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Sura 33
Aya 1

Chapter 33

The Confederatesal-Aḥzāb ( الأحزاب )

73 verses • revealed at Medinan

»The surah that mentions The Confederates of the unbelievers, who besieged Medina, with an overwhelming force, but whom God routed with winds and a sandstorm in what became known as the Battle of the Ditch (in reference to the digging of a wide trench around the city as a barrier to invasion, an unprecedented practice in Arabia) in AH 5/627 CE (verse 9 ff.). It takes its name from verse 20 which refers to the campaign of the “confederates” (aḥzāb) against the Prophet. The believers dug a ditch, which the disbelievers were unable to cross, and eventually the enemy retreated in disarray. This is mentioned in order to remind the believers of God’s goodness to them, so that they may obey the numerous instructions given in the surah, starting with the regulation of adoption and including proper conduct towards the Prophet, his Ahl al-Bayt and his wives. The hypocrites are warned to stop their bad behaviour.«

The surah is also known as The Allied Troops, The Coalition, The Confederate Tribes, The Confederaters, The Federated Clans, The Joint Forces

بِسمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحمٰنِ الرَّحيمِ

Yusuf Ali: In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

يا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ اتَّقِ اللَّهَ وَلا تُطِعِ الكافِرينَ وَالمُنافِقينَ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كانَ عَليمًا حَكيمًا

Yusuf Ali

The series of mystics Sūras beginning with S. 31 having been closed with the last Sūra, we now come back to the hard facts of this life. Two questions are mainly considered here, viz., (1) the attempt by violence and brute force to poison the relations of women with men.
As regards the first, the story of the Aḥzāb or Confederates, who tried to surround and annihilate the Muslim community in Medīna, is full of underhand intrigues on the part of such diverse enemies as the Pagan Quraish, the Jews (Banū Madhīr) who had been already expelled from Medīna for their treachery, the Ǥaṭafān tribe of Bedouin Arabs from the interior, and the Jewish tribe of Banū Quraiẓa in Medīna. This was the unholy Confederacy against Islam. But though they caused a great deal of anxiety and suffering to the beleaguered Muslims, Islam came triumphantly out of the trial and got more firmly established than ever.
The Quraish in Mecca had tried all sorts of persecution, boycott, insult, and bodily injuries to the Muslims, leading the their partial hijrat to Abyssinia and their Hijrat as a body to Medīna. The first armed conflict between them and the Muslims took place at Badr in Ramadhān A.H. 2, when the Quraish were signally defeated. (See note to verse 3:13). Next year (Shauwāl A.H. 3) they came to take revenge on Medīna. The battle was fought at Uḥud, and though the Muslims suffered severely, Medīna was saved and the Meccans had to return to Mecca with their object frustrated. Then they began to make a network of intrigues and alliances, and besieged Medīna with a force of 10,000 men in Shauwāl and Ẓul-qaʿd A.H. 5. This is the siege of the Confederates referred to in 33:9-27, which lasted over two weeks: unceasing shower of arrows, and constant general or concentrated assaults. But it ended in the discomfiture of the Confederates, and established Islam firmer than ever. It was a well-organised and formidable attack, but the Muslims had made preparations to meet it. One of the preparations, which took the enemy by surprise, was the Trench (Khandaq) dug round Medīna by the Prophet’s order and under the supervision of Salmān the Persian. The siege and battle are therefore known as the Battle of the Trench or the Battle of the Confederates.
As regards the position and dignity of the ladies of the Prophet’s Household and the Muslim women generally, salutary principles are laid down to safeguard their honour and protect them from slander and insult. The ladies of the Household interested themselves in social work and work of instruction for the Muslim women, and Muslim women were being trained more and more in community service. Two of them (the two Zainabs) devoted themselves to the poor. The nursing of the wounded on or the battlefield was specially necessary in those days of warfare. The Prophet’s daughter Fāṭima, then aged about 19 or 20, lovingly nursed her father’s wounds at Uḥud (A.H. 3); Rufaida nursed Saʿd ibn Muʿāẓʾs wounds at the Siege of Medīna by the Confederates (A.H. 5); and in the Khaibar expedition (A.H. 7) Muslim women went out from Medīna for nursing service.
A portion of this Sūra sums up the lessions of the Battle of the Trench and must have been revealed some time after that Battle (Shauwāl A.H. 5). The marriage with Zainab referred to in verse 37 took place in the same year. Some portions (e.g. verse 27 and belonging note) were probably revealed in A.H. 7 after the Khaibar settlement.
Summary—The pagan customs in human relationships should be abandoned, and men and women should be hold in honour according to natural relationship and spiritual position (33:1-8 and C. 186).
The Battle of the Trench and its lessions: hypocrites and their fears: Truth and noble examples to be followed (33:9-27 and C. 187).
High position and seemly conduct for the Apostle’s wives: unhappy marriages (like Zainab’s) not to be perpetuated on false scruples: Prophet’s wives to be treated kindly and gently (33:28-52 and C. 188).
Respect due to Apostle and his family: slander to be avoided and punished guard your words and yours responsibilities (33:53-73 and C. 189).
C. 186 | [33:1-8] The issue of all things depends
On God alone: we must put our trust
On Him as the Guardian of all affairs
He loves truth in all things, both great
And small: call things by their right names.
If false relationships custom or superstition
Do harm to men or women, shun them.
The spiritual Guide is more than Father:
The ladies of his household are Mothers
To the Believers—in rank, dignity, and duty.
The Guide will have to give an account,
In the Hereafter, of how the Truth was received
Which he was charged to proclaim to men
O Prophet! Fear God, and hearken not to the Unbelievers1 and the Hypocrites: verily God is full of knowledge and wisdom.
  • The fifth year A.H. was a critical year in the external history of early Islam, and this Sūra must be read in the light of the events that then took place. As explained in the Introduction, the Grand Confederacy against Islam came and invested Medīna and failed utterly. It consisted of the Meccan Unbelievers, the desert Arabs of Central Arabia, the Jews previously expelled for treachery from Medīna, the Jews remaining in Medīna, and the Hypocrites led by ʿAbdullah ibn Ubai, who have already been described in 9:43-110. Their bond of union was the common hatred of Islam, and it snapped under the reverses they met with. It is important to note three points. (1) The Jews as a body now lost their last chance of bearing the standard of Islam: the best of them had already accepted the renewal of God’s Message. (2) A definite status was given to the Prophet’s household, after the slanders on Ḥadhrat ʿĀisha had been stilled (24:11-26), and the true position of the Mothers of the Believers had been cleared. (3) A further exposition of the purity of sexual relations was given, based on the story of Ḥadhrat Zainab, the “Mother of the Poor”. These points will be referred to in later notes.