THE BEHEADING SURA: Robert Spencer's Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 8, 'Booty'

Allah then refers to various incidents that took place before and during the battle (vv. 5-17), emphasizing that he commands warfare and protects the believers in it. The true believers were willing to go out of their homes to wage jihad warfare, although some disliked doing so and disputed with Muhammad about having to do so (vv. 5-6). This echoes 2:216:

Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.

Allah says that he "intended to establish the truth by His words and to eliminate the disbelievers" (v. 7).

Allah announced that a thousand angels joined the Muslims to smite the Quraysh (v. 9), and that he had:

 ... inspired to the angels, "I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip." (v. 12).

The Tafsir Al-Jalalayn explains:

That is, [smite] the extremities of their hands and feet: thus, when one of them went to strike an disbeliever's head, it would roll off before his sword reached it.

This verse became one of the chief justifications for the Islamic practice -- then and now -- of beheading hostages and war captives.

At the beheading of American hostage Nick Berg in May 2004, for example, the now-dead Iraqi jihad leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi invoked the great battle:

Is it not time for you [Muslims] to take the path of jihad and carry the sword of the Prophet of prophets? ... The Prophet, the most merciful, ordered [his army] to strike the necks of some prisoners in [the battle of] Badr and to kill them ... And he set a good example for us.

Allah sent angels against the Quraysh "because they opposed Allah and His Messenger. And whoever opposes Allah and His Messenger -- indeed, Allah is severe in penalty." (v. 13). The Muslims must always advance, never turning their backs on the enemy, unless they do so as a stratagem of war (vv. 15-16). Allah tells Muhammad that the Muslims were merely passive instruments at Badr. At one point, according to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad threw pebbles toward the Quraysh, exclaiming: "Foul be those faces!" But it was Allah who killed the Quraysh and even Allah who threw the pebbles:

And you did not kill them, but it was Allah who killed them. And you threw not, when you threw, but it was Allah who threw that He might test the believers with a good test. Indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing (v. 17).

Then Allah addresses the unbelievers (vv. 18-19), warning the Quraysh not to attempt another attack, telling them they will again be defeated no matter how much more numerous they are than the Muslims. He then addresses the Muslims again (vv. 20-30), exhorting them to faith and reminding them how Allah gave them victory at Badr despite the enemy's superior numbers (v. 26). The unbelievers may plot and plan, but "Allah is the best of plotters" (v. 30).

Allah then discusses the perversity of the pagan Quraysh, whom the Muslims have just defeated in the Battle of Badr (vv. 31-40). They reject Muhammad's preaching as "legends of the former peoples" (v. 31) and keep the Muslims out of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca (v. 34). In verses 38-40, Allah tells Muhammad to call them to accept Islam:

And fight them until there is no fitnah and the religion, all of it, is for Allah. And if they cease -- then indeed, Allah is Seeing of what they do (v. 39).

According to Ibn Abbas, Abu Al-Aliyah, Mujahid, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, Ar-Rabi bin Anas, As-Suddi, Muqatil bin Hayyan and Zayd bin Aslam, the statement that Muslims must fight until there is no more fitnah means that they must fight "so that there is no more Shirk."

Shirk is the association of partners with Allah -- i.e., calling Jesus the Son of God.

So this verse, although it was revealed in the aftermath of a seventh-century battle between Muslims and pagans, has a universal application: the Tafsir al-Jalalayn glosses it this way:

And fight them until sedition, idolatry ... exists no more and religion is all for Allah, alone, none other being worshipped.

Muhammad himself said:

I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah, and he who professed it was guaranteed the protection of his property and life on my behalf except for the right affairs rest with Allah (Sahih Muslim 30).

Allah then speaks about the battle itself (vv. 41-44). After the Muslims' victory, Allah directs the Muslims to give a fifth of the booty to Muhammad (v. 41). An Islamic tradition amplifies this with an account of Muhammad's generosity: after one battle, Muhammad prayed "facing a camel from the war booty," and then, holding some of the camel's hair between his fingers, said to his men: "This is also a part of the war booty you earned. Verily, I have no share in it, except my own share, the fifth designated to me. Even that fifth will be given to you."

Muhammad continued by exhorting the Muslims to turn over all the spoils of war to him for just distribution:

Therefore, surrender even the needle and the thread, and whatever is bigger or smaller than that (from the war spoils). Do not cheat with any of it, for stealing from the war booty before its distribution is Fire and a shame on its people in this life and the Hereafter. Perform Jihad against the people in Allah's cause, whether they are near or far, and do not fear the blame of the blamers, as long as you are in Allah's cause. Establish Allah's rules while in your area and while traveling. Perform Jihad in Allah's cause, for Jihad is a tremendous door leading to Paradise. Through it, Allah saves (one) from sadness and grief.

Then Allah reminds Muhammad of various events before and during the battle, emphasizing how Allah controlled events and saved the Muslims (vv. 42-44). After that, Allah addresses the believers (vv. 45-63), telling them not to imitate those who, like the "the people of Pharaoh and of those before them ... disbelieved in the signs of Allah, so Allah seized them for their sins. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and severe in penalty." (v. 52). (Here again, "signs" is ayat, the word used for the verses of the Qur'an.)

For "the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are those who have disbelieved, and they will not [ever] believe " (v. 55) -- another indication that unbelievers are worthy of no respect or consideration.