1. Those who disbelieved: Those who refused to accept the teachings and guidance presented by Muhammad (peace be upon him).
2. The verb sadd (from which saddu of the original is derived) is used both as a transitive and as an intransitive verb in Arabic.
Therefore, the sentence would mean “they themselves refrained from adopting Allah’s Way” as well as “they prevented others from adopting this way.” There are several ways of preventing others from adopting Allah’s Way:
(1) That one should forcibly prevent another from believing.
(2) That one should so persecute the believers that it should become difficult for them to remain steadfast on the faith and for others to embrace the faith in view of the dreadful conditions.
(3) That one should mislead the people against the religion and its followers in different ways and create doubts in the hearts so that the people may become suspicious of the religion itself. Besides, every disbeliever prevents others from the way of Allah in the sense that he brings up his children on the way of disbelief, and then it becomes difficult for his future generation to give up the ancestral faith and accept Islam. Likewise, every unbelieving society is an obstruction to the Way of Allah, for it creates obstacles in the way of the progress of the faith by its system of education and training, its government and its customs and prejudices.
3. The words adalla aamala-hum (led their deeds astray, let them go to waste) are very comprehensive in meaning. Their one meaning is: Allah deprived them of the grace that their efforts and their labors should be spent in the right way. Now, whatever they do, they will do that for wrong aims and objects in wrong ways. All their endeavors will be directed to the way of error and deviation instead of guidance. Their second meaning is: The works that they have been performing as pious deeds, e.g. guardianship of the Kabah, entertaining the guests, treating the kindred well and such other works, which are counted among religious services and noble actions morally, were rendered fruitless by Allah. They will get no reward for them, for when they refuse to accept Tauhid and to adopt the way of Allah’s service and worship and also stop others from adopting Islam, none of their works can be acceptable to Allah. The third meaning is Allah rendered fruitless and vain the efforts they were making to obstruct the way of the truth and to keep their creed of disbelief alive in Arabia as against the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). All their designs and endeavors now are aimless, they will never attain their goals by these designs.
4. Although after saying alladhina amanu (those who believed) there was no need to say wa amanu bima nuzzila ala Muhammad-in (and accepted that which has been sent down to Muhammad), for belief by itself implies believing in the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and in the teachings sent down to him, yet making a separate mention of it is particularly meant to assert this. After the appointment of Muhammad (peace be upon him) to Prophethood, a person’s belief in Allah and the Hereafter and the former Messengers and the Books cannot be beneficial until he also believes in him and the teachings brought by him. This explanation was necessary because after the emigration, the Muslims had also to deal with those people, who recognized and accepted all the requirements of the faith but refused to acknowledge and accept the Prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
5. This has two meanings:
(1) That Allah wiped off from their record all those sins which they had happened to commit in the pre-Islamic days of ignorance. Now, they will not at all be held accountable for them.
(2) That Allah removed from them the evils of creed, thought, morals and action in which they were involved. Now their minds were changed, their creed and ideas were changed. Now there was faith in their hearts instead of ignorance, and righteous acts instead of the immoral evil.
6. This also has two meanings:
(1) That Allah changed their previous condition and put them on the right path and improved and bettered their lives for them.
(2) That Allah has taken them out of the condition of weakness and helplessness and oppression in which they were placed till then. Now He has created for them such conditions in which instead of being persecuted they will defend themselves against the oppressors. Instead of living as subjects, they will now live and order their lives as free people, and will have the upper hand instead of being subdued and suppressed.
7. That is, He makes both the parties aware of their positions. One party insists on following falsehood; therefore, Allah has brought all its endeavors to naught. And the other party has adopted obedience of the Truth; therefore, Allah has purified it of its evils and corrected its condition.
8. The words of this verse as well as the context in which it occurs clearly show that it was sent down after the revelation of the command for fighting and before the actual fighting began. The words, “So when you meet (in battle) those who disbelieve”, indicate that the fighting has not yet taken place and the Muslims are being instructed that when it does take place, what they should do.
