Sūra al-Tawba or al-Barāʾa (Arabic: سورة التوبة) is the ninth sura of the Quran. It is a Madani sura of the Quran, located in juz' ten or eleven. It is called “al-Tawba” because some of its verses are about repentance. The name “Baraʾa” (repudiation) comes from its first verse. Sura al-Tawba begins without “Bism Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim” (In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful). It commands Muslims to cut their ties to polytheists, and commands the Prophet (s) not to ask for the forgiveness of polytheists. The sura also talks about jihad against disbelievers and polytheists as well as zakat. According to hadiths, the Prophet (s) first entrusted Abu Bakr with the task of declaring this sura to polytheists, but he then cancelled Abu Bakr’s mission and left it to Imam 'Ali (a).
Well-known verses of Sura al-Tawba include the Verse of La-Tahzan (Do not grieve), al-Sadiqin Verse, al-Udhun Verse (Verse of Ear), and al-Nafr Verse. This sura also refers to the event of Dirar Mosque, the Battle of Hunayn, and the defiance of the decree to attend the Battle of Tabuk on part of some Muslims.
The sura has a number of names (up to fourteen), two of which are more famous: al-Baraʾa and al-Tawba. The former, which occurs in most hadiths, is derived from its first verse, and the latter, which appears in some hadiths, is because it contains a number of verses about tawba (or repentance). Other names of the sura are as follows: Fadiha (scandalizing), Mukhziya (humiliating), Mubaʿthira (inquirer), Hafira (revealer), Munqira (divulger), Musharrida (scattering), and Munakkila (torturer).
- Order and place of revelation
Sura al-Tawba is a Madani sura of the Quran. In the order of revelation, it is the 114th (last) sura revealed to the Prophet (s). In the present order of compilation, it is the ninth sura of the Quran, located in juzʾ ten and eleven.
- Number of verses and other features
Sura al-Tawba has 129 verses, 2506 words, and 11116 letters. As for its length, it is one of the seven long suras (sab' tiwal); that is, a relatively large sura, which occupies about one juzʾ of the Quran.
That Only Sura without Bism Allah
Unlike other Quranic suras, this sura does not begin with “Bism Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim” (In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful). Quranic exegetes have provided a number of reasons why this is so:
- The sura was revealed after Sura al-Anfal, and hence, they count as one sura.
- “Bism Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim” is a verse of mercy and amnesty, while Sura al-Baraʾa declares the repeal of amnesty, which does not square with “Bism Allah.”
- According to a hadith from Ibn 'Abbas, 'Uthman said that the Prophet (s) did not say anything about the place of these two suras. Thus, we wrote them consecutively because both were revealed in Medina and were concerned with the same topic.
Sura al-Tawba commands Muslims to cut their ties with polytheists and hypocrites, while its leaves the doors of repentance open to them. It commands believers to cut their ties to their polytheist family members and relatives, and orders the Prophet (s) not to ask for the forgiveness of polytheists, just as Prophet Abraham (a) repudiated his uncle when he was sure that he could not be led to the right path. Another theme of the sura is the Dirar Mosque, which was built by hypocrites, on which verses 107 and 108 of the verse were revealed. The breach of the order to attend jihad on part of some Muslims and zakat] are other themes of the sura.
Historical Stories and Narratives
- Declaration of the repudiation of polytheists (verses 1-4)
- Victory in the Battle of Hunayn and helping God (verses 25-26)
- The Prophet’s hiding in a cave when migrating to Medina (verses 40)
- Dirar Mosque (verses 107-110)
- Abraham’s request for the forgiveness of Azar (verses 114)
- Three of the Prophet's companions defying the order to attend the Battle of Tabuk (verses 117-118)
Imam ʿAli (a) and the Mission of Declaring the Sura
According to Tafsir-i nimuna, almost all Muslim exegetes and historians agree that upon the revelation of Sura al-Tawba (or at least its opening verses), the treaties between the Prophet (s) and polytheists were revoked. In 9 AH/630, the Prophet (s) commissioned Abu Bakr to declare the decree to all people during the Hajj season, but he then cancelled Abu Bakr’s mission and commissioned Imam 'Ali (a) to declare the order to people in Mecca. The event is cited in many Sunni sources, albeit with slight verbal differences. For instance, Ahmad b. Hanbal reports in his Musnad that the Prophet (s) sent Abu Bakr to declare Sura al-Tawba to people, but he then sent ʿAli (a) to take the message from him, saying: “this sura should only be declared by someone who is from me and whom I am from.” It should be noted that Imam ʿAli (a) himself appealed to this event as a proof for his superiority over other companions of the Prophet (s) and as evidence for his entitlement for the position of caliphate.
