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Surah al-Anfal (31-40)
Qur'anic Exegesis
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)

بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمـَنِ الرَّحِيمِ

وَإِذَا تُتْلَى عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُنَا قَالُوْا قَدْ سَمِعْنَا لَوْ نَشَآءُ لَقُلْنَا مِثْلَ هَذَا إِنْ هَذَا إِلَّا أَسَاطِيْرُ الْـأوَّلِيْنَ. وَإِذْ قَالُوْا اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كَانَ هَـذَا هُوَ الْحَقَّ مِنْ عِنْدِكَ فَأَمْطِرْ عَلَيْنَا حِجَارَةً مِّنَ السَّمَآءِ أَوِ ائْتِنَا بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيْمٍ. وَمَا كَانَ اللّهُ لِيُعَذِّبَهُمْ وَأَنْتَ فِيْهِمْ وَمَا كَانَ اللّهُ مُعَذِّبَهُمْ وَهُمْ يَسْتَغْفِرُوْنَ. وَمَا لَهُمْ أَلَّا يُعَذِّبَهُمُ اللّهُ وَهُمْ يَصُدُّوْنَ عَنِ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَمَا كَانُوْا أَوْلِيَاءهُ إِنْ أَوْلِيَآؤُهُ إِلَّا الْمُتَّقُوْنَ وَلَكِنَّ أَكْثَرَهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُوْنَ. وَمَا كَانَ صَلَاتُهُمْ عِنْدَ الْبَيْتِ إِلَّا مُكَاء وَتَصْدِيَةً فَذُوقُوْا الْعَذَابَ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَكْفُرُوْنَ.

 [These are the people that] when Our revelations were read out to them, said: “We have heard. If we want, we can also present something similar. These are but tale of the ancients.” And remember when they had said: “God! If this is the truth [revealed] from you, then hurl down stones on us from the heavens or bring upon us a painful punishment. God was not going to punish them [at that time] when you were among them nor was He one who would have punished them [at the time] they were asking for forgiveness.1 But why should He not punish them now when they are stopping [people] from the Sacred Mosque,2 even though they are not its lawful custodians. Its lawful custodians can only be those who fear God.3 Yes, but most of them do not know this.4 [They should not show conceit on their prayers. In reality,] their prayer near the House of God is nothing but whistling and clapping.5 So, taste [My] punishment because of the disbelief you have been committing.6 (31-35)


إِنَّ الَّذِيْنَ كَفَرُوْا يُنفِقُوْنَ أَمْوَالَهُمْ لِيَصُدُّوْا عَنْ سَبِيْلِ اللّهِ فَسَيُنفِقُوْنَهَا ثُمَّ تَكُوْنُ عَلَيْهِمْ حَسْرَةً ثُمَّ يُغْلَبُوْنَ وَالَّذِيْنَ كَفَرُوْا إِلَى جَهَنَّمَ يُحْشَرُوْنَ. لِيَمِيزَ اللّهُ الْخَبِيْثَ مِنَ الطَّيِّبِ وَيَجْعَلَ الْخَبِيْثَ بَعْضَهُ عَلَىَ بَعْضٍ فَيَرْكُمَهُ جَمِيْعًا فَيَجْعَلَهُ فِي جَهَنَّمَ أُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُوْنَ.

Those who have adopted this attitude of disbelief are spending their wealth to stop [people] from the path of God. So, in future also they will be spending it;7 then it will become a yearning for them. Then they will be vanquished and all the disbelievers will be gathered and driven towards Hell.8 This is because God may separate the pure from the impure [for His Paradise] and placing the impure over the impure make them all a heap and then cast this heap into Hell.9 [In reality,] these people will end up as losers. (36-37)


قُل لِلَّذِيْنَ كَفَرُوْا إِن يَنتَهُوْا يُغَفَرْ لَهُم مَّا قَدْ سَلَفَ وَإِنْ يَعُودُوْا فَقَدْ مَضَتْ سُنَّةُ الْاَوَّلِيْنِ. وَقَاتِلُوْهُمْ حَتَّى لَا تَكُوْنَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُوْنَ الدِّيْنُ كُلُّهُ لِلّه فَإِنِ انتَهَوْا فَإِنَّ اللّهَ بِمَا يَعْمَلُوْنَ بَصِيْرٌ. وَإِنْ تَوَلَّوْا فَاعْلَمُوْا أَنَّ اللّهَ مَوْلَاكُمْ نِعْمَ الْمَوْلَى وَنِعْمَ النَّصِيْرُ.  

