Ch 8/9 of Quran – Anfal/Tawba – is said to contain some of the most controversial instructions to Muslims. These instructions are found in Traditional Exegeses and are said to narrate a war against Pagans. However, we believe this outlook is erroneous and was initially projected as a result of a constructed narrative of Prophet Muhammad and the Arab pagans. We believe that if Ch 8/9 is read with the indigenous Quranic worldview in mind, it would produce a very different picture indeed.
One of the biggest indicators that this worldview is correct is the presence of what we call the ‘Firaun Connection’. ‘Firaun’ in our understanding of Quran refers to the oppressive personality. He is the head of the system of oppression. His practises include enslaving humanity for his folks, breaking people into sects and disallowing them from believing as they choose. He is the opposite of musa, the Quranic personality most mentioned. Musa strives to free humanity from Firaun’s clutches.
In Ch 8/9, one does not expect to meet firaun or indeed any other personality. Ch 8/9 is a ‘hard chapter’ which means that contains raw instructions without any kind of narratives. This is almost true except for one thing – it mentions firaun not once but twice in almost consecutive verses! If we take this arrangement of Quran seriously then this sudden shift in themes must have a tremendous consequence.
Let us take a look at the verses:
In the manner of the people of firaun and those before them; they disbelieved in Allah’s signs, therefore Allah destroyed them on account of their faults; surely Allah is strong, severe in requiting. (8/52)
This is because Allah has never changed a favor which He has conferred upon a people until they change their own condition; and because Allah is Hearing, Knowing (8/53)
In the manner of the people of firaun and those before them; they rejected the signs of their Lord, therefore We destroyed them on account of their faults and We drowned firaun people, and they were all unjust. (8/54).
There are a few things to note in this mini-passage –
- This is the only passage in Ch 8/9 which mentions any personality. For the Reader, this unexpected ‘interjection’ alerts him/her to the grounding of this chapter. It roots the chapter to a concrete story and not coincidentally, the most prevalent one – that of musa and firaun.
- As mentioned above, the story mentions firaun not once but twice within three consecutive verses and with the same opening phrase. This double mentioning is meant to impress upon the Reader the connection of firaun’s system to the contents of Ch 8/9.
- This double mentioning also creates a ‘bracketing effect’ which means 8/52 and 8/54 brackets 8/53. 8/53 deals with the condition of the soul and its influence in changing Allah’s preferentiality (fadhl) to his reality. It is one of two verses which have this notion (the other being 13/11). Being bracket by 8/52 and 54 shows that in order to change the oppressive conditions, we must change the conditions of our souls. This would then extend to the realization of the entire system of Ch 8/9, which requires the same in order to attain preference and thus the bounties of Allah.
- The opening phrase of 8/52 and 8/53 (in manner of the people of firaun – kada’bi aali firaun) is a rarely used phrase and the word ‘da’bi’ (manner, custom) almost exclusively used for firaun and in his people (3/11, 8/52 and 8/54) with just one verse pointing to other negative peoples (40/31). Other forms include describing the motion of heavenly bodies (14/33) and the consecutiveness of time (12/47). This shows that the word connotes a set path or course with inflexibility.
- Finally, in 8/54, firaun’s people are said to be oppressors. The form is in ideal state (instead of relative like ‘the oppressors’). This shows that firaun and his people enshrine what is oppressive in the Quranic worldview. This ultimate form of oppression is what is opposed by the system of Ch 8/9 – the system of peace and justice.
It is indeed vital for us to read Quran carefully and factor in every element in a chapter. Often at times, a chapter would seem difficult to digest due to its anti-Quranic injunction. Ch 8/9 most often gets flagged for this. However, upon factoring among other things, its mention of firaun and more importantly, how it mentions firaun and his people, we can clearly see what the purpose of Ch 8/9 is on a systemic level – to produce a system opposite the one brought by firaun. Rooting our reading in this consciousness would produce a dramatically different understanding of the chapter.