This Surah was revealed after the battle of Bani An-Nadhir. All traditions agree that this battle took place after the incident of Bi'r Ma'unah, and historically it is also well known that the incident of Bi'r Ma'unah occurred after the Battle of Uhud.
- The Jewish tribe of Banu Al-Nadhir is given the order of exile for their mutiny against the Islamic State.
- Distribution of the belongings of Banu Al-Nadhir.
- Historical background of the Jews (See commentary in following pages).
- Good qualities of true immigrants and good qualities of true Ansar (the residents of Madinah).
- Hypocrites conspiracy with the people of the Book (Jews).
- The parable of a Shaitan vs. a disbeliever.
- Let each soul see what it is sending for the Hereafter.
- If the Qur'an was sent down upon a mountain it would have crumbled into pieces from the fear of Allah's disobedience.
- Fifteen attributes of Allah in three verses: the God, the Knower of the Seen and the Unseen, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the King, the Holy, the Giver of peace, the Grantor of security, the Guardian,, the Almighty, the Irresistible, the Supreme, the Creator, the Evolver and the Modeler.
The theme of this Surah is an appraisal of the battle against the Bani An-Nadhir which can be summarized as follows:
- There is an admonition to take heed of the fate that had just befallen the Bani an-Nadhir. A major tribe which was as strong in numbers as the Muslims, whose people boasted of far more wealth and possessions, who were by no means ill equipped militarily and whose forts were well fortified but could not stand siege even for a few days. They expressed their readiness to accept banishment from their centuries old, well established settlement even though not a single man from among them was killed. Allah says that this happened not because of any power possessed by the Muslims but because the Jews had tried to resist and fight Allah and His Messenger. Those who dare to resist the power of Allah always meet with the same fate.
- An exception to the law relating to war is enunciated: "The destruction caused in the enemy territory for military purposes does not come under spreading mischief in the earth."
- Guidance is provided as to how the lands and properties which came under the control of the Islamic State as a result of war or peace terms, are to be managed. It was the first ever occasion that the Muslims took control of a conquered territory, the law concerning it was laid down for their guidance.
- The attitude of the hypocrites on the occasion of this battle is reviewed and the causes underlying it are pointed out.
- The last section is an admonition for all those people who had professed to have affirmed the faith and joined the Muslim community, but were devoid of the true spirit of the Faith. In it they have been told what the real demand of the Faith is, what the real difference between piety and wickedness is, what the place and importance of the Qur'an, which they professed to believe in, is and what the attributes of God, in Whom they claimed to have believed.
In order to understand the subject matter of this Surah, it is necessary to know the history of the Jews residing in Madinah and Hijaz, for without it, one cannot understand the real causes behind the way the Prophet's dealt with their different tribes.
According to Abul A'la Maududi, no authentic history of the Arabian Jews exists in the world. They have not left any writings of their own in the form of a book or a tablet which might shed light on their past, nor have the Jewish historians and writers of the non-Arab world made any mention of them. The reason being that after their settlement in the Arabian peninsula, they had detached themselves from the main body of the Jewish nation, and the Jews of the world did not count them among themselves. They had given up the Hebrew culture and language, even the names, and adopted Arabism instead. In tablets that have been unearthed in archaeological research in the Hijaz, no trace of the Jews is found before the first century of the Christian era, except for a few Jewish names. Therefore, the history of the Arabian Jews is based mostly on the verbal traditions prevalent among the Arabs most of which bad been spread by the Jews themselves.
The Jews of the Hijaz claimed that they had come to settle in Arabia during the last stage of the life of the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him). They said that the Prophet Moses had despatched an army to expel the Amalekites from the land of Yathrib and had commanded it not to spare even a single soul of that tribe. The Israelite army carried out the Prophet's command, but spared the life of a handsome prince of the Amalekite king and returned with him to Palestine. By that time the Prophet Moses had passed away. His successors took great exception to what the army had done, for by sparing the life of an Amalekite, it had clearly disobeyed the Prophet and violated the Mosaic law. Consequently, they excluded the army from their community, and it had to return to Yathrib and settle there forever. (Kitab al-Aghani, vol. xix, p. 94). Thus the Jews claimed that they had been living in Yathrib since about 1200 B.C. But, this had in fact no historical basis. The Jews probably had invented this story in order to overawe the Arabs into believing that they were of noble lineage and the original inhabitants of the land.
