This Surah was revealed in the 9th year of Hijrah inthree different discourses. The first discourse (vv.1-37) was revealed in Zil-Q'adah and set a new policytowards the mushrikin. The second discourse (vv. 38-72)was revealed in Rajab and dealt with the Campaign ofTabuk. The third discourse (vv. 73-129) was revealed uponthe Prophet's return from the Campaign of Tabuk. Thereare some pieces in this discourse that were sent down ondifferent occasions during the same period and wereafterwards consolidated by the Prophet into the Surah inaccordance with the inspiration from Allah.
Now that the administration of the whole of Arabia hadcome into the hands of the believers, and all theopposing powers had become helpless, it was necessary tomake a clear declaration of the policy which was to beadopted to make this newly formed Islamic state a perfectDar-ul-Islam. In order to accomplish this objective, thefollowing measures were taken:
This Surah is known by two names AT-TAUBAH andAL-BARA'AT. It is called AT-TAUBAH because it enunciatesthe nature of taubah (repentance) and mentions theconditions of its acceptance.(vv. 102. 118). The secondname BARA' AT (Release) is taken from the first word ofthe Surah.
This is the only Surah of the Quran to which Bismillah isnot prefixed. Though the commentators have givendifferent reasons for this, the correct one that whichhas been given by Imam Razi: namely, this is because theHoly Prophet himself did not dictate it at the beginningof the Surah. Therefore the Companions did not prefix itand their successors followed them. This is a furtherproof of the fact that utmost care has been taken to keepthe Quran intact so that it should remain in its completeand original form.
This Surah comprises three discourses. The firstdiscourse (vv. 1-37), was revealed in Zil-Qa'adah A.H. 9or thereabouts. As the importance of the subject of thediscourse required its declaration on the occasion ofHajj the Holy Prophet despatched Hadrat Ali to followHadrat Abu Bakr, who had already left for Makkah asleader of the Pilgrims to the Kaabah. He instructedHadrat Ali to deliver the discourse before therepresentatives of the different clans of Arabia so as toinform them of the new policy towards the mushriks.
The second discourse (vv., 38-72) was sent down in RajabA.H. 9 or a little before this, when the Holy Prophet wasengaged in making preparations for the Campaign of Tabuk.In this discourse, the Believers were urged to takeactive part in jihad, and the shirkers were severelyrebuked for holding back their wealth and for hesitationto sacrifice their lives in the way of Allah because oftheir hypocrisy, weak faith or negligence.
The third discourse (vv. 73-I 29) was revealed on hisreturn from the Campaign of Tabuk. There are some piecesin this discourse that were sent down on differentoccasions during the same period and were afterwardsconsolidated by the Holy Prophet into the Surah inaccordance with inspiration from Allah. But this causedno interruption in its continuity because they dealt withthe same subject and formed part of the same series ofevents. This discourse warns the hypocrites of their evildeeds and rebukes those Believers who had stayed behindin the Campaign of Tabuk. Then after taking them to task,Allah pardons those true Believers who had not taken partin the Jihad in the Way of Allah for one reason or theother. Chronologically, the first discourse should havecome last; but being the most important of the three inregard to its subject-matter, it was placed first in theorder of compilation.
Now let us consider the historical background of theSurah. The series of events that have been discussed inthis Surah took place after the Peace Treaty ofHudaibiyah. By that time, one-third of Arabia had comeunder the sway of Islam which had established itself as apowerful, well organized and civilized Islamic State.This Treaty afforded further opportunities to Islam tospread its influence in the comparatively peacefulatmosphere created by it. After this Treaty, two eventstook place, which led to very important results:
The first was the Conquest of Arabia. The Holy Prophetwas able to send missions among different clans for thepropagation of Islam. The result was that during theshort period of two years, it became such a great powerthat it made the old order of ignorance feel helplessbefore it. So much so that the zealous elements fromamong the Quraish were so exasperated that they broke theTreaty in order to encounter Islam in a decisive combat.But the Holy Prophet took prompt action after the breachso as not to allow them any opportunity to gather enoughforce for this. He made a sudden invasion on Makkah inthe month of Ramadan in A H. 8 and conquered it. Thoughthis conquest broke the backbone of the order ofignorance, it made still another attack on Islam in thebattlefield of Hunain, which proved to be itsdeath-knell. The clans of Hawazin Thaqif, Naur, Jushm andothers gathered their entire forces in the battlefield inorder to crush the reformative Revolution, but theyutterly 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 resultwas that hardly a year had passed after the Battle ofHunain, when the major portion of Arabia came within thefold of Islam and only a few upholders of the old orderremained scattered over some corners of the country.
