It has almost become a cliché that whenever Quran is criticised, it is ‘Sura Tauba’ which is mentioned. Critics quote half verses of Anfal (the other ‘war’ sura) and Tauba then append those verses to lengthy traditions allegedly of the Prophet in which he waged war against non-believers. One cannot solely blame Islamophobes for using these arguments, of course. Choosing such views as representative of Islam suits their agenda perfectly. They only copied the exegesis of the Islamofascists, sometimes word for word, literally cut and paste. What I do take issue with them and especially with Ex-Muslims, is that they refuse to acknowledge that there are varieties of interpretation among Muslims themselves. Rather than encouraging Muslims to find alternative interpretations which are positive, they equate the voice of Quran with its Islamofascist interpreters. It is as if they assume an almost religiously dogmatic position themselves, forgetting the fact of interpretation altogether and denying Muslims the right to speak for their religious tradition. Their sense of democracy and free thinking ends when it comes to Quran.
We should remain true to Anfal/Tauba not because it is a dogmatic requirement for us to believe Quran is divinely protected. The Author of Quran Himself does not demand that of us but rather tells us to verify and investigate that for ourselves. Rather, The Author presents as a practical guide for humanity to achieve its ideal state. Anfal/Tauba must fit into this purpose or that reading would miss the mark. This is why I believe Islamofascist readings do – miss the mark entirely.
Such readings attach a mythical story that the Prophet allegedly waged war for the sake of religion. Worse still, they depict him as a brigand who raided caravans of his enemies for war booty. Perhaps the worst aspect of this is the capture of prisoners, some of whom were massacred and the women taken as captives for sexual gratification. All these dastardly accusations against the Prophet have coloured Islamofascist interpretations of Anfal-Tauba.
A natural question to ask is, why did these interpretations come about? If Muslims are supporters of the Prophet’s mission and these teachings clearly disparage him, they must either be true or Muslims would have removed them. Unfortunately, this assumption unjustifiably relies on the objectivity of Muslim historians and Traditionalist scholars. I question their objectivity due to the socio-political milieu of the time. The Islamic empire was at its peak and it was vital to redirect Quranic interpretations to support the campaigns of conquest for the sake of riches and slavery, sexual or otherwise.
In order to see the truth of Anfal-Tauba, we must return to Quran itself. Let us leave off these exegesis of the Traditionalists and see what emerges. We must remember that this literature did not stablise till after a hundred and fifty years post-Hijrah. Quran itself, even according to its harshest critics (like Crone and Cook) has been there since the beginning of Islam.
This essay will look at two aspects of Anfal-Tauba in order to demonstrate that the Traditionalist outlook on this chapter is essentially flawed. It is not about a religious war or a command to wage war or non-Muslims. Rather, Anfal-Tauba is about a system with a set goal of bringing perpetual benefits to humankind. It purports to do so by establishing a system of peace an justice.
The first of the two aspects we will look at is that without these external source of information, Anfal and Tawba are not two separate chapters but rather one large chapter. Reason being, there is no basmalah (opening formula) between them. If one listens to them being recited (this usually happens during Taraweeh prayers in Ramadhan), they form a seamless reading from the end of Anfal through the beginning of Tauba.
Why is acknowledging this important in reclaiming Anfal/Tauba? The reason is simple – at the end of Anfal, there is a polity and institution established to which people emigrate for refuge (8/75). This polity seeks peace and dissociates from those who associate this with other values which is explained in early Tawba (9/1-11). Without Anfal, Tauba exists in a vacuum and is more likely to be misunderstood. This was probably the reason for which is the Islamofascist separated them to begin with. Anfal and Tauba are one seamless system cycle – from beginning to maturity and decline of the cycle.
The second aspect we will analysis is the opening of this chapter. In the very beginning of Anfal itself (8/1), we may see the guiding principle of Anfal/Tauba. It is crucial to factor in this in order to understand the entirety of the chapter. Let us look at 8/1:
They seek of you about the bounties Say, “The bounties is for Allah and the Messenger.” So fear Allah and amend that which is between you and obey Allah and His Messenger, if you are believers. (8/1)
The above translation is from quran.com which is ideologically Islamofascist . Even so, it acknowledges that the meaning of the word ‘anfaal’ is ‘bounties’ and has to add a bracketed ‘of war’ (which I removed). This shows that that it was projection due to the external sources we mentioned above. Without them, it is simply about people asking ‘you’ about bounties.
This universalises the reading entirely. It is not about bloodthirsty warmongers seeking war spoils but rather about human beings seeking bounties for themselves. A further analysis of this word ‘anfal’ shows that is bounty one receives over and above one’s effort. ‘Perpetual gifts’ is a better translation and the word ‘anfal’ is in the superlative degree (like ‘akbar’ or ‘greatest’ without the comparative ‘min’). ‘Anfal’ is therefore perpetual bounties in the greatest degree. This is what all human beings seek regardless of affiliation. Every country in the world has this goal in mind and strive for this in the field of politics and economics.
So this is what they seek of the Reader (addressed as ‘you’). What of his or her answer? That the ‘anfaal’ is for Allah and his messenger. This is not for a religious institution (since the messenger cannot ask for any remuneration as per Quran 6/90). Rather ‘Allah and his messenger’ represents the distributive system which distributes it to the near neighbours, the orphans, the needed and the wayfarer (as per 8/41). The ‘anfaal’ is therefore for the betterment of society.
Let us analyse the 8/1 further in order to understand the goal of this – 8/1 then tells us to ‘amend what is between you’. Going by the flow of the verse, this ‘amending’ would be the result of the redistribution above. By giving the aforementioned categories above the resources they need, we are mending the social rifts and thus enabling social movement to happen.
This all-important opening verse of Anfal-Tauba shows us an entirely new goal from what Islamofascists would have us believe. The goal is not some religious struggle to convert people to Islam (something which needs to be deconstructed in any case!) but rather the creation of a system designed to produce perpetual benefits for humankind.
In the next instalments of this series, we hope to explore more words in Ch 8/9 in order to ‘dereligionise’ them and reorientate them towards the principles we have outline above. This chapter is a highly valuable chapter for all people and it is important that we reclaim in it.