Sura 8, verses 11 reads as follows:
8:11 “When He caused calm to fall on you as a security from Him and sent down upon you water from the cloud that He might thereby purify you, and take away from you the uncleanness of the Shaitan, and that He might fortify your hearts and steady (your) footsteps thereby.”
There are various reports in the hadith literature, in the seerahs, and in the commentaries that even as the Meccan army approached Badr some of their men experienced dreams or visions in which the chiefs of Quraish were killed. Many among the Meccans became nervous and skittish at these dreams, which they considered to be bad omens. But their numbers and their superiority in arms were so overwhelming that they did not see how they could possibly be defeated.
As the two armies approached Badr, rain fell over the area, and it had the effect of firming up the soft sand over which the Prophet’s army travelled – it bound the sand together and made the people and the animals more surefooted. At the same time it flooded and washed away sections of the trail on which the Meccan army marched, making it difficult for them to move swiftly.
There are also some reports that some of the Muslims were in a state of ritual uncleanliness (janabah) and had no means to purify themselves – then the rain acted as a purifying rain, purifying them physically and removing from them their unease at their state of ritual uncleanliness. But the words of the verse contain layers of meanings.
8:11 When He caused calm to fall on you as a security from Him and sent down upon you water from the cloud that He might thereby purify you, and take away from you the uncleanness of the Shaitan, and that He might fortify your hearts and steady (your) footsteps thereby.
The verses on the first battle the Muslim’s engaged in are very unique in the manner in which they combine details about the events and the physical aspects of the battle with a spiritual commentary that makes it clear that there was far more happening than simply an encounter between two opposing forces. The verses make it clear that this jihad at Badr was one in which the Muslims were being taught that the inner jihad (the greater jihad) must accompany the physical battle – that a warrior taking up the sword of defense must prepare himself not just externally, in terms of the technology and weaponry of war, but internally by establishing within his soul firmness of faith. He must quiet himself internally so that he opens his soul to receive assistance from God and to turn away from the distractions of Shaitan. In this way spiritual assistance comes to him and he turns from a state of fear to one of spiritually assisted power and confidence.
But Allah knows that this is a new, young, and inexperienced Muslim community. They are like a young child taking its first steps, eager but shaky and inexperienced. So they require assistance, and assurance, and guidance in making themselves spiritually ready for war – because war is a hard thing to bear, and once engaged in war many passions and angers and hatreds can dominate one’s nafs (soul) and lead him astray.
So they require assistance – they cannot easily calm themselves, they have many fears within them (of the possibility of loss, of death, of families left behind, of their own inabilities). But Allah knows their state, knows many of them (most of them) are, in their Islam, like a young child – they wish to learn but do not yet know how to master their own nafs so that they can learn, so that they can achieve an internal readiness and conquer their fears.
So…Allah becomes their teacher – but He knows that these students are not even in a state to absorb the lesson – so He becomes a very unique teacher – He first sends down upon the students a calm, a peacefulness, a security, a calm state through which they become able to receive the spiriual guidance that He teaches them and the spiritual reinforcement that He provides them. “When He caused calm to fall on you as a security from Him.” (8:11)
So first He calms His students and then when their fears are removed, when their minds are still, He sends down a rain of spiritual guidance that purifies them internally and removes the negative effects of Shaitan who was stirring their souls with distractions and fears. He…”sent down upon you water from the cloud that He might thereby purify you, and take away from you the uncleanness of the Shaitan….” (8:11) This rain purifies them and provides reinforcing strength to their hearts. There is a hadith that the heart is like a leaf that twists and turns with each passing breeze – without spiritual guidance it is prey to every internal passion and to every internal and external distraction. But here Allah has calmed them, purified them from distractions and fears, and made their hearts firm and strong – no longer vulnerable to each passing breeze.