The words of (verse 20 )below testify that this Surah was sent down at a time when the command for fighting had already been given in (Surah Al-Hajj, Ayat 39) and (Surah Al- Baqarah, Ayat 190), and the hypocrites of Madinah and the people of the weak faith had been so upset that it seemed as if they were actually facing death.
Besides,( verses 67-69 of the Surah Al-Anfal )also testify that this verse had been sent down before the Battle of Badr. There it has been said:
It does not behoove a Prophet to have captives until he has crushed down the enemies in the land. You desire the gains of this world, but Allah desires the Hereafter, and Allah is All-Powerful, All-Wise. Had not a decree already been issued by Allah, you would have incurred a severe chastisement in consequence of what you have done. So eat of what you have taken as spoils because it is lawful and pure.
A careful study of this passage shows that what had displeased Allah on this occasion was that before crushing down the enemy completely in the Battle of Badr, the Muslims had started taking the enemy soldiers as captives, whereas the instruction given to them in Surah Muhammad before the actual fighting was this: When you have crushed them completely, then bind the captives tight. However, as the Muslims had been permitted, among other things in Surah Muhammad, to accept ransom from the prisoners, Allah declared the money taken from the captives of Badr as lawful and did not punish them for that. The words: Had not the decree already been issued by Allah, are clearly pointing to the fact that the command for permission to accept ransom had already been given in the Quran before this event, and obviously, there is no other verse in the Quran beside this verse of Surah Muhammad, which contains this command. Therefore, it will have to be admitted that this verse had been sent down before the above cited verse of the Surah Al-Anfal (For explanation, see (E.N. 49 on Surah Al-Anfal).
This is the first verse of the Quran in which preliminary instructions have been given about the laws of war. Below is given a resume of the injunctions that are derived from this verse and the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) and his companions’ practice according to it and the juristic inferences as based on this verse and the Sunnah:
(1) The real aim of the Muslim army in war is to break the fighting power of the enemy until it is crushed and the war lays down its arms. Under no circumstances, should the Muslim’s lose sight of this aim and start taking the enemy soldiers as captives. Captives should be taken after the enemy has been completely crushed and its numbers thinned down. The Arabs have been so instructed at the outset lest in the greed for ransom and taking slaves they should forget and overlook the real aim of the war.
(2) About the prisoners taken in war it has been said: You have the option whether you show them favor or accept ransom from them. This gives the general law that the prisoners of war should not be put to death. Abdullah bin Umar, Hasan Basri, Ata and Hammad bin Abi Sulaiman favor this view, which is quite valid. They say that a man can be killed only during the war. When the war is over and one has been made a prisoner, it is not lawful to kill him, Ibn Jarir and Abu Bakr alJassas have related that Hajjaj bin Yousuf handed over one of the prisoners of war to Abdullah bin Umar and commanded him to put him to death. He refused to obey and cited this verse and said: We are not allowed to kill a man when he is a prisoner. Imam Muhammad in As-Siyat al-Kabir also has related that Abdullah bin Amir had commanded Abdullah bin Umar to kill a prisoner of war, and he had refused to obey the command for this reason.
