Surah At-Tawbah Ayat 1-42

Tafsir of Surat At-Tawbah (The Repentance)

(Chapter 9)

Which Was Revealed in Al-Madinah

{1. Freedom from obligations from Allah and His Messenger to those of the Mushrikin, with whom you made a treaty.

2. So travel freely (Mushrikin) for four months (as you will) throughout the land but know that you can never elude Allah, and that, verily, Allah shall bring disgrace upon all who refuse to acknowledge the truth!}

Why there is no Basmallah in the Beginning of This Surah 

This honorable Surah (chapter 9) was one of the last Surahs to be revealed to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Al-Bukhari recorded that Al-Bara’ said, “The last Ayah to be revealed was, “They ask you for a legal verdict. Say: “Allah directs (thus) about Al-Kalalah.” (4:176), while the last Surah to be revealed was Bara’ah.” (Fath Al-Bari 8:167) [This Surah was commonly called Al-Barah] The Basmalah was not mentioned in the beginning of this Surah because the Companions did not write it in the complete copy of the Qur’an (Mushaf) they collected, following the Commander of the faithful, Uthman bin Affan, may Allah be pleased with him. The first part of this honorable Surah was revealed to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, when he returned from the battle of Tabuk, during the Hajj season, which the Prophet thought about attending. But he remembered that the idolators would still attend that Hajj, as was usual in past years, and that they perform Tawaf around the House while naked. He disliked to associate with them and sent Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, may Allah be pleased with him, to lead Hajj that year and show the people their rituals, commanding him to inform the idolators that they would not be allowed to participate in Hajj after that season. He commanded him to proclaim, “Freedom from (all) obligations (is declared) from Allah and His Messenger”, to the people. When Abu Bakr had left, the Messenger sent Ali bin Abu Talib to be the one to deliver this news to the idolators on behalf of the Messenger peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, for he was the Messenger’s cousin. We will mention this story later.

Publicising the Disavowal of the Idolaters

Allah said,“Freedom from obligations from Allah and His Messenger” , is a declaration of freedom from all obligations from Allah and His Messenger , “to those of the Mushrikin, with whom you made a treaty. So travel freely (Mushrikin) for four months (as you will) throughout the land” (9:1-2). This Ayah refers to idolators who had indefinite treaties and those, whose treaties with Muslims ended in less than four months. The terms of these treaties were restricted to four months only. As for those whose term of peace ended at a specific date later (than the four months), then their treaties would end when their terms ended, no matter how long afterwards, for Allah said, “So fulfill their treaty for them until the end of their term” (9:4). So whoever had a coventant with Allah’s Messenger then it would last until its period expired, this was reported from Muhammad bin Kab Al-Qurazi and others. We will also mention a Hadith on this matter. (At-Tabari 14:106-102)

Abu Mashar Al-Madani said that Muhammad bin Kab Al-Qurazi and several others said, “The Messenger of Allah sent Abu Bakr to lead the Hajj rituals on the ninth year (of Hijrah). He also sent Ali bin Abi Talib with thirty or forty Ayat from Bara’ah (At-Tawbah), and he recited them to the people, giving the idolators four months during which they freely move about in the land. He recited these Ayat on the day of Arafah (ninth of Dhul-Hijjah). The idolators were given twenty more days (till the end) of Dhul-Hijjah, Muharram, Safar, Rabi Al-Awwal and ten days from Rabi Ath-Thani. He proclaimed to them in their camping areas, ‘No Mushrik will be allowed to perform Hajj after this year, nor a naked person to perform Tawaf around the House.”’ (At-Tabari 6:304) [The chain of narrators is not authentic. Al-Bukhari recorded a similar Hadith with different wording. no. 4363) So Allah said,

{3. And a declaration from Allah and His Messenger to mankind on the greatest day of Hajj that Allah is free from obligations to the Mushrikin and so is His Messenger. So if you repent, it is better for you, but if you turn away, then know that you cannot escape Allah. And give tidings of a painful torment for those who disbelieve.}

