This Surah is known by two names -- AT-TAUBAH and AL-BARA'AT. It is calledAT-TAUBAH because it enunciates the nature of taubah (repentance) andmentions the conditions of its acceptance.(vv. 102. 118). The secondname BARA' AT (Release) is taken from the first word of the Surah. Why
Omission of Bismillah
This is the only Surah of the Quran to which Bismillah is not prefixed.Though the commentators have given different reasons for this, thecorrect one that which has been given by Imam Razi: namely,this isbecause the Holy Prophet himself did not dictate it at the beginningof the Surah. Therefore the Companions did not prefix it and theirsuccessors followed them., This is a further proof of the fact thatutmost care has been taken to keep the Quran intact so that it shouldremain in its complete and original form.
Discourses and Periods of Revelation
This Surah comprises three discourses:-
The first discourse (vv. 1-37),was revealed in Zil-Qa'adah A. H. 9 or thereabout. As the importanceof the subject of the discourse required its declaration on theoccasion of Haj the Holy Prophet despatched Hadrat Ali to followHadrat Abu Bakr, who had already left for Makkah as leader of thePilgrims to the Ka'abah. He instructed Hadrat Ali to deliver thediscourse before the representatives of the different clans of Arabiaso as to inform them of the new policy towards the mushriks.
Thesecond discourse (vv., 38-72) was sent down in Rajab A. H. 9 or alittle before this, when the Holy Prophet was engaged in makingpreparations for the Campaign, of Tabuk. In this discourse, theBelievers were urged to take active part in Jihad, and the shirkerswere severely rebuked for holding back their wealth and for hesitationto sacrifice their lives in the way of Allah because of theirhypocrisy, weak faith or negligence.
The third discourse (vv. 73-I 29)was revealed on his return from the Campaign of Tabuk. There are somepieces in this discourse that were sent down on different occasionsduring the same period and were afterwards consolidated by the HolyProphet into the Surah in accordance with inspiration from Allah. Butthis caused no interruption in its continuity because they dealt withthe same subject and formed part of the same series of events. Thisdiscourse warns the hypocrites of their evil deeds and rebukes thoseBelievers who had stayed behind in the Campaign of Tabuk. Then aftertaking them to task, Allah pardons those true Believers who had nottaken part in the Jihad in the Way of Allah for one reason or theother.
Chronologically, the first discourse should have come last; butbeing the most important of the three in regard to its subject-matter,it was placed first in the order of compilation.
Now let us consider the historical background of the Surah. The seriesof events that have been discussed in this Surah took place after thePeace Treaty of Hudaibiyah. By that time, one-third of Arabia had comeunder the sway of Islam which had established itself as a powerful,well organized and civilized Islamic State. This Treaty affordedfurther opportunities to Islam to spread its influence in thecomparatively peaceful atmosphere created by it. After this Treaty,two events took place, which led to very important results:
Conquest of Arabia
The first was the Conquest of Arabia. The Holy Prophet was able tosend missions among different clans for the propagation of Islam. Theresult was that during the short period of two years, it became such agreat power that it made the old order of ignorance' feel helplessbefore it. So much so that the zealous elements from among the Quraishwere so exasperated that they broke the Treaty in order to encounterIslam in a decisive combat. But the Holy Prophet took prompt actionafter the breach so as not to allow them any opportunity to gatherenough force for this. He made a sudden invasion on Makkah in themonth of Ramadan in A. H. 8 and conquered it. Though this conquestbroke the backbone of the order of ignorance, it made still anotherattack on Islam in the battle-field of Hunain, which proved to be itsdeath-knell. The clans of Hawazin Thaqif, Naur, Jushm and othersgathered their entire forces in the battle field in order to crush thereformative Revolution, but they utterly failed in their evil designs.The defeat of 'ignorance' at Hunain paved the way for making the wholeof Arabia the 'Abode of Islam' (Dar-ul-Islam). The result was thathardly a year had Passed after the Battle of Hunain, when the majorportion of Arabia came within the fold of Islam and only a fewupholders of the old order remained scattered over some corners of thecountry.