(3) But since in this verse it has neither been clearly forbidden to kill the prisoner, the Prophet (peace be upon him) understood this intention of Allah’s command, and also acted accordingly, that if there was a special reason for which the ruler of an Islamic government regarded it as necessary to kill a particular prisoner (or prisoners), he could do so. This is not the general law, but an exception to it, which would be applied only when necessary. Thus, the Prophet (peace be upon him) put to death only Uqbah bin Abi Muait and Nadr bin al-Harith from among the 70 prisoners taken at Badr, and only the poet Abu Azzah from the prisoners taken at Uhud. Since the Bani Quraizah had surrendered on the condition that they would accept whatever decision Hadrat Saad bin Muadh would give in their regard, and he had decreed that all the males of the Quraizah should be killed, the Prophet (peace be upon him) had them executed. From among the prisoners taken at Khaiber only Kinanah bin Abi al-Huqaiq was put to death because of his violating the agreement. At the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded in respect of only a few particular persons from among all the inhabitants of Makkah that any one of them who was captured should be put to death. Apart from these exceptions, the Prophet (peace be upon him) never killed prisoners of war, and the same also continued to be the practice of the righteous Caliphs. During their times also killing of prisoners of war was rare, which was resorted to only for a special reason. Umar bin Abdul Aziz also during his caliphate put to death only one prisoner of war for the reason that he had persecuted the Muslims very cruelly. On this very basis the majority of the jurists have held the view that the Islamic government can put a prisoner to death if necessary. But it is for the government to take such a decision; a soldier is not permitted to kill any prisoner he likes. However, if there is the danger of a prisoner's running away or of his committing a dangerous mischief, the guard can kill him. In this connection, the jurists of Islam have also made three other points: (a) That if a prisoner accepts Islam, he cannot be killed; (b) that the prisoner can be killed only as long as he is in the government’s custody; if he has been allotted to, or given in somebody else’s possession by sale, he cannot be killed; and (c) that if the prisoner has to be killed, he should be killed in a straightforward way; he should not be tortured to death.
(4) The general command that has been given about the prisoners of war is: Show them favor, or accept ransom from them. Favor includes four things: (a) That they should be treated well as prisoners; (b) that instead of killing them or keeping them in captivity for lifetime, they should be handed over to the individual Muslims as slaves; (c) that they should be put under jizyah and made dhimmis; and (d) that they should be set free without ransom.
There are three ways of ransoming them: (a) That they should be set free on payment of a ransom; (b) that they should be set free after taking some special service from them; and (c) that they should be exchanged for the Muslim prisoners of war who are in the possession of the enemy. The Prophet (peace be upon him) and the companions at different times acted in one or the other way as the occasion demanded. The divine law has not bound the Islamic government to act in only one particular way. The government can take any action it deems appropriate on a particular occasion.
(5) The practice of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the companions confirms that as long as a prisoner of war is in the government’s custody, the government will be responsible for his food and clothing, and his treatment if he is ill or wounded. Islamic law does not permit prisoners to be kept without food or clothing, or be subjected to torture. On the contrary, instructions also have been given to treat them well and generously, and precedents of this very practice are found in the Sunnah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) distributed the prisoners of Badr in the houses of different companions and gave the instruction: Teat these prisoners well. One of those prisoners, Abu Aziz, has reported: The Ansar Muslims, in whose house I was kept, gave me bread in the morning and the evening, but as for themselves they had only dates to eat. About another prisoner; Suhail bin Amr, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was told: He is a fiery speaker, and has been making speeches against you: please have his teeth broken. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: If I have his teeth broken, Allah will break my teeth, although I am a Prophet. (Ibn Hisham). When Thumamah bin Uthal, the chief of Yamamah, was brought as a prisoner, he was provided with good food and milk on the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) orders as long as he remained a captive. (Ibn Hisham). The same was the practice in the time of the companions. No precedent is found when a prisoner might have been mistreated in their time.
(6) Islam has not permitted that the prisoners be kept in captivity forever so that the government may subject them to forced labor as long as it likes. If they are not exchanged for other prisoners of war, or ransomed, the method enjoined of doing them favor is that they should be made slaves and given in possession of individuals, and their masters instructed to treat them well This method was acted upon during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as well as of the companions, and the jurists of Islam have unanimously upheld it as permissible. In this regard, it should be borne in mind that a person who might have accepted Islam before being taken as prisoner, and then is somehow made a prisoner, will be set free, but the acceptance of Islam by a person who accepts it after being taken prisoner, or after being given in possession of somebody, will not gain him freedom automatically. A tradition has been related in Musnad Ahmad, Muslim and Tirmidhi on the authority of Imran bin Husain that a person from among the Bani Uqail was brought as a prisoner and he said: I have accepted Islam. Thereupon the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you had said this when you were free, you would certainly have attained to success. The same thing was said by Umar: When a prisoner becomes a Muslim after falling into the hands of the Muslims as a captive, he will not be killed, but will remain a slave. Oh this very point, the jurists of Islam have unanimously ruled that the prisoner who becomes a Muslim after being taken captive cannot escape slavery. (Imam Muhammad, As-Siyar al-Kabir). And this also is quite reasonable. If our law had been that anyone, who embraced Islam after being taken a captive, would be set free, no prisoner would be so foolish as not to win his freedom by pronouncing the Kalimah.