Allah says this is a declaration, “from Allah and His Messenger”, and a preface warning to the people, “on the greatest day of Hajj”, the day of Sacrifice, the best and most apparent day of the Hajj rituals, during which the largest gathering confers.” that Allah is free from (all) obligations to the Mushrikin and so is His Messenger” also free from all obligations to them. Allah next invites the idolators to repent,“So if you repent”, from the misguidance and Shirk you indulge in, “it is better for you, but if you turn away”, and persist on your ways, “then know that you cannot escape Allah.” Rather, Allah is capable over you, and you are all in His grasp, under His power and will, “And give tidings of a painful torment for those who disbelieve” earning them disgrace and affliction in this life and the torment of chains and barbed iron bars in the Hereafter. Al-Bukhari recorded that Abu Hurayrah said, “Abu Bakr sent me during that Hajj with those dispatched on the day of Sacrifice to declare in Mina that no Mushrik will be allowed to attend Hajj after that year, nor will a naked person be allowed to perform Tawaf.”

Humayd said, “The Prophet then sent Ali bin Abi Talib and commanded him to announce Bara’ah.” Abu Hurayrah said, “Ali publicized Bara’ah with us to the gathering in Mina on the day of Sacrifice, declaring that no Mushrik shall perform Hajj after that year, nor shall a naked person perform Tawaf around the House.” (Fath Al-Bari 8:168) Al-Bukhari also collected this Hadith the this narration of which, Abu Hurayrah said, “On the day of Nahr, Abu Bakr sent me along with other announcers to Mina to make a public announcement that ‘No pagan is allowed to perform Hajj after this year, and no naked person is allowed to perform the Tawaf around the Kabah.’ Abu Bakr was leading the people in that Hajj season, and in the year of ‘The Farewell Hajj’ when the Prophet performed Hajj, no Mushrik performed Hajj.”’ (Fath Al-Bari 8:168) This is the narration that Al-Bukhari recorded in the Book on Jihad.

Muhammad bin Ishaq reported a narration from Abu Jafar Muhammad bin Ali bin Al-Husayn who said, “When Bara’ah was revealed to Allah’s Messenger, and he had sent Abu Bakr to oversee the Hajj rites for the people, he was asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah! Why not send this “message” to Abu Bakr?’ So he said,

“It will not be accepted to have been from me if it is not from a man from my family.”

Then he called for Ali and said to him,

“Take this section from the beginning of Bara’ah and proclaim to the people on the day of the Sacrifice while they are gathered at Mina that no disbeliever will enter Paradise, no idolator will be permitted to perform Hajj after the year, there will be no Tawaf while naked, and whoever has a covenant with Allah’s Messenger, then it shall be valid until the time of its expiration.”

Ali rode the camel of Allah’s Messenger named Al-Adba’ until he caught up with Abu Bakr in route. When Abu Bakr saw him he said, ‘Are you here as a commander or a follower?’ Ali replied, ‘A follower.’ They continued on. Abu Bakr lead the people in Hajj while the Arabs were camping in their normal locations from Jahiliyyah. On the day of Sacrifice, Ali bin Abi Talib stood and proclaimed, ‘O people! No disbeliever will be admitted into Paradise, no idolator will be permitted to perform Hajj next year, there shall be no Tawaf while naked, and whoever has a covenant with Allah’s Messenger , then it shall be valid until its time of expiration.’ So no idolator performed Hajj after that year, Tawaf around the House while naked ceased. Then they returned to Allah’s Messenger,  peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. So this was the declaration of innocence, whoever among the idolators had no treaty, then he had a treaty of peace for one year, if he had a particular treaty, then it was valid until its date of expiration.” (At-Tabari 14:107) [This narration is not authentic because it is Mursal. The text of the saying of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is supported by a narration from Anas, recorded by At-Tirmindhi, under the Tafsir of this Surah. The remainder of the narration is supported by others. The scholars explain the mention of the Prophet’s family to mean that such representation was necessary when changing a treaty.]