Tell these disbelievers [O Prophet!]: “If they desist,10 then whatever has happened shall be forgiven to them. And if they repeat it, then the practice of God for the previous people has passed.”11 [Believers!] Keep fighting them until no persecution remains12 and all religion purely belongs to God.13 So, if they abstain, then God is watching whatever they do.14 And if they turn away, then bear in mind that God is your guardian – what a wonderful guardian and what a wonderful helper. (38-40)


(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)



1. Why did God give reprieve to the leaders of the Quraysh in spite of their repetitive demand for torment? This verse answers this question. It is said that God’s law in this regard is that as long as there are people in a nation who accept the call of mending their ways and seek forgiveness from God and as long as His messenger is among them and has not left them, God, in spite of conclusive communication of the truth, does not mete out the decisive punishment which He gives nations of messengers and which was being demanded by the Quraysh. Deliberation shows that these words also urge people that if they even now change their ways and seek God’s forgiveness, they can be secured from God’s torment.

2. The implication is that if there is a delay in punishment, they should not be deceived into thinking that they do not deserve it. Their wrongdoings were never small, but now they have taken to rebelliousness: they stop those who purely worship God and are advocates of the real religion of Abraham, from the very house of worship that was built purely for His worship by the revered hands of Abraham (sws).

3. The House of God was built as a centre of monotheism. Abraham (sws) and Ishmael (sws) were its custodians. It was because of this status that the Almighty had regarded Abraham (sws) to be the leader of people. It is mentioned in verse 124 of Surah al-Baqarah that when he was given this position, he had asked God whether his progeny would also continue to hold this position. The answer was that God’s promise was with the pious among his progeny and does not relate to the unjust among them. Now, it is with reference to that promise that the verse under discussion states that it is not befitting for the idolaters to remain the custodians of this House. Only those can be its custodians who adhere to monotheism and abide by God’s covenants and promises. After deviating from the religion of Abraham (sws) and contaminating the House of God with the filth of idols they do not deserve to remain entitled to his position.

4. This is a reference to the general state of ignorance and apathy which a majority of the Ishmaelites were afflicted with. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

 ... After spending a very long time in the darkness of ignorance the Ishmaelites had totally forgotten their history. They did remember out of familial superiority that they were the progeny of Abraham (sws) and Ishmael (sws). Yet beyond this, they had no knowledge as to why Abraham (sws) came to Arabia, what his message was, what were the distinctive features of the religion he taught, why he settled Ishmael (sws) in this land, why the House of God was built here and as a result of association with this House what were the responsibilities and trusts that the Ishmaelites were given. Some cultural traditions and rites of hajj that were being carried down from the times of Abraham (sws) were also altered to such an extent that it had become difficult to separate the adulteration from their actual forms. They had made the House of God their national place of worship. Its keys and the responsibility of various departments were transferred within various families. They would take pride in this and in this capacity of theirs administer the House of God. The Qur’an has referred to this ignorance of theirs that they claimed to be the custodians of the House of God but had no knowledge of the status of God’s House and of the requisites of its custodianship. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 3, 471)  

5. In all probability, these nonensical acts must have been incorporated in the prayer through the worship of the idols which the Quraysh had placed in the House of God in order to establish their political superiority over all Arabia. The Qur’an has very eloquently pointed out that the very external form of these acts is such that they cannot be ones taught by Prophets of God. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes: 

