In this article, we will take a closer look into Surah an-Nasr and all the other verses related to it, to see whether Nabi Muhammad (pbuh), as well as other prophets, was immune from sin:
“(Oh Muhammad!) When the help of God and that conquest (of Mecca) comes, and you see the people enter God’s religion in multitudes, then, set your face towards your Master Who does everything perfectly, and ask for forgiveness! He welcomes the turnarounds (from wrongs)” (Surah an-Nasr).
Surah an-Nasr, that is, Chapter The Help in the Quran mentions the conquest of Mecca with an additional command of repentance to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Describing the character of the Messenger Muhammad (as), the Qur’an speaks of him as a very respectful and revered person (see: Qalam 68:4). For these and his other qualities, God chose him as His Messenger from among the people of Mecca (Jum’a 62/2). In the beginning, the words that the Messenger conveyed to people, which were indeed the words of God, confused them (see: Najm 53:1-10). The most prominent quality of Mecca is that God designated it as Ummul-Qura (see: An’am 6:92, Shura 42:7), that is, as “the mother of settlements” or “the mother of cities”. The Meccans finally understood that Muhammad was the Messenger of God (see: Yassin 36:7). Still, they remained hostile towards him because they were afraid to lose their respectability and the effectiveness of their words compared to the Word of God (see: Qasas 28:57):
“(O Muhammad!) They are about to expel you from this land. If they force you to leave, then they will not stay there too long after you. It is the law (Sunnat) implemented with Our messengers sent before you. You will not find changes in our laws (Sunnat)” (Isra 17:76-77).
As you can see, the verse contains the expression “Sunnat (sunnatullah)”. “Sunnat” is the body of laws that God has set regarding the societies to which He sent a Messenger. It operates with perfect rigor. The law of God about the societies which expel their Messenger from his homeland was also implemented to the Meccan Mushriks. The verses below manifested that believers would conquer Mecca and that God planned its time:
“Alif Lam Mim. The Romans are defeated! In the nearest land. But after their defeat, they will win within a few years (from three to nine). All the authority belongs to God before and after that. And on that day, the believers will rejoice. It will be with the help of God! He helps the one who makes the right choice. He is Mighty, Merciful. This is the promise of God! God does not break His promise, even if most people do not know it” (Rum 30:1-6).
We will now cite the verse, which indicates that the Meccan Mushriks perfectly understood that they were making a mistake, expelling the Messenger Muhammad (PBUH) from his native land. God says:
“Many of them really understood that this (Quran) is the Word of God, but they do not want to believe and trust. It is as if We have put fetters on their necks up to the chin, and they cannot lower their heads. It is as if We set up a barrier in front of them and a barrier behind them and surrounded them, and they do not see. It does not matter if you warned them or didn’t warn them; they don’t want to believe. (Oh, Muhammad!) You can only warn the one who followed the Zikr (Koran) and fears the Merciful, not seeing Him with his own eyes. Give joy to such a person with the news of forgiveness and a generous reward” (Yasin 36:7-11).
Further, in a verse which was revealed in Medina, God points out the offensive attitude of the Meccan Mushriks towards the Messenger. He says:
“These (Meccan) deniers (kafir) were making plans to stop you, kill or expel you. They planned, and God planned. After all, God is the best planner!” (al-Anfal 8:30).
This attitude of the Meccan Mushriks towards Muslims forced the Messenger and his followers to migrate to Medina. After Muslims waited for a few years, the news of the beginning of the battle between the Persians and the Romans came. As we know from Surah Quraish, the Meccans used to organize trade caravans twice a year- in the winter to Yemen and Ethiopia, and in the summer to Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq (Hijaz). The news of the battle arrived when a large caravan led by Abu Sufyan, which was important to the Meccan people, was heading from Syria to Mecca. Muslims thought that this caravan was God’s grace for them and aimed to take possession of the caravan to retaliate for the loss caused to them when they were forced to leave their homes. Therefore, they went to the wells in the Badr area where the caravan was supposed to pass and stop. But approaching the wells of Badr, the Muslims saw the Meccan army. God reports it this way:
“(That day) you were on the closer side of the valley (Badr), and they were on the far side, and the caravan was below you. Even if you had (previously) arranged with one another, you would have failed to keep the appointment; but (it happened) so God might accomplish a matter which had already been decided so that anyone who perished might perish by (seeing) the clear evidence of the truth, and anyone who survived might (also) survive by (seeing) the clear evidence of the truth. Indeed, God is All-Listening and All-Knowing” (al-Anfal 8:42).
The Badr area was 160 kilometers southwest of Medina and 30 kilometers from the Red Sea coast. This area was a small village located at the intersection of the routes from Mecca – Medina, and Syria. Therefore, to prevent the caravan from being attacked, Abu Sufyan had turned it away from the Badr Pass and led it along the Red Sea coast. Traders rarely used this path. That is why the caravan ended up below the Muslims. The two troops meeting on the same terrain at Badr is proof that both troops set out on the way for the caravan. One army went out to meet Abu Sufyan’s caravan to protect it from a possible attack on its way, and the other to capture it. God envisioned for the Muslims not the seizure of a trade caravan, but their battle with the mushriks to conquer Mecca. He had announced this earlier:
“O, Messenger! Urge the believers on to fight. (Know that) if there are twenty perseverings (warriors) among you, then they will overcome two hundred. And if there are a hundred (persevering) among you, then they will overcome a thousand kafirs. Because they are a group of people who do not comprehend (the significance of perseverance)” (al-Anfal 8:65).