The physical and mental are interdependent – body and spirit interact with each other – if you experience the mental state of anger it manifests in you physically as well – perhaps your color darkens, your expression changes, your hands shake, the pitch of your voice alters. So it is with other mental states to greater and lesser degrees. Through the hearts of the warriors becoming firm and steady, through their being purified of Shaitan’s influence, their “feet” became firm – that is, they became more powerful and steady for the battle. “He might fortify your hearts and steady (your) footsteps thereby.” (Qur’an 8:11)
8:12 Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill fear into the hearts of the Unbelievers: Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
Badr is the place where it was as if the unseen realm flooded into the world of matter. It is a place where the early Muslims learned the lesson of the power of reliance – of total reliance on Allah. And it is the place where Allah becomes a teacher to the new Muslim community – guiding them and teaching them the way of reliance on Him. Allah sends the angels from the invisible world to give firmness to the believers – their hearts became firm, their feet became firm, and then the angels, rank on rank, bring firmness to the believers at Allah’s command. Here the favors of Allah, the assistance He sends have become so overwhelming, so great, that the firmness of the believers manifests itself physically, palably, to the enemy.
So Allah throws fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve (not only disbelieve, but become actively, militarily hostile to belief). As already mentioned, some among the Meccans experienced dreams that were taken as bad omens. So there was a decline in confidence as word of these dreams spread through the ranks. Before the battle, the Qurayash sent out a scout on horseback to circle around the Prophet’s army and report back on numbers and weaponry. The scout reported that they had few weapons and no reinforcements but he was so taken by the presence and solidity of the soldiers that he expressed uncertainty for the Quraysh despite their numbers. By the time the Meccans lined up for battle, uncertainty and fears gnawed at them. And with the rise of uncertainty and fear their strategies became weak and their superiority in weapons was nullified. As the verse says, their heads (strategies) were cut off and their fingertips (weapons and maneouvres) were nullified.
The Prophet recited verse 54:45, “Their army will be routed and put to flight…”
As the moment of battle approached, the Muslims solidified their lines, and became like an immovable wall. The Qurayash were inwardly full of fear and all the confidence which had been there as they set out from Mecca was washed out of them. Their condition was like that described in verse 8:48:
“And when Satan made their deeds seem fair to them and said: No-one of mankind can conquer you this day, for I am your protector. But when the armies came in sight of one another, he took flight, saying: Lo! I am guiltless of you. Lo! I see that which ye see not. Lo! I fear Allah. And Allah is severe in punishment.” (8:48)
The Qurayash were spiritually blind but Shaitan, being himself from the invisible realm, could see the true spiritual nature of the situation. He could see that on this spot on earth, at this time in history, the invisible world was manifesting with undefeatable power within the forces of the Muslims and he could see the hosts of angels sent to firm their ranks. “Lo! I see that which ye see not.” (8:48) And so, fearing the power of Allah’s presence, he fled and abandoned those that he had encouraged and instigated and brought to the place of their defeat.
8:13 This is because they acted adversely to Allah and His Messenger; and whoever acts adversely to Allah and His Messenger– then surely Allah is severe in requiting (evil).
8:14 Thus (will it be said): “so taste it: for those who resist Allah, is the penalty of the Fire.”
All their ability was taken away from them – they were betrayed by their own selves – their arrogance, hatred, and ambition brought them there, they put themselves under Shaitan’s influence willingly, they gave themselves over to their passions and greed and moved in arrogant opposition to the Messenger (though peace had been offered them). And so they were abandoned by that which brought them to Badr, and the spiritual presence of the Muslim army demonstrated the falsehood and the absence of any substance in the Meccan’s cause. So they faced a strict punishment at Badr and those who persisted in unbelief or hostility (“Satan made their deeds seem fair to them and said [to them]: No-one of mankind can conquer you this day, for I am your protector.” (8:48)) face a strict punishment in the hereafter.
008.015 O ye who believe! when ye meet the Unbelievers in hostile array, never turn your backs to them.
008.016 If any do turn his back to them on such a day – unless it be in a stratagem of war, or to retreat to a troop (of his own)- he draws on himself the wrath of Allah, and his abode is Hell,- an evil refuge (indeed)!
