Friday, 13 July 2012

Class with Prof Zein dated 7th July 2012 (Surah Al Anfal, 8:1-10)

Yusuf Ali

They ask thee concerning (things taken as) spoils of war. Say: "(such) spoils are at the disposal of Allah and the Messenger: So fear Allah, and keep straight the relations between yourselves: Obey Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe."

Anfal ( the spoils of war) is the plural of nafala.

The root word is nafala, which means an addition to what you already have.

The spoils of war.

Question: when you go to war, what is it that you want to do?

You want to wipe out the enemy.

The proud Arab of the past, at that time, when they go to war, it was never to take away the spoils of war. It was just to wipe out the enemy, for self defense, for justice, for defense of honor. It was never to take the spoils of war.

This surah was revealed in Madinah. Some of the companions of the Prophet called it Al Anfal, while some others referred to it as Badr, referring to the war of Badr. But because the surah was better known as Al Anfal, and the word appears in the first sentence of the surah, it was then referred to Al Anfal.

Prof stated – that the surah was revealed on the 8th of Ramadhan, 1 year after Hijrah. It was the surah revealed after Al Baqarah. And it was revealed over a long period of time.

Historically speaking, the Surah Al Anfal was known as Surah 89, but the way the Prophet arranged it, it became Surah 8.

Prof then asked – surely many of you are asking, what is the relevance of informing us all of these facts?

It is to show how meticulous our previous Muslim companions were in arranging the chapters of the Quran, the reasons and historical narrative behind it all.

One doesn’t find it in the Bible and the Old Testament – the rationale, the methodology and the subtleties  of the way the chapters were arranged.

It is very important to note that the way the Surahs or the chapters were arranged is not the discretion of the Prophet.  The arrangement was taught by the Angel Jibrail himself. It was never following the whims and fancies of the Prophet.

Look at the first word in the sentence – yas’alu’naka – they ask you.

This is in the present tense, it is not  - sa’a’la – past tense.

Hence, here Allah Taala is saying, in the present tense, they ask you about the spoils of war.

Allah didn’t say – they had asked you.

Background of this Surah

It was the battle of Badr. The sahabah in question here was Saad ibn Waqas. He had had his beloved brother killed by the enemy, and upon killing an enemy himself, he had taken to himself the sword of the enemy. He had shown the sword to the Prophet, and he was shocked to find that the Prophet telling him ‘returning the sword to the enemy’s place’ ( ie. to have it distributed later on amongst all the warriors. And when he insisted that surely he deserves to take the sword , after all, he had not only lost his brother to the enemy, but he had earned the sword. It was a beautiful and expensive sword, and he felt that after what he suffered, losing his brother and all that, he surely deserves the sword.

Now the feelings of frustration was beginning to descend on him. As Prof narrated it, he had repeated his demand for the sword at least 3 times. And each time he repeated his demand for the sword, he was told by the Prophet, return it.

Hence, what appears to be an advent of victory now appears to be a threat of disunity for the Muslims.

Also, in the battle of Badr, several other companions of the Prophets including Umar, were at the back, holding the banners and instructing from behind. Thus, some of the companions who were on the front line were involved directly in the fighting and felt that they should rightly deserve the spoils of war. And that the ones who were at the back and shielded should not be entitled to spoils of war.

And be aware that these are the companions who fought in Badr, ie. the companions of the Prophet who have fought a very important war in Islam, if not the most important.

The rules on the spoils of war

In the past, in the Old Testament, the rule was that all the spoils of war must be destroyed.

But the Quran came and reversed that rule. The Quran stated that the spoils of war can be put to good use.


What when the spoil of war is land?

In the times of the Prophet, the land that was taken was distributed amongst the companions and warriors of the war, but this practice didn’t disrupt the system of the land because the land was small. And because the land was small, the spoils didn’t unsettle the jobs of the warriors Fi Sabilillah (i.e. they didn’t take up new positions as farmers and began to neglect their task in Jihad Fi Sabilillah).

But then in the time of Umar, he introduced the system of Al’Kharaj.

Umar had won against the Persian Empire and the seed of power was in Iraq. The companions had asked Umar that Iraq be distributed amongst them as spoils of war.

Umar disagreed. He said that not only will this practice disrupt the entire system that was already well established in Iraq, deprive the population of their well rooted lifestyles, cause the companions to migrate to Iraq just to ensure that their lands were running well and might even turn them to farmers and hence Islam will lose them for Fi Sabilillah, it will cause severe injustice to the nation of Iraq. Islam’s victory was not meant to disrupt the governance that was already strong, population that was already dense and most of all, disharmonize everything that was running well. 

Yusuf Ali

For, Believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts, and when they hear His signs rehearsed, find their faith strengthened, and put (all) their trust in their Lord.

