Surah Tawbah

Surah Tawbah

Surah Tawbah meaning repentance is the 9th surah of the Quran with 129 verses revealed in the city of Medina. It is also called Bara’at, meaning repudiation, as the very first word that the surah starts with announces repudiation of the Prophet (S) towards the unbelievers. Surah Tawbah and Surah Ikhlas were revealed accompanied by 70,000 angels.  

Other namesBara’ah
Surah no.9
PlaceJuz’ 10 and 11
Makki/MadaniMadani
Order of revelation114
No. of verses  129
No. of words2506
No. of letters11116
Famous verses19, 40, 61, 119, 122

Facts about surah Tawbah

Surah Tawbah is the 9th surah of the Quran and the only surah out of all the 114 surahs that does not start with Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. It is called Tawbah meaning repentance as many verses deal with this topic and the condition of the acceptance of repentance.

Surah Tawbah has 129 verses and was revealed in Medina in the year 9 Hijrah, the last year of the Prophet’s life. Different verses of this surah were revealed before, during and after the war of Tabuk. 

Surah Tawbah is also called Bara’at as it shows the hatred and renouncement of the believers towards the polytheists because time and again they had broken their promises and pledges.

Surah Tawbah 1 in a nutshell

Surah Tawbah in a nutshell

Why Bismillah is not in Surah Tawbah?

There are two interpretations as to why surah Tawbah does not start with Bismillah:

  • The beginning of surah Tawbah begins with a wrathful tone addressed to the polytheists as they had brought upon the Prophet of Islam much difficulty and displayed much dishonesty throghout 30 years of Muhammad’s life in Mecca and Medina. It was the 9th year of the migration of the Prophet (S) from Mecca to Medina and the Muslims had gained political power and strength so finally it was time to declare immunity from the idolaters.

The Phrase Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim is an indication of mercy and kindness whereas the beginning of the surah expresses the hatred of the Prophet and the believers towards the treacherous polytheists and announces the end to the peace treaty between the two parties. Therefore, surah Tawbah does not start with the message of peace and compassion.

  • The second possible reason, as some commentators mention, is that there is a lot of similarity in the content of surah Anfal and Tawbah and thus it is believed by some that Tawbah is the continuation of surah Anfal, therefore no Bismillah was required.

Nevertheless, based on the narrations of the progeny of the Prophet (S), surah Tawbah is an independent and new chapter of the Quran. 

Why do you do Tawbah?

Tawbah means to return from darkness and a sinful situation one is in and go towards God and light. One important Islamic teaching frequently mentioned in the Quran is tawbah or repentance. Tawbah and its cognates are used more than 70 times in the Quran.

Surah Tawbah, 112 mentions the qualities of the believers, the first of which is being penitent.

التَّائِبُونَ

[The faithful are] penitent

Repentance means that one is dealing with the complexities of one’s own self and is evaluating and accounting for one’s wrong thoughts and deeds.

Tawbah and the greater Jihad

In a beautiful hadith we read that the greater struggle and Jihad in the way of God, is one’s Jihad against oneself. Hussein bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet (S) says,

“The first obligatory jihad is that which a man wages against his own self in keeping away from acts of disobedience to Allah.” 2

Tawbah and the feeling of guilt

Throughout the greater Jihad, if one commits a sin, there is this feeling of discomfort and guilt as if the earth has become narrow for one. This state is beautifully described in surah Tawbah with regards to the three men who did not go to the war of Tabuk with Prophet Muhammad (S) because of the heat and hardships of the journey. Upon the return of the Prophet from the war, they went to him to apologize but he refused to talk to them and told others to do the same. Even their family members ignored them. Surah Tawbah, verse 118 says,

وَعَلَى الثَّلَاثَةِ الَّذِينَ خُلِّفُوا حَتَّىٰ إِذَا ضَاقَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الْأَرْضُ بِمَا رَحُبَتْ وَضَاقَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ أَنْفُسُهُمْ وَظَنُّوا أَنْ لَا مَلْجَأَ مِنَ اللَّهِ إِلَّا إِلَيْهِ

and to the three who were left behind. When the earth became narrow for them with [all] its expanse, and their own souls weighed heavily on them, and they knew that there was no refuge from Allah except in Him

Tawbah and confession of sins

One of the stages in asking for repentance in surah Tawbah is to confess to one’s state, knowing that besides one’s righteous acts, there are sins that need to be wiped off one’s record of deeds.