{4. Except those of the Mushrikin with whom you have a treaty, and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor have supported anyone against you. So fulfill their treaty for them until the end of their term. Surely, Allah loves those who have Taqwa.}

Existing Peace Treaties remained valid until the End of Their Term

This is an exception regulating the longest extent of time for those who have a general treaty – with out time mentioned – to four months. They would have four months to travel the lands in search of sanctuary for themselves wherever they wish. Those whose treaty mentioned a specifec limited term, then the longest it would extend was to the point of its agreed upon termination date. Hadiths in this regard preceeded. So anyone who had a treaty with Allah’s Messenger,  peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, it lasted until its specific termination date. However, those in this category were required to refrain from breaking the terms of the agreement with Muslims and from helping non-Muslims against Muslims. This is the type whose peace agreement with Muslims was carried out to its end. Allah encouraged honoring such peace treaties, saying, “Surely, Allah loves those who have Taqwa” (9:4), who keep their promises.

{5. So when the Sacred Months have passed, then fight the Mushrikin wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush. But if they repent and perform the Salah, and give the Zakah, then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.}

 

This is the Ayah of the Sword

Mujahid, Amr bin Shuayb, Muhammad bin Ishaq, Qatadah, As-Suddi and Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam said that the four months mentioned in this Ayah are the four-month grace period mentioned in the earlier Ayah, (At-Tabari 14:136-137) “So travel freely for four months throughout the land.” Allah said next, “So when the Sacred Months have passed…”, meaning, ‘Upon the end of the four months during which We prohibited you from fighting the idolators, and which is the grace period We gave them, then fight and kill the idolators wherever you may find them.’ Allah’s statement next, “then fight the Mushrikin wherever you find them”, means, on the earth in general, except for the Sacred Area, for Allah said, “And fight not with them at Al-Masjid Al-Haram, unless they fight you there. But if they attack you, then fight them.” (2:191) Allah said here, “and capture them”, executing some and keeping some as prisoners, “and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush”, do not wait until you find them. Rather, seek and besiege them in their areas and forts, gather intelligence about them in the various roads and fairways so that what is made wide looks ever smaller to them. This way, they will have no choice, but to die or embrace Islam, “But if they repent and perform the Salah, and give the Zakah, then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” Abu Bakr As-Siddiq used this and other honorable Ayat as proof for fighting those who refrained from paying the Zakah.

These Ayat allowed fighting people unless, and until, they embrace Islam and implement its rulings and obligations. Allah mentioned the most important aspects of Islam here, including what is less important. Surely, the highest elements of Islam after the Two Testimonials, are the prayer, which is the right of Allah, the Exalted and Ever High, then the Zakah, which benefits the poor and needy. These are the most honorable acts that creatures perform, and this is why Allah often mentions the prayer and Zakah together. In the Two Sahihs, it is recorded that Ibn Umar said that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said,

“I have been commanded to fight the people until they testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establish the prayer and pay the Zakah.” (Fath Al-Bari 1:95)

This honorable Ayah (9:5) was called the Ayah of the Sword, about which Ad-Dahhak bin Muzahim said, “It abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolator, every treaty, and every term.” Al-Awfi said that Ibn Abbas commented: “No idolator had any more treaty or promise of safety ever since Surah Bara’ah was revealed. The four months, in addition to, all peace treaties conducted before Bara’ah was revealed and announced had ended by the tenth of the month of Rabi Al-Akhir.” (At-Tabari 14:133)

{6. And if anyone of the Mushrikin seeks your protection then grant him protection so that he may hear the Word of Allah (the Qur’an) and then escort him to where he can be secure, that is because they are men who know not.}