This verse ordered believers to fight an army, which is ten times the number of theirs. The fact is that some of the Muslims were afraid even to seize the caravan, let alone fighting. This is stated in the following verses:
“Even when your Master brought you out of your home due to that truth (the promise of God that the Muslims would be happy the day Romans were defeated), a group of the believers was discontented (just as they were in the matter of anfal -spoils). They quarreled with you about this truth after it became apparent. As if they were being led to death with their eyes open. Though, God had given you His word that you would overwhelm one of two groups (Meccan Mushriks or caravan). You wanted (to meet) the unarmed group (caravan). But God wanted to affirm the truth (about the conquest of Mecca) in His own words and eradicate the deniers (kafir). This was in order that the truth would be affirmed, and falsehood would perish, even if it is hateful to criminals” (al-Anfal 8:5-8).
When the Muslims heard God’s words that they should fight the army of mushriks, this caused fear in the hearts of many of them. They had not set out for battle, and a group of them did not want to fight, even against an unarmed army. So, God decided to ease their duty and calm them down by sending the following verse:
“Now, God has lightened your burden, for it became known to Him that you were weak. (From now on) if there are a hundred persevering people among you, then they will overcome two hundred, but if there are a thousand (persevering) among you, then, with the permission of God, they will overcome two thousand. Indeed, God is with the persevering” (al-Anfal 8:66).
Thus, God had imposed Muslims the duty of fighting an army twice as much as their number, rather than ten times as much. So, their burden was lightened. But in fact, the number of Meccan Mushriks was even more than twice as many as Muslims. Therefore, God showed in a dream to his Messenger the number of mushriks to be less than they were:
“(O, Muhammad!) God showed them to you in your dream few in number. Had God made them appear as many, you would have lost heart and disputed in the matter. But God saved the situation. He knows what the hearts contain. However, God has spared you, for He knows what is in your chest” (al-Anfal 8:43).
According to verse 44 of Surah al-Anfal, God showed both of the armies as fewer than they were to both Muslims and the Meccans. So, His word, that is, the conquest of Mecca, would take place through a victory over the Mushriks in the battle of Badr.
We learn from verse below how many the number of mushrik army was shown to the Muslims:
“There is a sign for you in the two troops which confronted each other (at Badr). One troop was fighting for God’s cause, and the others were ignorers. They (the believers) saw them (the ignorers) twice as their own number as eyeball estimate. God aids only those who make the right choice with His help. Therein (in the war of Badr) lies a lesson to learn for the people with foresight.” (Al-e Imran 3:13).
God showed the size of the Meccan army twice the number of them to Muslims because He had imposed upon Muslims the duty of fighting an army that outnumbered them twice. God additionally supported believers by strengthening their ranks with a thousand angels visible to the enemy, which caused a great shock among the Meccan mushriks:
“That day, you were seeking aid from your Master. He responded, ‘I will help you with a thousand angels rank on rank’. God did this (help) merely as glad tidings to you and for your hearts to be at ease due to it. Victory, though, comes from no one else but God. God is Superior and judges correctly. Remember when He gave you sleep as a reassurance from Him, and sent down water from the sky to purify you, to remove the Devil’s defilement from you, to bond your hearts together and make your feet firm. That day, your Master inspired the angels: ‘I am with you, so brace those who believe. I shall cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve.’ So, (believers!) strike at the nape of their necks and beat their fingertips!” (al-Anfal 8:9-12)
Of course, the almighty God did not send the angels to kill the disbelievers but as glad tidings to believers and to reassure them. The number of Muslims was less than a thousand at the Battle of Badr. Had three thousand angels beaten the necks and fingertips of their enemy, no mushrik could survive. But even after this support, the fear did not completely disappear in the hearts of the believers. Therefore God strengthened their army with three thousand more angels:
“After all, God gave you support at Badr when you were contemptible. Then fear (not the enemy, but) God, so that you might fulfill your duties! (On that day) You were telling the believers: ‘Isn’t it enough for you that your Master helps you with three thousand angels being sent down?’ Of course, it is enough. Yet, if you persevere while protecting yourselves, and if they bear down on you with this much fury, your Master will reinforce you with five thousand angels that are engaged (in your support). God does this (support) merely as a glad tiding to you and for your hearts to be at ease. Victory comes from no one else but God Who is Superior and judges correctly. God also does this (support) to cut off a group from the deniers or suppress them to let them turn back (home) defeated.” (Al-e Imran 3:123-127)
Considering this help provided by God to the Muslims, they met on the battlefield with an army of Meccan Mushriks, whose leader was Abu Jahil. On that day, the Muslims defeated the Meccan army, killing Abu Jahil himself and seventy others. There were also fourteen losses in the ranks of the Muslims. But Muslims did not duly persevere during the battle, disobeyed the verse below which ordered them to fight until the enemy disperses, and they retreated:
“Oh, you who believe and trust (in God)! When you meet those who disregard God’s verses in battle array, do not turn your backs to (flee from) them. Whoever turns his back on such a day, except while maneuvering for battle or in an endeavor to join another troop, incurs wrath from God. Their abode is Hell. What a miserable situation it is!” (al-Anfal 8:15-16).
