This is the 49th part of this series, reading The Qur’an; A New Translation by Abdel Haleem. We’ll occasionally compare that to other translations and with tafsirs for clarification. We’re also reading each “chapter” [surah] in order of revelation [mostly] rather than the order in which they are typically printed. If you missed some of this series, you can see:
my 1st post on surahs 1 & 2.
my 2nd post on surahs 96, 68 & 73.
my 3rd post on surahs 74, 111 & 81.
my 4th post on surahs 87, 92, 89, 93, 94 & 103.
my 5th post jumping to surah 18.
my 6th post on surahs 100, 108, 102, 107, 109 & 105
my 7th post was on surahs 113, 114, 112 & 53.
my 8th post on surahs 80, 97, 91, 85, 95 & 106.
my 9th post on surahs 101, 75, 104 & 77.
my 1oth post on surahs 50, 90 & 86.
my 11th post on surah 54,
my 12th post on surah 38,
my 13th post on surah 7,
my 14th post on surah 72,
my 15th post on surah 36,
my 16th post on surah 25,
my 17th post on surah 43,
my 18th post on surah 35.
my 19th post on surah 19.
my 20th post on surah 20,
my 21st post on surah 56.
my 22nd post on surah 26.
my 23rd post on surah 27.
my 24th post on surah 28.
my 25th post on surah 17.
my 26th post on surah 10.
my 27th post on surah 11.
my 28th post on surah 12.
my 29th post on surah 15.
my 30th post on surah 6.
my 31st post on surah 37.
my 32nd post on suras 31 & 34.
my 33rd post on surah 39.
my 34th post on surah 40.
my 35th post on surah 41.
my 36th post on surah 42.
my 37th post on surah 44.
my 38th post on suras 45 & 46.
my 39th post of suras 51 & 88.
my 40th post on surah 16.
my 41st post post on suras 71 & 14.
my 42nd post on surah 21,
my 43rd post on surah 23
my 44th post on suras 32 & 52
my 45th post on suras 67, 69 & 70.
my 46th post on suras 78, 79, 82 & 84.
and my 47th post on suras 30 & 29.m
and my 48th post on sura 83.
Sūrah 8 (Al-Anfal) Battle Gains
Most other translations call this surah “spoils of war”. As usual, Abdel Haleem’s interpretation is the odd one out. Like the preceding chapter, (in order of revelation) this too represents a significant change in the character of Muhammad and his story. Having moved from Mecca to Medina, Muhammad decided to start attacking caravans from his old home town, beginning a years-long war in his own country, between the emerging Muslims the Qurayshite Meccans.
1They ask you [Prophet] about [distributing] the battle gains. Say, ‘That is a matter for God and His Messenger, so be mindful of God and make things right between you. Obey God and His Messenger if you are true believers: 2true believers are those whose hearts tremble with awe when God is mentioned, whose faith increases when His revelations are recited to them, who put their trust in their Lord, 3who keep up the prayer and give to others out of what We provide for them. 4Those are the ones who truly believe. They have high standing with their Lord, forgiveness, and generous provision.’
And the unbelievers are the ones who just can’t take any of that seriously, whether it’s God or the boogyman or whatever made-up story you’re telling.
5For it was your Lord who made you [Prophet] venture from your home for a true purpose––though a group of the believers disliked it 6and argued with you about the truth after it had been made clear, as if they were being driven towards a death they could see with their own eyes.
Cue ominous music. This sort of retrofit story telling is how every natural disaster in any community is eventually attributed to someone in that community having angered someone’s God.
7Remember how God promised you [believers] that one of the two enemy groups would fall to you: you wanted the unarmed group to be yours, but it was God’s will to establish the truth according to His Word and to finish off the disbelievers––8to prove the Truth to be true, and the false to be false, much as the guilty might dislike it.
Haleem’s footnote says that the “two enemy groups” mentioned here are the Meccan trade caravan or their army. It’s like one of those movies that begins after the action, and you have to piece together what happened later. In this case, attacks on the caravans escalated into the military Battle of Badr, which the Muslims won despite the odds. Now they’re quibbling about how to divide the spoils. The Qur’an doesn’t explain this because the human authors always assume that the reader is a local and already familiar with all the provincial history and folklore.
