Allah warns again of the destruction that will come to towns that reject him (7:96-102) — yet their unbelief is Allah’s doing: “Those cities – We relate to you some of their news. And certainly did their messengers come to them with clear proofs, but they were not to believe in that which they had denied before. Thus does Allah seal over the hearts of the disbelievers.” (7:101). He sealed over their hearts, so how could they believe even if they wanted to?
Allah then spends a considerable amount of time telling the story of Moses (7:103-171). He begins with a retelling of the story of Moses and Pharaoh, told in a way that suggests that the hearers have heard it before: for example, we see Moses telling Pharaoh to “send with me the Children of Israel” (v. 105), but it is assumed that the reader will know that the Israelites were at this time oppressed as slaves in Egypt. Moses performs various miracles before Pharaoh, as in the Biblical account — although when Moses’ hand becomes “white for the observers” (v. 108), Ibn Abbas says this was “not because of leprosy,” which is contrary to Exodus 4:6. The Ruhul Ma’ani says that Moses’ hand shone brighter than the sun. Pharaoh, as in the Biblical story, is unimpressed. But Pharaoh’s magicians are, and say, “We have believed in the Lord of the worlds, the Lord of Moses and Aaron” (vv. 121-122). Pharaoh then threatens to cut off their hands and feet on opposite sides and crucify them (v. 124) — the same punishment Allah prescribes for those who wage war against Allah and Muhammad (5:33). The magicians pray that Allah will “pour upon us patience and let us die as Muslims” (مُسْلِمِين, v. 126): this is another reminder that the Qur’an considers the Biblical prophets all to have been prophets of Islam whose messages were later corrupted to create Judaism and Christianity.
As Pharaoh threatens Moses and his people, Moses tells them: “Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy and grant you succession in the land and see how you will do” (v. 129) — and of course, the Jews fail the test. Allah does indeed destroy their adversary: he sends plagues upon the Egyptians, again enumerated as if the hearers are already familiar with the story: “the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood” (v. 133), drowns Pharaoh’s men in the sea (v. 136), and makes the Jews, “the people who had been oppressed,” the inheritors of “the eastern regions of the land and the western ones, which We had blessed” (v. 137). But the Jews, encountering idolaters in their new land, immediately turn to idolatry themselves (v. 138). Moses goes up on Mount Tur (28:46) to converse with Allah and receive laws, which the Qur’an does not enumerate, on stone tablets (v. 145). Moses’ people, meanwhile, are worshipping “a calf – an image having a lowing sound” (v. 148).
Moses prays for Allah’s forgiveness (v. 155), and Allah promises mercy to “those who fear Me and give zakah and those who believe in Our verses” (v. 156). Zakah (زكاة) is Islamic charity, and “verses” is ayat (آيات), the verses of the Qur’an — again indicting that Allah shows mercy only to those who are Muslims. Underscoring this is the further elaboration that Allah shows mercy to “the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel” (v. 157). This is, of course, Muhammad, whom Muslims contend was prophesied about and described in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures before they were corrupted. Says Ibn Kathir: “This is the description of the Prophet Muhammad in the Books of the Prophets. They delivered the good news of his advent to their nations and commanded them to follow him. His descriptions were still apparent in their Books, as the rabbis and the priests well know.” The rabbis and priests well know: here again is the Islamic belief that the Jews and Christians, or at least their leaders, know that Muhammad is a true prophet, but obstinately refuse to accept him; they aren’t rejecting him in good faith.
It is Muhammad who “enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong and makes lawful for them the good things and prohibits for them the evil and relieves them of their burden and the shackles which were upon them” (v. 157). This is one of the foundations for the belief in the hadith, the traditions of Muhammad’s words and deeds: Muslims are told to follow what Muhammad commands, and only in the hadith can those commands be discovered.
Among the Jews there is “a community which guides by truth and by it establishes justice” (v. 159), but “those who wronged among them” altered their Scriptures: they “changed to a statement other than that which had been said to them” (v. 162) — that is, altered Allah’s revelations to them. They disregarded Allah’s command to observe the Sabbath, whereupon he transformed them into “apes, despised” (v. 166) and “divided them throughout the earth into nations” (v. 168).
