This Surah was revealed in Dhil-Q'adah, A. H. 6, when the Prophet was on his way to Madinah after concluding the Treaty of Hudeybiyah with the disbelievers of Makkah.
- Allah granted the Muslims a manifest victory through the treaty of Hudeybiyah.
- Swearing allegiance to the Prophet was considered swearing allegiance to Allah and Allah was well pleased for their actions.
- Those who do not participate in a war between Islam and Kufr are condemned by Allah.
- Only the blind, lame and sick are exempt from war between Islam and Kufr.
- A vision to conquer Makkah was shown to the Prophet.
- Characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers.
This Surah should be read keeping in mind the following historical background. In A.H. 6, the Prophet saw a dream that he went to Makkah with his Companions and had performed Umrah. Obviously, the Prophet's dream could not be a mere dream and fiction for it is a kind of Divine inspiration as Allah Himself has confirmed in verse 27. Where He said that He Himself had shown that dream to His Rasool. It was not merely a dream but a Divine inspiration which the Prophet had to obey and follow. Therefore, the Prophet informed his Companions of his dream and began to make preparations for the journey. Among the tribes living in the suburbs he had the public announcement made that he was proceeding for Umrah and the people could join him. About 1,400 of the Companions joined him on this highly dangerous journey.
They set off from Madinah in the beginning of Dhil Q'adah, A. H. 6. At Dhul Hulaifah they put on pilgrims robes with the intention of performing Umrah, took 70 camels with collars round their necks indicating that they were sacrificial animals; and kept only a sword each in sheaths, which the pilgrims to the Ka'bah were allowed to carry according to the recognized custom of Arabia. They carried no other weapons. Thus, the caravan set out for the Ka'bah, the House of Allah, in Makkah, chanting the prescribed slogan of "Labbaik, Allahumma labbaik."
The Holy Prophet despatched a man of the Bani Ka'b as a secret agent so that he may keep him informed of the intentions and movements of the Qureysh. When the Prophet reached Usfan, he brought the news that the Qureysh had reached Dhi Tuwa with full preparations and they had sent Khalid bin Walid with two hundred cavalry towards Kura'al-Ghamim to intercept him. The Qureysh wanted somehow to provoke the Prophet's companions to fight so that they could tell the Arabs that the Muslims had actually come to fight and had put on the pilgrim garments only to deceive others. Upon receiving this information, the Prophet immediately changed his route and following a very rugged, rocky track, reached Hudeybiyah, which was situated right on the boundary of the sacred Makkan territory. Here, he was visited by Budail bin Warqa, the chief of the Bani Khuza'ah along with some men of his tribe. They asked what he had come for. The Prophet replied that he and his companions had come only for pilgrimage to the House of Allah. The men of Khuza'ah went and told this to the Qureysh chiefs and counselled them not to interfere with the pilgrims.
The Qureysh sent Urwah bin Mas'ud Thaqafi who held lengthy negotiations with the Prophet and persuaded him to give up his intention to enter Makkah. But the Prophet gave him the same reply that he had given to the chief of the Khuza'ah. Urwah went back and said to the Qureysh: "I have been to the courts of the Caesar, the Khosroes and the Negus but, by God, never have I seen any people so devoted to a king as are the companions of Muhammad. If Muhammad makes his ablutions they would not let the water fall thereof on the ground but would rub it on their bodies and clothes. Now you may decide as to what you should do."
The Prophet sent Sayyiduna Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) as his envoy to Makkah with the message that they had come only for pilgrimage and had brought their sacrificial camels along, and that they would go back after performing the rite of pilgrimage and offering sacrifice. But the Qureysh did not agree and withheld Sayyiduna Uthman in the city. In the meantime a rumor spread that Sayyiduna Uthman had been killed. Since he did not return in time, the Muslims took the rumor to be true. Now they could show no more forbearance because their ambassador was put to death. The Muslims had no alternative but to prepare for war. Therefore, the Prophet summoned all his companions and took a solemn pledge from them that they would fight to death. It was not an ordinary undertaking. The Muslims were only 1400 and had come without any weapons. They were camping at the boundary of Makkah, which was 250 miles away from their own city. The enemy could attack them in full strength and could surround them with its allies from the adjoining tribes as well. In spite of this, none from the caravan except, one man, failed to give his pledge to fight to death, and there could be no greater proof of their dedication and sincerity to the cause of Allah. This pledge is well known in the history of Islam and is called the Bait-e-Ridwan.
Later on they came to know that the news about Sayyiduna Uthman was false. He return with a deputation under the leadership of Suhail bin 'Amr from the Qureysh to negotiate peace with the Prophet. The Qureysh insisted no more in disallowing the Prophet and his companions to enter Makkah. However, in order to save face, they insisted only that they should return that year and come back the following year to perform Umrah. After lengthy negotiations, peace was concluded on the following terms:
- War would be suspended for ten years, and no party would engage in any hostility, open or secret, against the other.
