4:66 And had We commanded them: “Slay yourselves or go forth from your homes”, they would not have done it, except for a few of them; but had they done what they were exhorted to do (obey the Prophet), it would have been far better for them and more reinforcing.
4:67 And then We would surely have bestowed on them a great reward from Ourselves.
4:68 And We would have guided them to a straight path.
4:69 Those who obey Allah and the Messenger will be in the company of those whom God favoured of the Prophets, the saints, the martyrs and the righteous people. What excellent companions they are!
4:70 Such is the Bounty of Allah; Allah suffices as Knower.
The Tabuk expedition would prove to be a long march to the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire and back, the enemy not caring to engage the Muslims, being preoccupied with whom they considered the greater threat, the Persians. Nonetheless, among other benefit, it allowed the Prophet to deal once and for all with the recalcitrant, those who clung to life in the here-and-now and who found excuses not to accompany the Messenger on his now endless campaigns to spread Islam far and wide.
9:38 O Believers, what is the matter with you? If you are told: “March forth in the Way of Allah”, you simply cling heavily to the ground. Are you satisfied with the present life rather than the Hereafter? Yet the pleasures of the present life are very small compared with those of the Hereafter.
9:39 If you do not march forth, He will inflict a very painful punishment on you and replace you by another people, and you will not harm him (the Prophet) in the least; for Allah has power over everything.
9:40 If you do not support him, Allah did support him, when the unbelievers drove him out – he being the second of two (the other being Abu Bakr), while they were both in the cave. He said to his companion: “Do not grieve; Allah is with us.” Whereupon, Allah sent down His Tranquility upon him and assisted him with soldiers you did not see, and made the word of the unbelievers the lowest. The Word of Allah is indeed the highest and Allah is Mighty and Wise.
This is another occasion when Allah sent invisible soldiers to guard the entrance to a cave in Thaur mountain where God's Messenger and Abu Bakr were hiding on their way to Medina from Mecca where the Prophet escaped another assignation attempt.
9:41 Charge forth, on foot or mounted, and struggle with your possessions and yourselves in the Way of Allah. That is far better for you, if only you knew.
The Prophet gave credence to his plans to take his battle to the unbelievers far and wide with an expedition to Tabuk in northwestern Saudi Arabia, then part of the Byzantine Empire.
He assembled an army of more than 30 thousand and marched north 889 kms (552 miles) intending to engage the Byzantine forces at Tabuk. The Byzantine did not show up. The lesson was not lost on the locals, not only Arabs but many Christians who flocked to the Prophet’s banner. When the Muslims returned there would be no stopping them.
The expedition to Tabuk was one battle too far for many of the believers. They asked to stay behind and, to Allah's initial dismay, the Prophet agreed. Allah had choice words for His Messenger and questioned the allegiance of many of those who sought to avoid the long journey north.
9:42 Had it been a gain near at hand and a short journey, they would surely have followed you. But the distance seemed too long to them. Still they will swear by Allah: “Had we been able, we would have marched forth with you.” They damn themselves, and Allah knows that they are liars.
9:43 May Allah pardon you! Why did you allow them (to stay behind) before it became clear to you who were the truthful ones, and you knew who were the liars?
9:44 Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day do not ask you for [exemption from] fighting in the Way of Allah with their wealth and lives. Allah knows well the righteous.
9:45 Only those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day will ask you [for exemption] and their hearts are in doubt. Thus they vacillate in their state of doubt.
Allah then changes His tune, as He often does in these situations, and explains that it was all His doing if some of them were reluctant to join the Prophet on his expedition to the southern frontier of the Byzantine Empire.
9:46 Had they wanted to go forth, they would have made preparations for that; but Allah was averse to their going forth, and so He held them back, and it was said to them: “Sit back with those who sit back.”
9:47 Had they gone out with you, they would have only increased your confusion, and would have kept moving among you sowing sedition. And some of you would have listened to them. Allah knows well the wrongdoers.
