Date and Context
This sura refers to the Battle of Badr and so can be dated to 2 A.H. The Battle of Badr is a famous event in Muslim history. The people of Mecca had rejected Muhammad and so he had left Mecca to live in Medina. Here he began the first Islamic state and formed an army. Now a Meccan caravan was returning home from Syria. Muhammad decided to raid it. An army came from Mecca to defend the caravan however Muhammad was able to defeat this army when they arrived. This battle is seen as the first great victory to Islam.
This is a shorter sura (75 verses) and seems to discuss several topics throughout. The topics are:
1. What to do with war booty.
2. What fighting will look like in Islam.
3. Why the fighting is necessary.
It is the Muslims who are addressed in this sura
What I found interesting.
1. This sura seems to be answering a lot of arguments that have arisen due to the battle: how did we win, what happens to all the money, why fight, the scope of the fighting?
2. The true believers defined.
They only are the (true) believers whose hearts feel fear when Allah is mentioned, and when His revelations are recited unto them they increase their faith, and who trust in their Lord; Who establish worship and spend (on Jihad) of that We have bestowed on them. Those are they who are in truth believers. For them are grades (of honour) with their Lord, and pardon, and a bountiful provision. 8:2-4
Whoso on that day turneth his back to them, unless manoeuvring for battle or intent to join a company, he truly hath incurred wrath from Allah, and his habitation will be hell, a hapless journey's end. 8:16
Lo! those who believed and left their homes and strove with their wealth and their lives for the cause of Allah, and those who took them in and helped them: these are protecting friends one of another. And those who believed but did not leave their homes, ye have no duty to protect them till they leave their homes; but if they seek help from you in the matter of religion then it is your duty to help (them) except against a folk between whom and you there is a treaty. Allah is Seer of what ye do. 8:72
3. This is the famous verse about cutting off the infidels heads and fingers. It is often quoted in Islamic Jihad movies before they cut someone’s head off.
... Then smite the necks and smite of them each finger. 8:12
4. I thought that this was an interesting verse acknowledging that God’s judgement falls on those who do not deserve it.
And guard yourselves against a chastisement which cannot fall exclusively on those of you who are wrong-doers, and know that Allah is severe in punishment. 8:25
5. The reason for war
What (plea) have they that Allah should not punish them, when they debar (His servants) from the Inviolable Place of Worship, though they are not its fitting guardians. Its fitting guardians are those only who keep their duty to Allah. But most of them know not. 8:34
And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah. But if they cease, then lo! Allah is Seer of what they do. 8:39
So you need to fight till “religion is all for Allah” not just till persecution is ended.
And when Our revelations are recited unto them they say: We have heard. If we wish we can speak the like of this. Lo! this is naught but fables of the men of old. 8:31
It is not for any prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land. Ye desire the lure of this world and Allah desireth (for you) the Hereafter, and Allah is Mighty, Wise. 8:67
6. This battle and the teaching that accompanies it is to be a model for future warfare. This is obviously important for understanding how to apply this teaching to other contexts.
O ye who believe! When ye meet an army, hold firm and think of Allah much, that ye may be successful. 8:45
O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred (steadfast) they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are a folk without intelligence. 8:65
That is because Allah never changeth the grace He hath bestowed on any people until they first change that which is in their hearts, and (that is) because Allah is Hearer, Knower. 8:53
And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah. Lo! He, even He, is the Hearer, the Knower. 8:61