9When you begged your Lord for help, He answered you, ‘I will reinforce you with a thousand angels in succession.’
This war was won by an army of angels? Imagine the after party, with a thousand of these angels dancing at the same time, all on the head of the same pin.
10God made this a message of hope to reassure your hearts: help comes only from God, He is mighty and wise. 11Remember when He gave you sleep as a reassurance from Him, and sent down water from the sky to cleanse you, to remove Satan’s pollution from you, to make your hearts strong and your feet firm.
Do you remember that? Me neither. According to Abdel Haleem, that’s because this passage was written for those who could remember the weather on the night before the battle. The Qur’an doesn’t explain these things for the rest of us, because whoever wrote this never imagined people reading it a thousand years later and many thousands of miles away. You’re just supposed to know all of this already.
12Your Lord revealed to the angels: ‘I am with you: give the believers firmness; I shall put terror into the hearts of the disbelievers– strike above their necks and strike all their fingertips.’
Why are we only striking the tips of their fingers? Are we using swords to give manicures? Of course other translations say that they should strike OFF their fingertips. Also, I wasn’t sure how to interpret “give them firmness”. So I checked other translations, which only said that the Muslims were supposed to “keep firm”. However, IslamicStudies.info, and it says that they are to keep their FEET firm.
13That was because they opposed God and His Messenger, and if anyone opposes God and His Messenger, God punishes them severely– 14‘That is what you get! Taste that!’––and the torment of the Fire awaits the disbelievers. 15Believers, when you meet the disbelievers in battle, never turn your backs on them: 16if anyone does so on such a day– unless manœuvring to fight or to join a fighting group– he incurs the wrath of God, and Hell will be his home, a wretched destination! 17It was not you who killed them but God, and when you [Prophet] threw [sand at them] b it was not your throw [that defeated them] but God’s, to do the believers a favour: God is all seeing and all knowing–
Haleem wrote his translation for westerners, understanding that we would not be familiar with all this folklore already. So he has a footnote explaining that “Before the battle, the Prophet prayed and threw a handful of sand at the enemy as a symbol of their being defeated.” So it seems religion robs us of every joy in life, even the glory of victory in battle. But note that it is never God’s fault that you lost; not even when you went into battle (as every army always does) believing that God and/or justice are on your side.
18‘That is what you get!’––and God will weaken the disbelievers’ designs.
God learned that battle strategy back in the Bible days, after being defeated by chariots of iron in Judges 1:19. An important point about that, is that even when they lost, they still said God was on their side. So God is on both sides of every battle.
19[Disbelievers], if you were seeking a decision, now you have witnessed one: if you stop here, it will be better for you. If you return, so shall We, and your forces, though greater in number, will be of no use to you. God is with the believers.
This reminds me of a beautiful song by a band of unbelievers called Motörhead: “God was never on your side”.
20Believers, obey God and His Messenger: do not turn away when you are listening to him; 21do not be like those who say, ‘We heard,’ though in fact they were not listening–
If you can’t reason with a believer, because they are beyond reason, and they can’t show reason to believe them, then just nod and say “uh-huh” and try to look busy and distracted until they stop talking.
22the worst creatures in God’s eyes are those who are [wilfully] deaf and dumb, who do not reason.
But those are the folks who say they’re God’s favorites.
23If God had known there was any good in them, He would have made them hear, but even if He had, they would still have turned away and taken no notice.
Almost everyone has SOME good in them, and God is supposed to know everything AND love us enough to give us a proper warning. So none of this is adding up yet.
24Believers, respond to God and His Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life. Know that God comes between a man and his heart, and that you will be gathered to Him.
I can’t be sure what this author means by “gives you life”. Every translation I’ve seen phrases it this way, except for ClearQuran, which says “what will revive you”. Haleem’s footnote here says, “There are various ways of interpreting this, including that, through death, God separates a man from his heart’s desire, i.e. life.”
