Allah then speaks about the battle itself (8:41-44). After the Muslims’ victory, Allah directs the Muslims to give a fifth of the booty to Muhammad (8:41). An Islamic tradition amplifies this with an account of Muhammad’s generosity: after one battle, Muhammad prayed “facing a camel from the war booty,” and then, holding some of the camel’s hair between his fingers, said to his men: “This is also a part of the war booty you earned. Verily, I have no share in it, except my own share, the fifth designated to me. Even that fifth will be given to you.” Muhammad continued by exhorting the Muslims to turn over all the spoils of war to him for just distribution: “Therefore, surrender even the needle and the thread, and whatever is bigger or smaller than that (from the war spoils). Do not cheat with any of it, for stealing from the war booty before its distribution is Fire and a shame on its people in this life and the Hereafter. Perform Jihad against the people in Allah’s cause, whether they are near or far, and do not fear the blame of the blamers, as long as you are in Allah’s cause. Establish Allah’s rules while in your area and while traveling. Perform Jihad in Allah’s cause, for Jihad is a tremendous door leading to Paradise. Through it, Allah saves (one) from sadness and grief.”
Then Allah reminds Muhammad of various events before and during the battle, emphasizing how Allah controlled events and saved the Muslims (8:42-44).
After that, Allah address the believers (8:45-63), telling them not to imitate those who, like the “the people of Pharaoh and of those before them…disbelieved in the signs of Allah, so Allah seized them for their sins. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and severe in penalty.” (v. 52). (Here again, “signs” is ayat, the word used for the verses of the Qur’an.) For “the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are those who have disbelieved, and they will not [ever] believe ” (v. 55) — another indication that unbelievers are worthy of no respect or consideration. If the Muslims “fear treachery” from unbelievers with whom they have a treaty, they should simply break the treaty (v. 58). Ibn Kathir says this means that Muslims should tell the unbelievers “that you are severing the treaty. This way, you will be on equal terms, in that, you and they will be aware that a state of war exists between you and that the bilateral peace treaty is null and void.” The Muslims should “make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies” (v. 60), while being ready to make peace if the enemy wishes to do so (v. 61). Some however, do not believe this truce should be indefinite in length. Qutb explains:
At the time when this surah was revealed, God instructed His Messenger to remain at peace with those groups who refrained from fighting him and the Muslims, whether they entered into a formal treaty with the Muslims or not. The Prophet continued to accept a peaceful relationship with unbelievers and people of earlier revelations until Surah 9 was revealed, when he could only accept one of two alternatives: either they embraced Islam or paid jizyah [a tax levied on non-Muslims, per Qur’an 9:29] which indicated a state of peace. Otherwise, the only alternative was war, whenever this was feasible for the Muslims to undertake, so that all people submit to God alone.
Allah then address Muhammad himself, giving him various instructions (vv. 62-75). Allah tells him that he will give pious Muslims more victories, even if they face odds even more prohibitive than those they had overcome at Badr, although this promise is almost immediately backtracked: originally a hundred would defeat a thousand unbelievers (v. 65), but this is then reduced to a hundred believers vanquishing two hundred unbelievers (v. 66). These became recurring themes of jihad literature throughout the centuries, up to the present day: piety will bring military victory, and the Muslims will conquer even against overwhelming odds.
According to the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, verse 67 — “It is not for a prophet to have captives until he inflicts a massacre in the land” — was revealed when the Muslims “ransomed those taken captive at Badr.” The Muslims had released some of the prisoners at Badr, but this was out of their base desire for material gain: the money they would receive in ransom. The tafsir continues: “You, O believers, desire the transient things of this world, its ephemeral gains, by ransoming, while God desires, for you, the Hereafter, that is, its reward, through your killing them.” In other words, they should have killed the captives rather than ransoming them. However, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn concludes by asserting that v. 67 was abrogated by 47:4, which allows for ransom. Ibn Kathir notes that “the majority of the scholars say that the matter of prisoners of war is up to the Imam. If he decides, he can have them killed, such as in the case of Bani Qurayzah. If he decides, he can accept a ransom for them, as in the case of the prisoners of Badr, or exchange them for Muslim prisoners.”
Why do some Muslims consider it their responsibility before Allah to wage war against Jews and Christians? Because of the ninth chapter of the Qur’an.
Sura 9, “Repentance,” is the only one of the Qur’an’s 114 chapters that does not begin with Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim — “In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful.” Explanations for this vary. The caliph Uthman (and others, including the Islamic jurist Zamakhshari) explains that it was because some believed that sura 8 and sura 9 were actually one sura, and that “the holy prophet passed away without informing us whether Surah Bara’ah [sura 9] was part of Surah Anfal [sura 8] or not.” Ibn Kathir says that the omission is simply “because the Companions did not write it in the complete copy of the Qur’an (Mushaf) they collected.” Maududi asserts that the correct explanation was given by Imam Razi, who says that the Bismillah was left off because Muhammad himself didn’t recite it at the beginning of this sura. Al-Hakim says that Muhammad not only didn’t recite the Bismillah himself, but commanded that it not be recited at the beginning of this sura.
Why not? The Tafsir al-Jalalayn explains Muhammad’s command by saying that the Bismillah “is security, and [sura 9] was sent down when security was removed by the sword. One of Muhammad’s earliest followers, Ali ibn Abi Talib, agrees, saying that the Bismillah “conveys security while this sura was sent down with the sword. That is why it does not begin with security.” The Tafsir al-Jalalayn adds that “Hudhayfa reports that they called it the Sura of Repentance, while it is, in fact, the Sura of Punishment.”
Punishment, that is, of the unbelievers.
The prohibition on saying the Bismillah at the beginning of this sura, in any case, remains. Scholars such as Jazari and Shatbi say that the Bismillah should not be recited at the beginning of this sura, although Bulandshahri says that if someone recites sura 9 starting from anywhere other than its beginning, he may recite the Bismillah if he chooses to do so.
According to a hadith recorded by Bukhari, sura 9 was the last to be revealed as a whole, although part of another sura came later. Another hadith says that sura 110 was actually the last, but in any case sura 9 is very late, among the last revelations Muhammad received. It came around the time, according to an Islamic tradition, of an inconclusive expedition Muhammad undertook against a Byzantine garrison at Tabuk in northern Arabia in 631, and much of its contents revolve around the events of that attempt to engage the army of the great Christian empire in battle.
