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Period of Revelation

This Surah was revealed in 2 A. H. after the battle of Badr, the first battle between Islam and Kufr. Since it contains a detailed and comprehensive review of the battle, it appears that most probably it was revealed all at the same time.

Major Issues, Divine Laws and Guidance:
  1. Battle of truth and falsehood.
  2. Truth should not fear to be cowed down by odds against it.
  3. Fighting should not be for spoils or gains but for a just cause.
  4. Laws relating to peace and war.
  5. Relation of an Islamic state with Muslims living in non-Muslim countries.

The battle of Badr took place in the 2nd year of Hijrah, therefore, rules and regulations relating to peace and a critical review of war have been made in this Surah. But this review is quite different from the reviews that are usually made by worldly commanders after a great victory. Instead of gloating over the victory, the moral weaknesses that had come to the surface in that expedition have been pointed out as follows:

  1. The fact that the victory was due to the help of Allah rather than to their own valor and bravery has been stressed so that the Muslims should learn to rely on Him and obey Allah and His Rasool.
  2. The moral lesson of the conflict between the truth and falsehood has been explained.
  3. The mushrikin, the hypocrites, the Jews, and the prisoners of war are addressed in a very impressive manner advising them to learn a lesson.
  4. Instructions are given in regard to the spoils of war. The Muslims have been told not to regard these as their right but as a bounty from Allah. Therefore, they should accept with gratitude the share that is granted to them out of it and willingly accede to the share which Allah sets aside for His cause, for His Rasool, and for the help of the needy.
  5. It also gives normal instructions concerning the laws of peace and war, for these were urgently needed at the stage which the Islamic movement had entered. It enjoined that the Muslims should refrain from ways of ignorance whether they are in peace or in war and thus establish their moral superiority in the world.
  6. This Surah also states some articles of the Islamic Constitution which differentiate the status of Muslims living within the limits of Dar-ul-Islam (the Abode of Islam) from that of the Muslims living beyond its limits.

In order to understand the circumstances and conditions which were being faced by the Muslim community and the Islamic State, in relation to which Divine guidance and laws were enacted, it is important to know how the battle of Badr took place.

Battle of Badr

The message of Islam had proved its firmness and stability. However, the Muslims had not yet had an opportunity to demonstrate practically the blessings of the system of life based on Islam. There was neither any Islamic culture, nor any social, economic or political system; nor were there any established principles of war and peace. Therefore the Muslims had no opportunity for demonstrating those moral principles on which they intended to build their entire system of life; nor had it been proved on the touchstone of trial that the Muslims as a community were sincere in their proclamation of the message. Allah created opportunities for making up these deficiencies in Al-Madinah.

The people of Makkah had realized that Muhammad (pbuh), who had a great personality and possessed extraordinary abilities, was going to gain a strong footing in Al-Madinah. This would help integrate his followers - whose constancy, determination, and unwavering fidelity to Al-Islam had been tried - into a disciplined community under his wise leadership and guidance. They knew that this would spell death for their old ways of life. They also realized the strategic importance of Al-Madinah to their trade, which was their main source of livelihood. The Muslims could strike at the caravans travelling on the trade route between Yaman and Syria, and thus strike at the root of their economy. The value of the trade done by the people of Makkah on this route amounted to about two hundred thousand dinars annually.

In Sh'aban, 2 A. H. (February or March, 623 A. D.) a big trade caravan of the Qureysh , on its way back from Syria carrying goods worth over 50,000 dinars with a guard of thirty to forty men, reached the territory from where it could be easily attacked from Al-Madinah. As soon as the caravan entered the dangerous territory, Abu Sufyan, the caravan's leader, despatched a camel rider to Makkah with a frantic appeal for help. This caused great excitement and anger at Makkah. An army of approximately 1000 warriors with great pomp and show marched towards Al-Madinah. They intended not only to rescue the caravan but also to put an end to the rising power of the Muslims and overawe the clans surrounding the route so as to make it absolutely secure for future trade.

The Prophet, who always kept himself well informed, felt that the hour had come to take a bold step; otherwise the Islamic Movement would become lifeless with no chance to rise again. The condition of the Muslim community was still very shaky because the Muslim immigrants from Makkah (Muhajirin) had not been able to stabilize their economy; their helpers from the natives of Madinah, who became Muslims after the Prophet and his followers migrated there from Makkah (the Ansar), had not yet been tried; and the neighboring Jewish clans could not be trusted. Above all, the surrounding clans lived in awe of the Qureysh and had all their religious sympathies with them. Therefore, the consequences of the coming attack could not be favorable to the Muslims. A careful study of the situation indicated to the Prophet that he should take a decisive step and go into the battle with whatever strength he could muster and demonstrate whether the Muslim community had the ability to survive or was doomed to perish.

