Little Avail
When the sūrah has clearly stated that God is certain to make feeble the unbelievers’ scheming it directs its address to certain people among the unbelievers. Just before the start of battle, those unbelievers sought a divine judgement, praying that the party which they described as more astray, fabricating what was unheard of and severing ties of kinship should end in miserable defeat. That was exactly Abū Jahl’s prayer, seeking God’s judgement. Defeat was then the outcome of the unbelievers’ endeavours. Now they are addressed directly and their prayer for a judgement is decried. They are assured that what happened at Badr was the rule not the exception. Their forces, numerous as they may be, will avail them of nothing, because it is a consistent rule that God will always be on the side of the believers: “If you were seeking a judgement, then a judgement has come to you. If you desist, it will be best for you; and if you revert to your erring ways, We will also be back [with Our punishment]. Your host, numerous as it may be, shall avail you nothing; for God is with the believers.” (Verse 19)
You have sought God’s judgement between the Muslims and yourselves, and you have prayed to Him to destroy the party which was in error and which severed ties of kinship. God has responded, and defeat was your lot, as you have requested. Now you know for certain which party is more erring and which severs ties of kinship.
With facts giving clear pointers, they are invited to abandon their rejection of the truth and their hostile attitude to Muslims, as well as their defiance of God and His Messenger: “If you desist, it will be best for you.” (Verse 19) These are words of persuasion coupled with a clear warning: “And if you revert to your erring ways, We will also be back [with Our punishment].” The outcome is well known and cannot be changed by any gathering of forces and equipment no matter how great these are: “Your host, numerous as it may be, shall avail you nothing.” (Verse 19) Of what use can any great force be, when God is decidedly on the side of the believers? “For God is with the believers”. (Verse 19) Such a battle will never be even. On one side there will be the believers who have God Himself with them. On the other, there will be the unbelievers who have only human beings fighting with them. The outcome of such a battle is a foregone conclusion.
The unbelievers among the Arabs were well aware of these facts. Their knowledge of God was neither ambiguous nor superficial as those influenced by the generalizations of history books tend to think. Disbelief among the Arabs did not take the form of a denial of God’s existence or total ignorance of the truth. It was mostly represented in the fact that they did not submit totally to Him and derived their laws and their code of living from sources other than Him. That was certainly inconsistent with their acknowledgement of God and their knowledge of Him as the Supreme Lord.
When the Quraysh army was moving across the desert, a man called Khufāf ibn Aymā’ ibn Raĥđah al-Ghifārī, or his father, sent them a gift consisting of a number of camels he had slaughtered for food. He also sent them a message that he was prepared to supply them with equipment and fighters. They only had to ask. They sent him this reply with his son: “You have done more than your duty and we are very grateful to you. If we are going to fight human beings, we are certainly a match for them. But if we are going to fight God, as Muĥammad alleges, then no force may stand up to God.”

As we reported earlier, al-Akhnas ibn Sharīq, an unbeliever, said to his clan of Zuhrah: “God has spared you the loss of your property and saved your man, Maĥraqah ibn Nawfal, etc.” Likewise, Abū Jahl who is described by the Prophet as the Pharaoh of the Arabs, said: “Our Lord, destroy this day the party which is more guilty of severing ties of kinship and fabricating what is false.” When `Utbah ibn Rabī`ah sent him a man to persuade him not to fight, Abū Jahl, said: “No. By God we shall not return until God has made a judgement between us and Muĥammad.”

These examples show their concept of God’s nature and how it was present in their minds on all serious occasions. It was not a question of total ignorance of God or lack of awareness that He is overpowering or that He can make a complete judgement between the two parties. It was a question of associating partners with Him. This was represented initially through deriving their code of living and their laws from sources other than God. The same type of disbelief is practised today by people who think themselves to be Muslims, following the faith of the Prophet Muĥammad (peace be upon him). Indeed, the non-believers of Makkah thought that they were following the faith of the Prophet Abraham. It was that misguided belief which prompted Abū Jahl himself to seek that judgement, praying to God to destroy the party which was deeper in error and more guilty of severing ties of kinship.
It is true that they worshipped idols, but they never attributed to those idols any concept of godhead similar to that which they recognized as belonging to God. The Qur’ān explains their concepts of such idols and the basis of their rituals of worship which they offered to them: “Those who took for themselves patrons other than God (would say): We only worship them so that they may bring us closer to God.’“ (39: 3) This then was the basis of their idolatry: they felt that their idols could intercede with God on their behalf. But the essence of their polytheistic beliefs were not these. Nor was it enough for any of them to simply abandon such a concept of intercession by those idols in order to be a Muslim. Otherwise, the people known as al-Ĥunafā’, or the pure, who dissociated themselves from the worship of those idols and believed in God alone, would have been considered Muslims. But they were not. Islam comprises conceptual beliefs, the offering of worship to God and attributing all sovereignty to Him alone. Those who do not acknowledge Him as the overall sovereign, wherever and whenever they may happen to live, are polytheist, even though they acknowledge that there is no deity other than God and offer worship to Him. When they stop at that, they are the same as those people known as al-Ĥunafā’ whom no one describes as Muslims. People become Muslims when they complete the circle and add to their concepts and worship the acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty which entails a rejection of any law, set-up, value or tradition that is not derived from God. This is the only true meaning of Islam because it is the true import of the declaration that there is no deity other than God and that Muĥammad is His Messenger. Moreover, those people who have this understanding of the declaration must join a single movement under an Islamic leadership that separates itself from the society of jāhiliyyah and its leadership.
This must be fully understood by those people who want to be Muslims so that they are not deceived by the thought that they are Muslims in belief and practice. This is not sufficient for people to become Muslims unless they acknowledge that all sovereignty belongs to God alone. This is represented in practice by rejecting all claims that sovereignty belongs to anyone else and until they have no loyalty whatsoever to jāhiliyyah societies and their leaderships.
Many good-natured and well-meaning people who want to be true Muslims fall prey to this trick. It is important, therefore, that they make certain of the only true form of Islam. They should also know that the idolatrous Arabs were no different from them. They knew who God was and made of their idols partners who could intercede with Him on their behalf. Thus, their true disbelief centred around sovereignty and to whom it belonged.
Moreover, the Muslim community which strives to re-establish this religion in daily life must be fully and clearly aware of this fact. They must also make it decisively clear to all people. This is the starting point. If an Islamic movement deviates from this fact at any moment, it is bound to go astray, even though it may have abundance of sincerity, perseverance, and determination to fulfil its duties.