Surah “At-Taubah –Al-Bara'ah - Ultimatum”


This Sûrah is famous by two names, At-Taubah and Al-Bara'ah.  It is called At-Taubah because at one place there is mention of the forgiveness of the faults of some Muslims (vv. 102. 118), and Al-Bara'ah (Release) because in the beginning of this Sûrah the declaration of displeasure has been mad against Mushrikûn.


The reason not to write Bismillah:

In the beginning of this Sûrah Bismillah is not being written.  The commentators have given quite a few reasons for it which has many differences.  But the correct reason is that which Imam Razi has written, that Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam himself did not dictate Bismillah at the beginning of this Sûrah -- therefore the Companions did not write and their successors have also been following the same.  This is a further proof that extreme care has been done to keep the Qur’ân unchanged, so that it should remain in its complete and original form.


Period of Revelation and Contents of Sûrah:

This Sûrah comprises of three speeches:

The first speech starts from the beginning of the Sûrah and ends on 5th Rakuh (vv. 1-37).  Its period of revelation is Zil-Qaadah 9th A. H. or around then.  That year Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had appointed Hadrat Abu Bakr as a leader of the pilgrims and sent him to Makkah – this speech revealed right after that, so the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam immediately sent Hadrat Ali to follow him and at the occasion of Hajj to deliver this speech before the representatives of the different tribes of Arabia and to announce the policy that had been adopted as a result of it. 


The second speech starts from 6th Rakuh and ends on 9th Rakuh (vv., 38-72) -- it was revealed in Rajab 9th A. H. or a little before it, when the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was preparing for Tabuk Battle.  In this, the people with Faith were encouraged to take part in Jihad, and those people, who were reluctant to sacrifice their lives and wealth in the cause of Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala because of their hypocrisy, weak faith or negligence, have been severely rebuked.


The third speech starts from 10th Rakuh and ends with the Sûrah (vv. 73-129) and it was revealed on the way back from the Battle of Tabuk.  There are some pieces in this speech that were revealed on different occasions during the same period and later Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam with the inspiration from Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala consolidated into one complete speech.  However, it did not cause any interruption in its continuity because they are related to the same subject and same incidents. In this speech there is warning on the evil deeds of the hypocrites, admonish for those who had stayed behind in the Battle of Tabuk, and forgiveness of Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala, after taking the True Believers to the task, who were Truthful in their Faiths but could not take part in the Jihad for the sake of Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala. 


In the order of revelation, the first speech should have come at the end; but because of the importance of the subject matter it lead the others, this is why Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam placed it first in the order of compilation.


Historical Background:

After determining the period of revelation, we should glance on the historical background of this Sûrah.  The beginning of the series of events that relates to the subject matter of this Sûrah starts from the Peace Treaty of Hudaibiyah.  Because of continuous struggle of 6 (six) years until the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, Islam had become the way of life (Deen) for an organized society, a complete civilization, and independent powerful state of one-third of Arabia.  The Treaty of Hudaibiyah also provided an opportunity to Islam to spread its influence in the surroundings in the peaceful atmosphere (for details read the introduction of Sûrah Al-Mâ’idah and Sûrah Al-Fâtihah).  After this, the series of incident adopted two main paths, which led to very important results.  One of it was related to Arabs and other with the State of Romans.


Overthrow of Arabia:

After Hudaibiyah within two years the circle of Islam become so vast and powerful that the old customs of ignorance proved helpless before it -- because of the strategies adopted to speared Islam in Arabia.  Finally, when the zealous people from among the Quraish noticed that they are the losers -- they could not remain patient and broke the Treaty of Hudaibiyah.  After freeing from this commitment, they wanted to have decisive and final battle with Islam.  However, after the breach of treaty the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not provide them an opportunity to gather enough force and all of sudden attacked on Makkah in the month of Ramadan, 8 A. H. and conquer it.  After this, the old union of ignorance made its last attempt in the battlefield of Hunain, where the tribes of Hawazin, Thaqif, Nasr, Jusham, and some others tribes lover of ignorance gathered their entire forces in the battlefield in order to stop the reformation Revolution, which has reached to its completion after the conquest of Makkah.  However, this attempt also failed.  The defeat of Hunain proved to be decisive and paved the way for making the whole of Arabia the Home of Islam (Dar-ul-Islam).  After the incident a year had not yet passed -- the major portion of Arabia embraced Islam and only a few supporters of the old rule of ignorance remained scattered over some places of the country.  The events which were happing in the north of Roman Empire in the same period also contributed towards making Islam a formidable power.  Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam boldly marched towards the Roman Empire with an army of 30,000 (thirty thousand) but the Romans showed weakness and avoided the encounter.  Consequently, the power of the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and Islam increased manifold and delegations start coming from all corners of Arabia on his return from Tabuk in order to offer their oaths of allegiance to Islam and obedience to him.  Therefore, this situation has been described in Al-Qur’ân in Surah An-Nasr -- "when the help of Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala came and victory was attained and you have seen the people are entering the fold of Islam in large numbers…”