9:48 They have sought to sow sedition before and turned things around for you, until the truth came out and Allah’s Command was manifested, although they were averse [to it].
9:49 Some of them say: “Allow me and do not tempt me.” Indeed they have already fallen into temptation and Hell shall encompass the unbelievers.
9:50 If a good fortune befalls you, they are displeased, and if a disaster befalls you they say: “We took our precautions before.” Then, they turn away rejoicing.
9:51 Say: “Nothing will befall us except what Allah has decreed for us. He is our Lord, and in Allah let the believers put their trust."
Allah tells His Messenger to remind those who wish to stay behind that he, the Prophet, is also His instrument for meting out punishment.
9:52 Say: “Do you expect for us anything other than one of the two fairest outcome (martyrdom or victory); while we await for you that Allah will smite you with a punishment, either from Himself, or at our hands?” So wait and watch, we are waiting and watching with you.
Some offered money to get an exemption against this Jihad against the Byzantines.
9:53 Say: “Spend willingly or unwillingly; it shall not be accepted from you. You are truly a sinful people.”
9:54 And nothing prevents what they spend from being accepted but that they disbelieve in Allah and His Messenger and that they do not perform the prayer except lazily, and do not spend [anything] except grudgingly.
The Prophet may have granted exemptions to fathers who did not want to be away from their children for months on end. This did not sit well with Allah, Who explained that even children were part of His Plan, therefore, not a valid reason to be exempted from the fighting, no matter how far.
9:55 So do not let their wealth and their children win your approval, Allah only wishes to torture them therewith in the present life, so that their souls might depart while they are still unbelievers.
Why some did not care to accompany God’s Messenger on a long journey:
9:56 They swear by Allah that they [are believers] like you, but they are not; they are a people who [fear] you.
9:57 If they could find a shelter or dens or any place to crawl into, they would make for it in great haste.
It was during the return trip from Tabuk that the Prophet got wind of an alleged assassination plot which led to some foreboding revelations about unbelievers and hypocrites.
9:73 O Prophet, fight the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be stern with them. Their abode is Hell, and what a terrible fate!
9:74 They swear by Allah that they said nothing [evil], but they said the word of disbelief and disbelieved after professing Islam, and they aimed at (according to some commentators they aimed at killing the Prophet while he was returning from Tabuk) what they could not attain. They only resented that Allah and His Messenger have enriched them from His Bounty. If they repent, it will be better for them; but if they turn away, Allah will inflict a very painful punishment on them in this world and the Hereafter, and they will have on earth no friend or supporter.
9:75 And some of them make a compact with Allah: “If He give us of His Bounty, we shall give in charity and be among the righteous.”
9:76 But when He gave them of His Bounty, they grew mean and turned away disobediently.
9:77 So He caused hypocrisy to cling to their hearts until the day they meet Him, on account of revoking what they promised Allah and on account of lying.
9:78 Do they not know that Allah knows their hidden thoughts and private talk, and that Allah knows fully the things unseen?
9:79 Those disparage the believers who give voluntary alms and those find nothing to offer but their outmost endeavour, and they scoff at them. May Allah mock them. There is a painful punishment [in store] for them.
9:80 Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them. If you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will not forgive them; because they disbelieve in Allah and His Messenger. Allah does not guide the sinful people.
Some may have stayed behind because they were worried about the heat.
9:81 Those who stayed behind rejoiced at tarrying behind the Messenger of Allah and hated to struggle with their wealth and their lives in Allah’s Path, saying: “Do not march forth in the heat.” Say: “The Fire of Hell is hotter, if only they could understand.”
9:82 Let them laugh a little and cry a lot, as a reward for what they used to do.
While Allah waited to burn those who stayed behind in Hell, His Messenger was not allowed to have them join him on further expeditions.
9:83 Then, if Allah brings you back to a party of them and they ask your permission to go forth with you, say: “You will never go forth with me, and you will never fight with me against any enemy. You were content to sit back the first time; so sit back with those who stay behind.”