... Every aspect of religion has the reflection of dignity, decency, humility and purity and the fragrance of wisdom, sagacity and spirituality in it. Everyone who has insight and whose spiritual being is alive and vibrant can very easily detect with his senses that a certain act cannot be part of religion. The phases of research and investigation come later and have separate means and sources too. Here the Qur’an has pointed out that the external form of these custodians of the House of God bears witness that it is an invention of Satan. It does not have the slightest reflection of the prayer for which they were made to settle in this land and because of which this House of God was given in their custody. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 3, 472) 

6. Here, at the end, the Quraysh are directly addressed and told that the torment they were demanding has begun. They have received its first instalment in the battle of Badr. In the words of Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi, they will now continue to taste more and should begin counting.

7. The reference is to the generosity of the Quraysh leaders which they were displaying in trying to obliterate Islam. At that juncture, they had in fact tried to outdo one another in being large hearted to provide means and resources for the battles. (Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-nabawiyyah, vol. 2, 189). It is stated that even this magnimity on their part will not stop God’s verdict which had become incumbent to be passed against them because of their wrongdoings.

8. Ie., in this world they will be vanquished and in the Hereafter they will be driven towards Hell. The preposition  إِلَى occurs with يُحْشَرُوْنَ in this verse. This has incorporated the meaning of “driving” in the verb.

9. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes: 

... This is the furqan that will manifest itself in the Hereafter. There the Almighty will sift every evil from good and then collect the evil one on top of the other in heaps and then cast all this into Hell. The word ركم means to gather something in layers atop each other. This way is adopted when trash needs to be burnt. Such rubbish is gathered in layers and then burnt. Arranging it in layers is advantageous for the fire to burn more vigorously and every thing collected become a source for burning one another. A subtle insinuation in this is that just as the disbelievers help one another in this world, in the same way they will be a source of burning each other by acting as firewood. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 3, 474) 

10. Ie., desist from disbelief and polytheism and respond positively to the call of the messenger.

11. This is a reference to the established practice of God as per which if the addressees of His messengers are adamant on their denial, they are necessarily destroyed – whether through natural calamities signifying God’s wrath or through the swords of the believers.

12. Persecution obviously means to force someone through oppression and compulsion to give up his religion or to stop him from following it.

13. This is the final objective of the directive given to Prophet (sws) and his companions. Once he had conclusively communicated the truth to his people, the verdict of God was that the persecution let loose by the Quraysh on the Muslims be put to end; in fact, as a step ahead, this land be cleansed from the disbelievers to such an extent that no religion should remain here except God’s religion: Islam.* The directive of armed warfare against oppression and coercion is still applicable; however, the directive to dislodge disbelievers from a land or making them subservient has ended forever.

* It is mandatory upon the Muslims to keep this status of Arabia (haram sarzameen) intact forever in this manner so that this centre of monotheism always remains cleansed of every form of filth. Through Abraham (sws), this land has been made specially into a centre of monotheism. Thus, in order to fulfil this purpose, it is essential that neither any place of worship dedicated to anyone one other than God be built here nor should a disbeliever or a polytheist be allowed to permanently live here. The reason for this is that this does not relate to the shari‘ah but to God’s law of itmam al-hujjah which materializes in this world directly at His directive and through His messengers. According to this law when the truth has been conclusively communicated by these messengers to their respective nations, then those who deny them are punished in this very world. At times, this punishment descends from the heavens and at times from the swords of the believers. As its consequence the disbelievers are necessarily vanquished and the truth reigns supreme in their land with full force. It was the second situation that had arisen in the times of Muhammad (sws) after he had conclusively communicated the truth to his people. Thus God directed him and his companions to take up arms for this purpose just as He directed them to take up arms against persecution. This was God’s directive fulfilled through human beings. It should be viewed as an established practice of God. It does not related to human morality. The words یُعَذِّبۡہُمُ اللّٰہُ بِاَیۡدِیۡکُمۡ  (God will punish them through your hands) of verse 14 of Surah al-Tawbah describe this very aspect.

14. Thus, He will also reward them proportionately.

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