The Battle of Tabuk:

The conflict with the Roman Empire had started before the conquest of Makkah.  After the Treaty of Hudaibiyah Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had sent many missions in the different parts of Arabia to spread Islam from among those -- one missions had visited the tribes which lived in the northern areas adjacent to Syria.  The majority of these people were Christians and they were under the influence of the Roman Empire.  Those people killed 15 (fifteen) members of the delegation near a place known as Zat-u-Talah or Zat-i-Itlah -- only the chief of delegation Ka'ab bin Umair Ghifari could escape and came back.  In the same period Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam sent the message of Islam to Shurajeel-bin-Amro, governor of Basra, but he killed the messenger Harith-bin-Umair.  This governor was Christian and was directly under the rule of Roman Caesar.  For this reason, in 8 A.H. Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam sent an army of 3,000 (three thousand) towards the northern part of Syria so that those people should not consider Muslims helpless and for future that territory should become safe and secure for the Muslims.  When this army reached near Ma'an, the Muslims learnt that Shurajeel-bin-Amro was marching with an army of 100,000 (one hundred thousand) to fight-with them and that the Caesar, who himself was present at Hims, had sent another army consisting of 100,000 (one hundred thousand) soldiers under the command of his brother Theodore.  However, in spite of all such fearful news -- the small brave group of 3,000 Muslims kept advancing and encountered the big army of Shurajeel-bin-Amro at the place of M'utah.  In result the Muslims should had been completed defeated in this encounter of 1 against 33, but whole Arabia and the northern states were astonished to see that Kafir could not defeat Muslims even in this situation.  This was the reason that the Arabs who were living in a state of semi independence in Syria and near Syria and the tribes of Najd near Iraq, who were under the influence of the Iranian Empire, were attracted towards Islam and they embraced Islam in thousands.  The people of Bani Sulaim (whose chief was Abbas-bin-Mirdas Sulaimi), Ashja'a, Ghatafan, Zubyan, Fazarah came into the fold of Islam at the same time.  In addition, in the same period an army commander of Roman Empire Farvah bin 'Amral Juzami also embraced Islam – who underwent the trial of his Faith in a way that filled the whole territory with wonder.  When the Caesar came to know that Farvah had embraced Islam, he ordered that he should be arrested and brought to his court and then Caesar asked him to choose one of the two things.  Either give up your Islam and you will not only be free but also be reinstated on your former rank, or keep Islam and in result you will face death.  He peacefully chose Islam and sacrificed his life in the path of the Truth.  These events made the Caesar to realize the truth of the real danger which was rising from Arabia and coming towards his Empire.


Right next year Caesar began to make military preparations on the border of Syria to punish the Muslims for the insult, he had suffered at M'utah and his subordinates the Ghassanid and other Arab chiefs began to gather armies.  Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was aware of it.  He always kept himself well informed even of the little things that could affect the Islamic Movement favorably or unfavorably.  He immediately understood the meanings of these preparations, and without any hesitation, he decided to fight against the great power of the Caesar.  At this time if a slightest weakness would have been shown the whole thing has been total failure.  On one side, there was dying power of ignorance of Arabia, which had been crushed in the Battle of Hunain, could have revived again.  On the other side, the hypocrites of Al-Madinah, who had secret plan with Christian king Ghassan and the Caesar himself through a monk named Abu-Amir, and who had constructed a mosque “Al-Zaraar” near Al-Madinah to hold secret meetings.  The third danger was of an attack by the Caesar himself, whose terror was prevailing over all other near by territories after defeating the great power of Iran.  If all these three dangerous elements had taken a combined action against Islam, it would have lost the fight that it had almost won.  In addition, there was famine in the country; corps were about to ripen; it was a season of burning heat; there was shortage of money; it was near to impossible to arrange the equipment and conveyance, and above all the encounter was against one of the two super powers of that time, though all the apparent circumstances were against, the Messenger of Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala realized that this is the time to make a decision about the survival or death of the Mission of the Truth. Therefore, Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam made an announcement to prepare for the Battle against the Roman Empire.  In all the earlier Battles Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam never disclosed the destination – where to go and whom to encounter, but while departing Al-Madinah he always took different routes rather going straight towards the target.  At this occasion, he did not keep it as a secret and clearly told that it is a Battle against Roman Empire and have to go towards Syria. 