As we can see, God’s threat to those who flee from the battlefield without a valid reason is alarming because believers are supposed to disperse the enemy completely as the war continues:
“When you detect them at war, disperse them in such a way that those behind them have to disperse. Maybe they come to their senses” (al-Anfal 8:57).
Retreating was not the only mistake Muslims made at war. While some of them were leaving the battlefield without permission, some others began to seize spoils, and some others started to take the mushriks as prisoners. We learn this from the verse below:
“It behooves no prophet to take captives until he has sufficiently suppressed the enemy on the battlefield. You merely seek the temporary gains of the world, whereas God desires for you the (good of the) Hereafter. God is superior, and He judges correctly” (al-Anfal 8:67).
God does not hold anyone responsible for something beyond their capacity (al-Baqarah 2:286), but He does hold Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), his Companions, and believers responsible for having taken prisoners without subduing the enemy. It indicates that the pursuit of the defeated enemy was within the power of the believers. It is also a proof that verse Muhammad 47:4, which commands completely suppressing the enemy before taking prisoners, was sent down before this battle:
“When you meet those who ignore (God’s verses), smite their necks. When you suppressed them, cordon (the rest of) them off strictly. Thereafter, set them (the captives) free, either by an act of grace (free of charge) or against ransom. Do this so that the burden of war is laid down. God could have defeated them Himself had He preferred, but He does so to test some of you by means of others. As for those who are killed in God’s cause, He will not let their deeds be in vain” (Muhammad 47:4).
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and believers who took part in the Battle of Badr had committed two sins by disregarding these verses. However, God has kept his promise that He made in verses Rum 30:1-6, and He allowed believers to be victorious. We learn this from the verse below:
“Had it not been for a prescribed decree from God, a tremendous chastisement would have indeed befallen you because of (the captives) that you took. Enjoy, then, all that is lawful and good among the things which you have gained in war, and refrain from doing wrong (in the matters) regarding God. God is Forgiving, and Beneficent” (al-Anfal 8:68-69).
So, we have assessed the actions of the Muslim army, led by the Messenger, according to the Quranic verses related to the topic. And they all indicate that Muslims have made a big mistake. That is, they committed actions that contradicted these verses. Therefore, they committed a sin. And they were saved from punishment only by the fact that God had promised them earlier in the verses of Surah Rum 30:1-6. So, the Muslims won this battle. Then there were the battles of Uhud and the Trenches, after which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) made the “Khudaibiya” treaty with Meccans. The following verses were revealed thereupon:
“(Oh Prophet), indeed We have opened you the way for a clear conquest; so that God may forgive your previous sin and the one that followed, and may complete His boons upon you and guide you to the straight path.” (Al-Fath 48:1-2)
Let us try to understand these verses. The previous sin of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is that he did not command to pursue the enemy during the battle of Badr (see: Anfal 8:15-16). And the following sin was that the Prophet (PBUH) allowed taking prisoners before the battle was completely over (Anfal 8:67-68, Muhammad 47:4). Therefore, Mecca could not be conquered during the battle of Badr. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was obligated to conquer Mecca before he could ask for forgiveness of those sins from God. The topics of Surah an-Nasr, which are conquest and the command of repentance, are based on these set of events. If we read Surah an-Nasr without breaking its connection with the related verses, it will be apparent that no one is immune from sin. We also see that the experience of Messenger Muhammad (PBUH) in this case should be an example for us. Whoever commits any sin should know that God would accept his repentance if only he turns around from his misdeed, reforms himself, and exerts the utmost effort to eliminate the inconveniences his misdeed may have caused. Prophet (Nabi) Muhammad was encouraged to conquer Mecca in verses Surah al-Fath 48:1-2 for his sins to be forgiven.
The word translated as “sin” in these verses is “zanb :ذنب “. It is mostly translated as “fault” or “shortcoming” in several translations. However, the very same word is used to refer to the sins committed by the nation of Ad, the Thamud, Qarun (Kora), Pharaoh, and Haman (see Ankabut 29:40) in the Quran. So, we can say that the word refers to a serious sin rather than a simple fault.
We can conclude from all the verses above that nobody, even prophets, is immune from sins. Whoever violates an order of God must firstly compensate for his mistake and then sincerely ask for forgiveness.
While talking about immunity from committing a sin or doing wrong, it is vital to differentiate the notion of “Nabi – Prophet” from the notion of “Rasul – Messenger”:
As we can see, a “Nabi/Prophet” can make a mistake and commit sin just like other people. Yet, the words of a “Rasul/Messenger”, are the words of God conveyed to other people. So, the words of a messenger do not include any mistakes.