Allah begins this sura, however, by addressing the pagans of Mecca. He frees the unbelievers from all obligations they may have incurred in treaties they concluded with the Muslims, and all existing treaties are restricted to a period of four months (vv. 1-3).
This restriction comes with Allah’s warning that he “will cover with shame those who reject Him” (v. 2), which the Tafsir al-Jalalayn explains as “humiliating them in this world by having them killed, and in the Hereafter, by [sending them to] the Fire.” The announcement is made during the Hajj that “Allah and His Messenger dissolve (treaty) obligations with the Pagans” and call them to repent and accept Islam (v. 3). This refers only to those pagans who have violated the terms of their treaties with the Muslims; the other treaties will be honored to the end of their term (v. 4). As-Sawi says that this is an exception to the four-month limit, giving to the Damra tribe, “who still had nine months of their treaty remaining.”
Then comes the notorious Verse of the Sword, containing the injunction to “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them (v. 5). This is, understandably, a verse much beloved by present-day jihadists. In a 2003 sermon, Osama bin Laden rejoiced over this verse: “Praise be to Allah who revealed the verse of the Sword to his servant and messenger [the Prophet Muhammad], in order to establish truth and abolish falsehood.”
Ibn Juzayy notes that v. 5 abrogates “every peace treaty in the Qur’an,” and specifically abrogates the Qur’an’s directive to “set free or ransom” captive unbelievers (47:4). According to As-Suyuti, “This is an Ayat of the Sword which abrogates pardon, truce and overlooking” — that is, perhaps the overlooking of the pagans’ offenses. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that the Muslims must “slay the idolaters wherever you find them, be it during a lawful [period] or a sacred [one], and take them, captive, and confine them, to castles and forts, until they have no choice except [being put to] death or [acceptance of] Islam.”
Ibn Kathir echoes this, directing that Muslims should “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.” He also doesn’t seem to subscribe to the view commonly put forward by Muslim spokesmen in the West today — that this verse applies only to the pagans of Arabia in Muhammad’s time, and has no further application. He asserts, on the contrary, that “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” means just that: the unbelievers must be killed “on the earth in general, except for the Sacred Area” — that is, the sacred mosque in Mecca, in accord with Qur’an 2:191.
If the unbelievers convert to Islam, the Muslims must stop killing them. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn: “But if they repent, of unbelief, and establish prayer and pay the alms, then leave their way free, and do not interfere with them.” Ibn Kathir: “These Ayat [verses] allowed fighting people unless, and until, they embrace Islam and implement its rulings and obligations.” Qutb says that the termination of the treaties with a four-month grace period, combined with the call to kill the unbelievers, “was not meant as a campaign of vengeance or extermination, but rather as a warning which provided a motive for them to accept Islam.”
Asad, however, says that v. 5 “certainly does not imply an alternative of ‘conversion or death,’ as some unfriendly critics of Islam choose to assume.” He says that “war is permissible only in self-defence,” in accord with 2:190, and that “the enemy’s conversion to Islam…is no more than one, and by no means the only, way of their ‘desisting from hostility.’” He points the reader to verses 4 and 6 for further elucidation.
Finally, it is noteworthy that, according to As-Suyuti, the jurist Ash-Shafi’i took this as a proof for killing anyone who abandons the prayer and fighting anyone who refuses to pay zakat [alms]. “Some use it as a proof that they are kafirun [unbelievers].” Likewise Ibn Kathir: “Abu Bakr As-Siddiq used this and other honorable Ayat as proof for fighting those who refrained from paying the Zakah.” Thus even Muslims who do not fulfill Islamic obligations fall into the category of those who must be fought. This is a principle that latter-day Salafist movements apply broadly and use frequently in branding governments that do not rule according to strict Islamic law as unbelievers who must be fought by those who regard themselves as true Muslims. This is playing out now in the Islamic State’s declaration that those Muslims who do not accept its authority are unbelievers and can therefore lawfully be killed.
According to the twentieth century Islamic scholar Muhammad Asad, verses 4 and 6 of Sura 9 belie the impression that many take from v. 5: that pagans are to be offered the choice of “conversion or death.” V. 4, however, only specifies that if non-Muslims honor the terms of their existing treaties with Muhammad and the Muslims, the Muslims will honor those treaties to the end of their term. And v. 6, according to Ibn Kathir, gives pagans “safe passage so that they may learn about the religion of Allah, so that Allah’s call will spread among His servants….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.” The reference here to paying the Jizyah refers to the tax specified for the People of the Book under Islamic rule in v. 29; thus the choice, at least for those who have received a written scripture (mainly Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians), is not conversion or death, but conversion, subjugation or death.
The Tafsir al-Jalalayn, As-Suyuti, and Ibn Juzayy agree with this view of v. 6. Ibn Juzayy says that it means that Muslims should “grant them security so that they can hear the Qur’an to see whether they will become Muslim or not. (then convey them to a place where they are safe) If they do not become Muslim, return him to his place.” He notes, however, that this is not a unanimous view: “This is a firm judgment in the view of some people while other people say that it is abrogated by fighting.”
The treaty that the Muslims concluded with the pagans “near the sacred Mosque” (v. 7) refers to the Treaty of Hudaybiyya. In 628, according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad had a vision in which he performed the pilgrimage to Mecca — a pagan custom that he very much wanted to make part of Islam, but had thus far been prevented by the Quraysh control of Mecca. But at this time he directed Muslims to prepare to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and advanced upon the city with fifteen hundred men. The Quraysh met him outside the city, and the two sides concluded a ten-year truce (hudna), the treaty of Hudaybiyya.
Some leading Muslims were unhappy with the prospect of a truce. After all, they had recently broken a Quraysh siege of Medina and were now more powerful than ever. Were they going to bargain away their military might for the sake of being able to make the pilgrimage? According to Muhammad’s first biographer, Ibn Ishaq, a furious Umar went to Abu Bakr and said, “Is he not God’s apostle, and are we not Muslims, and are they not polytheists? Then why should we agree to what is demeaning to our religion?” The two of them went to Muhammad, who attempted to reassure them: “I am God’s slave and His apostle. I will not go against His commandment and He will not make me the loser.”
