198. The waxing and waning of the moon has attracted men's attentions throughout
the ages and all kinds of fanciful ideas, superstitions and rituals have been,
and are still today, associated with it. The moon was considered the basis of
good and bad omens. Certain dates were considered auspicious and others inauspicious
for starting journeys, for beginning new tasks, for weddings and so on on the
ground that the rising and setting of the moon, its waxing and waning and its
eclipse affect human destiny. The Arabs too had their share of such superstitions.
It was therefore natural that enquiries regarding such matters should be addressed
to the Prophet.
In response, God says that the waxing and waning of the moon is nothing more than a physical phenomenon. By its appearance in the firmament the moon enables man to divide his year and it can thus be considered nature's own calendar. Particular reference is made to Hajj because it occupied the position of highest importance in the religious, cultural and economic life of the Arabs. Four months of the year were specified since they were the months of major and minor Pilgrimage (Hajj and 'Umrah). During these months there was to be no warfare and the routes were completely safe for travelling. Thanks to the peace and tranquillity thus established, trade and commerce prospered.
199. One superstitious custom of the Arabs was that once they entered the state of consecration for Pilgrimage they did not enter their houses by the door. Instead, they either leapt over the walls from the rear or climbed through windows which they had specially erected for that purpose. On returning from journeys, too, they entered their houses from the rear. In this verse this superstitious custom is denounced, as are all superstitious customs; it is pointed out that the essence of moral excellence consists of fearing God and abstaining from disobeying His commands. Those meaningless customs by which people felt bound, out of blind adherence to the traditions of their forefathers, and which had no effect at all on man's ultimate destiny, had nothing to do with moral excellence.
200. The believers are asked to fight those who hindered their efforts in the cause of God, and acted with hostility towards them merely because they sought to fashion human life according to the revealed guidance of God. Earlier, when they were weak and scattered, the Muslims were asked merely to preach and be patient with the wrongful repression meted out to them by their opponents. However, now that a small city state had been established in Madina they were commanded for the first time to unsheathe their swords against those who had resorted to armed hostility against their movement of reform. It was some time after this injunction that the Battle of Badr took place, to be followed by several other battles.
201. The believers are told that material interests should not be the motivation for their fighting, that they should not take up arms against those who were not in opposition to the true faith, that they should not resort to unscrupulous methods or to the indiscriminate killing and pillage which characterized the wars of the pre-Islamic era, the Age of Ignorance. The excesses alluded to in this verse are acts such as taking up arms against women and children, the old and the injured, mutilation of the dead bodies of the enemy, uncalled-for devastation through the destruction of fields and livestock, and other similar acts of injustice and brutality. In the Hadith all these acts have been prohibited. The real intent of the verse is to stress that force should be used only when its use is unavoidable, and only to the extent that is absolutely necessary.
202. Here the word fitnah is used in the sense of 'persecution'. It refers
to a situation whereby either a person or a group is subjected to harassment
and intimidation for having accepted, as true, a set of ideas contrary to those
currently held, and for striving to effect reforms in the existing order of
society by preaching what is good and condemning what is wrong. Such a situation
must be changed, if need be, by the force of arms.
Bloodshed is bad, but when one group of people imposes its ideology and forcibly prevents others from accepting the truth, then it becomes guilty of an even more serious crime. In such circumstances, it is perfectly legitimate to remove that oppressive group by the force of arms.
203. God, in whom the believers have faith, is forgiving and ready to pardon even the worst criminals and sinners after they have renounced their arrogant defiance towards Him. It is suggested that this attribute of God should be reflected in the behaviour of the believers as well. As the saying goes: 'Mould your morals according to the attributes of God.' Hence, Whenever the believers have to resort to armed conflict, they should do so not for the sake of quenching their thirst for vengeance but in the cause of God's religion. Their conflict with any group should last only as long as that group resists the cause of God. As soon as it gives up this resistance hostility should cease.
204. Here the term fitnah is used in a different sense from the one in which
it was used above see( verse 191). It is evident from the context that fitnah
refers here to the state of affairs wherein the object of obedience is someone
other than God. Hence the purpose of a believer's fighting is that this fitnah
should cease and obedience should be consecrated to God alone.
An investigation of the usages of the word din (which occurs in this verse) reveals that the core of its meaning is obedience. In its technical usage, the word refers to that system of life which arises as a result of a person recognizing someone as his Lord and Sovereign and committing himself to following his commands and ordinances. This explanation of the word din makes it quite clear that when some human beings establish their godhead and absolute dominance over others, this state of affairs is one of fitnah. Islam seeks to put an end to this and replace it by a state of affairs in which people live in obedience to the laws of God alone.
205. What is meant here by 'desisting' is not the abandonment of unbelief
and polytheism on the part of the unbelievers but rather their desistance from
active hostility to the religion enjoined by God. The unbeliever, the polytheist,
the atheist, has each been, empowered to hold on to his beliefs and to
who and whatever he wishes. In order to deliver these people from their error,
Muslims are required to counsel them and tell them where their good lies. But
Muslims ought not to try to achieve this purpose by resorting to force. At the
same time, these misguided people have no right to either enforce the false
laws of their own contriving instead of the laws of God or to drive the people
of God to bondage of others than God. In order to put an end to this fitnah,
both persuasion and force be used, whenever and to the extent to which each
of the two is needed, and a true believer will not rest until the unbelievers
give up this fitnah.
