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February 12th, 2012

Issue 43

Issue 43 [43:04]: Slide projected with voice – The Noble Koran 8:67. It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war (and free them with ransom) until he had made a great slaughter (among his enemies) in the land. You desire the good of this world (i.e. the money of ransom for freeing the captive), but Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter. And Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.

Comment 43: The documentary under review cleverly interjects a scary sounding translation of verse 8:67 with the intention to leave the word “slaughter” and pillage associated with Prophet Muhammad. Firstly, this verse has nothing to do with slaughter, it only draws attention of Muslims that they cannot take captives of peaceful civilians and non-combatants. Secondly, captives can only and only be taken after a defensive war. There is a historical connotation to the said verse, but if taken in full context, the message of Quran has everlasting moral fairness to it.

The above verse refers to moral principles that came out of the practical example of battle of Badr. Before we read the above verse lets take a look at the introductory note and the verses of Chapter 8 titled Al-Anfal by Muhammad Ali in his translation and commentary of Quran (edited by Zahid Aziz):

Al-Anfal – Voluntary Gifts [Chapter 8]

This chapter deals with the battle of Badr, the first battle which the Muslims had to fight, and it goes under the name of Anfal, literally voluntary gifts, because the Muslim State had at the time no treasury, nor any arsenal, nor an army and voluntary gifts were therefore called for. It was not only this battle but all the succeeding battles which Muslims had to fight were carried on only by voluntary gifts. Success in this battle, against all odds, provided proof of the truth of the Holy Prophet’s mission and thus this chapter occurs after a discussion of prophethood in the last chapter. Most of this chapter was revealed in 2 A.H. [including Section 10 to which the above verse belongs], while the concluding verses of sections 7 and 8 were revealed around the time of the conquest of Makkah in 8 A.H.

The above verse can be fully contextualized if whole of Chapter 8 is read, which is a quick read as the chapter is only 75 sentences (verses) long. For brevity sake, but without doing full justice, the following excerpted verses give the historical background and moral principles of the verse in reference above:

8:5. Even as your Lord caused you to go forth from your house with truth, though some of the believers were surely averse,

[Commentary] The circumstances of the battle of Badr have been misunderstood. It is alleged that the Holy Prophet had made preparations for attacking an unarmed caravan of the Quraish on its way back from Syria to Makkah, when Abu Sufyan, the caravan leader, sent word to Makkah and obtained an escort of nearly a thousand men. If the Holy Prophet had desired to plunder the caravan when it approached Madinah, he would have done so long before Abu Sufyan could obtain assistance from Makkah, as Madinah was thirteen days’ journey from Makkah. Badr lies at a distance of three days’ journey from Madinah. The enemy had marched forth for ten days and the Muslims only for three days when the two forces encountered each other at Badr, which shows clearly that the Muslims had turned out to take the defensive against an invading force. It is clearly stated here that some of the believers were averse to fighting. They could not have been averse if they had to encounter only an unarmed caravan. It is said in the next verse that they went forth as if they were being driven to death.They knew that they were going to meet an enemy treble in numbers and much more powerful and efficient.

8:6. disputing with you about the truth after it had become clear — as if they were being driven to death while they saw (it).

8:7. And when Allah promised you one of the two parties that it should be yours, and you loved that the one not armed [-the caravan of Abu Sufyan] should be yours,

[Commentary] The two parties referred to were the unarmed caravan of the Quraish going to Makkah and the armed force of the Quraish that was on its way to Madinah. Naturally, some of the Muslims desired that their encounter should take place with the unarmed Quraish caravan.

and Allah desired to establish the Truth by His words,

[Commentary] By His words is meant here the fulfilment of His words, because the Holy Prophet had declared at Makkah long before that an encounter would take place between the Muslims and the Quraish, in which the former would be victorious. The Holy Prophet himself repeated one of these prophecies aloud in the field when he prayed on the day of Badr: “Soon shall the armies be routed, and they will show their backs” (54:45).

and to cut off the root of the disbelievers —

8:8. that He might cause the Truth to triumph and bring falsehood to failure, though the guilty disliked.

The following verses from the same chapter outline the moral principles governing the Muslim conduct in the battles that were thrust upon the them in Medina:

8:38. Say to those who disbelieve, if they [-the enemies of Islam] cease (fighting), what is past will be forgiven them; and if they return (to it), then the example of those of old has already gone.

[Commentary] They [i.e. the Makkans] had gone away from Badr quite discomfited, and they were told that, if they ceased fighting, they would be forgiven. Otherwise, they could read their own doom in the doom of those with whom Allah had dealt previously in similar circumstances.

8:39. And fight with them until there is no more persecution, and all religions are for Allah. But if they cease, then surely Allah is Seer of what they do.