But it certainly didn’t seem as if the treaty was being concluded to the Muslims’ advantage. When the time came for the agreement to be written, Muhammad called for Ali and told him to write, “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” But the Quraysh negotiator, Suhayl bin Amr, stopped him: “I do not recognize this; but write ‘In thy name, O Allah.’” Muhammad told Ali to write what Suhayl had directed.
But Suhayl was not finished. When Muhammad directed Ali to continue by writing, “This is what Muhammad, the apostle of God, has agreed with Suhayl bin Amr,” he protested again. “If I witnessed that you were God’s apostle,” Suhayl told Muhammad, “I would not have fought you. Write your own name and the name of your father.” Again the Prophet of Islam, to the increasing dismay of his followers, told Ali to write the document as Suhayl wished.
In the final form of the treaty, Muhammad shocked his men by agreeing to provisions that seemed disadvantageous to the Muslims: those fleeing the Quraysh and seeking refuge with the Muslims would be returned to the Quraysh, while those fleeing the Muslims and seeking refuge with the Quraysh would not be returned to the Muslims.
Yet soon Muhammad broke the treaty. A woman of the Quraysh, Umm Kulthum, joined the Muslims in Medina; her two brothers came to Muhammad, asking that they be returned “in accordance with the agreement between him and the Quraysh at Hudaybiya.” But Muhammad refused: Allah forbade it. He gave Muhammad a new revelation: “O you who have believed, when the believing women come to you as emigrants, examine them. Allah is most knowing as to their faith. And if you know them to be believers, then do not return them to the disbelievers…” (60:10).
In refusing to send Umm Kulthum back to the Quraysh, Muhammad broke the treaty. Although Muslim apologists have claimed throughout history that the Quraysh broke it first, this incident came before all those by the Quraysh that Muslims point to as treaty violations. The contemporary Muslim writer Yahiya Emerick asserts that Muhammad based his case on a bit of legal hair-splitting: the treaty stipulated that the Muslims would return to the Quraysh any man who came to them, not any woman. Even if that is true, Muhammad soon — as Emerick acknowledges — began to accept men from the Quraysh as well, thus definitively breaking the treaty.
The breaking of the treaty in this way would reinforce the principle that nothing was good except what was advantageous to Islam, and nothing evil except what hindered Islam. Once the treaty was formally discarded, Islamic jurists enunciated the principle that truces in general could only be concluded on a temporary basis of up to ten years, and that they could only be entered into for the purpose of allowing weakened Muslim forces to gather strength to fight again more effectively.
Nevertheless, Ibn Kathir and others maintain that the Quraysh broke the treaty first. And Allah certainly give the impression that they did indeed break it, excoriating the pagans for selling “the signs of Allah” for a “miserable price” (v. 9) and for violating oaths they made with the Muslims (vv. 12, 13). Thus because of all their enormities, Allah exhorts the Muslims to fight them (vv. 13-14). According to Ibn Juzayy, “Allah will punish them by your hands” (v. 14) means “killing and capture. That is a promise of victory for the Muslims.” The Tafsir al-Jalalayn concurs: “Fight them, and God will chastise them, He will have them killed, at your hands and degrade them, humiliate them through capture and subjugation, and He will give you victory against them.”
“Allah will punish them by your hands” is a momentous statement: it means that Muslims on earth are the executors of Allah’s judgment, and are charged with the responsibility of punishing the unbelievers in accord with the divine wrath. Thus when Muslims call upon Allah to punish someone, they’re essentially calling upon their fellow Muslims to carry out that punishment. Doing so will “satisfy the breasts of a believing people and remove the fury in the believers’ hearts” (vv. 14-15): doing violence to unbelievers in the cause of Allah will calm the hearts of the believers.
Boston Marathon jihad murder Tamerlan Tsarnaev had on his computer notes with quotations from the Qur’an, including 9:14-15: “Fight them. Allah will punish them through your hands, will belittle them and will grant you a victory over them and will heal the breasts of the believers.”
In September 2014, the Islamic State issued a lengthy threat of violence in the West. It included this statement to the soldiers of the Islamic State: “By Allah, He has healed the chests of the believers through the killing of the nusayriyyah (alawites) and rafidah (shiites) at your hands..” This, too, was a reference to 9:14-15. Then in February 2015, the Islamic State entitled its video of its burning to death of Jordanian pilot Muaz al-Kassasbeh “To Heal the Believers’ Chests.”
In March 2006, a twenty-two-year-old Iranian student named Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar drove an SUV onto the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, deliberately trying to kill people and succeeding in injuring nine. After the incident, he seemed singularly pleased with himself, smiling and waving to crowds after a court appearance at which he explained that he was “thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah.” Later he wrote six letters to the Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper of the University of North Carolina, explaining why he did it. In one of them, he gives a list of “Qur’an Notes Relevant to 3/3/06 Attack.”
These include “Instructions and guidelines for fighting and killing in the cause of Allah.” Under “Reasons for fighting in the cause of Allah,” he cited verses 14 and 15 of sura 9, explaining that fight was “to release anger and rage from Allah’s followers’ hearts.”
Indeed, in those verses Allah promises that as he punishes the unbelievers at the hands of the believers and covers them with shame, he will “heal the breasts of believers, and still the indignation of their hearts.” Ibn Juzayy and the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, however, focus on the portion of the verse that says that “Allah turns to anyone He wills.” Ibn Juzayy explains: “Allah will turn to some of those unbelievers and so that they become Muslims.” That decision, as we have seen, is all Allah’s. Allah will not leave bereft those who “strive with might and main” (v. 16). The word used here is jahadu (جَاهَدُواْ), a form of “jihad.”
Then Allah declares that the idolaters or polytheists (mushrikeena, ْمُشْرِكِينَ, from mushrik, polytheist) are not worthy to take care of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca (vv. 17-22) — although at the time to which Islamic tradition ascribes the revelation of this sura, the pagans still controlled that mosque. They control it, but as comments Ibn Juzayy, “they do not have either the right or the duty to do so. They inhabit them through forceful occupation and injustice.” They have no right to the mosque because, according to Ibn Kathir and, indeed, generalized Islamic tradition, Abraham himself built it as a shrine to Allah.