The second Jewish immigration, according to the Jews, took, place in 587 BC. when Nebuchadnezzer, the King of Babylon, destroyed Jerusalem and dispersed the Jews throughout the world. The Arab Jews said that several of their tribes at that time had come to settle in Wadi al-Qura, Taima, and Yathrib. (Al-Baladhuri, Futuh al-Buldan). But this too has no historical basis. By this they also might have wanted to prove that they were the original settlers of the area.
As a matter of fact, in A. D. 70 the Romans massacred the Jews in Palestine, and then in A. D. 132 expelled them from that land, many of the Jewish tribes fled to find an asylum in the Hijaz, a territory that was contiguous to Palestine in the south. There they settled wherever they found water springs and greenery, and then by intrigue and through money lending business gradually occupied the fertile lands. Ailah, Maqna, Tabuk, Taima, Wadi al Qura, Fadak and Khayber came under their control in that very period, and Bani Quraizah, Bani al-Nadhir, Bani Bahdal and Bani Qainuqa also came in the same period and occupied Yathrib.
Among the tribes that settled in Yathrib the Bani An-Nadhir and the Bani Quraizah were more prominent for they belonged to the Cohen or priest class. They were looked upon as of noble descent and enjoyed religious leadership among their co-religionists. When they came to settle in Madinah there were some other tribes already living there. They subdued them and became the owners of this green and fertile land. About three centuries later, in A. D. 450 or 451, the great flood of Yaman occurred which has been mentioned in vv. 16-17 of Surah Saba. As a result of this, different tribes of the people of Saba were compelled to leave Yaman and disperse to different parts of Arabia. Thus, the Bani Ghassan went to settle in Syria, Bani Lakhm in Hirah (Iraq), Bani Khuza'ah between Jeddah and Makkah and the Aus and the Khazraj went to settle in Yathrib. As Yathrib was under Jewish domination, they at first did not allow the Aus and the Khazraj to gain a footing and the two Arab tribes had to settle on lands that had not yet been brought under cultivation. There they could hardly produce enough to enable them to survive. At last, one of their chiefs went to Syria to ask for the assistance of their Ghassanide brothers; he brought an army from there and broke the power of the Jews. Thus, the Aus and the Khazraj were able to gain complete dominance over Yathrib, with the result that two of the major Jewish tribes, Bani an-Nadhir and Bani Quraiza were forced to take quarters outside the city. Since the third tribe, Bani Qainuqa, was not on friendly terms with the other two tribes, it stayed inside the city as usual, but had to seek protection of the Khazraj tribe. As a counter measure to this, Bani an-Nadhir and Bani Quraizah took protection of the Aus tribe so that they could live in peace in the suburbs of Yathrib.
Before the Prophet's arrival at Madinah and until his emigration, the following were the main features of the Jews position in Hijaz in general and in Yathrib in particular
- In the matter of language, dress, civilization and way of life they had completely adopted Arabism, even their names had become Arabian. Of the 12 Jewish tribes that had settled in Hijaz, none except the Bani Zaura retained its Hebrew name.
- Because of this Arabism, the western orientalists have been misled into thinking that perhaps they were not really Israelites but Arabs who had embraced Judaism, or that at least a majority of them were Arab Jews. But there is no historical proof to show that the Jews ever engaged in the propagation of Judaism in Hijaz, or that their rabbis invited the Arabs to embrace Judaism like the Christian priests and missionaries. On the contrary, they prided themselves upon their Israelite descent and racial prejudices. They called the Arabs Gentiles, which did not mean illiterate or uneducated, but savage and uncivilized people. They believed that the Gentiles were not entitled to any human rights, these were reserved only for the Israelites, and therefore, it was lawful and right for the Israelites to defraud them of their properties by every means.