25Beware of discord that harms not only the wrongdoers among you: know that God is severe in His punishment. 26Remember when you were few, victimized in the land, afraid that people might catch you, but God sheltered you and strengthened you with His help, and provided you with good things so that you might be grateful.
Persecution over your belief seems to be a common theme of self-justification for most religions, as is the division of “us vs them”. This has caused so much unnecessary pain horror throughout all time, that I think that if there really was one all powerful God, he would have stepped in to correct that a long time ago, probably before Islam even began.
27Believers, do not betray God and the Messenger, or knowingly betray [other people’s] trust in you. 28Be aware that your possessions and your children are only a test, and that there is a tremendous reward with God.
The “reward” is not being skinned and burned alive for all eternity. Instead, you’ll be trapped forever in a place of constant surveillance and prohibition, where it is obvious that you are not allowed free will.
29Believers, if you remain mindful of God, He will give you a criterion [to tell right from wrong] and wipe out your bad deeds, and forgive you: God’s favour is great indeed.
Here again we see that you’re morality doesn’t matter; only gullibility does, because only that will prompt submission to servitude.
30Remember [Prophet] when the disbelievers plotted to take you captive, kill, or expel you. They schemed and so did God: He is the best of schemers.
Yet, he keeps repeating the same mistakes with all his prophets, and never learned the obvious lesson. He’s supposedly the greatest of all schemers but he can’t even make a compelling argument beyond the illusory stick and carrot, which you would already have to believe for even that to work.
31Whenever Our Revelation is recited to them they say, ‘We have heard all this before– we could say something like this if we wanted– this is nothing but ancient fables.’
Yup. Better to be honest, I think.
32They also said, ‘God, if this really is the truth from You, then rain stones on us from the heavens, or send us some other painful punishment.’
If you can’t show us the truth of it, then you shouldn’t call it truth. If you have no evidence that you’re right, then we have no reason to believe you even could be.
33But God would not send them punishment while you [Prophet] are in their midst, nor would He punish them if they sought forgiveness, 34yet why should God not punish them when they debar people from the Sacred Mosque, although they are not its [rightful] guardians? Only those mindful of God are its rightful guardians, but most of the disbelievers do not realize this. 35Their prayers before the House are nothing but whistling and clapping. ‘So taste the punishment a for your disbelief.’
That’s true of every religion. Even if they don’t applaud, the prayers are still no more than just talking to themselves or wishing on a star. Yet each one imagines that theirs is the “truth”, even though they are all factless, and most will threaten the others if they believe differently or don’t believe at all. Haleem thinks that’s what this last line refers to, the threat of death on the battlefield over which of their imaginary friends is the most peaceful or just.
36They use their wealth to bar people from the path of God, and they will go on doing so. In the end this will be a source of intense regret for them: they will be overcome and herded towards Hell. 37God will separate the bad from the good, place the bad on top of one another– heaping them all up together– and put them in Hell. They will be the losers.
Again we see that “good” means nothing more than belief, and “bad” describes all unbelievers, no matter how moral we may be.
38[Prophet], tell the disbelievers that if they desist their past will be forgiven, but if they persist, they have an example in the fate of those who went before.
“Become one of us or be destroyed”. Here the Muslims sound a bit like the Borg from Star Trek or the Cybermen from Doctor Who, very Orwellian.
39[Believers], fight them until there is no more persecution, and all worship is devoted to God alone: if they desist, then God sees all that they do, 40but if they pay no heed, be sure that God is your protector, the best protector and the best helper. 41Know that one-fifth of your battle gains belongs to God and the Messenger, to close relatives and orphans, to the needy and travellers, if you believe in God and the revelation We sent down to Our servant on the day of the decision, the day when the two forces met in battle. God has power over all things.
So the point of this surah, as noted in the title, is that one fifth of the loot goes to God. And since God has no use for nor need of money, then his share will go to the clergy, specifically in this case, Muhammad himself. And no one will protest that because this religion, like all other Abrahamic faiths, pretends to need all that cash to care for the poor. Riiight. Sometimes the poor might even get a tiny fraction of that, I’m sure, if only just enough to show prospective donors how their money might be used.