As to attending their funeral, don’t bother:
9:84 And do not ever pray over any one of them who dies, or be present at their grave; indeed they disbelieve in Allah and His Messenger, and died still ungodly.
Narrated Ibn Abbas:
When Abdullah bin Ubai died, his son Abdullah bin Abdullah came to Allah's Apostle and asked him to give him his shirt in order to shroud his father in it.
He gave it to him and then Abdullah asked the Prophet to offer the funeral prayer for him (his father).
Allah's Apostle got up to offer the funeral prayer for him, but Umar got up too and got hold of the garment of Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle Will you offer the funeral prayer for him though your Lord has forbidden you to offer the prayer for him"
Allah's Apostle said, "But Allah has given me the choice by saying: '(Whether you) ask forgiveness for them, or do not ask forgiveness for them; even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times..' (9.80) so I will ask more than seventy times."
Umar said, "But he (Abdullah bin Ubai) is a hypocrite!"
However, Allah's Apostle did offer the funeral prayer for him whereupon Allah revealed: 'And never (O Muhammad) pray for anyone of them that dies, nor stand at his grave.' (9.84)
Again with the children and the wealth!
9:85 And do not let their wealth or children win your admiration. Allah only wishes to punish them therewith in the present life, so that their souls may depart while they are still unbelievers.
Perhaps the ultimate insult, revelation 9:87.
9:86 And if a Surah is revealed stating: “Believe in Allah and fight along with His Messenger”, the affluent among them will ask your permission and say: “Let us be with those who stay behind.”
9:87 They are content to be among the women who stay behind, and a seal is set upon their hearts, and thus they do not understand.
What those who went to Tabuk can expect:
9:88 But the Messenger and those who believe with him struggle with their wealth and their lives. To those are the good things reserved, and those are the prosperous.
9:89 Allah has prepared for them Gardens beneath which rivers flow, abiding therein forever. That is the great triumph!
Even the desert Arabs i.e. bedouins don’t escape Allah’s criticism.
9:90 Some of the desert Arabs who gave excuses came to seek permission, whereas those who lied to Allah and His Messenger stayed behind. Those of them who disbelieved shall be afflicted with a very painful punishment.
Allah did allow for some exceptions for the weak and the sick and for those who could not afford to make the journey to Tabuk, and those for whom transportation was not available.
9:91 The weak, the sick, and those who have nothing to spend are not at fault, if they are true to Allah and His Messenger. There can be no blame on the beneficent; and Allah is All-Forgiving, Merciful.
9:92 Nor on those who, when they came to you asking you for mounts, you said: “I do not find that whereon I can mount you.” Thereupon they went back, their eyes overflowing with tears, sorrowing for not finding the means to spend (to provide the expenses of war).
As often happens during these long rants, Allah repeats himself, perhaps for effect.
9:93 The blame is on those who ask your permission, although they are rich. They are content to join those women who stay behind. Allah has placed a seal upon their hearts and so they do not know.
More revelations, supposedly received on the return journey, about the people the Prophet allowed to stay behind, prompting another round of questioning when God’s Messenger reached Medina.
9:94 They present to you [false] excuses when you return to them. Say: “Do not offer excuses; we will not believe you. Allah has told us [all] about you. Allah shall see your work, and His Messenger too. Then you will be turned over to Him Who knows the unseen and the seen, and He will apprise you of what you used to do.”
9:95 They will swear by Allah to you, when you return to them, that you may leave them alone. So leave them alone; they are an abomination and their abode is Hell, as a reward for what they used to do.
9:96 They swear to you that you may be well-pleased with them; but should you be well-pleased with them, Allah will not be well-pleased with the sinful people.
Generalizations about Bedouins:
9:97 The desert Arabs are more steeped in unbelief and hypocrisy and are more likely not to know the bounds of what Allah has revealed to His Messenger. Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.