The Holy Prophet's analysis of the situation was supported by Divine inspiration, therefore, he called the Muhajir and the Ansar to a meeting and placed the whole situation, without any reservation, before them, saying: "Allah has promised that you will confront one of the two, the trade caravan coming from the north or the army of the Qureysh marching from the south. Now, tell me which of the two you would like to confront!" The majority of the people replied that they should go for the caravan. When the Prophet repeated the same question, Miqdad bin 'Amr, a Muhajir, stood up and said: "O Rasool of Allah! Please march in the direction which Allah commands you; we will accompany you wherever you go. We will not say like the Israelites: 'Go you and your Rabb and fight, we will wait.' In contrast to them we say: 'Let you and your Rabb decide; we will fight by your side to our last breath.'" Even then, he did not announce any decision, but waited for a reply from the Ansar who had not yet taken any part in any confrontation for Islam. As this was the first opportunity for them to prove that they were ready to fulfill their promise of fighting for the cause of Islam, he repeated the question without directly addressing them. At this, Sa'ad bin Mu'az, an Ansar, stood up and said: "O Rasool of Allah, it appears that you are addressing this question to us." When the Prophet said, "Yes," he replied, "We have believed in you and confirmed that what you have brought is the truth, and have made a solemn pledge with you that we will listen to you and obey you. Therefore, O Rasool of Allah, do whatever you intend to do. We swear by Allah Who has sent you with the truth that we are ready to accompany you to the seashore and if you enter it, we will plunge into it. We assure you that not a single one of us will remain behind or forsake you, for we will not hesitate at all to go to fight, even if you should lead us to the battlefield tomorrow. We will, Insha Allah (Allah willing), remain steadfast in the battle and sacrifice our lives for Islam. We do hope that by the grace of Allah our behavior will gladden your heart. So, trusting in Allah's blessing, take us to the battlefield." After this it was decided that they would march towards the army of the Qureysh and not towards the trade caravan.

The number of people who came forward to go to the battlefield was only a little more than three hundred (86 Muhajirin, 62 from Aus, and 170 from Khazraj). Over and above that, this little army was ill-armed and hardly equipped for battle. Only a couple of them had horses to ride and the others had to take their turn in threes or fours on camel back. They had a total of 70 camels. Above all, they did not even have enough weapons for the battle; only 60 of them had armor. They marched straight to the southwest, wherefrom the army of the Qureysh was coming. This is also an indication that, from the very beginning, they had gone out to fight with the army and not to plunder the caravan. If they had aimed at plundering the caravan they would have taken the north-westernly direction rather than the southwest. The two parties met in combat at Badr on the seventeenth day of Ramadhan. When the two armies confronted each other and the Prophet noticed that the Qureysh army outnumbered the Muslims by three to one and was much better equipped, he raised his hands up in supplication and made this earnest prayer with great humility: "O Allah! Here are the Qureysh proud of their war material: they have come to prove that Your Rasool is false. O Allah! Now send the help that You have promised me. O Allah! If this little army of Your devotees is destroyed, then there will be no one left in the land to worship You."

In this combat the emigrants from Makkah were put to the hardest test because they had to fight against their own relatives, putting to the sword their fathers, sons, brothers, and uncles. It is obvious that only such people could do this who had accepted the truth sincerely and cut off all relations with falsehood. Similarly, the test to which the Ansar were put was not less hard. So far the Ansar had only alienated the powerful Qureysh and their allies by giving shelter to the Muslims against their wishes but now, for the first time, they were going to give fight to them and to sow the seeds of a long and bitter war with them. This meant that a small town of a few thousand inhabitants was going to wage a war with the whole of Arabia. It is obvious that only such people could take a stand who believed in the Truth of Islam so firmly that they were ready to sacrifice every personal interest for its sake. Allah accepted these sacrifices of the Muhajirin and the Ansar because of their true faith, and rewarded them with His help through angels.

The proud, well-armed Qureysh were defeated by these ill-equipped devotees of Islam. Seventy men of the Qureysh army were killed and seventy captured as prisoners of war. Their arms and equipment came into the hands of the Muslims as spoils of war. All their big chiefs, who were their best soldiers and who had led the opposition to Islam, were killed in this battle. This decisive victory made Islam a power to be reckoned with.