33. Ahzab

Syed Abu-Ala' Maududi's Chapter Introductions to the Quran



The Sura derives its name Al-Ahzab from verse 20.

Period of Revelation

The Sura discusses three important events which are: the Battle of the Trench (or Al-Ahzab: the Clans) which took place in Shawwal A. H. 5; the raid on Bani Quraizah which was made in Dhil-Qa'dah A. H. 5; and the Holy Prophet's marriage with Hadrat Zainab which also was contracted in Dhil-Qa'dah A. H. 5. These historical events accurately determine the period of the revelation of this Sura.

Historical Background

The Islamic army's setback in the Battle of Uhud (A. H. 3) that resulted from the error of the archers appointed by the Holy Prophet so boosted up the morale of the Arab pagans and the Jews and the hypocrites that they started entertaining the hope that they would soon be able to exterminate Islam and the Muslims completely. Their high state of morale can be judged from the events that occurred in the first year after Uhud. Hardly two months had passed then the tribe of Bani Asad of Najd began to make preparations for a raid on Madinah and the Holy Prophet had to despatch an expedition under Abu Salamah to counteract them. In Safar A. H. 4 some people of the tribes of Adal and Qarah asked the Holy Prophet to send some men to instruct them in Islam. Accordingly six of the Companions were allowed to accompany them for the purpose. But when they reached Raji (a place between Rabigh and Jeddah) they summoned Hudhail against them who killed four of the Companions and took the other two (Hadrat Khubaib bin Adi and Hadrat Zaid bin ad-Dathinnah) to Makkah and sold them to the enemy. Then in the same month of Safar on the request of a chief of Bani Amir the Holy Prophet sent another deputation of 40 (according to others 70) preachers consisting of the Ansar young men to Najd. But they were also betrayed. The people of Usayyah and Ri'l and Dhakwan tribes of Bani Sulaim surrounded them suddenly at Bir Maunah and slew all of them. Meanwhile the Jewish tribe of Bani an-Nadir of Madinah getting encouragement continued to commit breaches of the treaties; so much so that in Rabi'ul Awwal A.H. 4 they plotted against the life of the Holy Prophet himself. Then in Jamadi al-Ula A. H. 4 Bani Thalbah and Bani Muharib the two tribes of Bani Ghatafan started making preparations to attack Madinah and the Holy Prophet had to go to punish them. Thus after their setback at Uhud the Muslims went on encountering repercussions continuously for seven to eight months. However it was the Holy Prophet's determination and wisdom and his great Companions' spirit of sacrifice that changed these adverse conditions completely within a short span of time. The economic boycott by the Arabs had made life hard for the people of Madinah. All the polytheistic tribes around Madinah were becoming rebellious. Inside Madinah itself the Jews and the hypocrites were beat upon mischief. But the successive steps taken by a handful of the sincere Muslims under the leadership of the Holy Prophet not only restored the image of strength of Islam in Arabia but also increased it manifold. Raids Preceding the Battle of the Trench The first such step was taken immediately after the Battle of Uhud. The very next day when quite a large number of Muslims lay wounded and the martyrdom of the near and dear ones was being mourned in many houses and the Holy Prophet himself was injured and sad at the martyrdom of his uncle Hadrat Hamzah he called out to the devoted servants of Islam to accompany him in pursuit of the pagans so as to deter them from returning and attacking Madlnah again. The Holy Prophet's assessment was absolutely correct. He knew that although the Quraishhad retreated without taking any advantage of their almost complete victory they would certainly regret their folly when they would halt and consider the whole matter coolly on the way and would return to attack Madinah again. Therefore he decided to go in pursuit of them and 630 of of the Muslims at once volunteered to accompany him. When they reached Hamra al-Asad on the way to Makkah and camped there for three days the Holy Prophet came to know through a sympathetic non- Muslim that Abu Sufyan had stayed at Ar-Rauha 36 miles short of Madinah with an army 2 978 strong: they were regretting their error and were in fact planning to return and attack Madinah once agaln. But when they heard that the Holy Prophet was coming in pursuit of them with an army they lost heart and gave up their pl

