¡ A repudiation from God and His Messenger to those idolaters with whom you made a treaty.
* So travel freely throughout the land for four months, and know that you cannot thwart God, and that God shall disgrace the disbelievers.
+ And an announcement from God and His Messenger to the people on the day of the greater ḥajj: that God and His Messenger have repudiated the idolaters. So, if you repent, it would be better for you. And if you turn away, then know that you cannot thwart God. And give the disbelievers glad tidings of a painful punishment,
J save for those idolaters with whom you have made a treaty, and who thereafter commit no breach against you, nor support anyone against you. So fulfill the treaty with them for its duration. Truly God loves the reverent.
1-4 The first verse of this sūrah is an announcement of the annulment of a treaty between the Prophet and the idolaters. Repudiation (barāʾah) has the sense of being or becoming unallied, being innocent of, or being disassociated from something. Here it means that the existing truce or treaty has come to an end. Regarding the circumstances and the interpretation of this verse there is what Ibn Kathīr calls “considerable disagreement.” In one account, this verse is said to refer to the breaking of the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyah, a treaty contracted between the Prophet and the Quraysh that had established a ten-year truce (see Sūrah 48). This treaty not only included the Prophet and the Quraysh, but also their respective allies, among whom were the tribes of Banū Khuzāʿah on the side of the Prophet and Banū Bakr on the side of the Quraysh. Banū
Bakr later launched an attack on the Banū Khuzāʿah, stemming from a vendetta that preexisted the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyah, and it was reported that the Quraysh assisted the Banū Bakr with arms and a small number of men (Q). The Prophet considered this act to be a breach of the treaty, thereby nullifying the need to observe the truce, and this ultimately led to the final conquest of Makkah by the Prophet and his followers. According to this account, the repudiation of the treaty is addressed to the Makkans.
According to the majority of commentators, however, this verse was revealed after the conquest of Makkah in 8/630, a year after the breach of the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyah. There is considerable difference of opinion as to which idolaters are addressed and the legal import of both the repudiation (v. 1) and the announcement (v. 3). One opinion is that if some idolaters had an existing treaty with the Prophet, a treaty whose term had more than four months remaining, it was reduced to four months, and if they had one that was to expire before four months, it would be extended to a period of four months. Others add to this latter group those with whom the Prophet had made no treaty, so that they would be automatically granted a four-month truce. Yet others interpreted this four-month period to apply only to those idolaters who had less than a four-month treaty or none at all, but would not reduce an already existing treaty that was being faithfully observed. And still others believed that this directive applied only to those who had no preexisting treaty at all, and that anyone else with a treaty in hand would be dealt with according to that treaty, regardless of its term (IJ, Q, Ṭ). For example, Ibn ʿAbbās notes that the Muslims had a treaty with Ḥayy ibn Kinānah that still had nine months left at the time of the announcement, and they continued to observe it (R). As for those who interpret this as the rescinding of a treaty with those who had a treaty before, this ruling was considered permissible under certain conditions as outlined in 8:58c, namely, when there is a reasonable expectation that the other side will not fulfill the treaty terms or in cases where they have already in fact violated the treaty (R, Ṭ).
There are also disagreements among commentators as to the precise timing of the four months mentioned in v. 2 and the end of the sacred months mentioned in v. 5. If the announcement of v. 3 was made on the day of the greater ḥajj—interpreted to be either the Day of Sacrifice or the Day of ʿArafah (Ṭ; see 2:196c)—it would leave fifty days until the ending of sacred months—that is, the remainder of the pilgrimage month of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah (the twelfth month of the calendar) followed by the entire month of Muḥarram (Ṭ). One view understands this passage to mean that v. 3 addresses the idolaters with whom the Prophet and his followers had no existing treaty, while the group with whom they did have a treaty was given the four months mentioned in vv.
1-2. According to another view, this repudiation and announcement were made to both groups at the same time, so that the treaty-holding idolaters had four months (until the middle of Rabīʿ al-Thānī, which comes four months after Dhu’l-Ḥijjah) while the
nontreaty group had until the end of the sacred months (fifty days from the day of the announcement) as mentioned above.
According to still another opinion, this sūrah was revealed at the start of Shawwāl (the tenth month of the calendar), thus making the end of the four-month period mentioned in v. 2 coincide with the end of the sacred months as described in v. 5. Yet another opinion is that the period of four months refers to those with whom the Muslims had a treaty that was set to expire earlier than four months, and the verse commanded that they grant them four months, while for its duration refers to those treaties stipulating a period of more than four months, which the Muslims were thus instructed to observe in full. According to this last opinion, the Prophet was commanded to repudiate the treaties only with those idolaters who had broken it already and to maintain all others. Al-Ṭabarī makes it clear that this passage could not possibly mean that after the lapse of the sacred months the believers were free to kill any idolater; see the essay “Conquest and Conversion, War and Peace in the Quran.”
It is important to remember that after the Muslims had conquered Makkah, there were still idolaters in the Arabian Peninsula, and other battles, such as Ḥunayn, remained to be fought (see v. 25). Some idolaters were still coming to the Kaʿbah to perform the pilgrimage rites according to pre-Islamic practices (even though there were no longer any idols to worship). It is reported that, for the first ḥajj after the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet sent Abū Bakr to lead the ḥajj, and with him sent ʿAlī to announce four matters to those who had assembled in Makkah: only a believing soul shall enter the Garden; no idolater shall approach the Kaʿbah after that year; no one will circumambulate the Kaʿbah naked ever again; and whosoever has a treaty will have that treaty observed according to its terms (Ṭ). Most commentators note that ʿAlī was chosen to make the announcement of the repudiation, because Arab custom demanded that a treaty be broken either by the contracting party—in this case the Prophet himself —or a near kinsman, and the Prophet wanted the message to be understood unambiguously (Q).