The second event that contributed towards making Islam aformidable power was the Campaign of Tabuk, which was necessitated bythe provocative activities of the Christians living within or near theboundaries of the Roman Empire to the north of Arabia. Accordingly,the Holy Prophet, with an army of thirty thousand marched boldlytowards the Roman Empire but the Romans evaded the encounter. Theresult was that the power of the Holy Prophet and Islam increasedmanifold and deputations from all corners of Arabia began to wait uponhim on his return from Tabuk in order to offer their allegiance toIslam and obedience to him. The Holy Quran has described this triumphin Surah AN-NASR: "When the succour of Allah came and victory wasattained and you saw people entering the fold of Islam in largenumbers...
Campaign to Tabuk
The Campaign to Tabuk was the result of conflict with the Roman Empire,that had started even before the conquest of Makkah. One of themissions sent after the Treaty of Hudaibiyah to different parts ofArabia visited the clans which lived in the northern areas adjacent toSyria. The majority of these people were Christians, who were underthe influence of the Roman Empire. Contrary to all the principles ofthe commonly accepted international law, they killed fifteen membersof the delegation near a place known as Zat-u-Talah (or Zat-i-Itlah).Only Ka'ab bin Umair Ghifari, the head of the delegation, succeeded inescaping and reporting the sad incident. Besides this, Shurahbll binAmr, the Christian governor of Busra, who was directly under the RomanCaesar, had also put to death Haritli bin Umair, the ambassador of theHoly Prophet, who had been sent to him on a similar minion.
Theseevents convinced the Holy Prophet that a strong action should be takenin order to make the territory adjacent to the Roman Empire safe andsecure for the Muslims. Accordingly, in the month of Jamadi-ul-Ula A.H. 8, he sent an army of three thousand towards the Syrian border.When this army reached near Ma'an, the Muslims learnt that Shurahbilwas marching with an army of one hundred thousand to fight-with themand that the Caesar, who himself was at Hims, had sent another armyconsisting of one hundred thousand soldiers under his brother Theodore.But in spite of such fearful news, the brave small band of the Muslimsmarched on fearlessly and encountered the big army of Shurahbil atM'utah. And the result of the encounter in which the Muslims werefighting against fearful odds (the ratio of the two armies was 1:33),as very favorable, for the enemy utterly failed to defeat them. Thisproved very helpful for the propagation of Islam. As a result, thoseArabs who were living in a state of semi. independence in Syria andnear Syria and the clans of Najd near Iraq, who were under theinfluence of the Iranian Empire, turned towards Islam and embraced itin thousands. For example, the people of Bani Sulaim (whose chief wasAbbas bin Mirdas Sulaimi), Ashja'a, Ghatafan, Zubyan, Fazarah, etc.,came into the fold of Islam at the same time. Above all, Farvah bin'Amral Juzami, who was the commander of the Arab armies of the RomanEmpire, embraced Islam during that time, and underwent the trial ofhis Faith in a way that filled the whole territory with wonder. Whenthe Caesar came to know that Farvah had embraced Islam, he orderedthat he should be arrested and brought to his court. Then the Caesarsaid to him, "You will have to choose one of the two things. Eithergive up your Islam and win your liberty and your former rank, orremain a Muslim and face death." He calmly chose Islam and sacrificedhis life in the way of the Truth.
No wonder that such events as thesemade the Caesar realize the nature of the danger that was threateninghis Empire from Arabia. Accordingly, in 9 A. H. he began to makemilitary preparations to avenge the insult he had suffered at M'utah.The Ghassanid and other Arab chiefs also began to muster armies underhim. When the Holy Prophet, who always kept himself well-informed evenof the minutest things that could affect the Islamic Movementfavorably or adversely, came to know of these preparations, he at onceunder- stood their meaning. Therefore, without the least hesitation hedecided to fight against the great power of the Caesar. He knew thatthe show of the slightest weakness would result in the utter failureof the Movement which was facing three great dangers at that time.First the dying power of 'ignorance' that had almost been crushed inthe battle-field of Hunain might revive again. Secondly, theHypocrites of Al: Madinah, who were always on the look-out for such anopportunity, might make full use of this to do the greatest possibleharm to it. For they had already made preparations for this and had,through a monk called Abu Amir, sent secret messages of their evildesigns to the Christian king of Ghassan and the Caesar himself.Besides this, they had also built a mosque near Al-Madinah for holdingsecret meetings for this purpose. The third danger was of an attack bythe Caesar himself, who had already defeated Iran, the other greatpower of that period, and filled with awe the adjacent territories.
