The first 29 verses of this Surah are among the last verses of the Surah to be revealed after the battles of Hunain and Tabuk and exactly a year before the Prophet (pbuh) performed his last hajj. He died a few months after performing hajj. These verses were revealed approximately 18 months after Mecca fell to the Muslims in a bloodless take-over with the Prophet’s army marching in unopposed. There was an expectation of a blood bath after Mecca fell, but this did not happen. The ranks of the Muslims swelled immediately after Mecca fell to the Muslims, which made them over confident, and they suffered severe reverses in the battle of Hunain, but recovered to win eventually. Although many of the Meccans had accepted Islam during this period, there were a few, who remained polytheists. The judgment on the polytheists of Mecca was announced in these verses. Some were among those who had fought the Muslims, in violation of their treaties and indulged in various forms of religious persecution and there were others who not violated their treaty in any manner.
The former category is referred to as the Kafaru or the Kafirin and the latter as merely “disbelievers” or la Yuminun. The punishment for the Kafirin is in verse 9:5 and their Kufr is described in 9:12, 13. The punishment for those who chose to remain disbelievers but were not among the Kafirin, was being debarred from entering Kabah (9:28) and required to pay Jizya 9:29. All the polytheists had the option to migrate to a neighbouring country during the four month period of amnesty and save themselves from the consequences of the punishment in 9:5 or 9:29. The outcome was that not a single person was punished by either verse 9:5 or 9:29. They either chose to migrate or accepted Islam.
بَرَاءَةٌ مِّنَ اللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ إِلَى الَّذِينَ عَاهَدتُّم مِّنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
(1) A (declaration) of immunity from Allah and His Messenger, to those of the Mushrikin with whom you have contracted mutual alliances:-
فَسِيحُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ أَرْبَعَةَ أَشْهُرٍ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّكُمْ غَيْرُ مُعْجِزِي اللَّـهِ ۙ وَأَنَّ اللَّـهَ مُخْزِي الْكَافِرِينَ
(2) Go you, then, for four months, backwards and forwards, (as you will), throughout the land, but know you that ye cannot frustrate Allah (by your falsehood) but that Allah will cover with shame the Kafirin.
وَأَذَانٌ مِّنَ اللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ إِلَى النَّاسِ يَوْمَ الْحَجِّ الْأَكْبَرِ أَنَّ اللَّـهَ بَرِيءٌ مِّنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ ۙ وَرَسُولُهُ ۚفَإِن تُبْتُمْ فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَإِن تَوَلَّيْتُمْ فَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّكُمْ غَيْرُ مُعْجِزِي اللَّـهِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ
(3) And an announcement from Allah and His Messenger, to the people (assembled) on the day of the Great Pilgrimage,- that Allah and His Messenger dissolve (treaty) obligations with the Mushrikin. If then, you repent, it were best for you; but if ye turn away, know you that you cannot frustrate Allah. And proclaim to the Kafaru, a grievous penalty.
إِلَّا الَّذِينَ عَاهَدتُّم مِّنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَنقُصُوكُمْ شَيْئًا وَلَمْ يُظَاهِرُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَحَدًا فَأَتِمُّوا إِلَيْهِمْ عَهْدَهُمْ إِلَىٰ مُدَّتِهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَّقِينَ
(4) (But the treaties are) not dissolved with those Mushrikin with whom you have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided any one against you. So fulfil your engagements with them to the end of their term: for Allah loves the righteous.
فَإِذَا انسَلَخَ الْأَشْهُرُ الْحُرُمُ فَاقْتُلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدتُّمُوهُمْ وَخُذُوهُمْ وَاحْصُرُوهُمْ وَاقْعُدُوا لَهُمْ كُلَّ مَرْصَدٍ ۚ فَإِن تَابُوا وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ فَخَلُّوا سَبِيلَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
(5) But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Mushrikin wherever you find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
وَإِنْ أَحَدٌ مِّنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ اسْتَجَارَكَ فَأَجِرْهُ حَتَّىٰ يَسْمَعَ كَلَامَ اللَّـهِ ثُمَّ أَبْلِغْهُ مَأْمَنَهُ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَوْمٌ لَّا يَعْلَمُونَ
(6) If one amongst the Mushrikin ask you for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah; and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge.
Please note when a verse uses Mushrikin and when it uses Kafirin or Kafaru and the way it distinguishes between the two. It is only the Kafirin who will be covered with shame (9:2) and to whom is proclaimed a grievous penalty (9:3). Who are these Kafaru and what is their Kufr?
وَإِن نَّكَثُوا أَيْمَانَهُم مِّن بَعْدِ عَهْدِهِمْ وَطَعَنُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ فَقَاتِلُوا أَئِمَّةَ الْكُفْرِ ۙ إِنَّهُمْ لَا أَيْمَانَ لَهُمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَنتَهُونَ
(12) But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and taunt you for your Faith,- fight ye the chiefs of Unfaith (a-Immata L-Kuf’ri): for their oaths are nothing to them: that thus they may be restrained.
