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Spoils of War


“To the victor belongs the spoils” was a popular slogan not only among the heathen Arabs of the pre-Islamic period but also among many other nations of the world. So the common practice before the advent of Islam was that the entire booty obtained in a war was either divided by the victorious army or was usurped by the tribal chief or the king for his own benefit. Islam brought about a great change in this outlook. It restricted the claim of the conquering soldiers to four-fifth of the booty while one-fifth of it was reserved for the Islamic state to be used for the common benefit of the nation. During the reign of Caliph Umar this division of the spoils between the Islamic state and the conquering army was further restricted to chattels and movable assets. It was decided by consensus that the lands conquered from the enemy should be kept in the ownership of the state for the common benefit of the existing and future generations instead of dividing the same among the soldiers who took part in the fight.

Islam divides spoils or booty into two categories, namely: ‘Ghanimah’ and ‘Fai’. If the spoils are obtained by actual fighting, they are called Ghanimah. But if they are obtained without fighting i.e. the enemy surrenders or flees away, then they are called Fai. Different rules and regulations govern the treatment of Ghanimah and Fai and hence we shall deal with each separately:


The following are some of the verses of the Qur’an and the Traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which lay down the law regarding dealing with  Ghanimah:

ﭑ  ﭒ  ﭓ  ﭕ  ﭖ  ﭗ  ﭘ  ﭚ  ﭛ   ﭜ  ﭝ  ﭞ  ﭠ  ﭡ  ﭢ  ﭣ  ﭤ              ﭥ  ﭦ 

Meaning: “They ask you (O Muhammad) of the spoils of war. Say: The spoils of war belong to Allah and the messenger, so keep your duty to Allah, and adjust the matter of your difference, and obey Allah and His messenger, if ye are (true) believers.”(Q8:V1)

  ﭒ  ﭓ  ﭔ  ﭕ  ﭖ  ﭗ  ﭘ  ﭙ  ﭚ   ﭛ  ﭜ  ﭝ  ﭞ  ﭟ  ﭠ  ﭡ    ﭢ  ﭣ  ﭤ  ﭥ  ﭦ  ﭧ  ﭨ  ﭩ  ﭪ   ﭫ  ﭬ   ﭭ  ﭯ  ﭰ   ﭱ  ﭲ  ﭳ  ﭴ 

Meaning: “And know that whatever you take as spoils of war, a fifth thereof is for Allah, and for the messenger and for the kinsman (who hath need) and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, if you believe in Allah and that which We revealed unto Our salve on the Day of criterion, the day when the two armies met. And Allah is Able to do all things.”(Q8:V41)

Abdullah-b-Amr reported that when the Holy Prophet gained booty, he used to order Bilal to proclaim among men. Then they would come with their booties. He used to take out the one-fifth share therefrom, and divide (the rest). One day a man arrived after that with a reign of hair and said: O Messenger of Allah! This is what we acquired from the booty. He asked: Have you heard Bilal proclaim thrice? ‘Yes’, said he. Then he said: What prevented you to come therewith? He offered an excuse. He said: Be (so); you will thus come therewith it on the Resurrection Day but I shall never accept it from you. (Abu Dawood).

Abu Sa'eed reported that the Messenger of Allah prohibited the purchase of booties till they are divided. (Tirmidhi)

Muhammed bin Jariyah reported: The booty of Khaiber was divided by the Messenger of Allah…… He gave two shares to each horseman and one share to each footman. (Abu Dawood)

So, during the time of the Holy Prophet, the procedure followed for the division of the spoils was: After the war had come to an end, somebody used to proclaim on behalf of the Prophet (may Allah’s peace be upon him) and all the belongings of the enemy were gathered at one place. Then one – fifth was taken by the Prophet (PBUH) as share of Allah and His Messenger (Islamic state) and remaining four-fifth was divided among the soldiers who participated in the war. Two shares were given to the horseman and one share to the footman. It was a tradition that the soldier killing a particular enemy was given his (enemy’s) belonging in addition to his fixed share, as a reward. If the slaves, minors, non-Muslims or women had helped the Muslim army, they were not assigned any regular share. Instead, they were given some gift for their services.