The second event that contributed towards making Islam aformidable power was the Campaign of Tabuk, which wasnecessitated by the provocative activities of theChristians living within or near the boundaries of theRoman Empire to the north of Arabia. Accordingly, theHoly Prophet, with an army of thirty thousand marchedboldly towards the Roman Empire but the Romans evaded theencounter. The result was that the power of the HolyProphet and Islam increased manifold and deputation fromall corners of Arabia began to wait upon him on hisreturn from Tabuk in order to offer their allegiance toIslam and obedience to him. The Holy Quran has describedthis triumph in Surah An-Nisa: "When the succor of Allahcame and victory was attained and you saw people enteringthe fold of Islam in large numbers...
The Campaign to Tabuk was the result of conflict with theRoman Empire, that had started even before the conquestof Makkah. One of the missions sent after the Treaty ofHudaibiyah to different parts of Arabia visited the clanswhich lived in the northern areas adjacent to Syria. Themajority of these people were Christians, who were underthe influence of the Roman Empire. Contrary to all theprinciples of the commonly accepted international law,they killed fifteen members of the delegation near aplace known as Zat-u-Talah (or Zat-i-Itlah). Only Ka'abbin Umair Ghifari, the head of the delegation, succeededin escaping and reporting the sad incident. Besides this,Shurahbil bin Amr, the Christian governor of Busra, whowas directly under the Roman Caesar, had also put todeath Haritli bin Umair, the ambassador of the HolyProphet, who had been sent to him on a similar minion.
These events convinced the Holy Prophet that a strongaction should be taken in order to make the territoryadjacent to the Roman Empire safe and secure for theMuslims. Accordingly, in the month of Jamadi-ul-Ula A.H.8, he sent an army of three thousand towards the Syrianborder. When this army reached near Ma'an, the Muslimslearnt that Shurahbil was marching with an army of onehundred thousand to fight with them and that the Caesar,who himself was at Hims, had sent another army consistingof one hundred thousand soldiers under his brotherTheodore. But in spite of such fearful news, the bravesmall band of the Muslims marched on fearlessly andencountered the big army of Shurahbil at M'utah. And theresult of the encounter in which the Muslims werefighting against fearful odds (the ratio of the twoarmies was 1:33), was very favorable, for the enemyutterly failed to defeat them. This proved very helpfulfor the propagation of Islam. As a result, those Arabswho were living in a state of semidependence in Syria andnear Syria and the clans of Najd near Iraq, who wereunder the influence of the Iranian Empire, turned towardsIslam and embraced it in thousands. For example, thepeople of Bani Sulaim (whose chief was Abbas bin MirdasSulaimi), Ashja'a, Ghatafan, Zubyan, Fazarah, etc., cameinto the fold of Islam at the same time. Above all,Farvah bin 'Amral Juzami, who was the commander of theArab armies of the Roman Empire, embraced Islam duringthat time, and underwent the trial of his Faith in a waythat filled the whole territory with wonder. When theCaesar came to know that Farvah had embraced Islam, heordered that he should be arrested and brought to hiscourt. Then the Caesar said to him, "You will have tochoose one of the two things. Either give up your Islamand win your liberty and your former rank, or remain aMuslim and face death." He calmly chose Islam andsacrificed his life in the way of the Truth.
