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The Proclamation of Surat Al Bara’ah

26Oct 2014
The Proclamation of Surat Al Bara’ah

When the pilgrimage season arrived in the year 9 A.H., Prophet Muhammad (SA) had myriads of pressing duties demanding his immediate attention such that he was unable to leave Medina. He then sent Abu Bakr to Makkah as the leader of a group of three hundred pilgrims to conduct the rites of Hajj. It was Abu Bakr’s first real, out-front leadership role. He and the pilgrims left Medina, however, a day after their departure, the Prophet (SWT) received divine revelation called Bara’ah or Al-Tawbah (Immunity or Repentance) – the ninth chapter of the Holy Quran, and he was specifically ordered to promulgate these verses in Makkah either personally or to delegate authority to do so to someone from his own family, but to no one else. In compliance with this commandment from Allah (SWT), the Messenger (SA) called his cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib, gave him his own mount to ride, and ordered him to take the new revelation to Makkah, and to promulgate it there in the assembly of the pilgrims – Muslims and pagans.

Imam Ali (AS) executed his mission with his accustomed zeal and fidelity and he reached the sacred city in the height of the religious festival. He rose before an immense multitude assembled at the mountain of Al-A’qaba and announced himself a messenger from the Prophet bearing an important revelation. He then recited the first verses of Surat Al Bara’a in which the religion of the sword was declared in its entire rigor.

This is a declaration of immunity by Allah and His Messenger towards those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement. So go about in the land for four months and know that you cannot weaken Allah and that Allah will bring disgrace to the unbelievers. And an announcement from Allah and His Messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah and His Messenger are free from liability to the idolaters; therefore if you repent, it will be better for you, and if you turn back, then know that you will not weaken Allah; and announce painful punishment to those who disbelieve. Except those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything and have not backed up any one against you, so fulfill their agreement to the end of their term; surely Allah loves those who are careful (of their duty).” [9:1-4]

The vast concourse of pilgrims listened quietly till Imam Ali ended. Then everyone departed to his home, passing on to all the tribes throughout the peninsula the inexorable ordinance which they had heard from the lips of Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS).  Although there are a multitude of events in history which supports the right of Imam Ali for Caliphate and for the Wilayah, this key event in history – the proclamation of Surat Al Bara’at is certainly one of the most significant events from which we can extract many lessons.

What is the wisdom behind the sequence of Appointing, Nullifying, followed by Replacing?

If it was Allah’s will and intention to appoint Imam Ali to deliver the verses of Bara’at to the nonbelievers, then why didn’t He order for that to take place from the start?  After all, we would still count this initial appointment as a virtue for Imam Ali.  What is the wisdom behind the 3-step process where an appointment was followed by nullification, then reappointment of a much more qualified candidate for this position?  It is obvious to anyone who reflects on this change in divine plan that Allah (SWT) intended to compare the two personalities and their qualifications.  By this comparison, not only is Imam Ali (SA) pointed out as the more qualified candidate to assume this role, by default it also highlights the disqualification of the previous candidate.  As Allah (SWT) questions in the Holy Quran,

Is the blind man equal to the seer, or is darkness equal to light?” [13:16]

The law of life repeats itself; in order for light to be appreciated, one must first identify what is darkness. And in order for truth to be recognized, falsehood must be isolated.  As a matter of fact, one may easily conclude that the main reason behind the change in appointment from Abu Bakr to Imam Ali to deliver these holy verses is to announce to all the Muslims who witness and hear of this historical event that Abu Bakr is not qualified for this role.  After all, there was no question in anybody’s mind about the virtue and qualification of Imam Ali (AS).  It therefore follows that if Abu Bakr was not qualified to recite some verses on behalf of the Prophet (SA), then how can he possibly be qualified to run the affairs of the Islamic state and become the Prophet’s successor?

Relationship of the Role and its Beholder

In general, we can fairly state that if a role or position is very critical and of great importance, then he who assumes that position shares the honor of that position as well. Hence, if we analyse the role at hand which was passed on to Ameer Al Momineen (AS), we will find that it is not simply the commandership of an army which others before or after him who were much less adept, such as Usama ibn Zaid, were appointed for such temporary assignment. That is because military commandership, which is an earthly role, may be assigned based on worldly standards such as military proficiency, cunningness, or the ability to influence in the direction desired.

