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The Qurʾan What is This? A current English-language version of the Qur'an, published in 2004
Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem

33. The Joint Forces (1 – 21)

A Medinan sura which gets its title from the incident of 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 disbelievers 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 behaviour.

In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy

1Prophet, be mindful of God and do not give in to the disbelievers and the hypocrites: God is all knowing, all wise. 2Follow what your Lord reveals to you: God is well aware of all your actions. 3Put your trust in God: God is enough to trust. 4God does not put two hearts within a man's breast. He does not turn the wives you reject and liken to your mothers’ backsa 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). 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.

5Name 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 Mawla in Arabic has many meanings, including ‘protégé’, ‘client’, ‘companion’. You will not be blamed if you make a mistake, only for what your hearts deliberately intend; God is most forgiving and merciful. 6The Prophet is more protective towards the believers than they are themselves, while his wives are their mothers.c The Prophet's wives were given the title ‘Mothers of the Believers’. Cf. verse 53. 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.

7We 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: 8God will question [even] the truthful about their sincerity, and for those who reject the truth He has prepared a painful torment.

9You 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. 10They 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. 11There the believers were sorely tested and deeply shaken: 12the hypocrites and the sick at heart said, ‘God and His Messenger promised us nothing but delusions!’13Some of them said, ‘People of Yathrib,a The pre-Islamic name for Medina. 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: 14had the city been invaded from all sides, and the enemy invited them to rebel, they would have done so almost without hesitation. 15Yet 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.’ 17Say, ‘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.

18God knows exactly who among you hinder others, who [secretly] say to their brothers, ‘Come and join us,’ who hardly ever come out to fight, 19who begrudge you [believers] any help. When fear comes, b This specifically refers to fear felt in battle in this context (al-Mu‘jam al-Wasit). 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. 20They 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.21The 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.

Notes:

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.

a The pre-Islamic name for Medina.

b This specifically refers to fear felt in battle in this context (al-Mu‘jam al-Wasit).

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