Allah then returns yet again to another pet topic, warning warn against idolatry and the perils of rejecting him (vv. 172-206). Everyone on earth is born Muslim (v. 172), as a hadith has Muhammad saying: “No child is born but has the Islamic Faith, but its parents turn it into a Jew or a Christian” (Sahih Muslim 6426). In another hadith, Allah produces all of the multitudes of the children of Adam from his back and asks them, “Am I not your Lord?” (Alastu Bi Rabbikum). All affirm that he is. Therefore, says Bulandshahri, “none will be able to claim that he had no knowledge of the fact that Allah is his Lord.” This is another reason why some Muslims often assume that non-Muslims are dealing in bad faith: they know the Qur’an is true and Muhammad is a prophet, but refuse to acknowledge it.
Allah tells Muhammad to recite the story of a man to whom Allah gave revelations but he rejected them (v. 175). This is, according to Abdullah bin Mas’ud, a reference to the story of Bal’am, a Jew who received revelations but abandoned them. This appears to be Balaam, the reluctant prophet of Numbers 22:2-24:25.
Allah has created a large number of men and jinns for hell: “And We have certainly created for Hell many of the jinn and mankind. They have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear” Indeed, they’re entirely bestial: “Those are like livestock; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless” (v. 179). The believers, on the other hand, shall guide mankind with Allah’s truth and establish justice by means of it (v. 181). Muhammad is not insane (v. 184) and has no knowledge of the unseen world. He is just a messenger (v. 188). Allah alone protects people and can help them; idols can do nothing (v. 197). Allah tells Muhammad to “Take what is given freely, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant” (v. 199). According to Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam, “Allah commanded [Prophet Muhammad ] to show forgiveness and turn away from the idolators for ten years. Afterwards Allah ordered him to be harsh with them.” As we shall soon see.
As we all know, Islam is a Religion of Peace. Everyone from Barack Obama and John Kerry and David Cameron to the New York Times and the Washington Post and CNN tells us that, and all the political and media elites, Left and Right, take it as axiomatically true. And now we come to the Qur’an’s own evidence of the fact. In sura 8, “Booty,” Allah speaks about Muhammad’s confrontation with the forces of the pagan Quraysh at Badr, in which the Muslim prophet…turns the other cheek! Exhorts his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them! And begins a Gandhi-esque nonviolent protest!
Sura 8, Al-Anfal — “Booty,” or “The Spoils of War” — dates from the second year of the Medinan period, the second part of Muhammad’s prophetic career. Islamic tradition holds that it was revealed not long after the Battle of Badr, the first great victory of the Muslims over their chief rivals of the time, the pagan Quraysh tribe. The title of this sura is better known than most, since Saddam Hussein used Al-Anfal as the name for his genocidal 1988 campaigns against the Kurds, in which between 50,000 and 100,000 people were murdered.
At Badr, the Quraysh came out to meet Muhammad’s three hundred men with a force nearly a thousand strong. Muhammad had provoked the battle by sending his men out to raid a Quraysh caravan, telling them: “This is the caravan of Quraysh carrying their property, so march forth to intercept it, Allah might make it as war spoils for you.” As the battle loomed, according to Muhammad’s earliest biographer, Ibn Ishaq, the Islamic prophet strode among his troops and issued a momentous promise — one that has given heart to Muslim warriors throughout the ages: “By Allah in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, no man will be slain this day fighting against them with steadfast courage advancing not retreating but Allah will cause him to enter Paradise.”
One of the Muslim warriors, Umayr bin al-Humam, exclaimed: “Fine, Fine! Is there nothing between me and my entering Paradise save to be killed by these men?” He flung away some dates that he had been eating, rushed into the thick of the battle, and fought until he was killed.
The Quraysh were routed. Some Muslim traditions say that Muhammad himself participated in the fighting; others that it was more likely that he exhorted his followers from the sidelines. In any event, it was an occasion for him to avenge years of frustration, resentment, and hatred toward his people who had rejected him. One of his followers later recalled a curse Muhammad had pronounced on the leaders of the Quraysh: “The Prophet said, ‘O Allah! Destroy the chiefs of Quraish, O Allah! Destroy Abu Jahl bin Hisham, Utba bin Rabi’a, Shaiba bin Rabi’a, Uqba bin Abi Mu’ait, Umaiya bin Khalaf (or Ubai bin Kalaf).” All these men were captured or killed during the battle of Badr. Ibn Ishaq says that one Quraysh leader named in this curse, Uqba, pleaded for his life: “But who will look after my children, O Muhammad?” In the confrontation, Uqba had thrown camel dung, blood, and intestines on the Prophet of Islam, to the great merriment of the Quraysh chieftans, while Muhammad prostrated himself in prayer. Muhammad had pronounced a curse on them, and now it was being fulfilled. Who would care for Uqba’s children? “Hell,” Muhammad declared, and ordered Uqba killed.
