MOST of Al-Anfal (a title taken from the reference to "spoils of war" in verse 1) was revealed during and immediately after the battle of Badr, in the year 2 H.; but some of its verses, and particularly the concluding section, are considered to be of a later date. Since it deals almost entirely with the battle of Badr and the lessons to be derived from it, a historical survey is necessary for a correct understanding of this surah. In the month of Sha'ban, 2 H., the Muslims of Medina learned that a great Meccan trade caravan, which had gone to Syria some months earlier under the leadership of Abu Sufyan, had started on its return journey southwards and would be passing Medina a few weeks later. In view of the fact that ever since the exodus of the Muslims from Mecca to Medina a state of open war had existed between them and the Meccan Quraysh, the Prophet informed his followers that he intended to attack the caravan as soon as it approached Medina; and rumours of this plan reached Abu Sufyan while he and the caravan were still in Syria. The weeks that must elapse before they would reach the area of danger gave Abu Sufyan an opportunity to send a fast-riding courier to Mecca with an urgent request for help (the caravan itself, consisting of about one thousand camels laden with valuable merchandise, was accompanied by only about forty armed men). On receipt of Abu Sufyan's message, the Quraysh assembled a powerful army under the leadership of the Prophet's most bitter opponent, Abu Jahl, and set out northwards to the rescue of the caravan. The latter had, in the meantime, changed its traditional route and veered towards the coastal lowlands in order to put as much distance as possible between itself and Medina. The fact that the Prophet, contrary to his custom, had on this occasion made his plans known so long in advance suggests that the purported attack on the caravan was no more than a feint, and that from the very outset his real objective had been an encounter with the Quraysh army. As already mentioned, a state of war already existed between the Quraysh of Mecca and the Muslim community at Medina. So far, however, no decisive encounter had taken place, and the Muslims were living under the constant threat of a Quraysh invasion. It is probable that the Prophet wished to put an end to this state of affairs and to inflict, if possible, a decisive defeat on the Quraysh, thus securing a measure of safety for his, as yet weak, community. Had he really intended no more than to attack and plunder Abu Sufyan's caravan, he could have done so by simply waiting until it reached the vicinity of Medina and then swooping down on it; and in that event Abu Sufyan would have had no time to obtain further armed help from Mecca. As it was, the Prophet's announcement, weeks ahead, of the impending attack gave Abu Sufyan time to alert his compatriots in Mecca, and induced the latter to dispatch a considerable force towards Medina. While Abu Sufyan's caravan was proceeding southwards along the coast, and thus out of reach of the Muslims, the Quraysh army - consisting of about one thousand warriors clad in chain mail, seven hundred camels and over one hundred horses - arrived at the valley of Badr, approximately one hundred miles west-southwest of Medina, expecting to meet Abu Sufyan there, unaware that in the meantime he had taken the coastal route. At the same time the Prophet marched out of Medina at the head of three hundred and odd Muslims, all of them very poorly armed, with only seventy camels and two horses between them. The Prophet's followers had been under the impression that they were going to attack the trade caravan and its weak escort; and when, on the 17th (or, according to some authorities, on the 19th or 21st) of Ramadan, they came face to face with a powerful Quraysh force more than thrice their number, they held a council of war. A few of the Muslims were of the opinion that the enemy was too strong for them, and that they should withdraw to Medina. But the overwhelming majority, led by Abu Bakr and 'Umar, were in favour of an immediate advance, and their enthusiasm carried the others along with them; and thereupon the Prophet attacked the Quraysh. After a few single combats - held in accordance with time-honoured Arabian custom - the fighting became general; the Meccan forces were completelyrouted and several of their most prominent chieftains - Abu Jahl among them - were killed. It was the first open battle between the pagan Quraysh and the young Muslim community of Medina; and its outcome made the Quraysh realize that the movement inaugurated by Muhammad was not an ephemeral dream but the beginning of a new political power and a new era different from anything that the Arabian past had known. The Meccans' apprehensions, which had already been aroused by the exodus of the Prophet and his Companions to Medina, found a shattering confirmation on the day of Badr. Although the power of Arabian paganism was not finally broken until some years later, its decay became apparent from that historic moment. For the Muslims, too, Badr proved to be a turning-point. It may safely be assumed that until then only a very few of the Prophet's Companions had fully understood the political implications of the new order of Islam. To most of them, their exodus to Medina had meant, in those early days, no more than a refuge from the persecutions which they had had to endure in Mecca: after the battle of Badr, however, even the most simple-minded among them became aware that they were on their way towards a new social order. The spirit of passive sacrifice, so characteristic of their earlier days, received its complement in the idea of sacrifice through action. The doctrine of action as the most fundamental, creative element of life was, perhaps for the first time in the history of man, consciously realized not only by a few select individuals but by a whole community; and the intense activism which was to distinguish Muslim history in the coming decades and centuries was a direct, immediate consequence of the battle of Badr.
THEY WILL ASK thee about the spoils of war. Say: "All spoils of war belong to God and the Apostle."1 Remain, then, conscious of God, and keep alive the bonds of brotherhood among yourselves,2 and pay heed unto God and His Apostle, if you are [truly] believers!