This is what happens when you have an engaging Imam in Ramadan. You start thinking :)
This chapter of the Qur’an is very interesting because it talks about the art of submission during war. Simply because in times of war there must be submission, but the greater submission to Allah swt is harder to find under these conditions. If you look closely at this chapter, what you see is a very detailed description of how different everyone can get when there’s no peace around, and the road to the greater submission becomes unclear.
Groups. Sects. Parties (Ahzab). Take Lebanon for example. A country that has seen over 50yrs of war, from internal and external forces, it has over 11 different millets or branches/sects within Islam, just Islam. Not to count the political Islamist groups, the resistance groups. Other than Hamas, Hezbollah or the Brotherhood, there is Fateh Al-Islam which in itself has five different sub-groups. Not to count many many other Islamicized/politicized groups.
To return to the 11 millets or minority groups here, other than sunni or shiite, there are Alawis, Alevis, Yezidis, Druze and Isma’ili. Not to mention other religions entirely which include Roman Catholic, Jewish, Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Chaldean Catholic, Armenian Catholic and many more. What makes all this different from North America, where you can also find the same groups, is that here they’re part of the political and governmental infrastructure in a much more augmented degree. Some say there is no “real” government in Lebanon, that the country is run by all these groups.
Furthermore, this religious map of the country continues to change starting as far back as the 15th Century. The idea is that when “we” Muslims, we people, we human beings are in war, we are vulnerable to change (about human nature, see chapter 70, verse 19). And chapter Ahzab describes the many ways people do change.
Funny that a chapter named Ahzab, or enemy parties, when read closely, is not really about some other evil, nasty, monstrous, disbelieving army out there attacking us, but is rather describing us, yes, us believers and the many different ways we might possibly change the map of our faith when we’re tested and expecting mass danger. Allah swt says: “when they came from above you, and from beneath you, your eyes were terrified, your hearts ran out of patience, and you harbored unbefitting thoughts about God”. And He also says: “when the true believers saw the enemy parties ready to attack, [this dangerous situation] only strengthened their faith and augmented their submission” (33:22).
It is better, of course, not to be in a war zone. Sometimes, it's as simple as a man who lives in a village, tilling the earth, bringing back food to his family. Then one day, an army attacks his village, and he watches his daughter die in his arms. From an ordinary civilian of peace, he now is filled with hate, and picks up arms to fight. The same thing could happen to another man, and he might choose to live in peace, and not pick up arms. Like the people of Gaza, for example, where many civilians, despite all the death, still choose peace. It takes strength to do that. It is better not to be in a war zone because most likely the change is to the worst. This is how war functions. But if you happen to be in one, the Qur'an offers some tips to the believers.
It is hard to figure things out if you’re a person born into the schizophrenia of faith that maps the religious world in Lebanon, as in many other war-stricken zones. So in times of adversity, we are in a zone of change, and everything is unstable. But you are trained to deal with different wills and intentions all around you. And you are a master at building bridges between groups, if you want to. And you can be a master-warrior, honorable or unfortunately dishonorable, who fights wars like no other, if you wish to take this route.
So what do we learn from this chapter on enemy parties? Perhaps there is no one answer. But know that as you shift in and through the secrets of your heart, the good and the evil, know that while you understand your mistakes or your good actions especially if you live in a war zone, that “He is the one who helps you, together with His angels, to lead you out of darkness into the light” (33:43).
This is God’s eternal system. I will end with closing remarks by one of my favorite authors, Arundhati Roy from her book God of Small Things (1997): "It is very, very important to understand that war is the result of a flawed peace, and we must understand the systems that are at work here".