Itis obvious that if all these three elements had been given anopportunity of taking a concerted action against the Muslims, Islamwould have lost the fight it had almost won. That is why in this casethe Holy Prophet made an open declaration for making preparations forthe Campaign against the Roman Empire, which was one of the twogreatest empires of the world of that period. The declaration was madethough all the apparent circumstances were against such a decision:for there was famine in the country and the long awaited crops wereabout to ripen: the burning heat of the scorching summer season ofArabia was at, its height and there was not enough money forpreparations in general, and for equipment and conveyance inparticular. But in spite of these handicaps, when the Messenger ofAllah realized the urgency of the occasion, he took this step whichwas to decide whether the Mission of the Truth was - - going tosurvive or perish. The very fact that he made an open declaration formaking preparations for such a campaign to Syria against the RomanEmpire showed how important it was, for this was contrary to hisprevious practice. Usually he took every precaution not to revealbeforehand the direction to which he was going nor the name of theenemy whom he was going to attack; nay, he did not move out of Al-Madinah even in the direction of the campaign.
All the parties inArabia fully realized the grave consequences of this critical decision.The remnants of the lovers of the old order of 'ignorance' wereanxiously waiting for the result of the Campaign, for they had pinnedall their hopes on the defeat of Islam by the Romans. The 'hypocrites'also considered it to be their last chance of crushing the power ofIslam by internal rebellion, if the Muslims suffered a defeat in Syria.They had, therefore, made full use of the Mosque built by them forhatching plots and had employed all their devices to render theCampaign a failure. On the other side, the true Believers alsorealized fully that the fate of the Movement for which they had beenexerting their utmost for the last 22 years was now hanging in thebalance. If they showed courage on that critical occasion, the doorsof the whole outer world would be thrown open for the Movement tospread. But if they showed weakness or cowardice, then all the workthey had done in Arabia would -end in smoke.
That is why these loversof Islam began to make enthusiastic preparations for the Campaign.Everyone of them tried to surpass the other in making contributionsfor the provision of equipment for it. Hadrat Uthman and Hadrat AbdurRehman bin Auf presented large sums of money for this purpose. HadratUmar contributed half of the earnings of his life and Hadrat Abu Bakrthe entire earnings of his life. The indigent Companions did not lagbehind and presented whatever they could earn by the sweat of theirlabor and the women parted with their ornaments. Thousands ofvolunteers, who were filled with the desire of sacrificing their livesfor Islam, came to the Holy Prophet and requested that arrangementsfor weapons and conveyance be made for them so that they should jointhe expedition. Those who could not be provided with these shed tearsof sorrow; the scene was so pathetic that it made the Holy Prophet sadbecause of his inability to arm them. In short, the occasion becamethe touchstone for discriminating a true believer from a hypocrite.For, to lag behind in the Campaign meant that the very relationship ofa person to Islam was doubtful. Accordingly, whenever a person laggedbehind during the journey to Tabuk, the Holy Prophet, on beinginformed, would spontaneously say, "Leave him alone. If there be anygood in him, Allah will again join him with you, and if there be nogood in him, then thank Allah that He relieved you of his evilcompany".
In short, the Holy Prophet marched out towards Syria inRajab A. H. 9, with thirty thousand fighters for the cause of Islam.The conditions in which the expedition was undertaken may be judgedfrom the fact that the number of camels with them was so small thatmany of them were obliged to walk on foot and to wait for their turnsfor several had to ride at a time on each camel. To add to this, therewas the burning heat of the desert and the acute shortage of water.But they were richly rewarded for their firm resolve and sincereadherence to the cause and for their perseverance in the face of thosegreat difficulties and obstacles.
When they arrived at Tabuk, theylearnt that the Caesar and his allies had withdrawn their troops fromthe frontier and there was no enemy to fight with. Thus they won amoral victory that increased their prestige manifold and, that too,without shedding a drop of blood.