- Economically they were much stronger than the Arabs. Since they had emigrated from the more civilized and culturally advanced countries of Palestine and Syria, they knew many such arts that were unknown to the Arabs; they also enjoyed trade relations with the outside world. Hence, they had captured the business of importing grain in Yathrib and the upper Hijaz and exporting dried dates to other countries. Poultry farming and fishing also were mostly under their controls. They excelled at cloth weaving as well. The Jews had also set up wine shops in different areas, where they sold wine which was imported from Syria.
- They would not allow the Arabs to be united and, therefore, kept them fighting and entrenched against each other. They knew that whenever the Arab tribes united, they would not allow the Jews to remain in possession of their large properties, gardens and fertile lands, which they had come to own through their profiteering and money lending businesses.
Such were the conditions when Islam came to Madinah, and ultimately an Islamic State came into existence after the Prophet's (upon whom be Allah's peace) arrival there. One of the first things that he accomplished was unification of the Aus, the Khazraj and the Emigrants into a brotherhood. The second was that he concluded a treaty between the Muslims and the Jews on definite conditions, in which it was pledged that neither party would encroach on the rights of the other, and both would unite in a joint defence against the external enemies. Some important clauses of this treaty are as follows. They clearly show what the Jews and the Muslims had pledged to adhere to in their mutual relationship:
"The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims their expenses. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation, and loyalty is a protection against treachery. They shall sincerely wish one another well. Their relations will be governed by piety and recognition of the rights of others, and not by sin and wrongdoing. The wronged must be helped. The Jews must pay with the believers so long as the war lasts. Yathrib shall be a sanctuary for the people of this document. If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise, it must be referred to God and to Muhammad the Apostle of God; the Qureysh and their helpers shall not be given protection. The contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib. Every one shall be responsible for the defense of the portion to which he belongs." (Ibn Hisham, vol. ii, pp. 147 to 150)
This was on absolute and definitive covenant to the conditions of which the Jews themselves had agreed. But not very long after this they began to show hostility towards the Prophet of Allah (upon whom be Allah's peace). Islam and the Muslims, and their hostility and perverseness continued increasing day by day. Its main causes were the following three:
First, they envisaged the Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) merely as a chief of his people, who should be content to have concluded a political agreement with them and should only concern himself with the worldly interests of his group. But they found that he was extending an invitation to believe in Allah, His Rasool and the Book (which also included belief in their own Prophets and scriptures).
He was urging the people to give up disobedience of Allah and adopt obedience to the Divine Commands and abide by the moral laws of their own prophets. This they could not agree with. They feared that if this universal ideological movement gained momentum, it would destroy their rigid religiosity and wipe out their racial nationhood.
Second, when they saw that the Aus, the Khazraj and the Emigrants were uniting into a brotherhood and the people from the Arab tribes of the surrounding areas, who entered Islam, were also joining this Islamic Brotherhood of Madinah and forming a religious community. They feared that the selfish policy that they had been following of sowing discord between the Arab tribes for the promotion of their own well being and interests for centuries, would not work in the new system. They knew that they would inevitably face a united front of the Arabs against which their intrigues would not succeed.
Third, the work that the Messenger of Allah (upon whom be Allah's peace) was carrying out of reforming the society and civilization included putting an end to all unlawful methods in business and mutual dealings. Moreover, he had declared the taking and giving of usury as impure and unlawful earning. This caused them the fear that, if his rule became established in Arabia, he would declare interest legally forbidden. In this they saw their own economic disaster and death.
For these reasons they made resistance and opposition to the Prophet their national ideal. They would not hesitate to employ any trick, any device and cunning, to harm him. They spread every kind of falsehood so as to cause distrust against him in the people's minds. They created every kind of doubt, suspicion and misgiving in the hearts of the new converts so as to turn them back from Islam. They would resort to every kind of deceit and fraud in order to harm the Muslims economically. Whenever one with whom they had business dealings with would accept Islam, they would do whatever they could to cause him financial loss. If he owed them something, they would fret and harass him by making repeated demands, and if they owed him something, they would withhold the payment and would publicly say that, at the time the bargain was made, he professed a different religion, and since he had changed his religion, they were no longer under any obligation to repay him. Several instances of this nature are cited in the commentaries by Tabari, Nisaburi, Tabrizi and in Ruh al Ma'ani relating to verse 75 of Surah Al-Imran.