However, in this case, the divine role is precisely to deliver the verses of Bara’at in Surat Al Tawba and proclaim it to the pagans and nonbelievers.  What exactly is the significance of this duty?  And what really is the message conveyed behind these holy verses?  If the message behind these verses is to announce disavowal from the polytheists once and for all, then the messenger who delivers this message must be one who is very strong and steadfast in faith, and one who is the exemplar of monotheism and the second man after the Holy Prophet.  He is none other than Ameer Al Momineen Ali (AS).  Otherwise, any other candidate or companion is not qualified to act as “the self” of the Prophet which is the criterion as stated in the Quran.  Let us remember that the “self” of the Prophet (SA) was already defined few years back in the event of Mubahala when he went to imprecate the Christian delegate in Najran and the Prophet (SA) took along with him he who represents his self (Imam Ali), his sons (Hasan and Husain), and his women (Fatima).

What is the wisdom behind deleting the Basmalah which is present at the start of every Surah?

It is a fact that Surat Al Bara’at is the only chapter in the Quran which does not commence in the name of God the Beneficent the Merciful (Bismillah al Rahman al Raheem). Since the expression of Basmalah is a part of Surat Al Fatiha which is the “mother of the book”, it also shares in the unique status of this Surah.  The utterance of such beautiful and powerful expression that is further embellished by the dot under the letter “Baa” brings glad tidings and blessings to anything that follows it.  However, in the case of Surat Al Tawba, the verses begin by expressing disavowal and proclaiming emancipation from any peace treaty between the Muslims and polytheists (mushrikeen).  In it appears the command of killing the polytheists and the expression of Allah’s anger over them. Therefore, Bismillah was not written at the beginning of the surah since it signifies peace and mercy. It is not the time and place to mention the grand mercy and compassion of Allah (SWT) when He is announcing disavowal from the nonbelievers:

On the other hand, one may reflect on the idea that Bismillah cannot exist without its secret beholder – Ameer Al Momineen (AS).  And the manifestation of the mercy and compassion that is associated with Basmalah cannot be reached without Imam Ali who will bring peace and establish righteousness, only after he delivers the decisive and powerful verses of Bara’at which challenges all polytheistic entities.  It is only after that confrontation with the nonbelievers that reciting the name of God as the Beneficent and Merciful will be applicable for all those who submit to the divine cause.

Without a doubt, Imam Ali was acknowledged to be the best expounder of the Holy Quran.  It makes perfect sense that Ali who is the “first letter of the Quran” by virtue of the sacred dot under the letter “Baa” of Bismillah is the most qualified to proclaim verses of the Holy Quran. As Mir Iqbal expresses in the state of extreme bliss, “O Allah, what an exalted position Imam Husain possessed as his illustrious father (Imam Ali) was the first letter of the Quran?!”

Apostasy can only be challenged by Purity

Another message we learn from the event of Bara’at is directed to the polytheists themselves. It is as if Allah (SWT) wants to convey the message to them and any polytheist who come afterwards till the end of time, that falsehood and apostasy cannot be appropriately defied and challenged except by he who is the perfection of faith and purity – Ali ibn Abi Talib.  He represents truth and the truth revolves around him where ever he stands.  So, anyone who entertains the idea of opposing or fighting against him will be defying the Messenger himself and Allah (SWT).  It is no wonder then that Imam Ali was the one who destroyed the idols on the Holy Kaaba as he stood on the sacred shoulders of the Prophet (SA) to eradicate the symbols of polytheism and idolism. It is no wonder that it was none but Ali who rose to fight ‘Amr ibn Abd Wud in the Battleof the Trench (Ahzaab) because the peak of faith must be the force which destroys the epitome of polytheism!

We learn from the proclamation of Bara’at that in order for truth to be manifested, falsehood must be disavowed and challenged.  Likewise, in order to appreciate the manifestation of truth personified by Imam Ali and his purified descendants, one must first exercise Bara’at and disavow himself from the symbols of falsehood, transgression, and hypocrisy. We learn the lesson of Bara’at on the 9th year of Hijra when the Muslims went for Hajj and these verses from Surat Al Tawba were revealed.  And in the following year after the Farewell pilgrimage, we are put to the test to properly disavow ourselves from the enemies of Islam after having given our pledge of allegiance on the day of Ghadeer to Imam Ali (AS) as the successor and vicegerent of the Holy Prophet (SA).

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