The Idolaters are granted Safe Passage if They seek It

Allah said to His Prophet, peace be upon him, “And if anyone of the Mushrikin”, whom you were commanded to fight and We allowed you their blood and property,’ “seeks your protection”, asked you for safe passage, then accept his request until he hears the Words of Allah, the Qur’an. Recite the Qur’an to him and mention a good part of the religion with which you establish Allah’s proof against him, “and then escort him to where he can be secure” and safe, until he goes back to his land, his home, and area of safety, “that is because they are men who know not.” The Ayah says, ‘We legislated giving such people safe passage so that they may learn about the religion of Allah, so that Allah’s call will spread among His servants. Ibn Abi Najih narrated that Mujahid said that this Ayah, “Refers to someone who comes to you to hear what you say and what was revealed to you (O Muhammad). Therefore, he is safe until he comes to you, hears Allah’s Words and then proceeds to the safe area where he came from.” (At-Tabari 14:139) The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, used to thereafter grant safe passage to those who came to him for guidance or to deliver a message. On the day of Hudaybiyyah, several emissaries from Quraysh came to him, such as Urwah bin Masud, Mikraz bin Hafs, Suhayl bin Amr and several others. They came mediating between him and the Quraysh pagans. They witnessed the great respect the Muslims had for the Prophet peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, which astonished them, for they never before saw such respect for anyone, kings nor czars. They went back to their people and conveyed this news to them; this, among other reasons, was one reason that most of them accepted the guidance. When Musaylimah the Liar sent an emissary to the Messenger of Allah,  peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, he asked him, “Do you testify that Musaylimah is a messenger from Allah?” He said, “Yes.” The Messenger of Allah said,

“I would have cut off your head, if it was not that emissaries are not killed.” (Ibn Hisham 4:247)

That man, Ibn An-Nawwahah, was later beheaded when Abdullah bin Masud was the governor of Al-Kufah. When it became known that he still testified that Musaylimah was a messenger from Allah, Ibn Masud summoned him and said to him, “You are not delivering a message now!” He commanded that Ibn An-Nawwahah be decapitated, may Allah curse him and deprive him of His mercy. In summary, those who come from a land at war with Muslims to the area of Islam, delivering a message, for business transactions, to negotiate a peace treaty, to pay the Jizyah, to offer an end to hostilities, and so forth, and request safe passage from Muslim leaders or their deputies, should be granted safe passage, as long as they remain in Muslim areas, until they go back to their land and sanctuary.

{7.”How can there be a covenant with Allah and with His Messenger for the Mushrikin except those with whom you made a covenant near Al-Masjid Al-Haram (at Makkah)? So long as they are true to you, stand you true to them. Verily, Allah loves those who have Taqwa.”}

Affirming the Disavowel of the Idolaters 

Allah mentions the wisdom in dissolving all obligations to the idolators and giving them a four month period of safety, after which they will meet the sharp sword wherever they are found, “How can there be a covenant for the Mushrikin”, a safe resort and refuge, while they persist in Shirk with Allah, and disbelief in Him and His Messenger, “except those with whom you made a covenant near Al-Masjid Al-Haram?”, on the day of Hudaybiyyah. Allah said in another Ayah “concerning the day of Hudaybiyyah”“They are the ones who disbelieved and hindered you from Al-Masjid Al-Haram and detained the sacrificial animals, from reaching their place of sacrifice.” (48:25) Allah said next, “So long as they are true to you, stand you true to them.”, if they keep the terms of the treaties you conducted with them, including peace between you and them for ten years, “then stand you true to them. Verily, Allah loves those who have Taqwa.”

The Messenger of Allah and the Muslims preserved the terms of the treaty with the people of Makkah from the month of Dhul-Qadah in the sixth year [of Hijrah], until the Quraysh broke it and helped their allies, Banu Bakr, against Khuza’ah, the allies of Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Aided by the Quraysh, Banu Bakr killed some of Bani Khuza’ah in the Sacred Area! The Messenger of Allah,  peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, led an invasion army in the month of Ramadan, of the eighth year, and Allah opened the Sacred Area for him to rule over them, all thanks are due to Allah. The Messenger of Allah,  peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, freed the Quraysh who embraced Islam after they were overpowered and defeated. These numbered around two thousands, and they were refered to by the name ‘Tulaqa’ afterwards. Those among them who remained in disbelief and ran away from Allah’s Messenger were sent promises of safe refuge for four months, during which they were allowed to move about freely. They included Safwan bin Umayyah, Ikrimah bin Abi Jahl and many others. Allah later on guided them to Islam, and they became excellent believers. Surely, Allah is worthy of all praise for all His actions and decrees.