No wonder that such events as these made the Caesarrealize the nature of the danger that was threatening hisEmpire from Arabia. Accordingly, in 9 A.H. he began tomake military preparations to avenge the insult he hadsuffered at M'utah. The Ghassanid and other Arab chiefsalso began to muster armies under him. When the HolyProphet, who always kept himself well-informed even ofthe minuet things that could affect the Islamic Movementfavorably or adversely, came to know of thesepreparations, he at once understood their meaning.Therefore, without the least hesitation he decided tofight against the great power of the Caesar. He knew thatthe show of the slightest weakness would result in theutter failure of the Movement which was facing threegreat dangers at that time. First the dying power of'ignorance' that had almost been crushed in thebattlefield of Hunain might revive again. Secondly, theHypocrites of Al-Madinah, who were always on the look-outfor such an opportunity, might make full use of this todo the greatest possible harm to it. For they had alreadymade preparations for this and had, through a monk calledAbu Amir, sent secret messages of their evil designs tothe Christian king of Ghassan and the Caesar himself.Besides this, they had also built a mosque nearAl-Madinah for holding secret meetings for this purpose.The third danger was of an attack by the Caesar himself,who had already defeated Iran, the other great power ofthat period, and filled with awe the adjacentterritories. It is obvious that if all these threeelements had been given an opportunity of taking aconcerted action against the Muslims, Islam would havelost the fight it had almost won. That is why in thiscase the Holy Prophet made an open declaration for makingpreparations for the Campaign against the Roman Empire,which was one of the two greatest empires of the world ofthat period. The declaration was made though all theapparent circumstances were against such a decision: forthere was famine in the country and the long awaitedcrops were about to ripen: the burning heat of thescorching summer season of Arabia was at its height andthere was not enough money for preparations in general,and for equipment and conveyance in particular. But inspite of these handicaps, when the Messenger of Allahrealized the urgency of the occasion, he took this stepwhich was to decide whether the Mission of the Truth wasgoing to survive or perish. The very fact that he made anopen declaration for making preparations for such acampaign to Syria against the Roman Empire showed howimportant it was, for this was contrary to his previouspractice. Usually he took every precaution not to revealbeforehand the direction to which he was going nor thename of the enemy whom he was going to attack; nay, hedid not move out of Al-Madinah even in the direction ofthe campaign.
All the parties in Arabia fully realized the graveconsequences of this critical decision. The remnants ofthe lovers of the old order of 'ignorance' were anxiouslywaiting for the result of the Campaign, for they hadpinned all their hopes on the defeat of Islam by theRomans. The 'hypocrites' also considered it to be theirlast chance of crushing the power of Islam by internalrebellion, if the Muslims suffered a defeat in Syria.They had, therefore, made full use of the Mosque built bythem for hatching plots and had employed all theirdevices to render the Campaign a failure. On the otherside, the true Believers also realized fully that thefate of the Movement for which they had been exertingtheir utmost for the last 22 years was now hanging in thebalance. If they showed courage on that criticaloccasion, the doors of the whole outer world would bethrown open for the Movement to spread. But if theyshowed weakness or cowardice, then all the work they haddone in Arabia would end in smoke. That is why theselovers of Islam began to make enthusiastic preparationsfor the Campaign. Everyone of them tried to surpass theother in making contributions for the provision ofequipment for it. Hadrat Uthman and Hadrat Abdur Rehmanbin Auf presented large sums of money for this purpose.Hadrat Umar contributed half of the earnings of his lifeand Hadrat Abu Bakr the entire earnings of his life. Theindigent Companions did not lag behind and presentedwhatever they could earn by the sweat of their labor andthe women parted with their ornaments. Thousands ofvolunteers, who were filled with the desire ofsacrificing their lives for Islam, came to the HolyProphet and requested that arrangements for weapons andconveyance be made for them so that they should join theexpedition. Those who could not be provided with theseshed tears of sorrow; the scene was so pathetic that itmade the Holy Prophet sad because of his inability to armthem. In short, the occasion became the touchstone fordiscriminating a true believer from a hypocrite. For, tolag behind in the Campaign meant that the veryrelationship of a person to Islam was doubtful.Accordingly, whenever a person lagged behind during thejourney to Tabuk, the Holy Prophet, on being informed,would spontaneously say, "Leave him alone. If there beany good in him, Allah will again join him with you, andif there be no good in him, then thank Allah that Herelieved you of his evil company".
In short, the Holy Prophet marched out towards Syria inRajab A.H. 9, with thirty thousand fighters for the causeof Islam. The conditions in which the expedition wasundertaken may be judged from the fact that the number ofcamels with them was so small that many of them wereobliged to walk on foot and to wait for their turns forseveral had to ride at a time on each camel. To add tothis, there was the burning heat of the desert and theacute shortage of water. But they were richly rewardedfor their firm resolve and sincere adherence to the causeand for their perseverance in the face of those greatdifficulties and obstacles.