وَآخَرُونَ اعْتَرَفُوا بِذُنُوبِهِمْ خَلَطُوا عَمَلًا صَالِحًا وَآخَرَ سَيِّئًا

[There are] others who have confessed to their sins, having mixed up righteous conduct with other that was evil. 3

To be hopeful of the mercy of God

In the next stage, one is hopeful of the mercy of God. Surah Tawbah says,

عَسَى اللَّهُ أَنْ يَتُوبَ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

Maybe Allah will accept their repentance. Indeed Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful. 4

And indeed God is very merciful

Imagine that there was no way for repentance and that only sins would pile up and never be forgiven. How depressing that would be. But the reality is the exact opposite as described in surah Tawbah:

أَلَمْ يَعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ يَقْبَلُ التَّوْبَةَ عَنْ عِبَادِهِ وَيَأْخُذُ الصَّدَقَاتِ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ

Do they not know that it is Allah who accepts the repentance of His servants and receives the charities, and that it is Allah who is the All-clement, the All-merciful?

Tawbah is a grace from God

Repentance is in fact a special grace from God. God first looks at His servant kindly and makes his heart turn towards Him, then the servant turns towards his Lord and then again God turns to him by forgiving his sins. In surah Tawbah, with regards to the three men mentioned above we read,

ثُمَّ تَابَ عَلَيْهِمْ لِيَتُوبُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ

Then He turned clemently toward them so that they might be penitent. Indeed Allah is the All-clement, the All-merciful. 5

In other words, the tawbah of a servant is between the special grace and attention of the Lord.

Tawbah is a grace from God

So we do tawbah to attest to our weaknesses and shortcomings. To say that we are sorry for doing what was against our human dignity

5 Rewards, benefits and blessings of surah Tawbah

The verses and surahs of the Quran benefit the soul as the vitamins and minerals benefit the body. Among the rewards and blessings of surah Tawbah are the following:

1.   Sincerity of faith in this world and intercession of the Prophet (S) in the next world

Prophet Muhammad (S) says,

On Qiyamah, I will intercede for the one who recites surahs Anfal and Tawbah and shall witness that he is not a hypocrite. Moreover,

  • he will have the reward of ten good deeds
  • ten sins will be wiped off his record of deeds 
  • He will be elevated ten ranks

equal to the number of hypocrite men and women in the world.

God’s throne and its bearers shall send salutations to him throughout his life in the world. 6

2.   Will be considered among the true followers of the Prophet (S)

Abi Abdillah (AS) says in a narration,

He who recites surahs Anfal and Bara’at every month, will be blessed with heavenly bounties along with true followers of the Prophet (S) on the Day of Reckoning until people are finished accounting for their deeds. 7

3.   Safety from theft and fire

According to the Noble Prophet (S), he who writes surah Tawbah and carries it with him will remain immune from theft and his house will not burn in fire. 8

4.   Safety from wild animals

In a hadith from the Messenger of Allah (S), it is written that if one who is scared of wild animals reads verses 128-129 of surah Tawbah will not be harmed by them. 9

5.   Full support from God

He who recites verse 129 of surah Tawbah 70 times a day with attention to its meaning and purity of intention, God Almighty will provide for all his religious and worldly needs. Moreover, he will not drown, nor get burnt, nor die under a wall, nor get killed with a blade. 10

فَإِن تَوَلَّوْاْ فَقُلْ حَسْبِيَ اللّهُ لا إِلَهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ عَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلْتُ وَهُوَ رَبُّ الْعَرْشِ الْعَظِيمِ ﴿129﴾

But if they turn their backs [on you], say, ‘Allah is sufficient for me. There is no god except Him. In Him I have put my trust and He is the Lord of the Great Throne.’ 11

5 Lessons from surah Tawbah

The number of lessons and teachings of surah Tawbah exceed far beyond 5; nevertheless we will briefly mention five in this section:

1.   Who is a hypocrite?

Hearing the word hypocrite, we consider ourselves far away from this group yet when we read the descriptions of surah Tawbah for hypocrites, we pause for a moment and ask ourselves, where are we standing in the quality of our faith and spiritual life?

