Sometimes in our writing and translation work, we come across an idea or passage that we can’t wait to share with everyone. Our next translated book, Faith Comes First, by Magdy Al-Hilali, is a treasure trove of ideas and strategies on building up iman.

Below is a passage from the book, illustrating how the Quran addressed an issue that created tension among the companions after the Battle of Badr. The Quran targeted the issue of increasing iman, faith, before dealing with any logistics of the disagreement. 

The central idea of the book Faith Comes First is that iman is the necessary starting point behind every positive change. It is a mistake to emphasize the external aspects of religious practice while neglecting to tend the heart. Rather, change must go hand in hand with deep cleansing and revival of faith in the heart.

The Spoils after the Battle of Badr

After the first Muslim victory at the Battle of Badr, a problem arose. For the first time, the spoils of war fell into the hands of the fledgling Muslim community. Most of the Muslims were poor and in great need of this wealth. People argued over how the spoils should be distributed. Young warriors felt they deserved a larger share than those who were less skilled, older in age, or hadn’t been on the front lines. Voices were raised, and tempers escalated.  How would this problem be solved?

Allah answered with Surah Al-Anfal. The Surah began with the words: 

يَسۡـٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلۡأَنفَالِۖ قُلِ ٱلۡأَنفَالُ لِلَّهِ وَٱلرَّسُولِۖ فَٱتَّقُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَأَصۡلِحُواْ ذَاتَ بَيۡنِكُمۡۖ وَأَطِيعُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُۥٓ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤۡمِنِينَ

They ask you [Prophet] about the spoils of war. Say, ‘That is a matter for God and His Messenger, so be mindful of God and make things right between you. Obey God and His Messenger if you are true believers. [8:1]

With this opening verse, the terms were laid down clearly. The Muslims had no more say in how to distribute the spoils. The decision was entirely out of their hands. Judgment regarding the spoils now belonged to Allah and His Messenger ﷺ. 

The Quran did not stop there, however. Instead, it took the Muslim on a journey of iman before it would revisit the issue of how to distribute the spoils. This journey reset the priorities in the minds of the Muslims, sharpened their focus on the end goal, and purged their heart of feelings of entitlement or animosity towards each other. 

The next 40 verses of Surah Al-Anfal flow through a series of reminders designed to increase faith. Revealed in the first pages of the surah are descriptions of believers with strong faith. These tangible descriptions offered a yardstick of iman by which Muslims could measure themselves:

إِنَّمَا ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ ٱلَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِرَ ٱللَّهُ وَجِلَتۡ قُلُوبُهُمۡ

True believers are those whose hearts tremble with awe when God is mentioned, [8:2]

The hearts of true believers shiver and tremble, highly responsive to the remembrance of Allah. This is a tangible, physical expression of faith that is easy to detect in our own hearts. Have you ever felt this trembling before? Whoever does not recognize this shiver in his heart when God is mentioned knows he must work harder to increase his iman.

The verses continues describing the believers: 

 وَإِذَا تُلِيَتۡ عَلَيۡهِمۡ ءَايَٰتُهُۥ زَادَتۡهُمۡ إِيمَٰنٗا وَعَلَىٰ رَبِّهِمۡ يَتَوَكَّلُون

ٱلَّذِينَ يُقِيمُونَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقۡنَٰهُمۡ يُنفِقُونَ 

أُوْلَٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ حَقّٗاۚ لَّهُمۡ دَرَجَٰتٌ عِندَ رَبِّهِمۡ وَمَغۡفِرَةٞ وَرِزۡقٞ كَرِيم

…whose faith increases when His revelations are recited to them, who put their trust in their Lord, who keep up the prayer and give to others out of what We provide for them. Those are the ones who truly believe. They have high standing with their Lord, forgiveness, and generous provision.’ [8:2-4]

Could anyone still be thinking about the spoils of war after hearing these verses? Upon hearing these vivid descriptions of belief, it’s hard to be preoccupied by anything other than where you stand, how you measure up, and whether you are a true believer or not.

The surah continues, reminding the Muslims how Allah blessed them with a tremendous victory at Badr. They are reminded that this victory at Badr came directly from Allah, not from their own efforts. It was He who enveloped them with sleep when they most needed it, sent down gentle rain and reinforcements from among the angels, sharpened their aim, made them stand firmly, and weakened the courage of the disbelievers. 

Then the surah calls them to respond to Allah and the Messenger ﷺ. The surah frightens them with a warning that Allah stands between a person and their own heart. The verses take them back to the days of Makkah, when they were weak and oppressed. 

وَٱذۡكُرُوٓاْ إِذۡ أَنتُمۡ قَلِيلٞ مُّسۡتَضۡعَفُونَ فِي ٱلۡأَرۡضِ تَخَافُونَ أَن يَتَخَطَّفَكُمُ ٱلنَّاسُ فَـَٔاوَىٰكُمۡ وَأَيَّدَكُم بِنَصۡرِهِۦ وَرَزَقَكُم مِّنَ ٱلطَّيِّبَٰتِ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَشۡكُرُونَ

Remember when you were few, victimized in the land, afraid that people might catch you, but God sheltered you and strengthened you with His help, and provided you with good things so that you might be grateful. [8:26]

This stirring journey of faith spreads across many verses. Finally, several pages later in verse 41 of the surah, the solution to the issue of distributing spoils comes. 

وَٱعۡلَمُوٓاْ أَنَّمَا غَنِمۡتُم مِّن شَيۡءٖ فَأَنَّ لِلَّهِ خُمُسَهُۥ وَلِلرَّسُولِ وَلِذِي ٱلۡقُرۡبَىٰ وَٱلۡيَتَٰمَىٰ وَٱلۡمَسَٰكِينِ وَٱبۡنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِ إِن كُن ءَامَنتُم بِٱللَّهِ وَمَآ أَنزَلۡنَا عَلَىٰ عَبۡدِنَا يَوۡمَ ٱلۡفُرۡقَانِ يَوۡمَ ٱلۡتَقَى ٱلۡجَمۡعَانِۗ وَٱللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيۡءٖ قَدِيرٌ

Know that one-fifth of your battle gains belongs to God and the Messenger, to close relatives and orphans, to the needy and travellers, if you believe in God and the revelation We sent down to Our servant on the day of the decision, the day when the two forces met in battle. God has power over all things. [8:41]

This resolution comes only after the listener has grown to want only Allah, and has disconnected from everything besides Him. Every soul in the Muslim company at this point would have searched and examined the condition of its faith. Only after this journey of building up iman does the surah address the logistics of how to distribute the spoils of war.