(7) The third manner of doing favor with the prisoners according to the law of Islam is that they may be put under jizyah and made dhimmi subjects of the Islamic state and allowed to live as free citizens of dar-al-Islam (abode of Islam) just like the Muslims. Imam Muhammad writes in his As-Siyar alKabir: Any person who can be made a slave, can also be made a dhimmi and put under jizyah. At another place he says: "The ruler of the Muslims has the right to levy jizyah on them and a tax on their lands and set than absolutely free. This method has been practiced generally in the condition when the territory of the people who have been made prisoners, is conquered and annexed to the Islamic state. The Prophet (peace be upon him), for instance, practiced this method in the case of the people of Khaiber, and then Umar followed and practiced it extensively on the conquest of Iraq and other territories. Abu Ubaid writes in his Kitab-al-Amwal: After the conquest of Iraq a deputation of the leading men of that country came before Umar and submitted: O Commander of the Faithful, before this the people of Iran had subdued us: they subjected us to harsh treatment and committed all sorts of excesses against us. Then, when God sent you, we became very pleased, and we neither put up any resistance against you nor participated in the war. Now, we hear that you want to make us slaves. Umar replied: You have the option either to become Muslims, or accept to pay jizyah and remain free. They agreed to pay the jizyah and they were granted full freedom. At another place in the same book. Abu Ubaid says: Umar wrote to Abu Musa al-Ashari: Set free every farmer and peasant from among the people who have been captured in the war.
(8) The fourth favor is that the prisoner be set free without ransom. This is a special concession that the Islamic government can give only in case the special conditions of a prisoner demand it, or when it is expected that the concession will win the prisoner’s gratitude forever, and help turn him a friend from an enemy, or a believer from a disbeliever; otherwise, obviously it would in no way be a wise thing to set free a person of the enemy camp, who could again return to fight the Muslims. This is why the Muslim jurists generally have opposed it, and imposed the condition: If the ruler of the Muslims finds it expedient to set the prisoners, or some of them, free as a favor, there is no harm in doing so. (As-Siyat al-Kabir). Many precedents of this are found in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and in almost every case expediency seems to be the reason.
About the prisoners taken at Badr, he said: If Mutim bin Adi were alive, and had spoken to me in respect of these treacherous people, I would have let them go for his sake. (Bukhari, Abu Daud, Musnad Ahmad). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said this because when he had returned from Taif to Makkah, Mutim at that time had given him refuge, and his armed sons had escorted him to the Kabah. Therefore, he wanted to repay his debt of gratitude in this way.
According to Bukhari, Muslim and Musnad Ahmad, when Thumamah bin Uthal, the chief of Yamamah, was brought as a prisoner, the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked him: Thumamah, what do you say? He replied: If I am killed, then such a one would be killed, whose blood has some value: if I am shown favor, then favor would be shown to a person, who appreciates favor; and if you want wealth, ask for it, you will be given it. For three days the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked him the same thing and he gave the same reply. At last, the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered that Thumamah be set free. On attaining freedom, he went to a nearby oasis, washed himself and came back, pronounced the kalimah and became a Muslim, saying: Before this day nobody was more detestable than you and no religion more odious than your religion in my sight, but now for me no man is more lovable than you and no religion more lovable than your religion. Then he went to Makkah for Umrah and gave the people of Quraish a notice to the effect: After this no grain will reach you from Yamamah unless Muhammad (peace be upon him) permits it. So, he stopped the grain supply and the people of Makkah had to request the Prophet (peace be upon him) that he should not stop the supply of grain for them from Yamamah.