[Commentary] That is, if they cease fighting and put an end to their mischief, God’s decree of punishment will not be executed. The state of religious liberty which Islam aimed at is put tersely in the two opening statements — there is no more persecution and all religions are for Allah, everyone being at liberty to hold any belief he likes.

8:40. And if they turn back, then know that Allah is your Patron. Most excellent the Patron and most excellent the Helper!

The actual layout and outcome of battle of Badr is thus outlined:

8:42. When you were on the nearer side (of the valley) and they were on the farther side, while the caravan was in a lower place than you.

[Commentary] The Muslims were on the side nearer to Madinah, the main army of the Quraish [i.e. Makkan invaders] was on the side which was farther from Madinah, while the caravan [of Abu Sufyan of Makkah] was in a lower place, i.e. towards the sea-coast, and farther away from Madinah, on its way to Makkah.

And if you had tried to make a mutual appointment, you would certainly have broken away from the appointment,

[Commentary] There is a break here, the meaning being but an encounter was brought about without an appointment. The Muslims were so weak that they could not think of making an appointment with the enemy — they would have broken away from the appointment.

but — in order that Allah might bring about a matter which had to be done;

[Commentary] The matter referred to is the defeat of the opponents of Islam.

that he who perished by clear argument might perish, and he who lived by clear argument might live.

[Commentary] The disbelievers had seen clear arguments of the Holy Prophet’s truth, yet they rejected him and had thus perished in a spiritual sense; they were now vanquished in the battle and thus perished temporally.

And surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing:

The battle order for Muslims is thus:

8:45. O you who believe, when you meet an army, be firm, and remember Allah much, that you may be successful.

8:46. And obey Allah and His Messenger and do not dispute with one another so that you get weak-hearted and your power departs; and be steadfast. Surely Allah is with the steadfast.

The state of mind of invaders i.e. Makkans is spoken of as:

8:47. And do not be like those who came forth from their homes exultingly and to be seen by people, and they hinder (people) from the way of Allah.

[Commentary] This clearly refers to the army of the Quraish which had marched forth in great exultation to destroy Madinah.

And Allah encompasses what they do.

8:48. And when the devil made their works seem good to them, and said: No man can overcome you this day, and I am your protector. But when the two armies came in sight of one another, he turned upon his heels, and said: Surely I am clear of you, I see what you do not see; surely I fear Allah.

[Commentary] The person referred to here as the devil is said to have been Suraqa ibn Malik who gave the Quraish promise of help. However, what is stated here may only be the devil’s suggestion to the Quraish leaders.

And Allah is Severe in retribution.

In the state of war Quran gives guidelines for Muslims to handle the treacheries by the offenders:

8:55. Surely the vilest of beasts in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve, then they would not believe —

8:56. those with whom you make an agreement, then they break their agreement every time, and they do not keep their duty.

[Commentary] It shows how the opponents of Islam disregarded their responsibility and violated their agreements. The use of the words every time shows clearly that the Muslims never hesitated in making a new agreement when one was violated, but the disbelievers did not even then respect their agreements; hence, as a last resort, Muslims were allowed to repudiate unrespected agreements (v. 58).

8:57. So if you overtake them in war, scatter by them those who are behind them, that they may be mindful.

[Commentary] That is, an exemplary punishment should be inflicted on them, so that a stop might be put to further fighting and bloodshed.

8:58. And if you fear treachery on the part of a people, throw back to them (their treaty) on terms of equality. Surely Allah does not love the treacherous.

[Commentary] If the other party does not remain faithful to the agreement of peace, Muslims may also repudiate it. The word fear does not indicate that a mere apprehension, unsupported by any action on the other side’s part, is sufficient for repudiation. Read it along with v. 62, and the meaning is clear.

Since offensive war is not part of Islamic doctrine, Quran gives guidelines to prevent a war by securing peace. Of note is that no where in Quran there is preventive war, which is frequent in recent world history. Preventive war is distinct from preemptive strike in a state of war:

8:59. And those who disbelieve should not think that they can outstrip (Us). Surely they cannot escape.

8:60. And make ready for them whatever force you can and horses tied at the frontier, to frighten thereby the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them, whom you do not know — Allah knows them.

[Commentary] Muslims had won a victory at Badr, though they were not even well equipped and had made no preparation for the war. But they are told that they must in future keep themselves well prepared and avail themselves of all sources of strength, so that the enemy should by their very preparedness assume a peaceful attitude. It was evident that the weakness of the Muslims was a temptation for their opponents to attack them.

And whatever you spend in Allah’s way, it will be paid back to you fully and you will not be wronged.

In Islamic doctrine, peace is to be preferred over war. War may be undertaken, but only in self-defense as the last resort:

8:61. And if they incline to peace, you (must) incline to it also, and trust in Allah. Surely He is the Hearer, the Knower.