{8. How? When if you are overpowered by them, they regard not the ties, either of kinship, (Ill) or of covenant (Dhimmah)? With their mouths they please you, but their hearts are averse to you, and most of them are rebellious.}

Allah encourages the believers to show enmity to the idolators and to dissociate from them, affirming that they do not deserve to enjoy a covenant of peace, because of their Shirk in Allah and disbelief in Allah’s Messenger,  peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. If these disbelievers have a chance to defeat Muslims, they will cause great mischief, leave nothing unharmed, disregard the ties of kinship and the sanctity of their vows. Ali bin Abi Talhah, Ikrimah and Al-Awfi narrated that Ibn Abbas said, “Ill means kinship, while, Dhimmah means covenant.” (At-Tabari 14:146) Ad-Dahhak and As-Suddi said similarly. (At-Tabari 14:147)

{9. They have purchased with the Ayat of Allah a little gain, and they hindered men from His way; evil indeed is that which they used to do.

10. With regard to a believer, they respect not the ties, either of kinship or of covenant! It is they who are the transgressors.

11. But if they repent, perform the Salah and give the Zakah, then they are your brethren in religion. (In this way) We explain the Ayat in detail for a people who know.}

Allah admonishes the idolators and encourages the believers to fight against them because, “They have purchased with the Ayat of Allah a little gain” idolators exchanged following the Ayat of Allah with the lower affairs of life that they indulged in, “and they hindered men from His way”, trying to prevent the believers from following the truth, “evil indeed is that which they used to do. With regard to a believer, they respect not the ties, either of kinship or of covenant!” (9:9-10). We explained these meanings before, as well as, the meaning of, “But if they repent, perform the Salah…”

{12. But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and attack your religion with disapproval and criticism, then fight (you) against the leaders of disbelief – for surely, their oaths are nothing to them – so that they may stop (evil actions)}

Allah says, if the idolators with whom you conducted peace treaties for an appointed term break “their oaths” meaning, terms of their treaties, and covenants “and attack your religion…” with disapproval and criticism, it is because of this that one who curses the Messenger, peace be upon him, or attacks the religion of Islam by way of criticism and disapproval, they are to be fought. This is why Allah said afterwards, “then fight (you) against the leaders of disbelief – for surely, their oaths are nothing to them – so that they may stop.” so that they may refrain from the disbelief, rebellion and the transgression they indulge in. Qatadah and others said that the leaders of disbelief were Abu Jahl, Utbah and Shaybah, Umayyah bin Khalaf, and he went on to mention several others. Al-Amash narrated from Zayd bin Wahb from Hudhayfah; “The people of this Ayah were never fought again.” (At-Tabari 14:156) A similar statement was reported from Ali bin Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him. However, this Ayah is general, even though the specific reason behind revealing it was the idolators of Quraysh. So this Ayah generally applies to them and others as well, Allah knows best. Al-Walid bin Muslim said that Safwan bin Amr narrated that Abdur-Rahman bin Jubayr bin Nufayr said that when Abu Bakr sent an army to Ash-Sham, he advised them, “You will find some people with shaved heads. Therefore, strike the swords upon the parts that contain the devil, for by Allah, it is better to me to kill one of these people than to kill seventy other men. This is because Allah said, “then fight (you) against the leaders of disbelief.” Ibn Abi Hatim collected it. (Ibn Abi Hatim 6:1761)

{13. Will you not fight a people who have violated their oaths and intended to expel the Messenger while they did attack you first? Do you fear them? Allah has more right that you should fear Him if you are believers.

14. Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands, and disgrace them and give you victory over them, and heal the breasts of a believing people,

15. And remove the anger of their (believers’) hearts. Allah accepts the repentance of whom He wills. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.}

 

Encouragement to fight the Disbelievers, and some Benefits of Fighting Them

These Ayat encourage, direct and recommend fighting against the idolators who break the terms of their covenants, those who tried to expel the Messenger,  peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, from Makkah. Allah said in other Ayat, “And (remember) when the disbelievers plotted against you to imprison you, or to kill you, or to expell you; they were plotting and Allah too was plotting; and Allah is the best of those who plot.” (8:30), “…and have driven out the Messenger and yourselves (from your homeland) because you believe in Allah your Lord!”(60:1), and, “And verily, they were about to frighten you so much as to drive you out from the land.” (17:76) Allah’s statement, “while they did attack you first”, refers to the battle of Badr when the idolators marched to protect their caravan. When they knew that their caravan escaped safely, they still went ahead with their intent to fight Muslims out of arrogance, as we mentioned before. It was also said that these Ayat refer to the idolators breaking the peace agreement with Muslims and aiding Bani Bakr, their allies, against Khuza’ah, the ally of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. This is why the Messenger of Allah marched to Makkah in the year of the victory, thus conquering it, all thanks and praise is due to Allah. Allah said, “Do you fear them? Allah has more right that you should fear Him if you are believers.” Allah says here, ‘Do not fear idolators, but fear Me instead, for I am worthy of being feared by the servants due to My might and punishment. In My Hand lies the matter; whatever I will occurs, and whatever I do not will does not occur.’

Allah next said, while ordering the believers and explaining the wisdom of ordaining Jihad against them, all the while able to destroy their enemies with a command from Him, “Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands, and disgrace them and give you victory over them, and heal the breasts of a believing people.” This Ayah includes all believers, even though Mujahid, Ikrimah and As-Suddi said that it refers to Khuza’ah. Concerning the believers, Allah said; “and remove the anger of their hearts”, then “Allah accepts the repentance of whom He wills”, from His servants, “Allah is All-Knowing”, in what benefits His servants, “All-Wise”, in His actions and statements, whether narrative or legislative. Allah does what He wills, decides what He wills, and He is the Just Who never wrongs any. Not even the weight of an atom of good or evil is ever neglected with Him, but rather, He compensates for it in this life and the Hereafter.

{16. Do you think that you shall be left alone while Allah has not yet tested those among you who have striven hard and fought, and have not taken Walijah besides Allah and His Messenger, and the believers. Allah is well-acquainted with what you do.}

Among the Wisdom of Jihad is to Test the Muslims

Allah said, “Do you think”, O believers that We will leave you untested with matters that make apparent those who have pure, good intent from those who have false intent This is why Allah said next, “while Allah has not yet tested those among you who have striven hard and fought and have not taken Walijah besides Allah and His Messenger, and the believers…”, meaning, supporters and confidants. Rather, they are sincere for Allah and His Messenger inwardly and outwardly.

Allah also said; “Alif-Lam-Mim. Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested. And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allah will certainly make known those who are true, and will certainly make known those who are liars…” (29:1-3), “Do you think that you will enter Paradise before Allah tests those of you who fought (in His cause) and (also) tests those who are patient?” (3: 142), and, “Allah will not leave the believers in the state in which you are now, until He distinguishes the wicked from the good” (3:179).

In summary, since Allah legislated Jihad for His servants, He explained that the wisdom behind doing so includes testing His servants, distinguishing between those who obey Him and those who disobey Him. Allah, the Exalted, is the All-Knower of what occurred, what will occur, and the true essence of what might occur had He decided it. Therefore, Allah knows everything before it occurs and how it will occur, there is no deity worthy of worship except Him, nor a Lord except Him. Truly, there is none who can avert Allah’s judgment and decision.

 

{17. It is not for the Mushrikin, to maintain the Masjids of Allah, while they witness against themselves of disbelief. The works of such are in vain and in Fire shall they abide.