From among the prisoners of the Bani Quraizah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) forgave Zabir bin Bata and Amr bin Saad (or Ibn Suda), the former because he had given refuge to Thabit bin Qais Ansari in the battle of Buath, in the pre-Islamic days of ignorance; therefore, he handed him over to Thabit that he may repay him for his favor. And he forgave Amr bin Sad because it was he who was exhorting his tribe not to be treacherous when the Bani Quraizah were committing breach of the trust with the Prophet (peace be upon him).
After the Battle of Bani-al-Mustaliq, when the prisoners were brought and distributed among the people, the Prophet (peace be upon him) paid Juwairiyah’s ransom to the person to whom she was allotted to secure her freedom and then married her to himself. At this all the Muslims set their own prisoners free, saying: Now they have become the Prophet’s relatives. Thus, the prisoners of a hundred families became free. (Musnad Ahmad, Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Ibn Hisham).
On the occasion of the treaty of Hudaibiyah, at about dawn, 80 men came from the direction of Tanim with the intention of launching a sudden attack on the Muslim camp, but were all captured, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) set all of them free lest it became a cause of war on that critical occasion. (Muslim, Abu Daud, Nasai, Tirmidhi, Musnad Ahmad).
At the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) forgave all the people of Makkah except only a few men, and did not kill more than three or four of even those who had been made an exception. The whole of Arabia was well aware of what atrocities the people of Makkah had committed against the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Muslims; yet he forgave them after attaining complete victory over them, gave the Arabs the satisfaction that they had not been overpowered by a tyrant but by a merciful, affectionate and generous leader. That is why after the conquest of Makkah the Arabian peninsula did not take longer than two years to be completely subdued.
After the Battle of Hunain, when the Hawazin deputation came to secure the freedom of their prisoners, the prisoners had already been distributed. The Prophet (peace be upon him) called the Muslims together and said: These people have come with repentance, and I am of the opinion that their men should be returned to them. He who would like to set the prisoner allotted to him free willingly without ransom, should set him free, and the one who would like to take ransom, shall be paid it out of the first income that is received in the Public Treasury. Thus, six thousand prisoners were set free, and those who wanted to take ransom, were given it by the government. (Bukhari, Abu Daud, Musnad Ahmad, Tabaqat Ibn Saad). This also shows that the government is not authorized to set the prisoners free after they have been distributed; this can be done by the willing approval of those in whose possession the prisoners have been given, or by paying them the ransom.
After the Prophet (peace be upon him), precedents of setting the prisoners free as a favor continue to be found throughout the period of the companions also. Abu Bakr set free Ashath bin Qais al-Kindi and Umar granted freedom to Hurmuzan and the prisoners of Manadhir and Maisan. (Abu Ubaid, Kitab alAmwal).
(9) The precedent of setting the prisoners free on payment of the ransom in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is found only on the occasion of Badr, when the prisoners were set free on payment of one thousand to four thousand dirhams each. (Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Kitab al- Amwal). No precedent of this is found in the time of the companions; and the jurists of Islam have generally disapproved it, for it means that we should take money and set a man free so that he may again rise against us with the sword. But since taking of ransom has been permitted in the Quran, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) also acted according to it once, it is not absolutely forbidden. Imam Muhammad writes in his As-Siyar al-Kabir that if the need arises the Muslims can free their prisoners on payment of the ransom.
(10) The criterion of freeing a prisoner for a service rendered is also found in connection with the battle of Badr. For those of the Quraish prisoners who had no ransom the Prophet (peace be upon him) imposed the condition that they should teach reading and writing to ten Ansar children each to win their freedom. (Musnad Ahmad, Tabaqat Ibn Saad, Kitab al-Amwal).