8:62. And if they intend to deceive you, then surely Allah is sufficient for you.

[Commentary] The deceit is in relation to what has been said in the previous verse, the meaning being that if they intend to deceive you under the cloak of peace, even in such a case peace is to be accepted.

He it is Who strengthened you with His help and with the believers,

Once due diligence is done by remaining united, steadfast and firm, securing peace, avoiding war, respecting the treaties, Muslims are assured Divine help in any aggression against them:

8:63. and He has united their hearts [of Muslims]. If you had spent all that is in the earth, you could not have united their hearts, but Allah united them. Surely He is Mighty, Wise.

8:64. O Prophet, Allah is sufficient for you and those who follow you from the believers.

8:65. O Prophet, urge the believers to fight [in self-defense as a last resort, after all the above conditions for peace and avoiding a fight have been met].

[Commentary] It should be noted that the war to which Muslims were to be urged was the defensive war which they had to fight to save themselves and to protect the religion of Islam. The sword had been taken up against them; see 2:190, 2:217,22:39, etc.

If there are of you twenty steadfast, they shall overcome two hundred; and if there are of you a hundred, they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they are a people who do not understand.

[Commentary] There is a clear prophecy here that, despite their fewer numbers, Muslims shall be victorious. After the battle of Badr came the battle of Uhud, in which Muslims were less than 1 to 4 against the enemy; this was followed by the battle of the Ahzab [a.k.a. Battle of Trench], in which they were 1 to 10, yet the enemy was routed.

8:66. Now Allah has lightened your burden and He knows that there is weakness in you. So if there are of you a hundred steadfast, they shall overcome two hundred; and if there are of you a thousand, they shall overcome two thousand by Allah’s permission. And Allah is with the steadfast.

[Commentary] The statements in verses 65 and 66 relate to two different states of the Muslims. At the time of the battle of Badr there was no Muslim army in existence. They had very few arms, and they had never been trained. This is referred to in the words: He knows that there is weakness in you [both of men and material]. So the Muslim forces as then constituted could at most be a match for double their numbers. But a time did come when they were a match for ten times their numbers. So both the statements in the Quran proved true.

With the above ground rules and background of wars in general and Badr in particular, now lets read the verse which is topic of the current Issue:

8:67. It is not fit for a prophet to take captives unless he has fought [in defensive battles] and triumphed in the land. [If you take captives [other than a defensive] warfare,*]You desire the frail goods of this world, while Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter.

[Commentary] The commentators are of opinion that this verse and the next refer to releasing the prisoners of war taken at Badr after taking ransom from them, which act, it is said, is here disapproved. But various considerations show that these verses refer to some other incidents. The reference is to the desire — not to an action already completed — of a party of the Muslims referred to in v. 7, and you loved that the one not armed should be yours. Some Muslims desired to attack and capture the unarmed caravan, but depredations like these, though committed by disbelievers upon Muslims, were not fit for a prophet. He must fight a hard fight in his defence first and then, if he overcomes the enemy, he may take prisoners. Thus this injunction also declares slavery to be illegal, and allows only the retaining of those who are taken prisoners in war. The frail goods of this world appropriately refer to the caravan and its merchandise, while the addition of the concluding words in v. 69, eat then of the lawful and good things which you have acquired in war, shows that the ransom received on account of the prisoners is among the lawful and good things.

And Allah is Mighty, Wise.

8:68. If an ordinance from Allah had not gone before,

[Commentary] That ordinance from Allah was to bring about an encounter with the main army of the Quraish at Badr. It is referred to in v. 7 and v. 42.

surely a great punishment would have befallen you for what you were going to do [by attacking the caravan of Quraish from Syria*].

8:69. Eat then of the lawful and good (things) which you have acquired in war, and keep your duty to Allah. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

As for the prisoners of war, Quran states the following:

8:70. O Prophet, say to those of the captives who are in your hands [i.e. Prisoners of War]: If Allah knows anything good in your hearts, He will give you better than what has been taken from you, and will forgive you. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful [i.e. if Allah is forgiving and merciful, so too a Muslim captor has to be towards the captive, examples of which abound in Prophet Muhammad’s example].

8:71. And if they [i.e. the POWs] intend to be treacherous to you, so indeed they have been treacherous to Allah before, but He gave (you) mastery over them. And Allah is Knowing, Wise.

History is witness that whenever Muslims were faced with aggression and they followed the principles of defensive war as outlined above, they triumphed over the super-powers of their times. As a case in point, Muhammad over came the Makkans and his successors over came the Roman and Persian Empires. Ultimately, it is the Quran that came out true for its moral laws.


[comments in square brackets above are not part of the original quoted text]
[comments in square brackets with asterisk * above are inserted from Holy Quran translation by Nooruddin]


The Holy Quran – Muhammad Ali, edited by Dr. Zahid Aziz

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