9:98 And some of the desert Arabs regard what they spend as a fine, and await the turns of fortune to go against you. May the evil turn against them. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
9:99 And some of the desert Arabs believe in Allah and the Last Day and regard what they spend [in the way of Allah] as a means to get closer to Allah and to earn the prayers of the Messenger. Indeed, that will bring them closer [to Allah]. He will admit them into His Mercy. Allah is truly All-Forgiving, Merciful.
The Bedouins did not always show Allah and His Messenger the respect they thought they deserved and obviously intimidated the Prophet:
Narrated Jubair bin Mutim:
That while he was with Allah's Apostle who was accompanied by the people on their way back from Hunain, the bedouins started begging things of Allah's Apostle so much so that they forced him to go under a Samura tree where his loose outer garment was snatched away.
On that, Allah's Apostle stood up and said to them, "Return my garment to me. If I had as many camels as these trees, I would have distributed them amongst you; and you will not find me a miser or a liar or a coward."
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
While I was walking with the Prophet who was wearing a Najrani outer garment with a thick hem, a bedouin came upon the Prophet and pulled his garment so violently that I could recognize the impress of the hem of the garment on his shoulder, caused by the violence of his pull. Then the bedouin said, "Order for me something from Allah's Fortune which you have."
The Prophet turned to him and smiled, and ordered that a gift be given to him.
Some of the desert Arabs and some of the people of Medina can expect double the punishment.
9:101 And some of the desert Arabs around you are hypocrites, and some of the people of Medina persist in hypocrisy. You do not know them, but We know them. We shall punish them twice, then they will be afflicted with a terrible punishment (before they are thrown into the Fire).
Some confessed that they had lied to avoid going to Tabuk. Allah hints that He will pardon them if they part with some of their wealth. There may also have been some labour involved, revelation 9:105.
9:102 Others have confessed their sins; they mixed a good deed with a bad one (the good deed is confessing sins and the bad one is that they stayed behind when the Muslims marched against the enemy). Perhaps Allah will pardon them. Allah is truly All-Forgiving, Merciful.
9:103 Take of their wealth voluntary alms to purify and cleanse them therewith; and pray for them, for your prayers are a source of tranquility for them. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
9:104 Do they not know that Allah is He who accepts the repentance from His servants, and accepts voluntary alms, and that Allah is All-Forgiving, Merciful?
9:105 And say: “Work, for Allah shall see your work, and His Messenger and the believers too. And you shall be brought back (on the Day of Resurrection) to Him Who knows the unseen and the seen, and He will apprise you of what you used to do.”
As to any others We have not revealed anything about, I will decide when the Day comes.
9:106 And others are deferred to Allah’s Decree; He will either punish them or pardon them. And Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.
Destruction of the Christian Mosque of Medina
It was on the return journey from Tabuk that Allah revealed to His Messenger what He thought about the mosque built by the Christian monk Abu ‘Amir al Rahib, and those who prayed there.
The Masjid al-Dirar had been built next to the Masjid al-Quba whose first stones were positioned by the Prophet himself. After receiving the revelation that He should not pray there, God’s Messenger realized that it had been a mistake to allow its construction and had the Masjid al-Dirar destroyed.
The fact that the Christian mosque was built with the Prophet’s approval would indicate that Abu ‘Amir's intentions were honourable, but revelation 9:107 says otherwise.
9:107 And those who build a mosque (the reference is to the mosque built in the neighbourhood of the mosque of Quba’, the first mosque built by Muslims) or hurt [the Muslims], to spread unbelief, to disunite [the believers] and to await him (he is said to be Abu ‘Amir) who had fought Allah and His Messenger – they will certainly swear that they meant nothing but good. Allah bears witness that they are liars.
9:108 Do not stand up there [for prayer]; for a mosque founded on piety from the first day is worthier of you standing in it. Therein are men who love to be purified; and Allah loves those who purify themselves.