Allah then tells the believers to separate from and fight the unbelievers (vv. 23-28). The believers should cut ties even with their own families if they are not Muslims (vv. 23-24). Says Ibn Kathir: “Allah commands shunning the disbelievers, even if they are one’s parents or children, and prohibits taking them as supporters if they choose disbelief instead of faith.” Ibn Juzayy notes that v. 24, with its warning that one should value nothing in this life higher than Allah, is “a threat to anyone who prefers his family, property or home to emigration and jihad.” “Emigration” refers to the move to Medina which at that time was incumbent upon all true believers.
Then Allah refers to the Battle of Hunayn, which took place after Muhammad conquered Mecca (vv. 25-26). Once he was the master of Mecca, there was one additional great obstacle between him and mastery of all Arabia. Malik ibn Awf, a member of the Hawazin tribe of the city of Ta’if, south of Mecca, began to assemble a force to fight the Muslims. The people of Ta’if had rejected Muhammad and treated him shabbily when he presented his prophetic claim to them ten years earlier. They were historic rivals of the Quraysh, and viewed the conversion of the latter to Islam with disdain. Malik assembled a force and marched out to face the Muslims; Muhammad, according to Ibn Ishaq, met him with an army 12,000 strong, and said, in an echo of v. 25 (“your great numbers delighted you”), “We shall not be worsted today for want of numbers.”
The two forces met at a wadi — a dry riverbed — called Hunayn, near Mecca. Malik and his men had arrived first and taken up positions that gave them an immense tactical advantage. The Muslims, despite their superior numbers, were routed. As they broke ranks and fled, Muhammad called out: “Where are you going, men? Come to me. I am God’s apostle. I am Muhammad the son of Abdullah.” Some of the Muslims did take heart, and gradually the tide began to turn — although with tremendous loss of life on both sides.
The Muslims eventually prevailed, wiping out the last major force that stood between the Prophet of Islam and mastery of Arabia. After the battle Muhammad received another revelation explaining that the Muslims had won because of supernatural help (v. 26). With Malik defeated, the Muslims later conquered Ta’if with little resistance. On his way into the city, Muhammad stopped under a tree, and, finding the property to his liking, sent word to the owner: “Either come out or we will destroy your wall.” But the owner refused to appear before Muhammad, so the Muslims indeed destroyed his property. Endeavoring, however, to win the tribesmen of Ta’if to Islam, Muhammad was lenient toward them. In his distribution of the booty, he also favored some of the recent converts among the Quraysh, hoping to cement their allegiance to Islam. His favoritism, however, led to grumbling. One Muslim approached him boldly: “Muhammad, I’ve seen what you have done today…I don’t think you have been just.”
The Prophet of Islam was incredulous. “If justice is not to be found with me then where will you find it?” Indeed, for Islam Muhammad’s words and deeds are the highest pattern of conduct, forming the only absolute standard: anything sanctioned by the example of the Prophet is good.
According to Ibn Juzayy, the promise that “Allah will turn to whomever he wills” (v. 27) means that “the tribe of Hawazin who had fought the Muslims at Hunayn became Muslim.”
The unbelievers are unclean, and thus must not enter the Sacred Mosque (v. 28). Shi’ites in particular regard this as a matter of ritual purity. The Ayatollah Sistani, whom many observers have identified as a beacon of democratic hope for Iraq, likely does not envision a state in which unbelievers have equal rights with believers, since he puts non-Muslims on the level of other impure things:
The following ten things are essentially najis [impure, unclean]:
4. Dead body
8. Kafir [unbeliever]
9. Alcoholic liquors
10. The sweat of an animal who persistently eats najasat
This idea is based on v. 28. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that the polytheists are “impure because of their inward foulness,” and As-Suyuti adds that some say “they are actually impure so that they must do ghusl [the full ablution] if they become Muslim and one must do wudu [the partial ablution] after shaking hands with them.” As-Suyuti also notes that this verse forbids unbelievers to enter the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, although he points out that “Abu Hanifa says that People of the Book are not prevented because it is specific to idolaters.” Because of Muhammad’s prohibition on non-Muslims in Arabia, it is unlikely that a member of the People of the Book would be able to enter Mecca today.
Verse 29 of chapter 9 of the Qur’an is the one place where Allah directs Muslims explicitly to make war against and subjugate Jews and Christians — the “People of the Book,” who once subjugated enter the dhimma, the protection of the Muslims, and become dhimmis, protected (or guilty) people. As such, the way this verse is understood by Muslim interpreters is of cardinal importance for Jews, Christians, and — not least because in the Islamic world one’s religion tends to be considered as part of one’s ethnic identity, not as a matter of personal conviction, so that even Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris would be considered Christians — non-Muslims in general.
According to As-Sawi, Ibn Juzayy, and many others, “this ayat was revealed when the Messenger of Allah was commanded to fight the Byzantines. When it was sent down, the Messenger of Allah prepared for the expedition to Tabuk.” Ibn Kathir agrees: “Allah commanded His Messenger to fight the People of the Scriptures, Jews and Christians, on the ninth year of Hijrah, and he prepared his army to fight the Romans and called the people to Jihad announcing his intent and destination.” This was a raid Muhammad attempted against the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) garrison at Tabuk in northern Arabia in 631, but the Byzantine force moved away before Muhammad got there, and did not engage the Muslims in battle. Still, it was his first attempt to take on the great Christian empire that the Muslims would chip away at for centuries and ultimately destroy.
Ibn Juzayy says that this verse is “a command to fight the People of the Book” and, in a reference to v. 30, “denying their belief in Allah because of the words of the Jews, “‘Uzayr [Ezra] is the son of Allah” and the words of the Christians, “‘The Messiah is the son of Allah.’” Muslims must also fight them “because they consider as lawful carrion, blood, pork, etc.” and because “they do not enter Islam.” He says that “scholars agree about accepting jizya [a religious-based poll tax] from the Jews and Christians,” and adds that “the Magians/Zoroasterians have been added to them going by the words of the Prophet, “‘Treat them as People of the Book,’” although “there is disagreement about accepting it from idolaters and Sabians.” He specifies that “it is not collected from women, children or the insane,” and that it signifies “submission and obedience.”