The statement that hostility is meant only against wrong-doers seems to imply that when the true system of life replaces the false one, ordinary people should be granted a general amnesty. At the same time, however, it would be justifiable to punish those who exceeded all limits in their hostility to the Truth, at the time when they held the reins of power. Yet in dealing with such people, it becomes the true believers, after they have one final victory, to adopt a general attitude of forgiveness and tolerance towards the vanquished rather than subject them to revenge for the wrongs they committed in the past. Those criminals whose records were exceptionally bad could, however, be punished. The Prophet (peace be on him), availed himself of this permission in respect of some notorious enemies whose hostility had exceeded all limits, even though pardon and forgiveness behoved none more than him. Thus 'Uqbah ibn Abi Mu'avt and Nadr b. Harith from among the captives of the Battle of Badr were put to death and when a general amnesty, was proclaimed after the conquest of Makka four out of seventeen persons were executed. (See Ibn Hisham, vol. 1, p. 644 and vol. 2, pp. 409 ff. - Ed.) These acts were based on the permission to put to the sword those who have been conspicuously ruthless in their hostility to Islam and the Muslims.
206. From the time of Abraham three months - Dhu al-Qa'dah, Dhu al-Hijjah
and Muharram - were consecrated for Hajj, and the month of Rajab was consecrated
for 'Umrah. For the duration of these four months warfare, killing and pillage
were prohibited so that people could perform Pilgrimage and return home safely.
For this reason these months were called the 'sacred months'.
The purpose of the verse is to stress that if the unbelievers respect the sanctity of the sacred months, the Muslims should do the same. If, however, they violate this sanctity and subject the Muslims to aggression, then the Muslims are also entitled to retribution even during the 'sacred months'.
The permission mentioned here was called forth by the introduction of nasi', a practice which had been introduced by the Arabs in order to have an advantage over others in their battles and raids. The manner in which the Arabs used nasi' was such that whenever they wished either to start a conflict in order to satisfy their vendetta or to loot and plunder they carried out their raid in one of the sacred months and then later on tried to compensate for this violation by treating one of the non-sacred months as a sacred month. The Muslims were, therefore, concerned as to what they should do in case the unbelievers resorted to this artifice and surprised them by an attack in one of the recognized sacred months. The verse refers to this problem.
207. 'To spend in the way of Allah' signifies financial sacrifice in order to establish God's religion. Not to make any financial sacrifice but to be inclined, instead, to hold personal interests dear to one's heart will lead to one's ruin both in this world and in the Next. Allah will set the unbelievers to dominate over you in this world and condemn you in the Next world.
208. The root of the word ihsan is HSN, which means doing something in a
One standard of conduct is merely to perform the task entrusted to one. The other and higher standard is to perform that task in a wholesome manner, to devote all one's capacities and resources to its fulfilment, to do one's duty with all one's heart. The first standard is that of ordinary obedience for which it is enough that a man should fear God. The other and higher standard is that of ihsan (moral and spiritual excellence) for which it is necessary that one should have a strong love for God and a profound attachment to Him.
209. If any obstruction prevents a person from proceeding with the Pilgrimage and he is forced to stay behind, he should make a sacrificial offering to God of whatever is available - for example, either a camel, a cow, a goat or a sheep
210. The statement: 'until the offering reaches its appointed place' has been variously interpreted by the jurists. The Hanafi jurists consider this to signify the area which lies within the boundaries of the Haram. In their view this injunction means that if a man has been prevented from Pilgrimage he ought to send to the Haram either the animal itself or the money to purchase it, and have a sacrificial offering made on his behalf. According to Malik and al-Shafi'i this verse enjoins one to perform a sacrifice at the very spot where one is prevented from going any further. (See also Qurtubi's commentary on the verse - Ed.) The injunction regarding 'shaving the head' means that one may not have one's hair cut until a sacrificial offering has been made.
211. According to the Hadith, in such a situation the Prophet (peace be on him) ordered three days of fasting, or the feeding of six poor people, or the slaughter of one sheep or goat. (See Bukhari, 'Maghazi', 35; Muslim, 'Hajj', 83 - Ed.)
212. This refers to the change in the situation when the obstacle to proceeding with the Pilgrimage has been removed. Since, in those days, the circumstances which most commonly prevented people from proceeding with their Pilgrimage was the danger of armed attack from tribes hostile to Islam, the removal of that circumstance is described by the words: 'when you are secure'. 'To become secure' refers not only to the removal of the danger of armed attack but to the removal of all such dangers.
213. In pre-Islamic Arabia it was considered a serious sin to perform Hajj
and 'Umrah in one and the same journey. According to the self-made law of the
pre-Islamic Arabs, each of these Pilgrimages required a separate journey. God
declared this law void for those coming from abroad and who were granted the
privilege of performing both types of pilgrimage in the same journey. This privilege,
however, was not extended to those living in the environs of Makka, within the
miqat, since it is not difficult for them to proceed separately for the major
and minor Pilgrimages.
'Then you who take advantage of 'Umrah before the time of Hajj' means that a person may perform 'Umrah (minor Pilgrimage) and then may interrupt the state of consecration (ihram) and free himself of the prohibitions and limitations incumbent upon him in that state. Later, when the time for the Hajj (major Pilgrimage) arrives, he should once again assume the state of consecration (ihram).