The Battle of the Trench

Such were the conditions when the Battle of the Trench took place. It was in fact a combined raid by many of the Arab tribes who wanted to crush the power of Madinah. It had been instigated by the leaders of the Bani an-Nadir who had settled in Khaiber after their banishment from Madinah. They went round to the Quraishand Ghatafan and Hudhail and many other tribes and induced them to gather all their forces together and attack Madinah jointly. Thus in Shawwal A. H. 5 an unprecedentedly large army of the Arab tribes marched against the small city of Madinah. From the north came Jews of Bani an-Nadir and Bani Qainuqa who after their banishment from Madinah had settled in Khaiber and Wad il Qura. From the east advanced the tribes of Ghatafan Bani Sulaim Fazarah Murrah Ashja Sad Asad etc. and from the south the Quraish along with a large force of their allies. Together they numbered from ten to twelve thousand men. Had it been a sudden attack it would have been disastrous. But the Holy Prophet was not unaware of this in Madinah. His intelligence men and the sympathisers of the Islamic movement and the people influenced by it were present in every tribe who kept him informed of the enemy's movements. Even before the enemy could reach his city he got a trench dug out on the north-west of Madinah in six days and having the Mount Salat their back took up a defensive position with 3 000 men in the protection of the Trench. To the south of Madinah there were many gardens (even now there are) so that it could not be attacked from that side. To the east there are lava rocks which are impassable for a large army. The same is the case with the south western side. The attack therefore could be made only from the eastern and western sides of the Uhud which the Holy Propbet had secured by digging a trench. The disbelievers were not at all aware that they would have to counter the trench outside Madinah. This kind of a defensive stratagem was unknown to the Arabs. Thus they had to lay a long siege in winter for which they had not come prepared. After this only one alternative remained with the disbelievers: to incite the Jewish tribe of Bani Quraizah who inhabited the south eastern part of the city to rebellion. As the Mus]ims had entered a treaty with them that in case of an attack on Madinah they would defend the city along with them the Muslims had made no defensive arrangement there and had even sent their families to take shelter in the forts situated on that side. The invaders perceived this weakness of the Islamic defenses. They sent Huyayy bin Akhtab the Jewish leader of the Bani an-Nadir to the Bani Quraizah so as to induce them to break the treaty and join the war. In the beginning they refused to oblige and said that they had a treaty with Muhammad (upon whom be Allah's peace) who had faithfully abided by it and given them no cause for complaint. But when Ibn Akhtab said to them Look I have summoned the united force of entire Arabia against him: this is a perfect opportunity to get rid of him. If you lose it you will never have another opportunity the anti Islamic Jewish mind prevailed over every moral consideration and the Bani Quraizah were persuaded to break the treaty. The Holy Prophet received news of this. He at once told Sad bin Ubadah Sad bin Muadh Abdullah bin Rawahah and Khawwat bin Jubair chiefs of the Ansar to go and find out the truth. He advised them that if they found Bani Quraizah still loyal to the treaty they should return and say so openly before the Muslim army; however if they found that they were bent upon treachery they should only inform him so that the common Muslims would not be disheartened. On reaching there the Companions found the Bani Quraizah fully bent on mischief They told the Companions openly There is no agreement and no treaty between us and Muhammad. At this they returned to the Islamic army and submitted their report to the Holy Prophet saying 'Ad

Raid on Bani Quraizah

When the Holy Prophet returned from the Trench Gabriel came to him in the early afternoon with the Divine Command the the Muslims should not lay aside the arms yet but should deal with the Bani Quraizah as well. On receipt of this Command the Holy Prophet got announced: Everyone who is steadfast in obedience should not offer his Asr Prayer till he reahes the locality of the Bani Quraizah." Immediately after this he despatched Hadrat Ali with a contingent of soldiers as vanguard towards the Quraizah. When they reached there the Jews climbed on to their roof tops and started hurling abuses on the Holy Prophet and the Muslims but their invectives could not save them from the consequences of their treachery. They had committed breach of the treaty right at the most critical moment of the war joined hands with the invaders and endangered the entire population of Madinah. When they saw the contingent of Hadrat Ali they thought that they had come only to overawe them. But when the whole Islamic army arrived under the command of the Holy Prophet himself and laid siege to their quarters they were very frightened. They could not stand the severity of the siege for more than two or three weeks. At last they surrendered themselves to the Holy Prophet on the condition that they would accept whatever decision Hadrat Sad bin Muadh the chief of the Aus would give. They had accepted Hadrat Sad as their judge because in the pre-Islamic days the Aus and the Quraizah had been confederates and they hoped that in view of the past ties he would help them quit Madinah as had happened in the case of the Bani Qainuqa and the Bani an-Nadir before. The people of the Aus themselves wished that Hadrat Sad treat their previous allies leniently. But Hadrat Sad had just experienced and seen how the two Jewish tribes who had been allowed to leave Madinah previously had instigated the other tribes living around Madinah and summoned the united front of ten to twelve thousand men against the Muslims. He was also aware how treacherously this last Jewish tribe had behaved right on the occasion when the city was under attack from outside and threatened the safety of the whole of its population. Therefore he decreed that all the male members of the Quraizah should be put to death their women and children taken prisoners and their properties distributed among the Muslims. The sentence was carried out duly. When the Muslims entered their strongholds they found that the treacherous people had collected 1 500 swords 300 coats of mail 2 000 spears and 1 500 shields in order to join the war. If Allah's succour had not reached the Muslims all this military equipment would have been used to attack Madinah from the rear right at the time when the polytheists were making preparations for a general assault on the Muslims after crossing the Trench. After this disclosure there remained no doubt that the decision of Hadrat Sad concerning those people was absolutely correct.