What could pass for a parable:
9:109 Is one who founds his edifice upon the fear and Good Pleasure of Allah better, or one who founds his edifice upon the brink of a crumbling precipice that will tumble down with him into the Fire of Hell? Allah does not guide the unjust people.
9:110 The edifice which they built will continue to be a source of doubt in their hearts, unless their hearts are cut up into pieces. Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.
The Three Sincere Believers Who Lied
No we are not finished with the controversies surrounding the excursion to Tabuk (see Allah’s Enemies, The Polytheists for the in-between revelations.) Allah forgave His Messenger for granting all those exemptions along with a group who “almost deviated”; but in the end join the Prophet and went to Tabuk.
9:117 Allah has forgiven the Prophet, the Emigrants and the Helpers who followed him in the hour of distress, after the hearts of a group of them had almost deviated. Then He forgave them; for He is, indeed, Most Kind and Most Merciful towards them.
Back in Medina the Prophet again interviewed those he allowed to stay behind. Those who stuck to their original stories were dismissed with a simple: “May Allah forgive you.” When three sincere believers who had accompanied the Prophet on more than one military campaign (two had fought at Badr) admitted to lying, something they now deeply regretted, God’s Messenger asked Allah for advice.
As an exemplary punishment from the Prophet, no believers were to talk to the three until Allah had rendered his decision. After forty days, and still no revelation on their score, the Prophet ordered their wives to have nothing to do with them. Ten days later Allah communicated His Decision, which exonerated the three but not before excoriating them, just a little.
9:118 And [He also forgave] the three who were left behind till the earth, for all its vastness, became too small for them (meaning they could not find refuge), and their souls were distressed, and they realized there was no refuge from Allah except with Him. Allah then forgave them so that they might repent. Allah is the All-Forgiving, the Merciful.
9:119 O you who believe, fear Allah and side with the truthful.
The Prophet returned from Tabuk a more self-confident wary Messenger. His actions on his return secured the home front as he made plans to take his quest for converts and booty further afield.
Narrated Abdullah bin Kab:
I heard Ka'b bin Malik who was one of the three who were forgiven, saying that he had never remained behind Allah's Apostle in any Ghazwa (military expedition) which he had fought except two Ghazwat Ghazwat-al'Usra (Tabuk) and Ghazwat-Badr.
He added. "I decided to tell the truth to Allah's Apostle in the forenoon, and scarcely did he return from a journey he made, except in the forenoon, he would go first to the mosque and offer a two-Rak'at prayer.
The Prophet forbade others to speak to me or to my two companions, but he did not prohibit speaking to any of those who had remained behind excepting us.
So the people avoided speaking to us, and I stayed in that state till I could no longer bear it, and the only thing that worried me was that I might die and the Prophet would not offer the funeral prayer for me, or Allah's Apostle might die and I would be left in that social status among the people that nobody would speak to me or offer the funeral prayer for me.
But Allah revealed His Forgiveness for us to the Prophet in the last third of the night while Allah's Apostle was with Um Salama (a wife of the Prophet). Um Salama sympathized with me and helped me in my disaster.
Allah's Apostle said, 'O Um Salama! Ka'b has been forgiven!'
She said, 'Shall I send someone to him to give him the good tidings?'
He said, 'If you did so, the people would not let you sleep the rest of the night.'
So when the Prophet had offered the Fajr prayer, he announced Allah's Forgiveness for us. His face used to look as bright as a piece of the (full) moon whenever he was pleased.
When Allah revealed His Forgiveness for us, we were the three. whose case had been deferred while the excuse presented by those who had apologized had been accepted. But when there were mentioned those who had told the Prophet lies and remained behind (the battle of Tabuk) and had given false excuses, they were described with the worse description one may be described with.
Allah said: 'They will present their excuses to you (Muslims) when you return to them. Say: "Present no excuses; we shall not believe you. Allah has already informed us of the true state of matters concerning you. Allah and His Apostle will observe your actions." (9.94)