While Islamic law does stipulate that the jizya is not to be collected from women and children, reality in many cases has been different. According to the pioneering historian of dhimmitude, Bat Ye’or:
The poll tax was extorted by torture. The tax inspectors demanded gifts for themselves; widows and orphans were pillaged and despoiled. In theory, women, paupers, the sick, and the infirm were exempt from the poll tax; nevertheless, Armenian, Syriac, and Jewish sources provide abundant proof that the jizya was exacted from children, widows, orphans, and even the dead. A considerable number of extant documents, preserved over the centuries, testify to the persistence and endurance of these measures. In Aleppo in 1683, French Consul Chevalier Laurent d’Arvieux noted that ten-year-old Christian children paid the jizya. Here again, one finds the disparity and contradiction between the ideal in the theory and the reality of the facts. (The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, pp. 78-9).
The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that this when v. 29 specifies that Muslims must fight against those who “follow not the Religion of Truth,” it means those who do not follow Islam, “which is firm and abrogates other deens [religions].” Ibn Kathir gives a hint as to why this is so when he explains that the People of the Book were in bad faith when they rejected Muhammad, and that they are not true believers even in their own religions:
Therefore, when People of the Scriptures disbelieved in Muhammad, they had no beneficial faith in any Messenger or what the Messengers brought. Rather, they followed their religions because this conformed with their ideas, lusts and the ways of their forefathers, not because they are Allah’s Law and religion. Had they been true believers in their religions, that faith would have directed them to believe in Muhammad, because all Prophets gave the good news of Muhammad’s advent and commanded them to obey and follow him. Yet when he was sent, they disbelieved in him, even though he is the mightiest of all Messengers. Therefore, they do not follow the religion of earlier Prophets because these religions came from Allah, but because these suit their desires and lusts. Therefore, their claimed faith in an earlier Prophet will not benefit them because they disbelieved in the master, the mightiest, the last and most perfect of all Prophets.
As-Sawi specifies that the payment of the jizya signifies that the non-Muslims are “humble and obedient to the judgements of Islam.” As-Suyuti notes that the jizya is “not taken from someone in a state of hardship,” although that was a stipulation at times honored in the breach. For example, a contemporary account of the Muslims” conquest of Nikiou, an Egyptian town, in the 640’s, says that “it is impossible to describe the lamentable position of the inhabitants of this town, who came to the point of offering their children in exchange for the enormous sums that they had to pay each month.”
This was a manifestation of the “state of abasement” specified by this verse and spelled out by the Bedouin commander al-Mughira bin Sa’d when he met the Persian Rustam. Said al-Mughira: “I call you to Islam or else you must pay the jizya while you are in a state of abasement.”
Rustam replied, “I know what jizya means, but what does “‘a state of abasement’ mean?”
Al-Mughira explained: “You pay it while you are standing and I am sitting and the whip hanging is over your head.”
Similarly, Ibn Kathir says that the dhimmis must be “disgraced, humiliated and belittled. Therefore, Muslims are not allowed to honor the people of Dhimmah or elevate them above Muslims, for they are miserable, disgraced and humiliated.” The seventh-century jurist Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab stated: “I prefer that the people of the dhimma become tired by paying the jizya since He says, “‘until they pay the jizya with their own hands in a state of complete abasement.’” As-Suyuti elaborates that this verse “is used as a proof by those who say that it is taken in a humiliating way, and so the taker sits and the dhimmi stands with his head bowed and his back bent. The jizya is placed in the balance and the taker seizes his beard and hits his chin.” He adds, however, that “this is rejected according to an-Nawawi who said, “‘This manner is invalid.’” Zamakhshari, however, agreed that the jizya should be collected “with belittlement and humiliation.”
In v. 29 of chapter 9 of the Qur’an, Allah mandates that the Muslims fight against the Jews and Christians “until they pay the jizya [poll tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Asad, Daryabadi and other Western-oriented commentators maintain that the jizya was merely a tax for exemption for military service. Asad explains: “every able-bodied Muslim is obliged to take up arms in jihad (i.e., in a just war in God’s cause) whenever the freedom of his faith or the political safety of his community is imperiled. Since this is, primarily, a religious obligation, non-Muslim citizens, who do not subscribe to the ideology of Islam, cannot in fairness be expected to assume a similar burden.” But they pass in silence over the latter part of v. 29, which mandates the humiliation of non-Muslims.
In explaining how the Jews and Christians must “feel themselves subdued,” Ibn Kathir quotes a saying of Muhammad: “Do not initiate the Salam [greeting of peace] to the Jews and Christians, and if you meet any of them in a road, force them to its narrowest alley.” He then goes on to outline the notorious (and almost certainly legendary) Pact of Umar, an agreement made, according to Islamic tradition, between the caliph Umar, who ruled the Muslims from 634 to 644, and a Christian community.
This Pact is worth close examination, because despite its slight historical value, it became the foundation for Islamic law regarding the treatment of the dhimmis. With remarkably little variation, throughout Islamic history whenever Islamic law was strictly enforced, this is generally how non-Muslims were treated. Working from the full text as Ibn Kathir has it, these are the conditions the Christians accept in return for “safety for ourselves, children, property and followers of our religion” — conditions that, according to Ibn Kathir, “ensured their continued humiliation, degradation and disgrace.” The Christians will not:
1. Build “a monastery, church, or a sanctuary for a monk”;
2. “Restore any place of worship that needs restoration”;
3. Use such places “for the purpose of enmity against Muslims”;
4. “Allow a spy against Muslims into our churches and homes or hide deceit [or betrayal] against Muslims”;
5. Imitate the Muslims’ “clothing, caps, turbans, sandals, hairstyles, speech, nicknames and title names”;
6. “Ride on saddles, hang swords on the shoulders, collect weapons of any kind or carry these weapons”;
7. “Encrypt our stamps in Arabic”
8. “Sell liquor” — Christians in Iraq in the last few years ran afoul of Muslims reasserting this rule;
9. “Teach our children the Qur’an”;
10. “Publicize practices of Shirk” — that is, associating partners with Allah, such as regarding Jesus as Son of God. In other words, Christian and other non-Muslim religious practice will be private, if not downright furtive;
11. Build “crosses on the outside of our churches and demonstrating them and our books in public in Muslim fairways and markets” — again, Christian worship must not be public, where Muslims can see it and become annoyed;
12. “Sound the bells in our churches, except discreetly, or raise our voices while reciting our holy books inside our churches in the presence of Muslims, nor raise our voices [with prayer] at our funerals, or light torches in funeral processions in the fairways of Muslims, or their markets”;
13. “Bury our dead next to Muslim dead”;
14. “Buy servants who were captured by Muslims”;
15. “Invite anyone to Shirk” — that is, proselytize, although the Christians also agree not to:
16. “Prevent any of our fellows from embracing Islam, if they choose to do so.” Thus the Christians can be the objects of proselytizing, but must not engage in it themselves;
17. “Beat any Muslim.”