Social Reforms

Though the period of two years between the Battles of Uhud and the Trench was a period of disturbance and turmoil and the Holy Prophet and his Companions could hardly relax in peace and security even for a day the work of reform as a whole and the reconstruction of the Muslim society continued uninterrupted. This was the time when the Islamic laws pertaining to marriage and divorce were complemented; the law of inheritance was introduced drinking and gambling were prohibited and the new laws and regulations concerning many other aspects of the economic and social life were enforced. In this connection an important thing that needed to be reformed was the question of the adoption of a son. Whoever was adopted by the Arabs as a son was regarded as one of their own offspring: he got share in inheritance; he was treated like a real son and real brother by the adopted mother and the adopted sister; he could not marry the daughter of his adopted father and his widow after his death. And the same was the case if the adopted son died or divorced a wife. The adopted father regarded the woman as his real daughter-in-law. This custom clashed in every detail with the laws of marriage and divorce and inheritance enjoined by Allah in Suras Al-Baqarahand An-Nisa. It made a person who could get no share in inheritance entitled to it at the expense of those who were really entitled to it. It prohibited marriage between the men and the women who could contract marriage perfectly lawfully. And above all it helped spread the immoralities which the Islamic Law wanted to eradicate. For a real mother and a real sister and a real daughter cannot be like the adopted mother and the adopted sister and the adopted daughter however one may try to sanctify the adopted relations as a custom. When the artificial relations endued with customary sanctity are allowed to mix freely like the real relations it cannot but produce evil results. That is why the Islamic law of marriage and divorce the law of inheritance and the law of the prohibition of adultery required that the concept and custom of regarding the adopted son as the real son should be eradicated completely. This concept however could not be rooted out by merely passing a legal order saying The adopted son is not the real son. The centuries old prejudices and superstitions cannot be changed by mere word of mouth. Even if the people had accepted the command that these relations were not the real relations they would still have looked upon marriage between the adopted mother and the adopted son the adopted brother and the sister the adopted father and the daughter and the adopted father- in-law and the daughter-in- law odious and detestable. Moreover there would still exist some freedom of mixing together freely. Therefore it was inevitable that the custom should be eradicated practically and through the Holy Prophet himself. For no Muslim could ever conceive that a thing done by the Holy Prophet himsell and done by him under Allah's Command could be detestable. Therefore a little before the Battle of the Trench the Holy Prophet was inspired by Allah that he should marry the divorced wife of his adopted son Zaid bin Harithah (may Allah be pleased with him) and he acted on this Command during the siege of the Bani Quraizah. (The delay probab- ly was caused for the reason that the prescribed waiting period had not yet ended and in the meantime the Holy Prophet had to become busy in the preparation for war). Storm of Propaganda at the Marriage of Hadrat Zainab As soon as the marriage was contracted there arose a storm of propaganda against the Holy Prophet. The polytheists the hypocrites and the Jews all were burning with jealousy at his triumphs which followed one after the other. The way they had been humbled within two years after Uhud in the Battle of the Trench and in the affair of the Quraizah had made them sore at heart. They had also lost hope that they could ever

Preliminary Commandments of Purdah

The fact that the tales invented by the enemies also became topics of conversation among the Muslims was a clear sign that the element of sensuality in society had crossed all limits. If this malady had not been there it was not possible that minds would have paid any attention whatever to such absurd and disgusting stories about a righteous and pure person like the Holy Prophet. This was precisely the occasion when the reformative Com- mandments pertaining to the law of Hijab or Purdah were first enforced in the Islamic society. These reforms were introduced in this Sura and complemented a year later in Sura An-Nur when a slander was made on the honour of Hadrat Aishah.(For further details see Introduction to Sura An-Nur).