They had adopted this hostile attitude against the covenant even before the Battle of Badr. But when the Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) and the Muslims won a decisive victory over the Qureysh at Badr, they were filled with grief, anguish, malice and anger. Ka'b bin Ashraf, the chief of the Bani an-Nadhir, cried out: "By God, if Muhammad has actually killed these nobles of Arabia, the earth's belly would be better for us than its back." Then he went to Makkah and incited the people to vengeance by writing and reciting provocative elegies for the Qureysh chiefs killed at Badr. Then he returned to Madinah and composed lyrical verses of an insulting nature about Muslim women. At last, enraged with Ka'b Bin Ashraf's mischief, the Prophet (pbuh) sentenced him to death. (Ibn Sad, Ibn Hisham, Tabari).
The first Jewish tribe which, after the Battle of Badr, openly and collectively broke their covenant were the Bani Qainuqa. They lived in a locality inside the city of Madinah. As they practised the crafts of the goldsmith, blacksmith and vessel maker, the people of Madinah visited their shops fairly frequently. They were proud of their bravery and velour. Being blacksmiths by profession, even their children were well armed. They could instantly muster 700 fighting men from among themselves. They were also arrogantly aware that they enjoyed relations of confederacy with the Khazraj and Abdullah bin Ubayy, the chief of the, Khazraj, was their chief supporter. At the victory at Badr, they became so provoked that they began to trouble and harass the Muslims; Muslim women in particular, who visited their shops. By and by things came to such a pass that one day a Muslim woman was stripped naked publicly in their bazaar. This led to a brawl in which a Muslim and a Jew were killed. The Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) himself visited the local Jewish tribe, got them together and counselled them on decent conduct. But the reply that they gave was; "O Muhammad, you perhaps think we are like the Qureysh; they did not know fighting; therefore, you overpowered them. But, when you come in contact with us, you will see how men fight." This was in clear words a declaration of war. Consequently, the Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) laid siege to their quarters in A. H. 2. The siege had hardly lasted for a fortnight when they surrendered and all their fighting men were bound and taken prisoners. Abdullah bin Ubayy came up in support of them and requested that they should be pardoned. The Holy Prophet conceded his request and decided that the Bani Qainuqa would be exiled from Madinah leaving their properties, armor and tools of trade behind. (Ibn Sa'd, Ibn Hisham, Tarikh Tabari).
For some time after these punitive measures (i. e. the banishment of the Qainuqa and killing of Ka'b bin Ashraf ) the Jews remained so terror stricken that they did not dare commit any further mischief. But later in Shawwal, A. H. 3 the Qureysh, in order to avenge themselves for the defeat at Badr, marched against Madinah with great preparations. The Jews saw that only one thousand men had marched out with the Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) in comparison to three thousand men of the Qureysh. To make matter worse 300 hypocrites initially joined the Prophet, deserted and returned to Madinah. At this point, they committed the first and open breach of the treaty by refusing to join the Prophet in the defense of the city even though they were bound to it by the agreement. Then, when in the Battle of Uhud the Muslims suffered a set back, they were further emboldened. So much so that the Bani an-Nadhir made a secret plan to kill the Prophet (pbuh). The plan, however, failed before it could be executed.
As a result, there was no question of showing them any further concession. The Holy Prophet at once sent to them the ultimatum that the treachery they had meditated against him had come to his knowledge. Therefore, they were to leave Madinah within ten days. If anyone of them was found staying behind in their quarters, he would be put to the sword. Meanwhile, Abdullah bin Ubayy sent them the message that he would help them with two thousand men and that the Bani Quraizah and Bani Ghatfan would also come to their aid. Therefore, they were to stand firm and not go. On this false assurance, they responded to the Prophet's ultimatum saying that they would not leave Madinah and that he could do whatever was in his power. Consequently, in Rabi-al-Awwal, A. H. 4, the Prophet (pbuh) laid siege to them, and after a few days of the siege they surrendered on the condition that they could take their personal property, except the armor, which could be carried on three camels. Thus, Madinah was rid of this second mischievous tribe of Jews. Only two of the Bani an-Nadhir embraced Islam and stayed behind. All of the others went to Syria and Khayber.