18. The Masjids of Allah shall be maintained only by those who believe in Allah and the Last Day; perform the Salah, and give Zakah and fear none but Allah. It is they who are on true guidance.}

It is not for Idolators to maintain the Masjids of Allah

Allah says that it is not fitting that those who associate others with Allah in worship should maintain the Masjids of Allah that were built in His Name alone without partners. Those who read the Ayah, “Masjid Allah”, said that it refers to Al-Masjid Al-Haram, the most honored Masjid on the earth, which was built, from the first day, for the purpose of worshipping Allah alone without partners. It was built by Khalil Ar-Rahman (the Prophet Ibrahim) peace be upon him. The idolators do this while they themselves testify to their disbelief with their statements and actions. As-Suddi said, “If you ask a Christian, ‘What is your religion?’, He will tell you he is a Christian. If you ask a Jew about his religion, he will say he is a Jew, and the same for a Sabi’ and a Mushrik!”’ (At-Tabari 14:165) “The works of such are in vain”, because of their Shirk,“and in Fire shall they abide.”

Allah said in another Ayah,“And why should not Allah punish them while they hinder (men) from Al-Masjid Al-Haram, and they are not its guardians? None can be its guardians except those with Taqwa, but most of them know not.” (8:34).

Believers are the True Maintainers of the Masjids

Allah said, “The Masjids of Allah shall be maintained only by those who believe in Allah and the Last Day.” Therefore, Allah testifies to the faith of those who maintain the Masjids. Abdur-Razzaq narrated that Amr bin Maymun Al-Awdi said, “I met the Companions of the Prophet and they were saying, ‘The Masjids are the Houses of Allah on the earth. It is a promise from Allah that He is generous to those who visit Him in the Masjids.” Allah said next, “perform the Salah”, one of the major acts of worship practiced by the body, “and give the Zakah”, which is the best act that benefits other people,“and fear none but Allah”, they fear only Allah, the Exalted, and none else, “It is they who are on true guidance.” Ali bin Abi Talhah said that Ibn Abbas said about Allah’s statement, “The Masjids of Allah shall be maintained only by those who believe in Allah and the Last Day” “He who singles out Allah (in worship), has faith in the Last Day.” “And he said” “He who believes in what Allah has revealed,“perform the Salah”, establishes the five daily prayers,“and fear none but Allah”, worships Allah alone, “it may be they who are on true guidance”. Allah says, ‘It is they who are the successful ones in truth.’ Similarly, Allah said to His Prophet, “It may be that your Lord will raise you to Maqam Mahmud” (17:79). Allah says here, ‘Your Lord (O Muhammad) shall grant you a station of praise, that is, the intercession (on the Day of Resurrection).’ Every ‘might’ in the Qur’an means ‘shall’.”

Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Vol 4) Abridged Pages 369-391

[Please note: The ‘Ayah of the Sword’ (9:5) has caused a lot of controversy in the present day and has been misconstrued by a number of groups to justify acts that are essentially ‘unislamic’ such as the indiscriminate killing of disbelievers or of members of sects deemed to be deviant. This blog is serialising the traditional tafseer of the Qur’an by Ibn Katheer and therefore cannot adequately deal with the complexities of contemporary politics. However, as it forms part of Ibn Katheer’s exegesis and indeed of the Qur’an itself it also cannot be omitted. 

We need to stress that the first six ayat of this surah are often taken out of context, and it is therefore vitally important that they be understood within their historical and textual setting. For example, the well known American teacher Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan (see http://bayyinah.com) points out in his explanation of the tafseer of these ayat that the first command to fight was actually given to the Prophet Musa, peace be upon him, because he came with laws that needed to be enforced. The command to fight is therefore linked with the power to implement law, and it is for the state to implement, not an individual or group. When groups or individuals take this upon themselves this leads to chaos. These first six ayat were revealed a year after the conquest of Makkah, when the Muslims were already in the position power. The episodes of violence that we see in the seerah directly relate to punishments for the violations of the Quraysh. In previous times, under previous Prophets, Allah administered the punishment of a disobedient people in the form of natural disasters etc, in the time of the Prophet Muhammed, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, we see the punishment of the disobedient Quraysh being administered by the Muslims. From this contextualised historical tafseer we cannot and should not assume that these ayat are being delivered in relation to all non-Muslims at any place and time.]