بَرَاءَةٌ مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ إِلَى الَّذِينَ عَاهَدتُّم مِّنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ ﴿١﴾ فَسِيحُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ أَرْبَعَةَ أَشْهُرٍ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّكُمْ غَيْرُ مُعْجِزِي اللَّهِ ۙ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ مُخْزِي الْكَافِرِينَ
"[This is] a [declaration of] repudiation by Allah and His Apostle [addressed] to the polytheists with whom you had made a treaty: (1) Travel [unmolested] in the land for four months, but know that you cannot frustrate Allah, and that Allah shall disgrace the faithless."
|— Qur'an 9:1-2|
The opening verses of Sura al-Tawba are called Verses of Repudiation or Baraʿa Verses, in which the ultimate rulings about the relations between Muslims and polytheists are issued. In these verses, God commands the Prophet (s) and Muslims to publicly declare their repudiation of polytheists, to exit the treaties they had made with them, and to declare war against them if they do not convert to Islam. The verses were declared to polytheists on the day of Eid al-Adha by Imam ʿAli (a).
According to Quranic exegetes, the unilateral repeal of the treaty with Muslims was not abrupt. It was preceded by a breach on the part of polytheists. For this reason, by these same verses, the treaty with polytheists who had not breached their agreements was still respected by Muslims. Moreover, those treaties are said to have been provisional from the beginning.
According to Muhammad Jawad Mughniyya, the emphasis in these verses that polytheists in the Arabian Peninsula should be forced to convert to Islam or to prepare for a war is not incompatible with the fact that Islam should not be imposed on anyone, which is asserted in other Quranic verses. This is because polytheists in the Arabian Peninsula constantly breached their treaties and threatened the newly established Islamic community, which is why the ruling only applies to them.
Verse of Siqayat al-Hajj
أَجَعَلْتُمْ سِقَايَةَ الْحَاجِّ وَعِمَارَةَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ كَمَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَجَاهَدَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ۚ لَا يَسْتَوُونَ عِندَ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ
"Do you regard the providing of water to Hajj pilgrims and the maintenance of the Holy Mosque as similar [in worth] to someone who has faith in Allah and [believes in] the Last Day and wages jihad in the way of Allah? They are not equal with Allah, and Allah does not guide the wrongdoing lot."
|— Qur'an 9:19|
In Shia and Sunni sources, there are many hadiths about the occasion of the revelation of this verse. According to one hadith, which is deemed the most accurate by Tafsir-i nimuna, a dispute occurred between Shayba and 'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s uncle. ʿAbbas boasted about his position of “siqaya” (provision of water for hajj pilgrims) and Shayba boasted about his position of holding the Ka'ba’s key. Imam ʿAli (a) entered and said that his honor was his early faith and jihad in the way of God. ʿAbbas was angered and complained to the Prophet (s). When Imam ʿAli (a) went to the Prophet (s), the above verse was revealed, in which faith and jihad are said to be superior.
Verse of Jizya
قَاتِلُوا الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَلَا بِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَلَا يُحَرِّمُونَ مَا حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَلَا يَدِينُونَ دِينَ الْحَقِّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حَتَّىٰ يُعْطُوا الْجِزْيَةَ عَن يَدٍ وَهُمْ صَاغِرُونَ
"Fight those who do not have faith in Allah nor [believe] in the Last Day, nor forbid what Allah and His Apostle have forbidden, nor practise the true religion, from among those who were given the Book, until they pay the tribute out of hand, degraded."
|— Qur'an 9:29|
Verse of “Do Not Grieve”
إِذْ هُمَا فِي الْغَارِ إِذْ يَقُولُ لِصَاحِبِهِ لَا تَحْزَنْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَنَا ۖ فَأَنزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَيَّدَهُ بِجُنُودٍ لَّمْ تَرَوْهَا...