According to encyclopedia of Islam, “by the word Fai scholars in general understand all things taken from the unbelievers “without fighting” and further very often the lands in conquered territories”.

Muhammad Asad, quoting Taj-al-Arus, writes. “The term fai, a noun derived from the verb fa’a ‘he returned something or ‘turned it over’, is applied in the Quran and the traditions exclusively to war gains-whether consisting of lands or tribute or indemnities-which are obtained as a condition from an enemy who has laid down arms before actual fighting has taken place"

The following verses of the Qur’an and the Ahadith of Muhammad (PBUH) regulate the treatment of Fai booty acquired from the enemy:

ﭭ  ﭮ  ﭯ   ﭰ  ﭱ  ﭲ  ﭳ  ﭴ  ﭵ  ﭶ  ﭷ  ﭸ    ﭹ   ﭺ  ﭻ  ﭼ  ﭽ  ﭾ  ﭿ  ﮀ  ﮂ  ﮃ  ﮄ  ﮅ   ﮆ  ﮇ  ﮈ  ﮉ  ﮊ  ﮋ  ﮌ  ﮍ  ﮎ  ﮏ  ﮐ  ﮑ   ﮒ  ﮓ   ﮔ  ﮕ  ﮖ  ﮗ  ﮘ             ﮙ    ﮚ   ﮛ ﮜ  ﮝ  ﮞ  ﮠ  ﮡ  ﮢ  ﮣ  ﮤ   ﮥ    ﮦ  ﮧ  ﮩ  ﮪ  ﮬ     ﮭ  ﮮ  ﮯ  ﮰ   ﮱ  ﯓ  ﯔ  ﯕ  ﯖ  ﯗ  ﯘ    ﯙ  ﯚ  ﯛ  ﯜ  ﯝ  ﯞ  ﯟ  ﯠ  ﯢ   ﯣ  ﯤ  ﯥ 

Meaning: “And that which Allah gave as spoil unto His messenger from them, you urged not any horse or riding-camel for the sake thereof, but Allah gives His messenger lordship over whom He will. Allah is Able to do all things. That which Allah gives as spoil unto His messenger from the people of the township, it is for Allah and His messenger and for the near relatives and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, that it become not a commodity between the rich among you. And whatsoever the messenger gives you, take it. And whatsoever he forbids, abstain (from it). And keep your duty to Allah. Indeed, Allah is stern in reprisal. And (it is) for the poor fugitives who have been driven out from their homes and their belongings, who seek bounty from Allah and help Allah and His messenger. They are the truthful. (Q59:V6-8)

Malik bin Aus reported from Umar that there were the properties of Banu Nazir out of Fai which Allah gave to His Messenger on the ground that the Muslims did not acquire them on horse-back or any conveyance, so it was special for the Holy Prophet who was to spend it over his family maintenance of a year and then to spend what remained for armors and conveyances as ammunitions in the way of Allah. (Bukhari & Muslim)

Auf-b-Malik reported: When Fai came to the Prophet; he used to divide it on that very day and give two shares to a man with family and own share to a bachelor. (Abu Dawood)

Ayesha reported that a bag containing shells was brought to the Prophet. He divided them among the free women and slave girls. Ayesha said: My father used to distribute to free men and slaves. (Abu Dawood)

So according to the Qur’an Fai means such of the properties of the unbelievers as are ‘returned’ to the Muslims without war. It is not to be distributed like booty among the soldiers. But the whole of it is for Allah and His apostle. Such property is to be spent on the heads of expenditure mentioned in the Quran, namely:

1.       Allah and his Messenger.

2.       Near relatives.

3.       The orphans.

4.       The needy.

5.       The wayfarer or travelers.

The messenger of Allah used to spend it like that. After his death, it is indeed the responsibility of the Islamic state to decide the ways and means on how it could be expended for the common welfare.

From the prophetic traditions quoted above it is evident that the Prophet (PBUH) himself managed Fai as the head of the Islamic republic. The Fai was state property and the revenue proceeds therefrom were to be applied to the general good like one fifth of the spoils of war (Ghanimah).


Source: Dynamics of Islamic Jihad

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