{19. Do you consider the providing of drinking water to the pilgrims and the maintenance of Al-Masjid Al-Haram as equal to the worth of those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and strive hard and fight in the cause of Allah? They are not equal before Allah. And Allah guides not those people who are the wrongdoers. 

20. Those who believed and emigrated and strove hard and fought in Allah’s cause with their wealth and their lives, are far higher in degree with Allah. They are the successful. 

21. Their Lord gives them glad tidings of mercy from Him, and His being pleased (with them), and of Gardens (Paradise) for them wherein are everlasting delights. 

22. They will dwell therein forever. Verily, with Allah is a great reward.}

Providing Pilgrim with Water and Maintaining the Sacred Masjid are not equal to faith and Jihad

In his Tafsir, Al-Awfi reported that Ibn Abbas explained this Ayah: “The idolators said, ‘Maintaining Al-Masjid Al-Haram and providing water for pilgrims are better than embracing the faith and performing Jihad.’ They used to boast and show off among the people because they claimed, they were the people and maintainers of Al-Masjid Al-Haram. Allah mentioned their arrogance and rejection (of the faith), saying to ‘the people of Al-Haram’, who were idolators, “Indeed My Ayat used to be recited to you, but you used to turn back on your heels (denying them, and refusing to listen to them with hatred). In pride, talking evil about it (the Qur’an) by night.”(23:66-67). They used to boast about being those who maintained the Sacred Sanctuary,“talking about it by night”. They used to talk about this by night while shunning the Qur’an and the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Allah declared that faith and Jihad with the Prophet are better than the idolators’ maintaining Al-Masjid Al-Haram and providing water for pilgrims. These actions – maintaining and serving Allah’s House – will not benefit them with Allah because they associate others with Him. Allah the Exalted said, “They are not equal before Allah. And Allah guides not those people who are the wrongdoers.” those who claimed they are the maintainers of the House. Allah described them with injustice, on account of their Shirk, and thus, their maintaining the Masjid will not avail them.” (At-Tabari 14:170)

Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn Abbas said, “This Ayah was revealed about Al-Abbas bin Abdul-Muttalib, for when he was captured in the battle of Badr, he said, ‘If you rushed before us to embrace Islam, perform Hijrah and Jihad, we were maintaining Al-Masjid Al-Haram, providing water for the pilgrims and setting the indebted free.’ Allah, the Exalted and Ever High, said, “Do you consider the providing of drinking water to the pilgrims”, until, “and Allah guides not those people who are the wrongdoers”. Allah says, ‘All these actions were performed while committing Shirk, and I do not accept the (good deeds) that are performed while in a state of Shirk.”’ (At-Tabari 14:170) Ad-Dahhak bin Muzahim said, “Muslims came to Al-Abbas and his friends who were captured during the battle of Badr and admonished them for their Shirk. Al-Abbas said, ‘By Allah! We used to maintain Al-Masjid Al-Haram, release the indebted, serve the House (or cover it, or maintain it) and provide water for pilgrims.’ Allah revealed this verse, “Do you consider the providing of drinking water to the pilgrims…”’ (At-Tabari 14:172) There is a Hadith from the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, about the Tafsir of this Ayah that we should mention. Abdur-Razzaq recorded that An-Numan bin Bashir said that a man said, “I do not care if I do not perform an action after embracing Islam other than providing drinking water for pilgrims “who visit the Kabah at Makkah.” Another man said, “I do not care if I do not perform an action after embracing Islam other than maintaining Al-Masjid Al-Haram.” A third man said, “Jihad in the cause of Allah is more righteous than what you have said.” Umar admonished them, “Do not raise your voices next to the Minbar of the Messenger of Allah,” and as it was a Friday, he said, “but after we pray the Friday prayer, we will go to the Prophet and ask him.” This verse was revealed, “Do you consider the providing of drinking water to the pilgrims and the maintenance of Al-Masjid Al-Haram”, until, “They are not equal before Allah.” (Muslim no.1879)

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