The characteristics of the hypocrites as explained in verses 38-80 of surah Tawbah are as follows:

  • They like to stay in their comfort zone
  • They accompany religion when there is an accessible gain
  • They lie

لَوْ كَانَ عَرَضًا قَرِيبًا وَسَفَرًا قَاصِدًا لَّاتَّبَعُوكَ وَلَـٰكِن بَعُدَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الشُّقَّةُ ۚ وَسَيَحْلِفُونَ بِاللَّـهِ لَوِ اسْتَطَعْنَا لَخَرَجْنَا مَعَكُمْ يُهْلِكُونَ أَنفُسَهُمْ وَاللَّـهُ يَعْلَمُ إِنَّهُمْ لَكَاذِبُونَ ﴿42﴾

Were it an accessible gain or a short journey, they would have surely followed you; but the distance seemed too far to them. Yet they will swear by Allah: ‘If we could, we would have surely gone forth with you.’ They [merely] destroy themselves. Allah knows that they are indeed liars. 12

  • They are not willing to wage jihad with their possessions and their persons (9:44).
  • They do not believe in Allah and the Last Day, and their hearts are in doubt (9:45).
  • They do not get the towfiq to go to Jihad (9:46).
  • They spread rumors, cause sedition, and spy (9:47).
  • The victory of the Muslims upsets them (9:50).
  • They feel intimidated and stressed and do not feel secure (9:56-57).
  • They are not content with what is given to them and slander even the prophet (S) (9:58).

2.   When would a person’s charity be accepted by God?

Verse 54 in surah Tawbah clarifies this point:

وَمَا مَنَعَهُمْ أَن تُقْبَلَ مِنْهُمْ نَفَقَاتُهُمْ إِلَّا أَنَّهُمْ كَفَرُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَبِرَسُولِهِ وَلَا يَأْتُونَ الصَّلَاةَ إِلَّا وَهُمْ كُسَالَىٰ وَلَا يُنفِقُونَ إِلَّا وَهُمْ كَارِهُونَ ﴿54﴾

Nothing stops their charities from being accepted except that they have no faith in Allah and His Apostle and do not perform the prayer but lazily, and do not spend but reluctantly. 13

Points understood from this verse in surah Tawbah are:

  • Charitable acts of those who do not believe in God and His apostle are not accepted by God.

Why?

One of the reasons could be that in giving charity, feeding or clothing a needy person is not the only purpose behind the charitable act. The giver of charity has to benefit from the act as well. It has to help one uplift one’s level of spiritual growth and this will happen only when there is conscious choice with the right intention.     

  •  Hypocrites are considered as unbelievers.
  • A sign of one’s hypocrisy is performing prayers lazily and spending reluctantly.

3.   Are wealth and children a sign of progress and success?

Wealth and children have been mentioned as means of test in the Quran. In the case of the hypocrites, they could be means of punishment in this worldly life. Surah Tawbah, 55 mentions this point:

فَلَا تُعْجِبْكَ أَمْوَالُهُمْ وَلَا أَوْلَادُهُمْ ۚ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّـهُ لِيُعَذِّبَهُم بِهَا فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَتَزْهَقَ أَنفُسُهُمْ وَهُمْ كَافِرُونَ ﴿55﴾

So let not their wealth and children impress you: Allah only desires to punish them with these in the life of this world, and that their souls may depart while they are faithless. 14

According to Nur Tafsir, instances of punishment regarding wealth and children in this world could be the following:

  • Pain and hardship in providing it for oneself
  • Always struggling and having fear to keep them safe from fire and theft and envious people
  • Leaving them behind at the time of death

Note that they will have to account for them on the Last Day and that is the hardest thing to do.

The point is that sometimes one is granted a blessing from God but never gets to benefit from it or use it enjoyably. The wealth and children of those who do not truly believe in God could be in this way.

4. steps to be taken at times of challenge in life in Surah Tawbah

وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ رَضُوا مَا آتَاهُمُ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَقَالُوا حَسْبُنَا اللَّهُ سَيُؤْتِينَا اللَّهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ وَرَسُولُهُ إِنَّا إِلَى اللَّهِ رَاغِبُونَ

[It would have been better] if they had been pleased with what Allah and His Apostle gave them, and had said, ‘Allah is sufficient for us; Allah and His Apostle will give to us out of His grace. Indeed to Allah do we eagerly turn.’ 15

  • Being inwardly pleased with God’s decree
  • Say ‘Allah is sufficient for us’
  • Being hopeful of God’s grace
  • Turn towards spirituality rather than the material life (إِلَى اللَّهِ رَاغِبُونَ)

The hypocrites did the exact opposite at the time of the Prophet (S). When he was distributing charity (Zakat) among the needy and underprivileged Muslims, some of his companions objected because they did not receive any and started blaming the prophet. So this verse was revealed.