When they arrived at Tabuk, they learnt that the Caesarand his allies had withdrawn their troops from thefrontier and there was no enemy to fight with. Thus theywon a moral victory that increased their prestigemanifold and, that too, without shedding a drop of blood.In this connection, it is pertinent to point out that thegeneral impression given by the historians of thecampaigns of the Holy Prophet about the Campaign of Tabukis not correct. They relate the event in a way as if thenews of the mustering of the Roman armies near theArabian frontier was itself false. The fact is that theCaesar had begun to muster his armies, but the HolyProphet forestalled him and arrived on the scene beforehe could make full preparations for the invasion.Therefore, believing that "discretion is the better partof valor," he withdrew his armies from the frontier. Forhe had not forgotten that the three thousand fighters forthe cause of Islam had rendered helpless his army onehundred thousand strong at M'utah. He could not,therefore, even with an army of two hundred thousand,dare to fight against an army of thirty thousand, andthat, too, under the leadership of the Holy Prophethimself. When the Holy Prophet found that the Caesar hadwithdrawn his forces from the frontier, he considered thequestion whether it would be worthwhile to march into theSyrian territory or to halt at Tabuk and turn his moralvictory to political and strategic advantage. He decidedon the latter course and made a halt for twenty days atTabuk. During this time, he brought pressure on the smallstates that lay between the Roman Empire and the IslamicState and were at that time under the influence of theRomans, and subdued and made them the tributaries of theIslamic State. For instance, some Christian chiefsUkaidir bin Abdul Malik Kindi of Dumatul Jaiidal, Yuhannabin D'obah of Ailah, and the chiefs of Maqna, Jarba' andAzruh also submitted and agreed to pay Jizyah to theIslamic State of Al-Madinah. As a result of this, theboundaries of the Islamic State were extended right up tothe Roman Empire, and the majority of the Arab clans, whowere being used by the Caesar against Arabia, became theallies of the Muslims against the Romans. Above all, thismoral victory of Tabuk afforded a golden opportunity tothe Muslims to strengthen their hold on Arabia beforeentering into a long conflict with the Romans. For itbroke the back of those who had still been expecting thatthe old order of 'ignorance' might revive in the nearfuture, whether they were the open upholders of shirk orthe hypocrites who were hiding their shirk under the garbof Islam. The majority of such people were compelled bythe force of circumstances to enter into the fold ofIslam and, at least, make it possible for theirdescendants to become true Muslims. After this a mereimpotent minority of the upholders of the old order wasleft in the field, but it could not stand in the way ofthe Islamic Revolution for the perfection of which Allahhad sent His Messenger.
If we keep in view the preceding background, we caneasily find out the problems that were confronting theCommunity at that time. They were: (1)to make the wholeof Arabia a perfect Dar-ul-Islam, (2)to extend theinfluence of Islam to the adjoining
(3)to crush the mischiefs of the hypocrites, and (4)toprepare the Muslims for Jihad against the non-Muslimworld.
Now that the administration of the whole of Arabia hadcome in the hands of the Believers, and all the opposingpowers had become helpless, it was necessary to make aclear declaration of that policy which was to be adoptedto make her a perfect Dar-ul-Islam Therefore thefollowing measures were adopted.
A clear declaration was made that all the treaties withthe mushriks were abolished and the Muslims would bereleased from the treaty obligations with them after arespite of four months.(vv. 1-3). This declaration wasnecessary for uprooting completely the system of lifebased on shirk and to make Arabia exclusively the centerof Islam so that it should not in any way interfere withthe spirit of Islam nor become an internal danger for it.
A decree was issued that the guardianship of the Kaabah,which held central position in all the affairs of Arabia,should be wrested from the mushriks and placedpermanently in the hands of the Believers, (vv. 12-18)that all the customs and practices of the shirk of theera of 'ignorance' should be forcibly abolished: that themushriks should not be allowed even to come near the"House" (v. 28). This was to eradicate every trace ofshirk from the "House" that was dedicated exclusively tothe worship of Allah. The evil practice of Nasi, by whichthey used to tamper with the sacred months in the days of'ignorance', was forbidden as an act of kufr (v. 37).This was also to serve as an example to the Muslims foreradicating every vestige of the customs of ignorancefrom the life of Arabia (and afterwards from the lives ofthe Muslims everywhere). In order to enable the Muslimsto extend the influence of Islam outside Arabia, theywere enjoined to crush with sword the non-Muslim powersand to force them to accept the sovereignty of theIslamic State. As the great Roman and Iranian Empireswere the biggest hindrances in the way, a conflict withthem was inevitable. The object of Jihad was not tocoerce them to accept Islam-they were free to accept ornot to accept it-but to prevent them from thrustingforcibly their deviations upon others and the cominggenerations. The Muslims were enjoined to tolerate theirmisguidance only to the extent that they might have thefreedom to remain misguided, if they chose to be so,provided that they paid Jizyah (v. 29) as a sign of theirsubjugation to the Islamic State.