All in Arabia were realizing the importance of the event.  It was the last hope for the leftovers lovers of the old rule of ignorance and they were anxiously waiting for the result of the Battle between Islam and Romans.  Because they knew it very well that after this there will be no hope from anywhere else.  The hypocrites had put all their efforts on it and after building a Zarar Mosque they were waiting for the defeat of Muslims in Syria so they could fully propagate their mischief.  They had also utilized all their devices to make this mission a failure.  On the other hand, the true Believers also realized that the fate of the Movement for which they had been struggling for the last 22 years, is on a scale, to show the courage at this time means that this movement will prevail all over the world, and to show the weakness means that all the work they had done in Arabia would end in smoke.  Therefore, with this realization these lovers of Islam enthusiastically started the preparations for Battle.  Every one of them tried to exceed the others in contributing for the equipment.  Hadrat Uthman and Hadrat Abdur-Rahmân-bin-Auf presented very large amount of money.  Hadrat Omar brought half of the earnings of his life.  Hadrat Abu-Bakr donated his entire wealth.  The poor companions presented all the earnings of their hard labor.  The women contributed all their ornaments.  Thousands of volunteers filled with the desire of sacrificing their lives for Islam, came to the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and requested that arrangements for weapons and conveyance should be made – they are ready to sacrifices their lives.  Those who could not get conveyance were crying in such a way that it made the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam sad because of the shortage of resources.  This occasion became the criterion for differentiating a true believer from a hypocrite, though to lag behind meant that the truth of the relationship of a person with Islam was doubtful.  Therefore, whosoever lagged behind during the journey to Tabuk, the Companions of Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam used to inform him about that person, in response Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam used to say, "Leave him alone. If there is any good in him, Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala will again join him with you, and if there be no good in him, then thanks to Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala that HE relieved you of his false companionship".


In 9 A. H. Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam marched out towards Syria in Rajab with 30,000 (thirty thousand) supporters, from among them there were 10,000 (ten thousand) horse riders.  The number of camels was so small that many of them had to wait for their turns and several had to ride at a time on each camel.  In addition, there was burning heat and the severe shortage of water.  However, the Muslims showed great firmness at this critical time for that they were rewarded right after reaching at Tabuk.  When they arrived at Tabuk, they learnt that the Caesar and his allies had withdrawn their troops from the frontier and there was no enemy to fight with. 


The biographical writers usually present this event though the news of gathering of Roman armies that came to Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was wrong.  Albeit, the fact of the event was that the Caesar started gathering armies, but Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam reached there before he could complete his military preparation – there was no way out except to with draw the armies from the border.  He had not forgotten the Battle of M’utah that the 3,000 (three thousand) supporters of Islam had made an army of 100,000 (hundred thousand) helpless. Therefore he did not had the courage even to come with an army of 100,000 – 200,000 (hundred thousand – two hundred thousand) and to fight against an army of 30,000 (thirty thousand) supports of Islam marching under the direct leadership of the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam himself.


The moral success they had attained after the withdrawal of Caesar, Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam considered it enough and instead of advancing from Tabuk and marching into Syria, he preferred to take utmost political and strategically advantage.  Therefore, he stayed 20 days in Tabuk and during this time, he developed pressure on the small states that located between the Roman Empire and the Islamic State and were at that time under the influence of the Romans, and subdued and made them the part of the Islamic State. In this connection the Christian chiefs of Dumatul Al-Jandal, Ukaidir bin Abdul Malik Kindi, the Christian chiefs of Ellah, Yuhanna bin D'obah, and the chiefs of Maqna, Jarba' and Azruh also submitted and agreed to pay Jizyah and became obedient to the Islamic State of Al-Madinah.  Consequently, the boundaries of the Islamic State were extended right up to the Roman Empire, and the majority of the Arab tribes, who were being used by the Caesar against Arabia, became the allies of the Muslims against the Romans. 