(11) Several instances of the exchange of prisoners are found in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Once he dispatched Abu Bakr on an expedition and he brought some captives, including a beautiful woman, who fell to the lot of Salamah bin Akwa. The Prophet urged him to give her back, then sent her to Makkah and had several Muslim prisoners released, in exchange for her. (Muslim, Abu Daud, Tahawi Kitab al-Amwal of Abi Ubaid, Tabaqat Ibn Saad). Imran bin Husain relates that once the tribe of Thaqif arrested two men of the Muslims. Some time later, a man of the Bani Uqail, who were allies of the Thaqif, was arrested by the Muslims. The Prophet (peace be upon him) sent him to Taif and got both the Muslims released in exchange for him. (Muslim, Tirmidhi, Musnad Ahmad). From among the jurists Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Muhammad, Imam Shafai, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad hold the exchange of the prisoners as permissible. A ruling of Imam Abu Hanifah is that exchange should not be practiced, but according to another ruling of his exchange can be practiced. However, there is a consensus that the prisoner who becomes a Muslim should not be handed over to the disbelievers for the purpose of exchange.
This explanation makes it abundantly clear that Islam has formulated a comprehensive code in respect of the prisoners of war, which contains provision for this problem in every age under all sorts of conditions. Those people who take this Quranic verse in its simple meaning that the prisoners of war should either be shown favor and set free or freed for ransom, do not know what different aspects the question of the prisoners of war has, and what problems it has been creating in different ages and can create in the future.
9. That is, if Allah had only wanted to crush the worshipers of falsehood, He did not stand in need of your help for this. He could have done this through an earthquake or a tempest in no time, But what He wills is that the followers of the truth among the people should enter into a conflict with the worshipers of falsehood and fight against them so that the qualities and characteristics of each are brought out clearly by means of the test and each is given the place and rank that he deserves according to his conduct.
10. It means this: A person’s being slain in the way of Allah does not mean that he lost his life and as far as his person was concerned, all his lifework was wasted. It is wrong to think that the sacrifices of the martyrs are not beneficial for themselves but only for those who live after them in the world, and take advantage of their sacrifices. The fact is that even for the martyrs themselves it is a bargain of profit, not of loss at all.
11. This is the profit that the martyrs falling in the way of Allah will gain. Its three grades have been stated:
(1) That Allah will guide them.
(2) That He will set their condition right.
(3) That He will admit them into the Paradise with which He has acquainted them beforehand.
Guidance here obviously implies guiding to Paradise; setting the condition right implies that before their entry into Paradise, Allah will adorn them with robes of honor and remove every filth which had polluted them in the life of the world; and the third stage means that even in this world they have been told through the Quran and the Prophet (peace be upon him) what kind of Paradise it is that has been prepared for them. When they enter that Paradise they will enter a place with which they will already be familiar and they will come to know that they have been blessed precisely with the same that had been promised to them in the world.
12. If you help Allah: If you participate in the work of raising Allah’s Word with your life and wealth. But this has a deeper meaning too, which we have explained in (E.N. 50 of Surah Aal-Imran). 8
13. Literally, to stumble and fall down on the face.
14. That is, they preferred the whims, superstitions, customs and moral perversion of their former ignorance and did not like the teaching that Allah had revealed to guide them to the right way.
15. This sentence has two meanings:
(1) The same destruction that was met by those disbelievers now awaits these disbelievers, who are not accepting the invitation of Muhammad (peace be upon him).
(2) The ruin of those people does not end with the torment of the world; the same doom also awaits them in the Hereafter.
16. After being wounded at Uhud when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was resting in a hill pass with a few companions, Abu Sufyan shouted: We have Uzza and there is no Uzza for you. Thereupon the Prophet (peace be upon him) told his companions to respond, saying: Our Protector and helper is Allah, and you have no protector and helper at all. This reply of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was derived from this very verse.