The third important problem was to crush the mischiefs ofthe hypocrites, who had hitherto been tolerated in spiteof their flagrant crimes. Now that there was practicallyno pressure upon them from outside, the Muslims wereenjoined to treat them openly as disbelievers (v. 73).Accordingly, the Holy Prophet set on fire the house ofSwailim, where the hypocrites used to gather forconsultations in order to dissuade the people fromjoining the expedition to Tabuk. Likewise on his returnfrom Tabuk, he ordered to pull down and burn the 'Mosque'that had been built to serve as a cover for thehypocrites for hatching plots against the true Believers.
In order to prepare the Muslims for Jihad against thewhole non-Muslim world, it was necessary to cure themeven of that slight weakness of faith from which theywere still suffering. For there could be no greaterinternal danger to the Islamic Community than theweakness of faith, especially where it was going toengage itself single-handed in a conflict with the wholenon-Muslim world. That is why those people who had laggedbehind in the Campaign to Tabuk or had shown the leastnegligence were severely taken to task, and wereconsidered as hypocrites if they had no plausible excusefor not fulfilling that obligation. Moreover, a cleardeclaration was made that in future the sole criterion ofa Muslim's faith shall be the exertions he makes for theuplift of the Word of Allah and the role he plays in theconflict between Islam and kufr. Therefore, if anyonewill show any hesitation in sacrificing his life, money,time and energies, his faith shall not be regarded asgenuine. (vv. 81-96). If the above-mentioned importantpoints are kept in view during the study of this Surah,it will facilitate the understanding of its contents.
1 to 6 - Proclamation to dissolve the "Treaty of Hudeybiyah"
7 to 11 - Commandment of Allah to honor the treaty so long as the unbelievers honor it
12 to 16 - If the unbelievers violate the treaty, then fight against their ringleaders
17 to 18 - Mushrikin are forbidden to be the caretakers of Masajid
19 to 22 - Service to pilgrims is not equal to true belief in Allah, the Last Day, and Jihad
23 to 24 - Do not take your fathers and brothers as your friends if they prefer Kufr (unbelief) over Iman (belief)
25 to 27 - Allah's help is with the quality and not the quantity of the believers
28 to 29 - Prohibition of Mushrikin from entering Masjid-al-Haram
30 to 33 - Mushrik are the Jews and Christians who call Azra and Jesus the sons of God
34 to 35 - Do not be like Rabbis and Priests who misappropriate the wealth of people
36 to 37 - The number of months in the book of Allah is 12, of which 4 are sacred
38 to 42 - Allah's order to bear arms against the unbelievers, if necessary
43 to 48 - Those who do not participate in Jihad are hypocrites
49 to 59 - Excuses of the hypocrites for not bearing arms against the unbelievers
60 to 60 - Categories for the distribution of Zakah
61 to 63 - Order of Allah not to molest the Prophet
64 to 66 - Punishment for those who make fun of the religion
67 to 70 - Hypocritical actions and their punishment
71 to 72 - Believers' actions and their rewards
73 to 74 - Allah's order to make Jihad against hypocrites and unbelievers
75 to 80 - Behavior of the hypocrites
81 to 89 - Hypocrites did not join the war against the unbelievers and Prohibition of offering Funeral prayer for the Hypocrites
90 to 93 - Genuine exemptions from the battlefront
94 to 99 - Those who make excuses to avoid serving in armed struggle for the cause of Allah when needed, are hypocrites
100 to 110 - Categories of hypocrites and Commandment for the collection of Az-Zakah and Hypocrites' masjid for mischievous motives, called "Masjid-e-Zirar"
111 to 112 - Allah has purchased the persons and wealth of the Believers in lieu of granting them the Paradise
113 to 116 - Do not seek forgiveness for the Mushrikin
117 to 118 - Allah forgave those three who lagged behind but were sincere
119 to 122 - Believers are those who prefer the life of the Rasool over their own and requirement of obtaining understanding of religion
123 to 127 - Qur'anic verses do increase the faith of the believers
128 to 129 - Character of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Prayer taught by Allah