Meanwhile, the Christians will:
1. Allow Muslims to rest “in our churches whether they come by day or night”;
2. “Open the doors [of our houses of worship] for the wayfarer and passerby”;
3. Provide board and food for “those Muslims who come as guests” for three days;
4. “Respect Muslims, move from the places we sit in if they choose to sit in them” — shades of Jim Crow;
5. “Have the front of our hair cut, wear our customary clothes wherever we are, wear belts around our waist” — these are so that a Muslim recognizes a non-Muslim as such and doesn’t make the mistake of greeting him with As-salaamu aleikum, “Peace be upon you,” which is the Muslim greeting for a fellow Muslim;
6. “Be guides for Muslims and refrain from breaching their privacy in their homes.”
The Christians swore: “If we break any of these promises that we set for your benefit against ourselves, then our Dhimmah (promise of protection) is broken and you are allowed to do with us what you are allowed of people of defiance and rebellion.”
The imperative to subjugate non-Muslims as mandated by Qur’an 9:29 and elaborated by this Pact remained part of Islamic law, and does to this day. In the nineteenth century the Western powers began to pressure the last Islamic empire, the Ottoman Empire, to abolish the dhimma. In Baghdad in the early nineteenth century, Sheikh Syed Mahmud Allusi (1802-1853), author of the noted commentary on the Qur’an Ruhul Ma’ani, complains that the Muslims have grown so weak that the dhimmis pay the jizya through agents, rather than delivering it themselves on foot. In his Tafsir Anwar al-Bayan, the twentieth-century Indian Mufti Muhammad Aashiq Ilahi Bulandshahri laments that “in today’s times, the system of Atonement (Jizya) is not practised at all by the Muslims. It is indeed unfortunate that not only are the Muslim States afraid to impose Atonement (Jizya) on the disbelievers (kuffar) living in their countries, but they grant them more rights than they grant the Muslims and respect them more. They fail to understand that Allah desires that the Muslims show no respect to any disbeliever (kafir) and that they should not accord any special rights to them.”
The influential twentieth century jihadist theorist Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) emphasizes that these rules should be revived, for “these verses are given as a general statement, and the order to fight the people of the earlier revelations until they pay the submission tax with a willing hand and are subdued is also of general import” (In the Shade of the Qur’an, Vol. VIII, p. 126).
Likewise the Pakistani jihadist writer and activist Syed Abul A’la Maududi (1903-1979) states that “the simple fact is that according to Islam, non-Muslims have been granted the freedom to stay outside the Islamic fold and to cling to their false, man-made, ways if they so wish.” That heads off any potential contradiction between his understanding of v. 29 and 2:256, “There is no compulsion in religion.” Maududi continues by declaring that the unbelievers “have, however, absolutely no right to seize the reins of power in any part of God’s earth nor to direct the collective affairs of human beings according to their own misconceived doctrines. For if they are given such an opportunity, corruption and mischief will ensue. In such a situation the believers would be under an obligation to do their utmost to dislodge them from political power and to make them live in subservience to the Islamic way of life” (Towards Understanding the Qur’an, vol. III, p. 202).
Islamic apologists in the West today commonly assert that 9:29 commands warfare only against the Jews and Christians who fought against Muhammad, and no others. I wish that every Muslim believed that, but unfortunately that has never been the mainstream Islamic understanding of this verse. Indeed, if it had been, the Pact of Umar, which I detail above, would never have been made — for it was made after Muhammad’s death with Christians against whom he did not fight. That in itself, as well as the teachings of all the schools of Islamic law, illustrates that this verse was always understood as having a universal application.
This is why the Islamic State attempted to collect the jizya from the Christians of Mosul when it took the city in 2014.
No Jews have ever been found who match the Qur’an’s description of them, in v. 30 of sura 9, as proclaiming that Ezra is the Son of God. Ibn Juzayy explains that only a small group of Jews actually said this, but “it is ascribed to all of them because they followed those who said it.” The Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas attributes this belief to the Jews of Medina. In any case, this belief, asserted by the Qur’an and thereby confirmed as true in the minds of many Muslims, makes the Jews as well as the Christians guilty of shirk, the association of partners with Allah, which is the worst sin of all. Ibn Juzayy quotes another Islamic authority saying that the Christian belief is “atrocious disbelief.” Adds Ibn Kathir, “This is why Allah declared both groups to be liars,” for “they have no proof that supports their claim, other than lies and fabrications.”
Consequently, they are accursed of Allah. In v. 30, Allah goes on to say, “May Allah destroy them!,” which Ibn Juzayy explains as “May Allah curse them!” The idolatry of the Jews and Christians doesn’t stop there, either. They even go so far as to take “as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One Allah” (v. 31). Do the Jews, then, worship rabbis and Christians worship monks? Not directly: a hadith has Muhammad explaining that the rabbis and monks prohibited what Allah had allowed for the Jews and Christians, and allowed what he had prohibited, “and they obeyed them. This is how they worshipped them.”
Muhammad is also reported as saying: “Verily, the Jews have earned the anger (of Allah) and the Christians are misguided” — an echo of the Fatihah. The Jews and Christians are so perverse and rebellious that they would like to “put out the light of Allah” — that is, says the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, “His Shari”a and proofs” — “with their mouths” (v. 32), but Allah will thwart their plans. Ibn Juzayy explains v. 33 by saying that Allah will put Islam “above all other deens,” that is, religions, and will “make it strong so that it embraces the east and the west.” AsMuhammad is depicted as putting it: “This matter (Islam) will keep spreading as far as the night and day reach, until Allah will not leave a house made of mud or hair, but will make this religion enter it, while bringing might to a mighty person (a Muslim) and humiliation to a disgraced person (who rejects Islam).”