In this connection, it is pertinentto point out that the general impression given by the historians ofthe campaigns of the Holy Prophet about the Campaign of Tabuk is notcorrect. They relate the event in a way as if the news of themustering of the Roman armies near the Arabian frontier was itselffalse. The fact is that the Caesar had begun to muster his armies, butthe Holy Prophet forestalled him and arrived on the scene before hecould make full preparations for the invasion. Therefore, believingthat "discretion is the better part of valor," he withdrew his armiesfrom the frontier. For he had not forgotten that the three thousandfighters for the cause of Islam had rendered helpless his army onehundred thousand strong at M'utah. He could not, therefore, even withan army of two hundred thousand, dare to fight against an army ofthirty thousand, and that, too, under the leadership of the HolyProphet himself.
When the Holy Prophet found that the Caesar hadwithdrawn his forces from the frontier, he considered thee questionwhether it would be worthwhile to march into the Syrian territory orto halt at Tabuk and turn his moral victory to political andstrategical advantage. He decided on the latter course and made a haltfor twenty days at Tabuk. During this time, he brought pressure on thesmall states that lay between the Roman Empire and the Islamic Stateand were at that time under the influence of the Romans, and subduedand made them the tributaries of the Islamic State. For instance, someChristian chiefs Ukaidir bin Abdul Malik Kindi of Dumatul Jaiidal,Yuhanna bin D'obah of Allah, and the chiefs of Maqna, Jarba' and Azruhalso submitted and agreed to pay Jizyah to the Islamic State of Al-Madinah. As a result of this, the boundaries of the Islamic State wereextended right up to the Roman Empire, and the majority of the Arabclans, who were being used by the Caesar against Arabia, became theallies of the Muslims against the Romans.
Above all, this moralvictory of Tabuk afforded a golden opportunity to the Muslims tostrengthen their hold on Arabia before entering into a long conflictwith the Romans. For it broke the back of those who had still beenexpecting that the old order of 'ignorance' might revive in the nearfuture, whether they were the open upholders of shirk or thehypocrites who were hiding their shirk under the garb of Islam. Themajority of such people were compelled by the force of circumstancesto enter into the fold of Islam and, at least, make it possible fortheir descendants to become true Muslims. After this a mere impotentminority of the upholders of the old order was left in the field, butit could not stand in the way of the Islamic Revolution for theperfection of which Allah had sent His Messenger.
Problems of the Period
If we keep in view the preceding background, we can easily find outthe problems that were confronting the Community at that time. Theywere:
- to make the whole of Arabia a perfect Dar-ul-Islam,
- toextend the influence of Islam to the adjoining countries,
- to crushthe mischiefs of the hypocrites, and
- to prepare the Muslims forJihad against the non- Muslim world.
- Now that the administration ofthe whole of Arabia had come in the hands of the Believers, and allthe opposing powers had become helpless, it was necessary to make aclear declaration of that policy which was to be adopted to make her aperfect Dar-ul-Islam. Therefore the following measures were adopted:
- Aclear declaration was made that all the treaties with the mushrikswere abolished and the Muslims would be released from the treatyobligations with them after a respite of four months.(vv. 1-3). Thisdeclaration was necessary for uprooting completely the system of lifebased on shirk and to make Arabia exclusively the center of Islam sothat it should not in any way interfere with the spirit of Islam norbecome an internal danger for it.
- A decree was issued that theguardianship of the Ka`abah, which held central position in all theaffairs of Arabia, should be wrested from the mushriks and placedpermanently in the hands of the Believers, (vv. 12-18) that all thecustoms and practices of the shirk of the era of 'ignorance' should beforcibly abolished: that the mushriks should not be allowed even tocome near the "House" (v. 28). This was to eradicate every trace ofshirk from the "House" that was dedicated exclusively to the worshipof Allah.
- The evil practice of Nasi, by which they used to tamper withthe sacred months in the days of 'ignorance', was forbidden as an actof kufr(v. 37). This was also to serve as an example to the Muslimsfor eradicating every vestige of the customs of ignorance from thelife of Arabia (and afterwards from the lives of the Muslimseverywhere).