On the words, Zaadathum Imaana – there are arguments on the interpretation.

(8:2) Most of the scholars have agreed that Iman comprises of 3 stages – al-tasdiq bi al-qalb ( to attest in truth in the heart); al-iqrar bi al-lisan (to attest in truth with one’s words); and  al-'amal bi al-jawarih ( to commit in one’s conduct to reflect one’s iman).

It is acceptance in the heart, tasdiiq bi al qalb; affirmation by the tongue, iqraar bi allisaan; and work performance by the body, 'amal bi al jawarih

According to Prof, some ulama’ feel that the Iman al Tasdiq is an Either/Or essence. Iman is there or it is not. There can be no increase or decrease in this essence of Iman. And Prof stated that nowhere in the Quran is there a mention that Iman decreases, it only has mention that Iman increases.

This school of Ulama feel that Iman in the essence can never increase or decrease. It is present or absent altogether.

Hence what does it mean then, by the term Iman increases?

They believe that Iman can be perfected with ‘Amal.

(8:2) also means that when the Believers hear the Quran, even when we don’t understand the meaning of the Quran, but by virtue of the Quran in itself being so beautiful and true in meaning, we already feel tremor in the heart. The mere hearing of the recitation of the Quran already has an effect on the hearts of the Mukminin. And it makes you want to do more ‘Amal.


This Surah was revealed during a very difficult time for the Muslims. It was during the war of Badr. The Muslims had gone to war to defend their honor and defeat their enemy. They had won, they were victorious, but victory now has its price. The Muslims were now ready to kill one another. And it is by no other reason than the fact that they were fighting over the distribution of the spoils of war. Saad ibn Waqas for example, he had felt, what kind of victory is this? This is no victory! He was angry and frustrated and felt denied of what he rightly deserves. Ill feelings were already permeating their hearts.

Hence, the ayat (8:1) - They ask thee concerning (things taken as) spoils of war. Say: "(such) spoils are at the disposal of Allah and the Messenger: So fear Allah, and keep straight the relations between yourselves: Obey Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe.

This ayat was meant to guide and instruct the companions of the Prophet how to transcend over and above their individual nafs and desires of the heart. They were on the verge of becoming selfish and forget what the actual reason for war was. The battle of Badr is the epitome of Allah’s Truth being realized. Allah had promised that the Believers will indeed be given victory, and Allah fulfilled His Promise, even in the condition that looked all was going to fail and they will be defeated.

Prophet had been so worried, sending that mere 300 Muslims to war in the face of the 1000 or more army of the enemy, and he was heard to have prayed fervently and in a such distress over the possibility of defeat. Abu Bakr was to have narrated that he even heard Prophet uttered, O Allah please help the Muslims. If we were to lose, then there will no longer be Muslims on this earth, we will be wiped out. Abu Bakr was to have said, O Rasulullah, why are you so worried and in anguish? Worry not for surely Allah will never abandon you and neither will he neglect your prayer.

Yusuf Ali

Remember ye implored the assistance of your Lord, and He answered you: "I will assist you with a thousand of the angels, ranks on ranks."

(8:9) This is to reveal to us how human the Prophet was, in human emotions, in his fear over the safety of his people. Note the history of how Badr came to pass. The Muslims were supposed to intercept the caravans on the way to Madina, and ambush them. But instead, the caravan convoy had swerved their route, and now what awaits the Muslims were an army of a 1000 men from Mecca, all ready to teach the Muslims a lesson. The Muslims prepared for a convoy of caravans, not a war. They were completely unprepared. Their mind frame, they physical strength, their overall state – they were just not ready. And yet Allah promised the Prophet that go to war anyway, and Allah will send thousands and thousands of angels to assist them. Allah said in (8:9), that He will send thousands of angels, ranks on ranks.

And he did. According to some of the companions who were privileged to have seen the angels, they saw thousands and thousands of men on horses that were so swift in speed, and they were very handsome, and they were all bald.

And so it was in the history of Islam, and it is by no accident, that the first victory of Islam, the Badr, was given to Muslims who were completely unprepared.


Yusuf Ali

Allah made it but a message of hope, and an assurance to your hearts: (in any case) there is no help except from Allah: and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.

(8:10), Allah says that there is no victory or help but that given by Allah.

Victory and Help only comes from Allah alone. Here, it is also meant to show that even when Allah sends thousands and thousands of angels to help the Mukminin, victory will not arrive if not granted by Allah. We must not depend on anyone, even the angels sent to us, for victory. We rely only on Allah.

Note also that when describing how Abu Bakr saw the Prophet prayed and supplicated to Allah, Prof had stated that one has to be very careful when dealing with Allah. One has to be very careful not to be too confident as well, because with Allah lies every hope, every decision. One also chooses his words carefully, so as not to supersede one’s humility to Allah.

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