Domestic Affairs of the Holy Prophet

There were two other problems which needed attention at that time. Though apparently they pertained to the Holy Prophet's domestic life it was necessary to resolve them for the domestic and mental peace of the person who was exerting every effort to promote the cause of Allah's Religion and was day and night absorbed in this great mission. Therefore Allah took these two problems also officially in His own hand. The first problem was that economically the Holy Prophet at that time was in straitened circumstances. During the first four years he had no source of income whatever. In 4 A. H. after the banishment of the Bani an-Nadir a portion of their evacuated lands was reserved for his use by the Command of Allah but it was not enough for his family requirements. On the other hand the duties of the office of Prophethood were so onerous that they were absorbing all his energies of the mind and body and heart and every moment of his time and he could not make any effort at all for earning his livelihood. In conditions such as these when his wives happened to disturb his mental peace because of economic hardships he would feel doubly strained and taxed. The other problem was that before marrying Hadrat Zainab he had four wives already in the houses: Hadrat Saudah Hadrat Aishah Hadrat Hafsah and Hadrat Umm Salamah. Hadrat Zainab was his fifth wife. At this the opponents raised the objection and the Muslims also started entertaining doubts that as for others it had been forbidden to keep more than four wives at a time but how the Holy Prophet himself had taken a fifth wife also.

Subject Matter and Topics

These were the questions that were engaging the attention of the Holy Prophet and the Muslims at the time Sura Al-Ahzab was revealed and replies to the same form the subject matter of this Sura. A perusal of the theme and the background shows that the Sura is not a single discourse which was sent down in one piece but it consists of several injunctions and commandments and discourses which were sent down one after the other in connection with the important events of the time and then were put together in one Sura. Its following parts stand out clearly distinguished from one another: 1.Verses 1-8 seem to have been sent down before the Battle of the Trench. Their perusal keeping the historical background in view shows that at the time of their revelation Hadrat Zaid had already divorced Hadrat Zainab. The Holy Prophet was feeling the necessity that the concepts and customs and superstitions of ignorance concerning the adoption of the son should be eradicated and he was also feeling that the delicate and deep sentimonts the people cherished about the adopted relations merely on emotional grounds would not be rooted out until he himelf took the initiative to eradicate the custom practically. But at the same time he was hesitant and considering seriously that if he married the divorced wife of Hadrat Zaid then the hypocrites and the Jews and the mushrikswho were already bent on mischief would get a fresh excuse to start a propaganda campaign against Islam. This was the occasion of the revelation of vv. 1-8. 2.In verses 9-27 an appraisal has been made of the Battle of the Trench and the raid against the Bani Quraizah. This is a clear proof that these verses were sent down after these events. 3.The discourse contained in vv. 28-35 consists of two parts. In the first part Allah has given a notice to the wives of the Holy Prophet who were being impatient of the straitened circumstances to the effect:"Choose between the world and its adornments and Allah His Prophet and the Hereafter. If you seek the former you should say so openly: you will not be kept back in hardship even for a day but will be sent off gracefully. And if you seek the latter you should cooperate with Allah and His messenger and bear patiently." In the second part initial steps were taken towards the social reforms whose need was being felt by the minds moulded in the Islamic pattern themselves. In this regard reform was started from the house of the Holy Prophet himself and his wives were commanded to avoid behaving and conducting themselves in the ways of the pre Islamic days of ignorance to remain in their houses with dignity and to exercise great caution in their conversation with the other men. This was the beginning of the Commandments of Purdah. 4.Verses 36-48 deal with the Holy Prophet's marriage with Hadrat Zainab. In this section the opponents' objection about this marriage have been answered; the doubts that were being created in the minds of the Muslims have been removed; the Muslims have been acquainted with the Holy Prophet's position and status; and the Holy Prophet himself has been counselled to exercise patience on the false propaganda of the disbelievers and the hypocrites. 5.In verse 49 a clause of the law of divorce has been laid down. This is a unique verse which was sent down on some occasion probably in connection with the same events. 6.In verses 50-52 a special regulation of marriage has been laid down for the Holy Prophet which points out that he is an exception to the several rertrictions that have been imposed on the other Muslims in regard to marital life. 7.In verses 53-55 the second step was taken towards social reform. It consists of the following injunctions: Restriction on the other men to visit the houses of the Holy Prophet's wives; Islamic etiquette concerning visits and invitations; the law that only the near relatives could visit the holy wives in their houses; as for the other men they could speak to or a

Powered By The Muslims Internet Directory