Ibn Juzayy adds that “it is said” that Islam will embrace the east and the west “when Isa [Jesus] descends and then only the deen [religion] of Islam will remain.” This refers to the hadith depicting Muhammad stating that the “son of Mary (Jesus) will shortly descend amongst you people (Muslims) as a just ruler and will break the Cross and kill the pig and abolish the Jizya (a tax taken from the non-Muslims, who are in the protection, of the Muslim government).” That is, Jesus will abolish the dhimma, the contract of protection between Muslims and non-Muslims, making the only choices conversion to Islam or death. He will then Islamize the world.
Allah warns the Muslims about Jewish rabbis and Christian monks who “devour the wealth of people unjustly and avert from the way of Allah” — the tortures of hell await them (vv. 34-35). Says Ibn Kathir: “This Ayah warns against corrupt scholars and misguided worshippers. Sufyan bin Uyaynah said, “Those among our scholars who become corrupt are similar to the Jews, while those among our worshippers who become misguided are like Christians….When Allah sent His Messenger [Muhammad], the Jews persisted in their misguidance, disbelief and rebellion, hoping to keep their status and position. However, Allah extinguished all this and took it away from them with the light of Prophethood and instead gave them disgrace and degradation, and they incurred the anger of Allah, the Exalted.” Accordingly, Muslims must “wage war on all of the idolaters as they are waging war on all of you” (v. 36).
In v. 37, says Ibn Kathir, “Allah admonishes the idolaters for choosing their wicked opinions over Allah’s Law. They changed Allah’s legislation based upon their vain desires, allowing what Allah prohibited and prohibiting what Allah allowed.” The Muslims should not hesitate out of an attachment to this world (v. 38). The latter verse “is a rebuke,” explains Ibn Juzayy, “to those who stayed behind the expedition to Tabuk” that Muhammad led against the Byzantines. Those who do not fight — “i.e. go out with the Prophet on jihad,” says the Tafsir al-Jalalayn — will face divine punishment and replacement with another people (v. 39).
Not that Muhammad needed their help, for “Allah did indeed help him, when the Unbelievers drove him out” (v. 40). This refers, according to Ibn Kathir, to “the year of the Hijrah,” when “the idolaters tried to kill, imprison or expel the Prophet.” Muslims should fight “light or heavy,” that is, whatever their circumstances (v. 41) — although Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juzayy and the Tafsir al-Jalalayn all agree that that command was abrogated by 9:91: “There is not upon the weak or upon the ill or upon those who do not find anything to spend any discomfort when they are sincere to Allah and His Messenger.”
Still, jihad for the sake of Allah (jihad fi sabil Allah, which denotes in Islamic theology armed struggle to establish the hegemony of the Islamic social order) is the best deed a Muslim can perform (v. 41). Muhammad is also depicted as emphasizing this on many occasions. Once a man asked him, “Guide me to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).”
Muhammad answered: “I do not find such a deed.” (Bukhari 4.56.2785)
Allah has more harsh words for the Muslims who did not accompany Muhammad to Tabuk, accusing them of preferring the easy life to a hard journey of jihad, and lying about having been willing to go if they could have (v. 42). Allah even rebuked his prophet for excusing Muslims from the Tabuk expedition (v. 43). He told Muhammad that true Muslims did not hesitate to wage jihad, even to the point of risking their property and their very lives. The ones who refused to do this weren’t believers (vv. 44-45). But actually, it was Allah who was “averse to their being sent forth; so He made them lag behind” (v. 46), because if they had come along, they would only have caused trouble for Muhammad (v. 47). After all, they have plotted sedition before (v. 48).
According to Ibn Ishaq, the unnamed slacker who begged Muhammad, “Permit me [to remain at home] and do not put me to trial” (v. 49) was referring to his weakness for women. He asked Muhammad: “Will you allow me to stay behind and not tempt me, for everyone knows that I am strongly addicted to women and I am afraid that if I see the Byzantine women I shall not be able to control myself.”
Muhammad granted him permission, but Allah is not happy, and tells his prophet that those who have asked to be excused have already fallen into temptation by doing so, and that hell awaits them also (v. 49).
Allah then excoriates the Hypocrites (vv. 50-80) — those who claim to be Muslims but aren’t really believers. In fact, they grieve at the Muslims’ good fortune and rejoice when they suffer (v. 50). But Allah tells the Muslims to ask them, “Do you await for us except one of the two best things while we await for you that Allah will afflict you with punishment from Himself or at our hands? So wait; indeed we, along with you, are waiting” (v. 52). The two best things are martyrdom or victory, according to Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, Qatadah, and others. In other words, the Muslims will either defeat the Hypocrites or be killed by them, in which case they will enter Paradise — a win/win situation.
The Hypocrites, meanwhile, may “spend willingly or unwillingly” (v. 53) for the cause of Islam; in either case, Allah will not accept it from them, “you have been a defiantly disobedient people.” According to the Ruhul Ma’ani, this verse was revealed in reference to one of the Hypocrites, Jadd bin Qais, who was willing to donate money to Muhammad’s expedition to Tabuk, but not to join the caravan and fight himself. His hypocrisy, and that of others like him, renders their contributions unacceptable (v. 54). But Muhammad should not be impressed with their wealth or the number of their sons, for “Allah’s plan is to punish them with these things in this life, and that their souls may perish in their (very) denial of Allah” (v. 55).
According to Al-Hasan Al-Basri, Allah will accomplish this plan “by taking the Zakah due on their money from them and spending it in Allah’s cause.” For these are not true Muslims, and they even dare to question Muhammad’s integrity over how he distributes alms (vv. 56-60). It was at this point that the incident to which I referred earlier is said to have taken place: one of the Hypocrites said to Muhammad, “Be fair, Muhammad! You have not been fair.” Muhammad replied: “Bother you! If I am not fair, who will be fair?”
According to the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the Hypocrites should have been content with “what Allah and His Messenger gave them” (v. 59) “in respect of booty and the like.” Allah specifies those to whom the obligatory alms, zakat, can be distributed (v. 60). The verse says that it can be spent “in the cause of Allah.” Ibn Kathir explains: “In the cause of Allah is exclusive for the benefit of the fighters in Jihad, who do not receive compensation from the Muslim Treasury.” As-Suyuti adds: “Some say that it is spent on all that is connected to jihad: treaties with the enemy, building fortresses, digging ditches, providing weapons and provision, and paying spies, even if they are Christians.”