أَلَا تُقَاتِلُونَ قَوْمًا نَّكَثُوا أَيْمَانَهُمْ وَهَمُّوا بِإِخْرَاجِ الرَّسُولِ وَهُم بَدَءُوكُمْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ ۚ أَتَخْشَوْنَهُمْ ۚ فَاللَّـهُ أَحَقُّ أَن تَخْشَوْهُ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ
(13) Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and took the aggressive by being the first (to assault) you? Do you fear them? Nay, it is Allah Whom you should more justly fear, if you believe!
The Kufr of the Kafirin was:
Violating their oaths and treaties, those who had plotted to expel the Prophet from Mecca and those who were fighting battles against the Prophet. In brief, it was religious persecution. The punishment in 9:5 is only for the religious persecutors and they are the Kafaru mentioned in 9:2,3.
Those who never broke their treaties nor helped the enemies of the Muslims, nor fought them (9:4) and those who seek asylum are not considered Kafir but only people without knowledge (la Yalamun 9:6) and exempt from the punishment in 9:5. These are however, disbelievers (la-Yuminun) and are barred from entering the Sacred Mosque from the next hajj (9:28) and are required to pay Jizya (9:29)
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّمَا الْمُشْرِكُونَ نَجَسٌ فَلَا يَقْرَبُوا الْمَسْجِدَ الْحَرَامَ بَعْدَ عَامِهِمْ هَـٰذَا ۚ وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ عَيْلَةً فَسَوْفَ يُغْنِيكُمُ اللَّـهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ إِن شَاءَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ
(28) O ye who believe! Truly the Mushrikun are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque.
قَاتِلُوا الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّـهِ وَلَا بِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَلَا يُحَرِّمُونَ مَا حَرَّمَ اللَّـهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَلَا يَدِينُونَ دِينَ الْحَقِّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حَتَّىٰ يُعْطُوا الْجِزْيَةَ عَن يَدٍ وَهُمْ صَاغِرُونَ
(29) Fight those who believe not in Allah (la Yuminun) nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
Why does 9:5 say kill the Mushrikin except those exempted under 9:4 and 9:6 if it is only the Kafirin who are intended? If 9:5 had said kill all the Kafirin except those exempted in 9:4 and 9:6, it is applying exemptions to the Kafirin which makes all of them Kafir. The way it is worded, the exemptions in 9:4 and 9:6 are for those Mushrikin who are not Kafir. The remaining Mushrikin are Kafir to whom the punishment in 9:5 applies.
While 9:5 appears to be harsh, it had the desired effect, and at the end of the four-month amnesty period, not a single Kafir remained to be meted out the death punishment. They either accepted Islam or migrated.
Those who were merely disbelievers but not Kafir, were among the general mass of people who follow their leaders. Once the (a-Immata l-Kuf’ri) or the leaders in Kufr accepted Islam, the rest also accepted Islam, and there were no Jiziya paying Mushrikin. This historical fact is misinterpreted, and the opinion of the scholars is that the Mushrikin had no choice, but to accept Islam, migrate or be killed. In effect, they say that 9:29 did not apply to the Mushrikin but only to the People of the Book. This is false. The only people the Quran accuses of not believing in Allah and the last day are the “Mushrikin” or the polytheists. There are numerous verses that speak of the Jews and the Christians but not even one verse accuses them of not believing in Allah or the last day. There are also numerous verses that speak of the “Mushrikin” which accuse them of not believing in the last day and associating partners with Allah or disbelieving both in Allah and the Last Day (44:35, 50:3, 56:47). The Jews and the Christians are accused of not holding that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and his messenger (4:161, 5:42, 5:62, 63) and not acknowledging the religion of Truth. The subject of the latter part of the verse is therefore the Jews and the Christians. The verse therefore covers the Polytheists, the Jews and the Christians and all of them are given a choice to willingly pay Jiziya or face war.
Fundamental Principles of Islam
Freedom of Conscience
Let there be no compulsion in Religion (2:256)
To the (peaceful) rejecter of the faith be his way and to me mine (109:6)
The discussion on the verses of Surah Taubah clearly establish that the above two principles, were never violated by the Prophet in his battles against the enemy, and are fundamental principles of Islam. The peaceful Mushrikin had the choice of retaining their religion and paying Jizya and the others had a choice to migrate and retain their religion.
Those who had fought against the Muslims, in violation of their treaty, were deserving of the death punishment, according to the rules of that society. Even these people were given the opportunity to migrate during the amnesty period, and save themselves. The judgment was not only in accordance with the secular law of that society, but more humane and merciful. Calling these the “sword verses” is therefore a complete misrepresentation of both the intent and the outcomes. The people to whom the key words Mushrikin, Kafirin, La Yalamun and La Yuminun apply, and therefore their meaning, is explained with the help of the verses themselves.