5.   8 groups of people receiving charity (Zakat) according to Surah Tawbah

One of the important teachings of Islam is paying zakat. The significance of this topic is to the extent that Zakat has accompanied prayers in verses of the Quran.

In other words, if a Muslim wants to have accpeted prayers, he/she needs to care for the needs of the needy in his society and should not be indifferent towards them. 

Surah Tawbah, verse 60 talks about instances to whom charity can be given to. 

  1. The poor (One who is needy yet does not request others)
  2. The needy (in a worse state of poverty and one who requests from others)
  3. Those employed to collect them,
  4. Those whose hearts are to be reconciled,
  5. For [the freedom of] the slaves and
  6. For the debtors,
  7. In the way of Allah (those who preach Islam),
  8. For the traveller.

5 Famous verses in surah Tawbah

There are 5 well-known verses in surah Tawbah which will be briefly discussed here:

1.   Providing water to Hajj pilgrims.

أَجَعَلْتُمْ سِقَايَةَ الْحَاجِّ وَعِمَارَةَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ كَمَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَجَاهَدَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ۚ لَا يَسْتَوُونَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ ﴿19﴾

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. 16

In this verse, the two seemingly precious acts of providing water to Hajj pilgrims and maintaining the Holy Mosque are put on one side of the scale and on the other side belief in God, the Last Day and jihad in the way of God are placed. The latter side is heavier and more precious.

In other words, the outer skin of deeds have no worth in the eyes of God where they are void of the spirit of monotheism. 

2.   Do not grieve! Allah is surely with us

إِلَّا تَنْصُرُوهُ فَقَدْ نَصَرَهُ اللَّهُ إِذْ أَخْرَجَهُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا ثَانِيَ اثْنَيْنِ إِذْ هُمَا فِي الْغَارِ إِذْ يَقُولُ لِصَاحِبِهِ لَا تَحْزَنْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَنَا ﴿40﴾

If you do not help him, then Allah certainly helped him when the faithless expelled him, as one of two [refugees], when the two of them were in the cave, he said to his companion, ‘Do not grieve; Allah is indeed with us.’ 17

This beautiful verse, talks of the story of Lailat al-Mabit also mentioned in surah Anfal, 30. According to historical accounts, the polytheists of Mecca viciously planned to end the Prophet’s life one night. God informed the Prophet (S) of their plot and that same night, the Prophet along with Abu Bakr left Mecca and Ali (AS) slept in the Prophet’s place so the polytheists would not realize the Prophet’s absence.

The Prophet and Abu Bakr reached the cave of Thur and hid there for three days. With the command of God, a spider built a big web at the entrance which distracted the unbelievers from their hiding place. 

The whole point in this verse is to see how one can react at times of challenge and the significance of strong belief in God and putting one’s trust in Him. 

  • The Prophet (S) was a good listener

وَمِنْهُمُ الَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ النَّبِيَّ وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ أُذُنٌ ۚ قُلْ أُذُنُ خَيْرٍ لَكُمْ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَيُؤْمِنُ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَرَحْمَةٌ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنْكُمْ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ ﴿61﴾

And there are some of them who molest the Prophet and say: He is one who believes every thing that he hears; say: A hearer of good for you (who) believes in Allah and believes the faithful and a mercy for those of you who believe; and (as for) those who molest the Apostle of Allah, they shall have a painful punishment. 18

The Noble Prophet of Islam (S) was a considerate leader who listened carefully to the words of those who referred to and talked with him so much so that some of the hypocrites and polythiests accused him of being simple-minded and easily accepting what he heard.

God comes to His messnger’s help and attributes him with 4 qualities:

  • He is a hearer of good for you
  • He believes in Allah
  • He has faith in the believers
  • He is a Mercy to those of you who believe

God concludes with a warning that a painful punishment awaits those who molest the Prophet (S).

  • Choose your companions well

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَكُونُوا مَعَ الصَّادِقِينَ ﴿119﴾

O you who have faith! Be wary of Allah, and be with the Truthful. 19

One can look at this verse from two aspects.

