يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنْ الْأَنْفَالِ قُلْ الْأَنْفَالُ لِلَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَأَصْلِحُوا ذَاتَ بَيْنِكُمْ وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ إِنْ كُنتُمْ مُؤْمِنِينَ(1:8)
They ask you about the spoils of war. Say: The spoils belong to Allah and the Prophet. Therefore, if you are true believers, fear Allah and reform your personal relationships, and obey Allah and His Prophet. (8:1)
A look at the context of this verse and at the issues discussed in the sūrah of which it is a part shows that after the very first battle which the Muslims fought against the Idolaters of Makkah, the issue of the distribution of the spoils of war came to surface. There existed a difference of opinion about it among the Muslims. The Qur’ān admonished the Muslims on this attitude and gave its verdict in this matter. Muslims were told that they had no claim in the spoils because of the peculiar nature of these wars. They were informed that all these spoils belonged to Allah and His Prophet (sws) and as such they had discretionary powers as far as their disbursement was concerned. This writer has already delineated the reason for this: these wars were fought under a specific law of the Almighty, according to which He, through His Messengers, punishes people who deliberately deny the truth. These Messengers and their companions in this matter are no more than agents of the implementation of this Divine scheme. It is with the special help of the Almighty through His angels that these battles were actually won. It was for this very reason that Muslims did not have any share in the booty obtained from these wars. However, in spite of this, they are told later in the sūrah that only one-fifth of it will be used by the Almighty and His Prophet (sws) for collective needs. The rest of it will be distributed among the soldiers:
وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا غَنِمْتُمْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ فَأَنَّ لِلَّهِ خُمُسَهُ وَلِلرَّسُولِ وَلِذِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْيَتَامَى وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ (41:8)
And you should know that a fifth of the spoils you get hold of are for Allah and the Prophet and his near relatives and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer. (8:41)
It is evident from this distribution that since the believers had also assisted in acquiring them by using their personal weapons, camels and horses as well as food, camps and various other items needed during these wars, it was necessary to give them their due from these spoils. Consequently, in military campaigns, where the services of Muslim soldiers and combatants were not used, they were told that all the booty obtained would be used for the collective purposes of the state and religion and for the poor and needy: none of it would be given to the soldiers:
مَا أَفَاءَ اللَّهُ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْقُرَى فَلِلَّهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ وَلِذِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْيَتَامَى وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ (7:59)
Whatever the Almighty has bestowed on His Prophet from the people of the cities, it is reserved for Allah and His Prophet and the relatives of the Prophet and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarers. (59:7)
The above quoted verse as well as the verses of Sūrah Anfāl quoted earlier explain the heads of the collective needs for which the war booty was reserved.
First and foremost, the share of the Almighty is stated. God Almighty is above all needs and does not need anything. His share is actually reserved for the requirements of His religion. Consequently, under this head, wealth will be expended to fulfill such needs as helping the cause of Islam at the state level as an obligation. This includes measures that protect and promote it.
The second share stated is that of the Prophet (sws). Besides carrying out his duties as a Messenger, he was also the head of the Islamic state and as such spent every moment of his life in discharging them. To earn a livelihood while discharging these duties was not possible for him. In these circumstances, it was necessary that he be granted a share in the spoils of war. Of course, the nature of this share was such that it was not given to him in his personal capacity so that it may be distributed among his heirs after him. Consequently, after his death, this share was expended by the state on his behalf and in his prophetic capacity to fulfil the collective needs of the Muslims.
The third share stated is that of the near relatives. Obviously, by these are meant those relatives who were dependent on the Prophet (sws) for their livelihood and about the fulfillment of whose needs the Prophet (sws) considered himself to be morally responsible. He was a father to all Muslims. Consequently, this responsibility too, in accordance with the dictates of both the sharī‘ah and social conventions, was transferred to the state after the Prophet (sws) and his kin remained the recipients of this share as long as they lived.
The fourth share is that of the poor, the orphans and the wayfarers. While stating this share, the particle ل (lām) is not repeated in this verse. This particle is appended to all the three shares stated before. This fourth category of shares is actually mentioned under the third stated share of the near relatives. The reason is to honour the recipients of this category as if they are also the near relatives of the Prophet (sws). This head needs no explanation. A society which is not sensitive to the requirements of these sections, and a society in which the orphans are subjected to misery and in which there is no one to take care of the wayfarers cannot in any way be given the noble name of an Islamic society.
It is evident from this discussion regarding the spoils of war that they are essentially reserved for the collective requirements of the Muslims. The combatants of the Muslim army have not been granted any fixed share in the spoils of war by the Almighty. In this regard, a state has discretionary powers which it can exercise keeping in view the circumstances.