On a day like this when Allah has literally opened the heavens and poured down blessings and support and hosts of angels from the unseen world onto the Muslims, turning one’s back is a manifest refusal of the blessings conferred as well as a danger to and betrayal of one’s fellow Muslims. It is a refusal of the spiritual gift Allah has given. “Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers….” (8:12)
Their hearts have been made firm, angels have been sent to them, blessings from the unseen world have descended upon them. Their state (given the special circumstances of Badr) should be like the magicians before Pharoah punished them with a harsh death. They said, “It will be no harm unto us; for we shall return to our Lord.” (26:50)
In other words, what is a harm borne by the body in comparism to a harm borne by the soul? “God gave you hands and feet to set out for Him in this direction in this way. When you are going back to the Maker of hands and feet, to the Maker of life, if you lose them and go like Pharoah’s magicians, what cause is there for grief.”(Rumi) At Badr the situation is not so severe. They are promised victory and given abundant support so there is no excuse for turning back.
If there was any doubt that Badr was an event of tremendous spiritual significance as well as military significance – then the following verse utterly eradicates that doubt.
8:17 It is not ye who slew them; it was Allah: when thou threwest (a handful of dust), it was not thy act, but Allah’s: in order that He might test the Believers by a gracious trial from Himself: for Allah is He Who heareth and knoweth (all things).
8:18 That, and also because Allah is He Who makes feeble the plans and stratagem of the Unbelievers.
Verse 20:46 says (speaking of Moses and Haroon), “Surely with the two of you, I hear and I see.” Which means through the two of you I hear and through the two of you I see, for My Presence has subdued your two existences (beings) – there is nothing here but Me. It is like the hadith which states that in respect of His true servants, He (Allah) is the sight with which they see, the hearing with which they hear, the foot with which they walk, and the hand with which they grasp.
In verse 57:4 the Qur’an says, “He is with you wherever you are.” This is the reality of existence, that God is present in the root of all existence and all created things, including us. In other words everything borrows its existence from His Supreme existence. This reality is veiled from us – it’s invisible to us. But there are moments when this true state of affairs shows itself. It remains a profound mystery but we obtain a brief glimpse of the true state of affairs. We become fortunate to witness Allah acting through His creation – a portion of the veil is momentarily removed. So when the Prophet throws a handful of dust, his identity at that moment is dissolved in the identity of Allah. “You did not throw….” Shaitan knew the reality of what was happening at Badr and so he fled the battlefield, powerless and fearful when Allah manifests His presence in His creation. “when the armies came in sight of one another, he (Shaitan) took flight…” (Qur’an 8:48)
The phrasing of this verse is fascinating. First it says “You did not throw….” So it negates the fact that the Prophet threw the sand. Then it says, “…when you threw….” So it affirms the fact that the Prophet threw the sand. It affirms what it just negated. Then it resolves this paradox by saying “…but God threw.” Thus the Meccans would see the Prophet throwing the sand, but someone who can witness invisible realities (such as Shaitan at Badr) would see the spiritual reality of the situation – that at that moment the identity of the Prophet is subsumed by Allah.
Here the Prophet was such a perfect servant that he had no motion of his own – he had stilled himself entirely and totally and his will was in perfect submission to the will of Allah. He was like a pebble in the hand of God – any motion was only through the motion imparted by Allah. So he threw, but he did not throw.
The verse also says “You did not slay them but God slew them.” Slaying was commanded at Badr. God was the commander, the command was to slay them (those who had come with extreme hostility against the Prophet at the instigation of Shaitan), and the Muslims were the commanded. So the situation is this: It is as if it were said by God, “You (Muslims at Badr) are to us as a sword is to you. For the ones who are killed they are killed by the sword. But no one says the sword was the slayer – it was merely the instrument. Rather the one who struck the blow is the slayer. So the one who strikes the blow is in relation to God like the sword is in relation to him. God is the slayer through him. He is the instrument, the sword through which God slays.” (Ibn Arabi)
This is the special situation of the Muslims at the battle of Badr and the verse goes on to say that this was a special gift from Allah to the believers (that He might confer upon the believers a good gift (yubla)). The whole incident of Badr was a guidance and teaching from God, and a Divine intervention, and a special and powerful gift to the Muslims.
What chance did the Meccans have against the Muslims (despite their superior numbers and weaponry) – all their strategies, plans, and confidence were set in disarray. Badr demonstrated that disbelief (falsehood) is inherently weak and collapses upon itself when it faces real (not tainted or narrow and fanatical) belief. And belief (in the sense of ‘iman’ – belief predicated on knowledge, spiritual knowledge) will attain victory as it is infused with Truth.