- In order to enable the Muslims to extend the influence ofIslam outside Arabia, they were enjoined to crush with sword the non-Muslim powers and to force them to accept the sovereignty of theIslamic State. As the great Roman and Iranian Empires were the biggesthindrances in the way, a conflict with them was inevitable. The objectof Jihad was not to coerce them to accept Islam they were free toaccept or not to accept it-but to prevent them from thrusting forciblytheir deviations upon others and the coming generations. The Muslimswere enjoined to tolerate their misguidance only to the extent thatthey might have the freedom to remain misguided, if they chose to beso, provided that they paid Jizyah (v. 29) as a sign of theirsubjugation to the Islamic State.
- The third important problem was tocrush the mischiefs of the hypocrites, who had hitherto been toleratedin spite of their flagrant crimes. Now that there was practically nopressure upon them from outside, the Muslims were enjoined to treatthem openly as disbelievers (v. 73). Accordingly, the Holy Prophet seton fire the house of Swailim, where the hypocrites used to gather forconsultations in order to dissuade the people from joining theexpedition to Tabuk. Likewise on his return from Tabuk, he ordered topull down and burn the 'Mosque' that had been built to serve as acover for the hypocrites for hatching plots against the true Believers.
- In order to prepare the Muslims for Jihad against the whole non-Muslimworld, it was necessary to cure them even of that slight weakness offaith from which they were still suffering. For there could be nogreater internal danger to the Islamic Community than the weakness offaith, especially where it was going to engage itself single-handed ina' conflict with the whole non-Muslim world. That is why those peoplewho had lagged behind in the Campaign to Tabuk or had shown the leastnegligence were severely taken to task, and were considered ashypocrites if they had no plausible excuse for not fulfilling thatobligation. Moreover, a clear declaration was made that in future thesole criterion of a Muslim's faith shall be the exertions he makes forthe uplift of the Word of Allah and the role he plays in the conflictbetween Islam and kufr. Therefore, if anyone will show any hesitationin sacrificing his life, money, time and energies, his faith shall notbe regarded as genuine. (vv. 81-96).
If the above-mentioned importantpoints are kept in view during the study of this Surah, it willfacilitate the understanding of its contents.
Subject: Problems of Peace and War
In continuation of Surah AL-ANFAL, this Surah also deals with the problems of peace and war and bases the theme on the Tabuk Expedition.
Topics and their Interconnection
This portion deals with the sanctity of treaties and lays down principles, rules and regulations which must be kept in view before breaking them, in case the other party does not observe them sincerely. 1 - 12
In this portion the Muslims have been urged to fight in the Way of Allah with the mushrik Arabs, the Jews and the Christians, who were duly warned of the consequences of their mischievous and inimical behaviour. 13 - 37
In this discourse, the Muslims have been told clearly and explicitly that they will inherit the rewards promised by Allah only if they take active part in the conflict with kufr, for that is the criterion which distinguishes true Muslims from hypocrites. Therefore true Muslims should take active part in Jihad, without minding dangers, obstacles, difficulties, temptations and the like. 38 - 72
This portion deals with the problems of hypocrites and lays down rules and regulations governing the treatment that should be meted out to them and points out their distinctive marks from true Muslims. 73 - 90
This portion deals with the case of those who remained behind and did not accompany the Holy Prophet for Jihad to Tabuk. For this purpose they have been separated in different categories, that is, the disabled, the sick, the indigent, the hypocrites, the believers who realized their guilt and punished themselves before the return of the Holy Prophet from Tabuk and those who confessed their error. Their cases have been dealt with in accordance with the nature and extent of their offence. 91 - 110
In order to make their noble qualities look all the more conspicuous and dignified by contrast, the characteristics of the Believers have been mentioned, and they have been reassured that Allah, the Sovereign of the Universe, is their helper and guardian. Accordingly, because of their sincerity, He has forgiven the Three Believers who did not take part in the expedition. 111 - 118
In the concluding portion, general instructions have been given to the Believers for their guidance. 119 - 127
This is the conclusion: "Follow the Messenger who is gentle and compassionate and your greatest well-wisher, and trust in Allah, the Lord of the Universe". 128 - 129