  • One’s friends and companions in life leave a deep influence in one’s personality meaning how one thinks and acts. In other words, this verse in surah Tawbah offers two golden keys to the believers:
  • Taking God into consideration in all that one does;
  • Socializing with the right people.
  • Another interpretation could be that an Islamic ummah will succeed as long as it stays along with truthful leaders and supports them. So mere religiosity on an individual level is not enough. One needs to follow the leader of the society who is immune from any kind of sins. These leaders are appointed by God. They are the Prophet and after him, his purified family.

Who are the Sadiqin (the truthful)?

In narrations we read that the truthful are the Prophet (S) and his purified household. According to surah Baqarah, 177, the truthful have the following qualities:

Who are the Sadiqin

5.   Become learned in religion

وَمَا كَانَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لِيَنْفِرُوا كَافَّةً ۚ فَلَوْلَا نَفَرَ مِنْ كُلِّ فِرْقَةٍ مِنْهُمْ طَائِفَةٌ لِيَتَفَقَّهُوا فِي الدِّينِ وَلِيُنْذِرُوا قَوْمَهُمْ إِذَا رَجَعُوا إِلَيْهِمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَحْذَرُونَ ﴿122﴾

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? 20

This verse wants to say that in managing the Islamic society, the leader should pay attention to all aspects and matters with a holistic view. For instance, he has to pay attention to the external enemy (Those who attack the borders of a country) and at the same time, the internal enemy which is ignorance and lack of knowledge.

Therefore, according to this verse, not all the Muslims should leave for the war field with the Prophet (S). There needs to be a group who leave their hometown to become learned in religion.

The story does not end here. These scholars should go back to their hometown and start guiding their people.

In a beautiful narration from the commander of the faithful, Ali (AS) we read,

“The zakat (charity) of knowledge is spreading it.” 21

Elsewhere the Noble Prophet says,

Verily, the angels spread their wings for the seekers of knowledge out of delight. Verily, every creature of heaven and the earth asks forgiveness for the seeker of knowledge, even the fish in the sea. 22

Summary

Surah Tawbah is the last surah of the Quran revealed to the Prophet (S). In the year 9 A.H. the Muslims had gained power and established a government based on the teachings of Islam. Hence, surah Tawbah specifies the three groups of polytheists, hypocrites and believers and how the leader of the society should treat them.

The other important theme of surah Tawbah is the possibility of repentance and returning to God and hoping for His mercy.


References

  1. The structure of surahs of the Glorious Quran, Nur al-Thaqalain institute.
  2. Tuhaf al-’Uqul, no. 243
  3. The Quran, 9:102 (Qarai).
  4. Ibid.
  5. The Quran, 9:118 (Qarai).
  6. Mustadrak al-Wasail, vol. 4, p. 340.
  7. Translation of Al-Burhan Tafsir, vol. 6, p. 2.
  8. Ibid, p. 116.
  9. Man La Yahzarahul Faqih, vol. 4, p. 264, Beirut print.
  10. Kawas Ayat al-Quran, p. 87.
  11. The Quran, 9:129 (Qarai).
  12. The Quran, 9:42 (Qarai).
  13. The Quran, 9:54 (Qarai).
  14. The Quran, 9:55 (Qarai).
  15. The Quran, 9:59 (Qarai).
  16. The Quran, 9:19 (Qarai).
  17. The Quran, 9:40 (Qarai).
  18. The Quran, 9:61 (Shakir).
  19. The Quran, 9:119 (Qarai).
  20. The Quran, 9:122 (Qarai).
  21. Qurar al-Hikam, vol. 1, p. 52.
  22. Al‑Kafi, vol. 1, kitab fadl al‑’ilm, hadith no. 1.
Worth to read!  Surah Ikhlas

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Radiyah Shameli
Radiyah Shameli
I am Radiyah Shameil. I write for the blog and am a team member in providing content for courses on “Family in the Quran”. I have a Ph.D. in Islamic studies and am a researcher in the field of women and family in Islam. I teach and research mostly in this area. Currently, I am working on the course “Family in the Quran” and “Parenting”

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Events of the Day of Judgment in the Quran

Events of the Qiyamah in the Quran

There are many events that will take place on the …

Stay single or get married

Stay Single or Get Married? The Advantages of Marriage in Islam

Stay single or get married? To be or not to …

Learn Quran With Tajweed

Learn Quran With Tajweed

Reciting the Quran is superb, but to read the Quran …

What is spirituality? What is the difference between the body and spirit?

What Is Spirituality? What Is the Difference Between the Body and Spirit?

It is interesting to have a spiritual life, a life …

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