Monday, February 9, 2015

The Qur'an Surah 8: Battle Gains

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Qur'an: a Book Report, in which I read each surah of the Qur'an and write about what I learn.  I will also include some original Arabic text, because it is very beautiful.

"Battle Gains" is a Medinan surah which mainly comments on the Battle of Badr, in which Muhammad and his followers defeated a vastly greater force of Meccans.  Conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims in Mecca is what caused Muhammed to lead his followers on the migration (or exodus) to Medina.  The Battle of Badr (near Medina) was a great victory for the early community of Muslims.

As the title suggests, the surah deals with the proper distribution of the gains (or spoils) of battle.  Apparently, some of the fighters were unhappy with their share.  The surah tells them, first, that victory comes from God, so any gains they get are a bonus.  The text also commands that battle gains be distributed among families and the poor: "Know that one-fifth of your battle gains belongs to God and the Messenger, to close relatives and orphans, to the needy and travelers." 

The text also deals with the importance of making and keeping treaties after battle to maintain peace: "if they incline toward peace, you must also incline toward peace."

This surah reminded me of the book of Joshua in the Bible, which is about the Israelite conquest of Canaan.  A main difference, I suppose, is that the Muslims (in the Battle of Badr) were not fighting a war of conquest--theirs was a struggle for self-preservation.  Maybe a better comparison would be the story of Gideon, from the book of Judges.  Like Muhammad, Gideon (with the help of God) defeated a large force with a small army.

This surah raises the uncomfortable issue of war and violence in religious texts.  Both the Bible and the Qur'an have stories of war and violence.  I suppose this is, in one sense, an honest reflection of historic human conflict.  History is violent.  Thankfully, it is not only violent.

An angelic host assists the Muslims at the Battle of Badr.

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