A Medinan sura about the Battle of the Trench in ah 5/627 ce (verses 9–27), when the joint forces of various tribes of disbelievers besieged Medina. The believers dug a ditch, which the unbelievers 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 sura, starting with the regulation of adoption and including proper conduct towards the Prophet and his wives. The hypocrites are warned to stop their bad behavior.
In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy
Do Not Obey the Hypocrites
1 Prophet, be mindful of God and do not give in to the disbelievers and the hypocrites: God is all knowing, all wise. 2 Follow what your Lord reveals to you: God is well aware of all your actions. 3 Put your trust in God: God is enough to trust. 4 God does not put two hearts within a man’s breast. He does not turn the wives you reject and liken to your mothers’ backs [a] into your real mothers; nor does He make your adopted sons into real sons. These are only words from your mouths, while God speaks the truth and guides people to the right path.
5 Name your adopted sons after their real fathers: this is more equitable in God’s eyes––if you do not know who their fathers are [they are your] ‘brothers-in-religion’ and protégés. [b] You will not be blamed if you make a mistake, only for what your hearts deliberately intend; God is most forgiving and merciful. 6 The Prophet is more protective towards the believers than they are themselves, while his wives are their mothers. [c] In God’s Scripture, blood-relatives have a stronger claim than other believers and emigrants, though you may still bestow gifts on your protégés. All this is written in the Scripture.
7 We took a solemn pledge from the prophets– from you [Muhammad], from Noah, from Abraham, from Moses, from Jesus, son of Mary– We took a solemn pledge from all of them: 8 God will question [even] the truthful about their sincerity, and for those who reject the truth He has prepared a painful torment.
9 You who believe, remember God’s goodness to you when mighty armies massed against you: We sent a violent wind and invisible forces against them. God sees all that you do. 10 They massed against you from above and below; your eyes rolled [with fear], your hearts rose into your throats, and you thought [ill] thoughts of God. 11 There the believers were sorely tested and deeply shaken: 12 the hypocrites and the sick at heart said, ‘God and His Messenger promised us nothing but delusions!’ 13 Some of them said, ‘People of Yathrib, [d] you will not be able to withstand [the attack], so go back!’ Some of them asked the Prophet’s permission to leave, saying, ‘Our houses are exposed,’ even though they were not– they just wanted to run away: 14 had the city been invaded from all sides, and the enemy invited them to rebel, they would have done so almost without hesitation. 15 Yet they had already promised God that they would not turn tail and flee, and a promise to God will be answered for. 16 [Prophet], say, ‘Running away will not benefit you. If you manage to escape death or slaughter, you will only be permitted to enjoy [life] for a short while.’ 17 Say, ‘If God wishes to harm you, who can protect you? If God wishes to show you mercy, who can prevent Him?’ They will find no one but God to protect or help them.
18 God knows exactly who among you hinder others, who [secretly] say to their brothers, ‘Come and join us,’ who hardly ever come out to fight, 19 who begrudge you [believers] any help. When fear comes, [e] you [Prophet] see them looking at you with eyes rolling like someone in their death throes; when fear has passed, they attack you with sharp tongues and begrudge you any good. Such men do not believe, and God brings their deeds to nothing– that is all too easy for God. 20 They think the joint forces have not gone, and if the joint forces did come again they would wish they were in the desert, wandering among the Bedouin and seeking news about you [from a safe distance]. Even if they were with you [believers], they would hardly fight at all. 21 The Messenger of God is an excellent model for those of you who put your hope in God and the Last Day and remember Him often.
Rewards for the Truthful
22 When the believers saw the joint forces, they said, ‘This is what God and His Messenger promised us: the promise of God and His Messenger is true,’ and this only served to increase their faith and submission to God. 23 There are men among the believers who honored their pledge to God: some of them have fulfilled it by death, and some are still waiting. They have not changed in the least. 24 [Such trials are ordained] so that God may reward the truthful for their honesty and punish the hypocrites, if He so wills, or He may relent towards them, for God is forgiving and merciful. 25 God sent back the disbelievers [f] along with their rage– they gained no benefit– and spared the believers from fighting. He is strong and mighty. 26 He brought those People of the Book who supported them down from their strongholds and put panic into their hearts. Some of them you [believers] killed and some you took captive. 27 He passed on to you their land, their houses, their possessions, and a land where you had not set foot: God has power over everything.
a. In pre-Islamic Arabia the husband sometimes said to his wife, ‘From now on, you are to me like my mother’s back,’ by which he meant that he refused to have further conjugal relations with her, yet did not divorce her and so give her the freedom to remarry (see 58: 1–4).
b. Mawla in Arabic has many meanings, including ‘protégé’, ‘client’, ‘companion’.
c. The Prophet’s wives were given the title ‘Mothers of the Believers’. Cf. verse 53.
d. The pre-Islamic name for Medina.
e. This specifically refers to fear felt in battle in this context (al-Mujam al-Wasit).
f. This refers to the sandstorm that caused the disbelievers to go back without success.
The Qur'an (Oxford World's Classics)
The Qur'an / a new translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, copyright © 2004 Oxford World's Classics (Oxford University Press). Used by permission. All rights reserved.