The Hypocrites also bother Muhammad by claiming that “he is an ear” (v. 61). Says Ibn Juzayy: “he hears all that is said and confirms it.” That is, he is too good-natured for his own good: the Tafsir al-Jalalayn quotes the Hypocrites saying that Muhammad “hears every little thing and accepts it. When we swear to him that we did not say it, he believes us.” Ibn Abbas, Mujahid and Qatadah agree: Muhammad listens “to those who say anything about us; he believes whoever talks to him. Therefore, if we went to him and swore, he would believe us.” But in fact, says Ibn Kathir, “he knows who’s saying the truth and who is lying.”
And that is just one reason why he is so important. He is so central that believers should not swear by Allah alone, but by Allah and His Messenger (v. 62), and whoever opposes Allah and Muhammad is headed for hell (v. 63). The Hypocrites, recognizing that Muhammad tends to receive revelations about his enemies (one notorious example is sura 111, which is entirely devoted to cursing his uncle, Abu Lahab, who didn’t accept his claim to be a prophet), are “apprehensive lest a surah be revealed about them, informing them of what is in their hearts” (v. 64). But Allah, according to Ibn Kathir, “will expose and explain your reality to His Messenger through revelation” — that is, the secrets of the Hypocrites. They say they were just joking when they mocked Allah and Muhammad (v. 65), but in reality they are apostates (v. 66). “Mocking the signs of Allah,” says As-Suyuti, “is tantamount to kufr [unbelief],” and of course, nothing is worse than unbelief. That may explain why cartoons of Muhammad strike such a nerve in the Islamic world. The Hypocrites will dwell in hellfire (v. 68) for ignoring the messages of the prophets (v. 70).
By contrast, however, the believers will dwell forever in the gardens of Paradise (vv. 71-2). Muhammad is depicted as saying: “Two gardens, their pots and whatever is in them are made of gold, and two gardens, their pots and whatever is in them are made of silver. Only the Veil of Pride of Allah’s Face separates the people from gazing at Him, in the garden of Eden.” But before they can enjoy all that, Muhammad and the Muslims must “strive hard [jahidi, جَاهِدِ] against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them” (v. 73). Ibn Abbas explains: “Allah commanded the Prophet to fight the disbelievers with the sword, to strive against the hypocrites with the tongue and annulled lenient treatment of them.” Ad-Dahhak adds: “Perform Jihad against the disbelievers with the sword and be harsh with the hypocrites with words, and this is the Jihad performed against them.” And Ibn Juzayy: “Jihad against the rejecters is by the sword and jihad against the hypocrites is by the tongue as long as they do not openly display that which indicates their disbelief…Harshness is the opposite of mercy and compassion. It can be by word, action, etc.”
Significantly, Al-Hasan and Qatadah asserted that “striving against them includes establishing the (Islamic Penal) Law of equality against them.”
One of the Muslims who refused to accompany Muhammad on the Tabuk expedition was Julas bin Suwayd, along with his brother Harith. According to Ibn Ishaq, Julas said of Muhammad: “If this man is right we are worse than donkeys.”
One of Julas’s relatives, Umayr bin Sa’d, told Muhammad what Julas had said. Then he explained to Julas that he had done so because Islam is most important: “You are dearer to me than any man, the most generous to me, and it is most painful to me that anything should happen to upset you; but you have said words which if I repeat them I shall bring shame upon you, and if I keep silence I shall bring my religion into peril. One is preferable to the other.”
Julas and Harith, cornered, denied that Julas had spoken the offending words, whereupon Allah revealed: “They swear by Allah that they did not say while they had said the word of disbelief and disbelieved after their Islam and planned that which they were not to attain” (v. 74). Allah offered them a chance to repent, but warned that if he didn’t, “Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter” (v. 74). They repented.
How would Allah have punished them with a painful punishment in this world? By the hands of the believers, as per vv. 14-15.
But the Hypocrites have turned back from Allah (v. 76), so Allah has cast “hypocrisy into their hearts” (v. 77), and now, even if Muhammad should “ask seventy times for their forgiveness, Allah will not forgive them: because they have rejected Allah and His Messenger” (v. 80) — shades, in reverse, of Matthew 18:21-22.
Allah then excoriates Muslims who refused to accompany Muhammad on his expedition to Tabuk, where he had hoped to fight the Byzantines in the year 631 (vv. 81-89). Some begged off because of the scorching heat in Arabia, making an expedition particularly trying — leading Allah to taunt them about the heat of hell, for “they hated to strive and fight,” that is, wage jihad (yujahidoo, يُجَاهِدُوا) “with their goods and their persons, in the cause of Allah” (v. 81). Ibn Kathir explains: “if they have any comprehension or understanding, they would have marched with the Messenger of Allah during the heat, so as to save themselves from the Fire of Jahannam [Hell], which is much more severe.”
Even if the Hypocrites were to change their minds and want to join Muhammad on a future expedition, they are forever barred from doing so (v. 83). Muhammad and the Muslims should not even pray for them when they die (v. 84). They will be punished in this world also (v. 85 — a repeat of v. 55). But Muhammad and the Muslims who do “strive and fight [jahadoo, جَاهَدُواْ] with their wealth and their persons” will enter the gardens of Paradise (vv. 88-89).
Allah singles out for the Bedouin Arabs for especial criticism for not going to Tabuk (vv. 90-105). Ibn Juzayy says that this in itself invalidated their claim to be Muslim: “They were the people who did not go on jihad nor ask excuses to stay behind them, so they lied when they claimed to believe.” This is not to say that no one can be excused from jihad: one may stay behind if he is “infirm, or ill,” or has “no resources to spend (on the cause)” (v. 91). Ibn Kathir explains the conditions: “Allah mentions here the valid excuses that permit one to stay away from fighting. He first mentions the excuses that remain with a person, the weakness in the body that disallows one from Jihad, such as blindness, limping, and so forth. He then mentions the excuses that are not permanent, such as an illness that would prevent one from fighting in the cause of Allah, or poverty that prevents preparing for Jihad. There is no sin in these cases if they remain behind, providing that when they remain behind, they do not spread malice or try to discourage Muslims from fighting, but all the while observing good behavior in this state.”