The victory at Badr was the turning point for the Muslims. It became the stuff of legend, a cornerstone of the new religion. And Allah rewarded those to whom he had granted victory. In verses 1-4 he praises the true believers, who follow the Islamic rules concerning prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and address for the first time the question of the spoils of war from Badr. There was great booty for the victors — so much, in fact, that it became a bone of contention. Muhammad was receiving questions about the disposal of the booty, and Allah tells the Muslims that that is entirely up to Muhammad (v. 1). This was in accord with a special privilege that Allah had granted to Muhammad. Muhammad explained: “I have been given five (things) which were not given to any amongst the Prophets before me.” These included the fact that “Allah made me victorious by awe (by His frightening my enemies)” and “the booty has been made Halal (lawful) to me (and was not made so to anyone else).” Victorious with “awe” is often translated in other hadiths as “victorious through terror.”
Allah then refers to various incidents that took place before and during the battle (vv. 5-17), emphasizing that he commands warfare and protects the believers in it. The true believers were willing to go out of their homes to wage jihad warfare, although some disliked doing so and disputed with Muhammad about having to do so (vv. 5-6). This echoes 2:216: “Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” Allah says that he “intended to establish the truth by His words and to eliminate the disbelievers” (v. 7).
Allah announced that a thousand angels joined the Muslims to smite the Quraysh (v. 9), and that he had “inspired to the angels, ‘I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.'”(v. 12). The Tafsir Al-Jalalayn explains: “that is, [smite] the extremities of their hands and feet: thus, when one of them went to strike an disbeliever’s head, it would roll off before his sword reached it.” This verse became one of the chief justifications for the Islamic practice — then and now — of beheading hostages and war captives. At the beheading of American hostage Nicholas Berg in May 2004, for example, the now-dead Iraqi jihad leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi invoked the great battle: “Is it not time for you [Muslims] to take the path of jihad and carry the sword of the Prophet of prophets?…The Prophet, the most merciful, ordered [his army] to strike the necks of some prisoners in [the battle of] Badr and to kill them…And he set a good example for us.”
Allah sent angels against the Quraysh “because they opposed Allah and His Messenger. And whoever opposes Allah and His Messenger – indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.” (v. 13). The Muslims must always advance, never turning their backs on the enemy, unless they do so as a stratagem of war (vv. 15-16). Allah tells Muhammad that the Muslims were merely passive instruments at Badr. At one point, according to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad threw pebbles toward the Quraysh, exclaiming: “Foul be those faces!” But it was Allah who killed the Quraysh and even Allah who threw the pebbles: “And you did not kill them, but it was Allah who killed them. And you threw not, when you threw, but it was Allah who threw that He might test the believers with a good test. Indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (v. 17).
Then Allah address the unbelievers (vv. 18-19), warning the Quraysh not to attempt another attack, telling them they will again be defeated no matter how much more numerous they are than the Muslims. He then addresses the Muslims again (vv. 20-30), exhorting them to faith and reminding them how Allah gave them victory at Badr despite the enemy’s superior numbers (v. 26). The unbelievers may plot and plan, but “Allah is the best of plotters” (v. 30).
Allah then discusses the perversity of the pagan Quraysh, whom the Muslims have just defeated in the Battle of Badr (vv. 31-40). They reject Muhammad’s preaching as “legends of the former peoples” (v. 31) and keep the Muslims out of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca (v. 34). In verses 38-40, Allah tells Muhammad to call them to accept Islam, “And fight them until there is no fitnah and the religion, all of it, is for Allah. And if they cease – then indeed, Allah is Seeing of what they do.” (v. 39).
According to Ibn Abbas, Abu Al-Aliyah, Mujahid, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, Ar-Rabi bin Anas, As-Suddi, Muqatil bin Hayyan and Zayd bin Aslam, the statement that Muslims must fight until there is no more fitnah means that they must fight “so that there is no more Shirk.” Shirk is the association of partners with Allah — i.e., calling Jesus the Son of God. So this verse, although it was revealed in the aftermath of a seventh-century battle between Muslims and pagans, has a universal application: the Tafsir al-Jalalayn glosses it this way: “And fight them until sedition, idolatry, is, exists, no more and religion is all for Allah, alone, none other being worshipped.” Muhammad himself said: “I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah, and he who professed it was guaranteed the protection of his property and life on my behalf except for the right affairs rest with Allah.” (Sahih Muslim 30)