In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
As for those who disbelieve, neither their riches nor their offspring will in the least avail them against Allah; it is they who shall be the fuel of the fire. Just like the cases of the people of Pharaoh and those before them: They disbelieved Our revelations; therefore, Allah took them to task for their sins. Allah’s retribution is severe indeed. Say to those who disbelieve; You shall be overcome and gathered unto hell, an evil resting place. You have had a sign in the two armies which met in battle. One was fighting for Allah’s cause, the other an army of disbelievers. They saw with their very eyes that the others were twice their own number. But Allah strengthens with His succour whom He wills. In this there is surely a lesson for all who have eyes to see.
(The House of Imran, “Aal Imran” :3; 10-13)
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb, Translated by A.A. Salahi & S.A. Shamsi.
This passage follows the opening verses of the Surah which outline the attitude of the believers towards Allah’s revelations, whether of the clear and precise type or of the type expressed in allegory. Here we have an explanation of the end which awaits the disbelievers, and the divine law which never fails to inflict punishment on them because of their sins. A warning is also included to the disbelievers among the people of earlier revelations who stand in opposition to Islam. The Prophet (Pbuh) is instructed to warn them, and to remind them of what they saw with their own eyes in the battle of Badr when the small group of believers were given a great victory over a much larger force of disbelievers.
The context of this passage is an address to the children of Israel warning them of a similar doom to that of the disbelievers who lived before them and who may live after them. It also includes a highly significant touch, reminding the Israelites of the doom which befell Pharaoh and his soldiers when Allah saved the Israelites from their revenge. That, however, did not give the Israelites any right to special treatment should they revert to disbelief and denial of the truth. There is nothing to prevent them from being branded as disbelievers in this life of in the life to come, in the same way as that doom befell Pharaoh and his army.
They are also reminded of the fate of the Quraish army of the disbelievers in the battle of Badr. The reminder drives it home to them that Allah’s law will never fail. Nothing will protect them against the fate of Quraish, overwhelming them in a similar manner. The cause of that fate was the rejection of the faith on Quraish’s part. No one has a special favour with Allah and no one will have any immunity except through true faith.
As for those who disbelieve, neither their riches nor their offspring will in the least avail them against Allah; it is they who shall be the fuel of the fire. Wealth and children are normally thought of as two sources of protection. Neither, however, will be of any avail on that day of the arrival of which there is no doubt, because Allah never fails to keep His promise. On that day they are “the fuel of the fire.” It is a metaphor which deprives them of all characteristics which distinguish man. They are grouped together with logs of wood and all sorts of fuel.
Indeed, wealth and children cannot be of any avail in this life, even when they are coupled with power and authority: Just like the cases of the people of Pharaoh and those before them; they disbelieved our revelations; therefore, Allah took them to task for their sins. Allah’s retribution is severe in deed. It was a case with frequent parallels in history. Allah has related it in detail in this Book. It is a case which outlines Allah’s law which applies to those who reject His revelations as lies. He implements this law as He wills. Hence, no one who rejects Allah’s law which applies to those who reject His revelations as lies. He implements this law as He wills. Hence, no one who rejects Allah’s revelations can have any immunity or safeguard.
This means that those who rejected the faith and dismissed Muhammad’s (Pbuh) call and the message contained in the Book Allah revealed to him with the truth, lay themselves open to the same fate in both this life and the life to come. The Prophet (Pbuh) is instructed to warn them against the same fate in both lives. He is further instructed to give them the recent example of what happened to them in Badr, for they may have forgotten the example of Pharaoh and the disbelievers before him and how they were overwhelmed by Allah’s stern retribution. Say to those who disbelieve: You shall be overcome and gathered unto hell, an evil resting place. You have had a sign in the two armies which met in battle. One was fighting for Allah’s cause, the other an army of disbelievers. They saw with their very eyes that the others were twice their own number. But Allah strengthens with His succour whom He wills. In this there is surely a lesson for all who have eyes to see.
The statement, ‘they saw with their very eyes that the others were twice their own number’, admits two possible interpretations. The pronoun “they” preceding the verb “saw” may be taken to refer to the disbelievers and “the others” in this case refers to the Muslims. This means that despite their numerical superiority, the disbelievers imagined the much smaller group of Muslims to be “twice their own number.” This was by Allah’s own design who led the unbelievers to believe that the Muslims were a very large force when they were indeed few in number, and that put fear in the hearts of the disbelievers.
The same statement could be taken in exactly the opposite interpretation which suggests that the Muslims saw the unbelievers “twice their own number” when in actual fact they were three times as many. They nevertheless were steadfast and achieved victory.
The most important factor here is the attribution of victory to Allah’s aid and His planning. This in itself serves as a warning to the disbelievers and has a demoralizing effect on them. At the same time, it strengthens the believers and belittles their enemies so that the believers have no fear of them. That particular situation in Badr required both elements. The Qur’an was working on both aspects.
The Qur’an continues to work with its great truth and the many examples it includes of its operation. Allah’s promise to defeat the disbelievers who swerve away from the truth and reject Allah’s constitution is valid for all time. Similarly, Allah’s promise to grant victory to the believers, even though they may be few in number, is also valid for all time. That victory depends in the last resort on Allah’s help which He grants to whomsoever He wills is also a fact which remains true for the present and for the future.
The believers need only to be certain that this is the truth and to be confident that Allah’s promise will be fulfilled. They must do all they have in their power and then be patient until Allah’s will is done. They must not precipitate events, nor should they despair if victory seems long in coming. Everything is done in Allah’s own good time, according to His wisdom which determines the most suitable time for every event.
In this there is surely a lesson for all who have eyes to see. There must be eyes to see and hearts to understand and minds to reflect, so that the lesson is fully understood. Otherwise, though lessons are given at every moment of day and night, few will pay any heed.