¡ They question thee concerning the spoils. Say, “The spoils belong to God and the Messenger.” So reverence God and set matters aright among yourselves. And obey God and His Messenger, if you are believers.
1 This sūrah discusses events of the Battle of Badr, but does not always treat them in their chronological order (see 8:5c for the background to the battle). It is reported that at the end of the Battle of Badr, a group of Companions pursued the enemy as they fled, a second group remained to guard the Prophet, and a third group watched over the prisoners and the spoils. When the group of pursuers returned, they laid claim to the spoils by virtue of their having fought and given chase to the enemy, but the group protecting the Prophet claimed more right to the spoils by virtue of protecting the Prophet (Q). In another account, the disagreement pertained to certain Muslims who for various reasons were not present at the battle (e.g., two were sent by the Prophet on a scouting mission), but who were given spoils by the Prophet, to which others objected
(R). Though differing in the details, all these accounts point to disagreements over how the spoils should be apportioned among those with varying levels of participation and exposure to danger in the battle.
The word for spoils here is anfāl, a word whose root generally means “excess” or “beyond what is necessary or required.” Some have connected this word with the Islamic belief that, among all religious communities, only Muslims were allowed to take spoils of war (R), based upon a ḥadīth stating that this was one trait by which the Prophet was distinguished. Some commentators have made a distinction between anfāl and ghanāʾim, the latter being a more common and inclusive term for spoils of war in
Islamic Law (Q; see 8:41c). Other jurists have stated that anfāl refers to wealth received by means other than war (Q) or that it refers to the fifth of the spoils (khumus) mentioned in v. 41 (Q). According to some, anfāl does not refer to all spoils, but only to the spoils a warrior takes directly from his slain opponents, such as their armor and sword (R).
It is said that because of the disagreements regarding the anfāl, the Prophet was asked about the matter and this verse was revealed (Q). Some say that it was abrogated by v. 41: And know that whatsoever you take as spoils, a fifth is for God and the Messenger, and kinsfolk, orphans, the indigent, and the traveler. However, no question of abrogation arises if this verse is interpreted to mean that God and the Prophet have control over the distribution of the spoils, and v. 41 is read as specifying how the spoils will then be distributed (Q, R).
The question of spoils is a complex issue in classical Islamic Law and addresses such matters as the authority of a political or military leader to designate the distribution of spoils (both in promising beforehand what can be taken and in managing the distribution afterward); the kinds and amounts of items that can be taken (e.g., horses and weapons would be treated differently than land); how they are to be distributed; and to whom they are given (see 8:41c).