42Remember when you were on the near side of the valley, and they were on the far side and the caravan was below you. If you had made an appointment to fight, you would have failed to keep it [but the battle took place] so that God might bring about something already ordained, so that those who were to die might die after seeing a clear proof, and so that those who were to live might live after seeing a clear proof– God is all hearing and all seeing.
So at least several of the people fighting for God still died just to show how mighty their god is? And the people on the other side also died in defense of their gods? So the Muslims won and said that was because of God. But had the Meccans won, then the Muslims would still have said that Allah was with them, just like the people of Judah did when they lost their against the Canaanites with iron chariots.
43[Prophet], remember when God made you see them in your sleep as few: if He had shown them to you [believers] as many, you would certainly have lost heart and argued about it, but God saved you. He knows the secrets of the heart.
And the Quraysh Meccans praying to their gods. Does Allah not hear them too? Can he not intercede to say that he is receiving them, but that there is no one else there? Why is it that the only voice of God the masses can hear comes from what appear to be lunatics trying to secure tithing?
44When you met He showed them to you as few, and He made you few in their eyes, so that He might bring about what has been ordained: everything goes back to God.
So God caused Muhammad to perceive fewer enemies than there were, and he deceived the Quraysh too in the same way. So God is liar playing both sides against each other, apparently for his own amusement.
45Believers, when you meet a force in battle, stand firm and keep God firmly in mind, so that you may prosper. 46Obey God and His Messenger, and do not quarrel with one another, or you may lose heart and your spirit may desert you. Be steadfast: God is with the steadfast.
This isn’t just the god of one city or another, or even just the god of the Arabs. This is supposed to be the god of the whole world, of every world. So why doesn’t he say not to quarrel with those who believe differently? Because they could use reason instead. Why was Muhammad raiding mercantile caravans in the first place? He is in the wrong then. The Quraysh merely worship the wrong god, but that’s the fault of Allah. So they should not die for his oversight.
47Do not be like those who came out of their homes full of conceit, showing off to people, and barring others from the way of God– God has full knowledge of all that they do. 48Satan made their foul deeds seem fair to them, and said, ‘No one will conquer you today, for I will be right beside you,’ but when the armies came within sight of one another he turned on his heels, saying, ‘This is where I leave you: I see what you do not, and I fear God– God is severe in His punishment.’
We are lead to believe that Satan is the lord of lies. Yet God has just admitted to lying—twice, and now he is blaming the devil. How convenient this devil character is whenever God or his believers need to shift blame from themselves.
49The hypocrites and those who have sickness in their hearts said, ‘These people [the believers] must be deluded by their religion,’ but if anyone puts his trust in God, God is mighty and wise.
So everyone thinks religion is a delusion except the deluded. Once you become deluded, you won’t think it delusional anymore. Of course not.
50If only you [Prophet] could see, when the angels take the souls of the disbelievers, how they strike their faces and backs: it will be said, ‘Taste the punishment of the Fire.
This refers to what Hell’s angels will do after the day of judgment. We never hear what a thousand battle angels supposedly did on the field while both sides were imaging less opposition than was really there.
51This is caused by what your own hands have stored up for you: God is never unjust to His creatures.’
The Qur’an says that God is never unjust but it always shows him to be unjust; effective saying, “I’m not abusing them. I only beat and punish them in order to manipulate obedience and command respect. That’s discipline, not abuse.” Then this abusive god goes on to blame his temper upon his victims.
52They are like Pharaoh’s people and those before them who ignored God’s signs, so God punished them for their sins: God is strong and severe in His punishment. 53[He did] this because God would never change a favour He had conferred on a people unless they changed what was within themselves. God is all hearing, all knowing. 54They are indeed like Pharaoh’s people and those before them, who denied the signs of their Lord: We destroyed them for their sins, and We drowned Pharaoh’s people– they were all evildoers.
Once again, disbelief is the only “evil” one need do to earn an eternal damnation of merciless torture. It doesn’t matter if you were good or bad. All that matters is whether you believed, and did what you were told.