"...when the two of them were in the cave, he said to his companion, ‘Do not grieve; Allah is indeed with us.’ Then Allah sent down His composure upon him, and strengthened him with hosts you did not see, ..."
|— Qur'an 9:40|
The Verse of “La Tahzan” or “do not grieve” concerns the Prophet's migration from Mecca to Medina. When the Prophet (s) learned about the plot for his murder through revelation, he and Abu Bakr left Mecca toward Yathrib through a detour until they arrive in Thawr Cave, where they hid.
Verse of Ear
وَمِنْهُمُ الَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ النَّبِيَّ وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ أُذُنٌ ۚ قُلْ أُذُنُ خَيْرٍ لَّكُمْ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَيُؤْمِنُ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَرَحْمَةٌ لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
"Among them are those who torment the Prophet, and say, ‘He is an ear.’ Say, ‘An ear that is good for you. He has faith in Allah and trusts the faithful, and is a mercy for those of you who have faith.’ As for those who torment the Apostle of Allah, there is a painful punishment for them."
|— Qur'an 9:61|
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَكُونُوا مَعَ الصَّادِقِينَ
"O you who have faith! Be wary of Allah, and be with the Truthful"
|— Qur'an 9:119|
There are disagreements among Quranic exegetes over what is meant by “Sadiqin” (the truthful). Some Sunni exegetes believe that it refers to the Prophet (s) and his companions, but Shiite exegetes cite hadiths to show that it refers to Infallible Imams.
وَمَا كَانَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لِيَنفِرُوا كَافَّةً ۚ فَلَوْلَا نَفَرَ مِن كُلِّ فِرْقَةٍ مِّنْهُمْ طَائِفَةٌ لِّيَتَفَقَّهُوا فِي الدِّينِ وَلِيُنذِرُوا قَوْمَهُمْ إِذَا رَجَعُوا إِلَيْهِمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَحْذَرُونَ
"Yet it is not for the faithful to go forth en masse. But why should not there a group from each of their sections go forth to become learned in religion, and to warn their people when they return to them, so that they may beware?"
|— Qur'an 9:122|
Verse 122 of Sura al-Tawba is known as the Verse of Nafr. The verse is said to be Quranic evidence for the obligation of learning, the reliability or authoritativeness of Khabar al-Wahid and fatwas issued by mujtahids.
Verses of Jurisprudential Rulings
There are about fifteen verses in Sura al-Tawba, which count as ayat al-ahkam (verses of jurisprudential rulings). Major rulings inferred by jurists from these verses include the rulings of zakat and the way it should be spent, the rulings of jihad and three groups of people being exempt from it, and impurity of polytheists. Moreover, these verses are said to imply certain principles of jurisprudence and its principles. For instance, the Verse of Nafr is said to imply Khabar al-Wahid, verse 115 is said to imply the presumption of innocence (asl al-baraʾa), and verse 91 implies the principle of benefaction (al-ihsan).
Merits and Benefits
There is a hadith from the Prophet (s) to the effect that, on the day of resurrection, he would intercede for and testify in favor of those who recite Sura al-Anfal and Sura al-Tawba, since they are pure from hypocrisy, they are given ten rewards for every hypocrite (munafiq) man and woman in the world, he is purified from ten sins, ten degrees are added to his degrees, and the Throne and its bearers send greetings to him during his life in the world. Imam al-Sadiq (a) is quoted as saying that those who recite Sura al-Anfal and al-Tawba every month, hypocrisy will never creep into their hearts. Tafsir al-'Ayyashi makes the following comment on the latter hadith: such a person will live on heavenly tables together with Shias until people’s deeds in the world are reckoned. It is recommended to recite Sura al-Tawba every month.
There are hadiths in which certain benefits are attributed to the recitation of this sura, such as immunity from fire, protection against wild animals (by recitation of verses 128 and 129 of the sura).
In addition to exegeses of Sura al-Tawba in comprehensive books of Quranic exegsis, there are independent works that are devoted to the interpretation of this sura, including Dar sarzamin Tabuk: tafsir sura tawba (In the land of Tabuk: exegesis of Sura al-Tawba) by Ja'far Subhani Tabrizi, published by Bustan Kitab in Qom in 296 pages.
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