In addition, the other great benefit of it was that the Muslims got an opportunity to strengthen their hold on Arabia before entering into a long conflict with the Romans.  This victory without war had broken the backbone of those people who had still been expecting that the old authority of ignorance might recover in the near future, whether they were the open supporters of shirk or the hypocrites in the fold of Islam.  This last hopelessness had left no other option for the majority but to take refuge under the banner of Islam and if they could not benefit from the blessing of Faith then at least their descendants could become true Muslims.  After this a mere minority of the defender of the old rule of ignorance and Mushrikûn was left, it became so helpless that it could not stand in the way of the Revolution of Reformation, for which Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala had sent HIS Messenger Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.


Issues and Discussion:

After keeping in view, this background we can easily observe those big issues which were challenging at that time and which have been addressed in Sûrah Taubah:

  1. Now because the administration of the Arabia had completely come in the hands of the Believers and all the opposing powers had become helpless, so it was important to announce the policy which was necessary to adopt -- to make the Arabia a perfect Dar-ul-Islam. Therefore, it was presented in the following form:

a)      The Shirk should be completely eradicated from the Arab and the old rule of Shirk should be totally abolished, so that the center of Islam should become true center of Islam forever and no one could dare to interfere with the spirit of Islam in anyway and could not become a cause of an internal mischief at the time of any danger.   This is why the declaration of displeasure was made and all the treaties with Mushrikûn were put to an end (vv 1-3). 

b)      After Muslims took control of the arrangements of Ka’bah, it was quite inappropriate that still shirk should be committed in that House which was devoted for the Service of Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala, and its guardianship also remains in the hands of Mushrikûn.  Therefore, a verdict was issued that the guardianship of the Ka`abah should remain in the hands of Muslims (vv. 12-18) and all the customs and practices of the shirk in the boundaries of Ka’bah should be forcibly abolished, in addition the Mushriks should not even be allowed to come near this House/Ka’bah (v. 28) -- so there should be no doubt about the place of Ibrâhim being impure with shirk.

c)      In the modern Islamic era, it was unsuitable that the signs of ignorance of old social customs of Arabia which were still present should remain alive; therefore, attention has been drawn towards their eradication.  The most evil custom of these was the practice of Nasi (to tamper with the sacred months) this is why it has been directly tackled and with the same address; it has been told to Muslim what to do with other customs of ignorance (v. 37).

  1. After completion of Islamic mission in Arabia, the next important task was to extend the Islamic circle out side of the Arabia.  To achieve this purpose the Roman and the Iranian Powers were the two biggest political hurdles in the way, therefore it was necessary to encounter them right after taking care of the affairs of Arabia.  In addition, afterward they were going to have the same kind of encounter with other non-Muslims socio-political authorities.  This is why the Muslims were enjoined to crush with sword all the non-Muslim powers outside the Arabia until they accept the rule of the Islamic State.  As far as the concern of bringing Faith in True Deen -- they have the right either to bring faith or not, but they do not have the right to implement their laws in the Land of Allah and holding the power of human societies in their hands keep thrusting forcibly their deviations upon others and the coming generations.  The only right of freedom they could have is that they themselves can remain on ignorance, if they chose to be so, provided they should pay tax of obedience (Jizyah) to the Islamic State (v. 29).
  2. The third important issue was of the hypocrites, who had up until now been ignored because of the critical situation.  Now because there was no pressure of outside danger, therefore it has been commanded that they should be treated strictly and these hidden hypocrites should be treated in the same way as the disbelievers (v. 73).  Thus, because of this policy at the time of preparation for the Battle of Tabuk the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam allowed to set on fire the house of Swailim, where the hypocrites used to gather for consultations in order to discourage the people from joining the Battle to Tabuk, and because of the same policy while returning from Tabuk, the first thing Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did was – commanded to demolish and burn the Zarrar Mosque.
  3. It was also necessary that the treatment should be done for whatever little weaknesses the True believers had, because the Islam was going to enter in a struggle against the whole world and in this struggle the Arab Muslims had to encounter all non-Muslim world, except weakness of Faith there was no internal danger for the Islamic movement.  That is why those people who had shown weakness and laziness in the Battle of Tabuk – were severely taken to task, the act of those, who had remained behind without any reason or proper excuse, was considered as an act of hypocrisy and weakness of the faith, and a clear declaration was made that in future the sole criterion on which the faith of Muslims will be tested, is based on the effort he makes to support of the Word of Allâh subhaana wa ta’aala and the role he plays in the struggle between Islam and Kufr.  Whosoever will hesitate to sacrifice his life, wealth, time and energy, in the path of Islam, his faith shall not be regarded as legitimate (vv. 81-96) and the deficiency of it could not be compensated with any other act.

If during the study of Sûrah Taubah these facts are kept in mind – its all contents could be easily comprehended.

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