55The worst creatures in the sight of God are those who reject Him and will not believe; 56who, whenever you [Prophet] make a treaty with them, break it, for they have no fear of God. 57If you meet them in battle, make a fearsome example of them to those who come after them, so that they may take heed. 58And if you learn of treachery on the part of any people, throw their treaty back at them, for God does not love the treacherous.
So God is telling Muhammad to make treaties with the pagans, knowing in advance that he will break them; to commit this treachery at God’s command because God does not like the treacherous? Most scriptures only contradict other verses. This one contradicts itself in the same verse.
59The disbelievers should not think they have won; they cannot escape. 60Prepare whatever forces you [believers] can muster, including warhorses, to frighten off God’s enemies and yours, and warn others unknown to you but known to God. Whatever you give in God’s cause will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged. 61But if they incline towards peace, you [Prophet] must also incline towards it, and put your trust in God: He is the All Hearing, the All Knowing.
So God sends Muhammad to cheat the Quraysh and then kill them, while God himself listens to the prayers of the Quraysh as well as those of animists, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Yazidis and so on, and he never answers any of them, but he always SEEMS to answer all of them, each according to their own beliefs; exactly what we should expect if there is no god at all and every religion really is delusional.
62If they intend to deceive you, God is enough for you: it was He who strengthened you with His help, 63and with the believers, and brought their hearts together. Even if you had given away everything in the earth you could not have done this, but God brought them together: God is mighty and wise. 64Prophet, God is enough for you, and for the believers who follow you. 65Prophet, urge the believers to fight: if there are twenty of you who are steadfast, they will overcome two hundred, and a hundred of you, if steadfast, will overcome a thousand of the disbelievers, for they are people who do not understand. 66But God has lightened your burden for now, knowing that there is weakness in you– a steadfast hundred of you will defeat two hundred and a steadfast thousand of you will defeat two thousand, by God’s permission: God is with the steadfast.
Remember 21 years ago, when 19 terrorists killed 2,977 people?
67It is not right for a prophet to take captives before he has conquered the battlefield. You [people] desire the transient goods of this world, but God desires the Hereafter [for you]– God is mighty and wise– 68and had it not been preordained by God, a severe punishment would have come upon you for what you have taken. 69So enjoy in a good and lawful manner the things you have gained in war and be mindful of God: He is forgiving and merciful.
Remember that this all started because Muhammad decided to start robbing the caravans from his own home town.
70Prophet, tell those you have taken captive, ‘If God knows of any good in your hearts, He will give you something better than what has been taken from you, and He will forgive you: God is forgiving and merciful.’
So the pagans are now slaves of the desert bandits, and the idea that someone else’s imaginary god will forgive them is supposed to make them feel better?
71But if they mean to betray you, they have betrayed God before, and He has given you mastery over them: He is all knowing, all wise. 72Those who believed and emigrated [to Medina] and struggled for God’s cause with their possessions and persons, and those who gave refuge and help, are all allies of one another. As for those who believed but did not emigrate, you are not responsible for their protection until they have done so. But if they seek help from you against persecution, it is your duty to assist them, except against people with whom you have a treaty: God sees all that you do.
Another contradiction. Verse 56 told Muslims to break treaties with the unbelievers and to throw those treaties back at them when you face them on the battlefield.
73The disbelievers support one another. If you do not do the same, there will be persecution in the land and great corruption.
Like raiding caravans and waging war against your former neighbors? Wouldn’t it be great if God told everyone to support each other? And if it matters that some of them don’t believe in Allah, well, that’s Allah’s own fault, and he should know how to fix that.
74Those who believed and emigrated, and struggled for God’s cause, and those who gave refuge and help– they are the true believers and they will have forgiveness and generous provision. 75And those who came to believe afterwards, and emigrated and struggled alongside you, they are part of you, but relatives still have prior claim over one another in God’s Scripture: God has full knowledge of all things. a Literally ‘eat’.
If all people descend from one original couple, as this religion would have us believe, then why would God divide them between Meccans or Muslims, Judeans and Canaanites? Wouldn’t God see them all as “relatives”?