- If anyone during that period from among the Qureysh defected to Muhammad's camp, without his guardian's permission, he would be returned back to Makkah. But, if a companion of Muhammad were to defect to the Qureysh, there will be no requirement for his return.
- Every Arab tribe would have the option to join either side as its ally and enter the treaty.
- Muhammad and his men would go back that year and could come the following year for Umrah and stay in Makkah for three days, provided that they brought only one sheathed sword each, and no other weapon of war. In those three days, the Makkans would vacate the city for them (so that there was no chance of conflict), but they would not be allowed to take along any Makkan on return.
The disbelieving Qureysh looked at this treaty as a victory and the Muslims were upset considering this as a humiliation in accepting these conditions. When the document was finished, the Prophet asked his companions to slaughter their sacrificial animals at that very place, shave their heads and put off the pilgrim garments, but no one moved. The Prophet repeated the order thrice but the companions were so much in shock, depression and dejection that they did not comply. During his entire period of Risalat (Prophethood) on no occasion had it ever happened that he (Prophet Muhammad) command his companions to do something and they did not hasten to comply. This caused him a great shock. Returning to his tent he expressed his grief to his wife, Sayyidah Umme Salamah. She said, "You shall quietly go and slaughter your own camel and call the barber to have your head shaved. After that, the people will automatically do what you did and will understand that whatever decision you have taken will not be changed." That is what precisely happened. The people slaughtered their animals, shaved their heads or cut their hair short and put off the pilgrim garb. Nevertheless their hearts were still afflicted with grief.
Later, when this caravan was returning to Madinah, this Surah was revealed, telling the Muslims that the treaty that they were regarding as their defeat was in fact a great victory. The Holy Prophet summoned the Muslims together and said: "Today such a thing has been sent down to me which is more valuable to me than the world and what it contains." Then recited this Surah. The believers became satisfied when they heard this Divine Revelation. The advantages of this treaty began to appear one after the other which proved that this peace treaty indeed was a great victory. Salient features of this treaty were as follows:
- This treaty acknowledged the existence of the Islamic State in Arabia. Prior to this, the Arabs considered the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his Companions as rebels and outlaws. By concluding this agreement, the Qureysh themselves recognized the Prophet's sovereignty over the territories of the Islamic State and opened the way for the Arab tribes to enter into treaties of alliance with either one of the powers.
- The Qureysh acknowledged the Muslim's right of pilgrimage to the House of Allah. They admitted that Islam was not an antireligious creed, and like the other Arabs, its followers also had the right to perform the rites of Hajj and Umrah. This diminished the hatred in the Arab's hearts caused by the propaganda made by the Qureysh against Islam and its followers.
- The no-war pact for ten years provided full peace to the Muslims, and they were able to preach Islam in such a way that within two years after Hudeybiyah, the number of the people who embraced Islam far exceeded those of the past 19 years. It was due to this treaty that two years later, when in consequence of the Qureysh's violating the treaty, the Prophet invaded Makkah. He was accompanied by an army 10,000 strong, whereas on the occasion of Hudeybiyah, only 1,400 men had joined him in the march.
- The suspension of hostilities provided the Prophet an opportunity to establish and strengthen Islamic rule and turn the Islamic society into a full-fledged civilization and way of life through practicing the Islamic law. This is that great blessing about which Allah says in verse 3 of Surah Al-Ma'idah: "Today I have perfected your Religion for you and completed My blessing on you and approved Islam as the Way of Life for you."
- The balance of power in Arabia changed within two years after this treaty was signed and the strength of the Qureysh and other pagan tribes diminished and the domination of Islam became certain. One provision of this treaty which had disturbed the Muslims most was the condition about the fugitives from Makkah and Madinah, that the former would be returned and the latter would not be returned. But not much longer afterwards this condition also proved to be disadvantageous for the Qureysh. The experience revealed what far-reaching consequences the Prophet had foreseen and why he accepted it. A few days after the treaty a Muslim of Makkah, Abu Basir, escaped from the Qureysh and reached Madinah. The Qureysh demanded him back and the Prophet returned him to their men who had been sent from Makkah to arrest him. But while on the way to Makkah, he again fled and sat on the road by the Red Sea shore, which the trade caravans of the Qureysh took to Syria. After that, every Muslim who succeeded in escaping from the Qureysh would go and join Abu Basir instead of going to Madinah, until 70 men gathered there. They would attack any Qureysh caravan that passed that way cutting it to pieces. At last, the Qureysh themselves begged the Prophet to call those men to Madinah, and the condition relating to the return of the fugitives itself became null and void.
- Being assured of peace from the south, the Muslims overpowered all the opposing forces in the north and central Arabia easily. Just three months after Hudeybiyah, Khayber, the major stronghold of the Jews, was conquered and after it the Jewish settlements of Fadak, Wad-il-Qura, Taima and Tabuk also fell to the Muslims one after the other. Then, all other tribes of central Arabia which were bound in alliance with the Jews and Qureysh, came under the sway of Islam.